Disorienteering

TheArtOfGettingLost
Pierre-Auguste Cot: The Storm, 1880
" … I lagged my way back home."

Sequestering provides few opportunities to get lost in anything more diverting than another fresh novel, fleeing ever inward as an antidote to such outward sameness. Suppers eventually come to seem like reruns. Didn't we just have this last night, or was that just the night before? Exploring the unchartable territory west of boring, each little chore hardly seems worth doing, fresh adventure insecurely out of reach. I've grown to know my neighborhood perhaps a little too well. Discovery only ever happens once, after that, it's simply not discovery anymore. An ennui settles over the proceedings and forward comes to feel like warmed over receding, a form of retreat. Mid-August brings vacation season for one excellent reason. It's damnably difficult to get lost at home. I know where every left turn will take me. I understand what's just over every hill. The thrill of discovery eventually slips beyond anyone's grasp and we're compelled to just disappear in favor of some Disorienteering.

We vacate to get ourselves lost.

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Gumshoe

Gumshoe
Harry Barton Vintage Pulp Art Illustration
" … when Amazon options it for the limited series."

As an enthusiastic consumer of Detective Fiction, I fear for the future of this genre. I've not yet encountered a character in any Gumshoe novel who wears a face mask other than to bump off a liquor store, and those masks don't seem right for blunting any plague. None of the heroes seem the sort to slip unnoticed into a cocktail bar while wearing a mask, and cocktail bars have been closed for months, anyway. Where do nefarious schemes get hatched in pandemic times? I'm trying to imagine C. J. Box's Joe Pickett or James Lee Burke's Clete Purcell operating in a post-pandemic world or Longmire issuing citations for violating mask mandates. Masks might inhibit identification of the Gumshoe's prey, though I notice that John Sandford's latest thriller came out under the timely title of Masked Prey, though there were no masks prominently displayed in any part of that story.

Few advertisements, even now, six months into this pandemic, feature mask-wearing characters.

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TakingAPass

TakingAPass
Thomas Moran: Mosquito Trail, 1874
" … a full immersion experience one can almost bring back home with them."

This Damned Pandemic encourages a discernment and detachment in me. I no longer feel free to enter just any establishment. As if I possessed a picky palate, I simply will not enter any restaurant, not yet. I might consent to a drive through or an accelerated step in to grab something to go, but I will not slow down long enough to even leave a footprint on my way through. I wake some mornings aching for a decent order of hash browns smothered in green chile gravy like only an authentic greasy spoon diner can produce, but I will not reduce myself to enter any such establishment. Not yet. Not now. I sense that I'm becoming somewhat of an expert at TakingAPass, just driving past though my desire might compel me to stop. I sense myself a budding aesthetic, like a solitary mountaintop meditating wise man, though I know for certain that I remain a simple wise guy deep down inside. I'm TakingAPass because I've grown to distrust all reassurances that we're bringing This Damned Pandemic under any sort of control. We're still learning how this devil works, and until we deeply understand it, I will continue to choose to just drive by most roadside attractions, even when I'm starving for that plate of smothered hash.

Living in Colorado offers some compensations.

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LittleDeaths

goneglasses
Winter by Jean Antoine Houdon, 1787
"Background moves into foreground sometimes …"

Life presents many LittleDeaths, sudden absences disrupting flow. These experiences might seem mere inconveniences to any casual observer, but the principal deeply feels their sting. Yesterday, returning from our usual larder stocking excursion, I felt my shirt pocket for my eyeglasses and found them AWOL, missing from their pocket perch. I initiated a quick search, well experienced with discovering that I'd set them down somewhere. I could not immediately recall where I might have left them, but I reassured myself that they could not be far. As near as I could tell, they were precisely nowhere: lost, gone, disappeared. I quickly engaged in denial, sensing that they simply must be near, even going so far as to just wear my prescription sunglasses to read a chapter or three in the latest library book. It would too soon turn dusk, though, so I headed out to the drug store to score some cheaters, cheap magnifying lenses to help me make do.

I still firmly believe those glasses will show up, though I'm plotting a visit to my optometrist tomorrow morning.

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Worker

Worker
Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857
"I might have been a gleaner."

I am most emphatically NOT a Worker. I haven't punched a time clock since I was in my teens, and even then, I found that experience to be anything but uplifting, demeaning. I can't seem to count my efforts by the widely-recognized Hours Metric. I do not quote anybody an hourly rate. Back at The Insurance Company, as a young professional, the accountants drooled over the prospect of collecting activity-based data and received instead, carefully crafted fiction, for few could perform tasks without forfeiting awareness of time passing, not without abandoning the possibility of experiencing the elusive flow. I'd go down to the employee cafeteria each Friday morning, carrying my agenda which I'd once again failed to maintain in scrupulous detail, and create my fictional record of my work week just passing, careful to avoid any appearance of idleness or overage. My job demanded that I always attend to about fifteen different things at once, never once single-tasking, so any notion of activity-based accounting seemed absurd, but only because it genuinely was.

Austrian Political Economist Joseph Schumpeter explained how economists gather their data. He said that watchmen report it and that they report whatever they damned well please.

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Discretion

Discretion
Jan van Eyck: The Virgin of chancellor Rolin. (circa 1435)
"Buck up, Brother, we're in this together however we play it."

Discretion, proverbially referred to as the better part of valor, was originally intended to caution that it's generally better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it. Modern interpretations of this term seem to vary considerably from the traditional intention, though, as one governor after another publicly insists upon relying upon personal Discretion when taking certain necessary precautions against The Damned Pandemic, like wearing masks when in public. School principals, too, have adopted this approach, instructing students to make their own choice about whether or not to wear a mask when shoving through class changing crushes. Name one other choice a typical principal leaves up to students? Just one! Given a choice of wearing pants or not, about a quarter of high school students would gleefully observe pants-less Fridays! Should completing homework, or, indeed, all schoolwork be left up to the "Discretion" of each individual student? How about attendance?

The idea that Discretion means free to choose whatever seems upside down and backwards, but then not everyone aspires to valor.

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SlicingBread

SlicingBread
Pieter Claesz, Still life with Musical Instruments (1623)
"Bless This Damned Pandemic for reminding us how."

I speak this morning in praise of blessed inconvenience, as embodied by the once-familiar act of simply slicing bread. With the exception of that period when my mom went all Earth Mother on the family and took to baking her own bread, my early years experienced exclusively the pre-sliced variety bought day old in a small bakery for ten cents a loaf and stored in the trusty basement freezer. I saw in books photographs of the kind of bread people bought in Europe, dark, rotund, and unsliced, and I dreamed of pulling off handfuls to accompany some whiffy cheese, but we were no longer Europeans, and hadn't been for generations. As Americans, we never really thought about most of the conveniences we shared. We thought them a birthright accompanying what was more than simply The Good Life, but the very best life imaginable. Beret-wearing Communists might walk straight-faced while carrying a baguette or boule, but we never would, and not just because we couldn't.

Then I came to test taste a plain baguette and found it good. No, I found it far superior to any sponge cake imposter.

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RushingRoulette

RushingRoulette

Edvard Munch, At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo,1892
"Rushing into any roulette seems a fool's mission."

Every morning, some oleaginous politician encourages me to resume my "normal" activities, citing genuine statistics to justify their advice. I deeply doubt if they understand a word of their own justifications, for oleaginous politicians have never been elected on the basis of their deep understanding of Bayes theorem, or any other concept underlying statistical projection. Judging from the wild divergence between predicted and actual, their understanding might well be nonexistent, but true to all of us genuinely innumerate, mere failure to accurate predict hardly dissuades another morning spent hawking spurious convictions. Statistics has always been hard, mostly because our intuitions sucker us. Unbiased analysis demands an almost inhuman indifference and strict adherence to tenaciously counter-intuitive processes. Even analyzing results easily sucker-punches us, since we sometimes desperately want the numbers to agree with our a priori expectations, and when they do not, we're likely to fudge, touting the portion of the results that agree with us and burying those that don't.

We wallow in numbers now.

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StayingPut

StayingPut
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1614–20
"Not stir crazy yet, not by a long shot."

In this culture, we believe that strange things will happen to us if we simply StayPut. In Buddhist cultures, stillness might be aspired for, even revered, but we're a kinetic crew over here. We're up and gone as a matter of ingrained routine. We feel as though we haven't accomplished anything unless we've gone out somewhere then returned in-between. We make many round trip runs, almost always ending up just about where we started from, but with the added benefit, I guess, of having sandwiched a gone in there between the anchoring StayingPuts. If I were to deeply immerse myself into StayingPut, I might start stalking the hallways with an axe, chopping holes in otherwise perfectly innocent doors, slathering. I maybe might even turn into a creepy isolated old cat lady, newspapers piled to the ceiling. Or a shut-in, font of endless neighborhood rumors of what I might once have been, a definite haunted house has-been. StayingPut might be the most dangerous possible state for anyone seeking greatness or notoriety, and aren't we all in the Notoriety Business now? Excuse me, please, but I just gotta leave for awhile. I'll be right back. Not going anywhere, really, just … out.

We're StayingPut for our Staycation this summer, and not just because of our Governor's Stay At Home Order.

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Circlings

Circlings
'The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius', Leonardo da Vinci, about 1490.
" … a Muddle Ages, arguing over theology."

Our Damned Pandemic seems to have sparked a spike in circular reasoning, that form of thinking Bertram Russel once compared to larceny. We've been swiping answers we want, probably because we so want them to be true, for the nightmare to conclude, that we suddenly find ourselves capable of justifying anything and calling that conclusion perfectly reasonable. Circular solutions seem to prove their premise. Because of This, That AND because of That, This, deduction be damned. An induced solution seems to resolve the troubling problem. Hydroxychloroquine certainly seems to cure this 'flu,' except it isn't a flu and supporting evidence seems rather thin. An act of faith or firm believe gets involved and seems to securely seal the underlying logic. Hopefulness gets the better of us, inviting in a following fresh bout of despair. The meta-cycles of hopefulness and despair seem likewise circular, and we spend some days feeling as if we were circling around a huge drain.

We set our expectations innocently, stating our objective clearly. No harm and no foul.

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Sorrying

Sorrying
Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787
" … no identity changing required."

The GrandOtter said, "Sorry."

"Sorry about what?" The Muse replied. "Sorry about saying you were sorry?"

I imagined an infinite spiral starting with an innocent sorry then circling ever further downward, one sorry inexorably spawning another, ad infinitum. Of course, The GrandOtter meant that she was sorry, though she sometimes prefers a more present tense and says that she 'is' sorry, after which I imagine I'm witnessing sorry incarnate. I thought I was sorry, though I more probably never was anything of the kind. Perhaps I
felt sorry, which might prove to be as far from being sorry as anything could possibly be. No feeling defines anyone, for feelings come as information, not definition. One most certainly feels sorry without actually embodying that sorry state. I think we mostly forget this fact and whack ourselves with an ill-advised identity, when we were simply feeling sorry.

Sorry seems a sorry excuse and a worse apology.

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LongHaul

LongRun
First Battle of Bull Run, chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison, 1889
"Heads you win, tails we lose."

Both Union and Confederate soldiers expected the first skirmish of the Civil War to decide the conflict's final outcome. Fine ladies in carriages accompanied troops to the battlefield, expecting a diverting exposition, an amusing afternoon's competition. The Army of the Potomac outnumbered the rebel forces, which were hardly an organized army by then, but were filled with fervor. Neither side imagined the possibility that they might lose. The Union crawled chastised back to Washington that evening, and thus began a long ordeal during which the futility of the rebellion never seemed to settle in. Each side won some and lost some, but each side's dedication rarely wavered. The Confederacy quickly became a brutal autocracy, starving itself in ever-deepening delusion that their dedication might ultimately count for something. They touted Lee as the superior strategist, though he managed to lose every significant conflict. He'd won at Bull Run then went on to narrowly retreat from Antietam and Gettysburg. The terms of engagement seemed to have been set on that midsummer day in Northern Virginia. The manner of engagement largely remained intact throughout.

Both British and German troops cheered their way to the Marne in 1914, thinking themselves on an organized holiday.

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InvisibleHandiwork

InvisibleHanding
Adam Smith, Our Invisible Friend
"May we each come to more deeply appreciate our own agency."

The clever critic starts every review with some variant of, "Far be it from me to criticize, but …". That's a really BIG but, ingenuous as Hell, so I will allow myself to start this criticism more authentically. Your Invisible Friend continues betraying you. Your continuing faith in his underlying beneficence crosses the line between devotion and idolatry. Believe whatever you choose to believe, I say, but consider what each belief bestows upon thee. (I'm very likely to get preachy from here on, so proceed with care.) Any belief that continuously punishes your faith in it, ain't that great of a belief. Any faith that feeds cynicism should simply be abandoned. Any devotion that breeds a deepening sense of victimization, does damage rather than good. I know I'm not supposed to propose any hard shoulds, but please consider what your experience could become if you ditched your insidious Invisible Friend.

He has, they say, an invisible hand, one which, without human intervention, rules economic progress.

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PursuingHappiness

PursuingHappiness
Reading of Voltaire's tragedy of the Orphan of China in the salon of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, by Lemonnier. Circa 1812
"Could anyone find full satisfaction with that?"

The Age of Enlightenment eventually brought many improvements. Previous unspeakables became openly discussed. Rights of individuals came to be held as more sacred than the formerly presumed divine rights of either monarch or church, but at best I might fairly characterize that age as a lurch forward, for none of the resulting improvements came about easily. A couple centuries of brutal warfare has left us still divided, for both liberalism and its dedicated opposition emerged from those discussions, and the arguments continue perhaps in even greater earnest. Like all great movements, The Enlightenment was never advanced by particularly enlightened individuals. Assertions were made with little supporting evidence. Convictions encouraged every variety of pseudo certainty: prejudice, bigotry, misogyny, and racism thrived within The Enlightenment and, indeed, seem to continue thriving today, for The Movement could never produce the sorts of confident certainty divine rights might have bestowed. It represented a second order paradigm shift, trading extreme faith for continuing speculation and experimentation capable of approaching improvement but only by iterating, recognizing and adapting to error. All this performed by mere humans. It was and is quite the continuing speculation that it might succeed, and yet it did and has, though also didn't and has not. The path to anywhere from there seemed paved with the scientist's patient wariness, but few followers qualified as scientists.

We seem an impatient lot. We want what we want when we want it, not later, and enlightenment demands patience above all.

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Publickity

Publickity
Entry of John II of France and Joan I of Auvergne into Paris after their coronation at Reims in 1350,
later manuscript illumination by Jean Fouquet

"Notice how I'm not promising a glowing experience or to potentially change your life …"

Today's the day! I find myself suddenly NowHere after a couple of years' preparation, ready to more publicly display my creation in an act of Publickity, by which I mean not an act of publicity intended to gin up notoriety, but a slightly broader sharing. Few have seen my most recent works, though I have more than a dozen in various stages of final completion. A book goes through many completions, an initial one followed by several subsequent ones, each accompanied by its own sense of doneness, all but the final one ultimately false but nonetheless rewarding. There's always one more pass needed: editing, sequencing, re-editing, fine-tuning, the list extends well into a small infinity. Even the final, final, final, final version carries considerable uncertainty, it still being unproven in broader contexts.

I've combined the pieces I individually posted two summers ago under the hashtag #CluelessSummer into a book-length form sporting a new title, Cluelessness.

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SelfExamination

SelfExamination
The Ouroboros and the Tree of Life, Ancient woodcut
" … consider cluelessness to be the absolutely necessary precursor to learning …"

I don't think of myself as a snake and I most certainly do not possess a tail, but SelfExamination tends to leave me feeling like a snake who's eating his own tail, Ouroboros. I finished re-re-reviewing a manuscript this morning—those repeat offender readers might remember it as my CluelessSummer project from two summers ago—and I finished reading the danged thing feeling like Ouroboros again. The manuscript seemed to end just where it had begun, having resolved nothing, not really, the initiating mystery preserved through ninety or so reflections upon it. The ancients believed life worked like this, featuring unresolving cycles destined to endlessly repeat, inquiry not definitively resolving, but perhaps only animating the universal fate. Progress, or the certain notion of it, separates us from the Ancients, for we believe in the eternal possibility of progress. We want to have arrived somewhere by the end of it, for resolution to have become the reward for paying the price of admission and the cost of subsuming attention toward the performance. We genuinely believe that we're owed release by the end, that we'll come to know that the butler did it (again).

But I don't write like that. I couldn't come to a conclusion if kidnapped, tied up, and ditched at the intersection of Over and Donewith.

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Detention

Detention
Departure of the Joads, Thomas Hart Benton,1939
"Detention offers opportunities to more deeply appreciate …"

The cats Max and Molly "accidentally" escaped again last evening as I was finishing up the grilling. Fact was that I felt in need of escaping, too, accidentally or otherwise, for my heart felt like it was no longer home here. Oh, I hold the old place dear enough, but I'd had more than enough and needed something different in my diet. The lamb and veg kabobs were nicely finishing, and those two baby eggplant featured perfect grill marks, but I'd seemingly lost my appetite for home and hearth, which had by then accumulated a half-summer's worth of shirked maintenance. I'd accumulated a seemingly insurmountable backlog of everyday ordinary activities, somehow supplanted by even more mundane things. I felt out of place at home and caught myself aching to escape, so I staged a Great Escape for the cats, who seemed doldrum-ish and anxious to roam, too. I had grilling to do and The Muse was almost through making an emergency batch of homemade Tzatziki. The cats hadn't immediately disappeared, seeming to complain about the wet deck surface an earlier rain had left behind. Not even liberation produced the exuberance I expected from them. We all felt as though we were still in Detention.

Max was waiting when I opened the slider just after three this morning, and Molly appeared an hour or so later.

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Visitations

Visitations
Théodore Chassériau, The Ghost of Banquo, 1855
" … what these Visitations seem to do to me. "

It seems to me that my departed friends never leave me for long. Once gone, they revisit, often at inconvenient times, apparently intent upon setting me onto a somewhat straighter path, for I meander on my way to pretty much everywhere. The shortest route between any two points seems utterly irrelevant to me, as I seem to insist upon usually taking some more scenic route. I set a goal then head off in another direction, my dereliction ranging behind me, weighing me down. These diversions even seem necessary, for if synchronicity is to have any chance of influencing me, it seems I must stray from any straight or narrow. My detours sometimes seem down right harrowing, for I often get lost in those woods. I seem to sometimes even abandon myself when straying, as if my underlying purpose in pursuing might have always been betraying myself. I end up lost, good and lost though it often feels bad and betrayed, as though I've cost myself my dream.

My departed friends tend to visit me then, when I'm feeling pretty near to absolutely dead-ended.

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Experteasing

Experteasing
Left panel of the Dreux Budé triptych: the betrayal and arrest of Christ,
with the donors Dreux Budé and his son Jean presented by Saint Christopher by Master of Dreux Budé (circa 1450)
" … a place where few will ever suspect you of the sin of full expertise."

When I call for a refrigerator repair, I hope an expert (but not too much of an expert) will show up. I prefer working with an upwardly mobile journeyman rather than a full master. The full master's likely to be dismissive and perhaps denigrate me for abusing the appliance while the journeyman will still be inquisitive and learning, and more likely personable. Masters tend to be grumpy and filled with apparently irrelevant details, which they're anxious to share. I won't really want to learn the complete history of refrigeration, just enough information to get my machine working again. I'm even satisfied if the journeyman has to call back to the office for additional information. The expert who can complete the repair with his eyes closed scares me.

The problem with the experts in any field might be that they tend to scare the people with whom they interact.

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ReOpeningUp

ReOpeningUp
According to Sotheby's: Cats being instructed In the art of mouse-catching by an owl
Looks more like: A cat orchestra/choir directed by an owl, with sheet music made of little drawings of mice
Oil on canvas, circa 1700

"Yea, we can hear you now."

Each conflict seems to encounter its Midway Moment, an event that, while not fully resolving anything then, clearly presages an eventual outcome. I believe that this late July week just might have provided this cue. Though we're far from through with This Damned Pandemic, we seem to finally be taking it as seriously as it had been taking us for months and months. I see clear signs that we're no longer hawking bleach or hydroxychloroquine, and even Floridians and Texans seem humbled as their ICU beds fill to overflowing. Pandemics famously continue until. Until what is never obvious, but Damned Pandemics can be damned insistent, heartlessly continuing until we somehow catch on. Then we're playing catch-up for a long while. Few seem willing early on to trust mere knowledge or experience, and most want to rely upon their instincts, which have not yet evolved to fully understand the previously unexperienced challenge. We initially reject historical analogies as preposterous. We learn, painfully slowly, then we begin engineering a reckoning, a ReOpeningUp. Something seems to need to change within us before the changes we strive to engineer around us can come to anything but naught. This was the week that prefaced something different coming.

Extremism in pursuit of anything inevitably produces the opposite of its intention.

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Backlisting

Backlisting
"Salvation visits, and the heavens open in blissful chorus …"

Back in the earlier days of this Damned Pandemic, shoppers became familiar with terms like Fragile Supply Chain, a concept every bit as interesting as Capital Asset Pricing Model or Unsecured Credit Default Swap, stuff the average Jane or Joe never found reason to care about until the National Toilet Paper Stockpile turned up empty seemingly overnight. We had come to think of toilet paper as an almost God-given right, by which I mean it had become the ultimate free good, given gratis in public restrooms everywhere without ever a thought to where it might come from. It turned out that there was a whole industry behind its production and distribution, that fairies hadn't just left the stuff within eternally easy reach. Shortages were possible, and we had no idea how we might ration the stuff. Many had never fully appreciated that the lowly toilet roll might have been a tacit centerpoint of their professional compensation package, for the employee "lounge" had never once attempted to charge for or ration the stuff, though rumor had it that the executive floor stocked a fluffier quality than did the John off the loading dock. Anyway, us consumers were shocked when we found empty shelves dominating the old TP aisle. Shortages quickly spread to the paper towel shelves, too, and we formerly privileged many were rudely introduced to the sort of austerity that hit us square in the shorts. Ouch!

Some shifted to online shopping, prompting an armada of brand new Amazon vans with their weird smiley face logo to begin rushing family-sized containers of this freshly precious stuff to every corner of the country.

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LongDistance

LongDistance
" … a history where LongDistance briefly grew ever shorter before smartly snapping back closer to its traditional borders."

Geezers have always loved to tell stories about The Old Days, by which I mean the days when this world still seemed young to them. The later days, these days where geezers experience their ever advancing age, seem downright ancient in comparison, for they feature patterns grown far too familiar to frequently surprise or even delight, while back then, every new morning brought promise and discovery. Every generation believes that this world was produced for their delight and personal enlightenment. I remember doubting the existence of history then. How could history have been if I had not been included in it? I considered everything chronicled as having occurred before I was born to be a rumor, fiction created to cover up an obvious truth, that there could not possibly be a world without me being in it. Of course life eventually beat that notion out of me, once I'd started accumulating my own history for which many had not been present to witness. Aging eventually cures self-centeredness.

Horizons seemed to have broadened since then.

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ChickenShit

chickenshit
Katharina Fritsch, Hahn/Cock, 2013
"I cannot quite imagine a payoff or penalty worth the risk just yet."

Much of what tries to pass as information emanating from the current administration (which cannot seem to properly administer anything) bounces right off me. I can't care about crowd sizes or Our President's glowing self-assessments. I know they're all lies, and I'm not surprised or deeply troubled by them. He's a troubled man publicly wrestling with himself and largely losing. It's not really a fair fight. I mostly pity the poor guy, who by many accounts, never believed that he'd ever be elected into office and never really took to The White House. I understand that he'd really rather be golfing, a man his age, accustomed to big swindles and dedicated to never working very hard. He's arm candy gone stale and bitter, no longer really fit for public observation yet addicted to the stage. He seems to live in a dismissive rage now that he's the most powerful man in the world, or was before he started shedding power in favor of force which, of course, reliably backfired on him. Then he took to lying about our Damned Pandemic, obviously not even trying for a shred of truth, and I noticed that I noticed this and watched myself turn all ChickenShit.

ChickenShit's a Junior High word describing anyone unwilling to accept an unreasonable challenge.

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AnEcologyOfUnknowability

Unknowability
Cecil Collins, The Quest, 1938
"Our limitations denote the depth of our wisdom, not the breadth of our stupidity."

The unknowable seems to bedevil me. I do okay with the Known Knows, the Known Unknowns, and even with the Unknown Unknowns, for each of these categories still contain a presumption of potential knowability. My demons inhabit an orthogonal space which I cannot quite place on any known continuum, those defined by their tenacious unknowability. My ability to know serves no purpose there, for I could not possibly compare Unknowability's content to anything known or even anything distantly suspected, otherwise it might slip into some ultimately knowable classification. Some questions are nothing more than questions, posed, perhaps, not for answering resolution but to simply endlessly resonate. Who or what created the universe and when? What will next Tuesday bring? How many angels could actually dance on the head of this-here pin? We cannot even begin to know.

I can certainly pare down some mysteries, carve along margins to come to know a few details without ever actually addressing any fundamentally unknowable.

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Gathering

Gathering
The Ghent Altarpiece: The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (interior view), painted 1432 by van Eyck
"They're well worth the occasional, exceptional, judicious risk …"

I reflected as we drove the narrow twisty road down into Boulder that I had not attended a Gathering of any sort in five full months. Focused upon sheltering in place, justifying going anyplace had become a negotiation, with just staying home usually winning the debate. Out, we became Covid invisible, proximity monitors on full alert, averted gazes taking the place of all human contact. We could move through as much of a crowd as an entry-controlled grocery store could offer without making a ripple, hardly noticing our own presence there before heading back to our altogether too familiar car which would as equally invisibly carry us back home and into isolation. But The Muse's first cousin's daughter Grace was holding a graduation recital up at their Boulder place, strict masking in place and to be held outdoors. The Muse's aunt would be there and the promise of a little family time drew us. I did not feel nearly as concerned as I expected to feel.

This was a genuine shindig attracting a crowd of perhaps sixty seated in lawn chairs across the broad front yard.

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ConSpiriting

ConSpirit
Youth of Moses, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli, circa 1481
" … some days, I even suspect myself."

Those in the know come to understand that everything's a conspiracy, and this might well be true. I gratefully live out of the know, largely unconnected, absent that conspiracy-minded spirit. I see ample evidence of a vast right wing conspiracy rooted way back in the Confederacy and dedicated to utterly undermining any threat of representative democracy encroaching on their autocracy. Most of us were certified under some form of neoliberal indoctrination, with "friendly" corporations funding special programs, even whole departments, at our so-called public universities. We come to hate commies, love Jesus, despise taxes, own guns, and distrust our own government. We weren't born wanting any of that. A conspiracy was probably behind it, but so what? So what?

ConSpiriting, that hounding sense that some deep dark conspiracy's actually behind most everything, cannot be disproven.

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WarFooting

WarFooting
Romare Bearden: Tomorrow I May Be Far Away, 1967
"Lead us, please, into temptation and deliver us into the open arms of genuine evil, for we've come to revel in our supreme sense of invulnerability, for we are free! Free …"

Our enemies show us who we are, who we become when under extreme duress. Our friends reinforce for us who we intend to be, but our enemies goad us into showing who we're capable of being when we stop trying to please. We never placate or reassure our actual enemies, but seem to seek opportunities to highlight just how evil they must certainly be underneath. We give no quarter, we take no prisoners unless forced to, and then, only begrudgingly. We have demonstrated our willingness to bankrupt ourselves when we're on a WarFooting. Nothing's too expensive then, we'll mortgage the farm and the truck and the cow without hardly considering how we might one day repay the debt. When it's war, we conscript our sons, willingly wager our futures, and forget what we learned in the past. Nothing seems too dear and we inure ourselves to committing unspeakable acts for righteousness' sake. We conscript God and all religions to sanctify our necessary insanity. We are gratefully rarely publicly warring, for we've grown to understand that we can hide what's going on in those distant war zones by keeping the press out and lying to the public about what those invisible tussles might really be about. We have no stomach for war or for the truths it discloses to us about ourselves.

I can tell that we are not on a WarFooting where our Damned Pandemic's concerned.

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Healing

Healing
Mediaeval tapestry illustrating bloodletting.
" … I'm satisfied with Healing from my latest attempt to heal myself."

I woke up this morning with a clear head for the first time in six months. The outset of the malady had somehow escaped my notice, for I was at that time filled with fresh promise. My Nurse-Practitioner had prescribed a fresh medication intended to counteract my high triglycerides level, a condition I inherited from my father and share with all my siblings. I had tried—honest, I'd tried—back during the cholesterol scare of the eighties, to find some way to combat this anomaly, but had surrendered when the prescribed medication was recalled as more dangerous than the impending disease. I'd taken to observing by far my favorite treatment, radical acceptance of the way things just seem to insist upon being. I figured, and probably not wrongly, that the state of the Healing arts had not then progressed to successfully treat what my father had only managed to unsuccessfully try to treat for the last half of his nearly eighty-five years. I'd concluded that my triglycerides were a feature and unlikely to encumber my life.

But my brother had told me about a prescription he'd started taking and my sisters chimed in that they'd begun this treatment, too, with promising results, so, though I was hardly convinced it would address my instance, I agreed to at least try it and see. I tried it and saw.

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JustPracticing

Practicing
Theodoor Rombouts: Allegory of the Five Senses, first half of the 17th Century.
"You're not actually going anywhere, anyway, JustPracticing."

When physicians ply their trade we say they're Practicing medicine. When surgeons work, we claim that they're performing. Since all surgeons are simultaneously physicians, are they Practicing when they perform? Our terms for engagement might misrepresent the nature of engagement. Are truck drivers performing a service or practicing a skill in which they've yet to achieve full proficiency? I might expect flawless service from a performing practitioner but accept a few flaws from a Practicing one. The very term practitioner suggests someone practicing, the skilled practitioner supposedly the more experienced at Practicing rather than performing. Practicing, as anyone stuck with a clarinet in 4th grade understands, does not necessarily translate into immediate or even eventual perfection. One might become much more skilled at Practicing than they ever become at performing, as every garage band member can attest. And it might well be that every performance serves as a simple extension of Practicing, albeit in some different context. Singing in the shower might prepare someone to perform on a stage, but the situations hardly compare.

Practicing seems necessary but not predictive.

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Memento Mori

Mori
Pablo Picasso, Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle, 1952

Memento mori: an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life.

"Plagues only seem interminable. Life remains short."

Not to wax too finely over the obvious, but The Damned Pandemic strikes me as an enormous Memento Mori. It hovers as an annoyingly continuous reminder of the proximity of morbidity, mortality, and tragedy. Threat hovering over an Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Culture so recently dedicated to ignoring these inescapable elements of existence. Excuse us, please, if we all of a sudden seem unusually pissy. I've noticed myself complaining more but curiously enjoying it much less. I never became an actual habitual complainer, thinking the practice generally unseemly, but I readily admit to finding some welcome solace in the practice, if only occasionally. My complaints seem to work like a capacitor, slowly building a charge before releasing it in a quick discharge, seemingly coming from absolutely nowhere. I'm a smoldering, slow-burn sort of guy, rarely belying my steady countenance until already over some edge. Curiously, I usually feel much better after an outburst, as if most of the cure for my complaint came from simply airing it. An ounce of finding somebody to whine to might be worth a pound of any other cure.

Now, we only have each other to whine to and we each suffer from precisely the same complaint.

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'Stitions

Stitions
Théophile Steinlen's 1896 poster advertising a tour to other cities ("coming soon") of Le Chat Noir's troupe of cabaret entertainers
"Evil might even appreciate my diligence whenever I remember to keep it at bay."

I consider myself minor-stitious rather than superstitious. This designation means that I maintain more awareness than belief. I certainly do notice when a black cat crosses my path, remain scrupulous about not walking beneath open ladders, and appreciate parking karma when it visits me, but I do not go into hiding at the drop of a black cat, open ladder, or when forced to park a quarter mile away from my destination. I believe it healthy for a modern such as myself to retain a taste for lore from the past, not to the point of foraging for newt eyes or keeping a caldron simmering, but to show respect for my ancient elders. I feel confident believing that a few of my direct ancestors believed in witches, for they were Puritans, and Puritans believed such things. I feel confident that a few of my more firmly held beliefs will have been shown up as mere superstitions four hundred years hence, for that's just something futures seem destined to do to our practices, particularly the more sacred ones. I acknowledge my primitive sides, even though they might presently mostly hide from my sight.

Many of my 'stitions stem from my relationship with synchronicity, that sometimes sense that destiny's discovered me by means of the apparently happy accident.

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Slipstems

Slipstems
Picture by Drawing Machine 1, c. 1960
"I type with one hesitant finger regardless of the keypad."

We now possess what we firmly believe to be a well-developed understanding of systems. It's systems this and systems that, everything spoken of in systemic terms. I, myself, sometimes seem little more than a minor node within some vast collection of interrelated nodes, probably contributing some essential element to achieving some unknowable. We have ample systems where the leg bone's quite obviously connected to the hip bone, and innumerable essentially unconceivable systems where mysterious viruses invade in mysterious ways. We do not seem to have a well-developed theory of unconceivable systems, though, other than to complain about so-and-so seeming to not be much of a systems thinker, and I think we suffer under this absence. I refer to these mysterious systems as Slipstems, for their subtleties seem to slip right by us. We perceive them as materially different from what they might actually be, and behave accordingly, coping poorly with the resulting feedback.

I think of systems as unforgiving monsters tamed only by understanding.

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Feckonomics

Feconomics
Richard Anuszkiewicz, Knowledge and Disappearance, 1961
"Human agency becomes evidence of absent fealty and simple want, a grave moral shortcoming."

Economics seems the most feckless profession, one largely populated with avowed blind men endlessly arguing over the nature of an imaginary elephant before them. Each wears the spectacles acquired through their religious conversion into one school or another, the sorts of schools more focused upon indoctrination than studied observation. One might claim to be of the Austrian School, an aristocratic pedigree, indeed. Another might have sworn fealty to Keynes, a mighty systems thinker who never actually settled into any particular insistence. The Behaviorists have become increasingly popular, though they fancy themselves as insurgents not aspiring to prominence within the profession. Supply-siders, rarer than exotic hen's teeth following their 2008 financial system debacle, executed a come back on the backs of whacky, self-espousing conservative Christian law breakers, only to systematically organize another feckless pilfering of the public purse for parochial allocation. It seems that only the depth and color of conviction separates these schools, each in turn becoming the favored idiot step-child of some ignorant administration.

However wise and well-informed any individual economist might have proven him/herself to be, their philosophy only ever finds utility when associated with some administration's policies, and those policies are largely framed by folks with much less understanding and perhaps even greater religious conviction than any individual practitioner.

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Bitchuals

Bitchual
Priests of Anubis, perform the opening of the mouth ritual; illustration from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer
"I have no idea who I'd be without them hectoring me."

I tell myself that I maintain my many rituals to retain my sanity, but truth told, they occasionally drive me crazy. I maintain many rituals, for I seem to be one of those beings more attuned to rhythms than melodies or rhymes. I hold an extreme sensitivity to timing, and sense in what sequences I should engage. I meditate before breakfast, never after, and insist upon fasting until after I've finished my morning writing. My doctor prescribed a pill I'm supposed to swallow a half-hour before breakfast, which disrupts my usual sequence of rituals, delaying breakfast until seemingly much later, so I can throw in my morning shaving and showering ritual before I eat. I fairly religiously maintain these little engagements, inevitably in precisely the same sequence, until long after I hear myself starting to complain about them. They sometimes seem more habitual than actual ritual, only occasionally inducing any increased mindfulness. I confess to complaining about them to myself, as if I'd been cursed with them rather than them having once been freely chosen. I might best explain them as Bitchuals now, rituals where the underlying incantation has become subvocalized complaint. I bitch to myself about 'having' to perform them.

I wouldn't trade my Bitchuals for the world and most of its charms, for it seems I'll come to harm should I disrupt my sacredly profane routine.

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Behinder

Behinder
Hare, Fruit and Parrot, Jan Fyt (Fijt), Flanders, 1647


"The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." -Lewis Carroll


Our society behaves like a still life painting aspiring to become a Walt Disney movie. Directed to stand down, we commence to running around as if simply sitting still might kill us. We had formerly proven ourselves to be an impatient lot with hungry eyes, sprinting into our future, prone to act first and think later, if ever, so I should not feel in the least bit surprised at our latest antics. Certainly some seem fully capable of simply sitting with themselves, alone with their existence, but generations cultured as Mall Rats seem more than hesitant to abandon their once reliable ship. Days off were often seen as excuses to get out and do something, and any urge to stay at home, evidence of some underlying social malady. We became public beings without apparent private life, sharing what would have once been seen as personal secrets with loosely organized audiences composed of more or less equally imperfect strangers, bound by our compulsions.

How, the pundits wonder, did the You Ess of A become the centerpiece in this latest piece of performance art?

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TheSphericalCow

cascading
"The scientist trains to understand how to propose and then let go of naive initial assumptions."

Theoretical Physicists seem to forever resort to a mythical Spherical Cow when attempting to analyze some natural phenomenon. Let's say, for instance, that said physicist wanted to consider the aerodynamics of a cow. (This sort of problem rarely comes up for consideration in the careers of chartered accountants. This might be the best reason to avoid a career in chartered accountancy.) Rather than first include all the variations a cow's body shape might add to the initial calculation, the canny physicists will employ a bit of fiction and first assume a Perfectly Spherical Cow, an utter absurdity. Given this regular shape, general principles might be easily identified to produce a rough first draft of a solution. Later, our physicist can add complications like legs, horns, hooves, and head, to iteratively produce more real world assessments. First pass assessments frequently rely upon a mythical Spherical Cow.

Much science advances in a similar fashion, building upon some deliberate fiction when first attempting to understand some phenomena.

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HeatWave

HeatWave
Die Kornernte (The Harvesters), Pieter Bruegel der Ältere (Peter Bruegel The Elder), 1565
"I cannot capture these dehydrated days for reconstitution later this year."

The petunias have finally come into their own, thirsty every other day. Those plants not yet convinced that it's actually summer probably won't amount to much this year. The deck fountain loses an inch to evaporation overnight and will need refilling by tomorrow. The yard crunches underfoot, though the grass still looks green. Everything dries from the bottom up, the soil losing moisture faster than does the foliage. I'm on watch, wary of another huge water bill, I become stingy and careful. The air feels so dry that I wake up unable to swallow, my throat desiccated overnight to the texture of dry rubber. The air feels lighter than air. A cloud tries to drop rain, but its moisture can't quite make it to the ground and leaves nothing but a smear along the far horizon. Deer graze through the neighbor's garden, pruning plants they usually avoid. I prefer a shady spot these mornings while the world awakens to face a HeatWave.

By what magic has that winter become summer? I missed the transition.

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ParodyProductions

ParodyProduction
Book illustration of Pulcinella in 1700 (1860) by Maurice Sand
" … we're each seemingly blessed with this bottomless ability …"

My first enlightenment came with a frightening realization. I really felt as though I had been successfully passing for what I deeply felt I simply had to be. I caught myself behaving as the self I'd convinced myself I simply had to be, and I, in that moment, saw right through my flimsy facade. I felt in that humbling moment, deeply ashamed at how I'd managed to game myself into that condition. I felt deep contrition, but had yet to understand who else I might pass myself off as being. I had known almost forever that nobody would ever accept the me I once knew to be most representative of myself, that I could publicly be anyone else, but never myself, one Hell of a deeply false premise. And so had begun my first and probably greatest ParodyProduction of my life. I've been living down that performance ever since.

A parody begins with a slightly twisted premise and over time tends to turn into a really bad episode of The I Love Lucy Show.

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SelfDeflection

Self-Deflection
"Maybe we can't afford to know any different …"

In this neighborhood, almost everyone comes and goes through their garage door. As a car approaches home, the door opens via remote control, the car enters, and the inhabitant exits their car inside as the garage door slides back closed. This pattern limits opportunities for interacting with neighbors. Indeed, it limits one's ability to ever even meet a neighbor. We live adjacent but largely anonymously. I see the joggers and dog walkers without usually knowing which garage door they live behind. Once buttoned up at home, most people live looking out the back of their houses, where the hillsides provides views. The front yards, dominated by the driveway, might receive little but modest attention and even less traffic. Further, covenants limit the range of potential individuation allowed by each homeowner. Colors must conform to a narrow palate and even plantings, to consistent guidelines. I just this week, while out looking at the twilit sky, met a neighbor who lives just five doors up the street. She'd been living there since long before The Muse and I moved in five years ago. We'd never seen or met each other before.

This lifestyle seems like a form of SelfDeflection to me.

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InterdependenceDay

InterdependenceDay
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Open Door, before May 1844
"Living free means living interdependently …"

Our kittens Max and Molly behave as if they'd rather I maintained an open door policy, for they feign fierce independence. They're apt to slip by me when I'm carting supper out onto the deck, though I'm more likely to accidently-on-purpose let them slip by me. They gleefully head for the stairway down to the backyard, where they munch long grass fronds —to later barf back up with their supper, which I will dutifully clean up without complaint—, cultivate garden beds, and roll around in the dirt before stealthily stalking birds they could not possibly catch. An hour or less later, and their independent spirit lags. Molly lies near the top of the stairs staring off into the distance while Max maintains his resistance, perhaps by climbing a tree. A shake of the kitty treats package brings them both fleeing back into accustomed dependency, though they shortly start sniffing and mewling around the door again, hoping to regain their independence.

Sometimes, Molly will escape and stay away for a day or longer, but eventually she'll return, contrite, looking as if she might appreciate a square meal.

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SelfReferencer

SelfReferencer
Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait with Palette, 1906


"I admit that I can usually see little further than my own nose …"


All literature seems inescapably self-referential, each work essentially self portraiture. That seems the sort of opening sentence certain to ward off all but the very most dedicated and/or delusional readers, for few want to experience another snake eating his own tail. Us readers want stories, and we're much less picky than we probably should be about where those stories come from or really what they're about. Stories can sooth readers into a supreme sense of self-control, elevating each into the role of almost omniscient observer and judge. After all, we're privy to what the protagonist thinks, his internal monologues, in ways we might not ever personally experience when observing ourselves. My internal dialogues only occasionally and perhaps accidentally distill into anything definite, and, as my dedicated Repeat Offender readers can attest, they often never reach any definitive conclusion. I roll around in my world like a wet dog on a recently clean carpet.

I have been over the past couple of weeks, working with my Genius Nephew to attempt to distill what I'm doing with my writing.

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HardWork

HardWork
Harry Brodsky, Tomato Pickers, 1938
"It's always a fundamentally unfair fight …"

All insistences that we're a HardWorking people aside, I'd rather not have to work that hard. I'd feel a member of a minority if I didn't look around me. As my brother used to ask, "You working hard or hardly working?" My honest response would be that I was hardly working. I feel fortunate to have found so-called work that seems more calling than indenture, so even engaging long hours in it hardly feels much like working. I believe that even clever Yankees found ways to leave their Pilgrim forebears' HardWork behind, creating passive income streams to replace brow sweat and aching backs. Few seem to aspire to careers solely consisting of HardWork, but most might consent to a period of it in the firm belief that they'll eventually graduate to become one of those shiny-seated suits hardly working in the front office.

Still, some HardWork remains.

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Educations

Educations
The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin, model 1880, cast 1901
"It's pass/fail."

I learned more on my before and after school jobs than I ever learned in any classroom. I began as an intimidated student. Who wouldn't be, with the institution surrounding me? I later learned to become more enthusiastic, but I watched that enthusiasm leach out of me as I learned how the game was played. Even the well-meaning teachers expected me to memorize and test well, to diligently study (without once demonstrating what that entailed in a home with endless distractions), and to learn. I seemed more dedicated to preserving what I understood, defending that against threatening onslaughts ranging from math to science to foreign languages. I had no clear image of who I might become should I successfully assimilate all that orthogonal information, so I chose to hold onto what I had rather than abandon myself in favor of learning how to become anybody else. At work, I pretty quickly learned what I needed to do to thrive. School mostly taught me how to hide out until the serial assaults on my identity ceased.

The process of education deeply offended me.

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TheGoldenBlurb

TheGoldenBlurb
Narcissus by Caravaggio, 1597–1599
"Eviscerate freely, dear readers …"

My maternal grandfather seemed taciturn. He'd speak hesitantly except to poke fun, which usually seemed more mean than humorous. I knew that he'd seen a lot in his time, but he rarely mentioned his experiences beyond a few hunting stories, which I found generally uninteresting. I wondered after his manner of living, for his whole lifestyle seemed cloaked and therefore mysterious. I wonder now how he introduced himself to strangers and I realize that he never properly introduced himself to me. I remember him but admit that I did not now him well. He seemed of a different age. I'd seen the photograph of him as a barefoot school kid, with his Huck Finn-looking compatriots, back when he attended a one room school, where he'd stayed only long enough to graduate third grade. His census record lists him as a laborer, though he owned his own home on a small plot of land featuring a barn where he bedded enough livestock to service the household, chickens, a cow, and a lamb or two.

I began writing in earnest once I realized that I seemed destined for a similar fate, bequeathing little of my manner of living to my grandchildren, for I was certain the generational mystery would very likely ultimately nullify me.

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MendingNets

DeadStill
Winslow Homer, Mending the Nets, 1882
"When becalmed, mend nets."

I woke to the sound of my neighbor running a generator beneath his fifth wheel, a whale of a vehicle he surrounds with an annoying puce LED string when he parks on the street overnight. It provides just enough light to prevent anyone from plowing into it and just a tad to much for us up on the hill above to enjoy total darkness. Morning brings his predictable puttering, for he looks as though he and the missus will go camping this week, taking their whale up to some sprawling campground to, as they say, get away from it all. This morning brought a strange stillness, for the usual dawn winds failed to show up for work today. They usually get the conifer tops to tipping and whip around the aspen and cottonwoods, preventing any watering without wasting at least half of the precious water. This morning's dead calm, though, and it seems as though I'm missing a dimension. My usually animated world turned into a line drawing.

When becalmed, the fishing fleet would mend nets, for to idle away any day seemed tantamount to sin.

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TheGooseberryMeditation

gooseberry

" … transcendent scratch scars which will hopefully never heal."

Gooseberries might be fairly characterized as a bear or a bitch of a berry, depending upon one's vocabulary. I consider them near the top of my long list of culinary delights, for I find them evocative beyond their own spare attributes. A hard, tart, unpromising fruit, they grow on thorny bushes which make them a bear or a you-know-what to pick, and once picked, they demand much from any devotee. Each tiny sphere comes with a stem and a blossom end, both of which must be trimmed to do anything at all with them. My mom used her fingernails, much as The Muse does to accomplish this end. I, possessing blunt fingers, employ kitchen shears to snip off each offending appendage. This effort makes painstaking seem downright cavalier, as each quart seems to take a year or longer to properly barber.

Convenience foods offer both much more and much less than simple convenience.

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Shivility

Shivility
Philip Guston, City Limits, 1969
" … the one damned thing our Constitutional liberties do not provide."

Our melting pot seems to have become a caldron of complaints, our more perfect union defined more by its imperfections than by its inspiring aspirations, with innumerable factions, each presuming to speak for The People. Anything seems capable of sparking a fresh confrontation between passionate partisans and those they firmly believe represent some retrograde Dark Lord. Masks, strongly recommended by decent people dedicated to protecting public health, have somehow become tangled in notions of Constitutional liberty, as if protecting each other amounts to an unforgivable affront. The fabled Bill of Rights now seems the premise of an endless Bill of Wrongs enumerating endless infringements rather than encouraging civil consensus. Social Justice seems the new tyranny, as those harboring long-nurtured grudges forcefully demand a long-elusive equality, each advancement experienced as somebody's else's setback, producing a long, slow descent. Consent of the governed first requires some consent to govern by those to be governed, and no consensus seems likely to emerge. We've become an unruly herd, each seemingly dedicated to separate and inherently unequal interpretations of our common creed.

Civility cannot be insisted upon.

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Accschleptance

Accschleptance
The Third of May by Francisco Goya, 1814
"the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention". Kenneth Clark


"The world changed. I haven't completely kept up."

Acceptance of the NowHere seems a first step, not a final one, for any fresh acceptance will likely appear clumsy, more of an Accschleptance than a flawless integration. This seems a cruel joke, for once surviving the denial, anger, and bargaining before achieving a point where acceptance might prove possible, the cycle seems to simply start all over again with acceptance. An exhausted acquiescence might best characterize the first taste of this sort of success, more surrender than embrace. However such changes occur, they're unlikely to show anyone performing at their best. You'll be several songs into the new set before the sound check's really completed, and until then, any early audience should properly feel initially disappointed. Later some mastery might emerge. Maybe.

This first week of Summer included the tail end of Spring, a transition for both seasons and my blogging themes.

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EasingInto

Predawn1


"I dream of my own dominion while denying myself, as well."


I start my summer days slowly, waking early to waste the first few hours in a dark house gazing out into darkness. I wear a jacket, not wanting to waste an ounce of furnace fuel warming up space I'll later be desperate to cool. I step out onto the driveway to spy whatever satellite might be passing by and quietly curse the neighbor's paranoid night lights. They fear prowlers though their neighbors would just as soon somebody hauled their immobile vehicles somewhere far away where we wouldn't have to watch them rust all day and night. I suppose that I'm an annoyance to my neighbors, too, for I semi-scrupulously maintain my yard, which I do not consider to be hard work, just necessary, but in mountain communities, yards tend toward the natural, left as is, weedy and imprecise. We each display our vices, often proud of our attributes and unaware of the quiet rebukes our presence provokes. The Predawn slips like velvet across my face.

I feel master of this place in the wee, small hours.

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Gruel

Gruel
The disreputable cook from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Ellesmere manuscripts, c. 1410.

" … fills me up without much fuss."

My earliest culinary successes came long before any literary success arrived, indeed, back when I was still essentially pre-literate. I'd read very few books by then and found reading tedious. I relied more upon my instincts then, rarely referring to any authority before undertaking a new activity. Cooking had long interested me, but my mother was no chef. My early influences included the Cub Scout Handbook, which illustrated how to boil water over a campfire. Once out on my own and poor, I learned through sad repetition how to make supper. A friend had gifted us with an enormous cylinder of a spongy protein powder athletes use when training, and I took to incorporating that stuff into darned near everything. Most of my meals amounted to naive inventions, eatable after a fashion, but rarely choice. The mysterious powder became the primary ingredient in what I called Giant Cookie Muffins, which resembled neither cookies nor muffins, but which carried more protein on board than the typical cattle boat. They were chewy to the point of spongy, and very, very curiously textured. You've probably never eaten anything even remotely like them. I also baked bread in empty coffee cans, having no proper bread pans, and I can confidently report that it always smelled like freshly baked bread, if not always tasting precisely like it.

I made many crude casseroles in those days, dishes which could serve as breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and often did.

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Procrastidestination

procrastidestination
Scene In Club Lounge by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798

"A time will come, or not, …"

It seems to me that some days were not created to be seized. Procrastination has its rewards, not necessarily as a chronic form of engagement, but as an especially savory sort. I find wearying our long collective obsession with efficiency, for it seems to me that not every frog demands to be eaten at the beginning of every day. Some seem to beg for some contemplation, or even some strategic distraction, perhaps a clever tactical delay. Those observing might well diagnose procrastination as if that were a serious disease, and prescribe decisive action for relief, but I often find great relief in delaying an engagement, improving ultimate satisfaction that way. I seem to need to cogitate my way into some actions, for I sometimes waste my effort by simply jumping in before, for instance, determining the depth of a pond. Furthermore, few satisfactions seem to rise to the level I experience upon completion of a task I've long, or even overly-long, shirked. Plus, in those situations, I feel as though I've achieved on my terms, not the damned clock's.

Some of my forebears were strict Predestinationists.

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Irrevocableution

Irrevocableution
Instruments Of Power by Thomas Hart Benton, 1930-31, from his America Today Murals

" … while this fresh-faced image in this brand new mirror wonderingly gazed back at me."

Some say that biological evolution works only over large scales of time, but I do not believe this assertion, for my own biome seems to have been in continual transition since the day I was born. I might have been evolving daily, scaling this or that feature, never once static. I look for my reflection in my morning shaving mirror and often stare startled into that image peering back, for I cannot remember before seeing anyone precisely like that imposter staring back at me. The hair's at a different angle. The eyes slightly sunken. The nose somehow wrong. Sure, I always find at least a passing resemblance, but I'm increasingly moved to wonder why I even try to find myself there, or more precisely, why I try to find any self I might immediately recognize. I might better serve my self-esteem should I inquire rather than peer into mirrors, trying to see who I might be NowHere, rather than attempting to catch glimpses of whom I should already understand was already a past self. No man shaves the same face twice.

My old reliables either betrayed my faith in them or were never all that reliable in the first place.

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NowHere

NowHere
Changing West, one of ten America Today murals by Thomas Hart Benton, 1930-31
"Even if this Damned Pandemic never recedes …"

I went to bed last night in the there and then. Pandemics have a way of simultaneously propelling one both backward and forward. Backward into longing for how it once was and forward into hopefully pining after how it might become. Meanwhile, one remains steadfastly in the NowHere, a most curious terrain where, depending upon capitalization, it might seem indistinguishable from nowhere or a stunningly present NowHere. The longing and pining too easily become heart-bruising pushes and shoves since both objectives remain steadfastly out of reach regardless of effort expended. For short periods, longing and pining might produce some reassuring respite from any sudden, shocking trauma, but neither serves well as a lifestyle, and both in concert seem certain to result in a sort of skitzy-paranoia serving nobody well, a form of self-destructive denial. However far anyone might long or pine, they remain precisely NowHere.

When will this pandemic end? Likely not in our lifetimes.

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RaggedEndings

RaggedEnding
Achelous and Hercules, Thomas Hart Benton, 1947


"Resolution was never anything but a dream."


We all learn early how stories are supposed to end, with loose ends all tied up, signaling resolution. The novel, once unknown and new, becomes experienced and thereby old. A few, we'll refer back to again and again, not to rediscover any ending already known, but perhaps to re-experience the style and craft of the storytelling, the satisfying phrasing and deft plotting. These stories might never properly resolve, for though we do learn that the butler did, in fact, do it, that knowledge quenches nothing, but sometimes encourages a longer, perhaps life-long engagement with this author and his prose. But that describes the book world. Out here in what passes for the real world, RaggedEndings tend to be by far the most common form of resolution, where though not completely done, one must eventually simply move on. Time and tide and all that.

The last day of Spring, just over a half of a day this year, finds me surrounded by unresolved WhatNow? Stories.

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Commtroversy

Commection


"I came from The Never Can Say Goodbye Family …"


When my ninth great grandparents left England in 1637 for what would one day be called Connecticut, they broke communication with everyone not traveling with them. They spent weeks in total isolation from even land, then years before receiving any word from anyone they knew in their former home country, and then, that communication relied upon writing and paper or long-delayed word-of-mouth. Direct connection with home folks became indirect Commection, and would remain so for the rest of their long lives. No letters survive, and, indeed, letters might have never been sent, for no reliable postal service would emerge for more than a century. Messages might take months to move between what would eventually become colonies and their former home country, and not all ships safely made the crossing. Some messages were doubtlessly lost in transmission. Aside from their charter governing the terms of their obligations to their backers—for they were perhaps more capitalists than Pilgrims—they were truly on their own.

In those times, face-to-face communication fueled the vast proportion of human connections. They talked.

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NDA

NDA
A votive plaque known as the Ninnion Tablet depicting elements of the Eleusinian Mysteries,
discovered in the sanctuary at Eleusis (mid-4th century BC)


"I pray that ours won't hang around for anything like a hundredth as long."


The modern organization is fundamentally indistinguishable from a cult. It perceives its secrets as its primacy, and self-importantly considers everything it does a proprietary secret. It expects employees as well as visitors to sign the cheesiest of legal documents, the holy NDA [Non Disclosure Agreement], a contract of truly questionable authority threatening severe penalties should the signer even inadvertently spill any beans. Some of these 'agreements' also insist that anything an employee or visitor utters inside automatically becomes the sole property of the proprietor without even a distant mention of compensation for that creation. These are privileged reprobates concerned first with dominion. These questionable contracts are agreements in name only, standing more accurately as coercements, my-way-or-the-highway insistences rarely open for negotiation. If a vendor, contractor, or employee doesn't like the terms, they're perfectly free to lump it. Period.

Later, when asked a straightforward question, a disgruntled ex might legally refuse to answer by claiming their speech stifled by a prior agreement.

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Fatigue

Fatigue
Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis by Frederic Lord Leighton (1869-71)


" … when Fatigue wins, everyone loses."


The front line personnel complain of Fatigue, the constant mind-numbing companion of prolonged engagement. The Fatigue enters unnoticed, while the host focuses upon tasks at hand. Standing back, though, a wave of exhaustion washes over, astounding. How could I not have noticed? Fatigue brings no excuses, though, for even more of the same awaits and relievers seem just as scarce as does time. Diving back into the fray, distinctions like night and day lose meaning. Like an engine, one seems to run much longer on empty than when nearer full. A definite pull discourages disengagement. Beyond tired, fresh space appears where energy and fear forfeit their former influence. One becomes a machine repeating practiced motion and preconscious skill. Someone's likely to have to pull you off your work. Only then might real weariness settle in.

Doctors, nurses, and EMTs know Fatigue better than do you and I.

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FourHoles

FourHoles
Earth, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, possibly 1566


"It might not say anything about me or my overblown prowess …"


The oldest political advice counsels that if your opponent's busy digging a hole, stand aside, but what to do when you catch yourself digging one, or, as in my case, find myself engaged in digging four holes? I imagined each a modest effort, though I knew the substrate beneath that flowerbed. I was building a defense against the bastard deer, who, around here, put self-respecting omnivores to certain shame, for they eat anything, everything, even prickly gooseberry shrubs and rhubarb leaves, which by international decree have been recognized as deadly poisonous to all species since at least the early Middle Ages. I'd moved my circular wire fence from my rhubarb bed to enclose the gooseberry garden after The Muse had spotted the expletive deer gnawing my beleaguered bushes, thinking that now that the rhubarb's well established and lush, the deer wouldn't be in any rush to assault it this year. Once I'd moved the barrier fence, the deer mounted armed assaults against the rhubarb, stripping every leaf from every stalk, gratefully avoiding the edible stalks, which The Muse made into a custard pie, but the damage was done. I'd need a better barrier for the gooseberries once I moved the rhubarb's original protective fence back where it apparently belongs.

Hence, the holes.

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ShelfControl

ShelfControl
Still life on a 2nd-century mosaic, with fish, poultry, dates and vegetables from the Vatican museum


"A decent pot of beans will last through a week of breakfasts and lunches if you're not too picky."


Three months ago, when the stay-at-home directives hit, you could be excused if you thought that few people had ever put much thought into the idea of maintaining a pantry. City dwellers have always struggled with shortages of shelf space counterbalanced with a choice of corner bodegas and convenient restaurants. Country dwellers have always maintained some cellar space for what they euphemistically referred to as canned goods, and many maintained more than one refrigerator and even a supplemental freezer or two or three to sustain a sense of self-sufficiency. When it's ten or more miles to the nearest store, an inconvenience market primarily selling gasoline, one quite naturally stockpiles and makes do. The professional class tended to eat out more frequently, daily lunches and a couple of suppers out each week, while the working class might have more frequently brought their own bag lunch and made their own suppers at home, often after a quick stop for that evening's ingredients on the way back.

But the stay-at-home directives disrupted these rhythms, forcing folks to suddenly attend to more than than just the meal before them.

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Ministration

Ministration

Philosophia et septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts.
From the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)


"When a leader pisses off their bureaucracy's Old Marys, they're posing for their own statuary; they're finished."


History seems inscribed with leaders' footprints, it's all Napoleon this and Hannibal that without properly acknowledging those who greased the gears of great revolution and, more significantly, the Pax Romanas separating upheavals. Those gear greasers came from the ranks of competent ministers, folks well out of history's limelight who designed, constructed, and maintained the vast bureaucracies which competently administered societies. We find no statuary commemorating the savvy minister, no steeples erected in fond memory of the geeks who broke only paper trails, no continents named after the genius who invented double-entry bookkeeping, but without them the touted leaders could not possibly have succeeded at anything. In our present time, with pandemic sweeping the globe, the scrupulous statisticians and hospital administrators have contributed more to containing the contagion than all the leaders proclaiming impotent dominion over it. Send me one Old Mary and I'll comfortably replace a Pentagon filled with Five Stars and a carrier fleet of sailors.

Back when The Muse worked in the property/casualty insurance industry, she interacted with many brokers and home office executives, but largely via their support staff, who typically reported to a matronly secretary who actually ran the operation, a role one broker referred to as "his Old Mary."

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InappropriateMetaphor

InappropriateMetaphor
The Solidity of the Road to Metaphor and Memory, Misha Reznikoff, 1934

"Suffering might always be the lingering effect of innocently ineffective metaphoring."

InappropriateMetaphor is the root of all evil. It enables us to perceive difference where no meaningful difference exists. It ties us to self-destructive habits, encourages international conflicts, and might convince someone to build ineffective border walls. It fuels global warming, redlining, and urban blight. It encourages disposables which last for centuries. It fuels fear and institutionalizes ignorance. It justifies dominance when cooperation would better serve. It promotes tenacious inequality and bigotry, poverty and great wealth, debilitating sickness and declining health. It makes us crazy while passing for perfectly sane. It represents manners of living as if they were necessary imperatives. It poorly informs us.

Shifting metaphors might mend anything.

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AsymptomaticSuperspreader

Asymptomatic


"Our walking shoes might finally be ready next Tuesday …"


I have come to presume that all people not wearing a mask in public are undiagnosed AsymptomaticSuperspreaders. I wear my mask to encumber my natural tendency toward AsymptomaticSuperspreading. Since I cannot definitively determine whether I'm carrying, I figure that we're all safer if I presume myself to be a dangerous presence. I know that I feel a whole lot safer when others presume the same about themselves. Sure, there's a chance that I won't immediately infect you if I don't wear my mask, but there's essentially zero chance if I do, so I take it upon myself to protect you. You're welcome. I do wonder why you don't feel compelled to protect me in return. Maybe you believe yourself not to be an AsymptomaticSuperspreader. This belief best preserves your innate ability to become one. Congratulations!

The Muse ordered the breakfast burritos the night before for pick-up at nine the following morning.

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Breakout

Breakout
Film still of James O'Neill as Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, a 1913 film.


"I've decided to escape."


I've managed to master about ten percent of a writer's craft in that I seem to be able to write. Raw writing, though, might amount to no more than ten percent of the craft, the other ninety percent being related to all that happens after the writing's done. Editing's in that ninety percent, but so are all the activities related to distribution: promotion, publication, and, I suppose, personality, wherein the writer projects a more pubic persona. Simply writing's a fine occupation, though it pays no bills and without some broader distribution, realizes little reach and influences few; not that writing's only justified if it influences, for it's possible to restrict a writer's work to only influence the writer or just a few close acquaintances, but a broader presence seems essential to fulfilling a writer's potential. Writing's a share the wealth sort of enterprise.

Approaching, let alone mastering writing's tail end ninety percent has always been my dread, one of those activities I wouldn't mind having done, but seem to have no passion for actually doing.

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Timemorelessness

Timemorelessness
Joachim Patinir: Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx, 1515-1524


" … we'll claim to have been there then without actually having understood anything."


We usually define time as finite, a steadily regulating entity, drawing the baseline cadence of our lives, at least in ordinary times. But we live in extraordinary times, beneficiaries of that ancient Chinese curse, so our time proceeds much more erratically. Some days constrain every effort while others seem to expand before us like a vast ocean stretching far beyond the visible or even any imaginable horizon, essentially black holes absorbing every expectation. I cannot fill these immense days, which expand time into unexpendable excess to produce the opposite of feelings of being pressed for time. Time moves languidly then, without harassing drop dead deadlines, hardly seeming like time at all. A Timemorelessness settles in, not needing management or optimization, for it seems an infinite good aching to be what more constraining times might insist upon labeling wasted, but one cannot waste Timemorelessness, like one cannot ever squander any infinite, for expending any portion of it seems to reduce the remaining only insignificantly.

I become a time Midas those days, where everything I touch turns into even more potential, rendering closure meaningless.

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Esteem-ating

Esteem-ating
Study for Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, John William Waterhouse, 1900


" … and not peer darkly into any glass."


We tend to peer into the glass brightly, always perceiving better ahead. Our self-esteem seems to rely upon this curious facility, as if darker visions might utterly destroy us. Those who project more pessimistically attract few followers, for they seem simply grumbly, suffering from some form of depressive disorder. Speaking truth to power first requires speaking truth to one's self, and few selves seem very interested in anything like the truth. We want the princess to marry the prince, which recently transformed from a toad, and live happily ever after because we'd prefer to live happily ever after, too. We first seek reassurance. The depths of deflecting denial seem just as infinite as the heights of our hopefulness. A No-Man's Land stands between these defensive barricades.

In mid-April, the US suffered the equivalent of a D-Day invasion's number of dead every two days, an unimaginable volume, even in retrospect.

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Poelease

Poelease
Basquiat being “stopped-and-frisked” outside the Barbican Centre, Banksy, 2017


"I still fully expect to be harassed if not arrested with every encounter …"


Every child of the sixties learned to distrust the cops. We were at constant risk of arrest, whether from simple possession or even simpler teenage passion, the cops seen as at best spoil sports and at worst voyeurs and vindictives. We maintained vigilance, a practice which left some life-long paranoids. We'd each seen plenty of swaggering cops playing the tough guy but only very rarely encountered a compassionate one. We each expected to be run in for some inadvertent infraction before we'd graduated high school, as we practiced a clandestine, fatalistic form of civil disobedience as a simple matter of existence. We weren't bad kids, but we were at continual risk of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. These experiences formed a conviction that the Poelease were not, as Jack Web's Dragnet insisted, present "to protect and serve," but to harass and punish, an occupying force representing the forces of hypocritical Republicans. It mattered who you knew.

A friend and I were once arrested for the presumed crime of wading in a park fountain we'd both been wading in since we were small children, the arresting officer impatiently explaining that only little kids were supposed to wade in it.

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Longhair

longhair
Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, c. 1860


"I'll recognize ordinary time when I see it looking back at me from my mirror again."


Since the age of twenty-five, my head has served as my chronometer, its finest granularity being the month, roughly the distance between haircuts. My face accurately measures time in days. My mustache, in fortnights, the time between necessary trims. Before the shutdown, I remained groomed as regularly as any clock works. Since, even my shaving's slipped to every other morning, often every third or even a previously thinkable fourth. My hair's gone feral, over my ears and curling along the back. I feel on track to return to my early twenties' self, frizzy pony tail dangling halfway down my back, tied behind my head with a thin rawhide strap. I for years contended that I carried the Sampson gene. Any deceitful Deliah carrying scissors could thwart my power, such as it was. I long lusted after long hair and maintained it with a reverence exceeding religious conviction. I didn't just have long hair or wear my hair long, I WAS a longhair.

Being a longhair qualified as an identity then, a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of a certified Age Of Aquarian within.

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RecoveringGuru

RecoveringGuru
Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)


"I make my own noise without hoping to change anyone's world but mine."


Looking at me now, you might never imagine that I was once considered to be a guru of sorts, for I was a designated thought leader and workshop teacher, and the guru designation just seems to come with that territory. As a veteran of the sixties coffeehouse music culture, I was certainly no stranger to the stage. I would balance on the three-legged high stool on the platform overlooking the place and perform my latest song to the largely distracted assembly, hoping to catch an eye, praying to be recognized, just as has every other budding singer/songwriter in the history of the world so far. That stage was never subsequently swarmed by entranced females, but I'd usually gain a heart-felt appreciation or two. Once I started consulting and teaching for real, the relationships became increasingly curious. Because I had been present, holding forth, personal insights participants experienced might end up somehow attributed to me, as if I had induced them, and maybe I had. Heartfelt appreciations sometimes became indistinguishable from veiled seductions. I was largely unaware, though home life could get complicated by a curious voicemail left for me but picked up by my spouse. Then some explaining would commence.

The cult of celebrity, even of local notoriety, did not reassure me.

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ImaginaryEnemies

ImaginaryEnemies
Crítica, engraving by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907


" … hope springs intermittently, never seamlessly or continuously."


As society seems to crumble, live on the six o'clock news, I feel mostly moved to tap the snooze alarm. The broadcasts seem to need to cast their full color video in shadowy blacks and whites, a palette hardly suitable for representing any underlying complexity. It seems to be us versus them again in never-ending conflict. The simplicity imbedded within the storyline unfamiliar to anyone experienced in any sort of real world relationship. These seem soap opera representations, where human relations distill down to the color of a character's hat and the soundtrack's sinister tone. We each maintain our caricature characterizations of those we imagine to be our mortal enemies, mostly without ever having had the pleasure of their physical company. We remain willfully ignorant of others' intentions, if only because our fictions might prove unbelievable should they stray too far into self-contradiction. We hate more easily than we love, often holding ourselves hostage awaiting another's extension of an appreciation we ourselves withhold. There might well be far fewer bad actors than really bad plays, lines proposed to maintain a seemingly necessary simplicity, lest we grow too confused.

I watched a poorly masked so-called protestor paint graffiti on an innocently by-standing tree in the park adjacent to the statehouse this week.

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Cascade

Cascade
Destruction of the Tower of Babel by Crispijn de Passe the Elder Netherlandish, 1612:
at right men and women flee from the burning tower, at left men and women raise their hands toward two flying angels,
from a series of engravings made for the first edition of the 'Liber Genesis'


"Once prosperous farmers, they moved into a crooked little house in town to live out their days after the Cascade."


The great Cascade has already started, though the full flood has yet to reach many. Starbucks has requested twelve months of rent 'consideration' after not paying rents for the prior two months. Nearly half of the commercial enterprises in this country missed rent payments in April and May, and we're still in very early stages of this particular pandemic. This sort of situation marks only the beginning of a cascade of shortfalls, where landlords, mortgage holders, and property managers start to lose their usual inflows of cash. Insurances and other services follow soon after, with nothing left to even pay the cleaning staff and the garbage men. A building can go derelict after a few remarkably short months. The blood extraction units take over half the turnip patches as the lawyers get involved.

Prosperity has yet to be shown to trickle down, but austerity certainly does, though its trickle easily becomes a Cascade. It also trickles up.

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Thinnest

Thinnest
"
The Veiled Virgin,” Giovanni Strazza, ca. 1850s

"We inhabit a poor country, one whitewashed over blistered base coat."


Read any history of These United States and you'll learn that we've never been quite as united as we publicly purported ourselves to be. We project our stories out onto a frequently disbelieving world, for the world often sees right through our veil to perceive the underlying dishonesty and naiveté. We believe, after a fashion, though that fashion seems the very Thinnest imaginable fabric. We've mostly preferred to look good over doing genuine good, with self-interest a frequent companion. The recovery from the 2008 market crash produced a predictably thin result, with the bulk of the recovery focused upon repairing the veil, producing another remarkably thin result; perhaps the Thinnest ever. Employment rose to record levels, but so did the number of absolute bullshit jobs and scutty gig work, usually without benefits, providing only a distant appearance of prosperity. A puff of adverse breeze quickly brought down to their knees those inhabiting that house of cards.

Our pandemic defenses, too, were cardboard constructions, long starved of resources in favor of flashier uses.

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ThePandemicParadox

PandemicParadox
Rage, Flower Thrower, by Banksy, painted on a wall of a gas station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Palestine


"Even the most powerful people on this planet cannot influence the velocity of fate."


This Pandemic seems to have promoted paradox into fresh prominence. Paradoxes shred conventional problem-solving by presenting conditions not immediately conducive to understanding or resolution. They remain mysterious and above all tricky. This one does not crisply respond to even the more well-intended interventions. Our scientists seem uncommonly wise for initially prescribing strategic retreat. Politicians predictably embraced full frontal assaults, if only to preserve the useful fiction that they were in charge, a strategy doomed to fail. The more powerful you pretend to be against a pandemic, the weaker you eventually seem. Scream all you want, offensive speech and derisive action will not succeed. Conquering paradoxes demands a certain subtlety.

Responding to any emergency with patient inquiry seems so counter-intuitive as to feel like most certainly the wrong approach.

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Bookish

Bookish
Gutenberg: Colored engraving created in about the 19th century. Artist unknown. Source: Bettman-Corbis reproductions

"I never feel wealthier than when I'm carrying a fresh pile of found books out the front portal of my local library."

I identify as Bookish in the same way that some identify as Jewish. This seems largely a genetic inheritance combined with a cultural tradition. Bookishness carries deep obligation along with certain evolving rituals, tradition compounded through diligent practice. My shelves overflow with treasured artifacts, reminders of theres and thens, wheres and whens from my past. My social and spiritual evolution seems catalogued in my library, each volume a memory of a specific place in time, most holding some residue of satisfaction or insight, though I retain a few there out of possible spite, for I have through books maintained an inner dialogue, a dialectic inquiry into the vast variety and novelty of this life, little of which I feel properly positioned to personally experience. I've despised some of this. My library and my much broader catalogue came to more than merely inform me, but to define who I've come to become. My education ongoing, settling little to nothing, yet the dialogue/monologue continues.

I read much more than I write, and might most properly identify myself more as a reader than as a writer, though few accept reader as an identity or a profession, for it pays nothing but dividends, no cash incomes.

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Relentless

Relentless
Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886
This image shows a lone blindfolded female figure sitting on a globe, playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining.


"This relentless siphon started defying simple gravity long ago …"


My hop vine, grown seven feet in a few short weeks, sparked my insight. I've come to think of it as my Hope Vine. I'd been reveling in spring, the great respite from winter's ravages, and wondering what I was witnessing, for this fresh season's beneficence seemed … what? … oh yea, Relentless. There has been no stopping it. A crashing hail storm pock-marked a few of the more delicate leaves and blossoms, but the expansion continued in earnest the following morning. The seeds I sowed without really knowing what they might become quickly sprouted and not even the neighbor cat using their planter for his bathroom discouraged their attempted dominion. Even the chokecherry, blighted as it seems, threw out fresh branches and suckers. Not even the endless-seeming setbacks through winter seem like barriers now, for I know how their progression turned out, or at least how it's turned out so far. A clear expansion relentlessly continues, with seemingly ever greater passion, no obvious end in sight.

We inhabit a tenaciously positive feedback loop where nothing seems capable of slowing or turning forward momentum.

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Opacity

Opacity1
The Blue Kimono by Chase William Merritt, 1888

" … we must believe in something much more than nothing to amount to anything worth anything in this world."

Nobody usefully argues for full transparency because nobody really wants to see my kimono flapping open from neck to knee. A useful level of Opacity seems necessary to maintain civility, though nobody walks around wearing an impenetrable brick wall or black box. We quite properly keep our kimonos firmly belted to maintain a certain dignity, though we well understand that as a result not everything's on display. Fantasy fills in what fabric conceals, and those fantasies reveal perhaps more than any flapping open kimono ever could. Hopes and wishes, fears and dreads complete the presentation, imagination always insisting upon ever more disclosure. A delicate balance maintains decency between cleavage and knees, and not every observer seems all that pleased whatever that balance might reveal.

Any relationship predicated upon a presumption of full disclosure seems doomed from its start because only a part of anyone's impressions ever become fit for any other human's consumption

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Anticiplaytion

wildanticipation
The Sixteen Luohans by Shitao (Zhu Ruoji), 1667

" … a post-graduate course in more warmly anticipating …"

It seems as though my days used to follow a certain cadence, each inducing its own rhythm. Mondays, I'd tidy up the place. Alternate Tuesdays would find me sorting recyclables. Wednesdays, I'd stop by the library. Thursdays, I'd shop to avoid the Friday crush. Fridays, I'd poke around in the yard. Saturdays and Sundays would bring a Farmers' Market excursion or two, extreme larder-stocking, and unrushed suppers with hot jazz beating in the background. Then the radio station cancelled the hot jazz program in favor of talking heads. We filled in with RadioDeluxe, a fine production but clearly lacking in Bix Beiderbecke tracks. Winter intervened to leave us snowbound. We were gone for a couple of weeks, returning with spring to be sequestered in place, snowbound without snow, no place to go. The Farmers' Markets didn't open this spring. Alternate Tuesdays still find me sorting recyclables, but the rest of my anticipations have gone arrhythmic. I can't coherently anticipate right now.

I imagine this condition a real world test of a long-considered situation.

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Imprecision

Imprecision
Gerhard Richter: Frau Marlow, 1964

" … revealing perhaps more than any of us care to recognize about reality and truth."

Back before the pandemic, when I could sometimes go out for morning coffee, the waitperson would often respond to my order by saying, "Perfect," as if we'd managed to achieve perfection together. I'd order my usual large (not Grande, thank you, or Venti … we are not in Italy and even in Italy, I chronically forget the proper word) decaf in a china cup and receive a "Perfect" in return. I'd noticed that this response had become common, so I was never surprised or shocked, but I remained curious about how such precision had entered into the most common of all transactions. It was "Perfect" here, "Perfect" there, and "Prefect" pretty nearly everywhere, while in what passes for real life, in ordinary times, perfection remained as it always had, slightly rarer than hen's teeth.

I figured that we might have forgotten how rare perfection always was and continues to be, as production values have exponentially increased.

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I'mWithStoopid

Stoopid
"Keying Up" – The Court Jester by William Merritt Chase, 1875

"I might never know what to say to any unmasked anyone."

I asked The Muse what I might say to someone not wearing a mask in public. She responded by reporting that she'd been considering just carrying around a few of her homemades, so she could generously offer them one, on the presumption that they might not own one. I thought that a fine strategy, though I notice that she hasn't yet started offering anyone this sort of assistance. Judging from the apparent belligerence of those choosing not to wear masks, her offer seems unlikely to attract many takers, though just one might reform my pessimism. I failed to convince my grand niece that two hundred thousand empirical observations might reasonably suggest that a medication might not prevent or cure Covid-19, but she insisted that the findings might have influenced her had they come from double blind testing, the very sort impossible to perform during an actual pandemic. She was married to her perspective. The more I argued counter to her preconceptions, the stupider I seemed to become in her eyes. Stupid in anyone's eyes renders impossible any seeing eye to eye.

Even a casual observer can't help but notice that our world seems filled with utter stupidity.

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Eigenvaluing

NikPicking

"Together, we might not get anywhere but where we always go and where we seem to belong, anyway."

Each relationship seems to resolve to a certain eigenvalue, a self-similar resolution. When a relationship becomes dominated by a single personality, a Me Me Me Me Me Relationship, it resolves to an eigenvalue of one, reputed to be the loneliest number. Other relationships seem to reliably reproduce certain shapes, the triangle being one of the more common. In these, every issue seems to have three sides, like when a mother-in-law seems to get involved in every decision, the two principals might struggle to find unaided resolutions. Families quite pre-consciously replicate reliably similar shapes, some deeply influenced by a forceful father or a tenaciously unruly child. Whenever they engage, they seem to play to the same stymie. Some relationships reliably replicate dissatisfaction while others produce great delight. It's a great mystery why relationships behave in this way, but they certainly seem to eventually project certain predictable outcomes upon themselves. Some seem especially blessed and others, unusually cursed, reliably fractal, each in their own unique way.

Those trying to shape this charge, this strangely-attracting force, often simply make matters worse, adopting one after another seemingly inevitably failing improvement strategy.

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Anniverstory

Anniverstory
The End of the Song of Jerusalem, William Blake, 1827

" … what actually came to pass one day but never, ever went away."

The crabapple trees were in full and glorious bloom. The iris bed across the front had just begun showing color. The house, still white with garish blue window trim in those days before I'd stripped it to bare wood to repaint it caperberry green. The rose garden and the spreading, ancient apricot were still in their more primitive forms, time's ravages yet before them. Family and friends gathered to witness The Muse and I marrying. We'd planned a fitting celebration with fairy lights strung in trees and all along the arbor over the back deck. James flew over from Seattle to serve as our chef. We bought Copper River Sockeye filets and huge bags of fresh-cut asparagus and enough strawberries to more than feed the multitude. The Muse's Aunt Lillian tottered around the yard, leaning over her walker to pull errant weeds. Everyone who attended accepted an assignment to do something, for this would be a Do It All By Ourselves affair.

The preacher drove over from Beaverton with his partner, both heavily tattooed and pierced. The Muse's siblings and cousins came vast distances to join the celebration.

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Unmasking

Unmasking

"Clothes make up the man more than make him."

Writing this morning, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd commented on Our President's mask peccadillo, how his refusal to wear the mask his administration prescribes unmasks him and how his insistence upon constantly projecting a public personna has left him without evident personal identity. Nobody has a clue who he might really be beneath his masking exterior, which leaves him a definite minority in a society increasingly identifying itself as dedicated mask wearers. Our new masks don't so much cloak as identify who's careful and who's careless, who's courteous and who's contemptuous, who's comfortable demonstrating their vulnerability and who's in reckless denial. Curiously, as Dowd notes, our great masking seems to have unmasked who we more authentically are, with those too awfully invested in playing dress up suddenly relegated a lower social standing.

The America I grew up in performed like a continuous carnival with each in the costume commensurate to their role.

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QueuingUp

QueuingUp

"I foresee a day when meat might become, for a time, flavoring more than centerpiece entree …"


I really should have paid closer attention through Junior High, for I contend that every life lesson worth learning was woven into that experience, few of them during actual classes. Those years now seem as though they were a perfectly crafted passion play, a junior soap opera with every archetypal character present. Lunchtime seemed especially rich. Each clique would congregate around their table, territorial and exclusive. The sack lunchers segregated from those rich enough to cough up the thirty-five cents for a hot meal. Whatever the class, everyone ended up QueuingUp, waiting 'on' or 'in' line for something. Americans have never been naturally skilled at QueuingUp. Where I come from, line standing was for foreign cultures and big city people. Us small city people might line up for a football game or Forth Of July fireworks, but our daily lives rarely required us to wait for anything. Our heritage seemed to be instant gratification, except for the excruciatingly slow queue in the junior high school lunch room.

The pandemic has popularized QueuingUp like I've never seen.

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WeightingHeavily

Weighting1
Paul Cézanne, Young Italian Woman at a Table, about 1895–1900

"Pandemics progress by such insignificant increments …"


I imagine myself trapped in a waiting room with time weighing heavily upon my soul, no real place to go, Weighting. C. S. Lewis might have imagined this place, every seat as hard as an old bench and none comfortable. I stand beside my possessions, which I've stuffed into an oddly-shaped knapsack, which seems a tad too heavy and awkward to handle. I'm weary of standing and cannot quite bring myself to sit. I want to wander over toward the newsstand, but I'd have to drag my knapsack along and I cannot quite face that chore. Besides, I know what I'll find at the newsstand: stale candy I wouldn't choose to buy if it was fresh, yesterday's headlines posing as news, a haze of cheap cigar smoke ringing the place. My train (or will it be a bus?) would be running way late if it was running on anything like a schedule. My destination unknowable, departure time up in the air, I could be waiting anywhere, but I seem to be Weighting nowhere at all.

I spent much of this writing week deferring, missing even my own meager deadlines.

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NoPlaceToChide

731px-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06543_08
Illustration from The Nursery "Alice", from John Tenniel's illustrations to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," 1890

"I am neither my neighbor's critic nor her champion."

Have you noticed that The Chattering Class has lost its class? No longer does mere difference of perspective divide us and discourse hold promise. Public derision widens our divisions, encouraging them, rendering unthinkable even civilly agreeing to disagree. Daring to speak my mind might find me publicly derided as a fully fledged Enemy of the State, arriving far too late for any hope of receiving redemption. "Off with her head," some social media Red Queen says, and headhunters appear to jeer and shout down. Can anyone dishonorably defend their honor? I find myself wondering, "Who stole your trike?", for the spite seems inborn, a carefully nurtured identity, a grand and glorious begrudgement of the first degree. Taking offense seems no longer offensive, but an anticipated if overly-defensive response. A simple question seems likely to bring brimstone down upon the questioner and a curious social standing upon the devil delivering it. Dogs eat dogs and pups routinely eat puppies now, every issue a dogfight to the death.

The death of civil discourse arrived on little cat's feet, greeting us as warmly as might any savior.

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IllAtEase

IllAtEase
The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt by Vincent van Gogh (1890).

" … having apparently traded in my innate senses for a double handful of IllAtEase."

This pandemic provides uneasy respite. The Muse suggests that we're better off if we just assume that we're infected and throwing off virus like one of those hose-tracking garden sprinklers. I imagine that everyone I encounter's doing likewise and that I'm not successfully dodging their bullets, so I slather sanitizer before and after every excursion. An ancient adage insisted that a dream come true amounts to the most insidious punishment, and the now interminable pandemic seems the perfect foil for any former aspiration to spend more leisure time with family. Time moves most slowly when held under this kind of lock and key, where nothing physically inhibits me, but where a certain moral sense suspends me in place. I do the right thing without the expected consequent feeling very good about my choice. Nobody notices my generous absences and nobody rejoices over my tacit contributions. The Muse wonders where I've gone and I respond by asking where in this constraining space I might feel safe to manifest. I feel distinctly IllAtEase.

Sleep produces no rest, but seems to encourage an ever-deepening restlessness; a Lazarus death.

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NumberPunching

NumberPunching
The Elephant Celebes, Max Ernst, 1921

" … at least one piñata short of a party."

Covid-19 case counts suggest whatever the watchman damned well wants them to suggest. Raw numbers seem to be inconsistently reported due to a near absence of testing. Some officials seriously support sponsoring fewer tests, since increased testing just seems to inflate the case numbers. Some firms and localities refuse to even discuss test results, insisting that they're thereby providing an important public service by preventing panic among people who might not properly interpret findings. One governor of an early-opening state has repeatedly privately apologized for releasing, with considerable fanfare, data which only showed a reduction of new cases because of what he later quietly referred to as "sorting errors." Who sorts data so that April follows May? Multiple times? NumberPunchers do.

A NumberPuncher professionally muddies waters.

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Crow-Ding

Crow-Ding
Plague in an Ancient City, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654
"I'm no more ready to return to what passed for normal than I was prepared to inhabit that normal when it was here before."

If we refer to a crowd of crows as a 'murder,' a crowd of HomeDespot shoppers might reasonably be referred to as a 'suicide' of shoppers, for the context seems to insist upon a shopper's acceptance of suicidal risk as the price of entry. The door monitor, outfitted in fetching blaze orange vest and weary-looking face mask, turns back no-one, but seems posted as a public genuflection to a government recommendation and not as any serious enforcement. The aisles might be marked with fresh masking tape arrows which no more than vaguely hint at a form of traffic control, but I don't know the layout well enough to understand how to get where I'm going should I follow their subtle advice. I don't even notice their presence until I'm halfway there and the side aisle seems to have been blocked off for some lift truck work. I'm stuck however I go. By the grace of one of the genuinely lesser gods, I find what I came looking for, but I abandon whatever hope I carried in with me when I see fresh chaos at the checkout stands, with unruly aisles-full of overfilled carts and impatient customers. I return my prospective purchases back to the shelf display from whence they came, wheedling my way past clutches of husband and wife tag teams leisurely blocking my way, and exit the store to slather my hands in sanitizer and slink back home. I should have known better than to have ever entered there, me and my surviving hope to find better.

My history with crowds and consequent Crow-Ding (that warning klaxon sounding in my head whenever entering a crowd) informs my relationship with them now.

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RustySpring

RustySpring
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Angel Troubling the Pool, c.1845

'Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered; waiting for the movement of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.' John 5.2-4

" … in need of an angel or two to trouble overlong-still waters."


Spring finally arrived after six full months of winter. Through the short days and the early lengthening ones, I survived on my usual time-worn fantasy, that if I was not snowed in, I would be out in my garden, on my knees, praising all creation, troubling dirt. I fondly fantasized about really taking control of my landscaping, culling rocks and loosening soil until the yard looked like a Sunset® Magazine cover. Once spring came, though, I watched myself milling around the periphery of the pool awaiting the arrival of an angel, I suppose, as if I needed permission to begin. I thought the season a false one at first, distrusting the prankster weather, disbelieving that the snows had actually passed, even after the snowbank melted into nothing more threatening than ground moisture. I'd all winter imagined myself simply springing back after hibernation, but I found myself rusty and distinctly less resilient than I'd remembered myself being before.

Resilience seems to be one of those overblown concepts, the kind that imagine much differently than they ever manifest.

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HasteningQuickly

HasteningQuickly
Tortoise above Venetian lagoon, Melchior Lorch, 1555

"Expect the skunkworks to fizzle after stinking up the joint."

Project Management's first principle, often ignored, insists that one must Hasten Slowly, for even The Ancients understood that each human activity held a natural cadence, worthy of respect, and that attempts to violate that rhythm reliably produced calamity. The human brain seems most skilled at imagining utter impossibilities. We experience an inconvenience and easily imagine better, faster, and cheaper ways to achieve that end, means which seem likely to produce less inconvenience. In practice, most of the time (not by any means all of the time) we produce greater calamity when attempting to speed up things. We shave subtle essentials like testing, for instance, which seems to produce no immediate value, even further slowing development when productive resource gets sidetracked fixing pesky bugs. We remain steadfastly capable of reducing any effort down to apparent essentials, eliminating what we, under duress, easily classify as trivial distractions, deferring any deeper appreciation of O-ring chemistry, for instance, until an even more inconvenient time. We take great pride at 'making our date.'


HasteningQuickly becomes ever more seductive when experiencing a critical necessity, like during a pandemic.

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AskChewing

AskChewing
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787

"My foibles seem more prominently displayed than my mastery"

I once engaged in frenzied ten hour marathons of yard work whenever Spring finally came, as if I'd stockpiled overwinter energy and it was approaching its pull date. I'd rake and prune and mow and dig, leaving a cluttered pile of debris behind me, then drag that jumble out into an uneasy pile beside the driveway. I'd call Kevin with his trailer and pay him a hundred bucks to haul that mess to the dump or cut the shrubbery into small enough pieces that I could fill the yard debris container for weeks into the future. I'd end those days utterly exhausted and also utterly exhilarated, holding a feeling of mastery and dominion that winter had so recently successfully held at bay. These were genuine red letter days, memorable for the ten thousand ways I'd managed to overcome all the usual complications, my own initiating motivation not the least of these. I would have spent the better part of at least a week thinking through an effort that only engagement could ever resolve, telling myself that I was not so much procrastinating, but carefully planning. I was actually procrastinating, for such a momentous engagement awed me from before its outset. I both relished and feared the work.

Now, I tend to parcel out the springtime yard work into two hour pieces, distributing it over the opening weeks of the season.

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Morpidity

Morpidity
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp: Rembrandt, 1632

"Our own innocence seems most vulnerable."

Up against The Ides of May, and best guess estimates of the number of pandemic casualties in the You Ess of A exceeds the number lost in all the wars we've engaged in since 1950. That's four and a half months to exceed the number of war dead over the prior seventy years, and we've been continuously engaged in war over that time. Some still doubt whether this epidemic hasn't been overblown for political dominion, with armed self-proclaimed militia "safeguarding" the "rights" of certain shopkeepers to encourage conditions shown to stimulate the virus' spread. Most of the dead seem innocent enough, having contracted the bug from inadvertent contact. I saw last night on television an interview with a top virologist who was recovering from a bout he figures he'd caught while on a flight to New Orleans last month. He wore a mask and gloves and carried his handy hand sanitizer, and had decades of experience working with killer viruses, but he still caught the damned thing. This bug respects nobody's God-granted or constitutionally-guaranteed rights to life or liberty, let alone the pursuit of simple happiness.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned their governor's extension of his stay-at-home order, the justices insisting that he'd over-reached his legal powers in attempting to limit the possibility that some might otherwise needlessly die from viral infection.

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Pauseperity

Pauseperity
Adriaen van Ostade: The Schoolmaster, 1662

"What doesn't humble you makes you smug."

Our Pandemic has paused our planned prosperity. The Pestilence Horseman of the Dreaded Apocalypse rides roughshod through our society, heartlessly mowing down more than our fellows, for avoiding him drove us to flee from our jobs, our schools, and our precious, precocious society. One day, our economy seemed to be humming right along. The next day, it forgot that song: words, tune, the whole shebang. Even those who had subscribed to the widely popular Prosperity Gospel suspended their pursuit when manifestation moved from being a simple matter of personal motivation to one of humbled recognition and acceptance. Overnight, consumption turned cruelly inconspicuous when not even a stockpile of Benjamins could buy you toilet paper. We became jobless paper paupers instead of employed paper prosperous, suddenly unable to maintain appearances. Flow stalled.

The I Ching spoke of disruptive calamity overturning accustomed order, but those stories seemed more like history than current affairs.

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GroaningUp

groanUp1
"We each hold our world on our shoulder and we are each still GroaningUp …"

The Greek God Atlas held the world on his shoulders, a curious career choice. I suppose world holding's necessary work, but necessary of the sort that someone else should do. It's a utility position, one with little self-promotional possibilities, offering no leave and little potential for advancement. It's maintenance work. Though Atlas is usually depicted wrapped in swaddling clothes, I imagine him dressed in J. C. Penney khaki work clothes and Red Wing work boots, like the janitor at my grade school wore, for he, too, inhabited the nether region of my world, down where the coal furnace belched heat and the teachers fled to smoke. The place everyone knew was there but nobody spoke about.

I later came to understand that Atlas' story served as an allegory for the all too human condition, for each of us holds a world upon our shoulders.

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PandemicAmish

PandemicAmish
"I seem to have little to lose by dropping a century or two from my lifestyle."


As our pandemic disrupted lengthy supply chains, a certain simplicity seemed to emerge. The NYTimes Food Section features more recipes for dishes not traditionally found there, like beans and casseroles. Supermarket Ingredient sections seem hardest hit, with flour, pasta, and beans frequently unavailable for any price. Restrictions limiting a shopper to one or two of certain items have become commonplace. Our larder has consequently become more strategic and The Muse and I have increasingly become stockpilers, grabbing whatever's available when we spot it. The smaller shops seem better stocked. Thank heavens that our food security seems so far unthreatened, but our meals, always fairly simple affairs, have become even simpler, with fewer exotic fruits and vegetables and more reliable old familiars.

I've been reading a series of novels set around Ohio's Amish communities, and I sense a certain simplicity settling into our pandemic lifestyle.

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History-onics

History-onics
Le Désespéré (The Desperate Man), Gustave Courbet, circa 1843
"Suspended between two great mysteries, I face into another day."

I become a truly desperate man when asked about my past. I feel reasonably certain that I've had one—or several—but I don't recall specifics. I can't remember faces and must painstakingly reconstruct places and times. I didn't keep records other than journals and the few dated pieces of writing I've retained, many of them stored in formats now unreadable. Pass me a common "intake form" and I draw a blank, for I truly do not know. With considerable prompting, I might create a believable fiction, plugging dates and events to produce what might appear to be a credible history, but this will not resolve the fundamental mystery for me and will prove largely fictional in practice, should any of the details become critical for diagnosis or treatment. My past seems every bit as fictional and speculative as my future.

The pandemic has spawned a booming business in obituaries, half-page histories of those who've died.

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ExtremeDomestification

ExtremeDomestification
Relativity, lithographic print by M. C. Escher, 1953
"ExtremeDomestification seems to be positively effecting even the most feral among us …"

When under duress, I search for a reframe. My mother taught me at a very early age that toast never actually burns, but sometimes browns rather extremely. I grew to extend that response pattern into a lifestyle where my first (and often best) reaction to any adversity involved reframing the story. A bout of seasonal flu became a forced vacation. Car trouble wouldn't leave me stranded but engaging in an unplanned adventure where I might have to invent a new way to get back home. Doors didn't close behind but opened ahead. I found that I could safely reframe in response to what I otherwise might have classified as calamity, and thus retain some sense of control. I get to write my own story.

My reframing self might describe the Governor's Stay At Home Directive as ExtremeDomestification, for its effect has been to encourage transformation of what might have started as an authentic homebody into something more resembling a home soul, someone more than married to home life, but conscripted into it, sentenced to serve an indeterminate term with no reduction in sentence for good behavior.

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Pretensal

Pretensal
Self-portrait, Jacques-Louis David (1794).
He was a dictator of the arts under the French Republic.


'
Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' Samuel Johnson, from The Idler, 1758

"I intend to cast about for reassurances without pretense."

I compensate for my persistent lack of access to The Truth by embracing candor. I can certainly describe how things seem to be to me, understanding that this perspective might not have ever had the pleasure of actually meeting The Truth, but I at least own it. I can and often do leave myself feeling uncomfortable with my candor, understanding that popularity prefers me to project greater pretense, lest someone think the less of me. It's apparently a great sin for anyone to think the less of me. While I might certainly prefer everyone to appreciate my scribblings, I've been trying to get over the need to please, for that need alone can leave me a prisoner to pretense, poised atop a teetering tower of questionable premises.

Our current administration does daily battle with candor, a fresh poster child in a long line of similar poster children posing behind pretense.

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NegativeSpace

Withouts
"Looking at a Waterfall", Geiami, 1480

"They seem to be discovering a world I desperately need …"

In the Japanese painter Geiami's Looking at a Waterfall, the focal point of the work, the waterfall, seems like negative space composed of the space leftover after he painted everything surrounding the waterfall. The painting plays positive off of negative to produce a seemingly complete image. Life, too, seems to present in this way. From my writing chair, the visible ridgeline seems projected against a negative background of sky, where nothing but 'not ridgeline' resides. The off-white wall between this room and the kitchen appears as a interruption, a negative space visually cutting off counter, chair, and floor when viewed from my writing chair. These words depend upon NegativeSpaces framing them. Even the now long-lived Stay At Home Order serves as a Negative Outcome Objective, its purpose being to avoid a result rather than to acquire one. Pandemics produce NegativeSpaces, haves and have-nots, where the have-nots seem to dominate.

I've been noticing how seductive the newly prominent NegativeSpaces seem.

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Maudling

Maudling
A satirical cartoon attacking the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, for the passage in April 1829 of the Roman Catholic Relief Act
"We're still nattering over tactics, Maudling our way into an increasingly perilous future of our own creation."

My first project management assignment came over a lunch, from someone I didn't at the time report to who managed a department in another division of the company. A succession of actual project managers had failed to tame an effort, so my name had come up, probably over another lunch, where his VP and my VP had reached an agreement that perhaps informally assigning Schmaltz as a sort of stealth project manager might finally tether the aspiring initiative. I was told, as a first step, to, "go get the plan." Naive me, never before having managed a project, I set out on what would become just another chapter in a never-ending saga to find a reliable plan for the initiative. I'd initially thought my predecessors delinquent for having failed to at least produce a plan, though I later learned that a) no plan had ever existed because b) the effort was inherently unplannable. Those VPs who had so blithely recommended assigning me to fix the so-called project had abrogated their responsibility, for this project had no strategic intent, and no two people I spoke with while searching in vain for the plan, agreed upon the purpose of the project. I never did manage to produce a credible plan before the executives wisely chose to cancel funding for that woe begotten excursion after the fifth or sixth time that I'd reminded them that they'd need to decide upon some strategic intent before the effort could ever hope to satisfy them.

I mention this story at this time because it seems to inform our current dilemma in our ongoing battle against the insidious Covid-19 virus.

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Doldrums

Doldrums
Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on, J. M. W. Turner, 1840


"Adventure still awaits our arrival, entirely dependent upon our short-term survival."

We left port with reports of steady trade winds ahead, though those left us after two months at sea to find us beating across the Horse Latitudes of this pandemic. We lost the steady sensation of forward progress to enter a vast sea, seemingly endless, and so our originating purpose naturally diminished until we felt as though we held no aspirations save for the most primitive personal preservation. The crew grew increasingly restless as our collective helplessness came into ever sharper focus. With stores waning and patience at a premium, a certain feral nature overcame us. We lost our usual courtesies and decorums. We completed chores listlessly and suppers became sullen affairs with little evident cheer or hopefulness. We'd entered the Doldrums.

A second breadwinner in our extended family received his layoff notice this week.

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Banqueting

Banqueting
"A Mad Tea Party" by Arthur Rackham, from a 1907 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

" … like family turned recursive, …"


Every month or two, B. C., The Muse and I would host some sort of supper party. Often, when a group of visiting scholars or such would be in town for a conference, meeting, or workshop, The Muse would invite the whole gang, instructing me to prepare for fifteen to thirty, with no real way to verify how many might actually attend. I'd plead for information about food preferences and prejudices and eventually just end up making two or three or four suppers in one, so as to not too deeply offend the vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or pescatarian, for at least one of each was always certain to attend. I'd spend a day cleaning house and prepping food. We'd pull out the good china tablecloths and pretend that we always lived that way. The food never ended up being the centerpiece, though. The conversations filled out the proceedings as our guests made connections they could not have possibly made within the constraints of their regularly scheduled meetings.

These were inevitably enlivening evenings where, even though I'd end up staying up way past my usual bedtime, everyone seemed to leave feeling richer than when they arrived.

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Eyedentity

Eyedentity
Banksy: French Maid, 2008 (Shoreditch, London street art)
"I could claim to be adapting, but I'm more emphatically faking it for now …"

I peer into my shaving mirror and see an aging Emeritus Professor of Ancient Languages in dire need of a haircut peering back out at me. I search, it seems, in vain for my usual cues while standing at something resembling parade rest, wondering where my initiative went. The season seems to be moving as seasons do, inexorably into, while I wait like a hesitant jump-roper to leap into each new day. I can't seem to find the old rhythm most days, and even when I catch a glimpse of it, the old timing seems somehow off and I'm caught tripping over my three left feet. In pre-pandemic days, my god-given two left feet seemed to serve me well enough. That third one, apparently sprouted since the disruption, often renders me flummoxed and confused. I usually find no clear clue what I should do next, … or before, either.

Some so-called primitive cultures forbade mirrors, claiming that they encourage unseemly vanity and worse, that they might steal souls.

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ThUs

ThUs
The Mystical Nativity, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1500–1501

Forget The Melting Pot, we're more rightly a stew.

In Botticelli's Renaissance masterwork The Mystical Nativity, symbolism seems thicker than the paint. He tried to depict the end of an apocalyptic time, when, after three and a half years rampaging around in the world, The Devil and his associates were relegated back into the underworld from which they came. Creepy looking angels dance above while others embrace "men of goodwill" along the bottom of the work. Both Mary and the Baby Jesus appear larger than life, a throwback perspective from times when photographic projection was often modified, with most important objects inflated larger than supporting ones. Overall, it appears as a busy image, but depicts a joyful time, for it shows a great evil exiting the world.

Some within each generation before and since sincerely believed that they were the chosen few, the ones intended to actually experience the apocalypse, apparently a longed-for honor among True Believers.

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NewAbnormal

NewAbnormal
Composition with Fruit, Guitar and Glass, Pablo Picasso, 1912
"My job, our job, seems to be to out appreciate our Old Masters."

Abstraction did not take the art world by storm, but by slow accretion, for the art world reacted to this change not as an opportunity, but as a threat to tradition. Societies care about tradition because their identity lies there, reinforced by the familiar and seemingly threatened by difference. Past masters serve as exemplars, and gatekeepers insist upon fresh works properly respecting pre-existing works without actually plagiarizing them. Revolutions knock on doors for decades before anyone opens in response. Progress leaves snails feeling smuggy about their swiftness. Once the door opens a crack, it might seem to fly wide open in an instant, but those artists who idled in enforced obscurity for decades understand than the orthodoxy never really wanted anything to change and will continue trying to subsume them into conservative normalcy in lieu of actually accepting the changes they bring.

I hear much mumbling about new normals, generally idle speculations about what will likely irreversibly change once our pandemic recedes.

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MaskedMen

MaskedMen
" [None of us should be] above extending an ounce of accommodation for a villain not wearing an identifying mask and not one of us can see."

B. C. (Before Covid-19), masks were for Mardi Gras, Halloween, burglars and Old West Train Robbers, and the occasional Lone Ranger. We intended them to obscure identity, though cowboys assigned to the hind end of trail drives might deign to slip a neckerchief up over their faces to fight trail dust. Okay, dentists wore them, and doctors when they were tucking into a case, but most of us never seriously thought about owning or wearing a mask. Now, that part of our world's turned inside out, and the responsible among us have grown to gladly don that mask when venturing out into public.

Those first few times, I felt self-conscious.

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Evangelistic

evangenicalist
" … mostly learning how much more I evidently have to learn."

I never liked being told what to do. I found the experience humiliating when I was five and still find it annoying sixty-some years later. I live by a double standard, though, as I catch myself telling others what I think they should do with stunning regularity. My friend Wayne stopped me near the middle of one of my tellings to ask me if I'd ever considered asking him if he wanted me to clue him in before I commenced to cluing. His question shut me up and served to render me a tiny bit more sensitive about how my tellings might affect my many targets.

While I can get carried away, I reason that I might find myself in reinforcing company, as society seems to have slipped into an Evangelistic phase.

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Logistics

Logistics
Pre-war Scammell Pioneer
" … necessity being the unforgiving step-mother mother of reinvention."

If my decades working in project management taught me anything, it taught me that an ounce of properly focused logistics tends to be worth a ton of almost anything else. Though nobody ever received a Congressional Medal of Honor for clever logistical support, none of the "great" battlefield victories throughout history could have been possible without a bunch of back office shenanigans worthy of deep respect. Our struggles over responding to Covid-19 clearly demonstrate the necessity for competent administration. Sending more first responders to the front might encourage upswells of sincere appreciation from a grateful population, but we witness otherwise unnecessary sacrifice as these genuine heroes fabricate their own personal protective gear and work around all the services suddenly rendered unavailable, like testing, apparently due to some genuine Bozos handling logistics. The World Health Organization has distributed hundreds of thousands of test kits everywhere but to the used-to-be good old U. S. of A. because some back office politicking decided that we should go our own way. All by ourselves. Alone.

Battles tend to be lost for want of a horseshoe nail as shortages cascade to render moot even the grandest intentions.

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NotQuiteYetSpring

notquiteSpring
Henri Matisse: Olive Trees at Collioure, 1906


Not Quite Yet Spring

Following Winter Solstice,
Springs goes on the move,
heading northward at the stately rate
of almost eighteen miles per day,
an enthusiastic snail’s pace
but still well within a snail’s range.
A walking horse might make
slightly better time.

Those in Florida,
who overwinter in Spring,
hardly notice anything like change,

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Alchemy

Alchemy1
Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities, from Museum Wormianum, 1655
" … a cure for the curious urge to go seeking cures."

Being human apparently roughly equates to being passingly or chronically ill, with about half of humanity dedicated to somehow healing the other half during normal times. Pandemic times lower an already fairly low bar, with virtually all of humanity suddenly in increasingly desperate need for a cure which nobody possesses yet. This condition flushes out the alchemists and their claims. A self-proclaimed church in Florida insists that they've discovered The Cure, the mother load of all cures, the one that they claim can cure pretty nearly anything, though the FDA counters that it seems an effective cure for life, in that it just might kill you. An industry thrives along society's bottomland, hawking poison and placebo with equal zeal. The deal always seems to be the same: send money and we'll disappear into the ether. Word of desperate mouths spreads the story. Innocents and charlatans seem equally vulnerable. The Cure, sometimes producing worse than whatever the disease threatened to leave.

Up until two years ago, I'd lived prescription-free for two decades.

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Retreating

Retreating
The Escape Ladder by Joan Miró, 1940
"Our sanity now seems to lie in mere reason …"

When the thoroughly modern organization wants to move forward, to spawn a fresh initiative, they call a retreat. Over the last few years, Major League Baseball has seen an unprecedented spike in home run hits after a counter-intuitive practice gained broader acceptance: hitters learned to cock their bats backwards and up instead of immediately thrusting them outward and down in that split second after the pitcher released the ball. On weekends, city dwellers fled their cities while hinterland dwellers flooded into them, intent upon a respite couple of days just getting away. Farmers left for their escape cabins in the woods. New Yorkers hopped cheap flights to Paris. Walla Wallaians headed over to Portland while Portlanders zooted over to Walla Walla. Over my lifetime, we have sought retreat as renewal.

Now, living under lock without key, we cannot so blithely retreat.

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Aloneliness

Aloneliness
Thérèse by Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), 1938
"I deeply appreciate those of you who have proven yourselves to be dedicated repeat offenders …"

I felt Alonely this week, this isolation's permanence coming into ever sharper focus. Aloneliness feels quite different from plain old loneliness, less disquieting but also more seemingly absolute. I just pretend that I understand these boundaries now. Protests against the Stay At Home Order reinforce my resolve to respect these rules. I think those shunning face masks fools, people who revel in demonstrating that they haven't a clue what they're doing, and deep-down disrespectful. Do we not have a duty—civil, moral, or simply out of courtesy—to continue to color within these inhibiting lines? The neighbor kids don't care and their parents seem just as powerless as I to influence their clumping together. They roam my yard like they roam their own, and every other, littering rocks and overturning flower pots in exuberant play. I deeply envy their easy association, for I remember when those days were mine, surrounded by a noisy throng of siblings, neighbor kids, and sundry hangers on.

I grew up in a family with five kids. I remember spending a significant portion of my formative years fleeing from that throng, seeking some place where somebody wasn't up in my face all the time. I sought space to hear myself think

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NeutronNews

NeutronNews
"What else might decency do?"

Effectively responding to a Pandemic requires access to good information about its nature, which begins as almost entirely unknown. Speculation replaces authentic fact at first, and probably necessarily so. Later, as initial inquiries yield additional information, our understanding deepens and broadens, and our responses' effectiveness improves. Not all sources of information seem equally dedicated to publishing 'the truth and nothing but the truth,' but the truth might well be initially impossible to come by at any price. Later, as apparent facts accumulate, rough truths might appear. I say "might appear" because not all sources seem equally dedicated to reporting facts. Our well-imbedded Fake News system, for instance, rarely finds a fact worth proliferating, for every event, for them, seems more an opportunity to amplify some pre-existing perspective than to discover or learn anything new or informative. Fake News rattles the same old sword regardless of anything actually happening in the world, and I suppose this underlying (lying) consistency satisfies a certain portion of the population. Even pure bullshit carries a dedicated constituency.

Fake News outlets revel in accusing their more reliable counterparts of proliferating Fake News, echoing an ageless "I know you are, but what am I?" feature of the human condition.

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Scenario-ing

Scenario-ing
Jacob's Ladder by William Blake, 1805


And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said: "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not." And he was afraid, and said: "How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." — Genesis 28:10–17 Jewish Publication Society (1917)

"Which scenario wins what?"

The pragmatist insists that we're just where we are. The philosopher wonders how we know. The scientist sets out to understand well enough to definitively say, with studied degrees of certainty. The cynic, quite honestly, doesn't care. The optimist remains ever hopeful. The skeptic insists upon the benefits of doubt. The pessimist prefers to pout. The writer shares the stories which the artist illustrates. The minstrel crafts the tune. The politician shares a Spandex® truth. Each holding their own perspective; each perspective, a part of some whole. Each provides a slant none of the others could know. None holds The Truth that everyone does.

The Muse found a social media posting which insisted that The Rockefeller Foundation with the support of Bill Gates had planned our present Pandemic, then implemented that plan with the clear intent of achieving world dominion.

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DreamState

DreamState
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, William Blake, c.1786
"I seem to have stepped into another life which fills in the holes in the one I used to know so well."

Never much for sleep, I find that I've been vividly dreaming during this Pandemic. I had grown infamous for never needing much more than four or five hours of sleep and never remembering my dreams, but this last week or two, I've been sleeping through my three am alarm and sometimes even struggling to rise. I find myself so imbedded within alternate universes that the sunrise sometimes beats me up, an almost unprecedented occurrence. I revel in these scenarios flickering behind my eyelids, feeling warmly welcomed and more at home there than within my actual home, which has grown lonely and boring through the shutdown. I experience no empty hours in my dreams, but thrive. Last night, I bought into owning a restaurant on New York City's Upper West Side, a soon to be jazz club featuring fine but not fussy dining and first-class combos. The dream left me feeling exhilarated in ways the Stay at Home Order never has.

Humans seem capable of nearly infinite compensation.

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Stew-pid

Stew-pid
Rembrandt: The Parable of the Rich Fool, 1627

One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" He said to them, "Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses." — Luke 12:13–15, World English Bible

"Some days I wonder where we think we're trying to take ourselves."

I have never been judged as one of the brighter bulbs on the Christmas Tree. This makes me a more or less prototypical American, for we were originally rejected stock: refugees and convicts, renegades and conniving scoundrels. Even the Pilgrims were more budding capitalists than pious pioneers, for they arrived with backers promising wealth in exchange for their sacrifices, servicing enabling debt more motive for their perseverance in this world, if not necessarily the next. Our founding myths largely ignore these truths, insisting instead upon a certain unconfirmable self-evidence that we were somehow, unlike every other culture in the history of this world, created more or less equal. Above all, we seem to revel in characterizing our fellows as Stew-pid, so stupid that they cannot even properly spell the word describing themselves.

We have a long history of calling reason oppression and strongly resisting that trumped up oppression on Constitutional grounds.

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SiegeMeals

"I understand that my current siege mentality serves as evidence of an underlying emotional immaturity …"

Suppertime arrives even when living under a Stay-at-Home Order. We won't order out, though I've considered it twice and even resorted to take-out pizza when the ennui inertia overwhelmed me. Most days, I find that I can still face up to my responsibility to feed the household, though the larder's slipped somewhat sideways between the simple inconvenience now associated with restocking it and the curious unavailabilities attempting to restock it reveal. I wonder what it means when the veg store offers not a single potato for sale, but it seems to bode well for nobody. I find curious combinations of plenty, which cast strange shadows across the kitchen come suppertime. Accustomed combinations disappear, replaced with strange plate-fellows. Each suppertime has become a fresh WhatNow? engagement.

Before this siege began, I spent a couple of weeks crafting an array of stocks: turkey, veal, goose, chicken, and veg, so we, by fortunate accident, hold a surplus of this one irreplaceable component.

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Fiberation

Fiberation

John Everett Millais: Ophelia, circa 1851
"What else could any obedient citizen do?"

We're enjoined to avoid all but essential outings, so the term essential takes on surprising ambiguity. I cannot honestly say that maintaining my former consumption levels in any way qualifies as an essential objective. In my young adulthood, I sometimes foraged for my supper. Since, I've grown accustomed to a certain relative opulence, but just how essential could any of that be? I remember the time before there was ever wine with dinner, and those long years during the cholesterol scare of the eighties and nineties when I lived on boneless and skinless chicken breast. I became more omnivorous since, but I can't really claim the resulting variety essential. Does boredom constitute an intolerable condition? Do I really need that bag of potato chips or are they just a nice-to-have?

The Muse and I escaped for a scant two hours yesterday afternoon to restock what passes for our wine cellar.

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PanDamning

PanDamnic
Francis Danby: The Deluge, circa 1840
"The worst hard times, the best hard times, or simply our hard times?"

The rising sun tints the eastern horizon pink and robin egg blue, transforming the conifers along the ridge into silhouettes of themselves. Yesterday's spring snowfall lies heavy upon the backyard pine's limbs, gloopy frosting expertly draped. By the end of this day, the twisting road up from the interstate will have burned to bare and dry. Tomorrow, the buried sprouting springtime will have reemerged back into warm sunshine again. I might have yesterday shoveled the last snow for this season, and I'd find reason to celebrate this small liberation if I had not grown to revel in the work. We weren't going anywhere and I insisted upon shoving snow anyway, a regulating obligation in my day, admittedly made up so that I had something different than numbing sameness to do. It seems so damned peaceful here.

I understand that these are the worst of times, the leading edge of what might prove to become another Great Depression, but the general impression I've received witnessing this latest apocalypse has not seemed at all like what I imagined end times would be.

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OutOfYourASSumptions

OutOfYouASSumptions
El Greco: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, between 1586 and 1588
"'Twas always thus."

I think of the initial stage of every initiative as The Assumption, and Our President's strongly rumored and much reported task force's grand plan to reopen the country amid the current pandemic proves no exception. It seems to be emerging as an absolute exemplar of this general rule. The first iteration always seems to have been pulled directly out of somebody's BIG ASSumption. To many, it already seems unworthy of ever seeing the clarifying light of any day, more a self-portrait of narcissistic delusion than serious proposal, an embarrassment to its authors' intentions. It presumes altogether too much and also discloses waaaay too much. Couldn't there be a better way?

For the first iteration, I've grown to understand that there could have been no better way, for something needs nudging off its dime if any result is ever to come to pass.

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PandemicShopping

PandemicShopping
The Peasant and the Nest Robber, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568
"I'll know for sure that it's safe to reopen the economy when toilet paper once again becomes a pedestrian purchase."

I feel increasingly like an old dog struggling to learn new tricks. Never that adaptable, I change when forced to and struggle to shift my studied routines. I've long considered myself an expert shopper. I hang around a supermarket's periphery, avoiding the central aisles. I hover longer in the produce section than in any other. I'm not embarrassed to exit without purchasing anything if the stuff I came to buy isn't available. Unavailability has over the past month become the new defining characteristic of shopping here. Whole aisles of empty shelves greet the aspiring shopper. Combined with the face masks and the continual Corona Veers, where erstwhile shoppers inevitably fail to maintain six feet of distance from their suspicious-looking fellows, perusing a minefield might prove more satisfying.

I'm growing to realize that selecting and purchasing amounts to something less than half of grocery shopping's allure.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect
Procession of the Youngest King (Lorenzo de' Medici), Benozzo Gozzoli, between 1459 and 1460
"An ounce of respect counterbalances a ton of manure."

My father told stories about his older brother Dan, who was headstrong like his dad. The two boys lived with their Old World grandfather, who subjected them to severe punishment should they misbehave. Dan couldn't seem to help himself and almost daily ended up receiving a whipping and a lengthy time-out in a dark cellar room. Their father had been disowned and disinherited after acting out as an adult, though he might have known better since all but one of his siblings had been likewise disowned and disinherited before him for similar infractions. My great grandfather was doubtless a tyrant, but tyrants above all else respond poorly to perceived disrespect. My dad would plead with Dan, reminding him that things just went easier if he would at least pretend to comply instead of continuously defying. My dad grew to become a humble and deeply respectful guy, and I suppose I sort of naturally lie rather more low than I otherwise might. Dan never learned.

I will admit to a few memorable attempts to stick my thumb into an eye of authority.

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HighHollowDays

HighHollowDays
Archibald J. Motley Jr., Tongues (HolyRollers), 1929
" … segueing back into the infinitely more joyful ordinary times. Amen."

The high holy days of the Christian calendar induce a sort of seasonal affective disorder in me. I understand that these, above all other days of the year, focus upon producing cheer over depressive rumination, but the expectation that I should find joy there works like a paradox to induce the opposite. Not precisely sadness, but more of a hollowness overtakes me. These seem like hollow days of obligation, because in obligating, they undermine celebration. Requiring joy obviates every possibility for experiencing it. I'll go through the motions, but with a sinking heart.

I might lose the vibe in preparation, for my heart does tend to soar in warm anticipation that the blessed day might just this once appear as advertised, but it comes as it always came, rushing off to some semi-annual church service or sequestered at home with nothing but boring family surrounding me.

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Affronting

The_Snow_Queen_by_Elena_Ringo
The 2020 Easter Bunny
"T
he Snow Queen" illustration by Elena Ringo
from New Fairy Tales. First Volume. Second Collection. 1845
by Hans Christian Andersen
"Watch and maybe learn something new about yourself."

Easter morning brings an arctic cold front along Colorado's Affront Range. Snow starts falling well before the regularly scheduled and much-vaunted Red Rocks Easter Sunrise Service, which had been cancelled, anyway, as a part of The Governor's Coronavirus Pandemic Stay-At-Home Order. The sunrise itself seems to have been cancelled, replaced with a slowly increasing grayness seeping through sifting snowfall. The Muse rises long before any resurrection to start a batch of yeasty-sweet Hot Cross Buns. We display colored eggs in a transparent plastic tray on the kitchen table, no bunny willing to brave the swirling winds to hide them outside, where they'd just freeze and discolor the snow, anyway. Molly The Mardi Gras Mask-faced kitten and Max The Smutty-nosed Kitten sniff at the vase filled with small red tulips displayed atop the dining room table. This weather seems an affront to Easter, indeed, an affront to Spring, so we seem to be celebrating Affronting this Easter day. How to properly celebrate?

Some important something probably lurks here within this upside down, backwards and sideways holiday.

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MistOpportunities

MistOpportunities
David I of Scotland knighting a squire, 14th century
" … I exclusively pave the way I came, not the way I'm heading."

How did any of us end up here? What lucky breaks and unfortunate accidents summed to here and now? I suspect that this question might most probably deflect any How response. Though the story might make diverting legend, beyond entertainment, it probably couldn't qualify as instruction, any sort of functional How To. I think it most likely that nobody knew how until well after accomplishing any achievement, if even then, though many of us obsess over how before engaging, as if our next experience couldn't possibly fill in gaps in our prior experience. Many of us carry discovery fantasies that we might stumble into some well-placed connector who will discover what we have to offer the world, and benevolently or greedily pave our way. In my experience, which, like yours, never rises above anecdotal example, ways forward do not tend to be paved. Few have been discovered while sitting at a lunch counter at Hollywood and Vine. Heck, few of any of us ever manage to get discovered by anyone but ourselves.

I firmly believe that human progress has always been driven by synchronicity.

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ToGo

ToGo
The Night Café by Vincent van Gogh, Arles, September 1888
Reputed to be the ugliest van Gogh painting
"I'm feeling closer to some essentials now that I'm taking everything ToGo."

I'd really rather eat in a diner than any other kind of restaurant. I never feel completely at home in any of them, but neither do I feel terribly alienated there, either. I find no wine list to wonder over or small plates to challenge my patience and my pocketbook. The menu features only simple food and the atmosphere feels more like grandma's dining room than grande salon. Someone always greets my arrival as if they had been hoping I'd drop in. The decaf's inevitably crap but the food's honest, cheap, and good, if not necessarily that good for me. I order off menu, almost always the same thing, breakfast of sorts regardless of the time of day: hold the eggs, smother the hash browns, and throw a sausage on the side; maybe a biscuit to finish. I open my trusty Times with a half dozen conversations burbling around me and a running joke passing between The Regulars and the waitresses. I'd claim that I I eat in anonymity except my waitress keeps calling me, "Hon." The vibe of the place renews me more than does the meal.

I can't get that experience ToGo.

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Distancing

Distancing
J. M. W. Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, before 1844
"Distancing seems to open up spaces rarely glimpsed since the transcontinental railroad appeared."

One of my great grandmothers crossed on the Oregon Trail on horseback. The trip took months. Twenty years later, she made the same crossing in a few days by train. If anything most typifies this modern society, ever increasing mobility must be that thing. I remember our neighbors flying to attend a convention when I was small, when jet travel was still a rare and novel occurrence, at least in my neighborhood. Their mom, a slim and elegant woman, wore gloves for the trip and brought back these little packages of three cigarettes they'd handed out for free on the flight. I could see the future from there! Up until last month, planes crammed full of people wearing their pajamas as if they were lounging around on a couch at home, were departing every other minute with fares well under the price of a modest dinner out somewhere. People flew on less than a whim.

We've temporarily traded in our mobility, Distancing in solidarity and/or fear.

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Marked

Saint_Francis_of_Assisi_Receiving_the_Stigmata
Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, attributed to Jan van Eyck, c. 1430-32
"My turn will eventually come …"

At five, I was slated for a tonsillectomy. My older brother and sister were to undergo the same procedure at the same time, but when we arrived at the hospital, I was somehow deemed too anemic or something and sent home all by myself in a cab. I still remember that deep sense of relief I felt as the cab pulled away from the hospital with me thinking that I'd actually gotten away with something Scot-free. The next day, my brother and sister were granted unlimited ice cream rations in which I could not share. In a week or so, I had to go the hospital alone to get my tonsils pulled. I remember nothing about the entire adventure except for that great relief I felt when I dodged that bullet, and even though that bullet came around and got me on its second pass, getting away with something made the whole experience well worth the trip.

I suppose that everyone appreciates feeling special, perhaps because deep down inside most of us don't feel all that special.

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PrecisionAbstraction

SquareFootage
A Foot of David by Michelangelo (Detail), 1501-1504
"Imagine how smuggy I felt …"

PrecisionAbstraction has proven to be a prominent bane of my existence. I can thrive on abstraction until precision steps in. Then, I feel myself smothering. Still, I try to maintain a positive attitude. Last Spring, when I ordered mulch for The Villa's odd-shaped front garden bed, Tom The Nurseryman deflected my request by insisting that I produce a PrecisionAbstraction, the landscaping equivalent of throwing down a gauntlet. I would have to produce, as a qualifying action, a statement of how many square feet of mulch I'd need. I retired to my lair to consider this challenge.

I walked the perimeter of the bed, a space without a single regular angle.

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Pacing

pacing
The Tyger, William Blake (1794)
"What fearful symmetry, indeed."

After Max The Smutty-nosed Kitten broke curfew and disappeared overnight, I put the pets on lockdown. I might have chosen to do this out of a curious form of spite, for I've been on lockdown for almost three weeks now. I kind of cower within my perimeter, pacing with my head held down as if embarrassed by my limitations. Like our kittens, I know myself to be capable of ferocity when in pursuit, and my still new boundaries more than merely limit my range. They limit my imagination, too. I feel like a clipped-wing bird unable to soar. My mind races endlessly, to no particular end, my perimeter seeming to define more than my range, but also my possibilities.

I always thought that I understood why the tigers paced in their cage at the zoo, but I'm gaining a fresh appreciation for just what cages do, whether they be physical, limiting range, or emotional, inhibiting whim.

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Lent

Lent2
Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564–1638), Battle of Carnival and Lent

"Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities." - Wikipedia

"Does anyone ever give up procrastination for Lent?"


Not having been raised in one of the classical Christian churches, my birth family never celebrated Lent, though I gather from The Muse's recollections that Lent in her Catholic family tended to be a Freaky Friday kind of celebration, by which I mean pretty much the opposite of celebration. She remembers giving up candy for Lent, a childhood practice that she swears made Easter candy that much more enjoyable. My family had more of a barely scraping by attitude to life, and I guess we figured that every day was already more or less Lent for us. Skin and bones possess little to further sacrifice. I notice when Ash Wednesday arrives, though. I revere the tradition without actually participating in it, the same way I revere Mardi Gras, as somebody else's fracas. I usually consider giving up something for Lent, without actually carrying through. I'm plenty penitent, but never overtly.

This year, though, the Year Of Our Lord 2020, everyone gave up something for Lent, unless you happened to live in one of the nine or ten states that chose to continue regular programming through the blooming pandemic.

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-Triarchs

-Triarchs
De koning van Thule, Pierre Jean Van der Ouderaa (1841-1915),1896
"This damned plague's taking our -Triarchs and leaving only us factory seconds behind."

This pandemic has been taking the -Triarchs, the matriarchs and the patriarchs, my elders and wise ones. I feel as though the fine frescoed ceiling that has always sheltered me is blowing away, leaving me without a roof over my head. I feel myself filling with a dread certainty. As the -Triarchs leave, I watch myself shuffle nearer the top of the heap to emerge as an elder. I try to rebut this commission, for I feel far too young and inexperienced to ever take the place of anyone I so long looked up to in wonder. For they genuinely seemed to levitate above the day-to-day to live nearer infinity, timeless in their age and experience. True, they had each once seemed more like me and you, bold youth, braless or with overlong sideburns, protesting how it had always been before. They opened the doors I later strolled through. They went through first, even to their last.

The past is forever past once the -Triarchs pass, a different scale rules forever after.

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UnCountables(2)

UnCountables(2)
Print Study/Drawing from The British Museum Collection
"I wanted to be certain to get my spurious statistics straight."

I rarely publish two PureSchmaltz Blog posts in a single day. This morning, though, I spaced out my usual intention to review the receding week's posts before moving on. I couldn't imagine any elegant way to simply append the following into what I'd already published, a screed on UnCountabiles. I'll call this review UnCountables(2) to strongly suggest just how meaningless social media use statistics seem. Not that I denigrate a single one of the six hundred-some unique page view that you, my generous readers, left to me this past week. I praise every one as the miracle it certainly seems. Still, I can't quite distill any great wisdom from the numbers alone. I suspect that these counts hardly hint at the value these postings hold, especially to me. I'm grateful for every even disinterested peek their presence attracts.

On the eventual grand list of weeks, the week leaving this morning will very likely stand near the top of the upper quadrant of Helluva Weeks

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UnCountables

Uncountable
"An Old-Time Counting Room," Fell's Point, Baltimore, MD, c. 1770; drawing dated 1879.
"We shared so much together back when we still lived so fiercely independent of each other."

We might pride ourselves on our fierce independence, though none of us do very much alone. Birth, marriage, graduation, financial success and failure, not even death can be accomplished alone. Each experience occurs through intimate association. That home, so proudly all-by-yourself owned, was purchased from someone, probably painted by others, and serviced by a small legion of supporting personnel. Each birth required a father and a mother, a midwife and aide. Each marriage, even one officiated by a lowly Las Vegas Elvis impersonator, brought two people together. Death demands some other to cart off and dispose of the corpse. We accomplish nothing alone.

The daily numbers numb me.

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Emergence-y

Emergence-y
Woman Holding a Balance, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1664
"The kids still want to see the cats, up close and now …"

The neighbor kids flocked toward the front door, demanding to see our kittens. The cats, on their first foray outside, strictly supervised and extremely wary, quickly disappeared back inside. I explained the dilemma to the kids: wanting to see them up close pretty much guarantees that they might see them from afar, fleeing. Searching for them ensures that they'll never be found. If they want to see them, they'd have to be satisfied with watching them from the distance of the street, but not even that alternative guarantees that they'll see 'em. The kids, baffled by my babbling, quickly dispersed, leaving me wondering what I'd just described. It occurred to me that the cats had become a decent allegory for Emergence-y, and seeing them at all, a good example of an emergent property. Sometimes, certainly not every time, when conditions seem right to them, the cats emerge, never together, almost always one after another. Sometimes Molly emerges first and sometimes, Max. I can't ask them about the criteria they employ to determine if it's safe enough to emerge. The conditions seem to vary. I'm left with inventing various speculations about what constitute necessary and sufficient conditions, most of which seem to serve to satisfy my curiosity without actually explaining anything.

When I leave the front door ajar, they sometimes emerge.

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EventHorizoning

Attitude_Indicator
Attitude Indicator
"It's not that I have a bad attitude …"

Airplane instrument panels feature an Attitude Indicator or Artificial Horizon, which cleverly shows an aircraft's orientation to the earth's horizon. You can imagine that in three dimensional space, level might easily become an ambiguous concept, leaving a pilot disoriented when, for instance, flying through cloud or over unlevel ground. The Attitude Indicator employs a gyroscope, which works off the Earth's gravity to resist changes in pitch or roll, and comes calibrated to report deviations in degrees. Flying by visual cues alone might encourage a pilot to steer the plane along an apparently level path when actually gaining or losing altitude, or along a visually correct course when actually veering right or left from a desired heading. The Attitude Indicator aids in better orienting the pilot in space.

Similarly, people seem to maintain an Attitude Indicator of our own, in the form of our innate anticipatory sense.

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Pace

Pace
Chicago Rush Hour - 1909
"Nostalgia's not half what it's cracked up to be."

Within every pandemic, some optimist appears to cheer on the positive side of the thing. We do seem a whole lot better connected in isolation than we ever did when roaming around unconstrained. The vehicle traffic has abated to levels the streets seem to have been designed to hold. The road past The Villa sees much more foot traffic, with a steady parade of dog walkers, joggers, and couples strolling while holding hands. Kids pedal past in a nearly endless stream, and I'm sitting out front reading in the afternoon sunshine. The Pace of life has slowed to a rate I've rarely known. Home feels homier, too.

I keep losing my place in the novel I'm holding as I glance up to greet yet another neighbor walking by.

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BlindWatchmen

BlindWatchman
De Nachtwach (The Night Watch), Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642
"I admit that I just cannot tell …"

I fulfilled the role of night watchman through my father's final days, taking the six pm to six am shift, which included the witching hours. I'd sit up in one of the living room recliners and enter that coma state, aware but inert, watching; though, not being a healthcare professional, I'd diligently watch for what I knew not. I'd sometimes wander into his bedroom to watch him struggle to breathe in pitch darkness, listening for unsettling rhythms, but I mostly held my post two rooms away, watching with increasing intensity for the dawning and the end of my boring shift. A few times, alarming events occurred to which I'd respond with another frantic, completely anticipated call to the night hospice nurse. She'd arrive with aching slowness, though only a few minutes would pass, and neutralize the emergency while I waited at my post. My dad was performing a cum laude seminar in radical acceptance, having embraced his terminal diagnosis without ever insisting upon any but palliative care. I was simply there to witness what no watchman could see, often bored to my knees with the utter banality of the experience. On that morning when I watched him take his final breath, I believed that he exited out of sheer boredom with the proceedings. I felt that I could understand and even justify his response.

I figure that watchmen of old wore grand uniforms to elevate the otherwise insignificance of their role around the old castle.

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HeardImmunity

HeardImmunity
Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken, Josse Lieferinxe (–1508), between 1497 and 1499
Hunker down,
avoid others like The Plague,
the only cure we know so far
involves just staying away.
Talk's cheap.
Life's dear.
Nobody's immune to this damned virus,
no matter what you hear.

Pandemics bring out the crazies, the gullible babies desperately seeking protection. We hear of people too similar to us falling to the infection and understandably get to feeling itchy about its presence. Someone we trust appears to reassure us. We might come to firmly believe that those who fall ill are receiving some sort of payback, retribution for some critical shortcoming. Our news feeds reinforce our previously underlying prejudices, whatever they are, for we seem to run in herds now. If someone insists that only others contract the disease, we breathe a little easier, and might even continue to physically mingle regardless of the governor's latest directive. A pastor, a self-serving politician, a studied pitchman, an old family friend, credentials stemming more from familiarity than from any specific qualification, voices we trust seem to especially empower us. We want to believe, and so we too easily do believe. We hear salvation rumbling through our grapevine and feel protected when we're not.

Whenever chance rules, humans seem to create explanatory stories.

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TheProject'sManaging

project'smanaging
Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, J.M.W. Turner, 1812.
"The project, like the fates, is always, always, always ultimately in charge …"

Our Administration Incapable of Administering seems to be simultaneously making every single classic project management error, just as if it wasn't standing on the shoulders of millennia of prior experience. This might not be completely their fault, though I wouldn't mind blaming it on them, for nobody's ever written anything like a definitive history of project management to at least outline how it came to be and what it actually entails. Instead, little self-serving fictions written by victors filled in, extolling one or another technique or one or another so-called brilliant man. The result might as well be sold as fiction and certainly provides no clear template for reliably succeeding when managing the achievement of any novel objective. Most certainly, the "profession's" deepest roots lie in military history, for the most ancient novel objectives always involved military campaigns. Several otherwise unremarkable generals have been credited with quipping that no plan ever survives contact with any enemy. They don't generally survive contact with friendlies, either.

Each generation has strived to improve upon each prior generation's so-called practices, always somehow managing to replicate what they first complained about, producing another method that succeeds a little less often than a fair coin toss, raised to religious necessity, filled with Thou Shalts enjoining someone else to be sure and do something those someone elses never have and never would actually do.

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SimpleEconomics

Economics101
Adoration of the Shepherds or the Nativity by Gerard David, 1490
"We covet health now, and a living more ennobling than any capitalist can count."

They were by all accounts humble shepherds, though that designation seems redundant, and not only because nobody's ever filed any report even hinting at the existence of haughty shepherds. Shepherds might find arrogance and self-importance less than useless in the productive execution of their role in society, for their wards are invariably humble and rather stupid, more interested in following each other around and not really in to adoring any charismatic leader. Shepherds were almost always contractors, not sheep owners or full time employees with benefits. They worked through the season in sublime isolation with only the adoration of their sheepdog as company. Yet they were counted as full equals at the nativity, right up there with those angels who had so recently rendered them "sore afraid" and the three wise men. Their contribution appreciated without compensation, for the Nativity, like much of every society, was not an economic activity.

We speak of ourselves as capitalists, though only a relative few of us actually hold much capital.

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ToDieFor

320px-The_Immaculate_Conception,_by_Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Die Unbefleckte Empfängnis (The Immaculate Conception) 1767-1768
" … faunching to go out shopping again, like a genuine Parisian …"

The phrase sounds so seventies to my ear, as if I hadn't heard it in decades, but back in those days, some would actually say that such-and-such (often a cheesecake or a particularly well-marbled steak) was, "ToDieFor." I was sure then that I couldn't quite unwrap the meaning. "Do you really intend to say that tasting this slice of cheesecake would have been worth risking your life for, and that had you not successfully waded through the surrounding mine field, or if a sniper had pegged you on the way in tonight, you would have gladly gone to your maker because you would have died pursuing this perfection? Really?" I never actually engaged in this sort of cross examination, though my mind always raised one skeptical eyebrow whenever subjected to this phrase. ToDieFor? Really?

These days, the phrase's taken on another connotation for me. Under orders to stay at home, my relationship to larder stocking's changing.

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Revisiting

modigliani_collar
"Jeanne Hébuterne au col blanc"
Amedeo Modigliani - huile sur toile - 1919

"Bless every blessed one of us here."

Psychologists used to insist that Revisiting the source of trauma helped resolve the effects of that trauma. More modern practitioners doubt that this was ever the case, and that Revisiting might resurrect strong memories of the experience, but might well amplify rather than mollify its effects. Freud was great for Revisiting, and the old joke about Freudian therapy reported that the typical patient was well on their way to recovery after only thirty years of intense clinical work. Still, a look backwards from a more secure location might provide opportunities to reframe the humiliating experience, but other techniques might allow for the traumatized to reframe the meaning of the experience without dredging up anything like the full past impact of it. I'm all for leaving the past buried, but for my money, I firmly believe that reframing might be the only effective way to change the past, which might be the challenge every traumatized anyone really faces.

The headlines once again scream Recession. Some even threaten Depression. These words hardly overplay the economic situation we all face, some of us much less prepared than others. Many have never experienced such calamity before, and while this current situation might well appear potentially much worse than any past downturn, each person experiences even the most global and far-reaching one, very personally; excruciatingly personally.

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Barriers

Barrier
" … one needs to invent a pencil to fill out the requisition for ordering pencils."

The Muse, The Otter, and I are presently cordoned off after a fashion. A minister in Louisiana hosted a gathering of 150 of his faithful, he insisting that if anyone contracted the dreaded virus, he'd heal them with the Spirit of the Lord. Good Lord! People reacted similarly to the Great Plagues in Europe. People became devout, hoping to at least be buried in consecrated ground, I guess. I'm trying to be more careful than that Senator who might have infected the Republican Caucus. (Notice how I'm not mentioning divine retribution.) The governor of Idaho thinks sheltering in place should be a local decision, encouraging that self-reliant pioneer spirit that killed off a considerable percentage of would-be pioneers. We're still not testing broadly enough to even get a half-decent statistical handle on the pandemic's spread. We count bodies instead.

I might not be quite as careful as I intended to be.

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CartoonScientists

CartoonScience
The Four Humours, from Deutche Kalendar, 1498

The Four Humours are the essential bodily fluids: Yellow Bile (Choleric), Black Bile (Melancholic), Phlegm (Phlegmatic), and Blood (Sanguine). It was thought that imbalances in these humours led to illness, but that they could be redressed by changing the diet, taking medicine and by undergoing surgery or bloodletting.

" … cider and kosher salt couldn't quite qualify as essential supplies …"

I consider myself to be a CartoonScientist. Not a scientist, I have accumulated a body of understanding based upon some science reading, certainly, but also through exposure to sources as disparate as credential-less self help authors and classic Warner Brothers cartoons. Yes, Wylie Coyote taught me almost everything I know about physics. I think I might have accumulated slightly more reliable understandings than has the mythical average person, but I confirm my scientific beliefs through firm conviction rather than by anything like objective observation. I hold at least one of my thumbs upon every scale, skewing my measurements in what I imagine to be my favor. I maintain my worse habits by essentially giving myself exemptions from any ill effects which might stem directly or indirectly from those habits. I believe myself to be much healthier than average, better fed, and more psychologically mature, just like all the other CartoonScientists surrounding me.

In my lifetime, "science" has confirmed as real many times more phenomena than in all previously recorded history, producing an astoundingly overwhelming body of understanding, the bulk of it utterly lost on me.

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GhostTown

Ghost Town
"Who would I have to become to thrive there?"

I drive because there's no place to go. I know nothing's open except inconvenience stores, and they're not really anything like destination resorts. The gas tank's full, milk supply fine. In the old days, I might head for a diner, grab a seat at the counter, and order a double batch of green chile-smothered hash browns while listening to the buzz and bustle surrounding me, having a little human proximity for breakfast. Us geezers are supposed to be up and out early, chasing lost youth or purpose reading our Times, appreciating our waitresses. The diners have closed except for to-gos, and what am I supposed to do, eat in my car? Drive home with styrofoam sweating on the seat beside me? Nobody runs news stands anymore. The drive-thru window at Starbucks sucks. I drive in broad circles as predawn twilight silently slips into day.

I drive to get away from myself, that quiet, sullen voice in my head stops muttering when I'm behind the wheel.

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HomeAlone

HomeAlone
Hermit Saints Triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, c.1505
"The background bustle could recharge my spirit …"

As a card-carrying introvert, I know alone. I know Alone In A Crowd. It's my natural state! I know the reassurance of bounded solitude, where I can hear the surrounding bustle without experiencing any danger of being run over by it. I understand Watching From Afar, where the whole rest of the world seems to be performing expressly for my entertainment and enlightenment. The Muse will tell you that she's often felt the need to forcefully expel me out into the world because otherwise nothing seems to happen. I can and sometimes even have passed for gregarious. I can work a room, though it burns through my energy like a diesel dually burns through fuel. I've known and come to prefer the pleasures of the solo presence, invisible at my choosing, alone on stage performing for a room of empty strangers. Not, though, sequestered away within an entire society of the sequestered away, I'm coming to know HomeAlone.

I hardly live alone. The Muse is here twenty-four seven since The Lab ordered her stay away and work from home. TheGrandOtter's here, too, though she keeps New Zealand hours, turning off her light about the time I get up in the morning.

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AssEptness

AssEptness
"I could be that vector I've been watchful for …"

I secretly hoped that enlightenment, should it ever deign to visit me, might arrive wearing a diaphanous robe and an ethereal countenance. Certainly some of my insights have arrived like cuddly little angels, but I'm coming to a nigh-on-to certain conclusion that my enlightenment will most likely arrive with all the pomp and splendor of a horse's ass. Not to denigrate the velvety curves of the equine behind, but that particular bit of anatomy has long been more closely associated with utter foolishness than with great wisdom. I understand that Jesus, when not hoofing it himself, often rode into a new town astride an ass, a common conveyance in those times. In these more modern times, I seem to most often enter new territories as the ass itself, not astride one. A donkey's cleverness extends to almost invisibly traversing narrow trails and sometimes exhibiting serious stubbornness, but I'd never imagined that my greatest contribution to this world might be similarly cast. I prefer the narrow, rarely traveled routes and I'm coming to accept that I can be just as stubborn as any disgruntled pack animal. I exhibit what I'll label AssEptness.

For me, acceptance almost always follows a lengthy period of stubborn refusal, during the later parts of which, my heels too-well dug in, I demonstrate well enough for even me to catch just what an ass I've been.

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First PureSchmaltz Friday

SoupCanTelephone


When:
Friday, March 20 at 11am MDT (1700 UTC)
Where: https://zoom.us/j/3019315733
(Please note that this link will connect you with David Schmaltz's Personal Zoom Account. The muse added me as a valid co-user this morning.) (03202020)

The web browser client will download automatically when you start or join your first Zoom meeting, and is also available for manual download here.
Download Version 4.6.7 (18176.0301)


This meeting will be the first convened video chat with people who have accepted my invitation to join my PureSchmaltz Facebook Group. What will we do? We'll chat, which means that nobody will attempt to sell anyone anything or stress out trying to convince anyone of anything. I will begin by making some provocative proclamation. Following that, we'll see where the resulting dialogue leads us.

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AnotherBeginning

AnotherBeginning
Moses Placed in the River (detail), from World Chronicle (text in German),
Germany (Regensburg), about 1400–1410, artist unknown;
author, Rudolf von Ems.
The J. Paul Getty Museum

"Moses has been placed into the river."

I think of stories as having a beginning followed by a middle followed by an end, though most don't seem to flow that way. Stories most often feature a beginning followed by a middle which is then followed by AnotherBeginning, more Möbius Strip-like than linear, multi-dimensional and circular. Each homecoming hints at another impending adventure. Even happily ever after suggests ongoing activity, not represented by detailed description but by more general inference. Even the most finite-seeming story leaves unanswered questions which suggest more than described. I'd conclude that every ending is AnotherBeginning, but there's no clear ending in sight. Perhaps consequently, I seem perfectly capable of identifying endings. 911 seemed to delineate the end of an era which I might have chosen to grieve over as if I'd lost my innocence. It also seemed to delineate AnotherBeginning, too, though, within which I might choose to divorce myself from my past. It was, of course, both and neither, my choice, my characterization which made it one or the other or both. Both beginnings and endings seem inescapably arbitrary.

This series of stories also begins arbitrarily, on the morning of the first day of Spring 2020, a day rather near the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, an event which only recently swept into prominence.

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NowWhat?

NowWhat?
Studies of the Foetus in the Womb, 1510-13 by Leonardo da Vinci
"The long-procrastinated change finally comes as if in a lightening flash."

The National Weather Service predicts eight to sixteen inches of snow for this last day of winter and tomorrow's first day of spring. I worked all day outside in my shirtsleeves yesterday, rearranging everything in the garage to make room for that long-dreaded second car. The little voice in my head had insisted that it could not be done, two cars could not possibly fit into our two car garage, though most of our neighbors manage to fit two into their's. Our situation seemed somehow different. "None of our neighbors need to store a king's ransom in clay flowerpots in their garages," said that little voice in my head. "Store them somewhere else," my exasperated gut whispered in response. I dutifully schlepped that king's ransom of flowerpots down the steep sidehill and neatly stacked them on top of a carefully laid tarp, sorted by size, and bordered by innumerable cat litter tubs filled with last year's potting soil. The result looked like a bivouac supply base for a garden troll army, charming and primitive. By the end of the day, two cars sat parked in that garage.

I'd walked through that garage every day since the last time I rearranged it, averting my eyes.

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FinishingUp

FinishingUp
Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876
"Isolation's how we come to acknowledge our fragility, a superpower of immense significance."

I noticed yesterday that only a couple of days remained in this winter season. My SmallThings Stories would go on their way, replaced by another frame which I have not started imagining yet. I felt humbled creating these small stories, which started with no more than a tickle of intuition, hardly an inspiration, born of that frustration accompanying a necessity more than with any apparent foresight. Yet SmallThings now seems the precisely proper framework within which to reflect upon the three months now passing. Started on the first day of winter, with holiday grandeur impending, big things seemed imminent. After Epiphany, the days seemed to grow successively smaller, as winter days always do. Whispers started coming through from China about another viral contagion, the sort that China seems to regularly spawn; another bird flu, yet another distant swine flu. The news seemed as tiny as any that makes the back pages before it exploded, another SmallThing suddenly writ larger.

As if I needed to amplify my founding premise, Covid-19 came along to scream its underlying message.

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The Rhinoceros

Adaptability
The Rhinoceros, by Albrecht Dürer, 1515
"I'd much rather take care of anybody else."

I think of myself as eminently Adaptable, though I know I'm not. I'm certainly nobody's chameleon. I try to keep a low profile so as to not stand out. My primary defense never has been a good offense, but my diligence in remaining inoffensive and also unoffendable. I try to fit in by remaining invisible. When in Rome, I stick out like an infected thumb. The same in Paris, Prague, Vienna, and London, for I cannot even see what Adaptability might look like there. My fallback position seems to be to become even more me than I might have been anywhere else, an obvious difference in any ubiquitous crowd. I order my croissant with decaf and swallow that bitter reconstituted powder as if I enjoyed it even though I quite obviously—even to myself, even to The Muse—don't enjoy it at all. I'm a sheepish grin and bear it kind of fellow. I fake my Adaptability.

Facing a pandemic, I imagine myself somehow immune to the worst case outcome.

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AGoodTalkingWith

GoodTalkingWith
A Mortally Wounded Brigand Quenches his Thirst, 1825, Eugene Delacroix
"Wherever I might find myself, finding myself there might console me."

My cell phone wouldn't work in Farmington, New Mexico, not until I connected it via my hotel's crappy WiFi. The Muse insists that I should download the area's map from GoogleMaps, but I can't find a menu option to accomplish that. I relied upon the sixteen year old GPS in our "new" car, the display for which looks like a poor art student's crude attempt at abstraction. Most of this country continues to exist outside The Web, No Service being the most common message displayed on any hinterland traveler's cell phone. Those of us accustomed to ubiquitous 5G find this state of affairs annoying in the extremis, for we've sub-contracted half our senses to our little electronic babysitter. Navigation, entertainment, news, weather, and just staying in touch hangs by the very lamest of threads. Hopping from public wi-fi to public wi-fi, I almost forget that such connections never were in any way natural, they've just become a newer normal, at least until I leave town.

I judge airports by whether they offer free high-speed wi-fi, with good old PDX still the egalitarian standard.

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Reservations

Reservations
"I hear the phone ring but cannot make it work"

The desert surrounding Tucson seems tropical in the late winter rain. Washes and riverbeds actually feature water, though most closely resemble thick, ocher-colored pudding. Tucson's suburbs seem to stretch forty or more miles into the northernmost reaches of the vast Sonoran desert, Saguaro stately standing along steep rocky mountainsides. The road, two-lane blacktop. The excursion seems backward through time. From the gated sprawl into many centuries ago, the road passes out of these United States into sovereign native lands administered by tribal counsels: reservations. Apache, Comanche, Navaho, and Ute own much of what we refer to as the state of Arizona, a vast and apparently barren country, dusty and strange. Reservations.

The road bucks like an unbroken mustang. I simply cannot maintain the speed limit, a condition for which I feel enormously grateful.

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TheGreatLeveling

Leveling
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, 1822

"Just like last year, but ever so much more so."

I will remember the crossing, not the departure or the arrival, for I found traumatic the transition between the familiar into this different. In my life, I've left so often that leaving barely registers. I slip into my departure coma and simply disappear. Arriving still seems a distant relief. The transition upset me. It might not be over yet, arrival inexplicably delayed without setting expectations for its eventual appearance. A furious easterly insistently nudged the aircraft away from its assigned course. The plane packed with refugees, or so it seemed to me, each uncertain if they should even be traveling under these circumstances and each headed for an unknown destination, regardless of what the flight manifest insisted. I could not imagine the other side and felt as if I might have nibbled off more than I could reasonably swallow this time. This would be no trip from Hell, though, it was an excursion into a greater unknown.

I think it hogwash that we accumulate greater understanding by living. For me, the mystery only deepens.

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BassingAckwards

BassingAckwards
" … the very best things in life … tend to emerge from sincere, dedicated, and inadvertent BassingAckwards."

The best things in life aren't actually things. Looking for best in the things realm might be the very best way to engage in an extended search without ever finding the object of my desire, or so my experience strongly suggests. I have stumbled upon the best things in my life, but only after pursuing actual things first. I know of no way to effectively engineer a successful search for anything truly meaningful, for the very act of engineering seems to attempt to inject altogether too much prescience and certainty into a search. One simply must start off in the wrong direction to ever come to solidly understand the deeper significance of any right direction. I insist that successful searches first engage in BassingAckwards. One begins by chasing the wrong tail, discovering distinctions by first failing to discover them. The deeper the initial disappointment, the greater the resulting realization and, perhaps, the greater the appreciation for the eventual discovery.

I declare this after once again discovering that an object of my desire more likely lies well south of my recent course, and without yet understanding just what a more proper course might entail, just that my former course appears to have represented another BassingAckwards experience.

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BeggingQuestions

BeggingAnswers
14th Century map of England
"The crisp response seems the enemy of our existence."

Ilya Prigogine whacked part of the scientific world when he declared that answering the question "How long is the British Isle shoreline?" was fundamentally undecidable. People had been dealing in this measurement for centuries before this Twentieth Century mathematician declared the question unanswerable. Prigogine pointed out that measuring the length of the shoreline depended upon answering some unscientific questions like, To what scale?" He showed that the length of the shoreline increased and decreased dramatically, depending upon the chosen granularity of the measure, and essentially melted into the infinite at a small enough scale. The length of the British Isle shoreline, he concluded, was a political question unrelated to science's objective observation. As a purely subjective inquiry, science could only stand mute in response. Certainly, surveyors could employ precision instruments to measure that length, but the measures themselves, utterly dependent upon subjective decisions surveyors made when encountering high and low tides, for instance, and a thousand other little curiosities, could only represent a compromised objectivity, and could therefore never be definitive. The question carried no clear indisputable answer and was therefore null. Encyclopedias still confidently state the length of the British Isle shoreline, without muddying explanation or just saying, "It depends," but it definitely depends.

I catch myself asking BeggingQuestions. Last night, landing in Tucson after a bumpy flight down from Denver, I caught myself asking after Tucson's altitude, though I could see that the city hardly sat upon a flat plain.

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Plague

plague
Johann August Corvinus (after Salomon Kleiner): The Plague Column in Vienna, copperplate engraving, 1724
"Not one of us seem especially blessed or cursed now …"

A stroller down Die Graben, the highest-end shopping street in Vienna, finds a magnificent Plague Column dominating the scene. Sponsored by Emperor Leopold I and finished in the late 1690s, twenty years after that last plague lifted, it sort of celebrates survival. Some cities built their plague columns in real time, while their plagues raged, to placate whatever vengeance God seemed to have been inflicting at the time, to demonstrate piety and survival worthiness. This artifact graphically illustrates suffering as well as salvation with gruesome depictions of agony supporting a gilded top featuring uplifting cherubic angels. Today, the symbolism hardly seems to spark piety in the passersby, overloaded with freshly acquired mammon. The visitor might linger to briefly ponder their own uncertain fate, but not long enough to make themselves late for the Opera.

One of the times The Muse and I visited Vienna, we were met at the airport by two separate drivers. The conference organizers had concluded that since we didn't share the same last name, we were not a married couple, so we rode into the city center in separate cars.

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PhreeDumber

PhreeDumber
La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) 1830
"Insisting upon absolute freedom seems like just another insidious form of slavery."

Contrary to popular misconception, freedom is not now and never has been just another word for "nothing left to lose." What could this assertion possibly mean? Freedom might more reasonably be considered another word for "everything left to choose," if only because freedom seems to strongly imply an ability to choose for one's self. But freedom to choose does not impart the judgement or foresight to choose wisely. Your choice might infringe upon my choice or even upon your own well-being, and I might end up having to clean up some mess your choice produces. Unlimited freedom falls into the old Insidious Assumption Of Unlimited Resource Trap, an initially comforting latitude destined to do in somebody. Freedom only seems workable within some probably undefinable constraints. People sometimes go to war to determine these limits.

My neighborhood has rules governing what colors I might paint my house, a clear infringement upon my freedom to make different choices, though I explicitly agreed to this limit.

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BackUp

BackUp
The Pomps of the Subsoil 1947, Leonora Carrington (1917–2011)
" … further evidence that technology tends to turn evolution backwards …"

In the early morning of January 15, a message popped up on my screen while I struggled to complete my daily SmallThing, a piece about negotiating myself into engagement which I'd labeled NoGoNegation. I did not even distantly expect that this message prefaced seven weeks of irresolution, an enormous disruption to my sacred daily routine. My TimeMachine was reporting that it was unable to initiate my one of my usual hourly backups. My TimeMachine was connected to a TimeCapsule, a nifty bit of usually invisible hardware which auto-magically grabbed fresh stuff off my hard drive as that stuff appeared, making it theoretically possible to BackUp my hard drive to any point within the prior few months. In principle, I could BackUp my stuff to any hourly point over the prior few months as long as the BackUps continued uninterrupted. In that early morning, I experienced my first interruption ever.

Diagnosis ain't my strong suit if it even qualifies as a suit at all. I tend to just go buck naked when I encounter one of these mysterious messages.

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DifferentFrom

DifferentFrom
Cerberus 1824-27 by William Blake (1757–1827): Inferno VI, 13-33.
The monster Cerberus presides over the third circle of Hell, that of the Epicures and Gluttons.

"The disruption's the thing."

If one state dominates here, that state seems to be difference, yet I seem much more attuned to similarity. Difference upsets me even when routine has dulled me beyond recognition. I realized late yesterday evening that it was Friday. Twelve hours too late to create the SmallThings Story I'd previously committed to writing, I'd missed my self-imposed deadline, thereby fouling a public commitment that perhaps only I noticed myself making. DifferentFrom settled into my lap like a toddler with a soggy diaper. I did not feel welcoming in that moment, but embarrassed. DifferentFrom elicits a WhatNow?, from which one must figure out what to do next. The chain's broken. The commitment violated. WhatNow?

I've committed this same crime before.

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Chaings

Chaings
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640): Prometheus Bound (Gefesselter Prometheus), between 1611 and 1612
"Fine metal working skills preferred because we're fixing to make Chaings again."

Prometheus (meaning "Forethought") gained a reputation as a clever trickster. He gave mankind fire and metal working, actions for which Zeus punished him by tethering him where an eagle would painfully eat his freshly regenerated liver each day, a particularly painful fate. I think of him as the prototypical change agent, for change agents tout their abilities to foresee, a boast common among flimflamming tricksters. They employ a curiously inflaming, seemingly iron-clad rhetoric (fire) which seems irreproachable, even inevitable. This speech inspires and incites a sort of satisfying insanity in others. They tend to develop self-regenerating livers, or at least seem to, as they quite often feel the need to lubricate their efforts with liberal amounts of liver-destroying beverages. The eagle, which might represent truth or fact or at least encroaching reality, cannot quell his hunger regardless of how many Promethean livers he consumes. This dance seems infinite.

Each election cycle some fresh Prometheuses appear.

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Politicnicking

Politicnicking
Édouard Manet: Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe), 1863
"I trust them about as much as I trust that platter of questionable deviled eggs."

I think of politics as a sort of smoke-filled picnic, a gathering of curious choices within an equally curious context. Hobson's Choices abound. No formal menu informs any individual selection, for these meals depend most prominently upon what a participant might happen upon. Each dish bears the prominent fingerprints of its creator. Old family recipes predominate, with each mother rather proud of her "unique" contribution. Tucked between curious salads and a platter of questionable deviled eggs, the fried chicken looks a whole lot better than it ever actually tastes, the few flies buzzing around little deterrent from partaking. The burgers seem grilled by someone with great enthusiasm and even greater ignorance. The beer's inevitably lukewarm. Billowing clouds of obscuring charcoal smoke hang over the proceedings and the kids rush around like soda pop-fueled maniacs, embarrassing their parents and frustrating the vicar. We generally refer to these gatherings as celebrations of a way of life, though their real reward comes at the end of the day when everyone has successfully tucked away their leftovers and taken their sunburns to bed.

Elections fill me with existential dread, just the way any picnic might.

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ImmaculateSupper

ImmaculateSupper
Frans Snijders, Still life with small game and fruits; 1600 - 1657, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands
Cheers (or something)!

I'm more skilled at creating leftovers than I am at producing suppers. I possess no sense of proportion. I can't seem to think in realistic portion sizes anymore than I can imagine in cubic furlongs. The Tupperware® remains in near constant use, holding some once-treasure in the often fantastic notion that someone might finish it off later. We periodically purge the fridges of science projects, leaving a congealed centerpiece on the deck for the magpies. Some of that shit, not even the magpies will tackle, and so it smells up the garbage can until the following Tuesday. I understand how wasteful this cycle seems and if I could do better, I certainly would do better, but I seem stuck with this disappointing status quo. Sure, the supper looks like a feast when set upon the table. It later becomes little better than an enduring inconvenience.

Last night, though, I managed to produce what I refer to as an ImmaculateSupper, one which fully satisfies the diners while leaving no leftovers, nary a scrap.

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PanicMode

PanicAttack
Edward Williams Clay: The Times
(1837 U.S. caricature on the financial panic of that year)

"Being human hardly seems human some days."

Given the choice between fighting or fleeing, few humans seem very interested in winding their watch while choosing None Of The Above. We're suddenly consumed with an apparently urgent need to survive, especially when the situation carries little threat. We seem to be herd animals, sensitive to subtle, even non-existent cues. Someone passes you and you might well feel absolutely compelled to catch up and overtake them, goaded into a curious competition. What might happen if that other arrived at the next exit thirteen seconds before you? Whenever a situation seems to compel me into a life or death contest, I might prove wisest should I turn sanguine and dispassionately evaluate rather than start berating some other who maybe could have been my benevolent brother but which I instead insist upon turning into just another one of those. You know who I mean. A Them.

A poster on the neighborhood listserv invites nobody to panic. "Don't panic," she insisted, "but if you're wanting to stock up on face masks and tissue, you should seriously consider getting to the store before all the panic buying begins.

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SundayOff

SundayOff
Dawn: Luther at Erfurt, 1861, Joseph Noel Paton (1821–1901)
Depicts Martin Luther discovering the doctrine of Justification by Faith.


"Remember The Sabbath and keep it holy." (Hebrew: זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ) -  Exodus 20:8-11
(One of The Ten Commandments)

Not being a member of any religion, sect, or faith, I sometimes wonder if I qualify as moral. I long-ago rejected the idea that I could publicly practice a religion and remain moral, religion being a personal and private conviction in my personal and private moral code. I do not as a rule take days off, for I believe that if one's work is an honest expression of self, taking a day off amounts to sacrilege. I remember The Sabbath but remain unclear what it means to keep it holy, since I find churches and synagogues to be hostile worshiping environments. I do not worship, though I remain steadfastly grateful for all I do not comprehend, which, believe me, remains considerable. The Great Mystery doesn't seem to be aching for me to resolve it, but to distantly respect it. If Martin Luther properly interpreted scripture, which seems wildly unlikely as Scripture seems impenetrably ambiguous on pretty near every subject, even my distance from religion might be covered under his Justification by Faith notion, a masterwork of an escape clause. I more deeply appreciate the Hebrew tradition of engaging in dialogue not intended to resolve ambiguity, but to lever it to gain fresh insight. The whole God thing seems downright medieval to me.

For better or worse, we live in secular times.

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The Curious Case Of Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate
"Scarcity often results from a passionate and sincere lack of imagination."

I recently found a terrific granola recipe. I'd grown weary of the available commercial choices to the point where I'd just stopped buying the stuff, switching to plain steel cut oatmeal. The store-bought stuff tended to be way too sweet and often came packed with stuff no self-respecting consumer should attempt to swallow, like coconut, about as saturated a fat as exists, on the far side of even leaf lard, or so I imagine. I wanted no dried fruit, which inevitably turns into a sort of molar-cracking nut when included into the mix. I can add dried currents or blueberries to the bowl, and don't need some thoughtful individual to bake them into unchewable additions at the factory.

The Muse encouraged me to just make my own, but acknowledging myself as nobody's baker, I quietly demurred.

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Led-Gend

Led-Gend
Illustration from Legends of Charlemagne by Thomas Bullfinch, Illustration by N. C. Wyeth, 1950
"What fantastic mural might W. C. Wyeth have produced to depict MY story?"

Mary Colter, famed designer for the Fred Harvey hotel chain, always began her work by creating a rich fantasy about the building she intended to design. These fantasies had nothing to do with historical accuracy, but with design coherence. When faced, as designers inevitably are, with trade-offs, she'd refer to her fantasy to determine which alternative most closely cohered with her underlying story. Her La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, though partially dismantled into railroad offices in the sixties, still exudes a fantastic attention to small detail. A guest feels a sense of every element being precisely in its place, right for its purpose. From the wide hacienda porch around back to the great room tucked between the first and second floors, even down to the inconveniencing absence of an elevator, the place seems to be precisely what it purports to be, the legacy of a childless Spanish land-grant holder who bequeathed his inherited one hundred fifty year old home. It was none of that, of course, except Colter's Fantasy Led-Gend seems to have made it so.

I had concluded that a guiding vision needed some grounding in reality, but I might have wrongly concluded.

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ComingIn

ComingIn
"Living suddenly amounts to observing the passionate play and finding myself in it."

An average of a hundred and twenty-five unique page views passed through the PureSchmaltz Facebook Group each day last week. I find myself struggling to maintain my reputation as a loner and outsider with such crowds observing me. I've long identified with the old Five of Pentangles Tarot Card, where two street urchins pass by a warmly lit church window in the snow. The Muse always asks why I don't just go inside where it's warm. I usually respond that I do not know why. Perhaps I felt myself in the middle of my metaphorical forty days wandering through wilderness or had not dressed myself properly for entering a church, but I'd insist that I felt as though I could not belong, regardless of how warm of a welcome I might receive there. I'd continue trudging. Trudging can become habit-forming, a genuine addiction, and I might have grown to serve as its poster boy, for I have nurtured my trudge and grown accustomed to my place in society, but trudgers require a certain anonymity if they are to maintain their lowly social status. Surrounded by appreciative throngs, even a champion trudger seems a tragic parody.

I CameIn over the last week, an act almost entirely but not completely the opposite of Coming Out.

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ReEntries

ReEntering1
"We arrive home just to feel gone all over again."

ReEntering exacts the full price of absence. The longer-anticipated any repatriation, the greater that price. Twelve days gone returns to find a backlog. The place smells odd. The cat-sitter didn't take out the garbage. The dishwasher we thought we'd left running had not been turned on and had become a smelly science project in our absence. The place seemed knee-deep in cat fur. I lit a stick of that piñon incense The Muse had found in Arizona, though The Muse cautioned me to burn only one because it kicked up her allergies. Better to offload the suitcases in the laundry room rather than schlepp them upstairs full of stuff that would just need carting downstairs again. The Muse sets to sorting laundry, an activity I've learned to avoid lest I offend her delicate and mysterious sensibilities. She's still never successfully explained her sorting algorithm to me. I unload the car, perfectly packed after so many days on the road, a precise place for everything and not a single item out of place. A great undoing commences.

The kittens, predictably, do not rush to greet us.

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ColoradoWelcome

ColoradoWelcome
Building the New Road (mural study, Golden, Colorado Post Office), Kenneth Evett, 1941: Smithsonian American Art Museum
"The asylum doors once again successfully breached."

A ColoradoWelcome seems similar to a Bronx Cheer in that both terms describe the opposite of lived experience. A Bronx Cheer turns out to be nothing more than a slobbery demeaning jeer, more mocking than welcoming. A ColoradoWelcome works more like a prolonged dedication test seemingly intended to determine whether an arrival can be broken before allowing entry. Both localities prove to be tough places to live, let alone to visit, so the local Welcome Wagon® tries its darndest to chase off that newcomer or returning resident to either keep the riffraff out or, perhaps, to preserve the place exclusively for the riffraff already there. Try entering Colorado by air and you'll experience turbulence like you never imagined possible, deplaning to swear to never set foot onto another airplane again. Attempt entry by road and you'll come to experience more than you ever wanted to know about harrowing. No road leads directly to Colorado but must pass through some deeply discouraging buffer zone first. Once inside, something will encumber your passage. Escaping's every bit as daunting as gaining entry.

A hundred years ago, Colorado experienced one of those periodic squirts of All American optimism so common to the nation's history.

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Redemption

NewMexico_Spot_Alligators_1_134a5614-9ac1-4012-b9b6-0e297463a15c
"May our former blockages find peace rusting beneath a wind-whipped Southwestern sun."

Home seems unfamiliar now. Twelve days toodling around The Great American Southwest has left us accustomed to continual difference. We stage for our attempted homecoming in the most alienating place in The Great American Southwest: Los Alamos, New Mexico. This state, the quirkiest in the lower forty-eight, is neither new nor Mexico, but New Mexico, more a state of consciousness than geographic territory. Here, desert turns back into verdant mountains again. The Sangre de Cristo burn crimson each sunset. A frigid wind reminds us that we left the South behind some time ago and that we're nearer the Midwest now. We're apparently headed home.

I've dreaded this last day since the day we left, expecting a mad scramble through the Cimarron, over a treacherous Raton Pass, and along the sleezy western extent of the Eastern Plains to reach home, but our dear friends Mark and Rita reminded us of US 285, a more civilized two-lane alternative which sneaks up through the middle of Colorado, an hours-shorter and seemingly less-harrowing alternative to the most primitive of the unimproved Interstates.

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Reconnection

reconnecting
"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
"Bad fences eventually fall, leaving the finest neighbors of all."

If I could receive my druthers, there would be no divorce, dislocation, dismemberment, or death. I do not always get my way. Some separation naturally occurs. Someone moves away. A phone number goes missing. Another commits Facebook Suicide and falls off that corner of my Earth. I slip into one of my signature periodic depressions and consume my presence with paranoia. Any of at least ten thousand individual causes might conspire to separate one from another, and once unbound, that once thriving relationship stays unfound, sometimes permanently, or seemingly so. We live in big ruts, unable to even imagine up and over the sides. We stay inside rather than venturing out. I hermit, and claim to prefer the lifestyle. The Muse might know better. She forces me up and out to wander about, to see what I might otherwise never even imagine seeing.

I'm at root a big chicken.

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WhyFidelity

WhyFidelity
The (Great) Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder - c. 1563
"One day, we'll plug ourselves into a recharge cord as soon as we sit in the driver's seat …"

My iPhone features so many settings that it's a genuine wonder why it works at all. I don't often use it to make or receive calls, for even with the speaker turned up just as loud as it goes, it whispers at me. Further, when traveling, I find myself more often out of range than anywhere within it. Whole cities like Tucson seem mostly comprised of dead zones. Heaven help anyone seeking a wi-fi connection, for these seem few and very far between. Starbucks® remains the travelers old reliable, though, offering clean rest rooms and decent wi-fi almost everywhere. They serve the traveler like Kinko's® used to before FedEx® took them over. The Muse downloads maps of the region to her iPhone because otherwise GoogleMaps® would mostly remain inaccessible. I tend to ignore my iPhone when traveling, so complicated does connecting become. The Muse and The Otter mysteriously remain somewhat online regardless, probably because they've mastered their settings in ways that I most certainly never will. We hop from HotSpot to HotSpot seeking to stay connected.

I can't remember how I stayed connected before cell phones, even though my connection today seems spotty and intermittent.

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Timelessnesses

Timelessness1
The Dance, Henri Matisse, 1910
"On brothers, sisters, and friends."

I firmly believe that we live in communion with others, not so much isolated beings but interconnected ones. What passes for individuality describes slight variations on a very common theme, and could not exist at all were it not for our fellows surrounding us, yet I spend much of my time alone, in at least the convincing appearance of hermit-like isolation. I know my neighbors to nod to. I know librarians, store clerks, and shopkeepers more intimately than I know anyone else living close to me. I pretty much keep to myself, or did until The GrandOtter moved in a few weeks ago and before Max and Molly, our kitten siblings, took up residence a few weeks before that. I maintain a long list of social media friends, many of whom I know more about than I know about my siblings. I see The Muse mornings, evenings, and most weekends, but we keep different daily schedules which leaves me plenty of 'alone time,' which might not count as time at all.

I've seen more close friends on this now ten day toodle through The Great American Southwest than I usually see in many, many months.

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Cordiality

cordiality
The Inn Keeper by Edward Charles Barnes, before 1882
"Cordiality makes our world go 'round square, with hardly a wobble."

The Iron John Brew Pub in old downtown Tucson sells beer in minimalist surroundings. The bartender greets me cordially, just what I need as I lead The Otter and The Muse into the place. I feel initially dissatisfied with the offerings, a collection of burnts and sours, but quickly enough winnow options down to a choice. The Muse chooses a Licorice Stout which she doesn't care for, though I'm intrigued by its odd herbal loading. The Otter chooses a juicy guest tap IPA. I select a Black IPA and we settle in to recover from a fragmented day, one without the benefit of lunch. Recovering from multiple traumas, The Otter experiences good and bad days, just like the rest of us, though hers seem to carry stronger amplitudes; higher ups and lower downs. She sometimes feels as though she's drowning, and this had been one of those days. The Muse and I provide what support we can, and though drowning never qualified as a spectator sport, we're certain that we cannot swim for her. We had more or less managed to drag ourselves through the day, though at times, barely. We needed cordiality.

Throughout this trip around The Great American Southwest, we've quietly relied upon Cordiality to pull us along.

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ConspicuousPresumption

conspicupuspresumption
"The most conspicuous consumption leaves one utterly depleted at the end."

The Leisure Classes escaped to The Great American Southwest, where the great American presumption of infinite resource finally came into its own. There, everything necessary to sustain life would have to be imported at considerable inconvenience, for not even water could be counted on locally. The beleaguered Colorado River, hardly a decent creek coming down out of the Rockies, quenches thirsts and greens golf courses across the region. Rich in mineral resources, Arizona naturally features vast spaces, but virtually none of the supporting resources for maintaining even a modicum of modern life. Its comparative advantage seems to be winter sunshine, of which it provides plenty, but everything else arrives by rail, semi-truck trailer, or air. Phoenix freeways reliably clog at least twice each day as commuters cross this former wasteland to travel from home to work and back. Homes here tend to be modest one-bedroom structures, with little high-rise construction. Suburbs, though, stretch beyond scorched surrounding mountains into verdant desert where cactus thrives among low-rise hacienda-style homes of every size, from cinderblock shack to extravagant cliff-dwelling. Everyone drives everywhere.

Close in, barrios dominate. Further out, huge homes.

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As-Iffing

As-If
The School Exam, 1859, Friedrich Peter Hiddemann
"Reality seems a belief-based initiative, or so our scientists insist."

Sedona sits nestled beside the seemingly insignificant Oak Creek, a watercourse which has over countless millennia carved an admirable red rock canyon, leaving soaring sandstone spires surrounding it. It seems both the most unlikely and dramatic setting for a small city. Its airport sits atop a mesa. It's reputed to hold several 'vortexes,' places where mysterious energies converge to impart special powers upon those who can tap them. Tourists—as near as I could tell in passing, the same tourists we encountered at The Grand Canyon—flock to these special spots, climbing red rock trails to bask in something not immediately obvious. The Muse, The Otter, and I slid up a slippery rock trail to find what, precisely, at the top? As Mad Magazine used to proclaim about its writing staff, The Usual Gang Of Idiots, ourselves prominently among them. A small plane practiced touch-and-goes out of the adjacent airport, buzzing the crowd of seekers. It felt like a cut-rate Lourdes without the water source. We, and supposedly everyone around us, stumbled back to our cars underwhelmed by our brush with touted greatness. We climbed up there As-If we might experience something life-changing but left feeling as though we'd suckered ourselves. As-Iffing sometimes works like this.

We returned to the car, then headed ourselves in the general direction of Phoenix, just As-If we might actually be able to drive there.

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Cantilevered

cantilievered
"Rocks can't care."

The GrandOtter and I shrank back from that first cliff edge. The Muse strolled right up to it, leaning out, peering down. Two thousand feet below, scree validated that gravity had been working there since before time began. I stood well back, finding some solid ground to sit down upon. The Otter warily edged closer. One dizzying glimpse over that precipice had satisfied all the curiosity I might ever muster. The Otter edged even closer. The Muse wanted to hop over the retaining wall so she could see even deeper down. The Otter finally edged right up to the wall. I walked back to wait in the car, unwilling to watch these darlings dangle so danged close to eternity.

The next morning, visiting another precipice, The Otter stood on a cantilevered boxcar-sized boulder snapping a 360 degree photo of the display.

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PassersBy

Passersby
Quirky building at Meteor City, AZ
" … while passing by another hundred or three distractions we won't actually stop and see."

We drive past a hundred places for every one we stop to see. We say that we're toodling, but we do a lot more passing by than stopping to see. The Great American Southwest features no shortage of roadside attractions. From rickety little Navajo kiosks to a giant meteor crater, each attraction features some sort of sign intended to attract eye and interest, and each looks genuinely interesting in its way. We've chosen the destination or two for the day, and these diversions hector us every inch of the way. Were we to stop at each, we'd never make headway, so we become PassersBy rather than visitors. By the end of the day, we'll alight somewhere and linger long enough to feel as though we've developed a feel for the place, but our experiences will remain on the superficial side of staying, hardly even visiting at all.

When I was a kid, my family would collect bumper advertising proclaiming that we'd visited Sea Lion Caves or Trees of Mystery.

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ADifferentMan

ADifferentMan
Portrait of a Merchant - Jan Gossaert - [c.1530]
"Neither are any of us."

"What's changed for you in the almost three days we've been traveling into The Great American Southwest," I asked The GrandOtter as she deftly demonstrated how to drive across a Navajo Reservation.

"
I've started learning to just F*C#IN' DO IT," She exclaimed! (The Otter's language can at times emerge sprinkled rather liberally with a backstreet French dialect.)

Once I'd ceded driving duties to this sometimes presumed overly-brittle young woman, relegating myself to the significantly lowlier role of backseat passenger, her former brittleness utterly disappeared. Certainly, mine seemed to increase, as if to maintain constant the net mass of brittleness in the universe, but hers simply disappeared. She confided that she could feel me stiffening in the seat behind her, vibrating as I held myself back from butting in too awfully much, but she'd decided to continue as if my sensibilities didn't matter. She, after all, HAD the freaking wheel. What could I do about it? Nothing, she presumed, and so she drove as if she were fully competent and eminently capable of fulfilling that critical role, critics be damned, and so she proved to be.

Over the following three hours, I gnawed a fresh hold in my tongue, but we both held fast, and it's seductive to presume that The Otter had become ADifferentPerson by the time we'd arrived, though I suspect that she had not. Not really.

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ButtClenching

ButtClenchers
Deadhorse Lookout, Utah
"Surrounded by alien territory, greater authenticity could emerge."

The Muse travels well, she of the ungainly pile of tour guides and carefully curated maps maintains our places in spaces and times. I simply drive. Having successfully fled winter dread into ParadoxCountry, we find our collective ButtClenching as we investigate sentiment and erosion on the grandest possible scale. Much accretes over the course of a typical planet's entire history, and some leavings can't help but wash away over time. This washing away displaces original deposits, leaving behind the most curious structures and shapes, just like our lives seem to do. We live on time scales insignificant when compared to the total history of this planet. Modern geologists conclude with ranges multiple times the merely unthinkable, or within a few odd million years or so. We think ourselves senior in our sixties, not a paltry sixty million, but a sixty-some single years. We stand clueless but still curious, interested in observing, though looking over and into even finite eternity can produce some serious ButtClenching.

I suspect that ancient man sought out ButtClenching as a handy antidote to ennui.

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ParadoxCountry

ParadoxCountry
Job and His Friends, 1869, Ilya Repin (1844–1930)
"I suspect that it will always be too early to tell what the outcome might become."

Winter eventually becomes too predictable, with each day bringing a wearying self-sameness. The yard remains either a steadfast beige or a persistent white, and the kitchen produces endless braises and bean pots. There are only so many variations, and those differences eventually melt into no variation at all. Foot-dragging ensues. Whatever's doing, it seems a struggle to start and an utter impossibility to complete. Frozen in place, little change or growth or improvement seems likely to emerge. Animation seems to suspend for the duration, and the duration approaches the infinite, for the more familiar spring, summer, and autumn reference points sit beneath a snowbank likely to remain in place until after Memorial Day. Getting away seems necessary, though unlikely. The Muse insists. Who would anyone have to become to effectively resist her?

From the moment The Muse, The Otter, and I pull away from our freshly snow-spackled driveway, we feel more at home.

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TheRuleOfLawyers

RuleOfLawyers
"Decency demands no less of us or of them."

We insist that we, unlike many countries, live by The Rule of Law, though it seems as though we increasingly live under The RuleOfLawyers. The law stands for what has been legislated by duly elected representatives. Lawyers stand for anything, for they trained as advocates capable of arguing any side of any issue. They seem to seek something other than truth or justice, the oft-touted American Way, but their way instead. They shamelessly shave pigs, split hairs, and boldly dare to support any position they're being paid to support. A beleaguered corp of public defenders, underfunded and over-scheduled, seem to stand alone against well-entrenched forces dedicated to denying anything they choose to deny. Absurdity reigns. Inequality under the law prevails. Respect for the law seems neigh-on to impossible.

A democracy seems at root a faith-based form of government.

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RoadTricks

RoadTricks
Grant Wood, New Road, 1939
"I imagine Kokopelli, the Road Trickster, will be guiding our way."

The Muse has been hankering after a road trip to The Great Southwest ever since we relocated to Colorado. She figures that once we finally move back to The Great Northwest, we'll live far enough away from those vast and fascinating wastelands that we'll never feel moved to visit, so she's created a deadline of sorts. If not now, then when? She holds a short list of spots she'd like to visit. As usual, I feel relatively disinterested in the undertaking. I approach long road trips with the same enthusiasm I employ for root canal surgeries. I dread them beforehand, though I usually manage to click into some semblance of a spirit somewhere along the way. I'll go, but I'll drag both feet before we leave.

I understand that I'm nobody's great gift to driving. I don't exactly hate driving, but I'd rather take a train.

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HardLabor

HardLabor
Walker Evans, The Breadline, 1933
"You're just the care-giver."

The hardest work I've ever done didn't look like HardLabor. No muscle straining resulted. It was not accomplished beneath an unforgiving sun. Nor was it undertaken under the threat of a gun bull's steely eye, and not to take anything away from all those who have suffered so, I didn't really know I was laboring hard until I was somewhere into the middle of the effort, already having bitten off more than I might reasonably chew, and destined to one day swallow. Divorce was harder than bucking bales. Quitting cigarettes nearly killed me, but quietly, in the most nerve-wracking way imaginable before then. Losing dear friends hurt worse than my muscle groups ever have. Recovering from trauma punishes more than the original trama ever thought to punish. Helping another recover from trauma seems even harder than recovering from trauma since the work's necessarily arm's length and guided by unreliable supervisors. Progress seems unlikely for the longest time.

HardLabor seems fueled by faith, a firm yet quivering belief that the effort might one day seem worth it.

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SelfWorth

selfworth
Luis Jiménez y Aranda (1845-1928) - The Bibliophiles (1879)
"Maybe value's all in other peoples' heads, but not in mine."

It's tax season so I've been reassessing my SelfWorth. I'm unsure what currency to use to calculate this value, or even if I should employ currency at all, for I'm not now and never have been a money guy. I've never had a portfolio and The Muse has kept me well away from all household accounting since she watched me attempt to balance a checkbook decades ago. Two days of frantic effort left the result inconclusive, her appalled, and me exhausted. She claimed that she could have arrived at an indisputable outcome in a few minutes. I realized that I'd always reinvented my methodology every time I attempted to balance the books, imagining complicated schemas for creating whatever might constitute balance. However otherwise exemplary my university education might have once been, Accounting had been a definite low point, since none of it made any sense to me. I queried my professors, hoping that they might be able to explain the logic behind the much-revered Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and they told me something like, "Abandon all logic, ye who enter here," for the principles had been founded by general agreement, not logic. They quite literally made no sense and could only be conquered by rote memorization and practice, practice, practice. The university bookstore refused to repurchase my accounting texts at the end of the semester because their covers had accidentally come off due to my repeatedly throwing them against brick walls in lieu of pounding my head against them. Accounting remains a deep and uninteresting mystery to me.

But if I were to attempt to calculate my SelfWorth, what besides the unholy GAAP might I use?

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Blocked

blocked
"They've got your number, remember your name, and ultimately tame themselves."

My grandson Roman, who turned eight last week, has grown into an aspiring writer. My son Wilder reports that he's been struggling with intermittent writer's block and asked if I might give him a gift of insight into this most distressing element of every writer's existence, so here goes:

Of course writers only come in the aspiring form, because aspiration forms the soul of even very experienced writers, who seem eternally no better than their
next production. Writing brings no residuals, no resting on past laurels, not in the writer's mind, which endlessly roams ahead. A finished piece does not continue as a work in process, but extinguishes the fire that forged it shortly after it's finished. Finished pieces hold little interest for the creator, and the writer might not very well remember the details about even a piece widely recognized as a signature one. Writing serves as an extractive effort, intended to discard/ Not a building up activity creating a body of work, but a disposal activity intending to make space for something else. Writers leave the critics and fans to accumulate. The writer eliminates.

The urge to create seems most similar to the urge to take a poop.

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Out

Out
"Would I become a better man once I can tranquilly stand to spend extended isolated time with myself?"

After the fifth sequential snow day, even an experienced meditating monk aches to get Out. He'd trade nirvana for a stroll around even a usually reviled well-heated shopping mall. He might even consent to a Cinnabon® just for the sheer variety it might bring, because he's been further away from Springtime than he remembers ever being and the serene snow seems simply tedious now. Somehow, some way, he's simply got to get away, just Go. What first seemed comforting and close became almost smothering, way too close for even the comfort a warming fire might bring. He'd consent to supper at that little place in the village where the food has always been consistently lousy and the service much worse, where a simple supper won't be served until two full hours after he takes his seat, where only two employees managed to make it to work that shift and the bartender's doing the cooking. Lord knows who's tending bar. That's how far down this latest storm's taken our humble monk.

Others, ordinary folk without the monk's extraordinary ability to discipline themselves, seem mad with bottled up frenzy.

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Impressioning

RegularShapes
Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise), 1872
"I do not remember this familiar ever before being precisely like this."

We remember Claude Monet as the original impressionist. He was widely reviled in his time, for his work seemed to violate the rules for what had constituted valid. His first impressionist image, shown above, seemed out of focus, as if the subject was moving rather than static, more smear than clear imprint. Nobody could precisely state what it represented without reading the title, and even then, critics disagreed over whether Monet had faithfully executed his label-implied intention. Today, we conveniently say that Impressionism more faithfully represents lived experience, for nothing in this life exists in so-called regular shapes or sits still while a photograph gets taken, and resulting photographs seem small and flat compared to lived experience. The photographic-quality image seems most impressionistic to our more modern eye which has grown to accept every captured image materially misrepresenting the originating visual experience.

Some seem set upon insisting that photographs are more real than any impressionist's painting, though their insistence seems overly dependant upon how one defines 'real.'

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MisConnected

DisConnected
Snap The Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872
"We can create vast networks dedicated to delivering on a fundamentally foolish notion and produce its opposite instead."

Our Internet was supposed to connect us all but seems to have achieved the opposite effect. The Greeks labeled this phenomena Enantiodromia, and considered it a natural result, that things tend to run counter to original intent. Obsession explains some of this. Over-focus easily blinds one to creeping counter influences, leaving an over-passionate pursuer vulnerable to normal stumbling blocks. Ideation, initial envisioning, tends toward idealization, so we quite naturally imagine utter impossibilities and produce opposites instead. Given free reign, we seem fully capable of running anything into the ground. Judicious constraining might seem to blunt possibility, but it also buffers against catastrophic reversals. Modesty seems more likely to produce positive results than audacity might.

The trades insist that everyone's ordering online now because it's more convenient. I live well behind this curve

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TheChat

TheChat
The Glass of Wine, Johannes Vermeer, c.1658 - c.1660
" … one of those pleasingly notorious SmallThings we maintain between us."

Deliver me, please, from the ponderous conversation. Protect me from the onerous plea. Free me from all stentorious presentations. A chat seems what I need. A rambling one without apparent purpose. I trivial one where nothing gets disclosed. I cheering one where no-one gets derided. A hopeful one where we're clearly glad to see each other up close. One devoid of discomfiting revelations, a modest meeting of the most immodest minds. A face-to-face without verbal competition, a simple sit-down around a pot of tea ,or beer, or one of those clear cocktails you sometimes seem to prefer. A "what's new' unlikely to grown older. A "not much" serious sort of chat. A plain-old ennobling fresh engagement where no demons seem welcome to unfold. A meeting without an underlying purpose. A connection intended to lead nowhere. A brief breath of sorely needed fresh air, just the two or three or four of us there.

Let Presidents and politics lie their fool heads off while we engender sweet respite.

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-Bound

-Bound
N. C. Wyeth, Snowbound
"I'm sitting by the fire looking out while also peering within."

My dearly departed friend III insisted that Boundary Was Everything, an apparently paradoxical statement in a world more recently interested in everything out-of-the-box, where boundaries exist only to be ignored. Get yourself snowed in, though, and my friend's assertion comes into sharper focus. Snowbound serves as a sort of instant self-discipline. If you can't go anywhere, you suddenly have no place to go. Whims simply stifle themselves. Whatever else my heart might desire, we're eating in again tonight. Like always, there's nothing actually on the television tonight. The fireplace shows better movies no matter how many times we've seen this one before. The cats curl up close as if trying to catch their fur on fire when the temperature difference between inside and out hangs in the upper sixties Fahrenheit. Snow continues falling after the first great shoveling. Candles glow half buried beneath that snow.

It's darker outside than almost any other night of the year. I cannot hear anything. Even the plow mumbles as it passes.

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DItY

DItY
"Done in by a tiny recalcitrant sheet metal screw."

Paleo-man did everything himself because the specialist phase of social development had yet to arrive. For eons, generations of our predecessors never thought to ask for help from any factory-trained specialist. This was a presumably proud species, self-reliant and skilled enough, though none ever once encountered even the smallest of our modern conundrums, like the justifiably terrifying tiny hex-headed sheet metal screw. Their world featured rock, wood, and leather, wild beasts and flint-prompted fire. They had no crawl space fans needing replacing. They owned no socket set with three dozen differently-sized attachments. They never watched themselves schlump back up the basement stairs to fetch that tool they'd earlier felt certain that this job wouldn't need. They had no neighbor egging them on, boasting about how easy replacing that fan would be. They never experienced DItY, the harsh reality of our modern Do It Yourself craze, for it is certainly a craze, a crazy-making preoccupation wherein an otherwise self-respecting fellow's self-esteem takes it in the shorts again and again and again. DIT, properly translated, means not Doing It Yourself, but DYtI, Doing It to Yourself.

Two little letters, one almost insignificant word, 'to,' the difference between a job well done and doing another job on one's self.

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MyBetters

MyBetters
The Beggar Maid, German school, 19th c.
"We remain more equal than we can possibly know, let alone understand."

Declaring superiority carries its own disqualification. How smart could it possibly be to declare yourself smarter than another? Likewise with beauty and every other comparator known to humankind. Humans don't seem all that kind up close. We break ranks to stack ourselves like cordwood, judging our position relative to others', taking either solace or frustration depending upon how we, as the saying goes, "stack up." The self-proclaimed morally superior stack their cards in favor of their own positioning, looking down their long noses at all those so-called "beneath" them. The Founders of our once-great republic were exclusively of a single so-called superior class. They preached an equality their lives seemed not to afford them, hoping, perhaps, to level a mountain they stood atop, for there were others on higher peaks than they could ever aspire to, divinely righted to dominate over those less than themselves. By the divinely-righted's accounting, everyone was a lesser.

White Supremacists seem like so many misguided clowns failing to catch themselves parsing the world upside down.

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AbsoluteMagic

absolutemagic
Henry Gillard Glindoni (1042-1913): John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I.
"I don't quite know as little as she did … yet."

Knowing seems the most over-rated ability. Not to denigrate folks who know a lot, they're welcome to their achievements, but I speak here of what we believe we need to know. This belief seems like AbsoluteMagic. The stories I tell myself, explaining why I can't do, seem to anchor what I don't yet know, as if my lack of knowing reasonably prevented me from certain doing. In practice, this insistence rarely proves true. Most of what I've actually done seemed more fueled by desire than by knowledge, the knowing emerging after or along the way toward actually having done. Certainly, I usually struggled before achieving any desired end, but most of these complications seemed beyond knowing until the moment I encountered them then figured 'em out. No amount of preparation could have helped me avoid complications, or so I conclude.

My ability to assert what I could not possibly know serves as AbsoluteMagic.

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Actnying

Actnying
Mosaic depicting theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy (Thermae Decianae)


"One key to successfully assimilating into any new year lies in finding yourself already in it."

The PureSchmaltz Facebook Group attracted five hundred and forty unique page views over the six days following my last summary of the prior week, which produced seven hundred and forty-two unique page views, an absolute measure of an incomprehensible metric; but hey, if it's the only number I have, it's the one I'll use. Had I expected this group to amplify my brand or promote my business, I might feel panicky over the one quarter reduction in what's euphemistically referred to as 'traffic' in the internet world, but I don't consider the members of this group to be traffic or click bait or potential commercial targets. This group and my PureSchmaltz Blog, to me, represents the way our internet was supposed to work. Please do not mistake me for a commercial entity, for I have much more riding on this endeavor than mere financial success. I've dedicated my little stories to cataloguing life as I live it here, in hopes that some day, one day, my progeny might use them to experience a few tastes of what life felt like for me while living forward from here, absent history's blurring lenses and mythology's inevitable Comedic/Tragic glorification, and also for the enjoyment of a select cadre of self-selected 'fans,' the only group for which I've volunteered to be a member.

My prior week represented a return to familiar territory, an experience I'm referring to as Actnying, action infused with denial.

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Nesting

Nesting
Las Hilanderas [The Spinners] (c. 1655–60), Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. Museo del Prado, Madrid
"Our nest feels fuller now. So do our lives."

The Muse and I have been empty nesters for most of our lives together. Our kids were almost grown up and out by the time we connected, and aside from a few fraught months here and there, and our accompanying cats, we've been on our own everywhere we've lived. Until last fall, we'd inhabited empty nest isolation for the ten months since Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat met her maker. Then around Halloween, everything began to change when The Muse invited her sisters, a niece, and The GrandOtter to visit. Our kitten Max arrived around then, too, and the place hummed for a few days before slumping almost back into an echo-y mausoleum again. The following week, Max's sister Molly arrived to herald in a new age, our formerly empty next infested with kitten play twenty-four hours of every day. Then The GrandOtter returned for a visit which has now turned into an impending full-blown relocation, and our nest seems far from empty now.

Curiously, the place seems larger full than it ever did when empty.

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CastOffs

CastOffs

"Once loved, once reviled, then once again loved again, …"

The Villa's furnishings have never matched, each piece hailing from its own era, half of it in long-standing desperate need of reupholstering, each CastOffs in their time. The Muse and I believe that our furnishing style imparts a homier feel than more modern matching furniture might. We refer to the overriding style as Early Undergraduate in remembrance of those apartments we once inhabited where one rented a room and shared furnished living spaces, perhaps with the bottom end of a closed-off grand staircase dominating the living room and providing overflow seating space. We've acquired these pieces in second hand shops and estate sales over the duration of our relationship, always looking for quality, of course, but also for an acceptable quirkiness. Our furniture mirrors our shared experiences. One chair in our master bedroom looks like it had rickets as a child, one foreleg curiously angled. I might get around to performing surgery on it one day, but it works just fine for the purpose we intend for it for now. Some of the stuff belonged to our forebears. A rocker my great grandmother rocked me to sleep in, recovered by the ever-inventive Muse, still retaining its original satisfying squeak. A cherrywood china cabinet from a consignment shop dominates our dining room. My writing chair, a remnant of my first wife's grandfather's estate.

Each piece, like all CastOffs, holds a story, many pre-dating our stewardship, our home an Americana museum.

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IrrelevanceRevisited

RevisitingIrrelevance
Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor, by George Grosz (1919)


I want to be remembered as one who resisted the breakup of The Bell System, a regulatory change which eventually drove everyone using a leased phone to purchase one for themselves. The choices were predictably dissatisfying, cheaply built and expensive relative to the few dollars the sturdy leased one had set me back. I had been more than satisfied with the green Princess wall model hanging next to the basement stairs, its extra long cord allowing me to stretch the handset clear into the entryway and perch on the lower stairs when talking with someone. The phone I bought to replace it never hung properly and stopped working in under a year, starting an odyssey which left me doing much more for myself while paying more for that privilege. My concerns seem as irrelevant now as those of any master carburetor mechanic or revered buggy whip manufacturer for cars no longer employ carburetors and what passes for buggies these days no longer require their operator to ever employ a whip.

The first part of life seems centered around solidifying identity. Once one nails down who they are, what they are to become assumes a more prominent role, seeking relevance.

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