Living

TheDyingMan

ALS1-300x263
Last summer, my dear friend Jamie learned that he was dying. That previously unexplained weakness in his arm, the doctor explained, seemed to be caused by ALS. While there’s no definitive test for ALS, he’d backed into the diagnosis by a scrupulous process of elimination. (Scrupulous process of crap, I mentally reacted to this news.) Having investigated every other alternative, the conclusion was clear. Jamie was dying. Not today, not tomorrow, but sooner, not later.

The philosophers insist that birth is the primary cause of death among all living beings Slip over here for more ...

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HardWeek

hardweek
About half of all divorced people suffer from borderline personality disorder. These are not the same people diagnosed with it, but those who live downwind from it, for their lives become chaotic and unpredictable. Those who actually have this disorder seem to be riding in the front car of the most extreme roller coaster imaginable. They like it.

This idea probably steps over that dreaded line, well into severely bad taste territory, but I’ve had a hard week. Sardonic humor helps. Sometimes. Slip over here for more ...

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Leafing

leafing
Most folks dispatch their leaves in the autumn. I hold onto to mine over winter. Sure, I shove them off the lawn and into the beds, but there they stay until the snow stops threatening. Along about the second week of April, I have a lot of leafing to do. Even then, I intend to hold onto those babies for a year or two, setting them in black plastic to cook down into something the soil might appreciate.

Beneath that blanket, Spring’s about two weeks more advanced than it otherwise might have been. The soil seems moist but not saturated like the unprotected areas ended up. No moss grew under there, either. Some tender herbs even survived. Slip over here for more ...

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Dscvr

Dscvr
This morning finds me almost back home from our excursion, our toodle, into the DeepSouth. I left with no more than beliefs about what I might find there and I return with some of those beliefs intact, but with many of them thrown into uneasy question. The world doesn’t seem to much care what I believe about it and my perceptions of the world might twist whatever I think I’m seeing. I am confident as I return that I did not see The Deep South, but I might have caught fresh glimpses of me perceiving there. To look at something different, even something I expect to be different, qualifies as an act of discovery; not so much discovery of that object, but of my own act of perceiving.

Back home, my anticipation and perception mostly seamlessly integrate, so there’s little gradient for me to experience perception, or, indeed, for me to really see whatever I’m looking at. The world convincingly appears just as I expect it to appear. This can be a dreary state, a numbing where the vitality characteristic of discovering seems absent. Leave that familiarity, and more than the landscape changes. I might become more alive. Slip over here for more ...

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Dogsology

encouragement
Nobody talks much about the genuinely awful aspects of creating. It seems at root a form of compulsion, sometimes obsession. It might be most satisfying when completed, but by then, of course, it’s no longer there, but past. It’s mostly lonely work, done under the most isolating imaginable conditions. Anticipating a new project can quite understandably seize up even the most previously productive creator.

When my friend Franklin first mentioned his brilliant distinction between talents and gifts, I quite naturally believed that it might be useful, perhaps necessary, to enumerate exactly what my gifts might be, to nail down the source of my talent. He pointed out that talents are merely the mediums within which gifts manifest themselves, rather like the canvas a painter might gift with paint or a cello gifted with a player’s inspiration. So I began decomposing toward a toward a presumed essence, believing that if I could name that tune, I’d be better able to play it. Slip over here for more ...

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JayWaking

JayWaking
N-Awl’ns wakes with a thud muffled by a sweet, persistent haze. Nights stretch into next days here; reveling lasts until it flames out, regaining only a cinder of consciousness at first light. The early streets are empty save for the dedicated joggers and the service and construction workers. Everyone else seems to sleep in, or to have just not regained consciousness yet.

I’m out early continuing a quest to find one order of hash brown potatoes, which seem to have slipped out of the American morning into myth or legend. I find a small deli whose menu promises reward, but delivers the modern compromise I call SmashBrowns: outsized Tater Tots® smashed flat. These represent compromise because nobody seems to win anything in the transaction. The customer loses texture, taste, and satisfaction while the proprietor loses another could-have-been satisfied customer. Contrivance (or connivance) takes another hand. Slip over here for more ...

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Visiting

visitor1
I never had a bucket list. I went to Paris and avoided long lines of tourists by not visiting the Louve. In London, I succeeded in somehow utterly avoiding the queen. When I visit anywhere, I’m more interested in experiencing what living there might feel like, so I go find a laundromat or a grocery store and see. I ride the bus rather than hail that cab, or I walk. No better way to get to know anywhere than by hoof. I despise wax museums, salt water taffy factories, cute crap shops, and every imaginable kind of guided tour. I am not a tourist.

Tourists, in my humble opinion, give visiting a bad reputation. Towns and cities around the world encourage tourists, though, building intricate traps to lure them in, and managing to attract people who seem perfectly satisfied forking over sixty bucks to clop along in a carriage behind a weary dray horse to look at throngs of less fortunate tourists on foot. Slip over here for more ...

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Crossroads

crossroads.jpg.w560h420
Legend claims that Robert Leroy Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads to become a legendary bluesman. The Muse insisted as only The Muse can insist that as long as we’d gone to all the trouble of driving to Mississippi, we should cross it on third tier backroads so that we might actually see the country we were passing through. I was in no disposition to argue, since her insistence exactly mirrored my intention. We stuck to the slow roads all the way to the Pontchartrain causeway.

Wisteria was blooming in the woodlands we passed, and azaleas and dogwoods, too; April all dressed up like the middle of May. I expected blistering poverty, and the typical shotgun house might look like a shack anywhere else, but they’re common here; an old tradition, a familiar adaptation to the climate and the land. It all looked alluring on this Spring afternoon. Slip over here for more ...

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Prejudiciary

prejudiciary
When I entered first grade, I was assigned to a special class for people who didn’t speak right. I might have inherited my Missouri drawl from my great grandparents, who, being the children of Oregon pioneers, spoke funny. Nobody in the DeepSouth could have unnerstood ‘em either.

That special class apparently broke me of my infirmity because I now quite convincingly pass as a TV Newscaster American, which means I affect little regional accent at all. The Muse complains that nobody here understands anything she says and she has to ask a couple of times for a repeat before even a crude understanding emerges. Me, too. Slip over here for more ...

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Bluegrasp

clawhammer
Charleston, West Virginia might be the best example of what Mr. Potter was aiming to do in It’s A Wonderful Life. It seems at least one George Bailey short of a wonderful place. The Muse said it looks like an Orc village, and seemed particularly terrifying after our quick zoot down through spring snow-covered mountains. We’d abandoned our earlier notion of wending through the lower intestinal tract of Appalachian coal country in favor of better traveled roads once we’d surveyed the depth of the slush remaining after winter’s overnight surprise revisit.

Our first rule of roading insists that no earlier idea ever metastasize into an obligatory plan. We shift as the spirit or the Gods move us to shift, and these shifts happen without remorse or regret. We live only in the moment, more or less. We retain some vague memory of where we intend to end up without shackling ourselves to any particular means.

We high-tailed our threatened vestigial tails out of that sour Charleston valley before the air bourne chemicals could get us too much, heading for Kentucky’s bluegrass country. Kentucky seems civilized compared to West Virginia; perhaps gentrified. The grass is disappointingly not even the faintest hint of blue, but brown nearer the eastern border this time of year and increasingly green in the ever lowering elevations as we cruise west. Gilded horse farms dominate, each surrounded by what seems like miles of white rail fences in perfect condition. Manor houses by the score. Slip over here for more ...

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DeepeningSouth

southmap
The South mystifies me, and the Deep South terrifies me. I’ve successfully avoided visiting it until now. Since we relocated into the still mysterious northern reaches of the region five years ago, The Muse has been lobbying for a drive through that situation I’d shunned. I suppose this goosing passes as one of the primary responsibilities of any halfway decent muse, to encourage exploration of nether regions.

The map situates it below, though I know that’s merely convention speaking. On a globe, there can only ever be over; any other representation materially misrepresents and can impart a curiously certain Northern sense of lordly superiority, a malady I recognize in myself. I know my birthplace was an accidental artifact of birth, and that others were similarly situated then imprinted upon their birthplace as home. We can’t escape this. My ancestors trudged across The Carolinas, Virginia, and Kentucky, each identifying with places I never believed I could relate with. I am curious whether I might find vestigial familiarity in this land I’ve for so long shunned. Slip over here for more ...

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PhormPhobic

phorm
I have no serious fear of BIG data because I understand where the little data that eventually accumulates into BIG data originates. I’m a part of it, so I’m certain that the data has plenty of subtle inconsistencies imbedded in it; it’s an honest divergence, originating in the natural ambiguity of language. Given the opportunity to fill out the same form fifty times, I’d very likely complete it fifty different ways. A new way every time, if only because I’d be learning.

Of course this ‘raw’ data will accrete and accumulate, eventually manifesting BIG results which will be queried (the perfect verb for this operation) to produce ‘answers’ or ‘insights’ or ... something. Slip over here for more ...

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HellPing

hellping
I remember when the road to Hell was barely a rough track, primarily paved with the odd good intention. Today, thanks to social media, the road’s more like an eight lane beltway, endlessly circling a burgeoning metropolis. You see, social media has given good intentions unprecedented reach. What was once no more than an occasional wink and nudge has become a continuous, unblinking stare and a disturbingly hard shove. The infrequent, useful ping has become an unrelenting HellPing, good advice morphed into a nasty vice, with advertisements attached. Slip over here for more ...
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JustVisiting

justvisiting
I should be a seasoned visitor by now, though I’ve squandered too many of my past comings and my goings judging my surroundings. Perhaps the journalists refighting the Cold War from atop those mis-installed toilet seats in Sochi remind me that the responsibilities of every visitor include suspending judgment. Of course you’re surrounded by difference. Harsh judgment, even generous judgment only blunts otherwise sharpening experiences.

Of course this world feels disordered; and no, I will not be eating on my normal schedule. I might well be poisoned, forced to settle for what I would never agree to swallow on home ground. My schedule might shred, commitments abandoned. I will lose sleep, time, money, and some of that precious dignity, all perfectly reasonable tariffs every visitor must pay. Oh, and I seem to be visiting much of the time these days. Slip over here for more ...

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SeventhDay

respite
On the Seventh Day of Christmas, I chose to offer a choice. My nephew was showing some of the strain of single parenthood, and while he’d promised to escort the boyz to see an Egyptian exhibit and one of the Mall museums, I offered him a day off instead. “Just wander around the town,” I suggested. “The boyz won’t mind.”

Fact was, I figured everyone would be better off if bedraggled dad wasn’t expected to yet again wrangle them kids through another wildly distracting situation. I could apply some of my strategic inattention, which wouldn’t disturb the young ‘uns a lick. He’d have to be on call throughout if he went, and he looked frazzled. Gratefully, he jumped at the chance. Slip over here for more ...

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SixthDay

airandspace
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, cabin fever settled in. Losing our minds, we decided to take the boyz to the Air and Space Muse See ‘Em.

The A&S Muse See ‘Um is conveniently located on the far side of a very scary suburban ghetto halfway to the Blue Ridge Parkway from our place, ringed with several competing layers of multiple-lane freeways which serve as parking lots most of the day. I packed a decent snack if not a lunch, and even though Georgie had weenied out on breakfast, we bravely headed out. Two minutes later he was pleading for the snack bag. (Told ya!) Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.9-Bound

bound
Bound might have more meanings than any respectable word should. Like many English words, it means its own opposite, but also its own orthogonal: captive and moving, an abrupt movement, a continuing one, also no movement at all. It bounds, bound and determined to be bound no longer. (Could I be bound and NOT determined, too?)

Home-bound holds every ounce of bound’s ambiguity. Was I heading home or stuck there? Maybe I was simply leaping towards? Perhaps all of these simultaneously. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.8-Alley-Gator

alligator1
When I was five or six years old, my grandfather took my brother and I on a little road trip. My folks were supposed to meet up with us the next morning, but this Friday afternoon, we loaded into grandpa’s red pickup and headed toward his place, a hundred and fifty miles away. This was my first excursion out into the world unaccompanied by my folks, and I left spooked. Arriving at our destination, grandpa decided we needed some entertainment, though it was already well past our usual bedtime when we arrived, so he dropped us off at the local theater, to an already in progress double feature horror show.

The main picture was a gem called The Alligator People, and it scared the socks off my brother and I. We fussed plenty, trying to decide if we could just leave or if we had to stay until the end. The Cobalt 40 scenes didn’t spook us half as much as the alligator guy did. We’d never imagined the world was anything like this. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.7-Somewhere

somewhere
I freely admit that I over-idealize this place. I favorably compare it, weighing plusses and minuses with my thumb secretly fudging the scale. I ignore plenty, imagine some, and reframe even more to accomplish this. I claim innocence under the ‘honor thy father and mother’ clause.

Less forgivable might be my many minor slanders against our exile place, a fine, even delightful place that doesn’t seem to sit quite as comfortably on my palate. I am prejudiced against my step-mother town, where I currently, physically live, and prejudiced in favor of the mother that raised me, where I can only visit now. This judging wears me down. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.6-SmallThings

smallthings
Our exile sits in the middle of a megalopolis, one of the recognized great metropolitan areas of the world. There, any excursion might lead to me brushing elbows with some celebrity; greatness. Noteworthy events originate there, echoing across the world. I casually stroll past landmarks, places where, in an earlier life, I travelled far to simply see. Now I barely notice my own passage by them.

Almost nothing of the internationally noteworthy class ever happens here in my home valley. Most people have never heard of this place, and nod distractedly whenever I fail to explain where and what it is. Some newspaper this week declared this valley a “wine Mecca,” whatever that means, since wine isn’t served in Mecca. The main street is predictably called Main Street. The rich seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer, but everyone sometimes shops at the same Safeway. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.5-Ex-Pression

Locust
Grasshoppers and locusts hold exactly the same genes, indistinguishable each from the other. For the last hundred and fifty years, since Mendel, scientists have been increasingly convinced that the lowly gene must be the key that explains the mystery of mutation, the wonder of evolution. Math could perfectly model these observations. The process seemed obviously straightforward. Of course, we should have known, it would someday prove if not exactly wrong, at best overly simplistic.

In any human, microbial cells outnumber human ones by ten to one. I am genetically 80% cow. If genes hold the code, who interprets that code? Apparently, something called gene expression does. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.4-BroadShoulders

broadshoulders
Topping Touchet Hill, I felt my shoulders spreading out, stretching from horizon to horizon across this wide frozen valley. The Blues an icy mirage hovering along the Eastern extent, the Columbia Gorge slipping behind. Our passage had been surprisingly effortless; haunted by grave predictions, but that freezing rain front dissipated over the Coast Range and never touched the Gorge. Multnomah Falls fell through an ice chute into a snow-frosted canopy. We fell just as effortlessly through the long, familiar rimrock and cottonwood, road screaming beneath us.

Distressed to discover that the Pheasant Grill was closed, for sale sign replacing the predictably welcoming entrance. No Honker Burger this trip. On to the aptly-named Boardman for a Bozo Burger instead. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.3-Content-Meant

contentment
I made no appointments yesterday. I rose early, accomplishing nothing before sunrise. The Muse had some things to do, but I had family to attend to. My Dwalink Dwaughta Heidi mentioned that our conversations just seem to pick up where ever they left off last time, and that my lengthy absences seem indistinguishable from short ones; we’re that comfortable together.

Same story with my son. We seem to pick up the set-up just short of yet another punch line. The grandson quickly assimilated me into his conceptual world view, even learning my preferred greeting, “Gimme some wing, man,” accompanied by suggestive bent arm flapping. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.2-UncleDad

rearview
I lost ordinary time with the first great divorce and dismemberment. Living in a tiny apartment in an iffy neighborhood then, I’d see my kids on weekends, where pent-up guilt would drive me to try to make each visit special, as if something extraordinary might lengthen our time together or deepen our connection to each other. Quite a lot of that time was spent in the car, ferrying between adventures, as if searching for someplace we might actually belong.

The second great divorce and dismemberment seemed worse, demonstrating my failed attempt to find a safe place for us to simply experience ordinary time together. I called myself Uncle Dad, a weekend visitor choking cheerfulness out of my broken heart. I made up truly terrible traveling tunes and spent too much time talking through my rear view mirror. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.1-Coming

homecoming
The leave-taking was about a tenth as tough as I anticipated it would be. A brief tussle through security when I inadvertently drew my library card instead of my driver’s license, quickly resolved. Tolerable turbulence in spite of a historical winter storm raging a few thousand feet below us over the Midwest. A two hour delay changing planes in Denver, where The Muse and I have spent plenty of time. That felt like a home-turf layover. I’d seen that winds were gusting over thirty miles an hour out of the Columbia River Gorge today, and again, true to my timid rabbit temperament, I pre-lived an aerial Posidan Adventure almost until we were on final approach in Portland. We spidered in, the pilot finally finding that third wheel before a gust could overturn us.

Once unshackled from the accustomed discomfort of our exile, The Muse and I cruise quite competently. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.0

homebound
We leave in the morning for home. We leave this exile, homebound. This place of weirdly warm winter temperatures for country more accustomed to winter’s vagaries. I wonder if we’ve lost our edge, our ability to stand in the freezing fog. I wonder how home might feel after this long exile.

I hesitate packing my bags, finally concluding that I’m just better off stuffing everything last minute in the morning. No regrets. Little opportunity to succumb to the temptation to iron what the luggage will only wrinkle worse. No first guessing; I’ll leave with whatever accreted then and suffer or enjoy the consequences. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.6-NoLedge

ledge
I left the salon conversation feeling angry. The subject: Common Core, yet another revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming the primary education system employing BIG data and frequent feedback-producing examinations. “The results will be demonstratively worse in the short-run,” our evening’s provocateur reassured us. “The data will most certainly show that our students have been performing more poorly than the old, poor data showed, but once we start measuring the right things, students scores will start to improve.”

This assertion seemed about as unlikely as every other confident prediction accompanying every other revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming primary education I’ve watched crash and burn over the last more than half century. Primary educators seem more prone to seduction by The Next BIG Thing than anyone, with the possible exception of your standard Snake Oil Salesman. The wise S.O.S. cautions their ‘fish’ that the elixir might taste unimaginably horrible and could leave the severely deficient feeling much worse in the short run. In the longer run, of course, the canny S.O.S. will have beat town, leaving no forwarding address. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.5-Dot2Dot

dot2dot
Doesn’t matter where I start. It matters THAT I start, but I could begin anywhere then work out from there. No, I do not have a picture of the end result in mind before I begin. More often, I feel inspired: some interesting thought just popped into my head, usually while distracted, often in the shower. Then, writing becomes an imperative. I must find my keyboard and start.

The first sentence just blurts out, though it’s often right and survives every editing pass to remain there on top. From there, I scan the immediate neighborhood, certain that some likely lilly pad will appear. I often hear it calling me, echoing the sound of the seed sentence, without pretense. I hop over there, listening carefully then, bending the initial inspiration only slightly to lightly echo emerging rhythm and assonance. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.4-ThreeThirty

alarmclock
The best alarm clock never rings. I set it, sure, before falling asleep the night before, but I awaken long before it ever starts ringing. Some dream woke me, still streaming story like sea foam streaking off some surfacing submarine. I turn off the alarm while fumbling for my glasses in the dark, holding a short phrase sleep passed to me to carry into this world. I slip into my slippers, quickly brush my teeth, and somehow avoid tripping over either cat as I creep downstairs to awaken my keyboard, repeating that phrase all the way.

It’s three thirty this morning; cold and dark outside. The light from my office window casts long shadows of the garden furniture across the garden wall. Not even the squirrels stir out there. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.3-PhiloSophy

PhiloSophy
“Philosophy begins when you don’t know where to look for an answer.” Philip Kerr, Hitler’s Peace

Anyone setting out to accomplish anything should encounter some daunting contradictions, otherwise they’re probably dozing at the wheel. When selecting a method, none available should exactly fit the situation. When acquiring resources, some will prove unavailable and others abundant but of undesired quality. Even selecting a goal should seem to demand encumbering compromise. No recipe ever baked a cake.

Filling these inevitable gaps seems to require a meta-understanding, acknowledgement of the gaps and acceptance of the personal responsibility for seeing them filled. While we might well rely upon experience and knowledge to guide us up to the edge of any gap, something else bridges it. Almost anything but experience and knowledge might work. Luck, even.

But being human, most of us will try to reason ourselves across. We’ll pull out the Rules of Thumb bag we keep hidden in the front hall closet or dredge up the clouded over laminated card containing what we once chose to be our ethical imperatives. Almost all of us will rely upon what feels like a sixth sense, a quiet angel who rides on one shoulder, whispering in our ear. Each of these comprise our philosophy.

Far from the distraction from action it’s sometimes characterized as being, philosophy might well be our constant, if often quiet, companion. While we might effortlessly describe technique, the reasoning and world view behind that technique remains largely undiscussable, perhaps because that reasoning seems at root unreasonable. I could mention the Münchhausen trilemma, named after the mythical hero who managed to pull himself and the horse he was riding out of quicksand by merely pulling up on his own hair; an illogical impossibility. Proving any truth or falsehood easily devolves into one of three popular techniques, hence the trilemma: Circular argument, where theory and proof reinforce each other, Regressive argument, where each proof begets another--ad infinitum, or by far the most popular, Axiomatic argument, where we “just know” it’s true. Much of what we hold to be self evident, isn’t, but an axiomatic insistence instead.













©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved












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Brief 1.2-MissedUnderstanding

missedUnder
I’d perfectly stated my brilliant idea. Nobody else seemed to understand. Was I suddenly speaking Swahili? Had my thoughts turned to mush? Had I lost my silvered tongue?

My identity felt it first, turning ghostly pale. Maybe I’d become overly ego involved, no longer dealing in ideas but self. To miss understanding my idea might mean I do not exist, or exist distinctly enough. I cannot even muster a decent me without connecting with you.

I’ll try the same message louder, I might even s-l-o-w down, hoping the disconnection came from faulty volume or hasty presentation. These tactics never work. Never. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.1-Universe-ality

spectralpatterns
Franklin calls me on my shit. When my whining exceeds the limits of propriety, he pulls me over to issue a helpful warning. When I don’t quite understand how lost I’ve become, he points me home. He fairly steadfastly refuses to tell me what I really should do, but he can look down his nose at me, and even on a stop-action Hangout® display, I can see that he’s caught me out. Shortly thereafter, I catch myself out, too.

Authoring involves an awful lot of foiled self-deception and foibling self disclosure. It shaves the old pig until it squeals and scurries home. Home isn’t just where the heart resides, but it sits smack dab in the center of the universe. Franklin insists that the key to universality lies hidden in the deeply personal. The more personal, the more likely others are to find themselves peeking out through the prose. The one thing we all have in common might be that we all experience the personal, and we each recognize the presence of the universal in that seemingly least-likely place. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.0-Id-Entity

cigar
Most of every writer’s day will be spent alone. Writing must be the most solitary sport, an internal Olympic competition featuring cognitive Greco-Roman wrestling, conceptual Winter Biathlon, and solitary synchronized swimming. The games always involve dredging up to translate, rediscovery more than invention, rearranging the same old notes into new-sounding tunes. Like with all games, the boundaries deeply influence play and the rules, originally arbitrary, seem inexorable now.

The trick, once mastering bald aloneness, lies in daily re-mastering it, for solitude serves as no more than soil within which unlikely seeds might sprout, where the completely cognitive and conceptual push beyond the leaf litter into space where anyone might experience them. What blooms seems so very different from the parent seed or rhizome that even the solitary gardener might mistake them for volunteers, accidents of potential, nutrients, and time. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.15-TheCall

rooster
Ever since roosters started crowing in threes, denial has been the first stage of acceptance. Each adventure worthy of the label begins with a good, old-fashioned denial of the call, for without rejecting the premise, no real adventure could ever ensue. Willing volunteers need not apply. Conscripts must go AWOL. True adventure requires denial.

The premise always proves faulty; there are no true pretenses, only false ones. Questioning any premise makes logical sense even if it renders the questioner into a huge pain in the butt. Small misconceptions explode adventure. Questioning premise produces the preconditions necessary for relationship, and adventuring is always a relational experience, even if it seems like it’s just a transaction involving nobody but me, myself, and I. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes-1.14-Premise

premise
A BriefConsultant walks into a bar. That’s a premise. What’s the punchline?

It’s one thing to pose a premise and quite another to bring down the house with a punchy punchline. Too late, once I’ve posed the premise, to change it to match the punch line. Punchline follows premise, so perhaps I’d better write the punchline first.

My favorite punchline: I would have but I needed the wool. What premise works with that?

A Client walks into a bar, announcing that he’s thought he was a sheep for thirty years. “Why didn’t you mention this before?” the bartender asks.

”I would have, but the consultant I hired to help needed the wool.” (Insert rim shot here.) Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes-1.13-Brilliance

brilliance
It hurts my eyes to think about it, my mind casts around for shadows to hide behind. My own brilliance blinds me sometimes and blindsides me the rest of the time. I have no control over it. No will or volition, no intention guides it. It gooshes around the gaskets, often unnoticed in the moment it appears. Later, when I’m cleaning up some crusty mess, I might glimpse its presence, its past presence, for it’s never present for me, just past. Like light finally washing across a familiar landscape, light that left its source light-millenia ago; far, far from home by the time it finally arrives.

It feels used up, pull-dated, expired, never inspiring. I shove through disbelief into ragged acceptance of mere possibilities. It’s never enough to suspend my unwavering disbelief, I must rough my way deep into it and struggle slime-covered back out again before any magic seems possible, let alone manifesting. Nobody’s in control of anything, really, except for some intermittent illusion almost resembling control. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes-1.12-Poison

poison
I suppose every language contains poison words, ones best avoided. These words twist back on themselves, biting their own butt, flipping their intended meaning; poisoning.

My poison word list remains gratefully short, though I constantly catch myself teetering on the edge of invoking every one of them. My list?
Should
Must
Do
Can
Is

You must read what follows because it should help you do all you can. It is the truth. Slip over here for more ...

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Xtimes-1.11-Fone

phone
It always starts with a phone call. Not the sort of call prompted by any email barrage advertisement because ads don’t apply to this sort of work. Nobody consults the yellow pages or any of the multitude of social media equivalents to find a BriefConsultant, either. Nobody would ever believe the claims such an ad would have to make to accurately represent the proposed service. This Brief Consultant could never really describe what he might do, anyway.

It follows, then, that there will be no response drafted to any Request For Proposal. This work doesn’t work that way, either. This limits the domains within which I might operate, but gratefully so. This is no retail trade. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.10-InhabitingStory

noir
I love listening to the radio because it projects better pictures than television or movies. I rarely feel a part of television or a movie because the roles are too finely cast—I can never escape being merely an observer. Books are better, but they demand my active participation as translator. Radio seems the perfect medium to fuzz the separation between here and there. Piped directly into my head, I simply close my eyes to close the distance between the story and me. I can inhabit a radio drama’s story almost as if it were my own.

When I hear you telling your story, I sometimes experience a taste of story envy. I want to inhabit your story. Your adventure might have been mine, if only I’d been there at the time. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.09-Chainge

chainge
As a veteran presenter of The Changing Change Management Conference, I could be mistaken for a master change agent. I’m not. I’m more of a skilled foot-dragger, quite sensitive to even minor disruptions in my routine. I do not warmly embrace difference. I am not hankering to champion any kind of improvement, more prepared to cope with what seems to be than sculpt something different.

I recently read a book written a little over a hundred years ago. The author complained about the mind-numbing pace of change in these modern times. We, today, feel ourselves especially vulnerable to shifting perspectives. I suspect this sense has always been a feature of modern life, modern being defined as any moment any human has been present and alive. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.08-Stalemate

stalemate
Push comes to shove before achieving stasis; an anticipated pushover stalls. No bully in the world ever expects anything but dominion. No schlemiel ever expected to stem any tide, but here we are, head-to-head, stalemated. Your will subtracted from my will equals equilibrium. My zero sum game combines with your zero sum game to yield exactly zero.

Few, head to head, reconsider the game. The strategy’s failed, the tactics moot, yet the sticky residue of win and lose holds those opposing foreheads in place. Neither can see any alternative space from there: eyes locked, imagination seized up, too. We still believe we might bull through. Relenting can’t even qualify as unthinkable because it’s unimaginable from there. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.07-UpGrade

upgrade
I innocently downloaded the iOS 7 upgrade. I claim innocence because I had no idea that I was undermining my mobile experience. Like every upgrade in the history of the world so far, this one degraded pretty much everything. I suppose some user experience expert had determined just what I needed. Like always, their expertise translated into cluelessness.

I make it a policy to always stay as far behind current as possible with everything. I have a hundred year-old lawnmower. I use a ten year old version of Adobe Acrobat®. I used a 1992 version of MS Word until I could no longer find a machine it ran on, then did not purchase the snazzy unusable more modern version. Looking at the more modern Word was enough for me to decide to be forever MicroSoft-free. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.06-Fear

fear
Fear begins as a lie then feeds on itself. Given that initiating, crystalline falsehood, fear’s the only self-sustaining emotion. Like a boulder shoved off a cliff, its own mass amplifies its momentum. Like any story rooted in a false premise, fear employs logic to defy logic. The fearful seem crazy because they are crazed. Fear itself might be the only thing really worth fearing.

What, then, of those who trade in fear; those who seize every opportunity to seize others up with it? They must be liars; not mere slanderers, but false prophets. They trade in what seem to be cautionary tales but they elicit responses beyond caution into blindness and aphasia. We avoid in response, cordoning off possibilities. The subtle, skilled fear monger can persuade me to willingly construct my own box and to insist that I remain inside while he ravages my neighborhood. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.05-Poll-Ticks

poll
I don’t remember the part of American history where the Founding Fathers ran daily polls to determine the up-to-the-moment opinion of the nascent electorate. Polls in those days would have taken months, results out-dated long before they could be tallied and summarized, let alone interpreted. So, the Founding Citizens selected Founding Fathers by a radically different process than popular election. Our country was founded upon representative selection instead.

In a representative government, individuals use popular voting to select individuals to represent their interests at the time. Interests could and did shift over time, so elections were based upon something different from fleeting partisan perspectives. In those days, character mattered. One chose their representatives more based upon how they thought rather than what they thought. This one principle might explain how a rabble of an electorate managed to select such timelessly thoughtful individuals. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.04-Righter

ah
I’m dismayed by how easily I get sucked into right/wrong reasoning, even though I probably know better. My admission qualifies as roughly equivalent to a junk food junkie confessing to his Chunky Monkey jones. Few questions meaningfully distill into black or white, wrong or right; they seem to require a broader palette to hold enough perspectives. I know this in my bones yet still find myself taking sides.

Perhaps this bi-polar perspective holds some hypnotic or addictive quality, over-riding knowledge and understanding, eliciting something akin to fight or flight responses: right or wrong. Curious behaviors emerge whenever I convince myself I’m right. My confidence and sense of certainty expands. Being right feels right, even when—perhaps especially when—only a minority share my opinion. It’s gets even weirder when I conclude I’m wrong. Then, my self-esteem seems to plummet and my very identity springs a leak. I can watch myself deflate until I disappear. Marginalized. Loser. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.02-BallGame

ballgame
My father was one heck of a baseball fan, much more than I. He remembered players’ names and stats, and understood the bones of the game at least as well as any seasoned major league scout. I love to watch the game, not because I understand very much of what I’m watching, but because I do not. I appreciate the mysterious rhythms and rituals, satisfied that the players and the coaches and many of the fans understand these like my father did. I’m more the gape-mouthed sort of fan.

I can be mistaken for a wizened watcher, especially now that my hair is turning mostly grey. I can sometimes see the difference between a fastball and a change-up, but I usually blink as the pitch passes over the plate. I doubt that I’ve ever seen a bat connect with a ball, startled awake instead by the resounding crack. I rather chase the game around the field, arriving just after every play, still deeply appreciative of the game. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.01-ScaringMyself

scaringMyself
I’m scared out of my wits most of the time. What emotion besides fear could so reliably shove me into that space beyond wits’ end? Wits sanitize and stabilize, but this crazy, changing world requires neither much sanity nor stability.

The energy that appears when moving through my terror seems the best suited for manifesting. Cowering energy never results in much, and though I generate plenty of cowering energy, even the occasional moving through energy seems to counterbalance. Neither can be stored and must be expended in the moment, in trembles or transformation; small beer or fine wine. Slip over here for more ...

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XTimes 1.00- RescueFantasies

rescue
Judging from the many, many come-ons I receive from consultants, their business depends upon rescue fantasies. A proper prospective client must firmly believe they need rescuing and their proper consultant must shamelessly tout a solid track record of doing exactly that. Why else exist?

If I have a problem, somebody’s ready to claim that they have its solution. Their material reads like Johnny Burke’s old swing tune Swinging On A Star: “you could be better than you are, you could be swinging on a star.” Under the Extended Satisfaction Plan®, I could even learn how to carry moonbeams home in a jar. I didn’t even aspire to carry moonbeams until you suggested I could. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.48-Phall

Phall
Summer quietly slipped away leaving the impatiens in peak bloom. The azaleas try budding again, showing a scant sampler of their Springtime color. The cardinal, freshly fledged three short months ago, has gone deep red to match the coming leaf cover. The windows will be open for the next few weeks.

I am most productive when the weather turns. A few days between parting and coming extremes feel like new beginnings. I’d much rather start something fresh than finish anything. I am falling in thrall with the fall. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.47-Phorms

formS
The Muse accompanies me to the eye doctor. Not because I’m particularly afraid of the doctor or the receptionist, but because we’re both certain that they’ll require me to fill out some forms. Last year, she dropped me off at her dentist, thinking that this act would pretty much guarantee that my excruciating cracked wisdom tooth would get looked at. She left, then they gave me a clipboard filled with blank forms. I couldn’t answer even half the questions. I went to the receptionist, explaining that I’d need to leave the office to get some information the forms wanted. Forty five minutes later, I was home digging through The Muse’s filing cabinet, trying to complete the forms. I did not find the information they needed. A couple of hours later, after The Muse emerged from another of her total isolation meetings, she called me, a little frantic. “What happened at the dentist?” she fumed. “I got a couple of calls wondering where you’d disappeared to.”

”They gave me forms,” I whimpered.

’Nuff said. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.46-Synchronicity

synch
I, too, was well-schooled in the cause and effect. I try sometimes to slip loose of the noose and ride the flow, but my callouses guide my feet and my muscle memories seem to continuously nudge me back into the causal and the effective. I am not nearly mindful enough to remind myself much of the time that another order might emerge.

Helping my dear friend find a place to live today, he’d arrived with a pile of addresses gleaned from a thorough scouring of the Internet rental listings. I drove him by three places, one of which might prove livable, and we cruised through a couple of neighborhoods that were completely out of reach. Returning home, I heard myself saying how nice it would be if we could just drive down some idyllic street, happen upon a perfect place with a big fat For Rent sign out front, and be done. I said this like it was a Disney Imagineer’s pipe dream. Completely out of reach, well within the realm of the absolutely impossible. Fantasy personified. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.45-2ndOrderWarrior

windowdoorwall
My friend Lowell works under contract to the DoD, the Department of Defense, as a second-order warrior. Rather than plot drone strikes, he works to understand and reinforce culture by studying the meanings people make and how they make them.

He tells terrific, heartbreaking stories of well-intended but ignorant first-order warriors. He recalls how the Iraqi Reconstruction effort built a power station several times before some second-order warrior thought to sit down with the local chieftains to ask what they wanted. “If you rebuild the plant over there,” one village elder reported, “We’ll just have to blow it up because that’s another tribe’s territory. If you build it over here, they’ll just have to blow it up because it’ll be on our property. We’ve been at war for generations. This is a matter of pride.” The second-order warrior, rather late in this game, identified some neutral ground that could support a shared resource between the warring parties. The next plant was never blown up. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.44-Salon

salon
In DC, honest dialogue happens in salon. A salon here isn’t a place where one connects to their inner hair drier. It’s supper and conversation, in the classic sense. A provocateur’s invited along with many appreciative listeners. We drink some wine, eat some pate, then swallow some supper and engage in off the record conversation. Tonight’s topic was foreign policy. Tonight’s provocateur had several decades of foreign policy experience. Personal friends with some of the higher-ups in the Chinese government. He once sent a cable to the then Secretary of State, saying, “Fuck you, strong message to follow.”

The news never quite captures the subtlety of the real-world. The real world seems to be inhabited with the remarkable people who quite selflessly engage in our best interests, though they might sometimes find themselves sideways to the politicals. We would be sunk without their audacity. We’re nearly sunk with it. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.43-DisAster

lightrain
A light rain caught us as we left the house this morning. Neither of us seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of facing another OrdinaryTimes Monday morning. The Muse was running unusually late, but after the snarls she’d experienced on her business trip last week, she could afford to take her time. I had a day of uncertain preparations ahead. Supper for thirty tomorrow, what can I make beforehand without losing fresh crispnesses?

It felt more like Spring than almost Fall outside. The Muse wrestled with the umbrella getting into the car. Short hop to the Metro station, the usual morning news on the radio heading back. No, wait! That’s not the usual morning news: I hear the word ’shooter’ and suspect the worst. It’s the worst Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.42-Mow-Ring

mower
I own a lawnmower with a 1911 patent stamp on it. It still works more or less like new. It features a fine hardwood handle, spindle, and roller; hard rubber tires over cast iron wheels. Steel blades every bit as sharp as one of my kitchen knives. I’ve mowed my lawns with little else for the last decade.

My nephew bought this beauty at a junk shop for a buck and bestowed it on me as a wedding present in 2002. It might qualify as the finest present I’ve ever received. I didn’t sharpen it for the first decade I owned it, not that this ever affected the fine results it produced. It’s a five blade model. It leaves lawn looking as if some manicure scissor-wielding maniac took after the grass. I’ve seen some powered eight blade babies used for putting green trimming, but I’ve never seen a domestic push mower that could produce the trim this one yields. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.40-TheBreak

Break1
Life brings two great classes of tragedies: The breakdown and The BIG break.

My break downs seemed every bit as subtle as my BIG breaks. Perhaps they arrived by bus to avoid blocking the driveway before slipping in through the barely cracked bathroom window. Every day fairly succeeded in replicating the days before until one day just could not repeat those yesterdays. I barely noticed. Nothing exploded. Nothing seemed to disappear. The Scientists claim that losing the vision in one eye elicits no immediately recognizable change in experience. Half of the screen does not go blank, or so it seems when the break down or the BIG break appears.

Nobody makes movies about this experience. Subtle works about as well in movies as it does in rock and roll. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.39-CheckingOut

checkout
I’m the sort of person who tends to have difficult check-outs at the store. Retailers these days seem more interested in data gathering than selling stuff, so checkout’s complicated. No, I do not have one of your frequent shopper cards, or, if I do have one, I signed up under an assumed name. Do you discount my purchases if I ‘belong?’ If so, I have an assumed-name affiliation. If not, I don’t.

Yesterday I bought a bunch of fall plants at the hardware store. They were all the same, so I carried one of them to the front counter. The clerk charged me for N of the one I carried, then I went to the back to cart the bunch away. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, a clerk approached my car asking if he could look at my receipt. “I called to the front and they said they hadn’t checked out any bunches of plants,” he explained. “That’s because I only schlepped one of them to the checkout stand where she replicated one by N,” I replied. I was not arrested. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.38-ChanceEncounter

chanceEncounter
People over tonight. Fellow authors from the Berrett-Koehler Publisher community. Sweet people. We gathered, we wrote, we ate a simple supper, then we told stories. The pen isn’t just mighter than the sword, it renders the sword moot. Slip over here for more ...
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OrdinaryTimes 1.36-Provisioning

provisioning
I woke at three this morning, fussing about the weekend’s food. We’ve got vegetarians visiting, so I’ll be playing to my weak hand. I don’t roast the ceremonial goat head every night, but I appreciate the depth and texture a properly rendered fatty cut brings to the broth. I believe that even the most ideological or ideo-illogical vegan retains at least a vestigial palate, and I’m learning some of the tricks of the trade. We are all fat and sweet seekers, whatever form we insist upon receiving our nourishment. When the picky eaters show up, I resort to sleight of hand.

A decent veg stock gets built in three stages. The first stage, I raw cut. Carrots, parsnips, celery root and fennel top; beet, chard, and kale stems; shallots and okra tops, hot roasted for more than an hour, less than two, after being baptized in a decent olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I want these guys of the edge of char because char compensates for the anemic color and texture of plain boiled veg. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.35-Circling

circling
In lieu of any instruction manual, I’ve been watching how I approach accomplishing. I have not been wearing a lab coat or keeping copious notes, but I’m getting the impression that I almost never do anything the easy way. I’d thought there might be a straight-forward path between there and done. If there is one, it usually eludes me. I circle around, turn back, sneak behind, then sidle in sideways on almost every objective from concocting supper to writing a song. I have found no strait and narrow.

I should be pleased. Heck, I really should be delighted with this discovery. My fifth grade teacher insisted I could move right in: choose a subject, outline the steps, then follow those steps to achievement, closure. But my fifth grade teacher, God rest her weary soul, might have forgotten about learning. In choosing a subject, I should rightfully reject several. In outlining the steps, I could decide that I didn’t know enough to outline the steps yet and go feral, sniffing along some uncharted path. Even then, the best I could ever pull off was a half-way indecent backing into a result. I never once found a front door Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.34-Dis-Qualification

Dis-Qualification
I’ve heard that some people seek qualification. I guess I’m the opposite. I revel in disqualification. I felt validated when my high school guidance counselor declared me unsuitable for college. I’ve sat for a few certification exams, but gratefully failed most of them. I do not test well. I’m proud to say that I barely pass my periodic driver’s test, mostly because the state insists upon administering it on a Windoze-like computer, which I learned long ago wasn’t designed for me to use. My darling daughter, unlike me, did really well on her SAT exams, but, disgusted with colleges that used this widely discredited qualification for admission purposes, choose to go to schools that refused to use the damned thing. I guess my perspective might be DNA deep. I certainly hope so.

I live in a world crazy for certifications. I’m surprised that I don’t have to show prior ‘proof’ of some skill to sit on the freaking toilet, but I’m confident that’s coming. With the proliferation of computing has come the inundation of surveys, assessments, and exams, each supposed to prove something. Few of them prove anything except how savvy of an exam-taker I am. I am not a savvy exam taker, and do not aspire to become one. The cost’s just too great. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.33-Problemish

falsedilemma
The news screamed either/or today. Should we or should we not? Partisans line either side of this debate just as if they could persuade the opposition to switch sides. Few suspect they’re considering the wrong question. Should consensus center along either side, nobody ever need realize what the real question could have been.

Whatever the real question turns out to be, either/or never qualifies as the real question. Either/or almost always proves to be the source of even more difficulty than a frame for a satisfying resolution. E/O offers too few choices to support satisfaction. What to do? When offered the choice of either or or, choose neither. I understand that nobody’s offered that third choice, that the unspoken social convention insists that you shouldn’t reject the offered alternatives. Someone might be offended if you refuse to choose from the proffered platter. Do it anyway. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.32-WhoMan

Human
The Muse calls ‘em Stupid Human Tricks, those tendencies we tend to not notice ourselves embodying. The expert almost never notices the over-confidence his detailed knowledge of a system induces. Almost everyone falls prey to a Law of Small Numbers, where we pre-consciously act as if small samples would exhibit the same patterns as large, statistically significant ones might. We seem encased in biases and blindnesses, each perfectly human, each also perfectly delusional.

Economists seem to be about ready to give up on the notion of rational actors engaging in purely self-interested exchanges. Recent studies suggest that even if we tried to maximize our own self-interested happiness, we are not always in touch with what might render us happy. Lottery winners end up no happier than the poorest of the rest of us. Our status quo seems most valuable to us, and we seem imbedded in a continually shifting context. We seem, as a species, very risk averse, even when we characterize ourselves as daredevils. As economists back away from earlier, more wishful presumptions about human behavior, the many professions classifiable under the broad heading of economic activities seem painfully unaware that their profession’s presumptions, too, more than qualify as questionable. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.31-BeLief

BeLief
I’m never happier than when I’m under the thrall of one of my many firmly-held beliefs. The ennobling effect works whether the belief supports an absolute truth or absurd falsehood. Anyone can logically dismantle anyone else’s belief without noticing that the purpose of holding the belief never was to support any volume of truth behind it, but the ‘lief’ it encourages; that starry-eyed conviction, that unshakeable dedication, that otherwise unsupportable optimism renders criticism moot. Belief requires no proof.

I cannot force anyone to believe anything. No matter how powerful my own belief, I cannot coerce you into sharing it. I know, you can pretend, but later, your skepticism will shine through your gauzy cover story; your lief will prove unsustainable. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.30-LightSpeed

lightspeed
The season seems to change at the speed of light. Not a dizzying, hyper-active flash, but an ambiant ambling. One morning, the sun comes up from a different angle, sharing the sky for the first time since June. A cooling moistness prevails, a clear tell that the season was changing all the time. The sun flees southward at about eighteen miles a day, much slower than a walking horse, continually, if only slightly shifting its approach angle, resulting in these moments of recognized change. It seemed everything was the same until it was not the same anymore. I feel like something’s over Slip over here for more ...
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OrdinaryTimes 1.29-MuddleClass

muddle
Give any half-way decent economist or shameless politician a podium and you’ll elicit enthusiastic support for the middle class, a concept nobody’s not in favor of. Some polling shows that many more than half of US households believe themselves to be a part of this vast, undefinable middle. We all support a chicken in every pot, which was once the symbol of the cherished space, but no more. Now, it seems, the flat screen television better symbolizes this space, along with a two car garage and granite countertops. This land where everyone’s supposed to want to own their own home and aspire to hold down a middle management position has long been fundamental to our mythos.

This myth belongs in a consumer economy held hostage to the ability and willingness of everyone to acquire stuff. Advertising encourages this desire; television, too, where we peek into lifestyles few of us even suspected we wanted to emulate until we saw some actors pretending their surroundings represented normal. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.28-Peer-Ifery

periphery
Ask me and I’ll tell you that I prefer to hang around the periphery rather than nearer center stage. You may accuse me of slinking or lurking, or even of reenacting the tarot’s five of pentangles, peering in through the church window when I could just go inside. I think of myself as a witness, an observer rather than a player. Last weekend when everyone else was playing a game of kooky kickball, joining the game didn’t even occur to me. I sat on the periphery providing color commentary instead.

I tell myself that I can get better perspective out there, and I swear this declaration is usually true. I do sometimes feel like one of those starving street urchins who can’t seem to figure out how to belong. Most of my direct experience has not been of the hands-on variety, but I am not a kinetic learner. I learn more from watching than I do from touching, and most from listening rather than talking myself. Reading isn’t vicarious experience for me, but direct. My head is the center of my universe. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.27-InnerNinny

ninny
I confessed to my friend David that I was feeling like a ninny around my long-stalled book project. I would prefer to courageously face it, but that feels like so much bluster. Whatever this book needs from me, I’m reasonably confident that bluster isn’t it.

I’m dealing with subtlety—a substance almost extinguished in the bold branding balderdash of modern marketing. Nobody organizes mass marches for subtlety. No stirring speeches promote it. No cheerleaders pump up the crowd. Almost nobody notices its presence or its absence except the author and The Muse, and they notice too well. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.26-Know-Ledge

synesth
My friend Steve explains that he doesn’t remember stuff by labels. Leaving an exam in college, a fellow student asked if he remembered The Barnes Case to answer one question. “What’s The Barnes Case?” Once she’d explained, he held forth on the patterns and principles involved, but he hadn’t catalogued that ‘knowledge’ like any database would.

Steve’s not a database, but a judge—or has been a judge for most of his career. His work’s not a matter of rule matching, since every case is different and the law ambiguous. His challenge leans toward finding common patterns that might integrate situation with precedent, dilemma with resolution. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.25-8thDay

planning1
And on the eighth day, man began to plan. He started with the end in mind, blinding himself to what stood right beside him. He assumed his way back from that future to find his presence in question. He charted his course as if he’d surveyed the territory, lighting straight and narrow pathways through crooked uncertainty until he was convinced he knew the way. He infected others with his vision, encouraging them to follow his lead, and so he led his followers deep into temptation as if to deliver them from evil. On the eight day, he planned.

On the ninth day, he planned again, reworking original notions, adapting to the inevitably unforeseen, just as if he could more clearly foresee now. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.24-ToodleTwo

route15
US Route 15 must be one of the great American drives. Swooping down from New York State into Pennsylvania, traversing wide valleys and climbing through fingers of mountains. Smooth transition from the weekend into whatever the coming week brings.

The Muse and I went on a toodle this weekend. Not a drive or an excursion or a trip, but a toodle. The rules are different. On a drive, we’re aimless. On an excursion, we know our destination. On a trip, we have at least a clue about how we’ll get from here to there. On a toodle, we throw away plans and hold principles instead.

The principle of this toodle was all about avoiding freeways. We drove about three hundred miles, only resorting to freeways for about ten miles. We considered this a win.

Freeways aren’t free and they are no way to make anything but time, which seemed beside the point on this outing. We were heading North, roughly in the direction of my nephew’s birthday party, but we deliberately avoided knowing how we’d get there on time. This was almost an excursion. We’ve taken longer trips without knowing where we were headed,







©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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OrdinaryTimes 1.23-Alignment

alignment
Some OrdinaryTimes days, just a very few, align perfectly. The Muse insists that the universe is always in perfect alignment, and I accept her wisdom, but acknowledge that only sometimes does that universal constant require no nudging from me. Today, apples fell off the tree just as I passed beneath, landing a juicy, perfectly ripe fruit right into the palm of my hand. Again and again.

I’m tempted to believe that I might have hit some turning point where this could become the new normal, but I’m not quite that needy or delusional yet. Instead, I’ll just appreciate, dog-tired, and proceed. I’m confident that there’s no particular reason behind this remarkable series. Randomness explains it adequately without diminishing the experience even a little bit. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.22-Company

company
The Muse seems to be a skillful politician. Her primary weapon might be the strategically positioned supper party. Whenever a group comes to town for a review or a meeting, she invites ‘em over for supper. The program she works for rarely sponsors any outside of work activities, so an essential channel of communication just doesn’t exist unless somebody, like The Muse, makes it happen. She does.

I don’t do much other than clean up the house and prepare the food, perhaps pull out the guitar after supper for a short house concert. Most of the conversation at table flies far over my head. It’s filled with nuanced meanings, so much so that The Muse has to later, once the guests depart, explain to me what really happened. It seemed like so much small talk but it was not. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.21-Prep

prep
At least 80% of every activity can be charged to the preparation account. At most, 20% of wallpapering involves wallpaper. Painting, too, turns out to barely engage either paint or a brush. Same story with supper.

Hours before any flame ignites, I’m plotting, pre-planning before doing anything; then peeling, chopping, and setting aside in bowls, which I set in cooking sequence. By the time I ignite any flame, supper’s set up for a fall-through. The fall-through’s usually quick. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.20-Mastery

mastery1
I enter the shop reluctantly. I’d expected a more welcoming entrance, a better neighborhood. This place, squeezed between the smoky stench of past pull-dated fried chicken oil and a multi-purpose passport photo shop, scares me. The front window needs cleaning—on the inside more than out—and shelves seem randomly-stacked. Inside, though, I’m reassured. I’m in the presence of a master.

A small man, fashionably-dressed for 1973, steps out through a beaded curtain from a dimly-lit back room. He welcomes me with a nod and a phrase I can’t quite catch, delivered in a dialect few ever used. I mumble my query, suddenly stupid, unable to properly form words. I show him and he immediately understands. His body language tells me that my difficulty is small potatoes, but that I’ll have to wait a week, maybe more, for a fix. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.19-XTRMlyOrdinary

ordinary
It was my birthday this morning so I woke up at three am but lazed around until almost four. The cats followed me downstairs and even chose to go out when I opened the front door to check on the weather. Humidity seemed to be moving back in.

I figured this was my day to do whatever I pleased, so I finished that novel so I could return it to the library. The Muse woke up grumbling that she had an early meeting I hadn’t heard about. I would have at least had her coffee waiting for her had I known. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.18-LastNight

lastNight
I was careful to leverage endings back when I still called myself a songwriter. Neurotic, perhaps, but each month-end demanded that I finish at least one more song before the next month rolled in. I suppose this jammed the usual OrdinaryTime defenses that too easily lull a creative mind into knocking off rather than creating.

OrdinaryTime might be the most powerful narcotic known to humankind. It soothes and reassures even the most talented, leaving much unfinished work in its wake. Imagine what it might do to someone as modestly talented as I. I need some jamming. Discipline can work, but unreliably. If it only took hard work, I’d have a lot more results than I seem to produce. Dangle a decent deadline before me and I’ll pretty reliably deliver. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.17-Entraining

chalkboard
By the time I entered fourth grade, I knew trouble was coming. I knew how to read and count pretty well before I started first grade, so the first three grades were easy, but I’d heard stories about fourth and I felt terrified. By fourth grade, I was supposed to start showing how smart I was by memorizing things, and I had never been smart in that way—particularly procedures. For those, I relied upon written instructions that seemed to wave hazily before me, rendering them impossible for me to commit to memory.

I did okay, though, and was even recognized as gifted, even sent to a special class where we did the fourth grade equivalent of sitting around in wing-back chairs wearing leather patches on the elbows of grey cardigans, smoking cigars and engaging in college-bound stuff. I felt like someone had made a big mistake. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.16-ManageMental

Crazy
About a hundred years ago, American society went certifiably crazy: management crazy. Before then, individuals, often collaborating with others, somehow directed their own affairs. After, people started believing things would just work better if a manager was involved. Now, we routinely speak of mis-management as if it was some kind of disease, certain to create illness and perhaps death. And when some endeavor fails, we presume it was first a failure of management rather than of execution.

Smear some of that mysterious goo, management, onto anything, and it’ll magically just work better. Efficiency will increase and waste will plummet, customer satisfaction should soar and time-to-market could be cut in half. So many marbles in our mouths, and not one of us like being managed. Most of us prefer not to be the manager, either, since that job seems the least satisfying of almost all the other possibilities. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.15-Festering

fester
I hold one principle nearest to my heart: Start with whatever’s threatening to fester. I hold this close because again and again and again, it’s proven reliable. When cooking, and stumped with what to feature that evening, this notion’s served me well again and again and again. Maybe because the threat’s not yet quite manifested, and I end up getting peak ripeness. Maybe because my situational leniency saves me a hassled trip to the purveyors. Maybe it’s just magic, but I live by it.

I’m a soft-hearted cook. I hate to toss that last leftover cup of even stuff I know won’t keep, so I have a larder half-full of questionable material. This quite naturally leads me to combine question-ables, yielding unreproduce-able results. Tonight’s supper went down easy, anyway. Tomorrow’s might as well, I figure. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.14-SteppIninSomethin

footprint
I wasn’t sure what that was next to the driver’s side door as I opened it in the grocery store parking lot. It was only clear that someone had stepped in it. I checked my shoes and concluded that it probably wasn’t me.

This wasn’t dog poo, but some graham cracker-chocolate something or other. Someone had dropped a chunk of it, someone has stepped in it, and the forensic evidence suggested it might have been me.

I did not step in it. I watched myself revert to olfactory mode when I thought I recognized my shoeprint there. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.13-Visitation

visitation
OrdinaryTimes depend upon visitations. Not necessarily visits from a Magi, but don’t bet against that. We are splayed across our everyday, dependent upon some old/new/referred friend to stop in and bust up the tenacious status quo. Go ahead. Please try to inconvenience me.

This week was blessed with a visitation. In anticipation, I vacuumed out the place. The Muse dusted: toilets sparkly, ash tray located.

I’m a lousy house guest, so busy apologizing for the inconvenience, I never consider that I might be a gift to my hosts. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.12-ShortChange

smallchange
We stopped for beers after spending the afternoon at the Holocaust Museum.

That’s one lousy way to start a story. Maybe I should start over.

We stepped out of the sweaty afternoon, hoping cast conditioned ales might be on offer at Churchkey.

That’s better...

The Muse found a stout so dark we had to turn on my iPhone flashlight app to hear our conversation. III found a bourbon barrel-aged brew that tasted to me like Sugar Corn Pops. I found a most unlikely Italian IPA called Buracracy; very nice but such a small glass.

III was buying, and he refused to run a tab, handing the server a couple of twenties. “I can run a tab if you’d like,” he offered.

”I would not,” insisted III. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.11-Greenbelt

greenbelt
We visited Greenbelt today. A community founded upon the notion that community thrives by encouraging cooperation rather than competition. The community owns the homes. Individuals purchase leases to live there. Sidewalks connect homes via green spaces, rather than lining streets. Schools, shops, and gathering places are close enough that most trips don’t require a car.

My friend III grew up in Greenbelt, his parents counted as founders. Such an idyllic childhood could have ill-prepared him for a successful life, but it didn’t. Instead, it seemed to instill a deep decency. He’s the one who’s known community since the day he was born. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.10-III

redacted
My dear friend III showed up today. We’ve known each other for about twenty years, though we don’t see each other much. He was present when The Muse and I were married, and has been our guest almost as many times as we’ve been his guest. He doesn’t allow himself to be photographed, holding to the notion that photographs swipe a bit of one’s soul. He might be the sanest person I’ve ever known.

Exile holds us far away from our longest-lived loves, surrounding us with new friends, sure, but all strangers to our past. Those who were there at the time understand the context from which we come. Much of our deepest understanding needs no stating. Most of our conversation needs little explanation. It’s easy. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.09-Friday

fri
Fridays during OrdinaryTimes, I drive The Muse to work. It’s less convenient for me to drive her downtown than it is for her to hop the Metro, but I do my larder stocking on Friday mornings, so I’m heading that direction anyway. She agrees to be chauffeured. We chat as I take our secret passage off the hill into town. She’d usually rather stick with me than hop out when I pull into the No Parking Zone across from the building that holds her office. By Friday, she’s fed up with the mindless bureaucracy. I’d rather she could tag along, too. She’s fed up and I’m fixing to stock up the feed.

With the sequester’s forced layoffs, Friday traffic feels Saturday light. We make the passage in just under a half hour. After The Muse reluctantly departs, I wheel into the on-ramp beneath L’Enfant Plaza and onto the 395. I cross the Potomac into Virginia and exit onto the George Washington Parkway, a narrow four lane where black SUVs weave through traffic like Richard Petty’s driving, wending through the floodplain beneath the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The signage directs me to the left lane, then the right, then back to the left again before I emerge onto US 50 heading West between Fort Myers and the Beltway Bandit hideout of Roslyn, and take the first exit, cutting an immediate right then left to climb the hill up to Wilson Blvd, where I turn left and continue my climb up into Courthouse and Clarendon. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.08-Magic

rabbithat
I remember both fondly and incorrectly the mornings I wrote my published book The Blind Men and the Elephant. To my faulty memory, I composed it effortlessly, almost stream of consciously, with little subsequent editing needed. In fact, the experience was more like walking to Georgia on my finger tips than dictating flawless prose. That time was every bit as fit and starty as today.

I believe that the finishing touches on any piece of writing erases much of the pain experienced when pulling it up out of its unlikely hat. A flood of joy washes all the blood, sweat, and fears away, leaving a sweet smelling result. This dance between whitewashed memory and blistering experience discourages me. I mean it extracts most of my courage and leaves me stunned and confused. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.07-Spire

spire
An OrdinaryTimes morning won’t naturally inspire much more than rolling over to catch more sleep. I set an early alarm anyway and make my way down the dawn-shadowed stairway to fetch the newspaper, put the teapot on the flame, and refresh the cats’ water bowl and food dish.

The Muse out-sleeps me and I try to drizzle her coffee before she stumbles down seeking extrinsic motivation. I scan the newspaper while my espresso tries to rise in its little pot. I allow myself two comics and a horriblescope reading before emptying my overnight email in-box. The Muse will be prepping her breakfast fruit by then. I’ll meditate some. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.06-OweKnur

oweknur
I rent with an owner’s mindset. I’m the guy who washes the rental car before returning it. I maintain the stuff entrusted to me as if it were my own, to my own standards. One neighbor confided that the place we’re renting looks a lot better than when the owners lived in it.

The Muse distinguishes between what she calls a Renter’s and an Owner’s Mindset. She doesn’t own the company she works for, but she acts like she does. Others seem to endlessly complain about the lack of direction they receive from above, as if their boss, their boss’s boss, or even the head of that operation somehow possessed an owner’s wisdom denied mere worker bees. A Renter’s Mindset encourages otherwise sentient adults to engage as if they are adolescent worker bees. The Muse doesn’t work so much as owns. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.05-MindNumbing

mindnumbing
Today I sing the praises of repetitive, mind-numbing work. Not the exacting, mind-filling work occupying so much OrdinaryTime, but the truly trivial but none-the-less necessary labor I’m sometimes fortunate enough to find myself engaged in. Picky weeding. Tedious cleaning. Vegetable prep.

The Good Lord provided vegetables especially for this occupation. The price of preserving 120 pounds of fine plum tomatoes includes the necessity of peeling every blessed one of those babies, and since The Muse and I will feed ourselves with the result, we must be careful to remove only that celluloid skin and the annoying stem bud. Oh, and we’d like to finish this job in a day. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.04-2MateOh

2MightOwe
Even OrdinaryTimes can be pretty darned special. When summer slips over into her better half, harvesting starts in earnest. When harvest finds her peak, The Muse and I go on the hunt for tomatoes. When we lived in The Valley, the hunt took all of fifteen minutes to drive to Milton and Rose’s truck farm, where we’d pick our own then haul ‘em home to steam up the windows. In exile here, it’s a hundred miles each way to a barn in Pennsylvania, six hours on rolling two lane blacktop, dodging the occasional Amishman’s carriage; still well worth the trip.

Each summer we produce a few dozen quarts of canned plum tomatoes, perhaps a half dozen half pints of tomato paste, and a few freezer bags stuffed with roasted tomato slices, rendered in olive oil with garlic and fresh thyme. We do not can sauce, but make it fresh from our canned tomatoes, paste, and roasted slices. We preserve ingredients rather than finished product so we can use our harvest differently every meal. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.03-Alien

alien2
I hold this sneaking suspicion that I don’t belong. I’ve felt like a stranger everywhere I’ve lived, including ‘the old home place,’ which has now passed out of the family. Home seems an alien concept.

I’m uncertain how I came to feel this way. I was the designated oddball in my birth family, which might have helped form this sense, and I reveled in that role. In my late teen years, I grew my hair long, thereby becoming an instant outcast almost everywhere I went. Later, I lived in a succession of neighborhoods I didn’t feel safe in, where I didn’t know the neighbors very well and they didn’t know me, either. I never learned the corner store owner’s name, nor he mine. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.02-Alonely

alonely
My agent classified me as a Single Acoustic Artist, which meant that I didn’t belong to a band. My current report card, if my second grade teacher was still around to fill it out, would probably say that I don’t play well with others, or, more generously, that I don’t often play with others. I spend most of my OrdinaryTime alone.

I don’t remember a single class in school in the fine art of aloneliness. Not loneliness, since I suppose everyone gets on-the-job training in that, one way or another, but aloneliness, which I might define as the ability to utilize empty time. Writers, musicians, consultants, even arm-candy spouses become expert in this curious craft. They might even appear to be the life of every party you see them attend, but nobody sees the other 99% of their time—their alonely time of which they are masters. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.01-FeedingFerals

ferals
I didn’t expect to learn so much feeding feral cats. A neighbor was ill and needed someone to take over her Wednesday morning responsibilities, and I innocently volunteered. Now, every Wednesday morning, I fill two gallon jugs with water, top off the old kitty litter tub with dry food, and grab nine small cans of wet food (something I’d never dream of feeding my domestic critters), and make my rounds.

I visit five feeding stations: one behind the neighborhood hospital, and the other four around a local shopping center. I don’t always see cats at every station, but I always find clear evidence that they have been there; them or raccoons. I always find empty food pans. Slip over here for more ...

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