HomeAway

homeaway3
" We move from home to home to home, never to ever come back around again."

On the fifth day, we pulled into the short driveway adjacent to the double shotgun rental. Two of our housemates had arrived an hour earlier, but they'd generously decided to defer choosing their bedroom until The Muse and I showed up. We surveyed the premises: huge and well-appointed kitchen/living room/dining room/library (with library ladder) dominated the front half of the first floor. A massive master bedroom and attached bath with both a soaking tub and an eight spigot full body walk-in shower took the back left and back end of the place, a smaller den bedroom and laundry room, the other. Upstairs, another master bedroom with attached sitting room and bath dominated by a clawfoot tub, comprised the whole second floor. I feigned indifference about which bedroom to choose, choosing to let the others choose, and The Muse and I ended up just where I wanted us to be, in the back downstairs bedroom. The door to the outside patio served me well when I woke rested and disoriented at three o'clock the following morning.

This place would never have been the result of either The Muse or my deliberate design, but it feels home enough after traveling halfway across the country.

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Charicatures

charicature
"Travel occurs between these two diametrically opposing perspectives."

Fan palms, a massive magnolia, ancient oaks, and a raft of fauna for which I have no label surround me this morning. I imagine myself sitting beside a tranquil bayou but I know I'm sitting on the backside of a rusty-silled tourist motel beside a shimmering cement pond. I possess an iconic rather than an eidetic memory, which means I hold patterns rather than specific images, matching presumed similarities rather than actual characteristics. My world view carries caricatures in lieu of actual examples. My memory bank seems more cartoon store than authenticator. I hold my prejudices more prominently than I suspect, imagining my neighbors as I have been entrained to imagine them based upon studiously superficial examination. I hardly know myself well enough to posit a credible theory of my own existence yet blithely presuppose that I understand my surroundings well enough to interpret them.

The atmosphere this morning feels like a warm damp blankey draped over my shoulders.

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After ...

after2
"The Muse and I were fortunately not victims of anything …"

My sister hid in her bedroom closet with her dog while my brother-in-law stood before the television. The Muse and I had simultaneously received a tornado warning on our iPhones and we were relying upon the locals to tell us what to do. The Muse grew up in tornado country. I had not. The announcer displayed rain-splattered images and map overlays, failing to catch any discernible rotation in the scudding cloud cover. He explained that this one was cloaked, surrounded by a wall of water, and could not be visually verified, but the instruments clearly indicated some budding rotation within those clouds. The weather outside seemed placid until it didn't anymore. Whatever it was, a twister or an announcer shouting, seemed about a mile away from our location and moving away to the East. We'd just been talking about where the hidey hole was in the house a short time before the warning came through.

Nothing came of that warning.

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FarAway

FarAway1
"If I slow down a little, I might recognize myself zooting through."

I didn't notice until later that afternoon. The Muse and I had somehow crossed over into the genuinely FarAway. No roadsigns defined the border. No real sense of distance overcame me until after we'd arrived. It wasn't exactly that the place smelled different, though it did, or looked all that different, but that we'd passed over some familiar horizon into space with genuinely undefined boundaries. North? South? East? West? The Muse, being a born Mid-Westerner, carries an innate sense of direction. She easily determines West from East even if no handy mountain range delineates the difference; something about direction and angle of the sun … or something. Those of us who were reared in a western valley missed acquiring that nth directional sense and have always cheated, or never really cared to make this distinction. Out on the vaster ocean of land, navigation depends upon nth senses I do not possess and I feel FarAway.

I find myself lost and disoriented for the first hour of the drive, sensing (wrongly) that we must be headed in the opposite of our intended direction.

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Prayrie

prayier
" … leaving behind only heartfelt prayers for this Prayrie and its familiar people."

The transition from high plateau to low plain passes with hardly a cue. The Muse and I disagree on the primary feature of the passing terrain. I say it's horizonless while she insists that it's all horizon out here, nothing but! I say that the sandy prairie eventually turns to dust before finally finding groundwater near enough the surface to do anyone any good, Prayrie. Too flat to have once been Dust Bowl country, though it might have made a decent run at a Dust Plate or Dust Platter designation. The wind here does everything but blow. It sucks. It howls. It draws. It nags The Schooner's nose as we edge our way Due East. No need to nudge off onto the finer compass points. Due East'll do just fine.

This is the Heartland of America, the great flyover zone, the region we love to denigrate for its degenerately conservative politics and rube lifestyles, where one encounters more wide-assed pickups and piece-of-shit Elantras than Teslas on the road, that's for sure.

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Gone-ing

gone-ing
"I cannot wait to be finished with this incessant Gone-ing and simply become a goner again."

The twenty four hours before leaving must be the most productive period in our lives. We're not leaving for good, not forever or anything, but the bustle of putting our affairs in order fills the place. The refrigerator receives the scrutiny it's been aching for and a supper of leftovers emerges. A few forgotten remainders go down the disposal and the dishwasher fills up with skanky Tupperware. A last load of laundry starts grinding away. I'd trimmed and mowed the yard, finally finished raking up the overwinter moss growth and carting it to the compost heap cleverly hidden behind the prickly spruce tree. I even remembered to fill The Schooner's window washing fluid reservoir in anticipation of Prairie bug swarms. I finally set the seeping drip line to hydrate the gooseberry garden and sprinkled a few wildflower seeds to fill in between the larger plants. I even dressed the bed with moist and sterilized soil. My work's almost done here.

The Muse announced that she had a raft of picky finishing work to complete before tomorrow, so she disappeared into her basement lair where the BIG laptop monitor lives.

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MetaFor

wolfsheep
"Some prove more useful than others."

I blame metaphor misuse for most of the worst difficulties humans face. Metaphors provide a means for describing the specifically indescribable, but to mistake a metaphor for its tangible-seeming referent makes people crazy. There never was an Invisible Hand. Adam Smith employed metaphor, even including the tip off 'as if,' when describing how markets seem to work. Seem to work, not how they actually work. Some became true believers in what Smith never intended to serve as truth but as speculative observation. He intended people to think, not to blindly follow. His was never intended to become a faith-based initiative. At least ten thousand alternative 'as if' metaphors might exist to help envision how markets work, none necessarily valid, but each potentially interesting or helpful.

Firm belief in the physical actuality of any metaphorical entity breeds trouble.

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FedBack

fedback
"I'm FedUp with FedBack."

I feel so surrounded by feedback that I sometimes cannot seem to experience the performance for the proliferation of reviews: positive feedback egging me on and negative feedback slowing me down. The past few months, at my nurse practitioner's insistence, I've been twice daily logging my blood pressure readings then sharing them via GoogleSheets®. I preface each report with my analysis of the data, which so far always concludes that the data seems too noisy and varied to support any definitive conclusion. Any budding trend seems quickly cancelled by contradictory data. Even average seems to materially misrepresent the obvious variability. Mornings seem neither consistently higher nor lower than target. Same story with each day's second reading. Overall, the advice seems the same: continue monitoring and we'll discuss at my next in-person visit.

The exercise has matured into a grudging obligation.

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ReasonablyComfortable

reasonablycomfortable
"A few deliberately imbedded ounces of inconvenience provide the spice of any well-lived life."

A home should be ReasonablyComfortable, a place where one need not nervously glance over one's shoulder, a kick-back space. I've found reasonable comfort in a wide variety of circumstances: an unheated sleeping porch through a damp Seattle winter, a Victorian bedroom with buzzing flies in the walls, a squat one bedroom apartment overlooking a busy arterial, a thick-walled main floor with parquet floors and a genuine Dutch door, on top of a hill, and down in a shadowy draw. The first few nights found me nervously glancing over my shoulder, but a few days' conditioning and I'd find myself ReasonablyComfortable all over again. I hesitate to leave ReasonableComfortable digs, as if I believe that I've somehow lost my ability to ever discover fresh ReasonablyComfortable places, as if leaving my present one would curse me to wander in an inescapably uncomfortable world. I exhibit little faith in the future's ability to properly provision me, or, indeed, in my own inventiveness.

I have always insisted upon a modicum of discomfort in my homes, though.

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Clatterglories

categories
"I wonder if it might be possible to categorize books by their ability to cast that spell."

Have you noticed how category-oriented we've become? I wonder if we were always this way. The corner store down the street from where I grew up seemed a jumble. Other than the butcher's shop in the back, the place seemed to have avoided departmentalization, and could seem chaotic to the inexperienced shopper. Over time, everything just seemed to be where it belonged, which perfectly correlated with where it had always been. A typical pantry isn't organized anything like a modern supermarket, with package shape perhaps more strongly influencing where an item gets shelved that any proximate similarity of content. I enter a BIG box store and spend most of my visit trying to figure out the central organizing principle, often coming up empty-handed and fleeing rather than asking for help. Asking an employee at The Home Despot where to find a particular item might or might not improve your chances of locating that item, for their classification schema seems a mystery to everyone, shoppers and clerks alike.

I shouldn't have been that surprised when my wise advisor confided that the first step of publishing a book involves properly classifying it.

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BeginningAgain

BeginningAgain
"When BeginningAgain, the unlikeliest rule."

I once believed in The Syphon Theory of Life, that I might struggle to get myself established, but once successful, my "skills" would thereafter defy gravity to produce a relatively effortless inflow. I admit to experiencing short stints of this sort of existence, but those periods were in every case separated by fresh struggles, not all of which resulted in relatively effortless inflow. Several of these separations seemed to completely strip me of any of my hard-earned sense of mastery. In some, my earlier successes seemed suddenly irrelevant. In others, my precious community seemed to evaporate, though it was more likely that I disappeared. In most, I felt much worse off for my past accomplishments, as if their sole purpose had been to distract me from some necessary reinvention ahead. I eventually and quite begrudgingly abandoned my faith in The Syphon Theory of Life in favor of a budding belief in reinvention.

Reinvention lacks the alluring promise The Syphon Theory offered.

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Sanctuary

sanctuary
"I feel sublimely suspended in soothing sanctuary. I must be home."

On a foggy Spring morning, our home takes on the silent solitude of an abandoned medieval chapel. The so-called cathedral ceilings in the front room arch toward the heavens empty of all but severely muted light. I can hear nothing but a background buzzing in my ears. The world lays still and silent. My mind seems to take this isolation as a good enough excuse to wander around. All seems possible then, though nothing seems all that likely. I flit from chair to table then try upstairs on for size. I feel as isolated and secure as I could ever hope to feel, and satisfied with pretty much everything.

The Muse hardly ever experiences our home in this state.

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Pestilences

pestilences
" … the bitter savory back-taste of the otherwise Home Sweet Home."

Homes tend to attract pestilences; not necessarily the full-blown Old Testament kind, but pestilences nonetheless. They might share a common root cause, though: staying in one place. The Hunter-Gatherer could pick up and leave their latest pestilence behind by just moving on to another place, but homes stay put. Staying put means that FindingHome entails accepting the minor and occasionally major visitations wrought upon the place. I'm currently, for instance, wrestling with the annual Springtime appearance of moss invading what passes for my back lawn. If I were a Hunter-Gatherer, I could shrug disinterestedly and just move on, but having found my home here, I feel compelled to pull out the heavy old garden rake and scrape up and dispose of the stuff, then spray on this iron-based treatment which is supposed to kill any remaining moss and prevent further intrusion, but doesn't. I'll be back at it again a year from now.

Over time, a backlog of pestilence grows.

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ReDiscoveringHome

DiscoveringHome
"I rarely underlook, if there's even such a word.
If there were such a word,
I'd define it as meaning a search undertaken directly beneath one's own nose …"

Even the finest home eventually comes to seem shabby and familiar. The Muse spotted a Home For Sale sign on our walk yesterday. Using her iPhone to access more information on the web, she learned that the owner was asking $4.5 Million. The nearly ten thousand square foot place included Eiger marble countertops, hand-scraped hickory floors, and state of the art electronic controls throughout. Even that place seems destined to seem shabby and familiar to anyone living there because living anywhere produces a personal footprint which eventually comes to seem shabby and familiar. Little habits and routines, even those rambling around nearly ten thousand square feet of space, tend to kind of tear up a place. Shortly after the Architectural Digest photographer leaves, the same old shabbiness returns.

The presence of visitors can spiff up a place.

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Home-opathy

Home-opathy
"May this streak of good fortune continue until it doesn't anymore."

After twenty years, I have a physician again. During my score's absence from the healthcare scene, I admit to crawling into an emergency room once after an unfortunate moment of inattention when chopping vegetables. Other than that incident, I remained largely as healthy as the proverbial horse with no physical complaints other than the occasional head cold or strained muscle. Not that my family history illustrates infinite invulnerability. My forebears eventually croaked like everyone else's have, many from what might be characterized as self-inflicted causes: smoking, horseback riding, and the inadvertent ingestion of milkweed toxin via cow's milk. Life seems an unavoidable minefield whichever era one inhabits. I probably drink too much beer and engage in excessive depressing self-reflection, but I have no complaints worth speaking of. Or, I might more accurately proclaim that I had no complaints until I reengaged with our fine healthcare system.

I admit that I've been uncommonly fortunate.

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SteppingBack

steppingback
"I can warmly anticipate what I have been cooly disdaining."

I usually step closer to gain better perspective, but sometimes, just sometimes, SteppingBack from an object does the trick. Anyone can get so close to anyplace that they lose the ability to really see what's there. Familiarity eventually starts breading that old reliable contempt, but insert even the threat of some away time, and the old place starts to sparkle again. The numbing routines start throwing off pre-nostalgia vibes. The better-worn paths start seeming well-suited rather than simply scuffed. The surest way for me to break a bout of early Spring cabin fever entails planning some getaway.

The Muse has a meeting in New Orleans and had planned to just fly there and back, but we'd been pining after a road trip, so I suggested that perhaps—just perhaps—we could drive there instead.

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HomingIn

voicesinmyhead
"These voices have not proven themselves to be infallible."

The voices in my head aren't really voices and aren't actually in my head. They might be more like a Nth felt sense with no physical location, no actual language, no sound. They might be more like long wave electromagnet radiation, far beyond the other five senses' ability to register or interpret and yet still subtly influencing me. I sense when it kicks in as a faint presence, like a hardly audible whisper, as if I intuit its presence. I figure it works like a Homing beacon, radiating signals intending to inform me without my actually knowing how, or even exactly what it's saying. Walking into that hobbit hut-like coffee house in Prague, I immediately "felt" at home. How could that be? Perhaps it was inherited DNA resonating familiarity, like the sensation I received when The Muse and I entered my father's family's ancestral village.

I swear that I'm not clinically schizophrenic, voices in my head notwithstanding.

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HardReboot

500px-Reset_button.svg


"Maybe a complete interrupt might restore the both of us back to some functional state again."

My blog software failed again last week. Hardly a story worth repeating (again), since it fails about annually with great regularity, each time utterly abandoning me. I can never remember how to snap photos of the offending screen and must relearn the jargon tech support insists upon when receiving a fresh problem report. I decided to post the issue to the User Forum, reasoning that other users must have encountered this same paradox, but after a few days without a response, I gussied up an email directly to tech support, which resides in Brighton in the UK, which guarantees an extra day's delay before I receive a response. My routine had already been disrupted for four full days by then. I hoped to receive something before the weekend.

Late Friday afternoon, I picked up tech support's response, which suggested I might quickly install their latest build, a Beta version not yet deemed ready for general distribution.

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ReFinishing

impossibly small brush
“I failed to astound myself again.”

It seems as if I’ve never completed any job. I’ve batted each around like a cat tiring a terrified mouse until the mouse or I finally conceded and suspended play. Perhaps another day would come where play might resume, destined to become another inconclusive contest abandoned short of complete. Between bouts, an unsteady truce reigns. Additional fiddling might become necessary. A bit of touch up paint, a previously overlooked imperfection, each evidence of an eternally asymptotic relationship with done. Most observers might never suspect that I’m a quitter, one who inevitably leaves each job undone, though I never shake awareness of this fact.

I have yet to experience the exhilaration of crossing a finish line.

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WhatWritersDo

whatwritersdo
“We must create trances without abusing our gift.”

Writers write, a tautological declaration hardly worth making. Some transcribe, or firmly believe that they do. Others exposit, delving into and fleshing out what might otherwise serve as little more than fleeting thoughts. Some say that they write non-fiction, a questionable assertion, since by filtering their thoughts through their fingers, they leave their own fingerprints all over the resulting pages. Others stick to fiction or fantasy, both genres capable of sometimes eliciting more authentic representations than any encyclopedia. But I speak of genres here, which attempt to classify writing into types, when writing seems more fundamental than whatever the Dewey Decimal System suggests.

All writing serves as a form of trance induction, in much the same way as all experience induces trances.

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Homer

220px-Homer_British_Museum
"I lived in the present then without understanding that I was also living timelessly."

Every homeowner seems part Homer Simpson and part Homer the ancient Greek poet. We live as everyman and exist as part of a mythic and heroic drama. We seem stuck in a role where we must repeatedly demonstrate our innate ineptness while also inhabiting an extended allegory. We catch ourselves demonstrating just how utterly clueless we are while simultaneously inspiring following generations. We mostly engage in utterly mundane activities which, viewed from broader perspectives, somehow embody an entire era, an archetype we would not recognized if we noticed it peering back out of the mirror before us. We are not either pattern we so convincingly embody.

The popularity of aluminum siding clearly demonstrates how gullible homeowners can be.

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AntiHome

antihome
" … a home still unsupplemented by an additional professional abode."

Many people maintain two homes, the one where they vacuum the floors and the one where they report to work. I know, work ain't home, but it carries a home-like familiarity. At work, one has "their" desk, a workspace reserved for personal professional use. If you're not reporting to a desk job five days every week, the absence of that auxiliary work home might prominently loom over the other home. One needs a significant other home, I think, in order to properly frame the real home, someplace meaningfully calling one out into the world. This seems to add purpose to existence. Nobody ever rebuts an insistence that one simply must "get to work" or "they'll be late." Out they go, no questions asked.

Where do the rest of us go to find that sort of work home?

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DiggingIn

diggingin
"Call it vanity, I don't care. It feels like sanity to me."

By mid-April, my backyard snowbank's finally less than two feet deep and the surrounding yard saturated as it will not again be soaked until this time next year. The underlying hardpan becomes friable for a few terribly short weeks, and I kneel in humble appreciation. The house has by this time of the year shrunken to the size of a toolshed, more jail cell than home. I flee the wintertime boundaries which kept me incarcerated since October, aching for fresh grass stains on my knees and a newly aching shoulder joint. I deadhead the buff beige leftovers from last year's yarrow blossoms and rake up the worst of the pine needles culled down by the insistent winter westerlies. Blade breaks earth and the garden seems to sigh in relief and forgiveness. The snow preserved everything beneath its benevolent blanket, protecting it from fifty harsh nights and hundred heartless days. The soil seems to breathe a sigh of relief. It's finally Spring.

DiggingIn's an annual ritual. No tilling ever extends its influence over a winter.

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HomesAwayFromHome

homeaway
" … One of the thousands of HomesAwayFromHome we've stumbled into and back out of …"

In Europe, I've heard it said that vacationers seek places really different from home. In The United States, we hope to recreate home when we travel. Tourist traps tout Home Cookin', Homemade Salt Water Taffy (though nobody ever makes taffy at home), and Home Style Hotel Rooms. Often these places deliver better or worse than home style, actual home style having evolved into something more familiar than tout-able. Still, I settle into a definite familiarity when traveling, a sort of dance choreographed by dozens of repetitions, each somewhat unique and each also absolutely the same. The easy monotony of a Marriott hotel room, the furniture absolutely unfunctional yet entirely familiar, I long ago figured out how to jury-rig the couch so I could sit up straight there. The mildly disappointing menu choices at the diner promising home-style cooking reminds me most of how my grandmother was supposed to have cooked and never did.

I take little of any of this very seriously.

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Shamelessness&Spin

spin
"I'll find home without the shameless spinning or accede to eternal homelessness, thank you."

An important part of FindingHome involves mustering as clear an image as possible of what home might look like, to strip away the more prominent myths and produce a crisper portrait of the place. The mind might conjure gothic columns behind a white picket fence which reality could never deliver. Owning a home remains the most prominent indicator of success, whether that home be a one story rambler on a slab, a palatial estate, or a rusting double wide adjacent to a commercial refueling tank farm. Simply owning real estate smacks of some sort of success, indicative, according to the home ownership myth, of hard work, thrift, and responsibility fully assumed.

This presumption begs the questions, then, of what success really looks like now, how does it seem to be achieved, and what key indicators lead to its emergence?

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HomeAchers

ache
"The aches will soon evaporate but the satisfaction will linger on."

Home ownership begets aches and pains, for dedicated homeowners just cannot help themselves. They tend to overdo. When Spring finally comes, the pruning begins. The narrowest of windows appear within which the homeowner accepts the necessity of completing a week's worth of work over an all-too short weekend, and so does. By Sunday night, a satisfying sort of crippling sets in. The homeowner will drag that last tarp load of trimmings to the by-then ungainly pile, lovingly fold the tarp and set it onto its shelf, then limp to the back steps, slip off the boots, then pop open the most satisfying beer ever enjoyed by anyone anywhere; the first of several. A close to nirvana state reigns over the yard as the sun sanguinely sets just beyond the gate. The homeowner might measure a couple of inches shorter than on Friday, but he feels ten feet tall.

The aches aren't only the result of over-doing, but also caused by simply doing things not every day required.

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FeelsLike

feellike
" … no Home yet in the history of this world so far ever felt a damned thing."

Almost nobody will complain if I resort to proclaiming that something "feels like home," even though homes can't feel. Most will seamlessly parse the phrase without noticing that they've supplied one hundred percent of the meaning they experience, for phrases like 'feels like' act as trance inducers. If nobody raises an eyebrow in confusion, the induction worked. Congratulate me, I'm a hypnotist, except nobody noticed. If nobody noticed, is it still a trance? Perhaps it's the very best trance of all.

When I think of home, a thousand contradictory feelings bubble up, for home has hosted pretty much every sort of feeling I've experienced from my greatest sadnesses to my greatest joys, though the home itself seemed rather impassive, merely the medium within which those feelings emerged.

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HomeWork

homework
"Nowhere, you explain."

Imagine a swimming teacher assigning homework. Nobody has a swimming pool at home, so what does a dedicated student do? Practice the Australian Crawl on their bedroom floor? Homework felt like this to me. My first question was, "Just where at home might I fulfill this assignment?" My bedroom, which I shared with my older brother, offered semi-privacy but no writing surface. I could lounge on my bed there and read, but math proved almost impossible to do while sprawled on my belly balancing a book more dedicated to closing itself than staying open to the page, while the worksheet kept sliding off the back of my precariously-balanced notebook. My pencil would break, necessitating a trip to the kitchen to sharpen it, a gauntlet of distractions along the way. Or, I could work at the dining room table, Grand Central Station situated between the living room and the kitchen, the least private spot, bookended with distractions. I might cower in the basement, working bent over on an old coffee table until my lower back gave out. Or at the Kitchen table while carrying on a half dozen side conversations. I might end up with ten minutes of focused attention before suppertime.

Context matters.

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Homogeneity

Western-Balkans-map
" …who really knows what love is?"

We speak of homes as if the inhabitants comprised a homogeneous whole, when quite the opposite seems more likely. Sure, we might call ourselves a family, but nearly twenty percent of those families satisfy the definition of blended, step-siblings cohabiting or nearly steps, the adults not formally related yet, if ever. Even within directly related family units, significant differences exist. The extroverts drive the introverts crazy and vice versa. The smart kids dominate the dumber ones. The older kids lord over their younger siblings. Parents get gamed into paradoxical proclamations. Within each family unit, a tacit cultural map very similar to The Balkans persists, contradicting the apparent surface homogeneity of the group.

I was my family's 'sport,' a rose gardening term referring to the odd sprout which does not mirror a plant's other characteristics.

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HomeBody

HomeBody
"Where do I go when I disappear there?"

I'd prefer to stay home. Given the opportunity to travel the world, I'd still prefer to stay home. I'm a notorious HomeBody, into my routine, comfortable in my surroundings as long as I'm home. Good introvert that I am, I consider myself to be my own best company. Strangers exhaust me. Even too much family tends to quickly tucker me out. I live most of my life inside my head. The rest of the world and all its supposed charms seem about 98% distraction. I kick and scream at the mere prospect of leaving my lair. The Muse has to grab me by my hair and throw me out into the world. She insists that interesting things happen when I get out in the world, and I cannot disagree. Still, I'd rather stay home.

When I consent to go out, I drive with one foot in the ditch, wary and watching for calamity.

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Homies

wahipage
"We have each other now."

By the time I graduated from high school, I'd pretty much had it with my classmates. What seventeen year old doesn't imagine him self different from his cohorts? I did not attend the graduation gala, choosing to gather with a few close friends to conspire about whatever might come next. Most of the graduating class immediately dispersed, disappearing from that town, never to return. Some to college, others to war, a few to marriage, many into that foggy foreground that surrounds every great life transition. I stayed around town for a while working the balance of my adolescence off in familiar territory. I eventually moved on and out into a world where, for the first time in my life, I knew nobody and nobody knew my history, either.

Life continued like that for the following twenty years or so.

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Homesteadying

old-montana-homestead-sharon-foster
"Were it not for Homesteadying, my family's history would seen narrow and thin."

My family history features centuries of homesteading. Many of my father's ancestors were near-royalty, later sons and daughters of prefects, kings, and various mucky mucks, high born but eventually laid low by the passage of time. Their more recent descendants scraped out their livings, some too poor or unskilled to even homestead. One became a circuit rider. I know that means respectably homeless, honorably homestead-less. My mom's side of the family was involved in every homesteading scheme since 1600. Puritans, Revolutionary War soldiers, indentured slaves, on-the-lam protesters against British rule, dislocated sons, predestinationists, pro-slavery and against, a Civil War veteran, a sixteen year old bride, all relocated to hinterland with the intention of settling it.

They each arrived in some prior century, finding rock and hardpan greeting them.

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HomeWrecker

homewrecker
"This world will end with neither fire nor ice, but more likely with a whimper …"

The classic image of some blond bombshell as HomeWrecker overlooks a more present threat, the humble homeowner. More homes seem to have been wrecked by the well-intended improvements undertaken by homeowners than families have been laid low by scheming femme fatales or conniving gigolos. Something about owning a home seems to convince a homeowner that he possesses skills he never once demonstrated and never will manifest. He's likely at some point during his possession to become possessed by the painting jinn or worse, the wallpaper demon. Neither he nor his spouse exhibit any true talent for interior design, but the DIY videos proliferating The Home Despot's site materially underplay the difficulties of even the most daunting improvement. A dreary browsing Sunday seems to be enough to spark that dark urge which seems to spring eternal from the breast of even the most otherwise rational homeowner.

A gallon of paint nestled in the corner of the sale bin might be enough to start a long and painful descent into the netherworld of home wrecking.

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HomeMade

DIY-Chicken-Plucker jpg
"We're HomeMade snobs now."

Home is where many of us take refuge from industrialized society to 'make it ourselves.' HomeMade, to my mind, means better if a little weird. HomeMade stuff lacks the uniformity we've all grown to expect and have been taught to use in lieu of judgement to determine quality. A lopsided cake might well taste better and even prove healthier than any store-bought alternative, but it still looks not quite right. The HomeMade chicken plucker pictured above probably works every bit as well as an expensive stainless steel job built in some factory, but it looks just a little bit (or, maybe a lot bit) cheap. The subtle and insistent indoctrination accompanying advertising might be the most insidious factor of living in a mass-production culture. Taken to ridiculous extremes, we might find ourselves trying to reproduce mass produced products at home, creating truly terrible HomeMade Snickers® bars or horrible handcrafted potato chips. Home can serve as a refuge from this absurdity, though HomeMade sometimes looks simply absurd.

The Muse and I keep our efforts focused upon more traditional items.

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Homemaker

vintage housewife
"Such is the life of any Homemaker, and we're all homemakers now."

I admit that I was poisoned in early childhood from living in a normal family where the dad went to work each morning and the mom stayed home to "homemake," an occupation that seemed destined to drive the incumbent crazy. It worked as well as it worked for as long as it worked. My mom, who had always sort of leaned in the direction of crazy anyway, eventually instigated a coup and took a job outside the home, a financial necessity and a real challenge for my father to accept. By then, the kids were fully capable of picking up some of the homemaking duties, and we somehow survived. Since then, I've lived exclusively in homes where the homemaking duties were shared, though never without some tension. We each thought of ourselves as somewhat equal contributors, though in practice, one person tended to have more than their fair share foisted upon them, often due to their own sensibilities. Often, individuals overestimated what they personally contributed, thereby under-contributing, fomenting some strife. Typically, the expectation falls on the wife, however otherwise occupied she might become.

I try to do my fair share of homemaking, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

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HomeBound

housebound
Heraclitus would have smugly said, "I told you so."

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus was a busy man. He rarely simply sat around philosophizing, but was actively employed failing to remain similar enough long enough to step into the same river twice. He was constantly changing. He later reported that even the same old thing, perceived from some perspective as seemingly insignificant as a slightly different angle, would appear different. He might have been the first proponent of the notion that life flows rather than simply sitting there being. He noted that the world and all its inhabitants and the universe surrounding it and us exist not as beings, but as becomings. He is remembered as the weeping philosopher, one prone to overwhelming bouts of melancholia, as perhaps befits anyone endlessly pursuing without ever actually achieving. His travels never really started and could not be completed, but continued asymptoticly, an exhausting proposition. His spirit probably continues his necessarily endless pursuits.

I'm attracted to Heraclitus' perspective, though his lack of payoff might feel disappointing for anyone aiming to accomplish something conclusive from their efforts.

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Homeland

homeland
"Live freer of delusion or ultimately destroy yourself …"

Until November 2002, I'd never thought that the United States comprised a homeland. I understood that right wing forces had pulled the concept of Fatherland out of someone's butt following Germany's WWI defeat and that Russians had always spoken fondly of their Motherland, but I'd thought that the US would never come to a point of unallied desperation that would drive us to flee into the arms of an imaginary parent. I opposed the idea of mustering a Homeland Security operation, recognizing the historical dangers accompanying a national -land designation. Americans were by design less homogenous and more independent, favoring homesteads over homelands. Each subgroup thought of someplace else as their -land, and this place as a melting pot of ex-landers. After all, our founders had engineered a messy separation from our Mother Country, and not, I thought and still believe, to become what we'd once reviled.

It came to pass anyway.

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Homing

aspire
"Though I understand I hold nothing more than a believable fiction, it sustains me."

Home seems more of an attraction than a place, a magnetic pull more verb than noun. As such, I suspect that it never resolves into a particle, but must eternally exist as a wave form, tugging and pulling without ever ultimately manifesting into any thing. Move into a new home and you'll find reason to amend it. Maybe the yard needs some work or that back bathroom wants replacing. The eye might well never find satisfaction, not even a negotiated settlement. The list of next projects will only grow longer with incumbency.

It might be proper to speak of homing rather than of home.

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TheBillionaire'sCreed

monopoloy_guy
"One might feel tempted to refer to it as The Billionaire's Greed …"

I'm no billionaire myself, so I speak here as an observer of billionaire behavior rather than as an actual player. I often wonder what sort of moral or ethical compass guides billionaire behavior. I'm certain their's differs from mine and also from what any of the rest of us might recognize as normal or regular, but I'm not saying that they lack morals or ethics, just that their's differ from yours and mine. I feel the same revulsion you probably feel when watching some of their antics, for they always seem to be up to some surreptitious something, and while most of them seem to sneak around as if embarrassing themselves, they're often found out and exposed, so we generally know or strongly suspect what they're up to. Of course they deny even the obvious. I figure that response might be part of a creed, The Billionaire's Creed.

A creed informs an incumbent of both their intentions and their responsibilities, such as they are.

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HomeSweetLoan

homesweetloan
"Home still seems sweet even though we know we're more indentured to it than own it."

Almost nobody owns their home in this country. Here, we assume thin mantles of ownership by agreeing to carry outrageous debt loads in lieu of owning a home we might actually afford. The more outrageous the debt load, the more prestigious the address. Credit-worthiness stands in for perhaps more responsible forms of citizenship. Those who have not found a bank willing to indenture them are considered second-class citizens, renters. Homeowners, or, more properly, "home-loaners" tend to stay in one place for a while, lending stability to an otherwise potentially footloose populous. Each homeowner engages in speculation, plotting for the place to be worth more than they paid for it by the time they decide to move. Almost nobody ever pays off their mortgage since that would erase the leverage loanership affords them, the opportunity to enjoy any increase in total value of a property they own only a small portion of.

Leverage is the name of this game, though it works both ways.

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RunningHome

homebase
"We're all always trying to make it back home."

Today was the opening day of major league baseball season, New Year's Day, the end of the long fallow season of no broadcast sports, unless one considers football, hockey, basketball, or soccer sports. I do not. Baseball qualifies as a sport because it's not what it appears to be, but an extended metaphor. Those other pastimes might pretend to be sports, but they lack the fundamentally metaphorical foundation of baseball. Home base pretty much says it all. Each game seems a hero's journey seeking home. Each play, a part of a building story, sometimes destined to become legend. Each player, a potential savior.

I don't know how many people understand this metaphorical aspect of baseball.

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HomeSick

homesick
"I'm always here whether here or there."

I spent much of last month connecting to my hometown's Main Street webcam. The adjacent browser tab continuously updated their latest weather report, which I'd dutifully report to a largely disinterested Muse. I could see the shadows of that usual gang gathering at the Starbucks to loudly recount the prior day's sports events, a distraction I despise when I'm tucked in the corner writing there, but those shadows seemed warmly attractive from so very far away. Each subsequent snowfall would leave the sidewalk snowbanks a little taller and Main Street a little slipperier. That webcam became my primary window on the world, more informative than a long gaze out of my own window. HomeSick works like this.

Most sicknesses involve an excess presence, but HomeSick arises from the opposite of that, an excess absence.

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SecretPassages

secretpassage3
" … because it's a SecretPassage if we go this way."

Home lies at one end of a SecretPassage, a route only the homeowner ever knows exists. Long proximity to the place eventually revealed this route which always existed, awaiting discovery by someone dedicated to finding it. Once discovered, only its discoverer knows its there and no one else ever suspects its presence. Everyone else sticks to the arterials, figuring that herd wisdom will serve them well enough. The consequent traffic jams seem simply the price of inhabiting the place. The homeowner snickers while slipping around.

I have long reveled in my SecretPassage knowledge, perhaps the one element distinguishing me from the madding crowd.

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ReEntering

ReEntering
"Home is wherever you say."

Home is where your stuff is. A heart can sing anywhere, away as well as home. The heart might long to perform on the most familiar stage, but it might better serve a wandering-in-the-wilderness soul, where it's the only familiar presence around. The Muse and I said our heartfelt goodbyes and pointed ourselves in the direction of where our stuff resides. Hardly a wilderness trip and stripped of the warm anticipation of our arrival Back Home, we satisfied our sacred responsibility and left. We'd see more family along the way, connecting in public places, and inhabit one more anonymous hotel room for one last foreshortened night. I might get up at two so I will be up to awaken The Muse at three so that we can head toward the airport around four. Once we relinquish the rental car, a machine takes over.

I travel heavier than I'd like to travel, my tool belt, work gloves, and old boots packed into the bottom of my bag.

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NegativeSpaces

elephant_and_snake_negative_space
"Each search seems irrelevant in the face of finally finding."

The menu seems comprised of vast NegativeSpaces delineating choices I would never seriously consider. The few positive choices, items which I might ultimately select, shrinks the options to a spare two or three. From thirty thousand feet, alternatives seem nigh-on infinite. Closer to the ground I've found the usual handful of hardly noteworthy alternatives. The tyranny of choice reliably presents many more unacceptables than attractives. The larger the store, the more chaff I must sift through to find what I would have more easily found in a mom and pop shop. I might know precisely what I'm looking for without holding any real authority to locate it within the overwhelming faux abundance looming around me.

My first wife and I traveled all around the East Coast looking for a place equivalent to the town I grew up in. Certain that we could not forge a living there, we exiled ourselves and began the search.

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FretEquity

man-clasping-hands-over-face-350
"… we've been unable to shift to a renter's mindset …"

I fuss over our home like a new mother fusses over her newborn. The Villa Vatta Schmaltz seems dependent upon me, even while we're renting it out to The Muse's son and his partner, people who have demonstrated their ability to take care of the place. Home ownership seems a symbiotic sort of relationship, with me needing the big hairy responsibility every bit as much as the place needs my caring. I dream of returning to repaint the front of the place, fussing over scaffolding placement and finishing techniques, finding great reassurance there. I fuss about whether my prepping and painting skills will prove adequate for the job. I will wrestle every moment with haunting negative self-talk determined to convince me out of even engaging. Home is the burden I relish bearing.

I realize that I will never find a time when my home will become a source of leisure and pride.

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ParadiseMisplaced

lostandfound
"One of us will make the move and dissolve this pernicious distance …"

Suddenly, a decade passed, ten successive years inhabiting alien territories knowing we would never belong there. Each place came with histories we appreciated without really understanding, for we were Just Visiting, not exactly in jail but in close enough proximity to remain insecurely out of the flow of the game. Other players bounced over and around us, going on with their transactional lives while we longingly watched, remembered, and some days dared to dream of our ParadiseMisplaced. We felt displaced but certainly capable of maintaining some semblance of normal activities of daily living. The Muse crafted a fresh career while I held fort, building a larder, dust mopping hardwood floors, and mowing somebody's else's lawns. The soil there seemed like some silly analogue of real dirt, clay or hardpan, rocky and rough. I improved each soil I touched knowing I would never see the future of any of it. We've spent the last decade Just Passing Through.

I seem to have become unemployable, unable to imagine myself surviving a job interview.

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ConsideringReconsidering

consideringReconsidering
"My present wealth stands atop almost endless reconsidering."

You makes yer choice and takes yer chances. Beginning, one never knows where their journey might end. The best of intentions (as if anyone could discern 'best' from any preliminary set of choices) won't guarantee much more than a temporary cessation of stasis, if that. One moves toward a presumption of forward, hoping that purpose might somehow emerge from the cloud of initiation. "Here we go again," I subvocalize, though I know this start won't qualify as a do-over or even a genuine new beginning. This tension seems familiar, though, and a certain reassurance accompanies it. I've grown increasingly familiar with the unfamiliar, and even the completely novel carries some patterns I recognize, or imagine I recognize, from some time before.

I proposed Reconsidering as the underlying theme of my considering this quarter. I was at the time teetering on the forward edge of Christmas, beginning my annual poem cycle, uncertain of my capacity to complete the blessed damned thing, as usual.

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Homeostasis

balancingrocks
"The new homeostasis seems simply homeless."

I live embedded within mutually compensating systems, largely notional, which seem to strive to hold each other in balance. I shiver and sweat not as ends unto themselves, but to rebalance when my temperature falls out of whack. These actions seem to exist within a terribly narrow range and find success only when rather quickly succeeding. Continual sweating suggests an imbalance, not an added feature. Shivering seems exclusively a short-term solution, not an alternate lifestyle choice. Homeostasis might stand as a strived-for hypothetical, a state eternally in a state of becoming without ever actually achieving itself.

The older I become, the creakier my aging homeostasis balancing seems to become. My blood pressure's been out of whack, or, more properly, recognized as having been out of wh

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Flyring

flyring
"I believe that the human soul moves at about the speed of a walking horse."

Airplanes seem the most brutish invention of man, engineering raised to the level of degradation. Just the thought of leaving the familial bonds of earth to "float" (flout, more like it) into the clouds, smacks of a most grievous violation of the human contract. It veers us out of our lane, into the space intended for the birds. Jousting with the wind. Collective pretending that we are not miles above the ground, blindly zooming through unpredictable turbulence and worse, proceeding into turbulence we know damned well lurks there. I try to distract myself through the worse of it, that being the brief period between wheels up and wheels back down again, but the chop renders my book unreadable. I try to swallow my complicit arrogance, and fail again, for I am inescapably a part of the problem.

I know, modern society could not survive without cheap air travel, which might just be the strongest argument against buying into the plot.

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Trans-planting

annual-flower-transplants
"We can still prune and stretch and scratch a fresh surface into our encrusted topsoil."

I become root bound by the end of Winter, just as if I had been in the same pot too long. Born bi-pedal, if I hang in one place too long, I become bi-polar, faunching in my cage. The days grow longer, ably assisted by daylight savings' quick hand. I understand that the changes amount to sleight-of-hand. They still catch my eye and convince me that I must have been standing here too long, staring into the middle space just beyond the window glass, seeing almost nothing anymore. I have transformed into a genuine bore.

The Muse must drag me out of my cave.

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SnowSense

snowshoving
"This snowfall seems every bit as false as the Pseudo-Springtime sunshine felt yesterday."

By this late in the season, I recover my full fluency in the art of conversation with snow cover. The wet Spring snow completes the cycle, which started with piddling pretenders to snowfall and persisted through weeks of fine powder varying from light dustings to significant dumpers. The mid-March snow weighs tens of times more than the earlier fine powder. Each snow variety requires a unique strategy, though I only rarely ever shovel any of it. Shoveling powder snow's like shoveling air. It's easy enough but tends to blow everywhere, rearranging it more than moving it out of anyone's way. Wet Ides' snow like this can only be shoved. It's too heavy to shovel and just clogs a snow blower. It aches to be nudged aside.

March snow needs early and frequent attention.

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LeftBehind

leftbehind
" … there's no escaping."

A decade ago, I sold our second car to a grand nephew for a quarter and The Muse and I embarked on a great adventure we're still engaged in today. We became a one car family. At the beginning, we relocated into a neighborhood where five bus lines passed within two blocks. For a six week period while there, we even went completely carless. No big deal. The Muse, in the seven years we lived there, drove the car to work exactly twice. I'd usually drop and fetch her at the mile away Metro station and other than those excursions, the car mostly sat unless I was restocking the larder. Now we live in a neighborhood that fancies itself a village. Bus service almost doesn't exist, so we maintain a fresh tension in our little one car family.

I still usually drive The Muse to work, a quick seven mile sprint down tight S turns, the alternative being that I'm stranded for the day.

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KnotNo-ing

knotnoing
"I think of the experience as like starting an avalanche …"

Once my son learned the word 'maybe,' I never again received a definite answer out of him. Every response came filled with potential but no resolution. Jerry Weinberg came up with a dandy definition of who's in charge. "Whoever can say No! and make it stick." The one who brings maybe to a conversation might not be in charge, but they carry almost as much control as the sticky neigh sayers.Yes, on the other hand, sometimes requires some formal authority or a treasury to back it up. Worst of all might be those who agree to anything but waffle on delivery.

No-one can accuse me of being impulsive.

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Ashes

doingwithout
" … we might just might be pretty much plenty just as we are …"

I fancy myself as having been raised right. Not that I experienced a care-free upbringing, more that I was blessed with parents who steadfastly refused to care very much about how I felt. My mom especially seemed to take a certain delight when denying my wishes. Like yours, my folks were just kids when I was small, still learning their way into their role, so we experienced a certain equality within our inexperience. Some kids could pout and get their way. Pouting around our place could be grounds for an even more gleeful denial than usual. I hail from a Like It Or Lump It family. I learned early to do without.

These skills have served me extremely well.

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WriteWright

Wheelwright
" … one should never attempt to engineer accidents."

Nearly a hundred and ten years after the publication of Frederick Winslow Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management, we're witnessing a resurgence of artisanal craft. Taylor's book deeply influenced the way people thought about work, encouraging mass-produced uniformity, the underpinnings of our modern economy. Now, we hardly think in other terms. He argued that tightly regulating the means of production would result in the holy grail of any industrial-scaled economy: cheap but good. His Scientific Management concepts were even adopted by housewives and ministers. One would be hard-pressed to find any segment of the industrializing world uninfluenced by his rational perspective. Industrialized food production injected itself between the farmer and the table. Centralized production facilities vaporized smaller-scale local producers. Much in the same way that Amazon has undercut local retailers, Scientific Management insisted that big was necessarily cheaper and so somehow better.

Carried to illogical extremes, to ultimate scale, industrial production seems to produce more to an ever-shrinking market.

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FallowTime

fallowtime2
"I have not quite yet turned into dust."

The Muse bought a seed catalogue, a certain harbinger of Spring. I've been dreaming of hop vines shading the south side of The Villa this summer, wondering how I might protect them from the hungry, hungry deer. I spotted the remnants of last year's garden peeking up through its snow blanket. I wondered what might volunteer from under there to seed itself this year. It's still FallowTime, but our minds are projecting forward a few weeks. I shoved the final inch of overnight snowfall off the driveway, figuring that might hasten the melting recovery from the weekend's snow. By noon, that pavement might be bare and dry again. The season will scrape back to reflect the metrological season before another rebutting snow falls five days from now. We're imbedded in the tussle season now, no longer winter yet not quite Spring.

In FallowTime, I find little to amuse myself.

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ThreatOfSnow

threatofsnow
"A perfect place to remember and anticipate."

The rumor started two full days ago. Snow overnight Friday. We'd heard this story before. Sometimes it came about, sometimes not. With a two day window, nobody flinched. The day before, most remained sanguine. By the day of, I started taking the warnings seriously, but the prediction proved false. Two cold fronts, meant to meet and party over us, had slowed. The northern contingent decided to hover over the Wyoming/Colorado border overnight, the southern one still hounded Las Vegas, and had a lot of territory to traverse before bothering us. We headed out the morning after, keeping a weather eye on every horizon, for this storm would approach from at least two directions at once.

We managed to successfully restock the larder before anything but freezing fog fell.

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Overwintering

overwintering-red-poinsettia
"Fresh food seems just as scarce as it is this morning."

This late into the season, its damage has already been done. Those plants unable to adapt to living inside have already died. We've either given up on the stragglers or simply let them go, setting them out into the snow figuring that the cold would at least rid their carcasses of the dreaded white flies which seem to thrive inside in spite of the gooey traps we set. A skeletal poinsettia or two, leftover from Christmas before last, still hang onto existence in the shadowy, cool daylight basement, sucking in the meager northern light that suffocated the nasty little lime tree we nurtured from the brink last summer. It's a genuine gonner now, just waiting for us to snip off the carcass and recycle the soil.

The humidifier is such a complicated machine, hanging onto the side of the forced air gas furnace, that I cannot determine whether it's working or not.

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Constulting5 - Don'tKnow

dontknow
"It will either work or not …"

I eventually came to describe myself as an expert at not being an expert. This label resulted from my serial inability to become a genuine expert in something, anything. I'd read and study and practice and seek out acknowledged experts, only to find myself (and the sought-out experts) still somewhat short of full expertise. I could have turned cynical then, but chose to re-frame instead. If I could not master any alternative expertise, I might, perhaps, have a shot at mastering not being a master; after all, few ever achieve full mastery. I should not let my experience discourage me in what I seem to do best, which is falling somewhat short. Becoming an expert at not being an expert reeks of paradox, perhaps the unacknowledged natural state of pretty much everything.

Who needs a master, anyway?

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Constulting4 - Reframing

reframing1
"It's the client's choice and The Consultant's responsibility to remind and Re-frame."

Never once in the history of the world so far has any aspiration been born well-formed. Each tends to begin rather light in the head, altogether too attractive and relatively vacuous. Not that they don't also inspire, for there's the rub. Inspiring vacuity has been the primary cause for the downfall of generations of dreamers, schemers, builders, and feints. Attracting a supportive mob turns out to be the easiest part of any undertaking, for people seem naturally keyed to follow any fluttering flag. Satisfying that mob seems infinitely more difficult, especially when one reflects on the fact that even if the original fuzzy promise were delivered as the promiser intended, it wouldn't very closely resemble what most of the followers envisioned as the deliverable. I call the first iteration of any effort's vision The Bright Idea, and Bright Ideas might be the most dangerous substance known to man.

President Trump's confident promise of a wall attracted xenophobes left and right.

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Constulting3 - ParodyPathology

ParodyPathologies
"Perhaps the parody of a parody lies closest to some fundamental truth"

I started becoming a Constultant after utterly failing as a consultant, primarily due to my apparent inability to properly promote, diagnose, and prescribe for the popular pathologies and their presumed cures. When I first became a 'consultant', or first carried the title, my mom asked me to describe what I did for a living now that I'd joined a consulting firm, and I chose an unfortunate metaphor. In the last fifteen years of her life, my mom grew to love being diagnosed. Actually, she loved visiting a doctor, though she also sincerely enjoyed having hunky EMTs come to put her back into bed at night after she'd tumble out onto the floor. The doctor would in the process of the customary (and pleasurable) laying on of his hands, invariably find something remiss and prescribe something. She'd return from her visits beaming at the fresh prospect. I chose to explain that I had become a sort of doctor for organizations. They'd invite me in, I'd poke around a bit, lay on my hands, then prescribe a curative regime.

This was a lousy metaphor, not because it misleadingly describes how consulting works but because it so poorly described how I worked.

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Constulting2

Constulting2
"The frequent flier program knows me better than almost anyone in my private life."

People who work for others seem to pine after the freedom working for themselves might bring. They imagine self-determination elevated to full liberation: no time card, no mindless meetings, no clueless supervisor, no stomach-turning Tuesday special in the company cafeteria. The other side of that equation struggles to equal its counterpoint. Liberty's not always all it's cracked up to be. In practice, independent contracting not quite like what it seemed to promise. The cost of that liberty comes out of the shallower pockets, those you hardly noticed when still laboring under that much-maligned thumb. Most prominent, the isolation mocking the once-aspired for freedom. One learns to accept the freedom to arrive long after a Sunday sunset, to find the rental car agency unaided, to navigate the dark, damp freeway to another anonymous exit, to gratefully accept the 'free' upgrade to a swankier room, to decide that supper won't seem worth stepping out into the dankness again. The 'free' breakfast following the pre-dawn stint in the 'executive' workout 'club' might garner a couple of almost heart-felt "good mornings" from a fellow guest or an over-enthusiastic staff member. Time left to knot the necktie, grab the knapsack, and try to remember what rental car you parked in that lot last night and where you parked it.

You join the commute, identical to every other commute you ever made except you have little idea where you are. Is this Cleveland or Omaha?

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Constulting1

constulting
"Clients do not like to be told what to do, no more than any sentient adult does …"

I left The Best Of All Possible Mutual Insurance Companies In The Greater Portland Metropolitan Area (Bar None) after fifteen years of dedicated service to their policy owners, to join a small boutique consulting firm in Silicon Valley. I was unqualified for the position, but didn't know that yet. In that first year, I learned that my new consulting firm sported a phony Sanskrit name which we'd translated as "crossing the great water with balance." Since Silicon Valley was then and probably still is pre-literate, clients there were very attracted to magical-sounding names. We took full advantage of that. A native Sanskrit speaker workshop attendee informed me of the deception during a break. I swallowed hard and carried on. Much of the consulting company's material was of questionable heritage. It started as a genuine survey by qualified questioners, but the distributed materials, I learned during that first year, had been crash-developed over a weekend by a very skilled HR professional who had never actually practiced the profession the material purported to teach. I do not imply that the material was worthless, for it seemed to induce a shift in the manner in which participants thought about project work, which was a subtle, perhaps even unintended consequence, but a nonetheless valuable one.

By the end of that first year, I was the only consultant in the firm that brought in more revenue than I cost the firm in salary and expenses, this no doubt due to the fact that I had negotiated a starting salary about twenty thousand dollars less than I would have made had I stayed at the insurance company.

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IncompetencePoint

IncompetencePoint
"I have nothing to show and almost everything left to discover."

Having sat through just as many PowerPoint® presentations as the next guy, I took the news to heart when I saw Edward Tufte report that they tended to "lower the ceiling." I swore to myself to move that technology to the Avoid Learning side of the ledger. Who wants to lower any ceiling? The Muse works in a world where PowerPoint proficiency stands well up on the hiring criteria chart. Her slide presentation served as a significant part of her initial interview. She could not have been hired without demonstrating her skill as a graphic artist, a field of study not listed on the position description and one she never pursued. Even the PhDs hired there must demonstrate this odd ability, regardless of how many advanced degrees they hold. I still think Tufte was right, the mere presence of that fateful projection screen sets a context where one might reasonably expect that nothing very surprising will happen.

These sessions sometimes seem like competitions to see who cam cram the most unreadable words onto a single slide.

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Insecurity

insecurity
"Who else was I supposed to be?"

The older I get, the less secure I feel. I realize that this statement hardly qualifies as profound or even identifies me as in any way special, but if I followed the cultural tropes, my surprise might prove excusable. Some significant part of the media machine seems determined to enlist me in a few of the endless streams of self-improvement schemes: exercise, diet, investment, lifestyle, each promising to leave me better off than before, except the nagging insecurity seems to stand to one side, leaning against some darkened doorway, chuckling to himself, mouthing, "There's no such thing as security here."

Rather than live in endless pursuit of an unlikely security, perhaps my time's better spent learning how to better cope with insecurity.

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8- NotSupposedTo

NotSupposedToTalkAbout
"If I won't say it, who will?"

As a part of our initial client interviews when consulting, The Muse and I would eventually get around to asking what we could not talk about. Recognizing that we were aliens in each client's organization, and as aliens, we were likely to violate at least one invisible rule, we asked. Most hiring executives would quickly respond that anyone could talk about absolutely anything in THEIR organization, but even the client knew that was bullshit. Often, the hiring executive had no clue what couldn't be talked about. The smokers on the loading dock know only too well, for they carry more experience talking big, at least as long as the executives aren't in earshot.

My Eighth Ethical Responsibility of 'Project' Work, one I include at The Muse's emphatic insistence, reminds me that I have to Talk About What I'm Not Supposed To Talk About.

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7- MakeInformedChoices

Informed-Choice
"Make The Best of the curious choices life brings you."

My Seventh Ethical Responsibility of 'Project' Work insists upon my Making Informed Choices. This one might require a bit more explaining than any of the other Responsibilities because it's subtle and tricky. Enjoining anyone to make only informed choices seems like a double binding insistence because how could anyone possibly determine that they were properly informed at any choice point? Choices, like so much in 'project' work, seem to come at inconvenient and inconveniencing times, insisting upon a snappy response, the kind that generally obviates the ability to fully consider alternatives. Only scant information seems available and a decision needs to be taken. What kind of informed choice could that situation produce? The answer is: the usual kind.

Almost nothing decided in the course of any 'project' benefits from full discovery. Partial pictures produce fragmented understandings which unavoidably generate crappy options from which to choose.

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6- SitWithTheMess

sittingwiththemess
"It's still a wrestling match with myself most every time …"

'Projects' tend to spawn messes. What might have been envisioned as a straight-forward, even trivial effort manages to somehow find its share of complications. The easier it seems to be at first, the more complicated it's likely to become, if only because the expectations we set couldn't help but leave everyone wide open for some big surprises. Almost any hill looks less steep from the foot of it, also less tall. It's not until one gets about halfway up that any truer nature of the effort comes into focus. Mentioning these likely complications at the beginning will usually earn one the label of Chicken Little. Nobody will fondly remember your earlier cautions later, either.

Some new mess seems to be delivered to your door with each fresh dawn, each pleading for a speedy response. Few deserve a quick, reactive intervention, though, and not just because these tend to complicate messy situations.

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5- Work The System

workthesystem
"Had I expected the system to work without me working it a bit?"

No system ever devised worked as intended. Each embodied some flaw or feature producing different than intended responses. We adapt around these shortcomings until we become largely unaware of their presence. Encountering any new system inevitably becomes an at least somewhat frustrating series of learnings which we experience as mistakes until we figure out the fiddles and somehow seamlessly incorporate them into our repertoire. Some systems seem especially blessed with a seemingly intransigent nature. These, we never completely learn and so we struggle with them. Math was like that for me. So is the thermostat with the inhuman human interface. Each encounter with these systems involves essentially starting tabula rasa all over again.

We develop shortcuts and co-opts over time. We come to more deeply understand a system's tolerances, those points where a corner might be successfully shaved.

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4-GenerousInterpretations

generousinterpretation
" … never ascribe to evil intent what simple incompetence might explain."

My fourth Ethical Responsibility of 'Project' Work encourages me to at least consider Making The Most Generous Possible Interpretation. My natural interpreter tends to lean toward the more scathing, if only because scathing interpretations generate more entertainment value. Scathing interpretations rarely well serve any relationship. Unless you're surrounded by limping battalions of demonstrated sociopaths (see 3-ExtendingTrust), scathing interpretations seem imprudent. Was that component delivered late because of incompetence or a bit of bad luck? You decide, but you must decide with inadequate evidence. Will your collective effort be better served by a scathing or a more generous interpretation?

The rub, of course, seems to be that most of a 'project's' conclusions must be drawn with less than sufficient evidence. If there's no such thing as a 'project', there's also, usually, no such thing as a real root cause.

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3-ExtendingTrust

extendingtrust
"I might better serve myself and our collective effort
by sharing the benefit of my initial uncertainty …"

Lore holds that people must prove themselves trustworthy before one should extend them trust. This notion can easily complicate any 'project' assignment as everyone eyes each other suspiciously at first. I never could figure out what might constitute the appearance of trustworthiness, though. If a team member pulls off some selfless public rescue, I suppose that I might find it easy to trust them, but most team members keep their heads down and I'm unlikely to glimpse them demonstrating heroic behavior, so how might they prove themselves trustworthy in my eyes if I'm uncertain what trustworthy even looks like? Besides, the mere absence of evident behavior says little about anything.

I believe that the lore mistakes a sort of naive hopefulness for trustworthiness.

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2-PurposefulPursuit

purposefulpursuit
"I need not become an obsessed true believer …"

I find it extremely difficult writing about PurposefulPursuit without resorting to hackneyed synonyms. The term dredges up determined, recalls resolute and resolved, and sings of steadfastness and single-mindedness. Sticking no more than a toe in that water seems to infect me with a full-blown case of OCD, and I want to avoid that end. Of course 'projects' would operate more smoothly if everyone involved in the effort would become obsessed with achieving the objective. They will not. Contrary to popular conviction, one cannot drive any 'project' to a successful conclusion. Driven behaviors, whether exhibited by the 'project' leader or a particularly compulsive individual contributor seem more akin to bullying, a form of public self abuse.

When I speak of PurposefulPursuit as the second of my Ethical Responsibilities of 'Project' Work, I am most decidedly not merely trying to egg myself on by whispering a motivational mantra.

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1-ConsciousBlindness

consciousblindness
"I feel better informed when I presume that I'm less than fully informed."

This posting represents the first of seven (or maybe eight) pieces reconsidering my Seven Ethical Responsibilities of 'Project' Work.

In the beginning, I understand that there was nothing but The Word, which could not have even been a thing since words have no existence without several sorts of context like paper, screen, speaker, listener, alphabet, and history to hold meaning. Though there were apparently no observers present, save The One, certainly no journalists or diarists, the story stuck. Later, light emerged, attributed to an early act of God, back when he was still building his vitae. He, the Creator, proclaimed light good, though later reviews were mixed. All this occurred before God even married the first time. God's second wife, certainly significantly younger than he and probably uncomfortably closely related, was beautiful, but they lacked a shared experiential history. They struggled with metaphors, he continually referencing outside her cultural experience, she insisting upon quoting younger notables that he considered mere wannabes. That marriage, too, was fated to fail.

God's third wife came along just as he began to come into his Almighty phase, having by then fathered a son by his second ex-, Mary.

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ProjectPhD

ProjectPhD
"I suspect that most ethical lapses emerge as sins of omission …"

Whenever I ask a 'project' worker about their philosophy of 'project' work, I almost always receive a long stare in reply. A few, like me, might fumble for our little laminated card which holds our intentions in the odd chance that they might be of some practical use, but most, if they've even thought about their personal philosophy of 'project' work will offer no crisp response. Some might offer a variant on The Golden or the Platinum Rules, do unto others as you'd like to be done unto or do unto others as they wish to be done unto, but little practical light will shine from beneath their bushel baskets.

I'll quick draw my Seven Ethical Responsibilities of 'Project' Work, an explication I developed with considerable effort.

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ProjectManagement101.4-TheInvisibleWhole

bmate
"The object might not be to know better but to get better at not knowing."

Nobody ever sees (or really understands) the operation of the 'project' as a whole. Some mug as if they did understand. The most dangerous of these firmly believe themselves meta to the effort, occupying the objective observer role while also contributing to the cause. Most identify with some aspects without concerning themselves about others. Asking after the purpose of the 'project' can spark theological skirmishes since everyone inescapably perceives their 'project' quite differently than anyone else. This situation qualifies as a case of the normals without an ounce of pathology, with the possible exception of the perception held by those characterizing themselves as objectively meta to the effort.

'Projects' might be best described by employing metaphors.

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ProjectManagement101.3-Someone Elses Dream

someoneelsesdream
"Remember the caterpillar who somehow managed to choreograph his footsteps until some observer asked him how he managed to do that."

When The Muse asks me, as she has many, many times over the years, about my purpose, I respond with a heap of silence. I understand that almost every self-helpless manual insists that one must get in touch with their purpose, and even dress up that knowledge with a brief but compelling introductory elevator speech, the question reliably renders me speechless. It might be that my purpose is so subtle and compelling that it transcends language itself, but it's more likely that I hold so many competing compelling purposes that I simply cannot quickly choose from among them at a moment's prompt, though I doubt it. I manage to get out of bed every morning, but I do not very often rise with a full head of steam to charge off toward some alluring horizon.

The subject of motivation has already filled more essays than I'll ever read, or care to read.

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ProjectManagement101.2-Unavoidable Misunderstandings


"The difficulty with communication might be the illusion that it occurred."

Was it Churchill who claimed that Brits and Yanks are one people separated by a common language? The observation could apply to any two people, too. My daughter Heidi, who owns a small business providing translation services, can testify that no Rosetta Stone exists, for no one-to-one correspondence has ever been found between any words in any two languages. Nuance bridges the gaps. Interpretation, patience, and MISunderstanding seems to be required for any communication to ever occur.

Even in mature, routinely replicating manufacturing processes, miscommunication intrudes.

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ProjectManagement 101.1-TheEarliestResponsibleMoment


"
all promises are implicitly contingent."
ProjectManagement101

'Projects' exist as networks of explicit commitments, promises to produce something within some time frame. These promises might be represented as tasks on a timeline schedule, but often exist as no more than verbal agreements. Even when a promise is responsibly made, by which I mean uncoerced, it represents no guarantee, but rather a statement of good intentions. Good intentions might not even qualify as necessary but certainly can't be sufficient to assure expected delivery, and everyone should properly acknowledge this inescapable fact. By agreeing to fulfill the assignment, an individual commits to two apparent contradictions: 1) They confirm that they believe themselves capable of delivering as expected and 2) They agree to renege upon that promise at The Earliest Responsible Moment, which means just as soon as they realize that they probably cannot make the expected delivery.

The Earliest Responsible Moment will not come after weeks of painstakingly pretending that they have not blown the opportunity to deliver as expected.

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ProjectManagement101


"It's a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful ... and a little lonely."

Project Management is a fundamentally fraudulent profession in that it purports to deliver something that cannot be delivered: the on-time, on-budget, and on-spec performance of a temporary, one-time enterprise. Because of this, it traditionally attracted more than its fair share of touts and bullies, those with little compunction, much self-confidence, and small appreciation for conventional definitions of what constitutes fact as well as fiction, trading almost exclusively in 'believable fiction' and arguable fact, routinely over-selling and under-delivering to the fading enthusiasm of their clients, so-called sponsors, the money-givers. Projects, too, represent as a popularly believable fiction, an enterprise lacking most of the attributes of any more conventional form of organization. I've long held that there's no such thing as a project because projects aren't things.

Their context seems as perfect for misconceptions as a steaming swamp might be for encouraging bacterial growth, though not all 'projects' are the same.

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Closured


"I might just as well consider the illusion complete."

As I explained in my Pipeline post, I recently started focusing upon clearing out my backlog of nearly finished pieces. I consequently posted nothing new yesterday because I was inhabiting last winter instead, sorting through the nearly one hundred small chapters, performing my final edit. I read almost as slowly as I write, and I seem to find myself easily distracted when editing, perhaps because it doesn't feel like real work to me. I'm neither creating nor recreating then, but cleaning up. I should dress in a janitor's coveralls and wear rubber gloves. The work feels just that glamorous. It requires genuine dedication to get to the end of it. It requires real dedication just to get started, so when I discovered that printing it off erased some psychological barrier, I jumped right in.

I finished the scrubbing today. A little picky piece work remains around the edges, but it feels done enough to supply a shot of closure.

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ThePipeline


"I feel as though I'm unclogging ThePipeline for a change."

The phrase 'It's a process' has always annoyed me. Back when I helped develop software systems, the phrase was employed as an intended subtle scold by those Systems Thinkers who always not-so secretly consider themselves possessed of superior perspective. They could put in its place most any bit of otherwise good advice by reminding the suggester that "It's a process," at least in the Systems Thinker's mind. The phrase still seems vacuous to me, either blindingly banal or wholly presumptive, for if it's really all process, it's really nothing at all. Some of the supposed flow must stick somewhere, if only to qualify as a thing. Granted that much of what passes for systems hardly pass any thingness test. Still, evoking the process claim seemed to predictably premise some hollow process improvement suggestion.

The process mavens rarely seemed masters of any actual skill.

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SelfPromotion


" … my SelfPromotion gland still quakes at the thought."

The thought of SelfPromotion turns me into a quivering ninny, so I engage in it surreptitiously, hoping nobody will notice. I post unrequested pieces on Facebook, quietly hoping nobody will see, let alone comment, on them. I feel that I need to keep up appearances but pray that I won't appear too awfully forward as a result. The Muse insists that I sometimes expose too much, which might be a counter phobic reaction to my sincere hope that I won't expose too much. At the same time, I'm convinced that the most personal turns out to be the most universal, so I figure I broaden my audience by focusing upon my personal experience. I live a fundamentally paradoxical existence.

I have not yet learned how to tell what a reader might want, much less what any market desires. I struggle to read my own mind without expending much energy trying to read anyone else's.

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IrishTwins


"I figure that my statistical innumeracy produces the bulk of my good fortune."

My father and my nephew were born on the same date, January 15. A favorite musician's wife and father were born on the same date, too, a fact that seemed downright synchronicitous to the wooing couple. My family always thought it a form of a miracle that my nephew and father were born on the same date, a terribly special blessing, though the probability of that occurring hovers at 365 to one, hardly long odds. Genetic family patterns might have significantly shortened those odds. Many families produce what are sometimes referred to as IrishTwins, and I suspect that each feel the warm hand of a reassuring fate caressing them when that happens, too.

I'm rather blind to probabilities. I do not naturally carry a sense of them.

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Sifting


"Their home seems more like a castle somehow."

Once every fifty million years or two, some cataclysm besets this world. In between times, change seems to occur exclusively via insignificant increment. A snowfall starts as a sifting whisper, like wrens' pin feathers floating by outside, barely noticeable through the window. By the next morning, a foot of accumulated insignificance blocks my drive. Then, all my attention focuses upon digging out from under the insult. Before, it's eminently ignorable. Were any of us more activated by whispers than hollers, we might manage to keep up with the blooming significance and never face the back-breaking digging out, but we usually don't. We feel dumped upon instead.

As a species, we seem attracted to BIG things, as if true significance came only in volume and mass.

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Morningtown


"It's a fleeting place"

I'm down to two, perhaps three days each week. Some mornings, I feel no real need to get out. Others, I wrestle with accepting the necessity of it, unable to justify the drive. Guys like me, in the isolating profession, rarely go out simply to get out. Even then, I tend to end up at the same destination, the library, where I don't know anyone, anyway. It's a simple matter of being alone by myself or surrounded by strangers, each more similar than really different. I sometimes shop, thereby justifying my presence out of the hermitage neighborhood.

On rare mornings, then, I enter Morningtown, a small American city waking up.

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NaiveUse


"I think the universe remarkably forgiving."

Any first use constitutes a naive use, but then so does the second use, and the third. At what point does experience erase the naive underpinnings? I propose never as a reasonable response, for each subsequent use occurs in different circumstances, the subtlety of which probably distill into undetectable, yielding an unsuspectedly different situation. After over fifty years of shaving, I still manage to nick myself sometimes. You'd think I would have learned how to avoid those nicks by now.

Heraclitus had something right when he declared that nobody ever crosses the same river twice.

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Anticipating


"I remain much better at Anticipating the past
than I'll ever be at accurately Anticipating what's next."

Checking the weather report, I learn that a mighty windstorm is predicted for the foothills West of Denver. Expected to arrive around midnight, our flight's scheduled to land a scant half hour before its arrival. I've seen this movie before. So has everyone who's flown into DIA. The airport's located in a notoriously windy weed patch of a place, more Kansas than Colorado. The Rockies' Front Range regularly funnels slight breezes into full blown gales. Every flight locks down forty-five minutes before landing, the pilot apologizing in laconic tones for the impending inconvenience before the plane commences to terrifying rolling and yawing, inevitably catching one careless passenger on the way to the facility. That passenger receives a stern chewing out from a strapped in flight attendant while the rest of the passengers white knuckle their way past this latest portal into eternity. Landing always feels like salvation.

A veteran of an indecent number of Denver-inbound flights, I start anticipating early, before the plane even leaves Seattle. I once again convince myself of the absolute insanity of air travel as the plane taxis through heavy rain toward the darkest end of the departure runway.

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Homelessness


" …our heart understands that it just needs to keep playing along."

If home is where my heart is, I've been homeless for the last decade because my heart has been living far away from where it "is." Long story, often repeated, best left unsaid, we left our home for a lengthy exile which felt like an ancient form of punishment for having successfully made our dream come true. We lived in a house of our choosing, one endlessly challenging us with needed paint and repairs and a yard and garden always trending toward chaos had we not been there. We loved our lives there but found them unsustainable, so we went in search of some sort of grail, I guess, believing with all of our hearts that one day we might regain the ability to again inhabit where our heart lives. We figure that a few more years might do it, but we really, truly do not know for sure.

The tenuous space between anything and a heart's desire contains mostly Homelessness, however otherwise well-appointed it might seem.

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Ex-


"What was once done was never really finished with me."

The language of my culture allows permanent separation from my past, just as if an act, any act, might be undone by merely invoking a linguistic scalpel. A wife might become an 'ex-'. Ditto for a business partner, an employer, or a friend. Some infraction, a defection from the originating covenant, and the perpetrator might become an 'ex-'. Exes often carry a strongly negative, often derisive connotation, perhaps for the primary purpose of preserving the other party's self image. The ex- becomes the permanently losing party in the affair. They fell short or fouled out. The ex-er somehow holds himself blameless, at least stiff-arming culpability. Ex-s seem to become ditzes.

But no act can be undone. Each success and failure permanently echoes throughout time, recoveries sometimes more reaffirming than any success.

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Mapsing


" … a fate no Muse could ever sanguinely agree to accepting."

The Muse insists upon holding a paper map when we travel. Even so, we often leave The Villa having forgotten the requisite charts, which starts the explanation of why we have so many maps in that box in the garage. Before we're very far down the road, she'll notice the absence and commence a small fussing. My job if I'm driving will then become to find some place for her to purchase a map of the territory we're fixing to traverse. Gas stations, once reliable sources of high quality roadmaps, have become iffy outlets. Variety stores, drug stores, even supermarkets will likely disappoint. The essence of any search seems to lie in the unlikelihood of ever successfully concluding it. We search anyway.

The supermarket clerk expresses its regrets while I wait at the Starbucks counter where they're "pouring over" our choices for the day.

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Passing

passage
" … one of those ex-stage stops where the exit sign proclaims No Services (for me)."

The Muse and I have been traveling the last three days, reaching our destination yesterday and readying to head back to The Villa early this morning. We've passed scores of small towns and former stage stops, most hardly warranting a glance, let alone any deeper inquiry. We found ourselves fortunate to on the way overnight in a formerly unknown little town, one originally founded with the unlikely name of Hole In The Ground, though the founders later upgraded it to something more conventional. Today, it's a proud little place mostly off any well-beaten path, the sort of town that time might have not completely forgotten, but one where its name comes begrudgingly to even time's lips. It's not entirely anonymous, but might as well be for most passages and travelers.

We passed through Las Vegas, overnighting there with one of The Muse's gracious nephews and his family. Vegas, as it's generally referred to, seemed the perfect peek into an apparently not so distant dystopian future.

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DrivingCrazy


"Maybe we were both crazy beforehand."

The Muse and I drive each other crazier every time we drive. I'm amazed that we still consent to enter the car together and head out onto the road. Around town toodles never rile us much. It takes a freeway for our true insanity to emerge. You see, we do not now nor have we ever shared what she calls a threshold. This threshold delineates the speed one considers prudent. To her, I always drive like an old Italian woman, lacking only a few pounds and a black dress from fully embodying the look. To me, she drives like Mr. Toad on his famous Wild Ride, apparently distracted while madly passing everything in sight. I never, ever, even in my wildest dreams exceed the speed limit. She considers it perfectly prudent to exceed it by five or more miles per hour. She spends her passenger seat time distracting herself so she won't notice that we're making a whole lot less headway than she'd projected. I spend my passenger seat time frantically hanging on with both hands while pleading with her to slow the you-know-what down.

By the end of the day, we're exasperated with each other. I've developed a charley horse in my thighs from hours of fruitless bracing for impacts that wondrously never came. She notes that I seem all shocky.

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EmptyNesting


"I suspect that those magpies will miss that cat every bit as much as I will."

The Muse and I escorted Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat out of this shop-worn world. Rose, skittish to the end, peed all over The Muse's lap on the drive over to the vet's. I'd pleaded for just wrapping the cat in a towel to save her the indignity of riding in a cage, and The Muse assented. Her's was a tearful parting for us, huddled as we were like refugees over her silken body. We returned to an EmptyNest, a house demonstrably less home than the home it had been a short time before. The Muse was working from home. She returned to her laptop and I retreated to the master bedroom to read or pretend to read. My reading companion, my lap robe, was no longer there, a catnip mouse in the middle of the floor evidence of her recent tenancy.

She'd imprinted on a calling cue. I'd tap twice on my lap and she'd show up, yawning and tousle-haired from some semi-secret lair, and mount my lap, there to survey the surrounding territory as I read or fitfully reflected trying to connect with another elusive idea.

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Christmas'Eve


"Christmas will be here by then and a fat goose will be sputtering toward its eventual demise."

Christmas' Eves seem to meld into a single contiguous memory, overall indistinct. The traditions overlapping, sometimes contradictory, because everyone's in a blended family now, in-laws, out-laws, jurists, and priests. More a convergence than a celebration, another attempt to fit orthogonal expectations into a single place and time. I earlier spoke with my brother and he was expecting twenty. The Muse and I expect the usual two. We've hosted a few slightly larger gatherings since we left the hometown, so-called exile Christmases, but we usually settle on the same old two. I'm distracted writing my Christmas poems, so she takes the lead cooking something special. She decorates the tree which typically won't have any presents beneath it. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, under the weather this year, usually pokes around the edges, imprinting on one or more of the lower-hanging ornaments. The Nakamichi will knock out very traditional Christmas tunes, Rosemary Clooney and Barbra Streisand. A fire will warm the place.

This year, I finished writing my Christmas poems early, so I can take the evening off. I've spent so many Christmas Eves locked in mortal combat with the written word that I feel like an alien in my own home this evening.

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RealMagic


"When she finally accepts that you genuinely want to help, RealMagic occurs."

RealMagic seems so subtle I might miss it. It never pops up out of a spot-lit top hat or suddenly surprises anyone like that! It slips in almost always unaware to utterly change everything after there. It's like that first glimpse of Vienna through jet-lag amplified fog, a quiet mental jog, an irreversible changing of tracks. One never goes back after RealMagic visits, nor wants to. There's never any saying, "No," because it's hardly a choice. Even should some selection get involved, every alternative appears as a relative slog when compared. Usually, though, it just slips through and utterly changes you.

RealMagic seems to exist most intensely in language.

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Soytenty


"I remain almost certainly uncertain."

I've grown to deeply suspect certainty of any stripe. My skepticism about even death and taxes sort of drives me forward or at least seems to sustain me. I use the word 'seems' more than any other, for I sense a lurking uncertainty behind my every observation, my every utterance. I dread the day that I might be called to tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' because I deeply doubt my or anyone's ability to satisfy that injunction. I might at best prove capable of telling the story as I believe at that moment I witnessed it, but I should remain uncertain if I saw what happened or some mix of projections of what I expected to happen and what never really happened at all. On the face of this confession might lie a tragic disconnect or a godsend of an appreciation. I can't be certain which or even if either might be the case. I suppose that this means I get to choose.

Earlier in my existence, I thought that certainty lay near the purpose of my existence. I might accumulate knowledge such that most of my experience would be wrapped in some form of sure bet. I'd have learned where to walk and where to avoid, what to eat and what to decline, who to associate with and who to shun, but this operation has never actually run that way. The examples I employed to guide me always seemed sufficiently unique as to leave a rather glaring gap between what I knew and what I wanted or needed to know. This apparent feature confused me for the longest time. I vacillated between believing myself rather stupid or terribly insightful, again uncertain which pole to properly classify my confusion. Only the absence of certainty seemed defining, and if certainty served as the success metric, I could only properly classify myself as a serial failure.

The Muse can testify to the number of situations I shrink from.

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CastlesOfCards

castleofcards
"I seek not to undo my past, a genuine fool's mission,
but to better understand and more deeply appreciate it as well as my present."

By the time anyone lives to my advancing age, they live in a CastleOfCards. Construction started long before the builder could comprehend that they were building anything, let alone the philosophical, moral, ethical, and logical foundation of their later life, their later lives. Key stones laid with little appreciation of the global ramifications of their local choices, the place ultimately gives a bad name to the term 'hacked.' Even the more thoughtfully-designed pieces stand atop elements never intended to support more than an odd adolescent notion. Habits replicated across decades pulled large portions of the construction out of true. When I abandoned one or another habit in favor of one better suited to then present circumstance, walls supporting the new focus clearly never foresaw that shift. As one ages, whole wings might simply crumble into useless piles. The laird hardly abandons his castle simply because it's started crumbling out from beneath him and his court. Nobody ever starts over again, demolishing what was built in utter ignorance of future needs. Everyone lives in a hacked CastleOfCards.

It's not until older age that most will consent to a general reconsideration of the place.

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Begendings


"I believe I'll next focus my attention upon my beliefs …"

Had I intended to arrive somewhere by now, I should properly feel disappointed, but I intended no forward progress. I set out to slide sideways for a season and I seem to have accomplished that modest objective. I did not start with the ending in mind, but with an enquiring mind. I wondered what might happen if rather than plot my moves, I expected that my moves might coalesce into some semblance of a plot. I expected to sometimes veer off topic, temporarily stumped over my next move. I hoped that I might stumble into some interesting territory, that I might gain insight rather than more complete understanding. I might have ended up more clueless than I began, but what could I have to hide? I believed that I'd lost some appreciation for the fundamentally circular nature of life. Altogether too forward-looking and therefore less tolerant of the potentially enlivening lateral slide. I'd likewise split sideways into notional sides, too, left and right, right and wrong, the ups and downs of an orthogonal plane. Maybe direction need not matter.

I intended to investigate space, to stumble upon something or even nothing at all.

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HollyDave's


" … each celebrating a holiday called Good Old What's It's Name."

Think of a holiday, any holiday, and a set of standard images might come to mind: candles for Chanukkah, witches and black cats wearing witch hats for Halloween, a turkey wearing a Pilgrim hat for Thanksgiving, Santa sipping a Coke® next to a decorated tree for Christmas. We all know the memes. Interestingly, though, none of us ever experience any holiday as portrayed. We identify with the iconography even though our family does things a little differently. Maybe we're a ham instead of a turkey family, or we celebrate Christmas without Santa's haunting presence, not even exchanging presents, certainly not boughten stuff. Each family detours from the advertised standard such that each collective holiday becomes a set of extremely personal experiences. Some open presents on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas Morning, and still others on Epiphany. I dare say that the majority of Yuletide celebrants would never self-identify as Christian, which seems fine since Christians kind of swiped a pre-existing pagan celebration for their own, anyway. Each unique form of celebration might well elicit a single common spirit, though, and maybe that's what we each celebrate, whatever the form.

Me? I observe HollyDave's, a uniquely personal end of the year holiday. It's sort of Christmasy and kind of Chanikkahy, a little bit pagan yet hosting ample silent, solemn stillness.

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TakingStock/MakingStock

" … at least try out trying to do without before freaking out about the absence."

An impending end of a season, like an approaching yearend, brings out the auditor in me. I feel moved to engage in inventorying. What had I acquired? What expended? What remains after the passage of this latest period of existence? How might I value that flow of goods and services, and the not-so-goods and trespasses? Much of what came to pass simply passed back into the ether from whence it appeared, no longer here and unverifiable anywhere now. There were fusses and feathers, though little remains of their presence. What does remain hardly represents the hopefulness or dread by which experiences and stuff originally appeared. A few scant shards remain like the frozen vegetable peelings clogging my freezer's shelves, souvenirs from a hundred suppers otherwise forgotten now. I purge that inventory, roasting it off into an enormous batch of stock, the water of life, leftovers reduced back into essence.

I learned this year to roast my stock.

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Male-ing


" … an annual renewal of my relationship with my father, who taught me much worth fondly remembering."

I love visiting my US Post Office. Strictly speaking, it's really our post office, but I feel a deeply personal attachment to the place. My father was a postal clerk for over thirty-five years, and my mom used to bundle us kids up to go fetch him after his shift. We'd enter the back after crossing the loading dock, an entrance reserved for postal employees, or so the sign said, and while I knew we weren't strictly authorized to enter, we were family, so nobody called us out. Quite the opposite, everyone called us in with cat calls (my mom was somewhat of a "babe"). In those days, postal clerks smoked while sorting mail, so the place smelled of oiled wood floor, paper, and sweet cigarette smoke, with maybe a hint of machine oil wafting in the background. The sorting floor was a warren of sorting racks and stacks of boxes. Sometimes, a few crates of baby chicks peeped plaintively in the corner, attracting us kids to poke our fingers in through the air holes because that's what kids are supposed to do. Otherwise, who could call them cute?

My dad always claimed that the USPS was far superior to any other delivery service. "Only USPS employees take an oath," he said, and he took his oath seriously.

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Schleep


" … while The Muse snoozed placidly beside me."

Sleep has never been much of a friend for me. A tough state to enter and a tougher one to remain engaged in, I find it more of a schlep than a sweet embrace: a Schleep, if I dare coin a term. I dutifully set my alarm before retiring, but almost always wake a half hour before it gets around to reminding me to get up again. I maintain a routine my doctor frowns over, insisting that my brain could not possibly adequately reinvigorate in the scant time I allocate for that purpose. I don't know anything about adequacies. I simply take what I seem to tolerate without over-worrying about how deficient my habit might leave me. I subscribe to a notion that everyone carries a unique rhythm into this life. Those fortunate enough to find that rhythm and manage to somehow match it seem especially fortunate. Those who scour the self-help shelves looking for outside advice so as to conform to somebody's sense of normalcy might never properly settle in.

When some event disrupts my curious rhythm, I become dysfunctional. Illness or exhaustion might encourage me to wrestle with my dozy adversary more than might prove beneficial to me. More sleep generally leaves me feeling more depleted; less, more enlivened.

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BidingTimelessness


"I'll hardly notice either time or mind."

Healing happens within a timeless state. It occurs at scales beyond or before sensory experience, absolutely invisibly. Nor can anyone hear healing happen, or smell it, or taste it, or watch it happening. One can notice that it happened but never witness it in action. Time seems to work like this, too, that second hand measuring off what happened rather than anything happening. Watching it seems the one certain way to distract from actually experiencing it, as if anyone could experience time at all. Time accumulates into infinitesimals, my many years of life now distilled into flashes and glimpses of indeterminate duration, meaningless both in dimension and duration now. Timelessness might be the same sensation as meaninglessness, the same as each one of the lessnesses, for their very label assigns them to negative space, territory with no finite reciprocal opposite. The lessnesses come as close as we ever come to experiencing nothing at all.

The doctor passed me a passel of don't as I left the surgical center. My optometrist handed me a few more the next morning. Though I feel every bit myself, I'm enjoined to monitor myself as if I was not yet quite fully myself. They probably put the wrong guy in charge.

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PointsOfLight


"The key to living the good life lies in being easily impressed."

Living up here near eight thousand feet brings one clear benefit. The night sky rises much higher above at altitude. The mist and dust largely dispersed, nights remain clear enough to see many more PointsOfLight. Even satellites visit us up here, easily visible floating across from horizon to horizon a hundred and more miles above us. During the day, several jet planes remain visible at all times, most heading due West towards California, but a few always heading to seemingly every compass point. Heavies heading toward Hawaii. Prop jobs bound for Aspen. Who knows where they're going? Winds up there tend to remain fierce even when no weather moves through. We live below severe turbulence even when our trees aren't whipping in the wind.

My optometrist Dr. Joe says the procedure to reposition the displaced lens implanted in my first cataract surgery appears to have been successful, though another week's wait will better confirm.

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smallDay


"Sights hardly recognized. Vision still impaired."

The day after TheBIGDay dawns tiny. Maybe the shadow of the recent BIG event still blocks most of the dawning sun. Maybe my eyes have been blinded to anything scaled larger than a finger hold. I might not care about big things anymore, not right now. I'm back into the world, my recently repaired right eye staring as though through a wad of wool, my forehead sticky with remnants of the gooey tape the nurse used to hold that creepy eye protector in place. I moved like a lame zombie before sleeping like a soggy dirt clod, waking around 2AM to wonder if I could see any better than I ever could before. In the darkness, with that eye protector still in place, I listed heavily to starboard as I stumbled into my bathroom to survey the damage in the mirror. I removed the plastic barrier but could tell without peeking that my vision remained impaired.

No news, not yet. A few days might clear the cloudy covering to reveal a world improved. I read the morning news with my one remaining working eye, sighing with pend-up impatience. More time waiting for some sign of improvement.

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TheBIGDay


" … mechanics trade not in forgiveness and grace but in grimaces and unintended mistakes."

Today's THE day. Anticipation's finally over. The over-long wait, the thrumming great uncertainty, the fussing and worry fall away today. The planning's moot now, the preparation phase completed. The coordination of all the picky pieces won't ever matter again. I won't even remember the adaptations which had become my new normal, not after today. Tomorrow that dream will have come true or a nightmare will have ensued. Whichever comes to pass, aspiration will have slipped past. A breach in the wall separating past from future opens before me now, promising only future ever after. The past will be gone by the end of this day, this BIGDay.

This seems to be the way we parse our time, into preparation and passage, pre- and post event times, with a narrow, one-way bridging alleyway between.

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NotCollegeMaterial


"I consequently never learned the fine arts of football or basketball appreciation, binge drinking, or proper socializing."

Visiting with a high school guidance counsellor when I was about halfway through high school, I received one of those life-defining bits of advice. Reviewing my transcript in progress, the counsellor remarked that I was NotCollegeMaterial. Not that I'd been aching for a college career. That counsellor was correct in that I had never seen myself as college material, but to have even a minor authority confirm my self-assessment seemed a mixed blessing. Before, it had been a choice. After, it felt like an edict, as if no matter what I might accomplish, the 'powers that be' had identified me as uniquely unqualified. This was a bit of a blow. I'd known that I was nobody's mathematician or linguist. In those days, college admission required at least two years of successful foreign language study, and I'd failed to assimilate French and German, so I was cornered. I was then more interested in my guitar, anyway, and figured that I might one day become a star once I was discovered. Not a mainstream celebrity, for sure, but one of those narrowly-appreciated underground types never heard on top forty radio.

I figure that I got more of an education not being college material than I ever could have acquired had I passed that second year of German and stopped calculating on my fingers.

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TheMissingIngredient


" … the blessings rain down anyway."

Each holiday, one item becomes prominent by its absence, like an exiled newborn king. Some years it's a spice, others a vegetable or a fruit. Each year this whatever-it-is encapsulates the purpose of the celebration, the search for some seasonal satisfaction. Buddha Hand Citron filled this role for several years, and still threatens each year to reprise its performance, so The Muse and I start seeking sources for this curious fruit by November first. The Muse bakes for the holidays, and holiday baking demands candied citrus peel, the most exotic of these being citron, a fruit that has no pulp, just peel, the exemplar of candying potential. In the early days, we'd start asking after citron in the early fall, expecting to eventually find it displayed pre-processed in small plastic containers in some supermarket's produce section alongside iridescently dyed lime, orange, and lemon peel; little chunks of irradiated glop. But some places don't do citron, have never heard of it, which for us prompted one of those searches seemingly without end, initiating a true seasonal tradition.

We become magi without a guiding star, increasingly frantically seeking some treasure nobody else seems able to relate to.

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HouseCleaning


"If anyone tells you married life is bliss, slap 'em with a wet broom."

The Muse and I don't share everything. We don't, for instance, share a HouseCleaning ethic. What's clean for one of us doesn't quite pass muster for the other, so HouseCleaning days turn stressful for both of us. I try to stay out from underfoot, choosing an opposite side of the place to focus my efforts, hoping she'll get occupied somewhere else until I can finish, but the plot rarely unfolds that way. I'll be elbow deep in some special gift of a job, like dusting "her" plant shelves, and she'll show up to find the work somehow shoddy, or at least not quite the way she'd envisioned it being done. Yes, I moved every plant. Yes, I removed the shelves to clean both top and underside, but she'd wanted to move the shelves, too, so though I'd finished every shelf and returned the plants to the same places they'd inhabited before, she removes them again so she can move the shelves and vacuum beneath them. I go aargh!

A few iterations of this and I escape to the kitchen, figuring can clean the stovetop in peace. Three minutes later, she's occupied the sink to water the plants there while I stand aside, holding a dripping washrag waiting for access to the sink again.

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Vulnerability


" …my Vulnerability tucked in tight around me."

To the extent that I acknowledge and accept them, I concede that my vulnerabilities might be my superpowers. They mark boundaries which I only rarely cross, so they seem to keep me safe. I also acknowledge that some of those vulnerabilities represent otherwise meaningless limitations I impose upon myself, like my steadfast refusal to drive on I-25. I can be certain that I will never die on I-25 if I steer clear of it. I can't imagine not feeling vulnerable around that road. The Muse knows that I'm afraid of many situations and that avoidance remains my go-to strategy for coping with these. I've survived so far, but not without a shrinking feeling that my world has been steadily shriveling around me.

I chalk my default strategy up to a studied humility.

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LagTime


" … just another unrealistic expectation encountering reality again."

Project people are forever trying to calculate how much time their project will take to complete. It's a non-trivial calculation utterly dependent upon unknowns, so assumptions rule the effort. In the best of all possible worlds, a task that should take no more than two days might easily consume a week or more, and not because those assigned to it slack off. I used to guide my workshop participants through an exercise intended to help them calculate more realistic flow times. How much time does an individual scheduled for forty hours of work in a week actually have at their disposal to apply to work during that week? It was always a shocker when the average answer came out to be around sixteen hours. The balance of the work week would be spent on absolutely necessary, non-value add activities which could not properly be catalogued as being 'on task.' The actual available time would prove to actually be available for assigned work, but little more. The number varied little between industries and over time. This might represent something of a universal principle in action.

A colleague explained to me what it's like to work in a startup. He said it was as if everything required the invention of a pencil.

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ConfirmationBias


"Just me and my many shadows wrestling toward another resolution."

I knew I wasn't an objective observer, though I could have hardly suspected the depth of my biases. As both the observer and the observed, I could hardly hold myself to any benign standard of objectivity, for I have a self-image to uphold. Like any complex system, self-preservation is job one for me, and so I'll likely discount any incoming information threatening my conception of myself. I'll most likely perceive each disconfirming bit of data as a Black Swan, present but meaningless, even if it shows up in a majority of my glimpses. I fancy that I know myself, too, though I sort of understand that the me I believe I know so well changes constantly and invisibly to anyone watching as closely as I watch myself. A long-span series of infrequent observations might more likely highlight changes obscured by continual vigilance. I most often see not who I am but instead project instead who I once believed myself to be.

I avoid mirrors. They lie unashamedly.

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GivingAGoodGoddamn


"Count your blessings, mind your 'q's, it might not much matter what else you do …"

Stumped over what to give this season? Give AGoodGoddamn. The cynically resigned will not give AGoodGoddamn, and will proclaim their resignation from the highest steeples, steeples which were originally erected by those who seemed to care at least AGoodGoddamn, maybe several of them. Fools for their faith, however foolish that might have seemed and still might seem today, they built their ridiculous steeples anyway, then commenced to ring big brass bells from the tops of them, attracting attention as well as lowly curses. How audacious! How goddamned foolhardy! How holy! The commandment insists that we not take the Lord's name in vain, but AGoodGoddamn does precisely the opposite. The stifled GoodGoddamns denigrate the holy spirit, exchanging it for an indifferent, cheap, highfalutin, nowhere knock-off. Just try to be here now and give at least one GoodGoddamn on your way through!

Imagine that everyone really is your sibling, that nobody qualifies as an even half-assed them. Give AGoodGoddamn.

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StollenSunday


" … a warm and festive season blooming here inside."

The westerlies wrestled with a cold front heading South, promising but not yet delivering some sifting snow. It sure felt cold enough, though, as the first concerted cold settled in around the place. The fireplace burned all day long. The ovens contributed their part, too, for this sunny freezing Sunday marked the start of the season. The prior weekend, The Muse peeled oranges, lemons, and limes, candying the result along with eerie Buddha Hand citron fingers chopped small. The countertops had been stacked with baking trays overflowing with waves of drying peel, disrupting our regular routine through the week. I finally found some space for them atop the larder fridge in the garage so I could concoct my suppers in some semblance of peace, just in time for The Muse to turn the kitchen into a Stollen factory.

She made fruitcakes first, a cool dozen little loaves reeking of brandy and rich spice.

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Literature


" … hardly the high-brow notable kind."

I feel reasonably confident that I am not a literary snob, though I do maintain certain rather uncertain standards. I have not read many of the classics, and those I have perused, I found dated and stiff. Not that I could't appreciate the skill it must have taken to create them, more that the skill had not seemed to have aged that well. Shakespeare could certainly jot down the decent sonnet, but his iams seem labored and lost on me, the rhythm often obscuring the purpose. I've never really cared for riddles and confounding word play. I appreciate flowery speech but tire of the unending garden. I despise writing that leaves me feeling ignorant and uninformed, which might leave me snob enough, unwilling to bend over to meet an uncompromising author halfway.

I grew up in a home with plenty of reading material.

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TheNinnyGene


Smirking in response.

Everyone carries 'triggers' capable of reducing them into a ninny at times. TheNinnyGene expresses at what eventually become predictable times. Though most manage to keep the presence of this response secret (often even to themselves), those who come to know a person come to clearly see through whatever denying smokescreen their loved one might deploy. I feel reasonably confident that even Chuck Yeager carries TheNinnyGene. Given the right (by which I mean the wrong) conditions, he'd crap the cockpit of a P-38. I'm no different. Set me in the prep area of a surgical center, and my heart rate will attempt to set a new world land speed record while my blood pressure convinces the SurgTech that I'm preparing to stroke out on her watch. I feel perfectly placid during these events, with no sensation of horror movie hysterics. It's just my NinnyGene expressing itself.

My GP seems interested in identifying the source of my situational ninnyness, an exercise which I comment seems way too Freudian for me.

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Immersion


"I sometimes wonder if they even know what they've done."

I yesterday caught myself immersed in a book. I'd started the book more out of obligation than attraction. I'd spotted it in the library and found a strange attraction to it, though it came as an English translation from its original French. Then I kept it unread for nearly three weeks before sensing an impending past due notice. Opening it then, I learned that the manuscript had been delivered to the publisher by a retired attorney who had twenty-some years earlier agreed to deliver it following the death of the author's mother. The author, himself, had thrown himself in front of a train shortly after delivering the manuscript to his lawyer. This was the author's second novel, the first having finaled for a Man Booker Prize. Upon receiving the package, a junior publishing house clerk deposited it into the dreck pile where it remained unacknowledged for several months until a more senior partner found it. A flurry of authentication activity commenced, finally resulting in publication. I didn't suspect then that this set-up was part of the fiction. The book was actually written by the well-respected Scottish novelist Graeme Macrae Burnnet.

An Accident on the A35 is set outside of Strasbourg, France, and follows a rather bumbling small city chief of police as he investigates a fatal automobile accident, but all this plot serves as a nothing more than medium for something quite otherworldly.

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WeeSmall


"I chose to engage in some WeeSmall choosing instead."

"from dusk till dawn,
As the clock ticks on,
Something happens to you."

from Wee Small Hours by Bob Hilliard 1955

My most productive hours come in a WeeSmall size. The hours after dawn opens up, eventually spread between horizons, but the predawn time compresses into concentrated capsules. Like dog years, WeeSmall hours contain more time, in spite of their misleadingly tiny appearance. Distractions avoid WeeSmall hours, needing more space to frantically wave around their arms. Bright shiny objects seem relegated to modest sizes situated in outer space, hardly capable of disturbing concentration. The WeeSmall hours bring contemplation, the human facility capable of sorting through life's many and varied contradictions. Without my WeeSmall contemplative time, I might simply take this world and all its charms at face value and never suspect the many and varied interpretations I might make. In this way, the WeeSmall hours fuel better-informed choosing. In the dark and the cold, I feel safe to try on a variety of alternatives. By the time the sun starts thinking about rising, I'm almost present to my day, having made some initiating decisions which will reverberate in action thereafter. I can set aside my trial balloons and set about moving somewhat more deliberately.

I will probably have figured out nothing, but I will have sorted through the nature of the confusion.

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ColoradoSprings


" … salvation always on the wing."

I dreaded the coming of Autumn and the demise of our languid summer. I imagined, as I always imagine each end of September, that the snows would shortly start flying and The Muse and I would be sequestered beneath a snowbank until Spring, but the seasons don't work like that here. Forgive me for forgetting, but in Colorado, Autumn and Winter features more Spring-like weather than bitter cold. Sure, the weather here can turn on much less than a dime. Temperatures comfortably drop forty of fifty degrees in an hour or two, but not every day, not even every week. The weather turns both downward and upward, some dreary days melting into warm sunshine and the sound of moisture moving into the earth. Warm enough to paint outside. Warm enough to forget even a jacket as I step outside. Some plants dry to desiccated stalks but others seem nearly impervious to frost and seem to revitalize each time the warm sun reappears, and it seems to reappear a lot here.

These Autumn and Winter Springs seem capricious, and nobody gets their hopes up for a solid week of reprieve, but a day or two, sprinkled here and there throughout the dismal seasons seem adequate to recoup flagging spirits.

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Fizzle


"Soaring lasts longer than any crash."

Some plans gang agley, they go wrong. It's not really the plan that goes wrong, though, but the expectation of satisfaction the plan set up. The plan was fine, but the expectation proved faulty. The expectation, too, was just fine until it wasn't, perhaps even motivating hopeful pursuit, which is the very best kind, so the expectation wasn't really wrong either, not as long as it remained an expectation. At some hand-off point, the perfectly fine expectation fizzled out, as all expectations must eventually do. Perhaps it was whatever took over the expectation space's fault. I believe that we humans might be hardwired to expect good things to happen. Consistently expecting the worst gets classified as a mental disorder while hopefulness is seen as the cure. In that moment when hopefulness turns into cold despair, anyone might reasonably begin misattributing the cause back to the plan or the expectation, both of which were fine until encountering some Fizzle.

These discouragements sometimes prove fatal, but not usually.

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Dreadline


"I wonder what will keep me awake then."

I have a deadline looming. How is it that once a deadline's set, it does tend to loom, to threateningly hover over? I once took to calling these time marks 'stay awake dates' to try to ward off the associated sense of impending doom. The purpose of a deadline should probably not be to suck all the motive force out of the effort to meet that date, but they do seem to do exactly that, so I tried to associate those dates with a more positive moniker. Still, the inherent inevitability seemed to cloud my mind no matter how I tried to counter its influence. This particular Stay Awake Date seems more like a drop dead date, anyway. I'm really not trying to stay awake, but more interested in letting the time fly by so this date will fall behind me. This one represents a surgical procedure scheduled for tomorrow morning. I've been watching the countdown clock trudge away all day. It trudges exceedingly slowly.

I'm unlikely to drop dead once this drop dead date appears.

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GrowingUp


"I am about as strategic as a strand of overcooked spaghetti …"

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever grow up. I've been growing for a very long time without really feeling as if I'm anywhere close to up. I'm still a kid at heart and not yet really much of a part of the grown up world, which continues to mostly mystify me. I prefer the company of small children, those still mastering the language but not yet outgrowing absurdity. I like to puzzle through the world with those who presume that I might know better, then demonstrate that I probably don't, and that they probably do. I tend to appear a fool around them, which suits me fine. I think I might hold the responsibility to never overshadow kids, to let them run the world we share. I don't really have much faith in grown-ups.

I know, kids grow up fast, though I didn't.

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Dentity


"Holding that question seemed worthy of me, but finding the answer, deadly."

Who am I? ranks near the top of the list of Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions (FUQs for the acronymic among us). Since FUQs remain presumed unanswerable, they pose a particular challenge. FUQs never prove to be Fundamentally Unaskable Questions, though, and we tend to ask with the same spirit that governs the old Seek And Ye Shall Find conundrum. Seeking without finding remains a common experience regardless of what the homilarians (people who promote the indiscriminate application of homilies) might insist. It simply does not follow that an answer exists simply because I can ask the prompting question. Part of maturity might include the growing ability to distinguish between FUQs and the fundamentally answerable ones.

Declaring a question fundamentally unanswerable does not render it unconsiderable, though.

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A Brush With The Transcendent


"… after I'd lost track of myself."

I reluctantly engage, as if facing some impossibility. I know how to paint, but never seem to trust my instincts or understandings beforehand. I make a deliberate ritual out of gathering materials, the thin rubber gloves, the defiled paint can, the handy hand-held paint cup, my spattered havelock, my special spotted shoes and smock, my ragged jeans. I try to preplan the job, imagining that my perception could extend into the near future, though I know for certain that I will never know anything until I show up and lose myself, immersed in the job. Too much depends upon altogether too much for me to foresee very much of anything. I intend to do some painting.

Painting occurs on some different plane where present remains as permanence. Imagine if a breath became a sculpture, an instantaneous addition to the permanent collection.

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GoingBackToGoBackToGo


"Iterating 'more perfect' never produces perfection, thank heavens."

The General Electric Corporation's advertisements, back when it was the largest corporation in the world, used to tout that "Progress Is Our Most Important Product." What then? I assumed that by injecting progress at every step, the company plugged into a positively recursive progression, where progress built upon progress to create ever more sublime expressions of progress until reaching some sort of engineering nirvana. Then people started asking what they meant by progress. GE started focusing upon financing more than engineering, and as companies tend to do, they dabbled, then grew to dominate, a rather shady side of the street, credit default swaps and other "junk" instruments. How does one inject progressive quality into the junk financing market? GE managed it by swallowing many bad investments, essentially swallowing themselves like James Whitcomb Riley's infamous Squimum-Squeegy "what swallered his self." GE was recently delisted. Now it seems to be GoingBackToGoBackToGo on the great Monopoly® board of industry.

GE serves as just another more recent example of companies following Ozymandias' lead. The mighty fall. The great ultimately achieve greater humility.

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InSlight


" … a land filled with freaks and the home of true knaves?"

The story dries up sometimes. It dries up and blows away, carried by outrage turned inward. Beyond some point, I can no longer smugly refuse to take the endless insult personally. The daily news no longer seems new. It becomes a recursive same old thing, irrational inventions intended to keep everyone feeling off balance. The only defense becomes another offense. Symbolic fences become indefensible walls. Calls for civility sound like cat-calls, chiding, deriding. The whole world seems populated with grudgy eight year olds, perpetually offended, somehow short-changed. This world then seems fundamentally unfair, bounty-hunting the good guys, posting gloating photos of her latest kill. Everybody becomes somebody's shill and everybody knows it, bracing in the crash position for the following unavoidable collision. Pick a fight, lose, then pretend it didn't hurt. Stand tall on pseudo hind legs, proclaiming another victory. A victim's victory, righteousness reinforced by the persistent absence of any discernible success.

The moral of the story seems inside-out. Good guys never win. Charity becomes evidence of great personal weakness. Humility, a symbol of absent grit.

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GivingThanks


" … that trailer park experience never leaves her."

No Thanksgiving season passes without The Muse recalling the holidays she spent living in a trailer park outside Fayetteville, Arkansas. However fine her sensibilities today, she's known times when three for a buck box dinners satisfied her hunger, and times when three for a buck seemed too dear to always hope for. The beneficiary of charitable giving, she revels in her present of role as benefactor. So when the local realtor came by the place this week to drop off an empty grocery bag, The Muse's eyes lit up. The note promised that she'd be back after nine thirty the following Saturday, so the deadline was preset. Saturday morning, The Muse was up by five, asking when the supermarket opened. We were out of the house by six, a winter storm gratefully delayed for a promising few hours.

The supermarket aisles were littered with packing boxes as a cadre of clerks restocked shelves for the weekend before Thanksgiving rush.

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ForcingChoices


"More choices rarely produce better results …"

Sixty years ago, when this time of year arrived, my siblings and I would begin our annual attempt to hog the new seasonal Sears Wishbook catalogue, where we'd imagine alternative universes in preparation for Christmas. I'd eyeball almost everything, mentally trying on that sweater and playing electronic football, making lists, chucking them many more times than twice, overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of so many choices. Knowing that I'd ultimately pare down my list to a bare handful only made making my choices more exasperating. The greater the number of choices, the more difficult the choosing because any choice excluded dozens of alternatives. I welcomed the early days, just after the Wishbook arrived, but after five or six weeks of concerted study, I was ready to settle for anything, or even nothing, just to conclude the ordeal of choosing.

This season, no Wishbook arrived. The local Sears sports a huge Going Out Of Business sign.

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UnderFoot


"That's ninety percent of any boss's job, anyway."

I spent my day trying to stay out from underfoot. It's a skill I learned from my earliest days. In my time (spoke the geezer), children were either underfoot or not underfoot. Underfoot was a bad state, a situation that would inevitably result in some form of chastisement. A child then should have been seen but not heard or, better yet, not seen, either. I was raised in a world almost exclusively inhabited by adults and children hiding out, lest we be seen, or worse, heard. No Black Hawk Helicopter Parents then, we were born sort of independent, or independent enough to know that we could not rely upon our elders to stroke the odd ego or attend to emotional needs. These days, and, indeed, in my own children's childhood, the kids are buddies and their parents their co-conspirators. Then, we were flotsam in public, best left to our own designs. If we made trouble, we prayed that the news wouldn't make it back to the mothership. We were largely on our own, and grateful for the space.

I spent this day trying to stay out from underfoot because I had workers on the place.

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Blue-er


"I settle for accepting this tiny overwhelming one."

The sky 'turns' blue after the snowstorm passes. During the storm, the sky disappears, moving so close to the ground that it essentially leaves. Ground and what used to be sky turn into one indistinguishable entity. Up falls down and down slowly moves up as snow accumulates. Outside loses a dimension. Even sideways takes a hit as horizon shrinks to barely across the street. I stand imbedded in a snow globe where the dimensions of the globe, of the entire world, shrink to barely arm's length. Inside, the rooms seem smaller, too. The house suddenly more homey, I feel warmly contained. The world seems almost understandable then, complexity reduced to the near absolute simplicity of accumulation. I ask myself, "How deep is it now?" Depth easily and unambiguously determined, I hold no further questions. I shovel off the latest layer completely satisfied, knowing full well that I'll need to shovel off subsequent layers before the storm passes. I seem reduced to mere observer, appreciative of the narrowing obligations. I'm out of toothpaste and try to drive out, but turn around in a preponderance of caution, relieved to return unharmed. I find my travel stash and conclude that I moved on false fears, and that maybe I could accept that my responsibilities lie right here and nowhere else for now.

Acceptance seems a terrible burden. Even grace, that most under-appreciated gift, wants nothing more complicated than acknowledgement.

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CityLegs


" … feeling about half the man I fondly remembered that I used to be."

In cities, people live on sidewalks. In suburbs, cars. When not on sidewalks, city people might hop a bus or the subway, sometimes even grab an Uber between neighborhoods, exiting onto yet another sidewalk again. In suburbs, it's cars all the way down. When the suburban visits the city, they drive their car, which they are shackled to for the duration of the trip. Should the suburban find themselves fortunate enough to find a place to park their car, they also find good reason to grumble about the price for parking, then still find themselves shackled to wherever they parked the damned thing, carefully monitoring how far they've wandered lest they find themselves cut off from their hasty escape. City people develop CityLegs, ones accustomed to a twelve block stroll. Suburbanites might notice blisters forming on their feet after four or five blocks. And the blocks seem so big, littered with distractions, shops for every faction living there; with curious customs. The proprietor might want to chat. What should a puzzled suburbanite think of that?

The urban/rural divide isn't a simple six of one versus a half dozen of another. It's long division, requiring some heavy lifting to carry remainders across columns separated by wholly different dimensions.

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Armistice


"Let us bless each other, then, for nobody else could ever be qualified to."

I wasn't there, a hundred years ago today. Neither was my maternal grandfather, though he was in uniform sitting on a troopship in New York Harbor, halfway there from home. Amy's grand uncle wasn't there, either, for he had become a casualty of that last big push along the Marne, mired in mud and insanity like this world had never before imagined, and can hardly remember after. Twenty million, probably many more, had been disqualified from attending, too, having become casualties before hostilities could cease. A few millions more, who might have attended but didn't, and a few who did show up, would fall prey to the Spanish Flu within the following year or so. It was a time when on any day, someone might simply go away as if they'd never even been here. They sang that they were over there though none knew where over there was or would be.

Last year, The Muse and I were honored to visit the cemetery where her great uncle lies, a stunningly beautiful park.

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DazeOff


"Forced into mindfulness, we muddle around hoping to stumble back into our familiar habituals again."

Years ago, The Insurance Company where I worked distributed Covey's Seven Habits to all management, strongly encouraging each recipient to carefully read the book, for it described how the company would henceforth operate. This title remains the only book I've ever felt moved to burn after reading. It helped accelerate my timetable for leaving the company and not only because it described a manner of living utterly alien and repulsive to me. One may not prescribe any habit without bumping one's head on a low-hanging Be Spontaneous! Paradox. Habits remain the antithesis of mindfulness, more indicative of obsession or compulsion than choice. The author described what seemed to me like a two dimensional solution for an n-dimensional difficulty, a superficial strategy for inducing some sort of pseudo-significant effect, affects too-desperately seeking causes. I felt crazy reading it, so I figured the very best service I could provide to the world would be to eliminate any possibility that my copy might infect anyone else, so I built a fine fire and threw that sucker in there.

Books don't burn all that easily. It seems as though they resist actually burning.

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VoeTing

"What we choose to do with the result determines its meaning as well as its significance."

In his Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, whenever author Douglas Adams' protagonist Arthur Dent found himself in serious peril, an impossibility generator would shift the plot into something completely different, if not always any less threatening. I think of voting as just such an invocation. Some mistake it as a referendum on knowledge or intelligence, and understandably so, but improbability generators hardly ever produce logical or rational (knowledgeable) results, but usually unlikely ones. Before the election, pollsters and pundits carefully take the electorate's pulse, just as if an electorate possessed such a thing, then project results with appropriate-seeming ranges of probability. Sometimes these predictions turn out to be true, though nobody ever investigates the root cause of their seeming accuracy when they are right. Folks seem altogether too busy failing to explain instead why they were wrong when they turn out to be wrong, the correct answer finally becoming beside anyone's point. This practice only seems smart, and might actually be smart, but how smart is smart in practice?

My point about voting might be that it is almost but not completely unlike
(to borrow another Adams phrase) an exam. It was never intended to survey for correct responses, though each voter might well hold convictions about right and wrong for themselves.

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Wealth


"I am a serial offender against the Law of Attraction."

As I neared graduation from my undergraduate studies, envoys from the Business School started asking me to coffee. Some of these had served as my instructors through my three years of university study. They described the turbo boost that a Master's would add to my upcoming career, and the B-school would finance it all if I agreed to teach classes while I studied. The two year commitment would guarantee me sixty or more hour weeks. By then, I was holding down a full time job and a little more than a full load of classes, burning myself out trying to rid myself of the damnable anvil of schoolwork. I had a family by then, a newborn son and a wife with clear and undeflectable intentions of of bearing a second child shortly thereafter. We'd just been displaced from our rental by a landlord who chose to raise the rent monthly to keep up with the fifteen plus percent annual inflation rate. We'd borrowed from family to buy our first house, a place that we didn't know would quickly lose twenty percent of its value, in the hopes of at least stabilizing housing costs. My job paid for my books and tuition as an employee benefit, but I had to work full time to collect the benefit. My life already seemed plenty turbo-charged at that moment.

I declined the opportunity to pursue my MBA, reasoning that my time spent with my newborns would not be deferrable until any later date. I simply didn't want an MBA enough to sacrifice what I was already barely holding onto.

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DaylightEnslavementTime


"I'll probably recover."

Once there was a time before time, before we managed to finely measure it. Then, all time was approximate, never exact, or never more exact than a cast shadow. When the sun stood directly overhead, one could say, "It's noon," without receiving a bunch of guff in return. A mile down the road, noon arrived at a different time than it did here; a constant difference, but nonetheless a difference. When mankind still moved at the speed of a walking horse, these differences didn't matter to anyone. The telegraph and steam-powered transportation changed everything. Once train passengers needed to make connections with steam ships, it became a lot more difficult to determine the time. The mighty Union Pacific operated on Omaha time, two hours ahead of Oakland time. A steamship might maintain its schedule according to its headquarter's time, meaning that Omaha time and Cherbourg time collided there. Modernists finally managed to negotiate an international treaty which calibrated standard times relative to Greenwich Mean Time, an act that infuriated farmers and fundamentalists worldwide.

During WWI, various national governments took exception to their earlier agreements, instituting a more thoroughly modern Daylight Savings Time, reportedly to provide more daylight to aid in the manufacture of war materiel.

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LarderFridge


"Certain ethics govern the acquisition of a LarderFridge."

Three and a half years have passed since we last owned a LarderFridge, a ramshackle second refrigerator intended to hold overflows. leftovers, and beer. It's been a genuine ordeal. In Winter, of course, we enjoyed the walk-out refrigeration services the weather delivers directly to our deck. Last week, the pot of leftover pozole and a nearly full gallon of sweet cider sat knee deep in fresh snow, though by Friday that snow had melted and I had to direct the refrigerator's contents to scrunch up so those babies would fit inside. Late in the week, The Ever-Vigilant Muse noticed another refrigerator give-away on the local listserv and she immediately contacted the owner. We'd been trolling for a free fridge for three and a half years, narrowly missing more than a few. This time, the owner replied that she'd already found a taker, though she'd leave us in the queue. Friday, she contacted us again, saying that the first taker had declined the offer. We readily and unconditionally accepted, sight unseen. We were that desperate for an "extra" fridge.

Certain ethics govern the acquisition of a LarderFridge. One may not, for instance, just go buy one, for that would demonstrate both a lack of faith in providence and a demeaning over-eagerness.

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MisterCommunication


"Maybe we could muster a week-long workshop on interpersonal miscommunication."

I think of myself as a solid journeyman communicator, certainly not a master. I've studiously avoided delving too awfully deeply into any of the many linguistic theories and practices. Neuro-Linguistic Programming gives me the creeps. Noam Chomsky reliably puts me to sleep. Formal grammar simply seems beyond me. I navigate language employing a mostly-reliable felt sense. I generally manage to make myself understood. I'm quick with words, skilled as producing the encapsulating phrase, and, though a lousy speller, a half-way decent writer. I still surprise myself, though, when rediscovering the first principle of communication, that it's often the illusion that it's occurred. I'm perfectly capable of flowing along convinced that I'm on the same page before shockingly catching on that I'm not even in the same library as my counterpart. I'm growing toward accepting these disconnects as imperfectly normal, though they still shock me every time.

I learned last night that The Muse will be heading out to attend a week-long workshop in New Orleans on Monday morning.

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FallowTime


"Nothing like that looms until planning season comes."

Long planned, I quickly executed the work in four days spread over three weeks, owing to the weather and my personal preference for procrastination. Too much sun or two much wind and I figured I was better off waiting for some better moment. The final push, two frenzied days, occurred as they always seem to, in a blur. Once I allowed myself permission to finish, goosed by the clear threat of an impending snow squall, I left my senses behind, immersing myself into the job at hand. Those final few sandings, several squirts of supplemental caulking, some final perfunctory smoothings of unredeemably rough surfaces, and I started opening paint cans. Oil based primer for the bare spots, a thick acrylic to smooth over gouges and caulkings. The acrylic dried to the mottled patina of Elmer's® glue. This first frenzy left me with nothing to do until the next day.

The next day, I debated whether the final day had actually, finally, arrived. By mid-morning, having finished my writing for the day and feeling terribly ill-at-ease, I finally surrendered to the inevitable.

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Complicity


"Life amounts to endless lessons in humility."

In his book Seeing Systems, Author Barry Oshrey describes what he calls The Blindnesses. I am unavoidably blind because I'm here, not there, like you are inescapably blind because you are there and not here. We're also mostly blind to the fact that we are blind. In my Seven Ethical Responsibilities, I name Conscious Blindness as an ethical matter. I believe that I hold the ethical responsibility to not space out the fact that I cannot see everything around me, and to remember that nobody else can see everything surrounding them, either. This reminder encourages a certain generosity of spirit. I cannot credibly hold anyone responsible to be fully clued in, including myself, not to make whiny excuses, but to better understand and appreciate.

All that said, I'm coming to a renewed recognition that to live is to be complicit.

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DiffsGiftering


"The difference finally starts feeling like a gift rather than a curse …"

Those of us born with few natural gifts might understand better than those born with an abundance of them. We learned to hide them lest they expose us as different, for as we all learned in Junior High, different is bad, sameness, much better. Some of us struggled to fit in without noticing that we worked much harder to cloak our differences than we would have ever had to work to embrace them. School, which might be best understood as a systematic process for instilling self-consciousness, reinforced the notion that different was at best a difficulty. So much easier and more efficient if everyone could just color within prescribed lines. At the end of the year, if I'd successfully respected the edges, my teachers declared that I'd passed, which meant that they hadn't found me out; a victory … of sorts.

Junior High provided an exquisite introduction into the fine art of passing, an invaluable ability as one sought to enter ever higher levels of self-consciousness: university and the working world beyond.

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SchKnowDay


" …to those affecting the flat American dialect, … I'm forever Smaltz and The Muse, Swab …"

The rumor starts a few days before. By the time it becomes a genuine forecast signified by the red triangle with the exclamation point inside, it's already arrived. Our behavior changes long before the first snow falls, though. I'm up and out, driving in pre-dawn darkness to the closest supermarket to restock the larder lest we get snowed in and starve. Neither The Muse nor I have been in any real danger of starvation since Reagan was President, but one never knows. I suspect that vestigial memories linger from that terrible Autumn of 1804 when our ancestors barely survived to carry forward our DNA. We know how to prepare for snow.

I try to talk The Muse out of going into the lab today, thinking myself just acting prudently.

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Jigs


'They've figured out our shortcut and know how handy we aren't.'

The jig serves as the craftsperson's secret weapon. The sculptor, the painter, the quilter, the woodworker each employ special-purpose tool-guiding tools which remain almost unknown to the casual hobbyist. The master's freehand work might not produce anything any finer than any rank amateur could muster, but on the master's way to mastering their craft, they first mastered crafting the lowly jig, which could more consistently guide their hands guiding their tools. The absence of jigs in my toolbox clearly demonstrates that I am not a master of very many crafts. My father's old carpenter's square helps me mark true perpendiculars. A scrap of tape on a drill bit helps me avoid drilling holes too deeply. The pilot holes I drill before setting long screws not only prevent splitting the stock but guides the screws better than could my naked eye and unassisted hand.

Writers employ a variety of jigs, too, most of these almost invisible in the finished work.

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PrepWork


"Are we there yet? Probably not."

Outside of industrial mass production, most work seems properly classified under the label PrepWork. Cooking supper mostly amounts to waiting for the oven to finish. Prepping whatever's cooking might have needed hours of concerted effort to process without producing anything more than supper's components, which the oven will finish without any active cook's intervention. Planting a garden's about 80% securing and schlepping supplies. Even mopping the kitchen floor involves much more moving chairs and Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat's feeding station than actual mopping. Because of this feature, I understand that most chores have been mislabeled, and this leads folks to misinterpret what tasks entail. Painting's almost entirely PrepWork. Even laundry requires more sorting than washing, yet nobody declares that they're off to sort laundry, but to wash it. The machine does the washing. No machine knows how to properly sort laundry.

PrepWork seems the source of much of my frustration as I rediscover that the effort I anticipated hardly resembles the work I find I must do before I can do the work I expected to be doing.

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Debasedball


" … no further injections needed or wanted until Spring."

Post-season Major League Baseball offers a final opportunity to shed the seasonal obsession before the playing ends. Without it, a fan might face a cold turkey withdrawal from a dependency not yet overcome. After, a fog of distain remains, a gratitude for evenings returned, a deep appreciation for the absence of a long-lingering obligation. Fans seem superstitious folk, ones who firmly believe that the simple act of listening in to the proceedings assists the beloved home team. They can't hardly stand to miss a single outing, they hold their deluded responsibility so dear. By the end of the regular season, a definite parting begins. The home team hasn't made the playoffs again, in spite of the fan's unflagging long-distance support, and no team making the playoffs seems nearly as dear. The fan makes it clear to anyone within hearing distance that all joy has already left Mudville, though they'll consent to dabbling in a likely mediocre witnessing of the remainders, but only for old time tradition's sake.

The playoffs bring fresh underdogs needing someone to root for them, and the fan eventually complies, choosing a least likely but somehow most lovable from each league's roster.

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SlowNewsDay


"Only the paint ever knows how to dry."

I hold the strong opinion that watching paint dry has been unfairly denigrated, for few experiences match the subtle satisfaction, after a few hours spent applying paint, of simply sitting back and watching it dry. During those times, the Earth seems solid, the sky blue, and the universe in good working order. The fresh paint scents the scene with cleanliness, even godliness. All's right with the world. A freshly mowed lawn comes in at a close second place, the activity having raised a slight glow of sweat which evaporates off with a soul-cleansing psychic sigh. The satisfying payoff might be the explicit permission to revel in doing nothing at all, watching paint dry being a dodge and not really a producing activity at all. Give the same guy placidly watching his freshly applied paint dry the opportunity to sit like some Zen monk in any other context and he'd likely fidget nervously in place, self-consciousness subsuming the opportunity for enlightenment. Focusing on that paint, though, the same man experiences true transcendence.

I open the paper, hoping for a SlowNewsDay.

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LongDay


" … sleep decided to stay out all night carousing with unreputable friends."

The Hunter's Moon, the final full moon before we set about setting back time this season, introduces a sort of circadian arrhythmia. It's a relatively bright moon, given that night has already fallen by the time it shows up. The Autumn air seems thinner and shadows streak the neighborhood until just before dawn. The nightlight seems particularly bright and sleep grows disinterested in her usual engagement. I lie awake lying to myself, pretending to feel sleepy, closing my eyes without amping down my suddenly hyperactive brain even a tiny bit. I'm raring to go with nowhere to go, playing solitaire charades until I finally just abandon the ruse. Not yet two am, but I'm up and wandering the halls already.

I search for Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, concerned that she might have slipped into some inescapable corner of the place. She hadn't shown up for last call.

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HitHard


" I suppose that it's nobody's fault."

On August 24, 2018, Geoffrey Weglarz (alias Geoffrey Corbis) drove into New York City from his home in Connecticut to sell a camera tripod at a photography shop. They gave him a check for $275. He next went to his bank to cash that check. The bank had a policy of calling the source to confirm that the check was good, but the shop had closed for the day so the bank refused to cash the check. Geoffrey drove to the Lower East Side, parked his car, and drank a vial of poison he'd acquired on the dark web. He texted his sister in Florida saying that the stuff tasted every bit as terrible as he'd feared, then he died sitting in the driver's seat of his car. His family contacted the NYPD several times over the following week seeking their help in locating Geoffrey. The found him a week later, still sitting behind the wheel of his car.

Geoffrey started his adult life as a dinner theater actor, a passion he continued to pursue until shortly before he took his own life.

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GooDooding


" …I'm likely to just give her what I think she wants to receive in return,
and that without even asking her what answer she wants."

A quarter of a century or so ago, my dear friend Wayne Strider caught me inflicting help. He patiently explained to me that most help works better if one remembers to first ask the target if they want help. Simply seeming to need help doesn't mean that someone wants it. He'd caught me presuming. I think of myself as a helpful do-gooder type, delighted to assist, sometimes altogether too delighted to just jump in and assist without first asking for permission. Maybe that kind of help might be better classified as self-help, the sort of help one provides to feed their own need to feel helpful. It's one of the more popular ways to drive others crazy, a benevolent double-bind, like insisting that another put on their sweater because I'M cold.

Let's call this curious assistance GooDooding.

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SafeSpaces


"Places without SafeSpaces seem miserable places, indeed."

I've recently seen a lot of commentary complaining about SafeSpaces. The complainants seem to subscribe to the What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger school of social advancement, as if an absence of safety toughens people, encourages bravery, and yields straighter backbones. I'm of the opposite ilk. In my experience, the absence of safety brings out some of the worst in people. It might shut them down or set them off, neither state terribly conducive to full engagement. If I've got one eye employed to keep a watch out for someone sneaking up to get me from behind, I can't hardly keep both eyes peering ahead. For me, SafeSpaces seem fundamental to any endeavor.

Not that any of us should avoid at least preemptory preparations for the odd worst case scenario, but worst case scenarios so rarely occur that it seems pointless to over-prepare for them.

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AmNot


"I'd find the controversy laughable if it weren't so damned serious."

I am not a Capitalist, a Christian, or a Conservative. I accept that these nots alone render me a shadow in this culture. Add to these deficits the fact that I'm also not a chauvinist of any color and therefore decidedly not a patriot, and I essentially become an anathema of an American, though the original charter guarantees me the full freedom to embrace whatever beliefs I feel moved to hold. The freedom of speech does not guarantee anyone the right to scream Fire! in any crowded theater, and being no dummy, I remain mostly mute when it comes to my true beliefs. Culture, whatever that might be, always seems to retain a dominant perspective along with the will to squelch and smother those failing to subscribe to that outlook.

During the American Revolution, no more than a third of the population supported the uprising. A third firmly supported the king, while another third refused to take a side, viewing the resulting war as an unfortunate choice.

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Loaves&Flinches


"One startled flinch in preparation could have ruined the whole enterprise."

Back in Jesus' time, when the odd multitude showed up for supper, loaves and fishes were the popular response. Bordering The Sea of Galilee, fishes were common as pebbles then, and once you get started making pita loaves, you can't hardly stop, reliably producing dozens more than intended every time, so loaves were always in surplus, too. Another positive aspect of this menu was the Wow! factor, as one could plate it almost as if by magic. Everyone at table couldn't help but feel as though they'd been especially blessed and had witnessed a miracle of sorts. In those days before the invention of Miracle Whip®, a host, even the host of hosts, could not rely upon store bought to beatify any guest.

These days, mac and cheese fills the multitude menu slot. Macaroni drenched in a cheese sauce comes about as close to fully fungible as one can get without a handy Galilee and a neighborhood of over-achieving bakers.

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Errants


" … a whole five days will stretch to the horizon to promise fresh errants needing my attention."

The Muse and I live in a neighborhood from which we cannot walk to anywhere. Though we're plopped in the middle of a wildlife refuge, the only trails seem more suited to game and dog walkers than any through hikers. Even the village center lies a mile and a half away along a narrow-shouldered two-lane that feels equally dangerous to traverse by either foot or bike. Consequently, errands require driving, belying the rugged outdoors cache this conclave carries. The Muse was raised ten miles from anywhere on a South Dakota farmstead, so the commuting seems more wired into her system than into my own town-bred DNA. I'd much rather walk there and back again, but groceries wait ten miles away, uphill both ways, and I haven't figured out how to carry a couple of shopping bags there and back again. I'm married to the car.

I try to plan ahead, to limit the number of outings necessary to satisfy the list. I plot paths between the various purveyors as carefully as any knight Errant might, employing shortcuts and secret passages to reduce overall transit time.

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Illiberation


My hero: Henry L. Gantt

" … the utter subjugation of every individual contributor to the will of the machine."

Henry was a very smart bear working for a very powerful man. The powerful man was an authoritarian, convinced of his own genius, who strong-armed his way into giant corporations, gaining permission to implement tactics the owners lacked the hutzpah to introduce themselves. He called himself a scientist, though he was more Puritan than professor. He touted The One Best Way, and was so convinced of the righteousness of his cause that he infected others with his zealotry. He believed in First Class Men, those who exceeded his expectations. All others, he believed, lacked sufficient motivation to succeed and were therefore unworthy of receiving anything.

Henry worked as a sort of chief of staff to his patron.

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Recovery


"A glass of beer's hardly worth the risk of a long night spent freezing in the backseat of some stranger's car or a crudely sliced artery leaking life."

Autumn along Colorado's Front Range feels volatile, like a slow-motion drunken bar fight. Nobody ever explains what sets off this country grown complacent from months of placidly sweet weather punctuated with no more than a few much-needed showers and the occasional thrilling hail storm, but by October, the situation turns deadly serious. The sharp edge of a Canadian cold front slips into the fray and everything instantaneously changes. A quiet threat's exchanged which almost nobody takes very seriously, the sun still shining warmly and a breeze hardly ruffles barely turning cottonwoods and aspens. When the slash comes, it takes me by surprise. I'd forgotten how savage that first swipe could be and my native generosity takes the first cut. I flee inside and start plotting my own demise, certain that I'll be sequestered there for the better part of the next half year.

The following day, the damnation seems permanent.

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Figure/Ground


"Which it really was never really mattered."

I believe that I live in a holographic universe where what I see ain't exactly what's there. This belief could certainly drive me crazy if I took it too seriously; for instance, if I believed that something of genuine substance really should be there. I understand that my first pratfall should have persuaded me to take these holograms seriously, but sensation also seems rather holographic, transitory by nature, there then gone. This whole place seems like a figure/ground projection where whatever's attracting my attention amounts to the figure and everything else, backdrop ground, hardly perceived, so hardly there. Both the figure and the ground also seem continually present, only distinguished by where I'm focusing. How real is real? Not terribly, I say.

Physics seems to stack up on my side of this controversy, explaining as it does how everything's composed of stuff we cannot perceive in its native atomic state.

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ShowFall


"I spent the longest time timeless there."

The snow day came on a Sunday, seventeen degrees and snowing like a Son of a Bitch outside. The weather reporter insisted that it had never been this cold here this early in the season, the previous record low only in the mid-thirties. We were headed for single digits overnight. The paper never came, though the roads remained bare, still holding heat leftover from yesterday's nearly seventy degree sunshine. The neighbor kids were out in it, screaming down the steep sidehill, scraping it bare before the snow could gain any real depth. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat huddled so close to the gas fireplace that she seemed to steam as she slept. I grabbed the latest John Sanford Freaking Flowers novel, a serendipitous find at the library the morning before, and retreated to the master bedroom to read and revel in the sublimely isolating weather. Neither The Muse nor I were gonna spoil that fifteen dollar car wash sloshing around through snow.

By the next morning, the roads would likely be bare and dry. At this altitude, nearly eight thousand feet, once the snow stops and the temperature drops, moisture evaporates off the asphalt so quickly the roads swirl with steam, ice never getting a chance to set.

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TheLastDayOfSpring


"I smile myself to sleep …"

The Muse and I celebrate, truly celebrate, two days each year: The First Day Of Summer and The Last Day Of Spring. The First Day of Summer arrives sometime in late May or early June on the first weekend following what seems likely to be the very last Winter frost, the day when we pull out all the pots and plant what will become our Summer garden on the deck, out of reach of the scavenging deer. The Last Day Of Spring comes the weekend before the first heavy snowfall of Winter, usually in early October, when we tear down our summer refuge. These days carry deep significance for us. The First Day Of Summer represents our active resistance to the degrading effects of seven or eight months of sequestration. The Last Day Of Spring represents our active acceptance of entering hibernation again. The First Day Of Summer lets come. The Last Day Of Spring lets go.

We exhibit great energy on these days, facing a body of physical labor greater than any we will enjoy on any other day of the year. I'll schlepp and scrub while The Muse plants or repots.

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Copyediting


" … sit me down to copyedit and I seize up."

I drag both feet when it comes to copyediting what I've written. I write in three month batches, finishing each piece to a readable state, then collate the heap into a contiguous form before carefully re-reading to make final improvements. The whole parses differently than individual pieces and copyediting hardly encourages itself the way writing does. It's picky work, the sort requiring focused attention. I can't get too caught up in the content or I lose the necessary broader focus, but I dare not get so elevated within any broader focus that I cannot catch the tiniest necessary correction. I find this work to be endlessly boring, nap-inducing, and infinitely unsatisfying. I engage in it only in very small
sessions, twenty minutes or a half hour, before I find I simply must focus upon something, anything else. I exit feeling emptied.

Every time I exit feeling emptied, I feel less motivated to re-enter and finish this scut work.

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ZeroSum


" … a winner of sorts sitting there all alone."

The conservative worldview seems to embrace the notion that zero-sum rules govern this world. It perceives this world as distinctly divided into winners and losers. Those who win, win. Those who do not win, lose. Progressives seem to perceive the world differently, as if this were an abundant place where winners need not produce losers; where win/win outcomes remain possible if not always likely, where ingenuity and persistence have pretty reliably produced some semblance of better for all: abundance. The world itself seems indifferent to which perspective anyone takes. It seems to produce whatever any perspective insists upon. If you believe in a zero-sum world, the world will not disappoint your expectation. If you believe in an abundant one, it might well satisfy you, too. The outcome seems sealed by the tenacity with which one holds their particular belief. The world might be a self-fulfilling sort of place, a medium capable of delivering upon anyone's convictions about it.

Many of us aren't terribly experienced with abundance. We honed our economic chops playing Monopoly®, a zero-sum board game promising to reveal the secrets of the rich and famous.

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TheAverageOfOne


" … every single human being is also above average … "

In Garrison Keillor's mythical Midwestern town of Lake Woebegone, " … all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Of course, in any discrete population, not everyone can possibly end up above the average for anything. Call this The Law of Averages. In any population, whatever the purpose for sampling, some will fall below and others above the designated midpoint. A few might classify as spot-on average, but no group can possibly be comprised of entirely above averages. This small fact has yet to dissuade organizations from carefully recruiting only The Best and the Brightest, to attempt to violate The Law of Averages and produce a high performing Lake Woebegone sort of operation. This strategy hasn't worked yet. Yet.

I can, however, inhabit a real-life Lake Woebegone.

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Reasoning


" … survival of The People seems to find in favor of those few."

Like many in my generation, I first encountered logic in an algebra class. I didn't understand that I was encountering logic at the time, so I struggled to remember all the strange new rules. My teachers treated these curiosities as simple extensions of the trivial principles governing arithmetic, but they seemed much more complicated, so complicated that I never managed to fully sort out or assimilate them. I experienced endless Easter Eggs, imbedded practices not obvious upon initial scrutiny and apparently only discoverable when the instructor judged my answer wrong. The gists never popped for me, so I learned to fake it, to work backwards from the answers in the back of the book or demonstrate my faith in an invisible higher power when taking an exam. I faked well enough to eventually earn a university degree, though the logical reasoning underpinning at least the mathematical part of that certification still escapes me.

My second encounter with logic came when I sat down to take the SAT exam.

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Silenced


Tomato plant succumbing to snowfall

"I have nothing left to say about anything."

The weather reporter insisted that it wouldn't snow until tomorrow, most probably over tomorrow night. I figured I'd have the whole day to watch the summer flowers bask in their last day gracing the back of the place. Yesterday, the fog hung low like on some backlot from an old Sherlock Holmes movie, humidity hovering in the nineties all day. I brought inside the huge three and a half year old geranium, and the half dozen basil plants so The Muse could make one last big batch of fresh pesto, along with the hibiscus, even though I know the hibiscus won't like it one bit in the house. It was still blooming, still late Spring in its head, and I felt it only decent to at least try to extend its life, even though I well understood the futility involved. The months of tender care, the casual evening fare grilled out there almost every night, are gone now. Silenced by the first Fall snow.

Autumn arrives abruptly here along the Front Range.

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WorkSing


"If you ever meet me on a golf course, shoot me. You'll be doing us both a great favor."

I have a difficult time envisioning my great grandparents hanging out. I'm uncertain if hanging out had even been invented then. They busted their humps for their entire ninety year-and-then-some lifespans. Even in retirement, they hardly slowed, having mouths to feed and a small home to maintain. They just kept at it until they were no more. I suppose that the notion of leisure as a just reward for labor originated with people who had insufficient work to keep them entertained, potentates and such. Later, it was sold as a promise, perhaps to mollify those who labored at the more exhausting jobs. Keep your nose clean and you could be playing golf on Saturday. In the mean time, tote that damned bale, slave.

I think the smooth transfer of the desire for leisure failed for me. I understand that it has now become an imbedded part of the amended American Dream, but it seems a more nightmarish threat to me.

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Crapmanship


"I'd better find my satisfaction in accepting that I fooled at least those eyes."

Replacing three sun-rotted window frames, I couldn't avoid encountering evidence of Crapmanship in their original fabrication. This sort of discovery doesn't qualify as in any way unusual, for stuff has always featured mixes of Crapmanship and craftsmanship. Exteriors tend to look as though they were painstakingly put together, but beneath any surface, which might have been no more than expertly painted, some real crap work likely lurks. I'm still learning not to become all indignant about this apparently eternal feature of this world. I understand that internal workings might not really require fine-looking construction to serve an intended purpose. We all seem to cut corners that don't seem to matter much. We hack, therefore we are.

I've of course added my own unique brand of shoddy into my fixes. I'm not the finish carpenter my grandfather was, so I improvise.

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Tolerence


"I wonder where our underlying Polity lies."

The Puritan Roger Williams founded his Rhode Island colony on the principle of tolerance. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had earlier drummed Williams out of their society, which they'd founded upon the principle of extreme intolerance, as though he had failed to demonstrate true Puritan values. He had. Williams welcomed all comers, Muslims, Jews, even agnostics, though he never actively supported any of their ideals. He explained that tolerance does not extend to supporting anyone's beliefs, but only as far as supporting the right to hold any belief. He thought Muslims and Jews damned, but he also considered their damnation to be their own damned business. Williams was fortunate that his principle of tolerance failed to attract many intolerant Puritans to Rhode Island, for even a minority, dedicated to promoting intolerance, can utterly destroy any tolerant society.

Karl Popper reflecting upon Germany's initial tolerance of the Nazi movement, coined the term The Paradox of Tolerance.

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Manliness


"Manliness might qualify as the most misunderstood identity."


I always wondered how one becomes One Of The Guys or A Good Old Boy. Maybe my invitation got lost in the mail or perhaps I (gulp!) never qualified. I know that I never submitted an application, but I sort of expected someone to approach me with an invitation. After all, I am a guy, a good guy; aging, perhaps even old, though admittedly no longer a boy. Can I confess that I never fully identified with the gender stereotypes supposedly appropriate for a person of my gender and my age? I look ridiculous in a hard hat and feel simply silly behind the wheel of any truck. I fear all power tools. I don't hunt. I do drink beer, though. Doesn't that count?

I proved to be an unreliable breadwinner, but tried not to take that very personally. I've lived exclusively with strong-willed women, each of whom proved to be more than a counterbalance for any deficiency I contributed to the unions.

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Humility


Walt Whitman washing the feet of former slave; illustration by Lewis C. Daniel
"I learned almost by accident that my words inspired someone yesterday.
How humbling was that?"


What big, hairy, audacious things have I done in my life? I sincerely hope my answer will continue to be, "Nothing." Not that I've achieved nothing, just nothing that might be construed as big, hairy, or audacious. I've done my work, but hardly ever with the intention of cornering any market, making any kind of a killing, or achieving fame or fortune. I thought once that I might get discovered and gain wide popularity, just like every baby boomer did, for we were the first generation raised in the proximity of celebrity. Prior generations read about the rich and famous or heard them speak on the radio, but our generation invited them into our living rooms where they dazzled us with their mastery, brightening our otherwise drab existences. That these demonstrations were heavily produced and edited to ensure that only the best of the best ever showed, was not obvious to us casual observers. We thought pure talent poured out the ends of these performers' fingers. We marveled at their skill.

We learned that popularity might just be the purpose of life, that we should rightly strive for broad audiences.

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Trolling


"Maybe I'll eventually learn to give up these ghosts more quickly."

I do not get where they're coming from. They arrive like non-sequiturs into the conversation, off-topic, sometimes even off-color. I at first think I've tumbled into a simple misunderstanding. I might take almost forever to finally figure out that this was never a misunderstanding. It was sabotage, clear and simple. Well, not clear to me at first, but ultimately simple. They seem to take some strange kind of power from diverting the flow. Their superpower seems to be the curious ability to undermine any flow. I finally exhaust my ability to make anything like a Most Generous Interpretation because I finally figure out that generosity isn't part of any troll's vocabulary. They specialize in leaping into a Least Generous Interpretation. They parse an analogy literally, then head off to rebut a comment never actually made. They seem to love being maddening.

My earliest attempt at social media, a wiki called PureSchmaltz, was ultimately brought low by anonymous posters who sprinkled obscene photographs throughout the content.

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CarSpooling


William G.R. Hind, oil painting, “Breaking a Road in Manitoba,”

" … there's really no place I need to be (or really want to be) except right here at home."

The Muse and I operate a one horse town, by which I mean we own a single car between us. Each of our neighbors own at least two, and one owns four that I know of, all more or less trucks. Each morning, we decide who will get the car that day. Usually, I insist that The Muse take it, that I don't have anyplace pressing to go. Some days I slip out for a few minutes to fetch a gallon of milk or some hardware for a project before she leaves, but most days, I'm left without transportation, save my ancient one speed bike and my two left feet. We live in a neighborhood which calls itself a village, and it might well qualify as a village because it sits in a rather remote location without supplemental public transportation. Without a car, I might just as well be in an isolated cabin, which suits me fine.

I might be the primary reason we have one car rather than two. I hold strong opinions about how many cars our family should own.

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Trans-It-Shuns


"I seem to know nothing of what lurks beyond."

On the morning of the last day of baseball season, I'm already grieving. Our team didn't play that well this year, hampered by early season injuries and tenaciously poor management, the opening day promise extended less than a month before fairly certain disaster loomed. It took me almost a month to figure out the new roster, one missing a couple of last year's favorites, and the last six weeks have seen so many upstarts elevated from the Minors that I've been unable to tell who's who, who's home team and who's visitor. By the last game of the regular season, I struggle to care about who wins any contest. Winning and losing doesn't matter very much. How each player engages with the game matters more.

The Muse and I will attend the last game of the season, a rare match between our home teams, the team that stole our hearts during early exile days and the one that has failed to attract our interest since moving here. We're visitors in both venues now,

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UnderSitting


"This is that unlikely place, I suspect."

I say that I understand, but I probably don't. Maybe I could understand, I might even be on my way toward understanding, but I've yet to sit down and deeply consider the situation. I seem to have something more like a strolling-by-ing. I haven't yet slowed down quite enough to stand with this perspective long enough to look it squarely in the eye. Even then, I'm still upright, still in mobile mode, not quite at my ease. I'm balancing on my heels, eyeing the surroundings, half distracted while failing to fully absorb. Understanding only gets me so far. A deeper comprehension requires me to sit a spell: Undersitting.

Undersitting seems a choice rarely proffered. I do drive-by comprehension, slowing just long enough to grasp some gist, but hardly long enough to recognize any whole concept or how it might fit together with other ideas.

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Be-Leaves


"I believe in the inherent goodness of people without holding anybody but myself accountable for living up to that belief."

Humans seem the most remarkable beings. We believe, belief being a kind of conviction requiring no supporting factual evidence. The highest, most treasured beliefs, insist upon, even brag about, being utterly unsupported, and necessarily so. Two generations ago, Stafford Beer named Firm Belief as one of the four antagonisms encumbering a firm's success; as with the firm, so also with the individual therein (and thereout.) We easily victimize ourselves with our beliefs, fueling certainty with the equivalent of gold-plated air. I'm not knocking this curious ability, but rather noting just how curious it seems. My more reverent friends seem especially blessed with their firm beliefs, confidently striding through a world that seems mostly overwhelming to the rest of us. The more self-aware of these readily admit that their doxology contains hefty bits of pure fantasy, easily disproven by even the most ineptly skeptical observer, and they also recognize the evident power their belief brings them.

The rest of us seem to struggle along beneath leaky balloons imperfectly elevating us. We seem to lose more altitude than we ever gain and scrape ground with some regularity.

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UnCertainTea


"If I want everyone to win, I might consider how I chose who loses."

I want everyone to win. Still, I seek resolution. I despise the unresolved. Encountering an 80/20, I'll give the eighty the benefit of little doubt and just disregard the dangling twenty as irrelevant. Encountering a 50/50, I'll switch to gut feel, discounting the whole concept of more quantitative evaluation. I will rarely leave any issue unresolved in my head. I develop a sort of spontaneous amnesia, quickly forgetting any controversy I could not very quickly resolve. I say all this while fully convinced that certainty seems to be the root cause of nearly every ill. Were I able to hold the exquisite tension between the thises and the thats, between the eithers and the ors, I might well leave myself better off in nearly every instance, but I seem unable to forestall the short-term simpler pseudo-resolutions attracting me. I create losers in this way while I say I want everyone to win.

I see them in fields of different-seeming us-es, missing the connecting structures. I sense almost exclusively superficially, quickly sorting to identify my tribe.

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Passsst


"They mostly only ever show through sometimes."

Some of the past never fully passes. A bit of it turns into legend, some of it into infamy, and the tiniest bit becomes deep, dark secrets over time. Even the secret seems more present than it should. No matter how many decades accrete on top of the original experience, it stays kind of close to the surface. A small scratch might reincarnate it at any time no matter how far out of mind it slips in the intervening years. A scent, a sound, a whisper from a dark alleyway as I pass, and that particular past, a Passsst, spontaneously reincarnates. Whether sweet or savory, bitter or sour, I re-experience the original sensations regardless of what I was just in the middle of doing.

I might then feel transported into another place and time.

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Ancienting


" … old treasure like me would never come up for auction, anyway."

The Antique Road Show appraisers speak of patina, and seem to worship it. The hapless owner's grandmother refinished the piece eighty years ago and stripped off at least ninety percent of the chair's value. In its present refurbished state, it might garner no more than a few hundred bucks. Had grandma been less of a go-getter, a few tens of thousands, maybe a hundred grand on a good day. What was once a treasure will now remain kitsch, authenticity forever compromised.

More than half of what some derisively refer to as The Aging Process involves retaining the deepening patina despite pressures to refurbish.

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Progressing


" … progress can be beyond even the the most watchful beholder's eye."

Ten years ago on this date, The Muse and I declared personal and professional bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers beat us to it by two weeks, and we'd lost a whole lot less they they did when we finally admitted to ourselves and to the world that we'd lost everything. We had not speculated in junk derivative bonds. The economy dried up and our business evaporated. Two weeks before we filed, my father died after a long summer of declining health. Those final six weeks or so, I'd manned the overnight watch. Both The Muse and I were ragged by then, frantic, then accepting, then finally simply dazed. We thought we'd probably lose the house, though bankruptcy allowed us to retain ownership in that one asset if we could wrangle some way to retain it; but with no work, no income, no savings, and little hope, other than a hopeful candidate running to replace the disastrous president, we finally admitted that we'd gone bust.

This experience represented real progress, as unlikely as it seemed at the time.

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LateralSlide


"Hail Mary, full of grace …"

Back when I was still a wannabe, I agreed to deliver a presentation at a prestigious conference. I'd successfully swallowed my insecurities and submitted the proposal, the organizers accepted it, then I was left with the small matter of preparing the paper and producing the actual presentation. As usual, I'd jumped with little idea where my leap might land me, so I found myself attempting to invent a parachute as I plummeted downward. I quickly realized that I'd jumped before possessing one critical bit of information. I had no clue what this information might entail, but nonetheless felt confident that if only I could somehow gain access to it, me presentation might succeed. Without it, I felt clearly doomed.

I fled to the library, a refuge which might at least open some possibilities. I mean, libraries are filled with information. Right?

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DifferentLies


"I was there all along …"

On the last day of summer, change does not seem like the universal positive anymore. This culture worships change. We each seem to fervently believe in it as the ultimate redeemer, which means that we subtly despise stasis. We think that if we're not growing, not continuously on some trajectory or another, that we're as good as dead, or, more, precisely, as bad as dead. Dead is the worst condition in our panoply of possible states. Forward, backward, sideways, we're a kinetic species, always supposed to be on the move somewhere, heading. We're quickly dissatisfied with any accomplishment, shortly bored by any status quo. About a quarter of the people who paid a minimum of forty bucks to attend the game will leave before the game ends, saying that they wish to avoid the heavy traffic on their way to somewhere else. We can't seem to find satisfaction standing still.

Still, for all of our movement, all of our building momentum, things don't often seem that much different. It's as if our collective motion somehow sums to little or to even no motion at all.

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Inter-gritty


"I can see you only through the indistinguishable blemishes in the mirror and on your face."

Nobody ever respects a braggart. Shameless self-promotion seems more an act of shameful self-degradation. The real authority speaks humbly rather than haughtily, seeming to acknowledge that not even she has ever been party to any ultimate truth, and she seems to still be sorting through the odd unreconciled bits. She acknowledges her own fallibility to demonstrate her personal reliability. She might efface herself and thereby amplify her presence. Anyone pounding upon any podium undermines their preaching. The more emphatic, the less truthfully it rings. People will think she insists altogether too dramatically. Big sticks might work as stage props without improving anyone's delivery.

'They' say that what one does when nobody's looking creates integrity. If this statement is true, and it might well be, how, then, could anyone not looking ever come to know another's integrity, not looking being the essential element enabling its emergence and all?

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Allegations


"I admit to being clueless some of the time, but not yet incapable of learning."

I was rushing home via the shortcut when my accuser waylaid me. "You've been disrespecting my sister," he proclaimed.

"Huh? What??," I cleverly retorted, gobsmacked by his accusation.

He repeated his earlier insistence. I knew this guy's name but nothing more about him. I'd until then been unaware that he even
had a sister. I explained the facts as I understood them. (These might have seemed like a lame dismissal to him.) He escalated, insisting that he was honor-bound to fight me to regain his sister's honor. I'm thinking, "Really? What IS this, King Arthur and his Round Table?" He would not let me pass, finally throwing a frenzied punch which mostly missed me.

Still stunned with disbelief, I tried to just go around him, but he continued the assault. I finally deigned to engage, throwing my first punch in anger (more like in goaded frustration, really), which connected enough to yield a bloody nose for him and an early end to hostilities. He went home crying. I went home feeling guilty.

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Liberty


" … it shades no one unless it intends to shade us all."

Liberty seems more a collective than individual property. Our forebears fought to secure the opportunity to govern themselves, not to ensure that any individual could just do whatever they want. There were innies and outies, of course, so some felt oppressed under the yoke of 'their' so-called freedoms. The conflict was not settled when the British retreated. It simmers, occasionally boiling over, even today, perhaps because of this one complication, that liberty never was and never could have been the property of any individual. It must belong to all.

Free speech, for instance, never was the same as loose talk. The guarantee to say whatever I want does not extend to yelling fire in any crowded theater or cursing at grandma's table.

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Evil


The Banality of the Banality of Evil by Banksy


"We're better than that, even after we catch ourselves having been no better than that."

Seeing it probably won't enable you to know it, or even recognize its presence. Understanding lags considerably, and acceptance lags even further behind. Its presence will likely startle you. Its influence will already be draining your life force before you catch on that you're being had, or have already been had. Evil does not at first organize any occupation parade, no show of overwhelming force. It seems to first seep in, putrefying from the inside out, leaving the peach apparently pristine until you try to pick it up. It will seem banality incarnate, more banal even than that, imminently ignorable until it becomes nearly inexorable.

It will not be dismissed. You will need to forcefully escort it to the door, so it remains essential that you always remember where to locate the door and to remain mindful of the conditions necessitating removal.

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HealthScare


"Maybe what doesn't kill me might make me stronger, or insolvent, one of those."

I'd find it difficult to converse with my tax accountant if she wore a face mask. Maybe an early exposure to Beagle Boys comics left me with an unnatural fear of anyone wearing a mask, but I find health care professionals inherently terrifying. I understand that they're trying to limit my exposure to their germs and their exposure to mine, but the affect leaves me more wary that wide open. Our exchanges, otherworldly. My defenses immediately stand up taller. I'm on-guard. I might suffer from White Coat Syndrome, a tension encouraging higher than normal blood pressure readings when I'm in the presence of anyone who might be able to reasonably interpret those readings. It's a double bind.

I have no clue how our health care system works. The Muse seems to have at least the patter down. She can spout 'out of network' and 'copay' as if she understands the theory and the practice. I fumble for the insurance card, clear that I understand nothing printed on the face of it.

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Impossibility



"A spare ounce of acceptance seems to achieve more than any metric ton of impossibility."

Writer Molly Backes recently tweeted about what she calls “The Impossible Task." The Impossible Task might appear perfectly pedestrian unless considered by someone suffering from depression. Under the influence of depression, pretty much any aspiration might appear impossible to achieve. The lofty desire to refill a prescription or the Utopian urge to mow the lawn today might qualify as functionally impossible to achieve. Theoretically and even practically, these objectives might appear perfectly possible, but functionally, they might lie far beyond my reach. The old self-helpless adage which insists that the impossible just takes a little longer seems silly for anyone feeling as though the touted 'a little longer' amounts to infinity.

I fully understand that in this culture, my culture, we presume a positive outlook. Any welcoming embrace of any standard impossibility seems to qualify as evidence of the presence of a positive outlook, even should the objective fully qualify as theoretically or functionally impossible. We do not normally consider anyone exhibiting symptoms of positive outlook delusional, but plucky.

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Rhythm


" … the poem comes out as if missing all the spaces between the words …"

When she was in high school, The Muse played drums in a garage band. She's always had a more sensitive rhythm sense than I. As my songwriting and performing matured, I grew to appreciate rhythm as the cohering force. A song properly backbeat can hardly go wrong, while one losing its thumps can hardly sound right, however otherwise precisely I might play the notes. The rhythm, almost always much less intricate than the melody, subtly rules the whole performance without anyone hardly noticing. The drummer and the base hold the foundation, wherever the primary and descant instruments might wander. They'd be utterly lost without them.

I believe that every activity holds a natural rhythm. Find it and, like the soaring piccolo, I'll remain at least in step, an essential congruence one mostly only notices when it's absent. Lose it and nothing I might try will seem to work.

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Becoming


"Becoming seems to be what we really are when we insist that we are anything at all."

Defining "done" was one enduring difficulty every project I ever worked on, lead, or consulted with experienced. Some adopted the curious First Customer Shipped metric, which insisted that the project was done when the first customer's order was free on board a truck. Others presumed that when they'd successfully tested fixes for and integrated all critical bug reports, the project had ended. In actual experience, though, the project team inevitably continued their efforts long after the designated completion date, for that first customer, upon receiving the first instance of final product would experience unanticipated difficulties that only the development team could resolve and additional critical bugs would emerge even after testing and integration were successfully completed. Eventually, the end product would be more or less integrated into the finished product maintenance stream, though members of the original development team might never completely divorce themselves from the product.

I learned that whatever the product developed, it never left a state of becoming.

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MeaningsFul


"Not a problem for any of us, but a feature of us all instead."

The truly clueless seem stuck on literal meanings, as if any word could be delivered without nuance or subtext, when every utterance comes cloaked in some sort of ambiguity. It's a wonder anyone can ever communicate anything to anyone else. Different people employ different encoding tactics some of which instantly impart meaning while others only begrudgingly disclose it. While I might never reliably interpret the contents of any book by its title, considering the many elements present on the cover often helps me feel as though I do understand what I stoop to pick up off the shelf. The design says more than the title, but without words. The designer chose the color for its reliability in inducing a certain attraction within the prospective reader. I might identify a thousand interacting elements there, each sufficiently ambiguous to leave me either wondering or certain. Taken together, these design elements make a statement beyond, beneath, and behind what the title might impart. All communication seems to work like this.

On days where my awareness seems especially tuned in, I might consciously catch one in a hundred or a thousand of these cues.

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MakingADifference


"Just being here seems to spawn more difference than anyone could ever comprehend."

A Difference seems to stand at the very top of the list of 'things' people say they want to make, well above 'supper' and even 'trouble.' The statement itself strikes me as banal, though I know it's supposed to seem supremely inspirational. I, myself, think of myself as a difference skeptic. When comparing myself with the context within which I stand, I see little leverage. I'm a small guy imbedded in infinite infinities, tiny in comparison with almost everything else. Sure, I hold BIG ideas and sometimes even great notions, but the possibilities seem the very opposite of endless, even before I add in the insidious effects of time. I figure that if I really want to make a difference, I just need to close my eyes for an instant, then open them up again. The challenge seems to lie in noticing what's different then.

Even when I accept that I might make some difference, I tend to think in inappropriately grandiose terms. I want to make a BIG difference, so I start gnawing on something much bigger than anyone could effectively chew, let alone eventually swallow.

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Ninny



"I pray that no one will take me very seriously."

I consider myself to be at root a ninny, and not a particularly apologetic one, neither. As the ninny I consider myself to be, I fail to fully qualify as a coward, for I am known to stand up and be counted on some occasions, but I hold few strong convictions. I keep a low-ish profile. If you want to pass me, be my guest. I'll even slow down to make it easier for you. If you want to take advantage of me, I'm wide open. Not naturally suspicious of my fellows, I'd rather anticipate the best than the worst of everyone. I prefer avoiding competitive games, and not just because I hate to lose, but because I hate to see anyone lose. Winning zero sum games offends me, even when I win.

I figure that there's not really any leverage in being pushy or shove-y. Better approaches exist.

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TheGoodCitizen


"We seem destined to continually surprise each other."

Any conversation broaching the topic of good citizenship seems destined to follow the same sorry trail that conversations about being a good christian usually take, and that trail tends to terminate in irresolvable recriminations within which no citizen, good or otherwise, ever feels very good about themselves. They lean toward the Thou Shalts, which all by themselves seem antithetical to anything other than the dominion of some authority over everyone else; hardly anyone's idea of civility. When I speak of good citizenship, I intend to speak more of the I Wills, the rather personal covenants I hold myself responsible for abiding by, whether or not anyone else even knows that I hold them. For citizenship seems a painfully personal proposition, the never fully resolved answers to the question, "What will I agree to do for the mutual benefit of everyone else?", not what society demands that I contribute. Good citizenship never was a matter of simply obeying the law, but of abiding within it, which sometimes seems to demand working hard to change it or even to civilly disobey it. Like I said, it's a personal thing, but a personal thing writ larger than any individual.

It's a personal thing in context, that context being innumerable others also pursuing their personal things, the boundaries of each person's pursuit essentially undefinable but not necessarily indiscernible, for each individual seems first free to attend to those surrounding them, to respect their space and reasonably expect them to respect your space in return.

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Master-re-re-re-re


"The end does, indeed, come like a thief in the night, but then so do new beginnings."

We all understand what to do if, when, at first, we fail to succeed. We try, try again. But what should one do when failing after achieving a certain degree of mastery? Regardless of the previous level of play, failure always remains a possibility. In the early years, the budding apprentice grows to accept that some percentage of his efforts will very likely prove fruitless. The journeyman grows to increasingly rely upon success to manifest, and might even explain these wins as evidence of his growing skill. The master, though, tends to perform in front of larger crowds who amplify his own anticipation of success. Then, a stumble disappoints others, too. We all know what that can do to you.

The blithe response to a master failing tends to be, indeed, a blithe response, a faux-cheerful, aw-shucks chuckle. At least that's the way it might appear on the outside.

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TheTruth


"Just like life. Exactly like living."

I do not ever speak TheTruth. I almost always speak MyTruth, and almost never tell an outright lie. I might fudge details to impart a higher-quality story, but I only very rarely embellish anything into its opposite, at least that's what this guy admitting that he never speaks TheTruth insists. I seem to me to be the only difference between TheTruth and MyTruth, for MyTruth appears to accurately represent only me to myself, never everyone to anyone else. Others might perceive something less than genuine in my confessions, yielding TheirTruth, which might seem considerably less than genuine to me. Nothing irks me more than someone contradicting my characterizations of MyTruth, as if they could possibly know better than I what only I could possibly know. Bottom line: I am not now nor will I ever be (nor do I aspire to ever become) the holder of TheTruth. You might as well entrust the family jewels to the tender care of a cranky two year old.

MyTruth seems slippery enough for a guy like me to handle.

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Probl'ms


" … clinging remnants of our previous naivety about the nature of a difficulty …"

Can we all agree that we're surrounded by problems? Might we agree that they seem to be getting ever worse, more intractable? Certainly, the vocabulary of the times seems infused with problem language. The casual invocation of this 'P' word might have, at least to my mind, became a fresh category of problem, for many of the difficulties described as problems really hardly satisfy the criteria for problem-ness. I believe that if we could just clean up our language a bit, many of our most intractable-seeming 'problems' would cease to remain problems. I'm not saying that they might not still exhibit the troubling characteristics of genuine difficulties, but at least, perhaps, we could reduce the overload of problems haunting us.

There's something about a problem that seeks a solution.

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Opiniums


"a recipe for creating dystopia"

Karl Marx insisted that religion was the opium of the people. These days, though, I think that opinions have replaced religion as the opium of the people, or maybe, to wax more thoroughly modern, the Oxycodone of the people now. I call them Opinums in side-smirking homage to their addictive presence.

The phone rings and it's someone seeking my opinion on the subject of Death Taxes. I ask what the heck he means by Death Taxes and he sounds a little stunned by my question.

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CircadianClueless


"I figure a pot of beans probably won't do any harm."

I've never lived a particularly well-regulated existence. I've never had a difficult time making it on time to any job I held, usually arriving early and staying late. I burned midnight oil for more than the first half of my life and lit the predawn lamp through the other half so far. I do more than get by on fewer than the recommended hours of sleep. I serve no meal at any regular time, breakfasting five or more hours after rising in the morning and rarely sitting down to supper until well after seven at night. I've grown to despise regular hours, which seem more designed for the convenience of farmers and industrialists than for the benefit of hunter-gatherers like me.

The rhythms persist, however.

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SquarePeg


"a breath of breeze through glistening trees."

I think of myself as a square peg. Always have. Likely always will. I seem to thrive only in bespoke contexts, ones custom made to house my particular eccentricities. When someone asks me who I am, I think to myself, "What an exquisitely impossible question to answer." However I might search the standard stereotype archive, I seem to come up empty-handed. Even constructing an N-dimensional Venn diagram of overlaps seems simply impossible, resulting only in odd lot, ant/elephant combinations, almost but not entirely unlike whatever I might reference within it. My favorite response has usually been, "David," which, of course, amounts to no response at all, for we live in a time immersed in BIG 'I' Identity, where to fail to identify with at least one of the more popular stereotypes renders one essentially irrelevant. It's as if the 'I' in identity must associate with an even larger 'O' in Others for an individual to be considered even relevant.

It's a fine paradox, and one complicit in much of the depressively low self-esteem floating around society. If I am not you, or at least an awful lot like you, why should you like me?

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Competition


"I consider competition to be a mental illness,
hell bent to destroy all who engage, a snake eating its own tail."

Competition is a form of self destruction. Initially, it might seem designed to merely conquer competitors, but repeated, it turns into the opposite of its original intention, ultimately undermining the competitor himself. Even the Ancient Greeks recognized this subtle curse, and counseled great caution whenever engaging as if competition might accomplish something positive in the longer term. How much better to cooperate, though people being people, we seem more than capable of turning even generous cooperation into some form of a Holier Than Thou competition.

The contest seems necessary, though, so we struggle hard to get ahead, to leave the weaker sisters in our dust. Then, of course, we hold culpability for the violence visited upon our weaker sisters.

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Reflecting


"They're already loosing steam."

If you want to learn what I think, ask me, then wait, perhaps for a very long time. If you want to know how I feel, ask, then prepare to wait even longer. I am a walking echo chamber, filled to the brim with contradictory, often conflicting perspectives. I remain steadfastly uncertain, humbled in my acceptance of the tenacious indecipherable surrounding me, eternally teetering on the forward edge of another great unknowable. In lieu of knowing for sure, I question. Of course I exhibit preconscious, essentially autonomous behaviors, though I'm hardly aware enough of them to explain them to myself, let alone to anyone else. On the scale of the grand action/reflection dichotomy, I'm sitting somewhere inside the mirror, considering.

My preference for reflection makes me a lousy fascist, for fascists value action, even reaction, above all else.

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