Re-late

network
I might be a little late arriving at this recognition; not that I haven’t been bombarded with clues since before you-know-who outgrew his diapers. I was always related, but couldn’t relate. I competed instead, seeking superiority. Who would settle for parity when the possibility of dominion begins batting those long eyelashes?

I tell a passable, but unconvincing story. Everyone says we’re all about community, but we have yet to develop a convincing dialect to support that assertion. Most often, community serves as code for .community, abbreviated to .com, which means I want to sell you something. If you buy, you belong. If you buy again, you belong more. If you buy early and often, you’re a best customer, qualified to receive special attention. Slip over here for more ...

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Sides

shapes-special
Most controversies seem to demand the taking of sides. Even though most every controversy has fewer or many more than two sides, the invitation always comes addressed to either or to or. This narrowing of perspective might be characterized as the root cause of the controversy, though no one engaged in resolving it would ever suspect that the cause was meta to the maelstrom. This paragraph explains the human condition.

No day ever goes by but what I’m invited to stand up for this or its logical counterpart, that. I’m challenged to show my true colors, as if they could not possibly include a rather fuzzy grey. My clients insist that I see their world through their eyes, and I surprise myself when I find I’m almost able to, but without the conviction they bring to the experience. I might be able to appreciate the sides they see without actually seeing or ever really believing in them. Slip over here for more ...

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SacredResponsibility

gordian-knot1
I’ve grown to understand that every client holds the sacred responsibility to at least try to thwart my every attempt to help them. Most seem fully capable of fulfilling this obligation without anyone reminding them to do anything. Even those who innocently mistake me for a helpmate eventually understand that I would not help them, if only because I couldn’t. No matter how diligent, knowledgeable, insistent, or clever they or I might think I am, they’ll still have to untie their own Gordian knot. I need to be diligent anyway, to deflect their insidious pleas for help, and knowledgeable enough to recognize that line I should not wander beyond, and insistent in my belief that my client is fully capable of untying their own knot, and clever enough to successfully engage in this dance.

The BriefConsultant might be mistaken for help, or even for a helper, but he cannot be either. The role, properly deployed, might involve more shoving back out onto the ice than rescuing the apparently inept skater. The client is usually the source of his own difficulty. He might as well be the source of the resolution of that difficulty, too. Slip over here for more ...

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ExpertTeasers

expertTeasers
The Muse was reading out loud juicy bits from an Inspector General report about a project she’d been watching augur into ever deeper ‘yogurt’ for months, and I heard myself responding, as distracted husbands often will, “Amateurs! Amateurs!” Most of us have seen what happens when someone with great expertise in one area finds them self assigned to an area they have no experience with. The new context easily gets mistaken for some familiar one, and with little more than the raw power of authority driving, auguring ensues. Experienced contributors might get savaged for resisting change when they mention complications only visible to someone, unlike the designated leader, with practical experience.

These adventures almost never turn out well. Often, it seems, the clueless decision maker will amplify his own cluelessness by engaging his expertise. Some manage to transcend this downward trend, though this seems to demand an almost inhuman ability: the unlikely ability to demonstrate expertise in NOT being an expert. 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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AttentionSpanner

spanner
I anticipated that after forty-some years of uninterrupted twice-daily meditation, I might have the focusing prowess of a yogi. No dice. I’m as easily distracted as I ever was, though I might, perhaps, have improved my ability to jump back into the stream I seem so easily ejected out of. I sometimes engage in ways that evaporate time when I’m engrossed in constructing a poem or an enticing piece of prose. Sometimes just picking up the old guitar transports me.

I seem easily distracted. This declaration weighs in at the rough equivalent of ‘I seem remarkably human,’ and serves as no real distinction at all. The advertisers understand and exploit this universal human trait. The supermarket surrounds me with so much visual stimulus that I lose all awareness of what I take in. My brain devolving into a mush of subliminally suggested memes, I try hard to shop on the periphery, lest the deep, dark corridors between completely subsume by intentions and free will. Slip over here for more ...

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SocialFracking

frackingzone
I’ve taken to calling those flow-interrupting comments that bomb out a conversation thread SocialFracking. There’s both good and bad SocialFrack. The good might turn a terrible tank before it crushes the shared garage. The bad kind feels like losing your mantra; you might not notice instantly, but when you do notice, you’ll have to start all over again.

I unfriend chronic SocialFrackers (colloquially referred to as simply “frackers”) because they distract me from the business at hand. They engage like under-recognized precocious children; smart-mouthed, dumb-assed, understandably unappreciated. They seem to wear their grudge on their shoulder, proudly, as if a spangly epallette. They suck all the civility out of discourse. My life’s way too short to let them hang around for long. Slip over here for more ...

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Writing

quill
I usually introduce myself as a writer, not because I make a living writing, but because I spend most of my time either writing or thinking about writing. It might be my obsession. It kind of sucks as obsessions go, though it’s gratefully not illegal yet.

Writing doesn’t pay much of anything, and it’s tedious, lonely work. There is a trade aspect to it, but that seems convoluted enough to prevent most people from entering it. Some writers have agents who take care of the business end of the business. I have an editor or two who welcome anything I submit. Slip over here for more ...

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Scale

scale1
She was rapt all through his description of his work. Then she asked the poison question. “Does it scale? If you can do this with an organization of a hundred, how would you do it in one with thirty thousand?”

He spent the next two days working out how that might happen, or, more properly, utterly failing to work out how that might happen. Finally, in some frustration, he figured out something. The answer, the definitive answer to her question just had to be no. He answered her question, so why did he feel as though he’d failed? Slip over here for more ...

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TheLastStorm

laststorm
Most observers figure this will be the last storm of the season. Well, the last big storm, but nobody really knows. Arctic air still roams freely south of the Mason-Dixon Line and tropical moisture hasn’t had its hall pass revoked yet. Get those two delinquents together and it’s anybody’s guess.

The Last Storm brings a touch of nostalgia with it. I’m always on alert when the Weather Service issues a Storm Watch. I become, well, watchful, I guess, anticipating the morning’s shoveling duties, making sure the long underwear’s laid out, double checking the old boots and the supply of ice melt. I triple check the larder lest I find myself without milk, beer, or fresh salad greens, the three primary food groups of this transition season. Slip over here for more ...

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Sprung

sprung1
Winter hasn’t quite let go yet. Last year, it never really came. This year, it’s the house guest that can’t take a hint. A week ago, the back door was blocked by ice and snow. Today, the yard’s covered in crocus. Monday will be yet another snow day here.

I was worried that the capricious weather might freeze out the earliest flowers, but they seemed to have thermostats telling them to close up tight, and I can see no damage as they open up wide again. They were extra eager to bloom this March. The moment that last deep snowfall melted off, up they came and more than welcome they were, too. Slip over here for more ...

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Be-Longing

be-longing
I felt the hollowness when they asked what skills I might bring to the collaboration. Skills, I thought? I’m supposed to have skills? I checked my pockets, but my hand came back out holding only a few coins; small change. “I have quite a bit of experience,” I explained, “but none of it seems to have resulted in anything I’d really consider to be skills.” I felt thirteen again.

I might be a member of that group with a perpetual member numbering one, but changing every day. I learned that I was supposed to be something when I grew up, but I’ve either never grown up or failed to become in spite of considerable personal and professional growth. The evolution seems incomplete. Slip over here for more ...

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Difference

difference
The possibility of disappointment, even failure, increases whenever I pursue impossibles. I shouldn’t have to remind myself to check for impossibility before starting a project, but I seem to almost always forget. I might be so blinded by the glimmer streaming off my bright, shiny objective that I flat-out forget to confirm the likelihood that there might possibly be a there over there where I swear I’m going. When there’s no there there, I’m not really gonna get anywhere, no matter how caring my intentions.

One of the great pitfalls involves the whole-hearted pursuit of change. This often occurs in groups, when someone whips folks into enough of a frenzy that they temporarily lose their minds, convinced that they might reasonably, for instance, change their culture. Whatever the anticipated need or the imagined benefits derived from this kind of effort, success seems slim, though this one might (I said might) be destined to become the precedent-setting first instance of successful culture changing registered in history so-far; but probably not. Slip over here for more ...

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Bluster

snakeoil1
The boundary between fact and fantasy only seems wider than it used to be. Commerce has long been exempted from any legal obligation to tell the truth about anything; us emptors have always been well-advised to caveat plenty, because the promotional material probably promises much more than the product could possibly deliver. They play liar’s poker, and each of us gets to sit in the rube’s chair at the table.

This is nothing personal. Bluster quite naturally expands over time. Stretching any truth encourages its ever greater elasticity. Advertisements intend to persuade, not inform, though much promotional material appears informational. If it was paid for by someone expecting to recoup their outlay, I should expect that it might well say anything to separate me from my money. Slip over here for more ...

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Optim-eyes

fairytales
“We are poisoned by our fairy tales.”
Don Henley
The End Of The Innocence


I listen to the language around me. I listen deeply. I hear insistent preference for The Fairy Tale Form, a descriptive style that might well acknowledge difficulties but also demand resolution, too, almost as if living happily ever after must be the primary purpose of any stumble. We intend this, I suppose, to encourage us. We don’t so much see as optim-eyes, subtly projecting hopes over the top of our fears. This passes as the primary coping strategy of the modern age. 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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ResterRant

blindfold21
I rarely ‘eat out.’ I long ago grew weary of the blind man’s bluff game the so-called hospitality industry plays. What other industry demands that its customers choose from deliberately misleading lists of possibilities featuring the vaguest possible descriptions of their products, expecting their customer to select satisfying results? Who could possibly know what passes for hash browns here? Or home fries? Or even mashed potatoes? No way to know without sleuthing around to other customers’ plates, but even then, looks can be so deceiving.

Ask the poor (literally, slave-waged) server. Who knows what s/he might recommend? Just try and often fail to anticipate what the budding food artiste in the kitchen will produce from what the food accountant says he can spend. Even assuming the chef can cook (not a universally safe assumption), the result amounts to a crap shoot. Slip over here for more ...

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Leaving

leaving
John Gorka once noted that anyone living with their baggage packed, leaves more often than they ever come back. This spot-on observation describes the feeling for both the host and the visitor. However warm or cold any reception or stay, leavings never come easily. Nobody ever intended to stay beyond their welcome, but nobody welcomes leaving.

Leaving seems like grown up stuff, hard and ungratifying work requiring an almost inhuman discipline. I imagine that it must be good for somebody, but the repacking and the heading out cracks even hardened hearts. I seem to shrink from the backside of any adventure. Heading back’s no heading out experience, even when we take an unfamiliar route back home. Slip over here for more ...

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Foreigner

foreign
I’ve been fortunate to visit several different countries and to live for short periods within different cultures. No master of my native tongue, I made no attempt to master the daily life phrases guide books phonetically describe, but relied instead upon what I labeled the point and click method, as if I were an enterprising two year old and the locals benevolent interpreters. We’d triangulate toward a rough understanding, language being only one of a wide variety of methods for comprehending. This technique turned out to be a humbling tactic, inhibiting most every pretense, and a gratefully humanizing one.

Had I stayed longer, I suppose verbal language might have emerged. Just visiting, I could at best observe and rather crudely adapt. Still, I managed to feed, transport, and house myself, albeit with a considerable measure of help from my new, temporary friends. I was, after all, a foreigner. Slip over here for more ...

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Stranger

stranger
I should be no stranger to being the stranger by now. I’ve spent much of my life shuttling between here and there, sometimes including somewhere else entirely. My normal state seems surrounded by strangers which I suppose qualifies me as a stranger in even most of my neighbors’ eyes. Curiously, it doesn’t feel terribly strange to me to feel like a stranger.

The first twenty or so years of my life was just the opposite, I knew many of the people I came in contact with, and they knew me. This might have been simply the result of growing up in a small city, living in the same house in the same neighborhood, never having to change schools. Understandably, I calibrated myself to recognize this state as normal, and that it must be somehow strange to be a stranger. That innocent level setting guaranteed that my next four decades would find me in exile, displaced, a stranger to almost everyone around me. Slip over here for more ...

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Confessor

confessor
The visitor seems to naturally fall into the role of confessor. Perhaps this transformation occurs because the visitor carries a certain anonymity. Unlike the town priest who will still be there tomorrow and the next day, and also unlike the trusted old friend who might know the history a bit too well, the visitor has neither history nor legacy in your space, and so serves as the perfect vessel for offloading troubling secrets.

As a consultant, I’ve grown to expect my client’s whispered confessions. I hear about a lot more than the business difficulty, that’s for sure, and this should not be surprising since the business no more lives in isolation from the rest of its principal’s existence than the principal does. Those admissions carry the patterns reinforcing all the client’s complaints as well as clues to their resolution. I often need to engage no more fully than lending an attentive ear for my client to hear themselves resolve their own trouble. Slip over here for more ...

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Scholar

Scholar
I failed to persuade them to invest in the full three and a half days. They opted for two half day ‘over-views’ instead. I reluctantly agreed, knowing nothing was likely to change from such a quick, shallow dip. This was a world-class university, overflowing with smarts, confident that their people would be able to instantly absorb any information. Problem was, I wasn’t dealing in information.

I would be received as the visiting scholar, one who’d spent his life studying his specialty, one who had distilled whole libraries into a single simple meme. Sitting in my presence should transform something. Hearing me speak, however briefly, should spark enough understanding. I wasn’t really dealing in understanding, either.

The visiting scholar holds mythical stature, expected to not merely understand, but to instantly impart understanding. As if he’d done the leg work, proved the claim, mined the ore, smelted the precious metal, and stamped the coins he’ll just hand out to anyone attending his lecture. In fact, the scholar holds more questions than answers, and might be best understood as the inheritor of the unanswerable question. This query requires caretaking, a patient, persistent, and nurturing hand to hold; one that will, in time, pass it on to a following generation. Slip over here for more ...

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VisitorPass

visitor
Remember the satisfaction a hall pass could bring? It meant that I was special, released from the regular programming, on a formally sanctioned mission away from the ordinary. Whether a restroom or an extracurricular activity called, I was on my own, traversing otherwise no-man’s land, bullet-proofed for the duration. Even if that particularly hostile assistant principal noticed me and asked, I carried a guaranteed get out of jail free card, transforming this usual suspect into a Teflon® visitor.

Supposedly all grown up now, I gain a certain self-satisfaction wearing the badge of a visiting contractor. I have a desk drawer half-filled with used visitor badges, each a testament to my past temporarily special statuses. Security would welcome me, seek my signature, then pass me a custom-made credential before opening the gates to the compound. I’d usually require an escort as if a visiting dignitary, an envoy from the future. 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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Prosperity

prosperity
I read the financial press with increasing interest because I might be the only one to notice this pattern behind sure-fire prosperity. Yes, I have a degree in business administration, but nobody even hinted at this golden goose egg when I attended university. (I admit it, my university days probably occurred well before the emergence of the modern goose.)

Used to be that a company succeeded by producing some product or service which they sold for a ‘price’, generating ‘revenues’, which through careful ‘cost management’ would distill into ‘profits’, thereby attracting ‘investors,’ who’d front cash without any explicit agreement to return even a penny of it. Yes, I admit that this sounds silly nowadays; backward. Byzantine, and perhaps it was. Slip over here for more ...

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TwelfthNight

leatheryleaves
On The TwelfthDay of Christmas, night fell. A mighty Chinook wind had blown through over the eleventh night, stealing away most of the snow. Squirrels had for days been purposefully pulling huge leathery oak leaves from the layer I’d left protecting the gardens from the winter; extra nest insulation against the coming Polar Vortex bitter cold. I do not know how they know it’s coming.

The TwelfthNight isn’t about the second coming, but the first one; set aside for the feast celebrating God becoming man, not man becoming God-like. Slip over here for more ...

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EleventhDay

pied-piper-king-williams--001
An old year ended on the EleventhDay of Christmas.

The Muse and I piled old magazines high on the dining room table and started snipping images. For many New Year’s Eves before The Exile, we’d created collages for each New Year. This involved cutting pictures more or less at random from old magazines, then arranging and gluing them onto poster board. A friend who long ago introduced us to this practice insisted that the resulting ‘work’, over the following year, would manifest whatever it depicts. Slip over here for more ...

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TenthDay

palm
On the Tenth Day of Christmas the whole world went silent. The scholar in the basement stumbled upstairs into the kitchen to brew his coffee. He solemnly declared that the house had become boring. He was right.

The traveling tornado brothers left after breakfast, marking the official end of the festivities portion of this holiday. I fell into a coma-like nap. The Muse reclaimed her sewing room. Quilting subsumed her. Slip over here for more ...

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NinthDay

armbone
On the NinthDay of Christmas my family gave me some Christmas attitude.

I should have at least suspected, but I didn’t learn until nearly the end of the boyz’ visit that both were accomplished soloists. They’d given little hints of their musical abilities, but they’d been cloaked and clandestine. The last night, though, as we were finishing supper, The Muse explained that since I hadn’t pulled out the guitar during the whole visit, there would be some music that night. Slip over here for more ...

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EighthDay

eighth
On the Eighth Day of Christmas, The Muse gave me a day with my nephew. Before he arrived, we’d planned to have many long rambling conversations after he arrived, but with the rug rats roiling around the ankles, we’d barely managed well-intended mumbles between wrestling one or the other of them into rough acquiescence. I’d mentioned visiting Arlington National Cemetery with the boyz, but The Muse insisted we leave them ruffians behind. She’d keep them engaged with a game of Monotony (you might recognize it by its registered trademark ‘Monopoly’) and by making a big batch of anise candy. (Yes, the boyz quickly perverted the candy name into ‘anus’; snicker, snicker. ... Boyz.)

The purpose of this excursion was not to visit the cemetery, but to provide a premise for some unencumbered conversation. The barriers to unencumbered conversation seem legion, and only some decent distractions ever provide the context necessary for it to emerge. 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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FifthDay

220px-Calligramme
On the fifth day of Christmas I’d hoped I might see a pile of brand new poetry.

I hold this tradition, perhaps now festered into an obsession, that I spend Christmas Eve afternoon into Christmas Day dawn writing poems, creating what I’ve grown to call my annual Christmas Cycle. This year was no different. I began by collecting a few seasonal images that might prove inspiring and, as usual, by fussing a lot. Slip over here for more ...

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FourthDay

Roman-Book
On the fourth day of Christmas my nephew’s boyz brought me one first class, life-affirming conspiracy.

I prefer the company of kids. Not because kids are so sweet. Perhaps because they are just as capable of meanness as kindness. They are, to an individual, every one of them, a pirate until acculturated. After that, they’re a bit worse. Slip over here for more ...

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NoComment

nocomment
My daily newspaper The Washington Post, like every newspaper with an online presence, offers the opportunity for every reader to comment on every published article. Facebook, Twitter, /*you_name_it*/ also offer comment spaces. My friend Mark holds the opinion that the comments often say a lot more than the article they comment upon. Me? I can barely bare to read them.

They seem to offer the same sort of experience as one finds observing the typical autopsy, what might have once been human, laid bare and violated. No, my nose isn’t disjointed because somebody’s comment peed on my birthday cake. Yes, my sense of propriety feels offended. Slip over here for more ...

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ThirdDay

afraid
On the ThirdDay of Christmas, I took my nephew’s boyz to the park, mostly to get outside in the spitting snowstorm in hope of catching some Christmas spirit. Georgie said he wanted to stop for Gelato on the way to the park, but I suggested it always tastes better when your patootie’s half-frozen off.

The boyz were a few years too old for the gym equipment, which they quickly started stressing to what seemed near their limit. I finally called a halt to the destruction, and Ronnie turned into a defensive attorney, questioning my judgment in the matter. I could see the spring threatening to pull loose from the concrete base and the wild gyrations which simple momentum might have propelled Ronnie and that kiddie butterfly ride into the face of another kid. I couldn’t quite encourage Ronnie to listen, him being so busy ignoring my perspective and all, so I left. Up and walked away, not looking back. Slip over here for more ...

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SecondDay

Emergency
On the SecondDay of Christmas, the universe gave to me ...

Medical emergencies might be God’s way of taking cuts in line. They come unbidden, the forbidden unhidden; nobody knows they’re coming, a universal multiple choice test. The proper response involves immediately dropping every plan in favor of the unanticipated, and this cannot be simple, especially if insurance gets involved. Slip over here for more ...

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FirstDay

tiger
On the first day of our Christmas, my nephew’s oldest asked me why I called it Tiger Butter. His query prompted me to expound on the ancient history of the term. The original recipe called for a single melted tiger, which, I explained, was extremely difficult to acquire, since tigers are notoriously late sleepers and tiger butter has always been exclusively a breakfast item. Later, for convenience more than anything, butter was melted instead, though the original name stuck. 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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TheAmericanDiaspora

diaspora
My family, probably like your family, has been leaving for nearly five hundred years. We speak vaguely about our origins, never fully appreciating the filters our genome has passed through, as if we were somehow still mostly German or Scotch/Irish; Catholic, Fundamental Protestant, or Jew. We are now made more of the stuff we’ve passed through than we are of where we came from. We’re only passing through here. It doesn’t quite feel like home should.

Most raised in rural America moved far away from their roots, not fully appreciating, until the holidays come around, their sacrifice when pursuing opportunity and survival. Then, vestigial familiarities haunt us. 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 1.47-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 1.46-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 1.45-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 1.44-2ndOrderWarrior

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 1.43-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 1.42-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 1.41-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-Meh-Chanical

monkeywrench1
I am not what anyone would call mechanical. Well, not in any traditional sense. It took me about five years to figure out how to change the oil in a car, and even then, not entirely reliably. I can often select the right key to fit the backdoor lock, but only because I’ve color-coded the keys. I feel as though I’ve almost mastered the flathead screwdriver and am doing some kindergarten-level practice bouts with the mysterious Phillips head model. I prefer Vise-Grip® pliers, even though they sometimes maul the nut head.

Last weekend the master bathroom towel rack fell into the tub all by itself. It had taken up this annoying habit ever since the property manager ‘managed’ to yank it off the wall while he was mangling the blistered ceiling joint just above it. I gamely put it back up, but it seemed to have lost its will to hang, and has clattered like Fibber Magee’s closet opening into that huge soaking tub at inconvenient intervals since. I’d had it. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.39-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 1.38-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 1.37-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 1.37-Mean-ing

torpdo-spoon-redwhite
I heard today some shocking stories of mean-ing personified and I cried. I watched several promising possibilities disappearing, leaving no equally promising replacements. I grieve for what might have been and most certainly will never be now. I do not know yet what comes next and I’m uncertain where you’re left. I watched you being bereft and felt my own history stabbing me near that scar in my back. I have nothing wise to share.

I hope I never see it coming. I would rather be betrayed a thousand times than maintain a single cynical callus that might deflect any mean defection. Looking over my shoulder trying to catch a glimpse of someone trying to catch me inhibits my progress. I’d much rather lose any race than live so defensively. 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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OrdinaryTimes 1.0-OldBeginnings

OldBeginnings
The Christian liturgical calendar classifies most of the year as ordinary time. Between Christmas and Easter, then again between Easter and Advent, many lesser holidays fall, but none qualify as extraordinary. The Greeks distinguished between festal and ferial times, formal feasting days and times when supper involves ferreting around in the back of the fridge to find whatever’s threatening to go bad. For both Christians and Ancient Greeks, most of their year featured ferreting around.

Perhaps we should celebrate ferreting. Not with parades and fireworks, but with whatever’s at hand. Could we celebrate the daily routine and thereby elevate mere existence into the realm of, if not pomp, at least some decent circumstance? I believe I could and I think I should. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.45-Coda

coda
The OtterSummer ends as it begins, with Crash the cat quietly crowding between The Muse and I to stretch and scream purr in the wee hours of a summer morning. I was already awake. The night before, the house had been filled with The Grand Otter’s packing clutter, so the cats understood that something was happening that would break their routine. The cats always know.

The last supper proved satisfying. The Muse declared the mystery resolved, that she finally understands who showed up forty nights ago and who has slept through the almost forty days since. The Otter ate more than she usually does before excusing herself to continue her epic packing, certain that she’d need another bag to hold all of her stuff. I volunteered The Muse as an advisor, since she knows how break the space continuum and squeeze anything into a single rollaway bag, though she gave up when The Otter couldn’t decide what she’d need left out for the morning. “I’ll help you in the morning,” The Muse muttered as she walked away. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.44-Fine

fine
At the end of a phrase of written music, you’ll find a little word that should not be interpreted as a comment on the quality of the concluding phrase, fine. Pronounced Fin eh, it elegantly denotes an ending. Whatever follows could be really different. The current piece is done.

The Grand Otter won’t leave us until early tomorrow morning, but The Otter Summer’s done today. Tomorrow’s departure will never resolve into anything more finely focused than a blur, and today will fail to find a cohering emotional center. The edges of any adventure are comprised of finely-chopped, conflicting glimpses of excitement, sadness, weariness, disorientation, gratitude, confusion, regret, hopefulness, even tears. Anyone should be overwhelmed by the experience. We are. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.43-macNplease

cheesesauce
I had not planned on making mac and cheese for last night’s supper. The air conditioning technician left after six hours, the sky opened with a downpour, and oh, I’d missed lunch; but The Grand Otter noticed the package of macaroni on the counter, and asked. I could not say no.

We’re down to the final few hours of this OtterSummer, and her wish might as well be my command. My earlier aspirations to be a good example, perhaps even a wise teacher, have dispursed, leaving a willing and loving slave. So I set the pot on to boil and eat a peach to stave off certain starvation. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.42-ExtraversionOliveOil

extraversionoilveoil
Wordplay makes OtterSummers go ‘round. It’s always been this way. Far beyond the cute things The Grand Otter said before she’d learned proper pronunciation, this summer family’s language defines us and the place we inhabit together. She’s The Grand Otter, of course, a slight reconstruction of The Grand Daughter; colloquially, The Otter. Her grandmother is The Muse, or G-ma, or The Grand Mutterer. Me? I’m usually David, but sometimes answer to The Grand Farter, though I have no idea where that moniker originated.

The cats, formally named Crash and Rose, each have about a thousand names, and they answer to any of ‘em. I usually call Crash The Hairball, and that’s pretty much replaced his formal name around the house. Rose answers to Dweeb, because she gets called little else except, occasionally, Dweebhead. However demeaning these nicknames might sound, we always smother them with sweet molasses, no insult implied or intended. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.41-Break

break
The longest hot spell in anyone’s memory broke yesterday, flooding this wilted landscape with cool, drier air—also known more simply as air. I hadn’t taken a clean breath in weeks. Nobody had stepped outside without receiving a humiliating, humid slap. The air conditioning, wounded and throwing off eight or nine gallons of water a day, churned twenty four/ seven until yesterday when I shut down the whole system.

The house went quiet. So, too, the incessant hum in my head. Even my sinuses cleared. I opened windows to air out the place, which means I was finally letting some fresh air inside. I told The Grand Otter to open her windows, too, I was turning off the artificial ventilation. We’d been living as its prisoner and prime beneficiary in self-sealing symbiosis since we brought The Otter back with us from the Midwest. Without that artificial atmosphere, nobody could summer here. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.40-Ex-Use

excuses
My excuses got better gas mileage in my youth. I suppose they were probably best assessed by measuring the dissipation of a gas, though they seemed more substantial then; rock solid. Maybe they served as the smoke screen I used to cloak my advance against hostile forces—without substance but still useful—for the future sure seemed hostile then. I could feel safer by deflecting some possibilities, a few obligations, and as many responsibilities as I could get away with. Eternal youth, if I could play my cards right.

My excuses and I have experienced a few falling outs since; in and out of love, like any other aging couple. Every significant crisis of my life (so far) has been accompanied by me catching myself doing what I’d previously believed myself incapable of doing. Watching myself commit what my story insisted I could never do left more than my story in shambles. What excuses those obsolete excuses when they clearly don’t work anymore? Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.39-Unspokens

unspoken
I imagine I’m accumulating unspokens like tokens , the way Scrooge McDuck hoarded gold, one eye wary of the Beagle Boys, ever richer as I grow old. My unspokens are a form of currency with no market for exchange. They line my life like pocket lint, so much spare change.

Nobody offers a nickel for my thoughts and who would pay a dime? I mumble to myself and recognize some brilliance, but not the same as someone else might. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.38-Food

food
Whatever else might separate the generations through an OtterSummer, food seems to keep us connected. The memories seem more than punctuated with meals, but perhaps determined by them. We’ve all outgrown that compulsive need to collect museums visits, concerts, movies, and what usually passes as vacation fare for the simple satisfaction decent home-cooked meals bring.

The few excursions to eat out have yielded spotty results while almost every meal at home has proven memorable. I have somewhat muted our usual menu in deference to The Grand Otter’s developing palate. I doubt that she’ll ever even try lamb kidneys. She’ll always accept mac and cheese, and though she begged for some inferior boxed stuff, I insist upon making up the real stuff from scratch. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.37-Chip

buffalo1
I remember when my big sister turned about thirteen, she developed a disfiguring chip on her shoulder. As if she carried the weight of the world there, she seemed to hang on the edge of complete exasperation. The smallest provocation could set her into a screaming fit. Of course, I considered it my special purpose to test the lower limits of her extreme sensitivity. Little picky stuff rarely ended me in hot water, but pretty reliably produced an entertaining, if brief fireworks display.

I’m pretty certain that the world doesn’t owe The Grand Otter a living, and the vast majority of the slights she’s experienced have been inadvertent ones, but she can be quite the powder keg when riled, and her fuse seems short. Perhaps, as my big sister demonstrated so well, it just comes with adolescence. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.36-Numb-ers

numb
Maybe something inside every young woman wants to fail. Perhaps, searching for but not yet finding a workable identity encourages her to anticipate shortfalls. Maybe she’s forgotten what her earlier successes felt like. Could even be that her friends reverberate what used to be her worst fear into inescapable inevitability. Could it be a way to rebel against an adult world that doesn’t always seem so grown up?

Some days, The Grand Otter’s radiant energy seems unable to escape from her internal gravitational pull. She embodies dark matter, invisible to my naked eyes; perhaps to her’s, too. I find her still up at three am, complaining about how she just can’t get to sleep these days. I invite her to figure out a way to get up by nine for sourdough pancakes, but she won’t commit. I understand that she can’t commit, and a sharp twinge pokes somewhere near my heart. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.35-Nurchure

Nurchure
I’ve collected more than my fair share of life-guiding homilies. My profession expects me to, and I suspect my nature encourages me, too. Any time I run short—or feel I am running out, since I have an eternal excess—my Facebook stream recharges the aquifer.

The older I get, though, the more skeptical I’ve become. This might qualify as beneficial. I used to swallow just any old thing as eternal truth. Now, even eternal truth wants some choking to slip down.

Somewhere in there, the old nature versus nurture debate simmers. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.34-PixEase

pixies
Yesterday was The Muse’s mother’s birthdate. Supper conversation centered around this woman The Grand Otter and I never met. The Muse told one of her mother’s infamous almost off-color jokes and described some of what passed for routine when The Muse was The Otter’s age, giving us a real feel for who this woman must have been; The Otter’s Great Grandmother.

I remember from my own youth just how unlikely it seemed that those ancestors in those pictures ever inhabited the four dimensional, technicolor world I knew. I imagined their world having been grey or sepia, their lives at most two-dimensional; narrower. But now, of course, I’m old enough to remember long-ago times and recall them in sparkly hues, with more dimensions than seem existent now. No mere photograph does any of ‘em justice. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.33-EMC

EMC
The Grand Otter met Jonathan four years ago, when The Muse and I were still staying in temporary digs, that apartment building where our newly-captive cats would walk around the place screaming every morning at five. Weeks into our exile then, we would have joined in their pre-dawn lamentations without the support of a couple of really dear friends; and had The Otter not shown up. Sunday nights, we’d take over one of the big gas grills provided for the transient tenants and feast while The Grand Otter swam in the adjacent pool. Many of the very worst problems of this world were resolved around that table, and Jonathan could be depended upon to bring a selection of fine cheese and a bagful of chocolate—two of The Otters favorite food groups.

The following summer, he having completed his exile and we ensconced in better surroundings, he was an infrequent guest, always bringing a brick of extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar and a bag of chocolate. He was there the night The Otter melted down during one of The Muse’s work get-togethers. She only rarely sees him these days, but she warmly anticipates every encounter. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.32-OtterLess

breaking door down
Nobody broke down The Grand Otter’s door this morning. The Muse needed to be in early and I was running late, carrying a morning full of obligations. I figured I would just let her snooze. Returning an hour later, I made a lot of extra noise in the kitchen before disappearing out into the steeping humidity again. I decided she wouldn’t want to tag along, anyway, it being so darned hot and me wearing the short leash.

I returned well before noon and grabbed an early lunch. Still no sign of our slumbering ward. The drive gave me plenty of time to reflect: two weeks from this morning will be the morning after the end of this Otter Summer. My would-be side kick will have disappeared back into a temperate climate and some intemperate circumstances, and my influence, meager though it seems today, will shrink to much less than any arm’s length trying to stretch across a sizeable continent. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.31- ComePlain

sucks
The Otter was up early this morning because I told her she had to be. Last night, I announced that we ... ahem ... we ... would be driving The Muse to work this morning, which meant The Otter would have to be up and ready to roll by eight thirty. And, surprisingly, she was up and ready to go by eight thirty.

Of course, this being a car ride, she plugged right in to deflect any possibility of conversation, so The Muse and I were able to cover several weighty topics of no interest to The Otter; worse, topics she seems to find consistently irksome. Once we’d deposited The Muse across the street from the belly of the beast, The Otter moved to the front seat where I asked her if she was interested in breakfast. She was. Pancakes? Sure. We drove to the one reliable breakfast joint on The Hill, and she ordered a full stack of blueberry babies, complaining about the smell wafting across the aisle from the fish monger’s place. “I hate the smell of fish.” she proclaimed. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.30-SideKick

arum
The Otter and I are waiting in line at the pharmacy and I mention that a piece in this morning’s Post described a rare plant that’s fixing to bloom downtown at the Botanical Garden. Even in the wild, it blooms only every decade or so, and when it blooms it smells like a rotting elephant carcass. “Wanna go down and see it?”

”I was kind of interested until you described how it smells, David,” she sneers. “No!”

”But, but, but, you could gross out all your friends when you head back home,” I entice. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.29-AtlasSnubbed

Atlas_Snubbed
How To Be A Perfect 15 Year Old

Your attitude must remain solidly encompassed with contrary-ness. Whatever grandma suggests, find fault. Should she grant your heart’s desire, switch desires. If you really want that proffered gelato, make sure and complain about the size or the amount, even the weather.

Never miss any opportunity to project pure misery. Hugs should always be accompanied with a heart-felt ewwww.

Attempts to engage you in conversation should be blunted before the conversation begins. Earphones were invented to prevent meaningful conversation. Deploy them strategically; default to ‘already more happily occupied.’ Make sure you miss the beginning of every exchange, forcing them to wave their hands and restate whatever it was. This frustrates ‘em and puts you at a distinct advantage. Properly deployed, this approach should get you a welcome invitation to just plug back in, which is what you wanted, anyway. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.28-Opportunity

opportunity2
It looked like a genuine opportunity. The Grand Otter mentioned to me earlier in the week that she sure could use a job, this after an opportunity slipped away. When friends called asking if I could babysit, I suggested that they might want to hire The Otter. I asked them to suggest a rate.

The Otter had been counting chickens for a couple of days, figuring herself on the edge of prosperity by the end of the week. Friday came and she agreed to help vacuum out the place so the toddler wouldn’t just become a dust mop as she tottled around.

The parents were running late and the baby fussy. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.27-Lost

lost2
The Grand Otter and I had not gotten good and lost yet this OtterSummer. Until today. She’d agreed to vacuum the house, but the vacuum, which had been cranky lately, decided to turn downright obstinate, so I decided it should go to the shop for a tune up. Most of the main floor got cleaned.

I looked up vacuum repair shops online, found one reasonably close, and called. Explaining my difficulty, the fellow on the other end of the call said, “Sure, just get it in by five.” I told The Otter to find her shoes, we were heading out. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.26-Mute

mutebutton
I’m probably fooling myself when I fondly remember long, heart-deep conversations with The Grand Otter. Truth told, she’s always carried on a rich internal dialogue that only occasionally surfaced into interaction. She’s a keen observer, but restricts her commentary to Facebook posts, most of which seem appropriate, and the odd complaint and the very rare two or three line comment. She’s into appreciation this summer, and always remembers to thank me for my little favors, and nails me every time I neglect to acknowledge her thanks. Other than that, she’s mostly mute, though.

Her rich inner life stays contained beneath that crimson hair. She mentioned that she’d lost twenty-some pages of fresh writing yesterday when she closed her vintage laptop before saving. She probably won’t be doing that again right away. “It probably wasn’t that good, anyway,” she moaned. I was hoping she’d share that writing with me. Her few mutterings center around true mutters, spoken in a voice neither confident nor particularly audible. Our conversations involve a lot of me asking, “What?” Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.25-The Chair

chair
The Grand Otter had a fire in her belly last night. She’d posted a longish rant about bullying early in the evening, then, following a suppertime conversation about it, she stormed upstairs, saying that she was going to write. A short time later, she came back downstairs with considerably less enthusiasm. I supposed she’d hit The Wall.

For me, The Wall always appears shortly after I feel creativity’s fire in my belly. Following that first moment of sublime inspiration, I go splat. And that splat can convincingly argue that I am not the writer I imagined myself to be, encouraging me to shuffle back to some complacent corner and withdraw from the dance. I figure The Wall might inhibit everyone’s creative spark, so I asked. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.24-Show-Her

shower
After about forty five minutes, I notice that the shower’s still running so I knock on the bathroom door.

”What?”

”Time to get out of the shower,” I yell through the door, “You’re gonna run out of hot water!”

”What? I can’t hear you.”

Later, The Muse comes home and the water’s still running. I ask her to please go in there and tell The Otter to get out of the freaking shower. “I already tried,” she replied, “The door’s locked. We’ll talk with her when she gets out.”

Even later, The Otter shows up at the supper table smelling of perfume. I suggest that five minutes should be plenty of time for a shower. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.23-Reading

reading
I’m no more than averagely perceptive; I watch and I sometimes even learn. Watching The Grand Otter thumb-peck away at her handheld—that pecking involves a lot of reading, I know, but not the kind of reading that counts. The words aren’t printed and held, but projected onto a surrogate screen which imparts neither the touch nor the feel of anything even vaguely reminiscent of a book. Books matter, that hand-held crap doesn’t.

Today, I tried again to rouse The Otter at a decent hour, receiving a decent screech in response; enough of a screech that I was fairly certain she’d gained consciousness. An hour later, trying again yielded a similar response. Much later, after spending a rather lonely morning fussing over some draft ordinance our city council seems determined to foist on the citizenry, I finally managed to make contact. It was afternoon by then and the day was slipping by. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.22-ToeJam

pedicure
In the Bible, washing another’s feet was considered an ennobling act of humility, especially if a king deigned to scrub some leper’s tootsies. At least once every Otter Summer, the girls—The Muse and her Grand Otter—take over some public space around the place for some fancy footwork. The Otter’s already a skilled beautician, The Muse her willing client.

This event usually occurs after a couple of chilly days and soggy nights, after The Otter’s experienced some upset or another, and communication’s been bouncing off steel-reinforced brick walls. A flurry of seedy Facebook posts the night before had prompted The Muse to post a complaint on The Grand Otter’s “Wall,” and I found that familiar, unwanted knot growing in my gut. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.21-Brittle

brittle
Stress-strain curves for brittle and ductile materials. Brittle materials fracture at low strains and absorb little energy. Conversely, ductile materials fail after significant plastic strain (deformation) and absorb more energy. Note that in this idealised example, the yield and ultimate tensile stresses are the same for both materials; brittle or ductile behaviour are not necessarily related to strength.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brittle_v_ductile_stress-strain_behaviour.png

The Muse crawls into bed, reporting that The Grand Otter seems brittle. Her brittle couldn’t be more unlike the sweet, nutty kind; it’s plenty real enough. It has nothing to do with how strong or beautiful she might be: she’s both strong and beautiful. Her ability to absorb energy and strain seems low right now, though she’s surrounded by an extraordinarily positive energy field and far, far away from her usual stressors. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.20-ShyTown

shy
I presume I understand, but I’m pretty sure I understand as if it was me and not because I’m somehow clued in to what’s going on inside her. She’d rather be alone, it seems, but she’s never really isolated, given that she’s almost always plugged into that iPod Touch, sharing giggles with her legions of long-distance friends.

While we hovered along the periphery of the neighborhood potluck last night, she showed me that she was editing pictures of clouds she’d captured from the stands at the baseball game last week. She hadn’t been sure she was hungry, and a little angry that we’d insisted she tag along to the place down the street where this whole neighborhood was gathering. After we’d been through the food line, she changed her mind, returning with a few choice selections, which she ate head down, a great excuse to further avoid eye contact and small talk. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.19-Pancakery

pancakery
The Otter has been making scratch pancakes since she was seven. Then, of course, with lots of help from The Muse. Now, she doesn’t need or want help, except when she does. Any well-intended attempt to assist can spark a growl threatening to bite, so the grown-ups kind of scatter when The Otter picks up the spatula. “Grandma, where’s the spatula?”

I’d rushed out to score some eggs, since The Muse had claimed the entire stock to hardboil for potato salad last night. I’d poked the stick through The Otter’s door to wake her, and she came pounding down mere moments later. Today’s the famous Takoma Park parade and we’d promised our guest a pancake breakfast, so pancakery must occur. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.18-Mourning

mourningdove
Otter Summer mornings almost never come very early. Sure, we’re in the middle of the longest days of the year, but our Otter prefers to spend her mornings top-down. The first few days, she complains about the time zone change, unable to sleep until the wee hours almost stumble into dawn. Later, she still complains about the time zone change, though less believably. “David, you know it takes me all summer to get used to this time zone!” In fact, she never seems to get used to it.

Now, I can track her overnight Facebook posts to derive a rough estimate of her crash time. She reliably sleeps until the crack of noon, and would sleep through even that were it not for a pesky G-pa and the opportunity to engage in something more alluring than sleep. Few alternatives qualify. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.17-Hair

hair
Fifteen turns attention toward hair. For me it was length. For The Otter, color. The gray-heads encourage her to embrace her natural color, though most claim they have more important battles to wage. “If hair color’s the biggest controversy we have, I’m grateful,” we proclaim, though not entirely believably.

I fought a series of running skirmishes over my hair length from the time I was The Otter’s age until I was about twenty five. I spent a few years in there with a Samson complex, unwilling, perhaps unable to cut a single hair. Control over my hair length felt like the only part of my life I had any control over, and I would have been damned to forfeit that one toehold. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.16-TheLifeOfPie

oPie
The Grand Otter loves pie. The Muse loves to make pie, though she finds few opportunities to requite this love in these days of long work hours and Weight Watcher number-watching. The start of The Otter’s visit combined with the tail end of a vacation and a Saturday morning stop by a farmers’ market to produce the necessary conditions for an outbreak of pie.

The Muse makes pie the old fashioned way, and she wants The Otter to learn this tradition, but she can’t raise the growing bugger to join her in the pie dome she’s turned our kitchen into. All her specialized pie making tools, including her sideways-handled spatula, litter every available inch of counter space. I’d deflowered the gooseberries and pitted the sour pie cherries, leaving The Muse plenty of open ground to focus upon her particular mastery: crust. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.15-App-Propriate

duckingstool
The Grand Otter has used the term inappropriate for years. It’s a vague concept painted with seemingly bright colors, edges only obvious when stepping over them. Appropriateness requires judgement, and judgement’s under construction well into adolescence. There remain, of course, the obviously appropriate and the impossible-not-to-imagine-as inappropriate, but much grey territory surrounds each.

Psychologists say adolescents engage in an activity they label Propriate Striving, the search for a plan for their future which might guide their actions. Not so much who am I?, but who must I become? This involves a lot of trying on, checking out, and no small amount of what anyone not so actively striving might easily classify as acting out. Now, of course, we have apps for all of this work which enable—even encourage— all-too public Propriate Striving. Most thoughtfully include an archive, too. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.14-Pshaw-Ping

shop
I characterize myself as not much of a shopper, but I do love my routine. I’m primarily responsible for stocking the larder and I take this responsibility seriously. Being gone for the best part of two weeks meant that I first had to starve the fresh pantry before leaving, then restock uncharacteristically empty shelves upon returning.

The Muse took the rest of the week off, so she’d announced that she wanted to accompany me. The Otter, though she’s a champion shopper, opted to nap through the sultry afternoon instead. Fine. Alone time’s one of the prominent themes of every Otter Summer. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.13-Late-Her

alligator
Later, after The Muse has gone to bed and I’m cleaning up the mess from that buffet supper, The Grand Otter leans against the kitchen counter. “Can I put some fresh mozzarella on my pasta?” I first respond negatively, then second-guess myself. “Sure, why not?”

She agrees to try the salad with the sour cherry dressing while her pasta, leftover from the supper, reheats in the oven. The conversation might seem pedestrian without understanding what came before.

Young women run through a wringer these days. Sometime between twelve and fifteen, they lose themselves and start trying on alternative identities. The Otter had vacillated between tough and defeated, smart and stupid, beautiful and revolting, checking the view from each. The Muse and I often feared the choices she’d default into making while she lined up the choices she might make. It’s been a roller coaster ride for us all. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.12-Centipede Salsa

millipede
An hour after we arrived home, The Muse was sitting, feet up, in her green queen chair in the living room, Googling ‘millipedes’. The zoom car had unloaded easily in the steaming twilight, mist rising from the driveway a clue that a storm had recently blown through. The Otter liked the new digs and began sorting her dirty clothes for washing. A few minutes later, as she started loading the washer in the basement, she called, “David! You’ve gotta see what’s down here! G-ma!!”

We didn’t exactly rush to her rescue, but once we’d moseyed, we found the source of her alarm. The boarder, who’d left the day before for a quick trip to Asia, had reported on the phone a few millipedes in his basement room. I’d seen a small colony of them on the back porch and thought nothing of them. I suggested he vacuum them up, thinking them anomalous. But The Otter had found the floor crawling with the buggers. I valiantly started sucking ‘em up with the vacuum, though replacement troops appeared as soon as the initial ranks started disappearing.

I’m no ninny, but I’m nobody’s fan of the creepy and the crawly. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.11-Torchy-Feely

earbud
As we pulled away from Wayne and Eileen’s, The Grand Otter assumed her usual traveling position: ear buds firmly in place, eyes half-closed, sitting upright yet seemingly semi-conscious in the back seat. The Muse and I try to engage her in conversation, but each question requires an emphatic arm wave to elicit any response. She’s plugged in and must unplug before, after we repeat the question, she can reply with a one-word phrase sounding almost but not entirely unlike a word. “Ugg.”

The naive might conclude that she’s refusing to associate with her loving, caring grandparents, and I admit that her conversational style can feel damned off-putting. I point out Kansas City’s lovely suspension bridge over the Missouri, and receive the usual mumble along with a brief tirade opposing high bridges over wide water. I’d like to hold forth on the historical significance of KC’s lovely downtown, but The Otter might as well be elsewhere. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.10-FamilyGathering

middle
Family gathers before we leave: Sisters, brother, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and their children; a houseful. The Grand Otter’s passing through with just a few short hours to renew connections in this decade-straddling family where a single generation spans nearly forty years. Nobody calls anybody ‘once-removed,’ but cousin instead.

Donna slow roasts a brisket and broils green-lipped mussels. Food’s never in short supply. The little ones use the wrong door to enter and exit, tracking in pea gravel. The girls head for the corner where the farm cat protects her three tiny offspring. The boys ride bikes down the hill in back. Adults wander in and out, continuing a conversation that started before they were born and will certainly continue long after they’re gone from here. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.09-MoonRise

moonrise
I’d been anticipating all day. By the appointed hour, we were tucking into a buffet supper at the American Legion hall. I excused myself and stepped outside only to find the Eastern horizon cloud-banked. I shuffled back inside to sit with The Muse, who was catching up with her high school graduating class members. I was more interested in what was unfolding outside.

A short time later I excused myself a second time to find that full moon, escaped from the clouds, hanging over the grain silos on the edge of this tiny prairie town. I ducked back inside, asking The Muse to slip outside for a moment. She came, trailing two classmates, and we stood on the sidewalk marveling at that moon. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer8.08-RoughPassage

roughpassage
I’d been waiting outside the reunion hall for their arrival, hoping to spend a few short minutes with The Grand Otter and her dad as they passed through on their way to visit more family a little further down the road. We’ll reconnect Sunday and, Monday, start two or three days on the road back with her, but The Muse and I had not seen her since last October, and on that visit she was wearing a bright orange jump suit and we were not allowed to hug without the scowling guard’s permission, and we were both eager to reconnect.

Their passage from The Cities had been a rough one. Slip over here for more ...

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OtterSummer 8.07-HiHoe

hoe
After supper last night, my brother-in-law Carl suggested a look at the garden. After finding five pairs of kid shoes and wrangling the crew outside, we found a garden clearly suffering from the late spring. The walk-thru became a game of ‘identify what’s that?’, distinguishing stressed sprouts from their hardier counterpoint weeds. There were rough rows, though some seeds had drifted in the sog. Tomatoes looked the worse for last week’s hail storm. Peas seemed to be coming along, though frightfully late.

My nephew John accepted my hoeing lessons while his dad and siblings performed a Keystone Cops rendition of find the hose. Nick was in charge of turning on the faucet once it was connected. Christopher was sent to ferret around in the garage to find a spray head while Carl and two year old Lilli buzzed off in the mule to find a sprinkler out in the shop. Three year old Andrew supervised. Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 8.06-CloudShow

cloudshow
Clouds began moving mid-day. The wind started snapping westward beneath east-running weather above, and by sunset, boiling galleon thunderheads jibbed north and south, leaving us with clear sky above and calamity on either side. By the end of the day, a waxing gibbous moon promised the coming solstice while the sky filled with a sailor’s delight red.

I took to the front porch to watch the celestial performance. Back east, the horizon hangs close to ground. Clouds seem one or at most two dimensional. Here over the prairie, clouds display great textural depth, four full dimensions, unbounded by any barrier to the edge of imagination along far-distant horizons. The Muse joined me as the lightening began carving bas relief detail into the boiling cloud sculptures. Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 8.05-Tele-phony

phonebooth
Hard for anyone who’s life experience extends no further than the Beltway boundary to accept, but wide areas of these United States have no cell phone service. I’m not saying they don’t have cell towers in perfect sight-line sequences, it’s just that many of those cell towers don’t provide service unless one happens to subscribe to the particular company owning each tower. This results in technical absurdities. Here in rural South Dakota, my iPhone registers no signal while I’m standing a half block away from an apparently perfectly functional cell tower. My brother-in-law’s place has wireless internet service, but intermittent Verizon-accessible cell service. I’ve consequently been in the dark telephony-wise for two days. Slip over here for more ...
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Seven Star Three Carrot Two

maths
Seven star three carrot two
probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you,
just a senseless series of numbers which
amount to some mathematical some’ bitch.
If I told you this means sixty three,
you’d be tempted to think the less of me.

‘Cause you don’t represent yourself
by distilling essences of anything else.
You never were a mere sum of your parts,
always unimpressed with so-called smarts.
You’re one of them insolent throw-back Joes
who value ‘done’ over what anyone knows.
Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 8.04-Convergences

convergence
The sun hardly rests this time of year. Neither do we. Last night, twilight extended well past ten pm. This morning, sunrise was obviously coming by four thirty. All this lengthening and shortening will converge in a couple of days with the solstice, where months of anticipation results in divergence beginning again. We grow together, then grow apart.

The final growing together days take my breath away. We’ve slipped across half this vast continent while The Otter’s moving toward us from the other side. She couldn’t sleep the night before she left Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 8.03-Toodle

ohioroad
Road trips always seem like better ideas before leaving home. After, long hours lost in acceleration begin collecting their tolls. The second day, we were dreading driving the second worst stretch of road in the continental US, Cleveland to Chicago via the Tollway, so The Muse became navigator to identify a route a bit more off the grid. She found one.

The beauty of road trips springs from the possibilities. Chart an alternate route and an alternate to the alternate might appear. Who could know if that Fresh Strawberries sign wasn’t put there just to lure us off that two lane state road onto the two lane county road? It worked, and not finding strawberries just encouraged us to branch off onto yet another unanticipated course: a fine, empty blacktop lined with red broken backed barns and the full flush of the season greening the fields. Off the tollroad, we found a full Midwest morning and rode it until the afternoon was half gone. Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 8.02-Drama

dramaqueen
Like the universe, an Otter Summer begins not with a whimper but with a bang; filled with drama. The otherwise simple dilemma of choosing what to bring and what to leave feels impossibly complicated in the absence of any certain knowledge of what’s going to happen and who you’re going to be. This either/or dilemma resolves into a both/and decision. The Otter always brings more than she’ll use.

I believe this to be evidence of good judgement. Never one myself for the packing light ethic, I have a bag the size and approximate weight of a freshly killed deer, and I amend that with a knapsack and a separate bag for the books I can’t imagine leaving home without. Should we somehow find ourselves stranded on a desert island between here and there, I will be the one everyone’s borrowing fresh underwear and books from. Slip over here for more ...

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Otter Summer 10.0.01-Two Cats

twocats
Just after two am, I noticed the cats have moved. Crash, who’d hopped up on the bed when I crawled in, knowing something was up (as he always does), had curled up at the foot of the bed, trapping my feet. I supposed that Rose, our spinster cat, had enthroned herself on the golden rocking chair, but neither cat was nearly close enough; so I tapped the duvet next to my chest and whispered, “Come here.”

The morning seemed distant yet and the neighborhood as quiet as it ever gets, yet I did not hear Crash come to my side or Rose curl in next to her big brother. They just appeared. Then, Crash commenced his scream purring with Rose contentedly accompanying. I scratched their heads and held them closer, and we reveled in our presence there in the dark. Slip over here for more ...

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The Explorer's Dilemma

livingston
No explorer enters wilderness expecting to find adoring throngs there. More likely, he’ll find nobody home, or find people for whom his wilderness seems like home, but nobody to appreciate his intrepid excursion. Returning to what passes for civilization, he might well find nobody who appreciates his discoveries, either, since only he and his small company have seen what they found there. Most can’t help but misunderstand his stories since they have no basis upon which to properly interpret them. Such seems the explorer’s life.

Such seems The Explorer’s Dilemma. Slip over here for more ...

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FUQ

inspirationcan
“Inspiration is needed in geometry just as much as in poetry.” Pushkin

I find it easy to proclaim that insight resolves more difficulties than answers ever do, even though this notion might initiate a slow, self-referential, inward spiral in search of insight. Where does insight originate?

I know, or I think I know, where answers reside. I pose a question then initiate research with the implicit assumption that someone’s already answered it, or something similar, before. The friendly research librarians can help, though these days, search a-la Google® more often stands in for old-fashioned research. And if I’m fortunate enough to hold a fundamentally decidable question, either search or research will likely satisfy my curiosity.

Few of my questions seem to comfortably carry the fundamentally decidable label anymore, if they ever did. Slip over here for more ...

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Expert Tease

expertease
Pity the expert. He seems able to already know how the play will turn out, to have out-run his own past, and to confidently hold his presence. Novices crowd around after his keynote, hoping, I suppose, that some of that goody might slough off on ‘em.

Expertise seems to come in at least two flavors: information and definition, savory and sweet, but these apparent flavors might not qualify as flavors at all. Perhaps they arise from completely different classes of experience; one sensual, the other notional; imagined.

None of this perspective rises to even the lowliest threat level unless the novice or the expert mistakes the one for the other: information for definition or definition for information. Each seems easily misplaced. Slip over here for more ...

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Stewardship

abandonedcart
Yesterday, I listened in to a webcast celebrating the Peter Block book Stewardship’s twentieth anniversary second edition release. Meg Wheatley interviewed Peter, and Steven Piersante, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers described his experience founding and working within a Stewardship-oriented business. As usual when listening to visionaries chat, I felt nostalgic for those times when I found myself within a community centered upon Stewardship: where individuals assume full responsibility without first insisting upon authority.

The conversation drifted toward organizations, with most of the questioners wondering how to shift their organization in this direction, and I noticed myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Slip over here for more ...

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Fix-ating

cresentwrench
A certain fixation seems one of the inescapable collateral effects of a problem orientation. I’m easily seduced into trying to fix if I see every complaint as a problem. This preference easily degrades into a form of addiction, where I seek out problem situations so I can show off by big, shiny wrench.

I am rather proud of my wrench. And I’m encouraged by my many successes employing it. If I am not always the master of every difficulty, I am always the master of my toolbox.

I suppose enlightenment begins sometime after I realize that no wrench in my expansive toolbox fits the nut I’m convinced needs tightening, or when I begrudgingly accept that no nut exists for my wrenching to secure. Sure, I’ll try the vice grips and even that antique Model T spanner I found at a barn sale, but they won’t work, either. In frustration, then, wisdom might prevail. Slip over here for more ...

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No Problem

problemsolving
I’m declaring my last month sensitivity to ‘leaversmith,’ aka leadership, officially over. I doubt that I’ll ever again be able to swallow the term leadership again without chewing and finding some surprising resistance there. My learning high-centers on the emerging conviction that I just gotta inject my own situational meaning into every invocation of that notorious ‘L’ word, otherwise, it’s clearly meaningless. Over the past month, I’ve encountered hundreds of instances of ‘leadership,’ each one cloaked in a fuzzy reassurance, and meaningless without my more-or-less mindful intervention.

Friends have published books over the last month featuring the ‘L’ word in the title, but most offered helpful follow-up advice in their subtitles. Read carefully! I’m learning to slow down and chew before I swallow, even when—especially when—that meaning was supposed to be pre-conscious. Slip over here for more ...

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False Identity

sheepinwolf
Business school bestowed an extra, unstated diploma upon me. Sure, I received the faux sheepskin one, properly bound in a green leather case, with a more powerful, insidious, tacit one invisibly attached.

After those full-immersion years of case studies, conferences, and cow-towing, I fancied myself some kind of leader. Other than getting myself chosen as the chapter head of a small student organization, I’d had little practical experience, and certainly no large-scale strategic involvement in anything. But I carried that attitude, that confident mindset that, given half a chance, my presence would improve any organization.

My first wife would ask what had happened to me, and I would respond absolutely baffled by her question. I felt on top of an expanding world, powerful in ways I had never before imagined. Sure, I worked long uncompensated hours as a management trainee, but I was working with the big dogs, ... digging, it would turn out, really big holes. Slip over here for more ...

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Lost In Translating

LostInTranslation
I might be a master at simultaneously translating. You might be every bit as masterful, too. Meaning-making and sense-making seem to demand no less from each of us. A difficulty emerges, though, because I’m rarely very aware of the substitutions I’m so seamlessly making. I don’t suffer from this perfectly human form of mindlessness, and even when I find myself suffering, I almost never understand that I’m the source. I could, in a more perfect world, always choose to translate in ways that would delight me, but I don’t often even catch myself translating.

So, my month-long challenge to catch myself translating whenever I encounter the ‘L’ word, what I’ve quite deliberately chosen to translate into ‘leaversmith,’ has rendered me a tiny bit more mindful. Of course, my newly-hatched mindfulness feels slightly crazy, like a more deliberate form of mindlessness, but I could claim the same effect from any habit-breaking practice. Slip over here for more ...

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Greatness

greatness
The headline insisted that we’d lost a great leader, though the story beneath the fold reported bi-polar opinions of her greatness. This story got me thinking about the great leaders I’ve known. What made them so great?

Here, I feel obliged to start listing attributes: behaviors, habits, and actions intended to describe their greatness. Maybe I could throw in a model that cleverly summarizes the universal attributes of greatness, leader-wise. I could even subscribe to one or another theory of greatness and pontificate. My bookshelves groan under the weight of competing theories of greatness. Slip over here for more ...

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Disappointment

disappointment
The very mention of leadership induces deep feelings of disappointment in me. It seems to dredge up failings rather than successes; ones I’ve witnessed as well as all the other’s I created all by myself, Lucy-holding-the-football scenarios I already know will turn out poorly. Mount the stage, fall on my face.

Some of the leadership gurus explain that continuous improvement looks exactly like this, serial faceplants, slightly different every time. Maybe the same tune, but with key changes in between. Whatever, leadership slips beyond risky into certainty. Set ‘em up. knock ‘em down.

This sounds pessimistic, I know. Slip over here for more ...

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Leadershiplessness

Lessismore
My first step into leadershiplessness might have offended some of my dearest friends. After half a lifetime in the leadership industry, I list many prominent leaders as dearest friends, so when I come out on this little stage to swear off the label to our shared life-blood experience, some might have concluded that I’d just slipped over that thin edge into delusional. I meant no disrespect.

Of course I was engaging in what we introverts do so well: blurting. It’s our greatest gift and, sometimes, our very worst enemy. My moments of greatest inspiration have all come from blurting. My greatest humiliations, too. I’ve spent much of my life canned up trying to tame this wild beast. It’s usually better for me when I open my can of worms with little deliberation. Though I might appear insensitive then, at least I appear. Slip over here for more ...

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The Leaversmith Challenge

leaversmith
I purposefully waited until after April Fool’s Day to propose this challenge because I wanted to make sure it was not mistaken for some kind of prank. Some will believe I should have waited much longer while others might wish I’d released this sooner. Like with all true challenges, there couldn’t have been and never will be a perfect time to initiate this one.

No day passes without me receiving at least one exhortation to become a more effective, purposeful, confident, likable, service-oriented, or successful leader. My Twitter feed overfloweth with ‘em. Facebook apparently thrives by frequently faceplanting into ‘em. And I know I really should want to achieve all of those, if only I knew what any of them meant. Slip over here for more ...

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The Burgeoning Self Deception Industry

self-deception
I am part of the burgeoning self deception industry. You probably are, too, either as a purveyor, a (probably enthusiastic) consumer, or, most probably, both. This market segment has enjoyed huge, unprecedented growth over recent decades, yet the top of its market remains beyond anyone’s ability to see, a bubble seemingly incapable of bursting.

Self-helplessness accounts for most of the activity within this industry. Slip over here for more ...

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Gun Owner Control

gun
I’m in no danger of becoming an expert on guns. I just don’t care about them very much. They seem expensive, dangerous, and essentially useless for anything I might do. I do have one, though, inherited. An heirloom, kept secure and inaccessible, wrapped in swaddling cloth, with no ammunition in the house.

I don’t like ‘em. I figure if Matt Dillon insisted that anyone entering Dodge check his gun at the city limits, I’m with him. I don’t mind people owning them, just that some of the owners insist upon shooting them in public. Slip over here for more ...

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Grandma Love

gmalove
Don’t look for it in the movies,
try not to push and shove,
no pundit in this world understands
Grandma Love.
It’s the glue that sticks together
pretty much everything we see,
but rarely do we stop to think
what that glue might be.
Slip over here for more ...
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Peek-A-Boo

peekaboo2
I say, “I see you,”
though I doubt I really do.
I certainly don’t see you the same way
you see you.
I look your way and even stop to say
some greeting as I pass,
and you return my acknowledgement,
maybe touching the brim of your hat.

We live our lives playing peek-a-boo,
believing all along the way
that we left behind our most childish games
in favor of grown-up play.
Then every blessed day we play,
unconscious of the game,
unspoken “Peek-a-boo” each time we greet,
with rituals much the same. Slip over here for more ...

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Reflection

old-fashion-christmas-decoration
Christmas seems reflective,
a bright and shiny sphere
within which we seek to see our world
in a parabolic mirror.
The tip of the nose expands in size,
shrinking toward the ears,
and we universally call the nastiest weather
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

The rear view comes into focus
while the future fades away,
we sing the songs that have driven us crazy
since nineteen fifty eight. Slip over here for more ...

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Snow Angels

snowangel2
What could prove more uplifting,
on a fading, snowy day,
than some half-frozen youth
still innocent of truth
leaving angels along her way?


The snow might seem indifferent,
the weather threatening more,
the sun making sounds
like he’s ‘bout to go down,
still she tends to her chore. Slip over here for more ...

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Instancy

instantsnow
I am rarely impatient,
only intermittently rushed,
which renders me a throwback;
an alien on this bus.
I stalk the slowly-roasted,
I savor the leisurely-aged,
and I restrict my microwaving
to cell phoning, not my plates.

We live in The Age of Instancy,
with little time to spare,
just as hungry as we ever were,
and the holidays ’re drawing near.
We can order McTurkey for supper,
squirt whipped creme from a can,
and buy a brand new baby Jesus
on The Handy® payment plan.


Slip over here for more ...

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Illusional

KidChimney
Christmas seems illusional, almost sleight of hand; a magic trick we pretend to get, hoping it won’t get out of hand. It gets out of hand, anyway, whatever we try to do.

Much relies upon firm belief, no reindeer could fly on its own. Though few believe in Santa and such, still we decorate our homes. We share the stories and swap the yarns without really wondering much, and often some magic seems to appear, leaving a remarkable touch. Slip over here for more ...

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I Know Why The Snow Bird Sings

snowbird
I know why the snow bird sings with such unerring charm,
not because she’s particularly happy waiting out the spring.
And not merely because she knows the music, having inherited the score,
and not because she’s stiffening her courage to face some unwanted chore.
And not because she’s so devout she just can’t help but comply
with some chirpy-beaked, avian conductor waving a winged baton,
and not because she’s trying to please some showy, plumed mate,
and not at all because she’s certain of her or anyone’s fate.
Slip over here for more ...
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Black and White

4 thevintagevillage - Copy
The past was black and white back then,
the future, silvery bold.
The present, translucent and slightly hazy,
though memories shimmered gold.

Each year snuggled into eternity,
next week was a foreign land.
Some say this world was simpler then,
though I doubted that out of hand.
Slip over here for more ...
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Holly

10774581-christmas-card-with-holiday-elements-for-design-vintage-background
Doesn’t holly seem unlikely stuff to celebrate anything with?
The waxy leaves, infernally sharp,
the berries, a poisonous pith.
The plant, itself, invasive,
its habit unrefined,
try to remove its tap root
to lose your mind.

Yet we bundle it into festive wreaths,
cursing all the way,
we staple it to our doortops
and wire it onto sleighs,
we send long-suffering spouses out
to snip a few more fronds,
administering mercurochrome
after they respond. Slip over here for more ...

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Homefull 2.7: Beginnings

beginning
After the latest apocalypse—wasn’t this the umpteenth end of the world we’ve somehow survived?—the winter sun returned. Scudding clouds swept over trees swept naked in the overnight gale. Overnight, the cats had experienced a small end of their world, managing to pull one of the poinsettias off a side table. They slinked guiltily as I swept up the spill, but no less guiltily than I was slinkling.

All profound experiences appear trivial. Just another in a long stream of mornings, punctuated only by my slight surprise. We play peek-a-boo with the universe, sometimes almost scaring ourselves. Slip over here for more ...

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Homefull 2.6: Endings

endings
I feel grateful for the Mayans or their mis-interpreters for predicting the end of the world. As predictions go, this one qualifies as perfect. Perfect because there’s no freaking way to objectively determine if it succeeds; nobody will be around to assess. No big deal if it fails. Same-old, same-old.

I’m not living like I’m dying. I don’t have a ‘bucket list,’ and I try not to carry baggage over-filled with regrets. If I knew the world would definitely end tomorrow, I wouldn’t go trying to satisfy long-denied urges or overwhelm my senses. I’d do exactly what I’m doing this morning, I’d live like I was living. Slip over here for more ...

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