SecondOrderFatigue

SecondOrderFatigue
The Tired Dancer: John Reinhard Weguelin (1879)
"I live right up close to that edge."

I've been dog tired before, and bone weary, and sick and tired plenty of times, but I confess to feeling even more exhausted this time. I've put my time in on the factory line, twelve endless hours performing the most mindlessly repetitive motions, but that was nothing in comparison to this subtle sickening feeling. This endless evening in isolation might do the infamous Chinese Water Torture proud for how it cows and humiliates me. Born into a land firmly believing itself to be both proud and free, we're forcibly humbled before an utterly invisible enemy which steadfastly refuses to show itself. Many have already come to believe that this was always an imaginary foe, and every countermeasure an humiliating over-reaction, like fleeing from shadows vaguely flickering on our cave's moist wall. Before each fall came a clear call insisting all was well after all, that we had little to fear beyond an evidently irrational foreboding, and we set to no longer flee from that. Once contracted, there would be no fleeing backwards, back into the SecondOrderFatigue which so convincingly misleads each to presume an invulnerability never evident beforehand. Once infected, we'd experience fatigue for a wholly different reason.

I try each day to reinforce what I fancy to be my protective reasoning, for, like Robinson Crusoe's Man Friday, I feel as though I've been stranded three years, alone on some desert island and subsisting on goats.

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Re-Ality

Re-Ality
Willem van Haecht: Collection of Cornelis de Geest with Paracelsus (1630s)
" … the real one this time."

I find myself exhausted by the seemingly endless arrays of alternate realities offered to me each day. My choices overwhelm me. Which reality should I engage with today? The one just outside my window might have once been sufficient, but the many within just our modest Villa seem to dwarf and upstage it. Skimming my many books, each presenting a different perspective, could consume several lifetimes. TV, radio, podcasts, and things Internet each present slightly different representations of Re-Ality, each a little different, each somehow also the same. They each seem to try to characterize a separate reality in various degrees of believability. I consider my reality palate somewhat refined. I won't agree to swallow just anything. Sci-Fi, for instance, never qualified as either believable or entertaining to me. Reality TV seems far removed from any form of reality I've ever even imagined. I was blissfully unaware that such a character as a bachelorette even existed, for instance, until I was subjected to such a presence on a so-called reality TV show. But what do I know?

I once believed myself to be my own arbiter of reality, as if I got to choose which version I subscribed to, but I fear that I've somehow lost that ability, surrounded as I seem to be with so many perspectives seemingly far superior to my own.

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Schmaltzing

Schmaltzing
George Frederic Watts: Hope (1885)
"My first and most prominent occupation has always been Schmaltzing."

When I look down from near the top of my family tree, I see the antecedents of what would one day result in me. Though they hardly lived in the manner to which I've grown accustomed, I imagine that their existences somehow informed mine, though I knew only the barest few of them and even those barely spoke of such things. My father's side of the operation seemed the most convoluted and diverse. The Muse managed to trace my father's mother's family clear back to Roman times in Gaul, where the patriarch was a Prefect, and his progeny became the crowned heads of Europe. My later line ultimately sprang from some later-born princess. My paternal grandfather's heritage seems much less diverse, simple Alsatian farmers, perhaps Jews coerced into Catholicism displaced by centuries of unrest, a sort of diaspora unto itself. From them, I inherited my Schmaltziness, a certain endearing cloying sentimentality I consider my primary defining characteristic. Though I know I'm genetically half my mother's Scotch/Irish heritage, I consider my Schmaltzing my emotional center, my underlying superpower.

It might be socially incorrect to consider genetics germane to anything, a form of phrenology about as defining as bumps on a head, a superstitious sort of social racism born of misbegotten understandings, and it might have been an accident that I was born with a surname that so accurately represents what I've always felt.

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ForkAssed

ForkAssTing
Pietro della Vecchia: A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier (circa 1626-1678)
"I fear that I'm way too dependent upon what my forebears just adapted to in moments of sometimes overwhelming extremis."

According to the weather ForkAssed five nights ago, we would be experiencing much colder weather and snow this morning, so I spent the following five days anticipating its arrival, certain of my near future. This certainty encouraged me to thoroughly prepare, to tear down the summer garden, drain the hoses, stack the pots, and rake up the fallen pine needles. The Muse and I put away stores that might have serviced Admiral Perry's Antarctic Expedition. I switched out the screen door for the solid glass one. I spent yesterday's late afternoon swishing a broom over the front porch before just sitting there because I knew for certain I'd be sitting inside for the foreseeable future. Even the cats seemed to sense an impending end to just slipping up the hill to stalk field mice. Neither of them seemed to really want to come in, not even to extraordinary enticements. I empathized with their sentiments.

Once in, with the fireplace throwing heat, it's impossible to beat the cozy snowed-in feeling.

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Badministration

Badministration
The Cube Farm
"An ounce of appreciation seemed to power the whole operation."

My first job out of business school found me supervising the Automatic Bank Check Unit of the Individual Insurance Administration Department of what I came to call The Best Of All Possible Mutual Life Insurance Companies In The Greater Portland Metropolitan Area, Bar None. It was the only mutual life insurance company in that area, but it still provided a truly terrific medium for learning about administration, the actual lifeblood of every organization. We learn to think of Business and Industry, even Government, as producing products and services, and they certainly do that, but each expends more effort administering that production, accounting for every damned thing, billing and collecting, and litigating disagreements. Whatever product a corporation claims to create, it's expending the bulk of its energies administering, administrating. The first rule of administration says, "Thou shalt remain steadfastly invisible," for prominence essentially renders administration useless. If every back office ministration means another runaround, it won't matter that you're selling the secret to eternal life, quickly, nobody will feel terribly moved to buy any. The key to effective administration has always been invisibility.

We speak today of 'seamless' transactions, the latest manifestation of a trend evident since people bartered with stones.

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Cyclings

cyclings
Laufrad des Freiherrn von Drais: "Draisine" or Dandy Horse, 1817 design
" … not the disrupters they first appear to be, but the unlikely connecters between what is and what might be …"

Each week seems to follow a similar pattern, enough the same as to encourage a sense of familiarity without necessarily reducing to completely numbing sameness; each different while also quite the same. For me, each week delivers some unanticipated failure which I so far seem to have always managed to overcome, as if each week had been served up to remind me that even I'm capable of recovery. This week, my blog server stopped serving me and the Customer Support Team suddenly stopped invisibly supporting me to become the obvious source of an apparently intractable difficulty. At first, as usual, I had no obvious alternative to continue delivering my accustomed daily production, and the seduction to simply crumble washed up and over me. Eventually, by which I mean by no means immediately, I came to understand that alternatives might surround me, and I set about choosing a viable one. By no means did this transfer occur smoothly, for I seemed to need to work my way back through the usual universal stages of acceptance. I experienced in succession: fear, anger, discouragement, reckoning, and then an only partially acceptable sort of acceptance. I experienced an amputation then came to acknowledge that the initially begrudged peg-leg replacement might suffice for now. I retain a sense of loss along with a lessening urgency to return to the way it was. I suspect that the longer this work-around extends, the more it will become what I'd always unknowingly intended what it replaced to become.

I make no shocking pronouncement when I insist that things do not work as advertised.

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Undoing

Undoing
Thomas Degeorge: Death of Archimedes (1815)
" … even eternity seems an endlessly moving target."

The sure and certain sign of Fall's victory over the Summer season comes when I finally accept that it's time to disassemble the deck garden. Lovingly created over a long June weekend, it can only last so long before every pot and planter will need emptying or risk shattering in the impending cold. Shelves return to the master bedroom to hold part of The Muse's extensive African Violet collection, their usual over-winter occupation. Lingering petunias pulled and packaged as garbage. Dahlia bulbs recovered for storage in a paper bag with peat until next Spring. Everything's got to go. Snow's predicted a few days from now and so it seems a great Undoing's required, though undoing implies more of a cycle than the effort actually entails. There will be no resurrection of either these plants or this garden, for next year, next Spring, we'll be cultivating different soil in a different place, so I do not need to carefully preserve the potting soil for reuse next year. We will not pack and ship the soil along with us, so I refresh the beleaguered flower beds with it. The yard looks fresh and ready for more than the six month snow bank soon to overtake it.

Hope always springs for me each autumn that there might actually be an Undoing, though there's only even a moving on involved.

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RespectableAgain

RespectfulAgain
Franz Marc: Träumendes Pferd [Dreaming Horse] (1913)
" … as decency becomes RespectableAgain, finally!"

I decided early this morning to afford myself a little hopeful anticipation. With two weeks remaining before this election, it seems increasingly likely that decency will shortly become RespectableAgain. Through the current occupation, the man elected to perform the role of leader of the free world seemed incapable of showing respect toward anyone, including himself, and like any member in good standing of what my folks used to refer to as "the bad crowd," he encouraged a general debasement of the traditional rules of comportment. He seemed to work awfully hard to turn everything upside down and backwards, and only because he believed he could, and many—way too many—seemed to follow his lead just as if he was seducing freshmen into a previously inaccessible underworld. He tried to teach them to drink and smoke and avoid curfew violations, just as if not getting caught amounted to genuine freedom. A few seemed to flip entirely to the dark side. Others dabbled, but could not shake their inherited decency, their own unshakable paranoia sending them back into their families. Most of us looked on feeling horrified.

So this sense that some big changes are coming feels enormously reassuring.

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EncroachingParadoxes

EncroachingParadox
Ludwig Passini: Roman Fish Market at Sant'Angelo in Pescheria (1863)
"EncroachingParadoxes: experiences that make absolutely no sense at first …"

Beyond the senses, we each possess layers of additional sense-like resources such as reasoning, emoting, intuiting, and others. We employ these additional "senses" to make sense of experience, though this label might misrepresent our sense-making efforts. We probably over-rely upon reasoning as the ultimate gold standard method for sense-making, though reason, innocently applied, can't always produce understanding. Even scientists claim to rely upon sixth-sensing to noodle their way into and back out of complicated analysis. Pure reason, if it exists, might not reliably produce the most believable results. Rejecting reasoning probably makes analysis worse, so we seem stuck with paradoxes whichever methods we might choose. Intuiting lacks replicable rigor and emoting seems too mercurial, though both can add insight to an inquiry.

It might be that each technique cannot avoid the critique that it lacks some essential something.

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HumanNature

HumanNature
Franz Marc: Tierschicksale [Fate of the Animals] (1913)
"When it's already too late to learn better, we might finally start personally relating our own innate HumanNature …"

When The Plague hit Florence in the 1340s, people reacted similarly to how we've reacted to This Damned Pandemic today. I've long questioned just what it might mean to know something, for knowledge does not tightly correlate with behavior. Knowing something doesn't necessarily change anything I do. I suspect that this reaction stems from what I might characterize as an abiding Personal Sense Of Exemption, that even what I know for certain seems more likely to apply to others, but not directly to me. Speed limits seem to reinforce this proposition, since even when it seems clearly in everyone's benefit to obey them, a herd-like mentality seems to override caution, and almost everyone exceeds the limit, perhaps sensing that everyone else is getting away with something and that they don't want to feel cheated, especially that they might be cheating themselves. Personal imperiling to avoid feeling cheated might be HumanNature incarnate. We might just as well have dinner in that restaurant. Everyone else seems to be going and we wouldn't want to feel left out.

Describing HumanNature seems eerily similar to relying upon a fish to explain water, a fish so intrinsically immersed within the stuff that it might prove utterly invisible to any fishy observer.

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StumpTheChecker

StumpTheChecker
Franz Marc: Fuchse [Foxes], (1913)
"The odd, the British insist, are nearer to God."

Our Saturday larder-stocking excursions have continued in greater earnest since the Damned Pandemic lockdown orders kicked in. These represent the sole opportunity for The Muse to get out into the world, and though we cannot properly call these shopping trips, they provide some sense of possibility beyond talking to a basement wall, her usual occupation through the week. I usually make a couple of trips out to pick up odds and ends, but always alone and inevitably mission-focused, hardly recreational. The Saturday outings serve as our sole socialization, so we've continued them, albeit under extreme caution: Masks, a handy bottle of hand sanitizer, little lingering or investigating involved. We're pretty much in and back out again, following our Stations Of The Cross sequence from butcher to green grocer to supermarket to liquor store to fish monger, then home. Even this small variety in the numbing sameness can approach boring, so we've adopted a few diverting amusements which we incorporate into these days. We might listen to the latest Radio Deluxe podcast between stops because The American Songbook's always a welcome companion. We continue our infinite Slugbug competition, which seems friendly to a point nearing absurdity. We humbly genuflect when in the presence of Parking Karma, when The Gods provide a parking place nearest a store's front door. We most enjoy our ongoing game of Stump The Checker, though.

For those not already engaging in this competition, it's another one of those so-called friendly competitions where gaining actual points is never the point.

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SchlockWare

SchlockWare
Franz Marc: The Tower of Blue Horses (1913, missing since 1945)
"Our virtual existence seems remarkably similar to our actual one."

Our Damned Pandemic has driven those of us not formerly living virtual lives into ever deeper virtuality, a rough mock-up analogue of what previously passed for reality. I meet weekly with a group of friends, few of which I've met face-to-face, employing Zoom, currently the most popular interface. I convene the gathering, but understand only the barest trace of how to operate it. I hunt and peck and generally succeed, learning a little more about it each week. I will never flawlessly invoke the screen share feature, probably because it was not designed for seamless invocation. I apologize in advance, then clumsily manage to share my screen after a couple of stumbles in between. We're all forgiving, for none of us have mastered the application, just like every piece of SchlockWare we've grown to rely upon. Not even superuser status would protect us from collectively stumbling when employing it, for I doubt that even its designers have fully mastered it, in the unlikely event that designers were even involved creating it.

Each 'app' seems to have outgrown its founding charter, intended for one purpose then serially upgraded to cover functions never imagined in its initial instantiation.

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Bettering

Bettering
Franz Marc: Blue Horse I, 1911
"Onward, not necessarily always upward!"

I understand that I'm supposed to be Bettering myself, but I struggle with sustaining even the barest semblance of my current status quo. It's not that I'm not Absolutely Dedicated To Achieving Excellence, it's more that I sense that I might just have already managed to mostly achieve good enough—if not for government work, then perhaps for mine. I've been told of the necessity for continuous improvement but doubt the proposition that every damned instance begs for Bettering. Could good enough never be … good enough? I understand that I could be better than I are, swinging on some star and all that, but the consequent paranoia seems a poor reward. If I'm not endlessly Bettering, will I never get no satisfaction? And if I am endlessly Bettering, does that not strongly suggest that I'm not yet worthy of achieving any satisfying anything? Where's the satisfaction in that endless Bettering? Continuous Bettering seems roughly equivalent to simply giving up, acquiescing to endless short-comings, never really done. How fun does that sound?

We say that we're a striving society, but we seem more of an exhausted one, or, maybe, simply fed up.

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Openness

Openness
Illustration taken from the illuminated manuscript Der Naturen Bloeme: The Flower of Nature produced in Utrecht or Flanders (ca. 1350)
"I wish that Computer Scientists understood what computers were for."

There's probably nothing wrong with computing that fewer computer scientists couldn't help. An insurgency favoring Openness has grumbled within that field since its inception, with few signs of its imminent success. Propriety has ruled instead, with OpenSource taking its place as just another proprietary platform as far as most users are concerned. Earlier, the Macs battled the PCs without a conclusive decision. I sided with the Macs, though by making that decision, I'd chosen to have to translate everything I created into Klingon if I expected anyone without access to my more open (to me) propriety, and that I would have to translate from Klingon anything they sent to me. Yesterday, a friend sent me a file formatted as a .odt file, pure Klingon to me, unreadable in a whole new way. It came complete with imbedded HTML in the unlikely event that I felt like reading between the lines of code to unwrap the cryptic message within. So much for Openness.

I figure that Openness always qualified as a Utopian aspiration, anyway, for nothing in the natural world seems all that wide open to me or to anybody.

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MediaDerangementSyndrome

MediaDerangementSyndrome
Ludwig Passini: Artist in Caffè Greco in Rome (1856)
"Sometimes I amaze myself, usually when I'm in the middle of debasing myself again."

I imagine that Cafe Society served as the social media of its time. Gentlemen would congregate around a table to share gossip and show off for each other. Women preferred tea. There were certain rules of comportment, depending upon the participants' social class. The more lowly barroom observed different customs than might a cafe, though each served similar purposes. We're social animals and we seem to need to bump shoulders if not heads to maintain our sanity. Church, too, served up socialization as much as religion, the congregating serving as perhaps its primary purpose, an antidote to stultifying isolation. Even then, a few reliably disrupted the regular order. When I was a kid, a piano left unattended in the corner of the church's multipurpose room would eventually attract some show-off aching to play Chopsticks, or that small portion of it requiring only two fingers to perform. The resulting disruption demonstrated neither mastery nor erudition, and should have properly embarrassed the aspiring performer, though it never seemed to wound his self-esteem, for he was suffering from a simple form of MediaDerangementSyndrome (MDS), a social disease which compels some to abuse whatever media they encounter. Give 'em a newspaper and it becomes a flyswatter, even when no flies seem present. Leave a microphone unattended and they'll feel compelled to yell into it, saying, "testing, testing," while hysterically giggling, but this condition's no joke.

In our more modern times, we've outsourced many of the old-time social venues to social media.

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Queryering

Querying
Unknown miniaturist: Jean Miélot at his desk (2nd half 15th century)
"Nothing noteworthy ever comes into being without first erecting some scaffolding."

The smoke alarm on the twelve foot master bedroom ceiling started squealing at two thirty this morning, producing a piercing chirp every thirty seconds or so, a particularly cruel wake-up call. I failed to successfully ignore the alarm, though I felt shy about waking The Muse to ask if she'd mind terribly if I crawled up there to replace the battery, for she seemed to have been successfully sleeping through the intrusion. I fled downstairs, it being close enough to my usual wake up time, but even from there, the chirpy chiming proved distracting. I knew that quieting it would force an ordeal. I'd have to fetch the long collapsable ladder from the garage, wrestle it inside and upstairs, then perform the reverse origami unfolding in a tightly constricted space, the kind of operation best performed without critical eyes observing. I finally but reluctantly accepted the challenge, roused The Muse to ask her permission, then set about wrestling the ungainly ladder into place.

As expected, I delivered a performance without evident grace, even managing to scratch the wall in a place which might be next to impossible to repaint, in the unlikely event that we have some of that color of paint leftover in the basement.

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FreedomOfScreech

freedom-of-speech-1943.jpg!Large
Norman Rockwell: Freedom of Speech (1943)
© by Norman Rockwell under Fair Use
"I ain't buying anything promoted with screeches."

Maybe The Founders intended elections to deeply upset the public, lest we grow lax in our responsibilities as citizens. During election season, our much-vaunted freedom of speech seems to expand into what I might more reasonably insist seems more like FreedomOfScreech. The most fantastic fictions masquerade as facts while facts cower in corners until after ballots get counted. We claim that voting amounts to our sacred right, though we treat it with little reverence. The SOB who never once seemed interested in representing you or me suddenly seems redeemed, clothed in whatever raiment seems most appropriate to appeal to a divided electorate, while deliberately further dividing that electorate. My mute button gets overworked as the same misrepresentations appear as gospel. I wonder why that local television station agrees to carry that advertisement and they respond with vague references to civic duty, which seems more of an indenture to me. At least election season serves to dramatically reduce my television viewing.

I apparently inhabit a backwater of political discourse since I've seen blessed few of the ads.

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TinyTyranny

TinyTyranny
Mir Sayyid Ali: Persian Miniature Complex Palace Scene (1539–1543)
"I might have been more right than I knew."

Most of us sense the significance of anything larger than us. Big might not necessarily be better, but it's sure a whole lot more noticeable. We learn early not to sweat small stuff, for small doesn't usually represent any obvious threat. Dedicated to making some significant difference, we focus upon the bigger chunks, ones where, if we can influence them, we'll probably get noticed. Appearances aside, this bias for the big might imperil us most, for small changes, those which go unnoticed, seem to more readily replicate than the huge gallumping kind which quickly raise our defenses. An almost indiscernible one percent change, if persisted over time, can leave us wondering why in a radically different place. A spark becomes a blaze. A drip grows into a flood. We see ample evidence that tiny can become tyrannical, yet a TinyTyranny usually slips right through our defenses.

Innumeracy explains some of this condition.

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Homering

Homering
Giorgio de Chirico: The Nostalgia of the Infinite (1911)
"I might, finally, at last, accept that my future's fully back in my hands now."

As I noted yesterday, I caught myself feeling lost in the perhaps necessarily disorienting transition between then and WhatNext. I must have expected my world to crisply snap back into some poorly-remembered before state after The GrandOtter departed for her next adventure, but except for the suddenly empty guest bedroom and bath, the place remained disappointingly the same, essentially unchanged save for a notable absence of a persistent background hum. Every displaced routine remained disrupted and seemed reluctant to snap back into what I imagined to be its former place. Worse, I felt a deep reluctance to simply pick up the former pace, to fill the suddenly empty spaces with fresh ambition and activity. I sheltered more or less in place, staring at a too familiar face. Home would refuse to meet me halfway. I'd have to engage in some dedicated Homering.

Homering refers to a complicated process by which an imagined outcome becomes an actual one leached of nostalgia and Utopian expectations.

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Hollowing

Hollowing
Giorgio de Chirico: The Disquieting Muses (1947)
" … a replacement obsessive purpose might shine through."

All my life so far, I've heard stories about the sweetness of success. These were fairy stories, apparently, for every one of my greatest victories have so-far most prominently produced a disorienting Hollowing instead. I might have gone absolutely all in to achieve something, only to feel upon completion the way Wylie Coyote must feel after overrunning his latest mesa top. A hollow hum replaces the rush and feathers expended in pursuit. I'm suddenly out of work, without clear purpose, suspended near the cusp of dread. I never seem to know WhatNext then, when my recent past has just slipped out of my grasp. My reward seems to be that I get to start reinventing myself all over again, this time, again, without much of an inkling of what I might want to become enough to eventually become obsessed with it. I grew up then blew up just to have to grow up all over again. Completion doesn't carry a taste, bitter or sweet. It comes to carry away accustomed engagement and leave that disquieting Hollowing behind.

Why do I always feel surprised when I fall into this limbo again? I probably shouldn't.

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Lame

Lame
Pieter Brueghel the Elder: The Beggars (1568)
"We're all each others' metaphors here."

Max, our erstwhile kitten now budding house cat, turned up lame evening before last. He and his sister Molly had (as usual) accidentally escaped after I left the slider open and stood on the deck imploring them to come outside, and I noticed Max walking with three legs, just like the three-legged dog on my childhood paper route. That dog chased me like every other dog on that route, seemingly unperturbed over his missing leg. Max held his left front paw immobile and hesitated before heading down the long, steep deck stairs to his favorite flower bed out back. I coaxed him over with a few kitty treats and investigated for obvious damage, but I couldn't see anything troubling in the fading light. I carried him back inside while he complained.

The next morning, he was still avoiding any use of that leg, so I scheduled a visit to the Vet.

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Nexting

Nexting
Mary Cassatt: Children Playing on the Beach (1884)
" … I eventually stick my head up and into the clouds."

The GrandOtter rented a POS truck to shuttle herself and her stuff into the next iteration of her life. Balding tires, weary interior, frightening play in the steering wheel, that truck represented everything it should have represented to properly convey her into her next chapter. My right thumb powered my first escape across a hundred miles of scabland and up and over the great Cascades, my possessions contained in a small knapsack and a flimsy guitar case. The conveyance should rightly seem inadequate, for it's not about any present, but whatever comes next. In that moment of separation, the present has already receded seemingly to break trail for its protagonist to follow. These transitions drip with potential and require nothing but the barest shell of conventional support. Another great adventure, a Nexting, commences.

When I arrived on the other side, I discovered that I had been wholly unprepared to properly inhabit the place.

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Lasts

Lasts
Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper (1498)
"Long gone. Never lost."

As a departure nears, before my thoughts shift to whatever might come next, they scan around for Lasts. The last supper. The last breakfast. That last nuzzle from one of those cats who imprinted on me during my stay. I might be here today, but I will most certainly be gone by this time tomorrow, so I try to absorb just as much of the atmosphere here before forfeiting it in favor of fresh adventure. I feel loss most intensely just before the countdown finally concludes. I feel deep tinges. In one of those moments, I swear that I'd abandon every thought of actually departing if that act might freeze everything precisely where it seems to be in that moment. Adventure seems a false promise right then, a down trade. I'd easily barter back my newly-acquired handful of magic beans to recover my reliable old cow.

Time tangles then, for Lasts more properly reside in faulty memory.

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EmptyNestoring

emptynestoring
Francis Flora Bond Palmer: Across the Continent:
"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way", 1868
[James Merritt Ives (printer), Currier and Ives (publisher)]

"We revere New Beginnings, for only they can turn our fears into our dreams come true."

The grandparent birds seem almost amused at just how confused the exit seems, for they've, between them, done this at least a hundred times. They possess a rhythm between them that would surely guide their wings, but there's no known way to ever transfer that sort of experience. So the fledglings flap and flop their way, first close, then progressively further. None simply fly away. What might have taken a day with experienced wings will likely take a few while learning, remembering what a short time ago flying amounted to simply mounting the edge without ever actually departing before settling back in for another brought-in supper. Chicks grow exclusively exponentially, though, and nesting space eventually disappears. Somebody's finally got to leave, and the nest always was the grandparent birds' place, never theirs. Birth places, even re-birth places, only ever come in the form of future departure points, and one of those points eventually arrives.

"At least they're heading West," you say, since East somehow seems so retrograde.

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GhosTown

GhosTown
Jan van Eyck: Saint Barbara (1437)
"I am the ghost haunting this GhosTown."

For many, myself included, errand-running had become our only socialization. We'd either be alone at home or out to the shops. We acknowledged that this form of interaction lacked intimacy, as we only rarely knew those we encountered, but they nonetheless performed a valuable service for us. Their presence proved reassuring that we might not actually be quite as lonely as we usually felt. We could exchange pleasantries with somebody more sociable than a cat while temporarily feeling part of a bustle. Since The Damned Pandemic descended, though, those Main Streets and town centers have ceased attracting. We're more likely to slink around the edges of them rather than attempting anything like our former full immersions. Our social lives have retreated into suspension. We might still warmly anticipate a post office visit if only to revel in the long-familiar context of it, clerks always chatty from standing so very near the center of the universe. One does not very often visit the post office.

I shop as if I were deep sea diving now, checking my gear before entering, and lingering no longer than absolutely necessary.

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Dyeignosis

Dyeignosis
Vincent van Gogh: Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate) (1890)
"I am my Dyeignosis, which I acknowledge has been the death of my former self."

I have lived most of my life Dyeignosis-free. This state left me with what many might consider a thin identity, for I found myself unable to sort myself into any of the more popular categories. Allergic to nothing that I knew of, I roamed free of imposed restrictions, enthusiastically joining the Gluten Appreciation Society. I freely consumed peanuts at will. True, through the eighties, during the height of the now-infamous cholesterol terror, I subsisted on skinless chicken breasts and oat groats, but before and after I put most omnivores to shame. I avoided soda pop and fast food, not due to any externally-mandated restrictions, but thanks to what I imagined to have been a refined palate and uncommon sense. While diagnosed with high cholesterol, my identity changed. I became a pre-avenging angel, steadfastly refusing pork and beef, charged with protecting my sacred health. My cholesterol numbers never wavered, regardless of my prescription or exercise routine, and when that life-preserving prescription was recalled as a danger to my health, my doctor and I decided to rescind the earlier dire diagnosis. I slowly re-entered the general population without further restrictions. Once that Dyeignosis devolved back into a recognition of a personal eccentricity, that miserly portion of me withered and disappeared, opening twenty-five years of near perfect health and serenity.

Later, The Muse encouraged me, as only The Muse can encourage anyone, to submit to fresh dyeignoses.

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BreakingPoint

BreakingPoint
Henry Fuseli: The Nightmare (1781)
"It's a long, hard road."

Every day carries a hint of irrecoverability, each one new and subtly different from every day before it. A very few days arrive carrying the clear threat of a radical BreakingPoint with the past, a clear sense that forever after, no day will likely seem terribly similar again. A death or a divorce brings a dismemberment along with the dread certainty that no subsequent surgery will ever reattach whatever was torn asunder. One wonders What Next? without mustering anything like a reassuring impression of what that might entail. These discontinuities might seem curiously reassuring, marking an end to what had become for almost everyone, an increasingly intolerable situation, but also inject a shit ton of uncertainty into the proceedings. A deeply disturbing unknowing settles in to wait for a fresh opening in the storyline. Above all, everything seems anything but fine in that moment. One proceeds, anyway.

I have been scampering along the eroding cliff edge of just such a BreakingPoint for the last few weeks, terrified over where this story might next take me and those I care about most in this world.

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ExitStrategy

ExitStrategy
Carlos Schwabe: La mort du fossoyeur (Death of the gravedigger) (1895)
"Just imagine the depth of character I'm creating."

Fifty years ago, I was one autumn twilight driving my mother's '63 VW Beetle, which we lovingly referred to as The Helicopter because it sounded like a helicopter, up onto Washington State's Snoqualmie Pass and into a snow storm. An old friend who was riding along dispensed some advice which has since become one of my guiding homilies of life. He said, "Tuck in behind a truck and keep one foot in the ditch." His logic seemed flawless. A commercial truck driver very likely had much more experience than I driving through snow in the dark, and his vehicle was likely much more susceptible to sliding than mine, so a leading truck could serve as my early warning system when the road turned slippery. I should maintain an ExitStrategy anyway, by keeping one foot in the ditch, by remaining prepared to drive myself off to the side should the situation turn truly perilous. I continue this general strategy today, even when it's not snowy. I try to follow someone more experienced than I and I also try to maintain a fallback plan should my pathfinder fail me. I think of this strategy as a form of double indemnity, a compounded form of safety. While everyone else seems most interested in passing every slow-moving truck, I'm more likely to tuck myself in behind so that I can leverage the driver's superior experience.

I try to apply this guideline wherever I'm feeling imperiled, but this Damned Pandemic has foiled my attempts.

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HidingOut

HidingOut
Johannes Vermeer - Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (circa 1657–59)



Hiding

I'm hiding, I'm hiding
And no one knows where;
For all they can see is my
Toes and my hair

And I just heard my father
Say to my mother -
"But, darling, he must be
Somewhere or other;

Have you looked in the inkwell?"
And Mother said, "Where?"
"In the INKWELL?"said Father. But
I was not there.

Then "Wait!" cried my mother —
"I think that I see
Him under the carpet." But
It was not me.

"Inside the mirror's
A pretty good place."
Said Father and looked, but saw
Only his face.

"We've hunted," sighed Mother,
"As hard as we could
And I am so afraid that we've
Lost him for good."

Then I laughed out aloud
And I wiggled my toes
And Father said —"Look, dear,
I wonder if those

Toes could be Benny's?
There are ten of them, see?"
And they WERE so surprised to find
Out it was me!

Dorothy Keeley Aldis


"They mostly don't seem to notice, anyhow."


By the time I graduated from Junior High, I had become a near master at HidingOut. The normal social pressures there had easily convinced me that I was eminently vulnerable, and I quickly learned the costs of too prominently standing out. My identity had been emerging through my tenure there, and I'd tried on innumerable different personas, quickly discovering which I could get away with and which I could not. Mistakes would receive quick and shockingly viscous peckings back into place, as if angry ducks ruled that roost. I learned to go slightly unconscious, to simply not notice much of the brutality surrounding me, for I could not imagine surviving otherwise. Each morning I performed another act of rather sublime courage, arriving on time and taking my seat just as if I was not entering a grand inquisition. I worked hard to remain unsuspicious, since suspicion alone usually served as adequate evidence that some punishment should resume. Teachers were no less unforgiving than the least of the students, for they were charged with creating future citizens from such continually unpromising material. The principal daily announced another threat over the Stalag-quality PA system, insisting that his was "a promise, not a threat." Everyone knew a threat when they heard one.

I went on to do post-graduate work in high school and beyond, and by the time I'd finished high school (or it had finished with me), I had attained a depth of transparency such that I could see right through myself, the ego had been pretty much beaten out of me.

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Shirker

Shirker
Grant Wood: Fall Plowing (1931)
"I get away with nothing."

I know myself to be, above all else, a Shirker. In my time, I've left many more jobs undone than I ever completed. I'm apt to spend a day when I should be engaging in my equivalent of Fall Plowing, plowing my way through a novel in lieu of attempting to outrun the first snow outside. I tend to leave a lot on the table. I think of myself as being more able than I ever actually deliver. I shrink in the face of even modest challenges, and I feel myself defeated at the merest rumor of conflict. I contend that I am not lazy, however, for the lazy never seem to notice the work they shirk, but fail to catch the cues that inform then that they really should be doing something. Mine's a more sophisticated sort of slothfulness, one ridden with essential guilt and built upon a solid foundation of dedicated precedent. I can usually tell when I first sense a deadline whether or not I'll ever manage to get around to actually attempting to accomplish it, but I retain the expectation on my books, never writing off the obligation. Ever! I might have become most masterful at managing the resulting residue of guilt, my constant companion and, curiously, my primary inspiration.

I sense time on my tail and I know for sure that I will ultimately lose this race.

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Factsation

Factsation
RAPHAEL: The Sacrifice at Lystra c.1515-6
"How low can your bottom line go?"

The Muse recalls her mom insisting that fare is what one pays to ride the bus. This glib insight almost explains how the much-maligned US Tax Code works in practice, except that fair, tax-wise, means that those least able to pay, always pay the most as a percentage of their income. A day laborer, lacking the 'tax advantages' of owning a private jet, might pay the full fare. No billionaire ever does, nor need to, because he can take advantage of receiving certain advantages not extended to the laborer. Billionaires complain about the price, but never, ever, under any circumstance, ever pay the full fare. It's as if the rich receive special dispensation for the otherwise insufferable burden of wealth. They write off with abandon, carrying forward losses to offset any unfortunate future profits. Lose a billion early in a career, and you're golden for the next couple of decades worth of tax years. Walk away from a failing enterprise, even one you ruined through gross incompetence, and your government will richly reward you. Should the laborer walk away from a job, he'll be denied subsistence support under the presumption that he must be lazy. Real welfare queens live in luxury on the Upper East Side.

Our President, he whose name I've sworn to avoid saying, reportedly deducted $70,000 in a single year for hair styling expenses, since his gravity-defying cantilevered combover is apparently a part of his brand rather than simply a translucent inability to accept encroaching baldness.

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QuantiCategorization

QuantiCategorization
Rosa Bonheur: The Horse Fair (1855)
"I am not now nor have I ever actually been my demographic."

To produce sketches for her mid-nineteenth century painting The Horse Fair, artist Rosa Bonheur sought and received permission to dress as a man while observing dealers selling horses at the horse market held on the Boulevard de l'Hôpital in Paris. She explained that when earlier sketching at a slaughterhouse, her appearance as a woman had complicated her ability to observe regular goings on, and so she wanted to dress in the iconic smock and britches favored by male painters of the period, for she considered herself first an artist. Whatever else she might have been ranked a distant second to her presence as an artist in that context. How others perceive us can deeply affect our ability to engage in whatever we do, so most of us take care to project a persona congruent with our intentions, lest we unduly complicate our own efforts.

We live in perhaps the most prejudicial time in the history of human existence.

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MountainTime

MountainTime
Giovanni Segantini: The Punishment of Lust (AKA The Punishment of Luxury) (1891)
" … my soul will most certainly feel more at home there."

Though I might use the same clockworks to measure time wherever in the world I might find myself, time behaves differently in different places. It moves much more slowly some places than in others, the effect influencing clocks such that they fail to register any difference. I do. Perhaps you do, too. A minute is clearly not a minute everywhere. In cities, time naturally moves more quickly, though much of it seems wasted in transit between two inevitably distant points (across town) via crowded passageways. One waits much of their time away in cities. On the prairie, time moves most regularly, with little difference from day to day to day. I figure that the featureless topography influences it, as if there's nothing for it to bounce off of as it passes through. MountainTime seems most mysterious and therefore most special. Long, deep shadows render sundials essentially useless, and twilight, both morning and evening, stretches far beyond expectations, smearing each sunrise and sunset into curiously extended events.

I consider the Pacific Time Zone to be God's Own Time Zone, probably because I gestated and was born there, and inhabited that geographical space through my formative years.

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ThinAir

ThinAir
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: The Dream of Ossian (Ossians' Traum) (1813)

"Maybe this place exists solely as refuge …"


The atmosphere has seemed memorably thick over the last few weeks. Wildfires raging across The West pushed smoke around the world, blocking some people's sun through the end of summer and into an uneasy autumn. Our horizons have flamed through successive sunrises and sunsets while every exposed surface accumulated an ashy grit. Politics, too, have densified our social atmosphere, with fear sweat creating a persistent ground fog of dread as a mortally weakened President throws distracting tantrums, spewing idle threats. The Damned Pandemic continued playing off our tenacious innumeracy, a flickering flame quietly spreading through virgin timbre, our ears deafened by disbelief. This time will be recorded as neither the best nor the worst of times, but it might well be remembered as a crime wave, with thieves weakening every institution and corruption seemingly corroding everything it touches, and touching pretty nearly everything. The future from here appears cloudy with the certainty of torrential rains, a threatening Old Testament scenario.

The Muse and I feel fortunate to have found Pilgrimage calling us up and out of our metastasizing daily routines into ThinAir, where we can't figure out how to make the television work.

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MisDisInformation

MisDisInformation
Joseph Wright: The Corinthian Maid (1782-1784)

[Josiah Wedgwood, the pioneer of pottery manufacturing, commissioned this mythological scene that illustrates the invention of the art of modeling bas-relief sculpture. Wedgwood’s own fired-clay vessels, decorated with low reliefs, would have been seen by an eighteenth-century audience as the aesthetic descendants of this ancient Greek maiden’s attempt to preserve her beloved’s profile.

The girl was the daughter of a potter in Corinth. Her boyfriend was about to embark on a perilous journey to foreign lands, taking only his spear and dog. As a memento, she traced her sleeping lover’s silhouette onto the wall. Her father then used the drawing to model a clay relief, which he baked in his kiln to create a ceramic keepsake.] NGA.gov

"The silhouette was never the lover …"

When the fabled Corinthian Maid traced her lover's silhouette, she had no intention of accurately representing him, but of hopefully capturing some significant, representative part of his presence. She understood that the small subset of his many dimensions she traced on that wall would fall far short of replacing him in his absence, but hoped the resulting bas relief might serve as enough reminder to spark some deeper sense of him than mere memory might provide. She produced information about him, but without the expectation that this information might adequately replace him. Her work produced a placeholder for his presence, information without definition.

We've been wrestling to make this distinction ever since, and probably well before that Corinthian Maid scribbled her lover's outline on that wall.

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Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (between 1820 and 1823)
[The theme of the loss of identity in crowds in this painting can be seen as a precursor to expressionist painting (en.wikipedia.org)]
"Having left as someone else, he returns with his freshly blessed self again."

It might be a curiosity unique to the criminal mind to believe in the concept of a clean getaway, for there are none. One might wish there were such a thing, and even deeply believe that they have pulled one off, but once fleeing, the possibility of getting caught remains until you're arrested, and until then, you're haunted by the prospect of being found out, more refugee than free. I suppose the more dedicated sociopaths can convince themselves that they got away Scott-free, but even they are actually fleeing, even if they don't acknowledge this fact. If only they could leave themselves behind like they left the scene of the crime, they might actually escape. The fundamental problem with getaways lies in trying to flee one's self, but that one cannot be left behind. The old life might be readily abandoned, but the old self insists upon tagging along, and the old self, however unwanted by the prospective escapee, shows up on wanted posters and the gunman cannot help but drop into old haunts. Somebody will sooner or later spot them there.

Contrary to every airline advertisement ever written, there are no getaways, not really.

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Viewing

Waxing&Waning
Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten: View of a Corridor (1662)
"Let the record show that on this last day of summer, I started leaning in again."

The Muse and I live near the top of a minor mountain in a region filled with more significant ones. Ours hardly merits mentioning, but still our elevation often leaves us feeling as if we're floating above much of the rest of creation, like Greek gods or something. We nevertheless choose to live humbly here, something I believe we'd do whatever our circumstance, and we've actually lived even more humbly before, accepting waning as another part of an apparently never-ending cycle of increase and decrease, like respiration. 'As I live and breathe' translates into 'sometimes we give and sometimes we receive', with net increase or decrease more a matter of accounting periods than of any superiority or shortcoming. We do our work, grateful for having it, and too often temporarily forget the sublime beneficence of both possessing it as well as often feeling utterly possessed by it, for it fails to consume us, but seems instead insistently intent upon continually enriching us, even when it makes us no money. Living without purpose could only be worse for everybody.

That said, we're both feeling bled dry here on this final partial day of summer.

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Dire

Dire
Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten: Tromp-l'oeil still life, 1664
"What strange lives we lead."

Our lives seem anything, everything but still. Even under This Damned Pandemic forcing us to march in place, we continue marching in what we firmly believe to be a forward trajectory, making progress, as the old saying insists, through Dire circumstances. I daily subject myself to a fresh edition of The Times, lest I fall uninformed regarding the form of the latest insults. I scroll my newsfeeds, continuously on the lookout for whatever must be coming next. I know for certain that something's stalking me, stalking us, because it seems, when I take a quiet moment to reflect, that 'twas always thus. Even back in what I now nostalgically recall as simpler times, complex threats continually surrounded me. My immune system's always been on high alert and trending ever higher, it seems, and were it not for my continuously-sounding early alert systems, I might well have already succumbed to one thing or another, some humiliation or bother. The fresh threats seem to invent ways to bushwhack me. Well, not exactly me, precisely, but us excluding me personally, for while we continually feel threatened, only a few of us ever actually fall prey, and it seems as though it's a different collection every day. Our society seems increasingly comprised of entropy spiraling ever more chaotically.

Some headlines chase me away, offering information I cannot quite afford to know.

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BegendingsAgain

BegendingsAgain
Samuel van Hoogstraten: View of an Interior, or The Slippers (Between 1654 and 1662)
"I clutch my innate cowardliness along with my pearls and move into."

I consider myself to be a change chicken, especially whenever encountering some inevitable. I could offer a master class in the fine art of denial. My feet naturally drag, providing a superpower resistance few very deeply appreciate. I can defend any late status quo state until long after any foreign element's completely overtaken it. I sometimes seem to be living in the past, still taking my cues from some long ago code of comportment. I live conservatively—not politically conservatively, for that philosophy always seemed far too radical for me—but intellectually conservatively, and also culturally. I rightfully consider most improvements to be degradations and most new beginnings to be primarily shrouded in endings. My glass is neither half empty nor half full, but still overflowing with potential. I'm the one most likely to order another one just like the one before.

I have been inhabiting the NowHere for an entire quarter now, or almost.

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DateNight

DateNight
Jan Miense Molenaer: The Denial of Saint Peter (1636)
[Molenaer depicted biblical stories in his own time and surroundings,
such as representing this scene from Peter's Gospel set in a Dutch Tavern.]

" … settling in with The Maximum Cat to dream about different days …"

Denver's not so much a food desert as a food prairie. Restaurants tend toward the predictable and steady, and seem few and far between. Little mystery lurks within any of them. Reservations, not usually necessary, unless, of course, you really want to get in at a specific time without waiting. Noise, like an incessant prairie wind, seems built in, and any visit tends toward the buffeting. Our damned pandemic has slowed the usual progression of people in and out, with most preferring an outside table, but even then, overcrowding seems a prominent feature of those few more choice options still open, especially those not featuring a drive-in window. The Muse and I have simply foregone any kind of eating out other than the very occasional take-out pizza, a prominent feature of the region's flat restaurant topography, anyway. But last Friday night, we really needed to get the heck out of our same old place after months of in-house suppers, crafted by our very own hands and inspired by flattening imaginations in precisely the same space. We behaved like the cats, screaming to be let out but with no destination imagined other than Not Here.

With no specific place in mind, not exactly the recipe for certain satisfaction, though back in the day, we could usually happen upon some semblance of a satisfactory place.

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Impendings

Impendings
Sir Peter Paul Rubens The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau About 1625 - 1628
"I left only NowHeres behind."

Summer has been eroding since early July, wasting away in place. The Dog Days came and went, replaced by a succession of cat days, warm enough that the cats preferred to stay out unsupervised all night and started turning feral again. Max, The Maximum Cat, disappeared for two successive nights before suddenly appearing without an explanation, hungry. I, of apparently little faith, had already started imagining how I might cope with such a loss, here in this ass end of a sweet season, with so many competing Impendings already scheduled. The end of summer enters with stealth exceeding even that of the littlest cat's feet. It leaves no footprints at all and manages to surprise no matter how closely I watch my clocks and calendars. Perhaps especially this year, where so much has managed to maintain so much sameness backdropped by so danged much simply staying home. The Muse and I have been aching for a road trip, but circumstances or entropy have so far successfully stymied every attempt. Big change is coming, though. I know this because I feel unusually blind to the Impendings.

The first day of fall has been scheduled to appear on a Tuesday this year, slipped into midweek as if to discourage any leading or trailing long weekend celebration.

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-finity

-finity
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich (1818)
" … hope apparently actually does spring eternal…"

I have never considered myself an atheist, but then, I wouldn't call myself anti-theist, either. I believe in plenty and can recognize the utility embodied in the whole mythology, liturgy and all. I was raised attending a mid-century conservative Christian denomination, demons and all, and learned early of which I was better off not speaking about at all. I could not quite muster up even a half-decent belief in an old testament God, the one that looks like Moses' scowling uncle wearing a swaddling suit of so-called clothes reminiscent of nothing more than a onesie diaper ensemble with sandals; thank God, no socks. Always the sandals. The relationships between God as father and Jesus as the son of God and me as the apparent son of a mild-mannered postal worker and his I Love Lucy wife were about as clear as my father's family tree, swelling with halves and steps and even more baffling progeny. The idea of lord, let alone as savior, escaped me, and not just because I didn't believe, but because I simply could not, since I had not been raised in feudal times, understand the meaning of the terms. Still, I never really felt as if I was entirely on my own, for I always possessed an inner hopefulness, even in my most discouraging times.

I believe that hopefulness might represent what some more devout and comprehending mean when they speak of big 'G' God.

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Stewing

stewing
A group of peasants sharing a simple meal of bread and drink;
Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, 14th century.

"My country used to be …"

They are a proud people, overly so. They expend their energies defending themselves, for they seem to attract enemies, foreign as well as domestic, and they insist that these enemies primarily target their 'Way of Life,' which they seem to hold as sacred without ever very finely defining what it entails other than to declare it containing inalienable rights, not necessarily privileges, responsibilities, or obligations, and 'traditional values.' They seem to firmly believe that owning a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun will protect them from tyranny, if not necessarily from each other. They insist that registering or licensing those weapons amounts to the tyranny from which those weapons were supposed to protect them. They distrust governments, which they firmly believe to be the primary author of the tyranny they oppose. They proudly proclaim that they refuse to expose themselves to mainstream media, which they believe engages in an ongoing conspiracy to misrepresent what's actually going on. They believe themselves to be authentic representatives of The People, The REAL People, not those hangers-on and Johnny-come-lately folks diluting the gene pool. They receive their information almost exclusively via gossip and rumor, and once they get an idea in their heads, they blithely deflect any conflicting information. Point them at a fact checker and they will proclaim, without evidence, that fact checkers have been proven unreliable. They live within an echo chamber.

They seem a stupid people but believe themselves cleverer, more insightful, wiser.

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PinchOfSalt

Salt
Antonio del Pollaiolo: Battle of the Naked/Nudes, 1470
" … just when we really needed to be tipped over again."

I was blessed with little taste for salt. My lead palate cannot discern whether a dish needs salt before serving, so The Muse performs that service in the event that we have company for supper and this detail even matters. The Muse keeps the salt cellar handy at table to make up whatever deficit I deliver for dinner. I try, as the cookbooks show, to let salt start to breakdown proteins before cooking, but I work by direction rather than by taste or instinct, because I possess no salt sense. I'm aware that a man of my advancing age should limit my salt intake, but I find no reason to monitor it since I'm most likely to just forget about it altogether. I take it, though, that some find an extra pinch of salt necessary, though I have resigned myself to never understanding why. The Muse also possesses a superior taste for wine and can sense the presence of corking I cannot perceive. I sometimes doubt whether we're the same species, as divergent as our sensibilities seem.

Last week, The Muse leaned over and salted the GrandOtter's already plated supper after suddenly realizing that she'd forgotten to salt it in preparation.

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Patruns

Patruns
US Army Corps of Engineers geologist and cartographer Harold Fisk: Meander Map of the Mississippi River (1944)
"Give the Patrun a silly name and see where that leads."

Us consultants types often speak about organizational patterns of behavior, just as if an organization could behave. Often (as in always), a consultant type like me will stroll around a workplace simply observing. We might linger to chat with folks as we meander around, but any observer observing this observer might readily conclude that we're aimlessly wandering. We're actually aimlessly collecting clues to what the people working within this place do when they aren't aware of doing much of anything at all. The consultant was invited in, usually under false initial pretenses, because someone's experiencing a difficulty. Successive improvements have typically failed to completely reverse disappointing results, so the consultant's engaged in a late-stage attempt to finally get a handle on it (or resolution's described in one of an infinite array of hackneyed non-descriptive phrases, each of which essentially screams, "We have no clue what to do.) Neither do the consultants, at least not at first. A walk-about might provide a few clues, though, as certain patterns might come into sharper focus. Later, sitting with the client, the consultant will engage in another "Did you notice?" conversation, where some scales might start falling from over the client's eyes.

Though organizations, not being people, are incapable of behaving, certain patterns of engagement or outcome strongly suggest the presence of some underlying behaviors.

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MisFunction

Misfunction
Engraving of a "portable" camera obscura in Athanasius Kircher's Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbrae (1645)


"Camera obscura (plural camerae obscurae or camera obscuras, from Latin camera obscūra, “dark chamber”), also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or, for instance, a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening." Wikipedia

"Who's to say?"

Historians have recently concluded that seventeenth century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer sort of cheated when he painted. Rather than merely observing his subjects, they speculate that he most probably employed a Camera Obscura which projected a full color image upside down on his canvas, thereby presenting a paint-by-number sort of template for him to simply fill in with color. This revelation suggests that he might have been more draftsman than artist, though his shortcut did nothing to infringe upon the sheer beauty of his work, which capture light in truly remarkable ways. But every art has its supposed-to-bes, it's hallowed, gentrified traditions, and mere photographic replication was never acknowledged as the point of either art or artistry. A master artist was supposed to possess a certain transcendent magical sense allowing production without resorting to what purists might consider cheap mechanical tricks. Yet what is the eye but a camera obscura, with the brain righting and coloring in inverted images? We see as we do due to a considerably more complex mechanism than any simple hole in a wall, and it's a genuine wonder any of us could make any sense of anything we ever saw, let alone, agree upon proportion, color, or placement.

MisFunction seems common in all sensory processing: vision, hearing, you name it.

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TheRhodeIsland

TheRhodeIsland
Alonzo Chappel: The Landing of Roger Williams in 1636 (1857)
"As tiny as that measure might seem, it's far too large to calculate any human affect …"

The standard calibration for natural disasters in the United States has long been TheRhodeIsland. Whether measuring hurricane or hail damage, government agencies as well as our print and broadcast media exclusively employ TheRhodeIsland as the universal unit of measure of size. True devastation rarely affects less than a single Rhode Island-sized area, and seems to often spread into dozens, occasionally scores. To clarify, TheRhodeIsland represents an area equivalent to the square mileage encompassed by our former colony and tiniest state, which roughly equals the size of a typical ex-urban McMansion estate, or, one Ponderosa, that fictional ranch featured in the sixties western television series, though both The McMansion and The Ponderosa feature far less distinct boundaries than TheRhodeIsland. In spite of this state enjoying the representation of two US Senators, it features fewer bathrooms than the typical McMansion. Fun Fact: It was also the birthplace of the most radical concept in governance ever to visit this continent, or, indeed, the world: Tolerance, a practice now long fallen into regrettable disuse.

Oregon ignites, and the resulting wildfire consumes several Rhode Islands overnight.

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Revelations

Revelations
William Blake: Angel of the Revelation, ca. 1803–5
"I'm continuously moved to reflect just how unlike expectations Revelations always seem."

I seem to be living through a time where another shoe's always just waiting to drop, plots infinitely thickening, where every blessed thing I think I understand today might just be turned on its head tomorrow. I cannot honesty testify that my experience was ever different from this before, for I remember, like you remember, strings of surprising Revelations accompanying me from my earliest days, but it seems, reflecting, that the velocity just might have been steadily, subtly increasing over time, combining to produce a now dizzying result. Every damned thing seems swathed in speculation, with little probability that I'll readily recognize the upcoming outcome, which seems very likely to spawn just another interim and not any final resolution. We say that things are "up in the air," but this air seems thin and smoky, not necessarily fresh or health-giving, but sometimes more bordering upon the absolutely smothering. It probably doesn't help that we're living with a presidency produced like one of those shoddy "reality" television series, where each commercial break (and there suddenly seems to be endlessly infinite breaks for commercials) follows a fresh take on Keep-Away, almost revealing, but then, once again reporting that we'll just have to wait. They promise a brief break, but each invariably takes longer than any average attention span. I've lost focus by the time the program resumes, and the promised revelation usually turns out to be another come-on, prolonging what becomes deeply dissatisfying enough to leave me wondering after the higher purpose of my existence; hardly satisfying entertainment. I've been losing my desire to even turn on the damned television or read the Times to discover the latest "Revelations.".

The relationship between Revelations and resolutions seems disrupted right now, and this situation seems to insist upon me adopting some different expectations.

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Burning

Burning
Camille Corot: The Burning of Sodom (formerly "The Destruction of Sodom"),1843 and 1857
" … one pair of boots I'm sure grateful I remembered to grab before I left."

Around the time I first moved to Portland in the mid-seventies, the Feds changed their policy regarding their Northwest forest land. They'd previously subsidized a vast rural economy. Cut-rate logging leases encouraged an extractive industry that funded schools, roads, and other government services along with high-paying rural jobs. The locals complained that the damned EPA regulations suddenly protecting small owls and tinier fish caused it, the downfall of entire regions. People were understandably pissed when forced to move into cities or settle into lives as the suddenly working poor. They remembered their grandparents' stories about being poor back before The Dust Bowl had brought them here to the promised land. It had been every bit as good as promised to them up until then. Proud traditions were summarily disrupted and the victims usually blamed for their shifting fortunes. They'd age into a bitter conservatism still remembering when and their children would join a local underground militia, fomenting for similar to their own disruption at the top. The same sorry game played out on the other side of the country in the rust belt, as over the following third of a century, jobs evaporated with little recourse. We'd entered a deliberately disruptive time. Now, of course, Oregon's known as The Silicon Forest, though few ex-loggers work in high tech. Many remain up to their necks in debt from barely surviving and still live in once-thriving but ever-shrinking small towns that hardly seem like towns anymore; slightly wider spots along the road over to Bend or K-Falls.

The surrounding woodland was always good to these people, a genuine wonderland of scenery, recreational opportunity, and game.

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Issues

Issues
Portrait of Martin Luther by Hans Balding Grien, 1521 Woodcut
"We dare not squabble over Issues …"

I take issue with Issues, which seem to have become the primary medium for political discourse, such as it's become. Reporters ask where a candidate stands, offering hardly a thin, brittle branch for any candidate to stand upon. They speak in a curious shorthand where keywords stand in for actual questions. "Where do you stand on abortion?" one might ask, a guaranteed double-binding, damning sort of non-question almost certain to elicit a meaningless response. Abortion has become a poisonous word. Even a sentence fragment containing it seems certain to taint anyone associated with it, for it's become the primary marker of ginned up moral outrage. Nobody ever asks where a candidate stands on preserving the life of a mother, for the unborn seem to have become citizens with rights exceeding any of those enjoyed by the previously born, even though they have universally failed to qualify as citizens at all. Their primary occupation seems to have become sparking outrage, which seems quite the clever accomplishment for anyone having not yet come into this world, let alone of age.

Issues represent the gotcha game of our time.

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SolstusInterruptus

SolsticeInterruptus
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow, 1565
" … I suspect it's only napping."

As if mistaking an afternoon for the wee hours, our summer pulled a reversal overnight. Eighty-five and terribly smoky just yesterday, I woke to snow covered ground. Roads remain bare, since we were frying eggs on the asphalt yesterday and it holds heat like a fire brick, but the trees, none even starting to turn autumn colors yet, suddenly inhabit a snow globe. A very small hummingbird visits the remnants of the hummingbird feeder's contents, still liquid, thank heavens. I'd thought to take it down yesterday afternoon as I prepped for this storm. I almost regret that I live in a time when I can know what the morrow will likely beget, for I spent the few days leading into today dreading summer's interruption. I dutifully carried almost every planter and pot to a tarp-covered basement floor, and even blew out the drip irrigation system as if it was suddenly November in early September. A whole season of sitting on the deck surrounded by sweet scented blossoms, undone but not forgotten in a single afternoon. The cats must have thought me crazy, uprooting our outside home on such a hot and smoky afternoon. My back complained, too, after the lifting was through and I was sipping a cold one and surveying the damage I'd done on the rumor of winter.

I remembered wrong when I recalled previous early snows, for twenty years have passed since the last September snowfall here.

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Synchroenicheatea

synchroe
William Blake: The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, c. 1805
"I thank heaven that the most important things tend to happen at the least convenient times."

I yesterday introduced my primary manner of living, LivingAllegorically. In in, I asserted that making meaning comprises the bulk of my life's work, that everything I perceive when looking out any window might prove to be some unlikely mirror image of me, and that it's always my responsibility to interpret whatever I experience in ways that work for me by enhancing the quality of my experience. I omitted at least half of a complete explanation, though, not wanting to muddy up the creek more than necessary to delve into such a deeply personal topic. That other half involves meaningful coincidents' apparent role when LivingAllegorically. Obviously, nobody ever manages to plan moments when a fresh insight appears. These simply seem to simply occur without volition or advanced planning, like the revelation on the road to Damascus that Saul wrote about, which was clearly not on that morning's agenda. It occurred at an apparently inconvenient time and brought what might easily be interpreted as great good fortune to a clearly undeserving character, an authentic plot twist. I believe that LivingAllegorically begs a necessity to consequently maintain a firm belief in Synchronicity, a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. Those meaningful relations seem to describe the mechanism animating LivingAllegorically, which might not be so much a philosophy as a manner of actually living, an endlessly active leaning in sort of engagement with life.

Synchroenicheatea seems to be a more emblematic way for me to spell the word because it seems so much more phonetic and mysterious. However one spells it, it remains a mysterious force, the presence of which won't move any needle on any Galvanometer.

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LivingAllegorically

Allegorically
Allegory of Arithmetic, Laurent de La Hyre, 1650
"I might never get to breakfast or Damascus this morning …"

In the unlikely event that any of my grandkids ever ask me what I've learned about life, I would most probably respond by telling them that life seems to me to be an extended allegory, that reality isn't one percent of what it's cracked up to be, and that I believe that making meaning might be my primary responsibility here. Nothing seems as it seems and everything, every sensory experience, every dream, might carry a vast array of alternative meanings, depending. Depending upon me. I deeply doubt that a cigar is just a cigar, even sometimes, but each radiates possibility, depending. Depending upon me. I could choose to render that Freudian smoke to be simply a cigar, but what could possibly be the point of interpreting it so unimaginatively? Better sometimes, I believe, to perceive it with a touch of wonder, to check the context and discover some more meaningful understanding. It could be the clue I'd been hoping to appear that might just lead me to resolve the great mystery, or, alternatively, I could just perceive a mundane old cigar. Vitality, in my panoply, demands this more personal engagement, where I feel obligated to at least try to unwrap some deeper meaning from every blessed event and sensory experience. A rose might well be a rose and also a rose, but I also suppose that it might also be a harbinger of anything, a semi-secret messenger intent upon finally cluing me in. It utterly depends upon me to see through its initial instance to interpret something potentially more significant. All my experiences depend upon me being present.

Saul, when on that fabled road to Damascus, experienced a perfectly Standard Type 1 Revelation.

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Humbility

Humbility
Christ in the Wilderness, Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino), ca. 1520
" … lurching contest to contest, certain only of losing what we already too willingly forfeited."

And it came to pass that the people became prideful, proud of their many accomplishments and haughty within their identity; insufferable in the eyes of their neighbors, even formerly close friends. Where gratitude once swelled in their chests, an insolence replaced it and a definite arrogance overtook them. They suddenly seemed to know better the choices others should make, and even took it upon themselves to lean over others' plates to cut their meat for them without even being asked. How unappreciative 'they' seemed! Polity degraded into a me-ity, a me-for-me-and-nobody-for-all self-centeredness. Invisible hands and "wise" markets subsumed human agency and they segregated financially. They claimed The Best In The World without considering. "For whom?", and were subsumed by the promise of ever-expanding profitability. They funded their military more lavishly than they supported their progeny. They devoted themselves to promoting identity, touted as both brave and free to one another, but seemed to forfeit their former Humbility for a venial form of vanity. Then all was lost.

The ability to humble one's self might be the most human capability.

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Readering

Readering
Portrait of Georges-Daniel de Monfried by Victor Segalen, 1909
"I'm feeling as if I might be a writer now."

Michael Maccoby, American psychoanalyst and leadership consultant, defined a leader as anyone with followers. Others shave pigs, insisting that some observable skills really must be present to qualify as a real leader, but I take Maccoby's side in this small controversy. It seems to me, if to nobody else, that we define many occupations in just this back-handed way. We judge singers by the size of the audiences they attract and Presidents, initially by the number of votes they get, neither by any even rough assessment of their skill. Some of the most popular recording artists torture my ears, but they're successful based upon their audience, measured by their number of listeners. This principle seems to hold true even beyond the performing arts. What's a doctor without patients? Even a librarian seems to require patrons to qualify as a true professional. Professionalism's not simply what one knows or does, but related to recognitions. Does anyone follow you? Does anyone ever listen when you sing?

Writing's no different.

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FlatEarths

FlatEarth
Wilbur Glenn Voliva's flat earth map. Modern Mechanics and Invention, October, 1931
"It can well afford to wait until we Flat Earthers catch on to its subtle significance."

In his essay The Relativity of Wrong, [The Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pp. 35-44], Isaac Asimov presented a canny reframe of the common right/wrong dichotomy. He provocatively declared Flat Earthers' notions as not so much wrong as incomplete. For the Sumarians, who he supposed had originally concluded that the earth was flat, for most intents and purposes, their world was, in practice, flat. Earth's very slight curvature, about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, turns out to have been almost right and not, as moderns popularly believe, utterly and totally wrong. The truly tiny difference between zero and 0.000126 (eight inches) per mile compounds, though, as horizons expand beyond the local neighborhood. What remained obscure to the ancients became inescapably obvious to their later progeny. We might even say that most of today's more complete understandings stand atop yesterday's less complete ones. The often infinitesimal nature of significance continues to fool us as it did our forebears. Today, we have tough guys crowding together in Sturgis, apparently because, to the vestigial Sumarian part of their perception, a sub-microscopic virus shouldn't qualify as anything to get all that worried about. Right wing-nut commentators wonder what all the fuss could possibly be if we're 'only' projected to lose six percent of our population to the pandemic, and many of those folks, in their calloused imaginations, were ready to shuffle off anyway.

If this plague year should have taught us anything, it should have convinced most of us that the infinitesimals matter more than we thought.

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Measuremont

Measuremont
La persistance de la mémoire (The Persistence of Memory), Olive Salvador Dali, 1931
"When engaging in timeless anything, expect expectations to prove misleading."

I can never quite remember at first. The Muse and I bought two more cases of fresh tomatoes thinking we'd roast the contents of one and juice the contents of the other, twenty or thirty pounds each case. We'd 'processed' tomatoes many times before, but those experiences produced little more than vague recollections, not immediately accessible in any functional form. The roasting takes time and includes a cumbersome step where I'm supposed to pull the peel off each hot roasting half, just as if that were humanly possible, while scorching my fingertips. How terribly renewing! Juicing involves little more than coring, quartering, and heating, then crushing in the Foley® food mill, an inherently picky and frustrating business. I finally plug into my vestigial muscle memory and set myself to work, slicing, salting, seasoning, and roasting. The recipe says check after twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, the roasting halves seem unaffected. I set the timer for twenty more minutes and settle into finish that novel while I wait. I repeat this cycle twice more before the tomatoes seem in any way peel-able, then painstakingly set about successfully performing the impossible ritual. I'm more than two hours into what started out as a twenty minute expectation by the time I decide that I'm done roasting and it's time to start canning.

I'd gathered the little jars while the tomatoes roasted, and also set the lids to simmering on the stove top.

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WillfulWisdom

WillfulIgnorance
Fresco depicting ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551 B.C.-479 B.C.), found in a 2,000 year old tomb in an old residential yard in Dongping County, east China's Shandong Province.
" … we generally do not seem to conform to gross generalizations."

I sincerely wish that there were a wise counterpart to the wave of willful ignorance presently washing over us. Willful Ignorance, for the unfamiliar, is a polite way to describe stupid. It's polite because it presumes adequate intelligence, which only seems fair since measuring anyone's intelligence proves inconvenient and often impossible in the course of a casual interaction, so it concludes that in spite of adequate brain power, someone's apparently worked very hard to come to a delusional conclusion. These delusional conclusions are often quite provably fallacious by employing nothing more dangerous than elementary logic and … ahem … facts, but they tend to spark a childish round of 'call and denial', an equivalent to the old I Know You Are But What Am I? game of our youth. There's no talking with anyone entranced within their own twisted justifications. They've invested heavily in a storyline unsupportable by any rational or experiential means, a genuine flight of fantasy, but apparently will not divest, probably because they cannot without forfeiting a long-trusted element of their identity. I think of Willful Ignorance as a particularly virulent form of denial, a bury-the-head-in-the-sand strategy certain to ultimately betray even the truest of true believers. My usual strategy when encountering the apparently willfully ignorant involves sort of just putting them out to pasture. They do not appreciate my questioning and I don't really need their sideways justifications' lead weight in my life. Neither of us will be in the market for evangelical transformation.

What would a wise counterpart to willful ignorance look like?

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GodGiven

GodGiven
The Creation of Adam; by Michelangelo; 1508–1512
"We're never less powerful than when we're armed and asserting our folly as some GodGiven right …"

I was up early again this morning pondering how I might distinguish between the various rights asserted by those around me. The right wing gun nuts insist that they merely enjoy a GodGiven right to bear arms, though I recall no actual scripture reporting the granting of this authority. Others proudly sing that God somehow "shed his grace on thee," which I interpret as meaning "God shed his grace on me", or somebody, though I have no clue what shedding grace might entail or what might logically result from this act. Mention of it does seem to reliably encourage pride, the sort of pride which supposedly does not immediately precede a fall of any kind. Grace seems the iffiest of gifts, whomever might bestow it, for it always seems more resident in the eye of the bestowed than anywhere else. In spite of the widespread belief in the existence of godless heathens, each and every war ever fought seems to have been engaged in by self-certified God's own representatives on this earth versus self-certified God's own representatives on this earth, and expressly for the greater glory of God; not their God, but the one and only true God, who just happened to be on "our" side.

God gets used as an excuse for almost everything, and I suspect that she's not all that pleased with these attributions.

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Hop(e)

Hop(e)
Hop flower in a hop yard in the Hallertau, Germany (Wikipedia)
"Something significant seems to have stuck with me …"

My father, who was born near the Willamette Valley German immigrant town of Mt Angel, told of working hop harvest. Long days standing on the tall bed of a high-sided flatbed truck, reaching up to cut the cords holding the twenty foot tall vines into the truck bed would leave his forearms raw. Even then, the work beat picking beans, which was stoop labor and hard on the back and also left forearms chafed. I'd seen the hop yards, since I'd grown up near the preeminent hop growing region in this country, and dreamed of growing my own someday. I'd tried several times, always with disappointing results, short, rather sickly specimens yielding few of the treasured cones. I'd crafted small pillows filled with dried cones, which are said to induce sweet dreams, but had never more than dabbled in their cultivation until this year, this seemingly hopeless growing season. I'd late last summer finally found a plant at a local nursery, for which I'd paid a small king's ransom, and planted it in front of the fine, tall cathedral window out front, thinking that perhaps it might at least yield some interesting shade. That plant grew a begrudging six feet or so before an early snow halted further progress. I pruned it to the ground and forgot about it until Spring, hoping that it might prove eternal enough to sprout up a second year.

This Spring needed hope like no other I'd known.

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ShiftIn

ShiftIn
Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun, Nicolas Poussin, 1658
"I'll relish what little's left …"

In these mid-latitudes, weather comes out of the West, moving opposed to the sun's progress. Little of consequence comes out of the East, which is where we send our weather when we're finished with it or it's finally finished with us. Occasionally, some counter-clockwise rotation kicks in to produce what we call upslope winds. These can spawn magnificent thunderstorms in the Summer and genuine dumpers of snow in the Fall, Winter, and Spring, but these bring nothing in the way of lasting change. They appear and leave almost as quickly, handing the reins back to the West winds again. The only question is always which direction, Southwest or Northwest, will the weather come. Through summer, Southwest winds prevail. One day, a ShiftIn happens and the prevailing winds starts sliding down from Idaho or Montana pulling in Northwestern weather. This ShiftIn comes quickly and never quite fully reverses again that season, a certain sign that autumn's coming, though it might have been a hundred degrees in the shade just the day before.

Real rain, not that second or third-hand stuff stuff passing up and over Arizona from the Gulf of Mexico, but genuine North Pacific rain drenches everything.

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FalseEquivalence

FalseEquivalence
Gino Severini, aged 30, at the opening of his solo exhibition, Marlborough Gallery, London, 1913
"Wallowing in FalseEquivalence demonstrates an ignorance unbecoming anyone."


One of these things is not like the other. This one statement might properly summarize human existence, for we seem to (or, at least I seem to) constantly make distinctions. When my kids were small, we parsed the entire universe into two broad categories, Yum and Yuck. With these broad two generalizations, infinite variations might exist, but no Yums ever became Yucks, and vice versa. Once initially classified, little risk of mistaking one for the other existed. One was definitely not like the other. This universe, though, cannot be parsed so conveniently. We encounter many borderline cases, greyscale experiences which might seem indistinguishably similar, though actually different. Multiple classifications are also common, such that similarly-colored objects might also be more finely graded by size or shape. As the Ancient Chinese used to insist, ten thousand differences might exist between any apparently similar objects or events, but we've evolved into ever less discerning generalists, it seems, satisfied to call both apples and oranges 'fruit,' and leaving further distinctions pat, and we're fine with that other than the occasional disagreement over classifying tomatoes. Fruit or vegetable? A fruit that tastes like a vegetable or a vegetable crudely misclassified as a fruit? Wars have started for less.

All this distinction-making might serve to help us make sense of the world, but a tremendous amount of skill seems necessary to make proper distinctions, to avoid misclassifying one thing as another when it really isn't.

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SmolderingPants

SmoulderingPants
Psalter (the 'Shaftesbury Psalter') with calendar and prayers
Origin England Date 2nd quarter of the 12th century

"We might have been born to advance higher purposes of civilization …"

We apparently love to be lied to. I find no other way to explain civilization. Societies and cultures might exist solely to maintain and reinforce myths, reassuring lies sustained for solace. We seem to not-so-secretly believe most everyone else a rube, easily fooled, many emphatically insisting not that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, but that we're good for keeping the dirty little secrets quiet. I suspect that most of us know too well how deep down lame we are inside, how utterly dependent we are upon lying to ourselves and to pretty much everyone else to maintain some cobwebby semblance of self-esteem. Even if the much-vaunted truth actually made good on its promise to set us free, we'd most likely choose to remain in slavery to the studied reassurances that, no, these pants do not make our butt look big. We've elevated the completely spurious Energy Drink Industry to comprise a significant portion of our retail economy. Need I say more? Sugar water spiked with caffeine, and some even spiked with measures of, excuse me, bull pee. I mean, how gullible must we be to drink that crap? It seems to me that this reality simply could not be without a deep and underlying identity insisting that you absolutely must lie to me and that I solemnly promise to keep the little secrets between us. We apparently sincerely believe that we cannot handle the truth.

We wear SmolderingPants which, if the old adage — where there's smoke, there's also fire — holds true, our pants are actually on fire.

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Heraclitus'Insight

Heraclitus'
On the Island of Earraid, N.C. Wyeth, 1913


"No man ever steps in the same river twice", Heraclitus, Fifth Century B.C.

"No squirrel ever entered the same deer meadow twice."

Heraclitus might just as well have said that no man ever steps into the same morning twice, or sits in the same chair, or reads the same book. Further, he might have just as credibly insisted that no two people ever read the same book, not even once. Any author might, as I have, ask, "What book did you read?" when receiving feedback about their work. We seem to live within an almost constancy, surrounded by seemingly familiar objects and people, but these relations seem surprisingly fragile as we continuously rediscover that each might not be quite what we'd earlier concluded about them. Shocking moments of inconstancy punctuate our experience here, amplified, no doubt, by our abiding sense that things properly stay more or less the same, when they don't and never have. My continuing disorientation might well be self-inflicted, but I cannot seem to uncover any balance or Golden Mean between these two apparently opposing forces: stability and flux. Heraclitus also insisted that "panta rhei", everything flows, that nothing ever stays the same. I wonder why, then, we evolved to believe so vehemently in constancy, that everything's more or less frozen in place?

Glib self-helpless pundits blithely insist that the more things change, the more they stay the same, by which they might mean that most change seems insubstantial, a rearrangement of the proverbial Titanic's deck chairs.

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'Vesting

'Vesting
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1572
" … 'Vesting providence with our experience again."

Most of the growing year involves much waiting, culminating in a few shortening days 'Vesting: harvesting, preserving, labeling, and storing away for later use. There's no shortage of delightful fresh produce groaning shelves this season, the produce stand suddenly the most popular stop on everyone's rounds. Would that I could find this freshness year 'round, but I savor what I find when I find it. We neglected canning tomatoes last 'Vesting season, and lived to deeply regret that decision once sequestration stripped our larder shelves. For the first time in years and years, we reduced ourselves to buying factory canned, and regretted every second of the experience. We'd thought ourselves well-enough provisioned before our world sucked in on us. By then, it was way too late to rethink, and we sucked it up and tolerated the consequences. We'd foregone perhaps the single most solidly imprinting experience of the year last 'Vesting period. We'd been traveling when the tomatoes came in and recovering through the balance of the season. We missed that chance.

Now, we insist that this must never happen again.

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HownDogAfternoon

HownDogAfternoon
Going to Market, Early Morning by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1773
"We're partners here …"

If I'm going anywhere today, I'd be wise to go early, before the sun and the smoke and the aridity become even more determined to have their way with me. I thought I caught a patch of blue in the sky this morning. The wind shifted overnight so I woke without my eyes stinging themselves shut again. My throat feels rough and the consistency of tapioca pudding, sinuses screaming again. By the last week of August, the elements combine to produce a neigh-on to unlivable environment. The lawn feels crispy underfoot regardless of gold-plated sprinklings, thin underlying soils seemingly thinner after rainless weeks. The monsoon never showed up this year. As each day progresses, the slight almost cool of early morning gives way to another baking, the sun, even through the smoky batten burns without thinking once. The sunrise lasts much of the morning as the smoky haze extends the reds and oranges until nearly noon. Afternoon seems fit for little more than napping, perhaps in a puddle of fine dust, the way an exhausted HownDog might approach it. Time fit only for practicing hibernation. There's no place to escape to but dreams.

The view from every lookout seems cruelly foreshortened and spare. I drive in a tunnel of heavily amended air

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MuseDay

MuseDay

Mérode Altarpiece (or Annunciation Triptych) is an oil on oak panel triptych, now in The Cloisters, in New York City. It is unsigned and undated, but attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant. The three panels represent, from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the moment of the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph, a carpenter with the tools of his trade. The many elements of religious symbolism include the lily and fountain (symbolizing the purity of Mary), and the Holy Spirit represented by the rays of light coming through from the left hand window.The central panel was completed after 1422, likely between 1425 and 1428. [en.wikipedia.org]

"She insists that she's an A-Me instead."

She despises the moniker, or certainly says that she does. I persist using it, and not merely out of perverse habit. (In her birth family, once anyone learned what you hated, that knowledge guaranteed that you'd thereafter be inundated with it.) She was by any measure born the runt of her family, a premie as we call them today, and so had to stay in the hospital for several days after her birth. She claims that this rude arrival affected her. She still remembers feeling abandoned and alone when isolated from her newly-gained home. Being third in birth order, ultimately the middle, she was born behind, destined to always playing catch up, a childhood-long competition she was destined to lose. She won the race to produce the first grandchild, though, and so was carrying him at her high school graduation, whereupon she went into exile to live with hostile in-laws and a sullen showband drummer of a husband. She coped. She lived as a band wife for almost a decade, holding menial jobs to pay bills, including a stint cutting meat in a huge packing plant and later, as a Tupperware Lady®.

She finally decided at twenty-five to put herself through school, which she managed to do in fairly short order, ultimately choosing her own curriculum to satisfy her own notions of how that work really should be done.

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Q

Q
Guy Fawkes before King James, Sir John Gilbert, Circa 1750
"They ache for judgement day."

They meet in out-of-the-way places, a shed on one member's family farmstead, warmed by a barrel fire fed with scrap lumber. Their meetings combine the camaraderie of a frat brother kegger with the solemnity of religious retreat. One member, typically the host, leads but never in a domineering way, for these men never responded well to dominion. Lifelong misfits, they hold exclusively non-professional jobs, laboring, mostly. They to a man struggle to make ends meet and always have. Those who managed to make it through high school, graduated with a certificate in serial humiliation, for they struggled with their studies, never quite grokking college preparatory courses in math, literature, or the sciences. They hold grudges, not degrees. Many showed early on real promise in the mechanical arts, auto repair, electronics, and the Future Farmers of America programs. They're all hunters. Each owns several guns and each considers these the pinnacle possessions of any freeman. They insist that they're freer than they've ever once felt and meet to garner their resources for the oncoming assaults on what they authentically revere as their way of life.

They think themselves worthy inheritors of Colonial-era beliefs, thinly evolved first or second-generation interpretations of The Rights Of Man and The Wealth Of Nations, though none have read the original documents, much less considered their many contradictions.

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deCENTcy

deCENTcy
Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, The Selection of Children in Sparta, 1785
At the age of 7, Spartan boys were removed from their parents' homes and began the “agoge,” a state-sponsored training regimen designed to mold them into skilled warriors and moral citizens.
"I genuinely want you to win, too, though never at any cost, …"

In this world where everything seems to have a price tag and few of us understand the cost of anything, deCENTcy often seems lost in the accounting. Schemes surround and smother us. Deals get made. Compromises demanded, the Bait And Switch almost obligatory. Fair deals, the rarest of all deals. Cheap-but-Good seems more weighted in favor of cheapness than goodness. Loyalties seem far too easily persuaded to switch support to shave a few pennies off some bill. Some commodities solely serve ostentation, valued by the excess expended to acquire them, for bragging rights or simply to rub some less fortunate's face in the deal, offered only at auctions where we're perennially out-bidded. Our democracy sometimes seems like that. We wonder why we should even bother entering the game. Our politics have been up for sale to the highest bidder for generations now, and only DeCENTcy seems absent from the equation because DeCENTcy costs almost nothing, a red cent lost in rounding among bilious billions and terrifying trillions. Where's the marketplace in deCENTcy these days?

Oh, here it is, right close to home.

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LOM

LOM
Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo [Saturn devours his son], (1819-1823)
"The more I've experienced, the less I understand."

Birthdays increasingly become subdued celebrations as I age. A passing embrace, a few quick questions asking what they might do for me, an overwhelming number of Facebook greetings, each unexpected, of course, and each relished as a slightly embarrassing excess. I register my appreciation in a sort of passing because I do not feel as though aging or even counting ages accomplishes anything. I spent the day feeling rather full of myself, greatly gifted by the virtual presences surrounding me and I fear a little too off-putting to those closer to home. I find attempts at celebrating at root unnecessary. They elicit little more than sincere 'aw shuckses' from me, which might mean that I'm finally entering that inevitable stage of being, that I'm turning into a LOM, a Little Old Man.

I've noticing myself getting ever more stuck in my ways, as if the sum of all my days had reached maximum absorption of experience, as if my existential larder might be almost full.

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RegularOrder

RegularOrder
Going West--1933, Boardman Robinson, 1933
"I'm not fleeing anywhere …"

I've started this story three times already, discarding each iteration in growing frustration. I wanted to say how it feels for me to be alive this morning, but a certain seething crept into each attempt. I do not feel like an angry old man, just one aching for RegularOrder. I've had it up to somewhere with stupid millionaires dominating conversations. There seems to be no better indicator of absolute inanity than wealth, as if mammon actually lowers IQ. The disruptive elements, the great inventors and marketers and promoters, seem to lack any sense of RegularOrder, the baseline regulating force each of the rest of us rely upon to maintain our sanity and serenity. I feel lucky this morning to be turning three score and nine. It's my birthday, for cripes sake, and I feel satisfied enough just to take what I've been given. The decktop petunia garden's at her peak, perfume creeping up and into the master bedroom windows. My hop(e) vine's cones have grown heavy with pollen and ready for harvest. The front garden's in furious bloom attracting hummingbirds and bees and grasshoppers in profusion. The cats, still kittens a few short weeks ago, have almost learned to come back home on their own after they escape.

The wind seems to have shifted.

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GrudgeWork

GrudgeWork
The Remorse of Orestes by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1862

"La vengeance est un met que l'on doit manger froid" Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838)

"Revenge is a dish best left off the menu"

Setting out to settle any score seems to reliably produce some variant of the opposite of the imagined outcome. Revenge is not, as Talleyrand-Périgord insisted, a dish best served cold, but a dish best left off the menu. One might easily imagine settling some score, as the saying goes, 'once and for all', but such action produces reverberations guaranteeing that those scales will very likely be thrown even more permanently out of balance. Should the reaction be anything close to equal and opposite, a tragic cascade will likely ensue. Dogs chasing their own tails easily then becomes the new normal, for grudge lust never finds satisfaction from any GrudgeWork, however dedicated. Getting even amounts to a distraction, always under the influence of our worse angels. The reparations exacted upon the Weimar Republic following WWI produced Hitler and WWII, even though the French and British firmly believed that their demands were just. Germany had, after all, aggressively thrust itself upon France for no reason other than its deeply held grudge over having missed building its own empire. Why not simply swipe another's empire and thereby better balance the score? We now too well know why, but we never seem to learn.

GrudgeWork properly describes our current administration's approach to governing.

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NothingAndBeingness

NothingAndBeingness
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, François Lemoyne, 1737
" … they'd come to understand and trust that the horse knows the way."

I believe, perhaps fallaciously, that I possessed when I was born every skill I later manifested. Contrary to the historical record, not even the KnowNothings ever actually knew nothing, not even those swearing to reelect our sorry excuse for a President can truthfully claim this state, for nothing's always been fundamentally unknowable and to claim otherwise only proves my point. I have not so much assimilated others' skills, but found ways to relate theirs to my own, nascent and previously knowable until after some small or huge revelation. I perceive this world as a network of invitations in constant struggle against the forces of formal education, which seem determined to claim ownership of knowledge and skill so that they might sell it for notoriety and profit. Knowledge, interestingly, also fails to qualify as knowable, though some certainly seem to exhibit clear possession. It might be that knowledge and even understanding possess us and not the other way around, once one's found fertile ground them to usefully relate to it.

If I would have had to know how to write before writing, I might have become an eternal student, Hell-bent on learning something unassimilatable by that means.

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RueTeen

RueTeen
Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878
"Some blessed shirker inside me has been complaining …"

How many times can I repeat an activity before repetition renders it banal and boring? What begins as necessary and refreshing might well become a crushing obligation over time. A perfectly timed taste of wine too easily slumps into an unmemorable second glass or a forgettable third. I've heard of activities so enjoyable that they never eventually bore anyone into a coma, but never actually experienced one. Experience seems to sum into something quite distinct from mastery, something more akin to a tragedy of over-familiarity, rendering almost alien through studied repetition, leaving the practitioner aching only for a beginner's mind again, a refreshing starting all over again from the bottom. Our Damned Pandemic has highlighted the utter banality of many of my RueTeens, activities I now rue performing and perform with all the mindful tranquility of a slighted teen. I might agree to do anything besides what I've become altogether too accustomed to doing after the umpteenth time anticipating doing it again.

Dinner, once creative opportunity, has become an utterly boring chore.

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Chokin'

Chokin'
Fainting by Pietro Longhi, 1744
" … this, too, was intended to be a part of the deal …"

This terrarium's oxygen seems just about used up. We closed up the place as the smoke concentrated, using fans to keep the suddenly suffocating inside air moving, but it moved increasingly listlessly anyway, suddenly neither fresh nor refreshing. We continued breathing, but substituting low octane for high test air, each breath an increasingly sorry pretender to what we'd grown accustomed to experiencing. Usually, the breeze here brings continual relief down from The High Country, some of the freshest air in the world. During fire season, it billows. Nearer the fire lines, ash falls like heavy snow. Here, it's only smoke bringing persistently itchy eyes and a choking sensation deep in the throat. And there's no respite. No cool glade to escape into. No secret room in the basement unaffected by this intrusion. I choose to sit on the deck as the day grows long, nose running and eyes tearing up. I get scowled at for leaving the slider open.

We're in no real danger here.

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Smokin'

smokin'
The Smoker, a presumed self portrait of Joos van Craesbeek, 1635-36


"I closed the side window so the breeze can't push fresh puffs inside on me."

I was a dedicated smoker in my youth, sneaking smokes out on the football field during lunchtime at high school. Slinking around, I mostly learned how to sneak there. My parents were raging liberals when it came to smoking, figuring that they'd rather we not sneak around at home. My dad, brother, and I thereby inflicted second-hand smoke on everyone else in the house, not so much indifferent as ignorant of the damage we inflicted. I quit in a fit of righteous self discipline on the new year when I would turn thirty-five, figuring that smoking was a young man's game and I was headed in the wrong direction to avoid one of the dead certain afflictions should I continue the habit. The Insurance Company had just before instituted a strict no smoking policy and I didn't relish becoming one of those poor souls forevermore hovering around a drizzly courtyard. We speak now of castes and classes. When I stopped smoking, I was immediately upgraded a class. I bruised my left nipple for months after from constantly tapping my shirt pocket, checking for the accustomed pack which was no longer there to cushion my panicky inquiries.

I later picked up cigars, fine little Dominican ones which I fallaciously claimed had been hand-rolled on the thighs of virgins.

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DogWhistlingInTheDark

dogwhistling
The Poacher, Jean Pierre Alexandre Antigna
"We're the ones inheriting that wind."

By mid-August, mornings smell of campfire, though campfires have been banned since May. The primary East/West freeway across the state was yesterday closed until further notice due to a zero contained wildfire burning through Glenwood Canyon. Even the transcontinental train service was suspended until further notice. The round and about alternative route, a twisty two lane up through Aspen, was closed after a semi-truck jackknifed on a tight switchback turn. Sunrises and sunsets come in brilliant oranges and reds and our usual pristine view up the Front Range is filtered through a smutty haze. We're suddenly all smokers again, shirt collars reeking and sinuses clogging. The sign at the county park reminded hikers that rattlesnake activity has been reported in the area, so keep those pets leashed and keep yourself safe. Everyone leaves reminding everyone else to stay safe. The world seems especially dangerous right now.

The Presidential race is off and running now that Biden has named his running mate, a formidable African American/Asian woman the opposition can't yet properly denigrate.

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Disorienteering

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

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

We vacate to get ourselves lost.

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Gumshoe

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

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

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

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TakingAPass

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

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

Living in Colorado offers some compensations.

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LittleDeaths

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

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

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

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Worker

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

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

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

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Discretion

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

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

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

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SlicingBread

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

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

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

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RushingRoulette

RushingRoulette

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

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

We wallow in numbers now.

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StayingPut

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

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

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

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Circlings

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

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

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

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Sorrying

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

The GrandOtter said, "Sorry."

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

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

Sorry seems a sorry excuse and a worse apology.

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LongHaul

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

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

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

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InvisibleHandiwork

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

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

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

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PursuingHappiness

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

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

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

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Publickity

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

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

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

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

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SelfExamination

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

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

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

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Detention

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

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

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

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Visitations

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

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

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

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Experteasing

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

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

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

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ReOpeningUp

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

"Yea, we can hear you now."

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

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

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Backlisting

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

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

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

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LongDistance

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

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

Horizons seemed to have broadened since then.

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ChickenShit

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

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

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

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AnEcologyOfUnknowability

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

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

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

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Gathering

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

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

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

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ConSpiriting

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

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

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

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WarFooting

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

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

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

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Healing

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

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

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

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JustPracticing

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

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

Practicing seems necessary but not predictive.

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Memento Mori

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

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

"Plagues only seem interminable. Life remains short."

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

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

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'Stitions

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

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

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

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Slipstems

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

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

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

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Feckonomics

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

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

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

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Bitchuals

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

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

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

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Behinder

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


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


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

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

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TheSphericalCow

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

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

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

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HeatWave

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

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

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

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ParodyProductions

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

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

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

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SelfDeflection

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

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

This lifestyle seems like a form of SelfDeflection to me.

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InterdependenceDay

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

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

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

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SelfReferencer

SelfReferencer
Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait with Palette, 1906


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


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

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

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HardWork

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

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

Still, some HardWork remains.

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Educations

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

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

The process of education deeply offended me.

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TheGoldenBlurb

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

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

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

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MendingNets

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

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

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

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TheGooseberryMeditation

gooseberry

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

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

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

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Shivility

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

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

Civility cannot be insisted upon.

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Accschleptance

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


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

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

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

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EasingInto

Predawn1


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


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

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

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Gruel

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

" … fills me up without much fuss."

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

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

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Procrastidestination

procrastidestination
Scene In Club Lounge by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798

"A time will come, or not, …"

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

Some of my forebears were strict Predestinationists.

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Irrevocableution

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

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

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

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

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NowHere

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

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

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

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RaggedEndings

RaggedEnding
Achelous and Hercules, Thomas Hart Benton, 1947


"Resolution was never anything but a dream."


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

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

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Commtroversy

Commection


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


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

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

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NDA

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


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


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

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

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Fatigue

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


" … when Fatigue wins, everyone loses."


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

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

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FourHoles

FourHoles
Earth, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, possibly 1566


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


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

Hence, the holes.

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ShelfControl

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


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


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

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

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Ministration

Ministration

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


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


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

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

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InappropriateMetaphor

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

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

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

Shifting metaphors might mend anything.

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AsymptomaticSuperspreader

Asymptomatic


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


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

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

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Breakout

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


"I've decided to escape."


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

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

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Timemorelessness

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


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


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

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

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Esteem-ating

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


" … and not peer darkly into any glass."


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

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

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Poelease

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


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


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

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

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Longhair

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


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


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

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

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RecoveringGuru

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


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


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

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

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ImaginaryEnemies

ImaginaryEnemies
Crítica, engraving by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907


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


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

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

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Cascade

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


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


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

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

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Thinnest

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

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


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

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

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ThePandemicParadox

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


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


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

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

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Bookish

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

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

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

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

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Relentless

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


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


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

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

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Opacity

Opacity1
The Blue Kimono by Chase William Merritt, 1888

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

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

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

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Anticiplaytion

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

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

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

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

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Imprecision

Imprecision
Gerhard Richter: Frau Marlow, 1964

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

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

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

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I'mWithStoopid

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

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

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

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

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Eigenvaluing

NikPicking

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

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

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

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Anniverstory

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

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

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

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

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Unmasking

Unmasking

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

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

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

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QueuingUp

QueuingUp

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


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

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

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WeightingHeavily

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

"Pandemics progress by such insignificant increments …"


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

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

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NoPlaceToChide

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

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

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

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

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IllAtEase

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

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

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

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

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NumberPunching

NumberPunching
The Elephant Celebes, Max Ernst, 1921

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

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

A NumberPuncher professionally muddies waters.

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Crow-Ding

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

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

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

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RustySpring

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

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

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


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

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

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HasteningQuickly

HasteningQuickly
Tortoise above Venetian lagoon, Melchior Lorch, 1555

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

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


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

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AskChewing

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

"My foibles seem more prominently displayed than my mastery"

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

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

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Morpidity

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

"Our own innocence seems most vulnerable."

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

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

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Pauseperity

Pauseperity
Adriaen van Ostade: The Schoolmaster, 1662

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

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

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

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GroaningUp

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

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

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

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PandemicAmish

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


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

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

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History-onics

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

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

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

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ExtremeDomestification

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

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

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

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Pretensal

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


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

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

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

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

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NegativeSpace

Withouts
"Looking at a Waterfall", Geiami, 1480

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

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

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

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Maudling

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

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

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

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Doldrums

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


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

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

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

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Banqueting

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

" … like family turned recursive, …"


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

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

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Eyedentity

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

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

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

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ThUs

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

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

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

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

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NewAbnormal

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

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

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

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MaskedMen

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

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

Those first few times, I felt self-conscious.

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Evangelistic

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

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

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

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Logistics

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

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

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

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NotQuiteYetSpring

notquiteSpring
Henri Matisse: Olive Trees at Collioure, 1906


Not Quite Yet Spring

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

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

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Alchemy

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

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

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

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Retreating

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

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

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

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Aloneliness

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

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

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

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NeutronNews

NeutronNews
"What else might decency do?"

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

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

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Scenario-ing

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


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

"Which scenario wins what?"

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

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

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DreamState

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

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

Humans seem capable of nearly infinite compensation.

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Stew-pid

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

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

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

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

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

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SiegeMeals

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

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

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

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Fiberation

Fiberation

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

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

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

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PanDamning

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

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

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

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OutOfYourASSumptions

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

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

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

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PandemicShopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HighHollowDays

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

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

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

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Affronting

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

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

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

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