Distancing

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

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

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

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Marked

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

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

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

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PrecisionAbstraction

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

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

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

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Pacing

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

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

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

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Lent

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

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

"Does anyone ever give up procrastination for Lent?"


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

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

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-Triarchs

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

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

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

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UnCountables(2)

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

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

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

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UnCountables

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

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

The daily numbers numb me.

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Emergence-y

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

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

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

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EventHorizoning

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

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

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

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Pace

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

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

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

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BlindWatchmen

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

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

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

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HeardImmunity

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

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

Whenever chance rules, humans seem to create explanatory stories.

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TheProject'sManaging

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

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

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

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SimpleEconomics

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

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

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

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ToDieFor

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

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

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

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Revisiting

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

"Bless every blessed one of us here."

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

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

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Barriers

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

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

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

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CartoonScientists

CartoonScience
The Four Humours, from Deutche Kalendar, 1498

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

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

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

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

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GhostTown

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

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

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

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HomeAlone

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

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

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

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AssEptness

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

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

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

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First PureSchmaltz Friday

SoupCanTelephone


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

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


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

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AnotherBeginning

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

"Moses has been placed into the river."

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

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

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NowWhat?

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

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

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

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FinishingUp

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

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

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

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The Rhinoceros

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

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

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

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AGoodTalkingWith

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

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

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

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Reservations

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

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

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

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TheGreatLeveling

Leveling
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, 1822

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

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

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

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BassingAckwards

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

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

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

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BeggingQuestions

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

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

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

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Plague

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

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

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

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PhreeDumber

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

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

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

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BackUp

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

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

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

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DifferentFrom

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

"The disruption's the thing."

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

I've committed this same crime before.

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Chaings

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

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

Each election cycle some fresh Prometheuses appear.

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Politicnicking

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

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

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

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ImmaculateSupper

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

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

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

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PanicMode

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

"Being human hardly seems human some days."

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

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

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SundayOff

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


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

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

For better or worse, we live in secular times.

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The Curious Case Of Pomegranate Molasses

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

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

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

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Led-Gend

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

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

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

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ComingIn

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

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

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

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ReEntries

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

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

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

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ColoradoWelcome

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

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

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

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Redemption

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

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

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

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Reconnection

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

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

I'm at root a big chicken.

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WhyFidelity

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

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

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

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Timelessnesses

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

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

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

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Cordiality

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

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

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

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ConspicuousPresumption

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

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

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

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As-Iffing

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

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

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

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Cantilevered

cantilievered
"Rocks can't care."

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

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

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PassersBy

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

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

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

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ADifferentMan

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

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

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

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

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

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ButtClenching

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

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

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

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ParadoxCountry

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

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

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

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TheRuleOfLawyers

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

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

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

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RoadTricks

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

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

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

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HardLabor

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

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

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

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SelfWorth

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

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

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

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Blocked

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

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

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

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

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Out

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

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

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

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Impressioning

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

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

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

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MisConnected

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

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

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

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TheChat

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

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

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

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-Bound

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

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

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

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DItY

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

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

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

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MyBetters

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

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

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

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AbsoluteMagic

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

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

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

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Actnying

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


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

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

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

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Nesting

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

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

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

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CastOffs

CastOffs

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

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

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

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IrrelevanceRevisited

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


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

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

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TheStranger

Stranger2
" … choice a person makes before they can take ramifications into full consideration."

I heard myself say it, perhaps more confession than admission, "I've lived as a resident alien since I was eighteen." I'd never heard myself say that before, and my statement stuck in my craw. The suppertime conversation continued, though I noticed that it resumed without me. I eventually caught up, though I continued to carry my inadvertent little blurt along with me. Did I really mean that or was I just mugging for some non-existent camera, making another signature outrageous remark? My disclosure held fascination for me. Was it really true? Had I never, for fifty contiguous years, felt as though I was of a place I'd lived? It was true enough, I decided upon further consideration. Except for that one decade where The Muse and I moved back home, I later confided, I've felt very much TheStranger everywhere I called home. Helpfully, The Muse reflected that even there, I mostly felt like TheStranger, too.

I feel very attracted to the concept of community, of clan, of tribe, perhaps because I've experienced so very little of these in my life.

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PreConstruction

Pre-Construction
"PreConstruction always proves to be ironic milling around …"

By this time in my life, I should have accumulated more than adequate experience in the fine though under-appreciated art of PreConstruction, an essential stage in every development project commonly referred to as The Essential Milling Around Period. Each New Year throws me both forward and backward, ahead into a fresh calendar and also back to my internal drawing board to somehow determine who and what I might become this year. A new year's early weeks highlight that I simply do not yet know who I'll become. My now extensive experience within this throwback space insists that my greatest potential danger lies exclusively in deciding too early on inadequate evidence and understanding, so I'm out collecting stones, as Jerry Weinberg once characterized this activity, unprepared to declare my intentions for employing them. The resulting pile of rocks might not appear to be much yet, but only because it isn't. A few seem of exquisite proportion, potential cornerstones or centerpieces, though without a clearer Gestalt, I simply cannot yet definitively declare.

This time unsettles me. Seven hundred and forty two individual page views observed me gathering stones over the last long week.

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SmallDistinctions

SmallDistinctions
Allegory on the Blessings of Peace by Peter Paul Rubens, 1629 - 1630

"Not knowing has always been the first stage of genuine wisdom."

We do not inhabit a world crafted by large decisions but SmallDistinctions. I can't deny that sometimes HUGE effects follow some decisions, but these effects only rarely result from someone deliberately making some momentous-appearing choice, if only because nobody can accurately foretell future momentousness, and only a future can perceive large effects. Us humans seem to prefer to see ourselves as big-time decision-makers, though, and this preference carries a considerable cost. We seek to optimize when some barely good-enough option could do. We wholesale accept or reject when some smaller support or deflection might better preserve. We elect humans to high office expecting them to produce great things, when great things do not seem to be a human property or agency. Our world, like it or lump it, seems most deeply influenced by our eternally nascent ability to make SmallDistinctions encouraging well-informed choices. Standing upon such choices, wise but almost never Large decisions might be made and thereby nudge forward genuine improvement.

We insist that we have huge problems, which naturally seem to consequently require huge solutions, encouraging us to chase after largely irrelevant choices.

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Panicking

Panicking
"The tough guy who never cries seems like the bird that never flies."

When The Muse and I first got together, my life was in tatters. My second marriage had just ended, landing me back to Go without first collecting any two hundred dollars. I was living in a crummy little apartment. I felt separated from my life, a truly terrifying situation. Sunday nights, I would find myself crawling into the back corner of a closet and weeping uncontrollably, a full-blown panic attack temporarily taking over. These sessions usually lasted for two or three hours, though nobody was timing them. They'd end when I'd exhausted myself into sleep. I'd wake in the wee hours of the following morning to shamefacedly crawl into bed until dawn. The Muse seemed unflappable, observing my Panicking without taking it as a personal statement about her, a remarkably respectful and supportive response.

My Panicking pattern continued for months and months until it finally dissipated.

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LateStatusQuo

LateStatusQuo
Blind Justice by Michael Barton Miller, Ukiah County Courthouse, Mendocino, California

"We might usefully navigate using a guiding star without ever expecting to achieve it."

In LateStatusQuo, things have already fallen apart, though a society tends to engage as if they haven't. Yet. Revered traditions have become parodies of their former selves though almost everyone continues to play along. Once lofty aspirations have already evolved into mighty myths capable of sustaining themselves in spite of the clear absence of fresh confirming evidence. Disconfirming evidence itself becomes the enemy. People are judged by whether they're for or against us, and even mild support receives punishment as inadequately vigorous. The rule of law might still reign supreme, but subsequent rulings have successfully undermined the intention of equal justice upon which the law was originally drafted. The still revered 'equal justice for all' clause of the Pledge of Allegiance is amended to append 'worthy of equal justice,' for whole subclasses of once-equal aspiring citizens have become legally disenfranchised to make adequate room for those who deserve justice. Everyone else gets legally damned.

A man in Alabama might receive a decades-long prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread while a shyster investment banker who bankrupted thousands receives a 1% slap-on-the-wrist fine as part of a deal with prosecutors which included no public admission of guilt. Some lives clearly don't matter.

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Appreciating

Appreciations1
"Appreciations are grace. Try not to chase them away."

Appreciations seem almost impossible to properly deliver. My mentors taught me that a proper appreciation must be delivered face-to-face and one-on-one. Group appreciations violate this first principle of principled appreciating. I know, before schooled, I'd felt nary a qualm when tossing off a quick group appreciation vaguely targeted at "you guys." However sincere my feelings, from the perspective of the receiver, I can understand how a certain depth of feeling might have seemed lacking. I find that it's not always logistically convenient to deliver a right and proper appreciation, like when I am in a group and I can't seem to leverage a moment of alone time to target my recipient person to person. Such logistical complications usually leave me failing to mention my appreciation at all, hoping that a flash of eye contact might serve as an adequate replacement. It never is.

I believe that most of the world's ills would be easily fixable if only we could openly talk about them without rancor.

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RoeDayOh

RowDayOh
" … us Townies will never understand."

I grew up in a town with a RoeDayOh, but I'd never attended one until last night because I was a 'townie.' Townies live in the small city adjacent to ranches, but live utterly separate lives from those lived by cowboys and ranch hands. Townies do not wear Wranglers, but Levi's, and eschew almost everything to do with the covertly effeminate cowboy boots, snap-front shirts, and mangled broad-brimmed cardboard cowboy hats. Townies name their offspring Bill, Bob, or Joe, not Yancy or Wade, and not one of us ever even think of wearing fancy belt buckles or getting any closer to a live bull than a very rare steak, let alone attempting to ride on one's bucking back. Townies pray that they do not win the door prize of a $75,000 diesel Dodge Ram pick-up. We think of cowboys as overly-committed throwback cosplay characters, mimicking a history that never was. Townies maintain their own delusions every bit as alienating as any cowboy's or cowgirl's, my point being that we're cut from different cloth, fabric with little middle ground upon which to meet.

Back in the 1930s, when Hollywood discovered The West, the standard plot line would feature city slickers visiting a dude ranch where they'd be introduced to authentic Americana replete with ballet-dancing cowboys and small symphony orchestras performing impromptu Gershwin productions.

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Shakedown

shakedown
"Few of us ever read the small print."

In Manhattan, the Shakedown exists as an art form. Nobody expects to find a bargain there. The very hotel which touts its dedication to serving clients won't blush when demanding thirty or forty bucks for a substandard Continental-Style breakfast. The client will hold his cool, understanding that the place has him over a barrel. They will levy spurious service charges simply because they can. Nobody seems to pass up an opportunity to take their piece of the action. The price of admission won't actually bankrupt you over the duration of your short stay, but it might get you thinking about staying away the next time you're enticed to visit.

My Subaru dealer makes more subtle threats.

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Waiting

Waiting ...
Waiting for Legal Advice, 1857, James Campbell (1828 - 1893) (British)
" … the machine will continue to grind …"

I think of waiting as an adult time out. Most delays amount to SmallThings, a few realigning moments between actual destinations, and I'm learning to simply accept them for what they are, which is never defining, a small interruption to the regularly scheduled programming. A brief respite between some here and there no matter how interminable each might seem. A challenge to cobble together a short alternate to the expected experience. I keep an audio book enqueued on my iPhone or some other worthy distraction which I access to fill in the space. Now that we all have smart phones, every waiting moment quickly transforms into a Facebook or email scan, we're rarely truly idle. Most of our interactions with our government seem to become exercises in patience, at the post office, the DMV, the title registrar, or some other outpost of our humblingly huge bureaucracy. We anticipate these waits, bringing along a newspaper or a book with which to entertain ourselves as we idle. I prefer to watch the machine working in the same way that I gawk at the automated tortilla machine or the juice squeezing juke box when waiting for a restaurant table.

The machine seems to never idle, whether present as a single inadequately-staffed post office window or a dozen numbered windows around a waiting area with actual seating.

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DreadOfWinter

DreadOfWinter
Dead Man Alley-Winter, Millard Donald Everingham, 1940
" …Nothing to dread but dread itself."

Ennui follows Epiphany like a baby elephant follows its mother, tiny trunk grasping reassuring tail, for this world seems especially forbidding then with redeeming Spring just as far away as it will ever be this year. Self confidence falls to its lowest recorded readings since this time last year as nights infinitesimally shorten and days drag themselves through unremitting self-similarity. The New Year, so promising just a fortnight ago, seems prematurely spoiled, already past its pull date while hardly even begun. Hollows hold snow frozen into alabaster insults, lawns a uniformly unpromising beige again. I dutifully light my luminarias each dusk and retrieve the candles each dawn, attempting to demonstrate the single watt of faith remaining from Christmastime. I maintain my schedule, some days kicking and screaming myself back into the yolk, where considerable pushing and shoving ensues. Each essay breach birthed with the inept assistance of an incompetent and uncaring midwife. Such is mid-January life.

If it would only snow to seal the conviction that there's really no place to go and no reasonable way to get there if there were, but the sky remains indifferent with unpromising clouds and fierce winds pushing backwards toward the East.

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DoctorVisit

DoctorVisit
" Modern medicine seems almost identical to medieval medicine, except the leeches are larger and more impersonal. "

The Muse and I belong to a Health Network, a common modern American euphemism which means 'limited monopoly.' Once 'enrolled' and accepted, a Health Network combines with insurance coverage to become a client's one-stop service center for all things medical, from check-ups to diagnostic procedures to prescribing. Ours features a patient Portal which was obviously designed to try our patience. It looks just like an early Windoze app and performs like one, too. All communication gets funneled through this needle's eye which might send a text message reporting that new information's been posted before denying access. What was that Pastword again?

The Network suffers from all the shortcomings common to transactional associations gussied up to appear relational. I, for instance, don't actually have a doctor but a nurse practitioner, which seems fine with me. Any deeper diagnostics, she refers to actual doctors which I never actually meet since other nurse practitioners perform actual procedures. Later, the doctor will post conclusions to the Portal which might deny me access again. Every encounter with The Network finds me repeating my birthdate, address, and the last four digits of my social security number, just to confirm that I am who I purport to be. I have been known to leave a waiting room if the questioning becomes too onerous. They always ask me to report The Muse's birthdate, too, which I tell them that I do not know precisely. They've allowed me entrance anyway, so far.

My Portal record, once I access it, always insists that I have not fully completed my personal patient history paperwork, though I have completed it to the very best of my ability.

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NoGoNegation

NegNoTiation
"A day without engagement might turn into a week, then a month, then a season, and finally a year or two or three. Who would I become then?"

Some Mornings, not even deeply ingrained habit can move me off the starting line. Most days, I'm up and running without a first thought inhibiting me, but those Some Mornings resist my lead. I would much rather veg out binge-watching a police procedural, lose my soul to an audio book, so just flip through the news, not an ounce of ambition egging me forward. I almost never completely submit to these slothful enticements, though. Rather than slip under that self-negating spell, I enter into a very specialized form of negotiation, NoGoNegation. My goal seems to be the most primitive form of mastery, the motive energy to move off a single stuck dime. I need not talk myself into any but SmallThings, since even imagining accomplishing any GreatThings seems to only further demotivate me then. One tiny excuse, one modest objective and the inertia of stuckness quite literally slips into its kinetic counterpart.

I'd think that after decades of practice and consequent experience, I would have become something of an expert in this field of NoGoNegation, but I seem to start as a novice every time.

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GroanUp

GroanUp
"I'm in a much bigger body now, but more of a kid than ever."

Maturation might involve little more than repeatedly catching one's self engaging in ridiculous actions; SmallThings which, when later tallied, amount to huge differences. Youth imparts a sense of invulnerability which experience shatters, and rightfully should. Even the wins might manage to impart a few of humility's finer points. Accumulated losses might convince anyone that they're a fool a heart. I'm now a grandfather of considerable experience, The GrandOtter now present as a twenty-one year old, though I suspect that I'll forever relate to her as though she was still about eight. The ensuing years have humbled us both without making either of us particularly wiser. We share mutual respect though my advancing age tips presumptions in my favor. I am, after all, the presumptive grownup in the relationship, though I experience my self as most frequently a GroanUp.

A GroanUp has made a fool of himself frequently enough to sincerely question his own authority and omniscience.

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Wariness

wariness
"The hopeful believe in Archimedean physics yet still persistently tug on their own bootstraps …"

I feel a certain Wariness after reading the newspaper, a SmallThing. I can no longer bear to tune into the network nightly news broadcast, and even NPR has recently shifted to the edge of the bearly bearable. I never did watch Faux or listen to Limbaugh or subscribe to any of the innumerable conspiracy theories which over-populate social media, all of which seem to thrive on vague generalities, if not intended to induce paranoid feelings, fairly successfully manage to routinely do so. I firmly believe that the second amendment remains widely misinterpreted for the most cynical of reasons. I favor a wide-spread freedom from religion more than I support the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion, and that mixing politics and religion inescapably poisons both.

I was born into These Paranoid States of America, where victory in WWII and a humiliating draw on the Korean Peninsula left this country too wary by half.

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ReasoningAgain

Thinking1
"What we do when we encounter these outcomes probably determines whether we drive ourselves crazy or sane."

I think, therefore I feel confused. Descartes apparently presumed much when proposing his now nearly infamous "I think, therefore I am" notion, for 'am-ing' seems to include much more than what might be properly represented in the Predicate Calculus. More people now deeply understand and employ logic than at any time in the history of the world so far, and what has that wash of Reasoning bought us? It does not seem to have brought us anything like the much-touted heaven on Earth early logicians might have presumed it might, for we seem to have neglected to purchase the Absurd Syllogism Insurance Rider which might have better protected us from ridiculous constructions leading to absurd conclusions. They say that we're all about data now and we increasingly seek computationally verifiable paths which seem to just about as reliably as prior methods, lead us into genuine Old Testament-quality temptation, even evil. Much of what I witness seems determined to defy any and all Reasoning, including but not exclusively those philosophies most firmly rooted in Reasoning. Our computers might be on the fritz.

While we might properly deduce much about our situations, much more remains beyond Reasoning.

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Rhyming

rhyming
"She quickly learned to sing along."

The most memorable poems leave behind the most curious images. A dish credibly runs away with a spoon. A huge egg tumbles off a high wall. An eensy-weensy spider, not a small or tiny one, climbs up the water spout. Tigers burn bright. Roses are roses are roses, and this otherwise redundant, tautological description stands, and taller than most every other attempt to memorialize the rose. Poetry often rhymes, but even when it fails to rhyme, it almost always exudes a rhythm scheme, a cadence which compellingly pulls the reader along. Nothing need be terribly exact unless engaging in some specialized sonnet, restrictive haiku, or bawdy limerick. The so-called nursery rhyme, many of which persist as familiar and reassuring ear worms throughout even long lifetimes, exemplify poetry for me, or po'ms, as I've grown to call these silly little spoutings to better suggest that something's missing but not forgotten from them. They might lack a scholarly decorum but compensate with a warming silliness.

Writing po'ms demands an unteachable skill.

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Timing

Timing
"This shift fools me every time."

A New Year induces an arrhythmia into the proceedings, for my life, every life, amounts to proceeding. Whether this forward momentum smoothly flows or jerks me around depends upon a seemingly subtle coherence. I mostly feel no need to fine tune my presence. It is, and is just as it is, background silence, a deeply muffled cadence. I might continue without considering my propulsion until some milestone steps into the middle of my road. Year End and New Year reliably disrupt my sublime unconsciousness, seeming to force more deliberate reflection. My reliables seize up on me and I'm unwillingly forced to rethink what I hadn't sensed myself thinking about in ages. My motions lose their continuity and my thoughts pace without concluding anything. I become a steam engine who's lost my tracks.

The past week amply illustrates this rethinking phase. My PureSchmaltz Facebook Group attracted 784 unique page views, some of which I can doubtless attribute to you and your presence here, a single point of continuity for me and I hope for you, too.

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Lying

lying
"I don't lie to myself about lying to myself."

In the beginning was a small misrepresentation, a truly SmallThing. Nothing vicious or deliberate, just a little attempt to improve the quality of my story. It exacted a small toll, a tiny tariff, and I moved on. I moved on mindful that I'd need to remember that deviation or risk my story seeming to slip into question in the future. I could over time become inured to even making distinctions between absolute truth and comparative fiction and increasingly trade in legend, like any name-brand product's advertising. Truth seems alluring only in theory. In practice, our stories need heroes and villains, damsels and dragons, disturbing beginnings and reassuring endings, not the unending ambiguity simple truth provides. I too easily justify my immersion, insisting to myself that any version providing a more easily accepted meaning might make even the occasional egregious lie totally acceptable, an improvement over an uninspiring truth.

Every great civilization was founded upon a fundamental lie, a probably deliberate inflation of potential or heritage, similar to the motivational stories each of us told to reassure ourselves that we might actually achieve what we naively aspired for.

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Squeezed

squeezed
"Take us aside and we'll register no real complaint, except for the nagging squeeze which seems as though it simply must be at root unnecessary when it might qualify as the very essence of life."

The Muse returns from work and recounts a meeting where everyone reported great satisfaction with their work, except everyone said that they felt Squeezed. Too much worthwhile work, but too little time to complete it properly, the eternal complain of the gainfully employed. The squeeze had been on since forever ago, for there never was a time where available time very closely matched expectations. This seems to be an Old Testament Problem, one that probably pre-dates recorded history. Writing that history was most likely delayed due to a lack of schedule time with competing expectations, trade-offs were made and written history deferred until more pressing business could be concluded. We're all squeezed. Even if no discrete expectations scrunched up the horizon before us, we'd still feel time pressure and wish for a tad fewer demands on our time.

I can foist a piece of this difficulty off onto human anticipation.

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Coping

Coping2
Vincent Van Gogh: Old Man in Sorrow. On the Threshold of Eternity, 1890
"We do just what we do, which might be the very wisest response any clueless anyone could ever muster."

I consider coping to be more emotional than any learned skill, and resilience, more a matter of personal pattern. Lose someone and one does what they do, and might not even notice what they're doing then. Coping amounts to one of those responses that don't necessarily register as a response. Given a significant-enough loss and a sort of auto-pilot seems to kick in without cluing in the pilot. I remember when my sister Susan died in a car accident, my youngest sister flew in for the services and I spent a long day tour-guiding her around the town I lived in. Only later did the excursion seem in any way questionable to me and she just numbly followed along. I was numbly leading, coping as I now recognize that I cope.

In the Midwest where The Muse grew up, a death prompts all the women to start cooking, usually scalloped potatoes.

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Seizing

Seizing
"As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in tomorrow." Horace
(Historically bad advice better suited to epic works of fiction.)

"Seizings are a class of stopping knots used to semi-permanently bind together two ropes, two parts of the same rope, or rope and another object. Akin to lashings, they use string or small-stuff to produce friction and leverage to immobilize larger ropes. Seizings are not recommended for heavy loads for critical use as strain reduces the diameter of the main rope and can permit slippage even with proper construction." Wikipedia

Seizing the day does not seem to insist upon what I though it did. For me, I've long considered Seizing akin to grabbing and holding on, damn the consequences, but Seizing seems more nuanced in practice. It involves connecting, sure, but connecting with purpose and with acknowledgment of likely future stresses and strains. It is definitely not a cavalier grab, but a strategic connecting often employing small-stuff.

"Small-stuff is a nautical and knot-tying term for thin string or twine, as opposed to the thick, heavy ropes that are more often used in sailing. It is commonly used in a whipping to bind the ends of ropes to prevent fraying.

"Historically, the term referred to cordage less than one inch in circumference. Much of the small-stuff onboard ships, especially that used for decorative or fancy ropework, was made by the sailors themselves reusing materials unlaid from old and leftover pieces of larger rope and cable." Wikipedia

I sometimes watch a day slip away and chide myself for not authoritatively Seizing the damned thing before it slipped away from me, a strategy which sometimes seems more inherently self-destructive than in any way helpful.

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Scribbler

scribbling
"I might be writing a script … "

My ancient oak desktop holds two old notebooks. Its drawers hold several more. A pile of papers two feet tall sits atop the old steamer trunk across the room. My dresser top holds a couple more old notebooks, and a bookshelf holds more than a dozen completed journals. I carry a small Moleskin® in my back pocket wherever I go, and a pen in my right front pocket, for I am a Scribbler. I'm more inclined to jot down a short descriptive phrase than to snap a quick cellphone photo, for I more meaningfully retain my experiences with words than with pictures. I'm just wired that way.

My son's a Scribbler, too, though as a trained fine artist, he scribbles sketches, genuine visual images.

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Hubris

hubris
"The one who cried wolf might be tainted forever for demonstrating the audacity to confront the Hubris."

A certain Hubris seems to come with owning a system. It's yours, after all, and reason insists that it should attend to you by providing that which its designers intended it to provide for you, except systems don't actually work like that and never have. To own a system seems to be the equivalent of being owned by that system, in all the nuanced ways being owned entails. It's always got your number and always did. You quite understandably expected toast from your toaster but instead received a three smoke alarm wake-up call. Blame the toaster and see what that gets you. Resolution will demand inconvenience. You or some service representative (or, more probably, your spouse) will roll up their sleeves and get to the bottom of the difficulty, presumably forestalling any repeat performances. You'd be wise to anticipate repeat performances, though, because your toaster isn't so much first a toaster, but a system, and all systems come with unintended consequences built right in, albeit often unwittingly. A system, you see, remains capable of outwitting even its designers, for once that system roams free in the world, it will no longer find itself constrained by the breadth of its designers' imaginations. It seems to develop a conniving mind of its own.

Systems seem to insist upon a certain level of humility on the part of their owners, a wariness, a caution.

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ForeignTerritory

ForeignTerritory
"… my mind's still unlearning its preconscious tendency to date stamp everything as if it were still a year ago."

I didn't take a thousand mile train ride precariously balanced atop a freight car while fighting off muggers, nor did I swim across an unwatched patch of an icy stream or hike for days across trackless desert to arrive here, but I nonetheless feel every bit like an undocumented alien. My passage seemed precarious enough without all the pitfalls any decent Central American would have to overcome, and I feel as though I haven't quite mastered the languages and customs here, though I'm clearly on the other side of a contentious border and insecurely in ForeignTerritory now. Every New Year arrives like this, and perhaps it's the new year feeling queer around me and not dear old me to blame. Something significant's changed. I reflect that this fresh year has no experience here, either, and that I might be experiencing a contact buzz without having swallowed any of the new Kool Aid® myself. Whatever the cause, I feel at least as different as the surrounding territory seems. For now, I seem to have been passing. Now that I've disclosed my internal state, Immigration might jump my butt.

The first week of any new year used to feature mis-headed homework papers dated the year before or checks pre-dated by precisely twelve months, but nobody manually date stamps homework or even writes checks anymore, our smart appliances automatically fill in today's date on the appropriate line on every form.

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ArtificialEverything

artificial
Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854. A Realist painting by Gustave Courbet
" … a small town that grew up to still be small, but somehow less of a town for it."

South Table Mountain juts up as backdrop to the small town of Golden, Colorado. Its basalt rimrock crowns unpromising grades, draws, and washes still frequented by bear, bobcat, and small deer who browse surrounded by more rattlesnakes than I like to think about. Years ago, circa WWI, the Army built a base up against one side of it, but the rattlesnakes chased them off. A minimum security prison camp now inhabits what of that camp not ceded to the snakes, and The National Renewable Energy Lab sits just next door. High tension power line towers run across the top of South Table Mountain to service the largest beer manufacturing plant in the world along Clear Creek below. Failed attempts to build roads to the top remain as overgrown scars along all sides of the prominence. People ride horses up there, and mountain bikes, and even hike, though there's more to trip over than actually see up there. It seems a genuine bit of nowhere, offering views of Downtown Denver, not anybody's idea of a sight to treasure beholding, though the locals think of it as nature just out their backdoors.

I sat in a Starbucks, sucking down a china cup of decaf and staring up toward the top of that small mountain, realizing that almost nothing I could see bore much resemblance to nature.

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Predicting

Predicting
"The future seems perfectly capable of taking care of itself."

I woke up this morning with the genuine sense that I was suddenly inhabiting the future. The New Year arrived overnight and as usual, I couldn't quite keep my eyes open long enough to witness the fateful transition, so I faced this future in the early morning, all by myself, while the rest of the household slept. I remembered pondering this very future back when I attended elementary school, employing my newly gained arithmetic skills to calculate how old I'd be when, and the year twenty twenty always crept into my pondering. I figured that the future would very likely be much different from what my then present had been. I would be a fully-grown man by then, old, even, by my rough approximation, maybe even dead. I considered those I knew who were as old as I would be then and strained to imagine myself as how I might turn out. I never once suspected that I might still be striving and still not quite settled on who I would be when I finally grew up in the year twenty twenty, but here I am.

Almost every prediction I remember making then turned out quite differently than I'd projected.

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TheDailyRumpus

TheDailyRumpus
Le Derby de 1821 à Epsom,1821, Théodore Géricault
" … I once found it perfectly acceptable to start the day with a placid perusal of the paper."

Days begin with a thump now, the muffled sort of crash a kitten makes after misjudging a pounce, followed by a few moments of almost frantic pounding. The Daily Rumpus usually starts without me as witness. I enter the arena well after the start of the festivities to find another ornament down and the dining room table's cloth hanging at an odd angle. They've also displaced the carpet runners, making the room look like it belongs in one of those Vortex House tourist traps us kids used to plead to stop at when my dad was trying to make time on our summer vacation drive to Southern California. The food bowls will have been picked clean and the water bowl nearing empty. A plant might have been mysteriously tipped over, throw rugs knotted where they lay. Doilies lay like crumpled butterflies in the seat bottoms beneath their usual display positions along the tops of chairs. The wicker rocker will have lost its throw blanket and all will seem right with the world.

The celebration will continue for the next few hours, re-enouraged by the presence of an appreciative audience.

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Lags

Lags
" … it contains an adequate number of warts and surface imperfections …"

I hand-tooled my Production Process. I started it before I'd mastered my tools and well before I'd settled on what I would be producing. My process as well as my product have been evolving over time. Some of my process was obsoleted when Adobe® acquired FrameMaker® and decided to suspend support for the Mac version of their once-fine product. Several other pieces of the machinery became inoperable over time. There being no adequate replacements, I discovered little sneaker-net workarounds, creating a process that both defies logic and also fairly reliably produces output, as it's called. I've avoided any MicroSoft® product, finding them uniformly unusable, user hostile, and I never got over the anti-trust action that vividly described how they'd come to dominate the corporate computing market. I understood that I could definitely get better elsewhere, but that I'd never pay more, and since I was only sometimes a corporation in name only, I could not and didn't really aspire to compete in that realm. I cobbled together thises and thats and managed to produce close to what I intended.

Somedays, my hand-crafted system seems composed of Lags connected by no more than stepping stones.

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A Double Handful Of Coal

TheIdea
"Maybe I'll write two today, just to maintain my usual pace, if an additional Idea emerges."

In the beginning, there was nothing but void, and since void amounts to nothing, in the beginning there was nothing; no originating idea. Voids offer little in the way of leverage. Eventually, an Idea tottered into what had been the void's nothingness, temporarily voiding the void and leaving a sense of something in its place. Something, but nothing much more than the roughest raw material: a double handful of coal: Greater potential, yea, but little more. Few substances carry more potential and less promise than a double handful of coal, for coal, like any Idea, needs a lot of conditioning to amount to anything, and even when it amounts to something powerful, it only manages to achieve anything with great supplemental support and it leaves behind clinkers and nasty smoke; powerful perhaps for a time, but always producing nasty externalities.

Ideas seem to come in flurries when they come, if they come.

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Partum

Partum
"The creative act always retrospectively seems like a SmallThing …"

Fridays come but seem to mostly go, ever receding. A week starts, filled with promise, then ends, sometimes with the promise fulfilled, though even when fulfilled, it seems a strange sort of promise, for an aspiration never quite qualifies as a promise, it being more crap-shooty than any promise really should be. I work from Friday to Friday, with no weekends or holidays off, and at the beginning of a fresh Friday—my Monday as well as my Friday, both the beginning of a fresh week and the ending of an expended one (a Begending)—I feel more reflective than anticipatory, last Friday being my work year's sole exception. Last Friday ended my last creative cycle, GlancingKnow, marked the beginning boundary of my next cycle, SmallThings, and also heralded the start of my annual Christmas Po'm-writing cycle, wherein I write just as many fresh seasonal poems as I can in the time between Solstice and Christmas morning, this period marking my most intentionally creative week of the year.

As I noted in last Friday's reflection,
SmallerThings, rather than expanding my reach, my GlancingKnow three month enquiry left me feeling smaller, more tightly focused.

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Shaving

Shaving
"Some days, it seems to be the only thing that really matters."

The days where I've shaved before heading out the door seem to unfold differently than those days when I do not. For me, Shaving's like suiting up before entering the game. The uniform should properly not in any way affect the quality of my play, but it sure seems to. Shaved, I feel as though I'm putting forward my best face. Grisly, I know that I'm most certainly not looking my best. However mediocre my best might seem to anyone else, my less than best can't hope to compete. I feel complete after shaving, though I know I've just scraped off a fine skin layer and might reasonably feel a little less for the exercise.

I think the ritual, small though it might seem, makes the real difference.

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Kittens

Kittens
Mother Love - Paul Peel (1860 – 1892, Canadian)
" … they carry within them some innate skill to reset the rhythm of the place …"

I hold the strong opinion that every place holds a rhythm. Think of this beat as the baseline supporting the foreground melody. We more than inhabit our digs, they also invade us with the rhythm they induce. For the ten months we went without pets, much of the rhythm of our lives relied upon us to pound the drum. Aside from the magpies arriving each dawn and the weekly familiar sounds of the garbage collection trucks, The Villa's rhythms relied upon the recycling heating system to reset the tone. Sure, supper prep always reset the cadence of a day, as does cleaning up in its own curious way, but without the rhythms of a pet, it's very difficult to engage in even the more familiar melodies.

A life needs disruption, what Douglas Adams referred to as an Improbability Generator, some force to force-feed a different rhythm into the same-old status quo.

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Fulfillment

fulfillment
Laundress. This fragment is an artwork by Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
"As long as I could maintain this slight fiction, I remained golden."

However long any effort takes to accomplish its aspiration, the accomplishment seems to manifest in a moment. Before that point, it's not quite done and after, it's clearly over and I'm on toward the next enqueued accomplishment. The weeks of preparation leading up to Christmas will condense into a single moment on the blessed morn. We work so hard to achieve something as if it might bring salvation, but the best it ever, ever brings seems to be a quick moment of satisfaction. Immediately after, the internal critic probably resumes, and later, the hamster wheel starts squeaking again. Living seems largely soundtracked by the squeaking wheel that no lubricant could ever adequately grease. Peace comes in a moment, though it departs just as quickly.

Some of us, myself included, find our fulfillments in starting fresh stuff.

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Mattering

Mattering
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
"I'm not supposed to know beforehand, but propel my work with faith, …"

I seem to seek significance here, where meaning is king and obscurity dear. My reputation sticks to my heels like shadows and my futures sometimes seem so uncertain and shallow. I seek some opening, an opportunity to shine, while I seem most afraid that someone else might get 'mine.' I sometimes shimmer green-eyed jealous, zero-sum at some level, as I seek my salvation with the help of some devils. It's a tough row to hoe here, of that I've no doubt, but I still hold enough promise to believe in myself. Have I built myself a set of wings set in wax or just plowed rocky fields while surveying the hind end of an ass? I'm engaged in my business, whatever that might be besides waxing and promoting a brand you'd call me. I'm not just in this for myself, though, for I engage in the kind of work that doesn't make much dough.

Oh, some mornings I'd certainly gladly pretend to be striving and driving as I once did back when.

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ChristmasPo'ms

townsled
"These are infinitesimally SmallThings, but nonetheless infinitely significant ones for me."

It's been a couple of decades now since I took up this practice. I've never reveled, as some certainly seem to, in bestowing gifts, though I mostly object to the shopping. The mind reading or the sheer presumption that someone should heed a list someone gave them, and then become the wish fulfiller. That's a spirit killer, in my humbled estimation. Humbled because there's something about shopping that utterly erases any intention I might have carried into the shop with me. I remain capable of inspiration, but usually of the distinctly lower order variety. I cannot seem to imagine what my loved ones might appreciate from me. In the old days, I'd eventually acquiesce the buy something inappropriate and not fish that vigorously for any complements afterward. I'd hold onto the receipt, too, because it might need returning to the store. In short, Christmas bored me, all sentiments aside, so after fifty Christmases or so, I decided to do the unthinkable instead.

Well, I'm still not beyond purchasing a small gift or two, but I now focus upon creating a dozen or so little tuneless Christmas songs instead, in the form of Christmas Po'ms.

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SmallThings

SmallThing
"The greatest sin might be the belief that our reach exceeds our grasp …"

Yesterday, I completed my Autumn's work, GlancingKnow, with a post entitled SmallerThings. I'd realized that my perspective had been shrinking and that this focus had provided useful insights. Like you, I often feel overwhelmed by the apparent magnitude of difficulties surrounding me. Everything seems to have gone global in scale, yet I am little larger than I've ever been. I've expanded my coping skills, but my power and authority over the huge issues confronting me has changed little since I started out as an ignorant and disoriented little boy. Now, it often seems, I've grown to become an ignorant and disoriented bigger boy, but hardly wiser and rarely well-oriented. I seem to bounce from concern to concern, concluding that most of them exceed far beyond my reach. I some days wonder why I haven't surrendered and stopped caring so danged much about all I seem so powerless to influence.

I might represent a unique case, but I doubt it. I carry a growing suspicion that a root difficulty might be tied to my growing aspirations and awarenesses.

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SmallerThings

smallerthings
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas
"Small then even SmallerThings eventually amounting to something, which isn't really a thing at all."

Rather than strive to achieve BIG things, I seem to strive to more fully acknowledge smaller ones. Tiny yet influential seems more achievable than huge and consequential. Worlds move by comparative microns, yet manage to traverse vast spaces. Ideas spark in less than an instant yet utterly transform the person holding them. How finely am I capable of perceiving? Insignificance seems first a product of my own inattention. My salvation might stand right here in the palm of my hand, and releasing its beneficence might require a hero's journey no less daunting than any undertaken out into greater-seeming unknowns. Both journeys begin with denial and offer trials to test the hero's dedication. Both feature dragons and such, and each brings out characteristics the hero always held, implicit becoming more explicit in dispatching each challenge. Heroes aren't so much made as discovered, they emerge through unanticipated recognition. Look, there s/he is, right there. No more than a GlancingKnow ever confirms it.

Understanding serves as a condensation of more vaporous information and experience.

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WindingDown

windingdown
" …nobody waves to anyone passing from the back porch of this caboose."

It seems as if a giant clockwork finally began WindingDown this week. Reliable to a split-second throughout the year, as the Solstice draws nearer, its purpose loses clarity, perhaps a gear's gone rusty. The whole mechanism will most certainly receive a reprieve come Saturday, when a new astronomical year will begin an instant after the tired, now ancient one disappears. These last few days became abstractions of themselves. The more deeply I delved into their nature, the less I seemed to understand. The more I came to understand, the less I seemed to know, even Glancingly.

The snow grows tired and gritty after two weeks and more on the ground.

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BeansForBreakfast

BeansForBreakfast
"Makes me a musical SOB …"

Most Americans interpret the phrase BeansForBreakfast as a reference to coffee. Brits might envision a can of those ubiquitous Heinz beans served over toast as a part of the Full English. I take the term literally, for beans constitute my favorite breakfast food. With The Muse traveling this week, I can partake of my favorite every meal, repeatedly reheating the pot until nothing but a few hock bones remain in the bottom of it. I proudly possess a peasant's palate, one more pleased by simplicity than by complication. Subtlety's usually lost on me. Even when I create one of my artful-looking supper dishes, each remains shit simple inside. I leave a slow oven or flaming cast iron to do most of my heavy lifting in the kitchen. My beans seem simplicity personified.

John Steinbeck insisted in his Travels With Charlie that it was possible to find a decent breakfast in every American town. Fifty some years later, this assertion no longer holds true.

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AnImpossibleRecipe

ImpossibleRecipe2
"My meal was in the making of the meal …"

I think that people think I'm simply playing coy when I cannot crisply recount for them a recipe. I honestly never really quite remember, for I rarely follow a recipe and I never take notes. I follow my instincts instead, always starting with something threatening to spoil. I'm a little girl when it comes to throwing out food, so the edgy and almost questionable serves as the basis of all my food. This time, like almost every time before, our guests at last weekend's supper simply insisted upon knowing. The Muse further reinforced their requests when she reported that her boss had reported that the soup was simply the best ever, so The Muse suggested that I might at least try to recount how I'd made what I made.

I made a soup. I wanted something hearty but also something which would not offend all those with dietary restrictions.

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Fealty

fealty
The Accolade, Edmund Leighton, 1901
"Might just as well accede to this inevitability."

We speak of fidelity in marriages, but rarely if ever mention Fealty, a term sharing the same Latin root but which seems so steeped in medieval lore as to be useless to describe any modern phenomenon. The covenant underlying every marriage contract insists upon a form of Fealty, though, a set of tacit understandings delimiting subtly significant aspects of any such union. No formal agreement ever describes these responsibilities, yet failing to fulfill them provides grounds for eternally complicating conditions. Pouting might result. A poorly suppressed rage might even build over time, leaving the infractor feeling puzzled and isolated within the union. The aggrieved party might never find words to express the depth of their disappointment, though it will quite obviously be present. Typically, neither party will discover that this class of shortcoming lies beyond words. No apology ever quite repays the debt incurred when Fealty fails to manifest. Though both parties understand that a sin has been committed, neither will find any way to adequately atone. It should have never happened and can never be undone. These little crimes undermine domestic tranquility more effectively than mid-life drum lessons ever could.

When the spouse asks whether you're driving them to the airport in the predawn hours tomorrow, the canny spouse immediately recognizes an opportunity to demonstrate Fealty to, if not the spouse, then at least to the relationship.

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EndOfTheEvening

endoftheevening
"No, it's not Christmas yet, but this EndOfTheEvening I'll not soon forget."

By TheEndOfTheEvening, The Villa's ours again. Our guests, warmly welcomed, have wandered homeward. I salted the sidewalk when I realized they'd been walking the entryway gauntlet on fresh ice glaze. Snow fell as they arrived, and with the two luminaria lighting the end of our driveway and the glittering tree in the window, the place looked perfectly seasonally festive. The house smelled warm and spicy with my kick-butt soup simmering and my Veloute Mac and Cheese slowly baking. The cheese platter covered a quarter of the kitchen table, with sparkly wine glasses lined up like patriotic soldiers beside their respective bottles while crackers covered their flank. Everyone quickly gathered in the kitchen space while The Muse and I endlessly excused ourselves, stirring soup, warming bread, checking the Mac, and somehow tearing the chickories for salad. The Brit warmly accepts a fifty degree Oatmeal Stout while his wife holds up that smokey old red, her eyes pleading for my corkscrew. I open that bottle, pour her a glassful, then settle back into distracted preparation.

More people showed up than we have places to sit in the house, not an unusual situation and nothing for anyone to complain about.

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GamingASystem

GamingASystem
The Phrenologist (1874). Lucius Rossi (Italian, 1846-1913). Oil on panel.
" … but I also sidestep the apparent necessity of learning the dodgy skill of GamingASystem, which, for me, seems its own alluring reward."

Every system, the clever ones insist, consists of a game. The purpose of play might not always be to win or to lose, they say, but it is always, always, always to learn how to "game" that system. One need never break any formal rules when GamingASystem. The most skilled play with the rules, interpreting figuratively those regulations intended to be interpreted literally, and vice versa. One might most accurately explain that they play around the rules, practices, and traditions. One counts cards or reads other players' expressions, looking for tells, hardly attending to the formalities. Hoyle might find these gamers uncouth, though truth be told, they seem to win more than their fair share of the hands without ever getting called out for violating any rules. Some insist that those GamingASystem play a much broader game, a more or less moral imperative if the goal remains eventual dominion, for without these tactics, the odds of winning rely upon actual skill in the game, or worse, random selection, as the game designer might have intended.

The Muse insists that she was gifted with an intuition which enables her to test well.

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Realizing

Realizing
Diego Rivera, Man Controller of the Universe (or Man in the Time Machine), 1934
"Vive La DIFFERENCE. Vive the same-old, too."

Once any significant change occurs, I'm usually shocked by how little actually changes as a result. Last week, I learned my literary genre, as significant a realization as I've experienced all year, and yet the following week plodded along remarkably unchanged. Sure, I felt, and deeply, a closer connection to whatever I'm actually up to, but the old time machine marched on. This past week, PureSchmaltz attracted 678 individual views, a slight reduction from the previous week's volume. (Hey, it's a metric. It's supposed to be fundamentally meaningless.) I appreciate your continued interest.

The week began with my announcing my
If-ification, that realization that I might have a normalizing, even civilizing classification after all.

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Fog

fog
"I might be embodying one of those wise men before he found his trail …"

I can tell that Christmas is coming because I'm five days into trying to locate the wreath hanger without having found it yet. Each year, the wreath hanger proves to be the last of the decorations in use. The rest of the trimmings have already been tucked away into that location in the deepest corner of the basement, so rather than re-open that closet, I find some clever little tucked away spot to store the wreath hanger, a spot so intuitive and obvious that I most certainly will not repeat the lengthy search for it next season, only to always find myself searching again the following year. This is one reliable, certain sign of impending Christmas, though, so I suppose I should be grateful for the reminder.

I was fortunate to grow up in a part of the country where this season brought dense freezing fogs.

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FalsePremises

falsepremises
"We know what work faces us now."

It doesn't take much to fool an eye. At first glance, false perspective seems true. Following the lines quickly leaves one tangled, though, and unbelieving. That initial impression sticks through a few disconfirming iterations. The image starts to seem both wrong and right, with right holding his thumb on the scale. Poisoned by the imbedded FalsePremises, judgment struggles. My eyes seem to be lying to me. How very clever of the artist to turn me against myself, to compromise my formerly reliable perspective. I've been fooled and I feel every inch the fool. How easily a single falsehood compromises anyone receiving it! A series of falsehoods produce even worse results.

I'm a sworn enemy of cynicism, yet I seem to collect more evidence to support it than I do to encourage my optimism.

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Almost-ish

Almost
"I sense that this one's Almost-ish done, though I cannot definitely say."

It's almost Christmas this morning, two weeks away from 'Eve and I haven't really started thinking about it yet. I could say that I'm almost ready to start thinking about it because Almost-ish describes the highest state of readiness I ever achieve. I can't remember ever feeling ready for anything. None of my greatest life changes were in any way preceded by adequate preparation. I led each with my left foot, departing at least a day later than planned, yet still arrived within at least one standard deviation of On Time. I subscribe to the defining tenet that there's never any adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation. Almost-ish represents as close as I ever get to being ready for anything.

My status quos feature elongated tails. I despise letting go.

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TrustingThisWorld

TrustingThisWorld
" … Me and this world somewhere in-between."

I watch our new kitten Molly and I wonder how she might come to trust this world, for her world seems eminently trustworthy now, yet she still lives by tooth and claw. She defends every inch of territory against even her greatest benefactors, her true champions. She has not yet come to know the reassurance a petting hand might impart or the comfort of a languid lap stretch. True, this world stands as a convicted serial son of a bitch, with a long history of betraying anyone who would ever trust in it. It seems more indifferent than deliberate, though, a blundering behemoth perfectly capable of continuing inadvertences, but probably rarely on purpose, for this world has no real need of purpose. It need never justify itself. However cruel it might seem, it merely mirrors its inhabitants.

We discover the rules we must live by, never writing them for ourselves.

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SundayDread

NewYorkTimesTruthOOH
"I dread the responsibility this practice places on me …"

I pride myself on being well read. Most mornings, I warmly anticipate fetching my New York Times from the driveway. It's part of my ritual to peel off the protective plastic bag and spread the four or five sections across the kitchen table, ready for breakfast perusing. I've already read one or two of that day's op/eds online, but I tear into the paper paper anyway. I scan the front page then delve more deeply into the back pages, looking for stories that might help me make sense of what without some inside analysis, probably wouldn't make any sense to me. I'm a paper guy from my earliest age. When I delivered these pages, I poured through each edition. They were my primary source of education, so I revere them and the journalists who produce them, except on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, a behemoth paper awaits me in the driveway.

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TheBug

TheBug
"I remain no more prepared to battle The Bug than I ever was …"

The Muse had plans for us to meet-up after work and attend the annual Candlelight Walk, to stroll down Golden's Washington Street, sing a few carols, and maybe grab a bite after, but I'd woken with a sore throat and a fuzzy head. I promised to lie low close to the bed and assess how fit I felt nearer the end of the day. I slept a bit and wandered around the place feeling distinctly displaced before texting her around four to report that I still felt shaky. Nothing especially alarming, just a touch of The Bug, though no Bug was likely involved. Maybe the sore throat resulted from breathing incredibly arid cat fur-infused air. I blamed The Bug but quickly recovered from what first felt like a scare. I wasn't scared for long. I'm blessed with good health. I rarely feel in any way ill and perhaps because of that, I can't seem to very easily tell if I'm ailing. My normal ranges over a wide variety of states from manic to despondent, but I do not usually describe any of them as sick. When I finally, rarely, ascribe my state to the influence of The Bug (not, notice, A Bug, but The Bug), I'm usually about half a day away from full recovery. So far.

Thanks to my nurse practitioner's prescription pad, my bathroom counter's suddenly full of plastic pill bottles, each with its own regimen printed on its label.

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If-ification

Classification
"… maybe next week will turn into being all about doing for a change."

Friday arrives again, time to look back over the past week to see what might be derived from the last seven days of PureSchmaltz' GlancingKnows. It was a tumultuous week for me, for this week my writing finally found an identity, an If-ification. I'd persisted in producing—going on ten manuscripts over the prior two and a half years—without possessing a crisp response to the apparently fundamental question: "What sort of books do you write?" I'd tried a string of cute, generally self-effacing responses, but to little benefit and perhaps inflicting some harm, but a precise classification had eluded me. Those who know would innocently ask what my works were similar to, an impossible question for any author to answer. I only manage to read three books per week, so my bibliography seems pretty thin. I do not have access to the population of potential comparable works.

Part of my difficulty seemed rooted in the great variety of classes from which to choose, which the existence of most I remain unaware.

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SchlockyEditing

schlockyediting
"Maybe I should be grateful that it seems to slow down this progression."

If I can write a book in three months, how long should it take me to edit the resulting manuscript? The correct answer turns out to be 'a lot longer than three months.' I don't know precisely how much longer, but it's definitely longer. Once completed, the editing shows that the first draft was pretty close to finish-quality from the outset, hardly more than moving the occasional dangling modifier or correcting the usual 'that' in lieu of an intended 'than.' The effort falls far short of any contemporary understanding of what constitutes work, yet it takes a very long time for me to complete it. Between compiling the pieces, properly formatting them, printing them out, reading and marking up, updating the original soft copy, then distilling into a fresh copyedited work, months might pass, much of the time spent procrastinating from the task at hand. Procrastination constitutes at least ninety percent of the effort, and it's by far the most exhausting and depleting part.

The chief difficulty lies in the inescapable fact that I'm one Schlocky editor.

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Dawning

Dawning
"Neither of us will wear western-cut slacks or string ties."

The sun seems a son of Kansas. It crawls across the sky, casting shadows for a living, before retiring to California. I know altogether too much to believably spin fresh creation myths, though I swear that I could use a few. Maybe we all could. Once I know better, I don't seem to imagine better. I adopt my reality and pretty much stick with it, no matter how poorly it serves my vitality. I feel attracted to the idea that the sun hails from Kansas, just another exported offspring of that windy weed patch of a place. I like the idea that it retires to California to wear western-cut slacks and sport a string tie, and drive a 1953 Ford station wagon with clothes pins on the fuel line.

The magpies serve as the most viable community in my neighborhood.

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Literally...

literally
Andre Derain - Three Trees, 1906
"I'm mostly focused upon the quality of your story …"

I suppose I should affix a little warning "Do not interpret any of the following Literally" on everything I write. I'm no journalist and never really aspired to become one. I do not trade in objective facts but subjective description. I appreciate that this convention relies upon my readers to perform some cursory interpretation, especially if they're expecting just the facts, but so be it. Fix those expectations first. I do not have access to the facts, and even if I did, I'm experienced enough to understand that I can't usually combine facts to produce a decent punchline. I'm not dealing in fake news. I'm not dealing in news at all. My purpose lies closer to attempting to induce insight more than knowledge, enjoyment more than education, and perspective more than acuity. Some truths lie more deeply than any fact. Some facts materially misrepresent experience.

Writing seems most often about inducing a felt sense.

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Snidely

snidely
"I'm always free to interpret a tad more generously …"

I remain surprised by how quickly even animals jump to conclusions about others. People seem infamous for our ability to conclude with almost no supporting evidence. The merest glance informs many of our actions, often resulting in anything but equal opposing reactions. Even I frequently jump first and only rarely ask questions after because my reaction seemed to need nothing more than the barest supporting evidence, if even that. I have no idea how often I'm wrong because I only very rarely find reason to second guess my instantaneously drawn conclusions. They imprint immediately and persist in spite of refuting evidence or experience. The GlancingKnow behaves as if it actually does know all.

I suppose that this facility results in certain efficiencies, but evolution never was an efficiency-seeking undertaking.

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DoubleStock

doublestock
" … nectar only fully appreciable by gods."

The Muse and I must own almost a dozen stock pots. These range from huge to mid-sized, and we regularly, as in weekly, use about half of them. We employ them for more than making stock, but we make a lot of stock. Every blessed bit of veg trim goes into an ever-burgeoning baggy in the freezer. Same with meat trim, leftover bones, and even over-ripe fruit. About a quarter of the kitchen freezer always seems filled with bits awaiting transformation in a stock pot. It doesn't ever take much material: a chicken carcass or two, a couple of quarts of veg bits, a few herbs and spices, water, heat, and time, and I'm making stock again. I might make up a small batch just for a single dish, but I most often roast up larger batches for pressure canning and longer-term use. Replacing stock when a recipe calls for water dramatically improves the resulting dish. We're stock people.

I could not seem to learn how to make delicate stock like consumme, and not only because delicate dishes do not please my palate.

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Weighting

Weighting
Norman Rockwell Visits a Ration Board, Norman Rockwell, 1944, The Saturday Evening Post

"I'll probably never learn."

The queue seems endless, progressing painfully slowly. I'm suddenly uncertain what brought me here. If I expected service, I know for sure that I have not found it yet or it has not yet found me. The system might have been designed to extract blood as a prerequisite for being allowed to donate blood. I feel like a shriveling turnip, but I will not leave. Once in line, and once hemmed in on either side, I hold territory which seems to need defending. I will not surrender, no matter how inconvenienced I feel. I hold a waning faith, but still some small potential for grace, a hope with most of its shine dulled to buff. I've already had enough but I will not be shouting "Uncle!" just yet, if ever. Probably never!

Some waits weigh more heavily than others.

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Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

PreparationPrep
"The dinner, like my GlancingKnow Story week beside it, came off like a dream …"

The Muse and I tend to spend the week before any holiday in preparation. The key to holiday satisfaction seems to be paved with Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. We need to secure little nit-picky items like Pomegranate Molasses as well as the over-sized fowl. The Muse takes the lead preparing for Thanksgiving, for she follows recipes and respects her food heritage enough to try to recreate it for holidays. I try to support her efforts by washing pots and pans AND my presence seems to throw off her rhythm, just as her presence in my prep kitchen throws off mine. She maintains a backward sink discipline to mine, for instance, as she insists on putting her dirty dishes into the clean dish sink and vice versa. She blocks off access to the disposal and completely complicates any attempt I might make to assist, as I simply must clean up her organization before I can help clean up her pots and pans, and my reorganizing her organization throws hers into arrhythmia. I'm forever walking on some tacit plot line she's following and so I eventually retreat to the further corners of the Villa and let her have her way. I justify this by saying to myself that I carry the bulk of the prep work on ferial days, so she can carry that weight on festal ones.

Last week, I started a fresh tradition, one with no cobwebs on it yet, the practice of briefly summarizing the prior week's postings.

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LearningToPlay

LearningToPlay
Baby at Play by Thomas Eakins,1876, National Gallery of Art
" … we're still managing the odd, awkward, occasional pet and heart-melting purring."

Molly spent her first few days with us cowering in the furthest back corner of the most remote room in the house, the cold and drafty room at the very end of the ductwork. I'd crawl back in there to point my finger at her nose while she eyed me sullenly at first, then suspiciously, occasionally permitting me to touch her head, sometimes even submitting to a seemingly welcome neck scratching which usually ended with her startling out of her budding delight before administering a scratching swipe and trying to take a bite out of the hand that had just been stroking her. She seemed sullen in the shelter before we'd brought her here and after hearing her life story from her caretaker there, I concluded that she'd earned her sour mood in the oldest of old fashioned ways. She could still technically pass for a kitten, though I doubted if she'd ever spent a day or even an odd morning at play. Her feral parents taught her what they could, a strong sense of self combined with powerful defensive survival skills, but between being trapped, neutered, ill and recovering from what I understood to have been two bouts of serious feral diseases, she'd apparently never learned to play.

I know, LearningToPlay seems the most oxymoronic of phrases, for play seems as though it really should be more spontaneous than learned, and needing to learn it seems at best likely to result in some wooden analogue of the genuine McCoy.

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GivenIn

acquiesce
"I suppose that I'll need to be generous toward myself; not giving up, but GivenIn for now."

I arose early thinking that I would head right out to scrape off the overnight snowfall, but the snow still fell at a forty-five degree angle and the back deck drift looked close to two feet deep. I can't really tell in the dark, but my intentions conflicted with one of my more deeply-held convictions: one should never start shoving snow until the snow has pretty much petered out. This snowfall showed no signs of petering anytime soon. I peeked out the front and found our two step entryway an alabaster impressionistic sculpture of its usual self; a Brancusi, perhaps, concrete smoothed and implacable. Arming myself with my snow shovel against this monster would be worse than a soldier heading into battle armed with a twig. I'd have to sit and watch.

My acquiescence came easily, perhaps too easily for my Take Charge snow day attitude.

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Impending

impending
"I know no company will come."

A giddiness takes over the place. Even Max The Ever-Curious Kitten senses it. Something's up, or, more properly, almost up. Everything appears perfectly normal as of this moment, perfectly normal and also odd. I know, though the sky hasn't started showing any sign yet, that a snowstorm's been moving in our direction for the last couple of days. It's slated to hit this evening, so this day already carries a last day aura, as if it offers a final chance or two. By this time tomorrow, travel will have become difficult to perhaps impossible. A gallon of milk might just as well sit on Alpha Centauri as on the shelf of the village inconvenience mart; both will become equally inaccessible by then. My mind races trying to remember what I need to do before, because there will be no doing after this storm hits.

Of course there will still be doing then, but this Impending upends my sense of continuity.

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SchlemielTime

GimpelTheFool-970x710

A portion of the cover art from a 1957 edition of Gimpel The Fool, a short story collection by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated by Saul Bellow: Noonday Press

"A well-stocked larder seems the source of most of my supper-related satisfaction."

I have been repeatedly accused of publishing food porn photographs to my social media feeds. I suppose that I am guilty as charged, but I never post the deeper and more representative portrait of my food life. I am mostly a schlemiel in the kitchen. I cannot for the life of me follow even simple recipes. I have not yet learned how to replicate a single dish, each one a genuine original, turning out as it turns out, with repeated practice, if anything, leading me further from a perfection than my initial accidental outcome suggested I might possess the skill to produce. I cannot seem to understand all the theories governing food preparation and do not reliably intuit oven temperatures, grill heat zones, or ratios. My meals are almost universally accidental convergences, relying much more upon luck and quality ingredients than upon my skill. Still, I've accreted somewhat of a reputation as a cook, one which has done nothing to blunt my ever-deepening sense that I remain an apron-wearing imposter holding a spatula just off camera.

The Muse seems nonetheless appreciative, if only because I remain mostly a reliable preparer.

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SeasonalSourcing

SeasonalSourcing
"Our holiday tables will not feature that summer vegetable again this year, which might be Thanksgiving enough for me."

I asked the produce clerk when Buddha Hands would be on the shelf. He looked up surprised, reporting that they'd come in that morning. "We weren't gonna put them on display until tomorrow," he replied, "but I'll be happy to bring them out for you now." The Muse and I twittered in the aisle, barely able to believe our good fortune. In past years, our seasonal search for this distinctive fruit took us further than far and wide. One year, when we lived just outside Washington DC, we must have clocked well over a hundred miles on failed Buddha Hand forays, returning empty handed day after day after freaking day. This year, we happened upon a virgin stash. We'd get first dibs on a fresh boxful of these babies. The holidays began that instant.

The arrival of this fabled fruit always kickstarts a season of baking and rendering.

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DerivingWisdom

DerivingWisdom
The Court Jester Stanczyk Receives News of the Loss of Smolensk During a Ball at Queen Bona's Court (Matejko,1862).

“I see no reason to turn down any DerivedWisdom, especially if I discovered it myself.”


This week, I wrote essays which garnered 504 individual views, on a curious variety of topics, totaling just over five thousand words if I don't count the individual introductions. What do you suppose those words meant? I mean really? Individually, I might summarize them like this:

•I spoke of how I could not honestly swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even with the intercession of an insistently supportive god. (
MyTruth)

•I then switched to speaking about my long and largely uninterrupted twice-daily meditation practice, admitting that I feel no closer to enlightenment (whatever THAT is) than when I started, but how I still feel enormous pride in and deep satisfaction with my discipline. (
TabulaRascal)

•I wrote about the inequality money seems to inject into our justice system, perhaps disclosing how little I understand about gilt and the nature of G(u)ilt. (
G(u)ilt)

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PhysicsLesson

CatPhysics
"I needed to no more than generally understand how the slope of my stance might influence my ability to respond …"

Since our new kitten Max arrived three weeks ago, he has slowly expanded to fill every square inch of The Villa. Wherever I go, he's already there, though often hidden until I pass, whereby he pounces, perhaps targeting the leather laces on my slippers, which long ago proved themselves capable of untying themselves, though they seem to welcome a cat claw's assistance. Each pounce seems a PhysicsLesson involving opposing forces, vectors, and gravity. Always gravity. Max, who weighs only a pound or two encased in fluffy fur, executes many pratfalls, none seeming to leave any lasting damage and none dissuading him from additional attempts to understand how the physical world surrounding him works. It's one PhysicsLesson after another from long before dawn until an hour or more after I've laid my own burden down in bed.

I woke a few nights ago to find him sleeping on my head, though I didn't immediately understanding that I'd been shanghaied into the role of lab rat in yet another PhysicsLesson.

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GodSends

GodSend
"I try to remember that each initial provocation might well have come from the hand of some curiously benevolent God …"

Good fortune moves in mysterious ways. Nothing says how any experience might turn out. An apparently advantageous first move might turn south without warning. An obvious initial disadvantage might likewise at any time seem to turn itself around. How any experience turns out depends upon where I decide to place the punctuation. It ain't over until I apply the hard stop designating the end. Many of my experience extend like run-on sentences, featuring more commas and semi-colons that words, it sometimes seems, continuing until some favorable twist renders a favorable outcome. Then and only then might I feel deeply moved to stop the progression. It's all progression, no matter the number of obvious regressions appear between here and that ever-emerging there. Even the fabled fat lady might have this once chosen to sing during an uneasy intermission rather than wait clear until the end.

GodSends might not appear to have originated in the hand of any recognizable God.

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Means&Ends

Means&Ends
"Where would my dignity reside if I didn't have to try so damned hard?"

Ends never justify means. Means usually, if not justify, then certainly serve to validate whatever ends eventually emerge. Those who cut corners on their way to the top inherit a legacy of continuing paranoia. Sure, they achieved the top, but their top can never actually belong to them and they understand that they do not quite belong up there, either. Their imposter syndrome isn't delusional, but well-deserved. But, you might ask, how might one compete if the world contains plenty of cheats who don't seem to carry remorse about their underhanded techniques? Everyone else is speeding. Why shouldn't I? Discarding the decorum erodes something significant, yet subtle. One refrains from ignoring the law not because of the associated penalties, but because respecting the law serves as a means for preserving one's self respect.

If preserving this self respect seems like a shallow payoff in a venial world, you've encountered the dilemma.

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Appreciations

appreciations
Wheat field With Crows, Van Gogh, 1890 (believed to be Van Gogh's last painting)
" … you probably don't know what I would say."

I speak today of Appreciations, those most curious of the many human expressions. A single appreciation, properly done between a single one and a single other, cannot scale, though some of us more shy ones will attempt to execute a blanket appreciation addressed to "You Guys" or "everyone." These fail to satisfy the underlying purpose of an appreciation because they are at root and inescapably an expression of a personal relationship. Any relationship seems threatened by being taken for granted. Continuing proximity need not necessarily breed contempt, but more often a certain complacency, an apparent indifference to its own continuation, a natural by-product of familiarity. Eventually, repeated, such casual interaction might easily spark certain questions such as, "Does he even care that I'm here?" The universal cure for such conditions lies in the skillful application of Appreciations.

Not that Appreciating's all skill, quite the opposite.

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G(u)ilt

G(u)ilt
"The g(u)ilty seem more likely to walk away free to commit their crime again."

Our criminal justice system struggles to treat everyone equally under the law. Those who can afford expensive delaying actions tend to invoke them, deferring justice if not thereby outright denying it. Years later, the urgency of meting out justice erodes and the well-heeled defendant might find the charges dropped or simply turning moot. The poorer defendants might find admission more attractive, throwing themselves on the supposed mercy of the court or hoping to bid down the damage through sincere contrition. The merely guilty and the more g(u)ilty experience really different days in court. The guilty might hang their heads in shame while the g(u)ilty might find any of an array of deflecting blames to hide behind. Until the jury's finished deliberations and the judge pounds his gavel, all seem equal under the law. Once that gavel sounds, the g(u)ilty will more likely walk away free.

The G(u)ilt seems obvious on the wealthy man's face, but it's a face more belligerent than contrite.

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TabulaRascal

TabulaRascal
"Meditation might be my very best imaginary friend."

As a twice-daily meditator over the last forty-five years, I feel somewhat competent to speak about the practice. First, it's not what you've heard. For me, there never was any sense of Tabula Rasa, no emptying of the mind. My mind might even slip into a sort of overdrive when I meditate, more TabulaRascal than empty and open. I might even be doing it wrong, but I figure that I've been doing it my way for long enough that I might have gained license to do it however I damned well please, to accept it however it seems to come to me. For me, it requires no more than an ounce or two of light discipline, just enough to encourage me to sit and do nothing for twenty minutes at a time with no soothing background music or expressed purpose in mind. I consider this my repayment in kind, a tithe of my available time. I read in the press that few people feel comfortable sitting with nothing to do for more than five minutes. The fidgets take over and nervous energy expresses itself. I would consider even this an acceptable form of meditation rather than an example of how not to successfully engage. It's at root an exercise in simple acceptance for me.

Whatever happens, happens.

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MyTruth

TheTruth
"Anyone bringing dog shit to a Stone Soup party should be forced to swallow the resulting soup themselves …"


"Do you swear to tell The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth?" No, I'd feel compelled to decline this common invitation, and not only because I could not possibly have access to The Truth, let alone The Whole Truth, not to mention possess the superpower to access Nuthing But The Truth. This oath seems altogether too absolute, for I (along with every other human) can only access an offshoot truth, one I think of as my own: My Truth. I expect My Truth to be riddled with inadvertence, misconceptions which I have probably conflated as truth, but which perhaps represent common cognitive mistakes. I might have misunderstood an implication or two. I probably assumed some portion of My Truth to be utterly self-evident, when it doesn't seem to be self-evident to you. My beliefs and expectations likely affected not only what I perceived but also how I interpreted, catalogued, and stored my sensory experience. On close reflection, I realize that I don't feel nearly as confident of what I witnessed. I can offer only my impressions.

My impressions might well prove useful, however, even if they cannot quite meet the standards of genuine The Truths, The Whole Truths, or Nothing But The Truths.

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Doltdrums

DoltDrums
"We both want family for the holidays, but we're settling for turkey again."

By mid-November I've grown weary of braises. My larder looks like a mid-winter Moravian supermarket with overflowing bins of carrot, parsnip, turnip, celery root, potato, garlic, and onion aching for another long, slow, covered bake. I can't bare to bake anything anymore. The quick chop chore, the boring obligatory stock pour-over, the tough cut tucked in underneath, with a splash of wine or cider. This all seemed wilder and more attractive back when it was just an emerging seasonal alternative. Now, it seems like the only game in town and I know for certain, before the first die roll, that Colonel Mustard will have done the deed in the drawing room with the freaking candlestick. Not an ounce of mystery or discovery to be found within any of it.

My menu leaves me feeling stupid, uninspired.

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InFLUence

inFLUential
Eugène Delacroix - La liberté guidant le peuple
"We live almost exclusively by anonymous association."

Who's following who? Fergetabout leadership, whatever that was, we've traded in that weary old meme in favor of being seen with someone truly inFLUential. I follow, therefore I am. I must seek first to inFLUence, to infect others with my opinions, delivered so subtly and forcefully that few can resist my call. Is this really all that came of the great revolution, not so much a chain of relationships but a gaggle of clans, each following their man or woman, no longer even desiring to think for them self. I shamelessly footnote, citing some source more reliable than little old me, someone genuinely in the know, someone genuinely worthy of me following? How many followers must one have to be widely considered a thought leader? Lead me, please, not into temptation and deliver us all from evil.

Which side should I be on?

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TheOppositeOf

opposite
"Our dichotomies seem to be trying to define us …"

Opposites distract. Absolute opposites distract absolutely, dangling modifier and all. The chief difficulty with opposites lies in the simple fact that they almost never exist except as placeholders for an absolute absence. The opposite of a tree seems easy enough to conjure. It's no-tree, isn't it? But what precisely (or even imprecisely) entails a no-tree? Every blessed thing except a tree? Hardly definitive. In mathematics, opposites emerge with the simple flip of a sign, except when encountering a nothing zero or a confounding square root. Sometimes, an absolute opposite amounts to just the same thing as its opposite, flash and bone, glimpsed unreversed mirror images which might make anyone's head hurt to consider. It might be that all opposites qualify as completely imaginary, useful perhaps for comparison, a defining opposition, but nothing much beyond that.

We inhabit a world which sometimes seems floundering on a surfeit of opposites.

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BetterByes

petunia#2
Petunias #2, Georgia O'Keefe 1924

"Flipping off winter won't slow it down, …"

You might have noticed that season ends almost always offend me. They come too early or too late to properly please me, yet I strive to be prepared when the actual shift occurs. I never complain about how early winter leaves, no matter how rainy the early spring. Likewise, I usually embrace summer when it finally arrives, though fading daffodils and tulips turn that experience bittersweet. I'm usually unprepared to let go so that the following season might simply come. I am never the one discarding perfectly matured petunias just because an overnight freeze impends. You can depend on me to hatch some season-extending scheme to defer an inevitable season end. One year, I tarped up the whole deck garden to defend against an intruding frost, and the tactic worked, extending blossoms another full two weeks before a more insistent freeze finally settled in. This year, I chose the best and brightest for sequestering in a corner of the garage, and I've extended their lives at least an additional month. I've dutifully carry their pots and planters out into the bright sun on clement days and left them tucked away through now the fifth snow event of this season.

I've been secretly hoping that the bastard deer would find them and provide a demise worthy of them.

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Demoncracy

demoncracy
"The Hapsburgs were plenty happy enough. Their ungrateful peasants, not so much."

Some insist that we have the best democracy money can buy, though our Founders did not originally intend our Big D Democracy to belong within the set of purchasable things. They'd naively intended it to be differently participatory, open to all free, landowning white males. Oh, sorry. They designed it as a plutocracy, ruled by the wealthiest, which historically has usually translated into a de facto kakistocracy, government by those least suitable and capable of governing. The majority who might actually depend upon what a Big D Democracy might deliver, those not male, landowning, or free, could go piss up a tree to realize their liberty, or so sayeth our heralded Founders, who turned out to be more eloquent than prescient, for their declarations out-stretched their designs. Later generations interpreted their intentions much more broadly than they had. Landless males would gain franchise, then former slaves, then women, as our original demo-aristocracy struggled to become an ever more-perfectly liberal democratic union.

We're still perfecting.

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Prosperitease

Prosperity1
Gustav Klimt(1862-1918) / Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, oil on canvas, Neue Galerie, NYC
"I intend to bequeath no inheritance, …"

My parents were raised through The Great Depression. They instilled in their children all the phobias common to anyone raised with unresolvable want. They'd caught on early that the system was rigged against achieving prosperity, though they labored hard to achieve a modest level of financial security. My mom sewed her kids' clothes and taught her daughters to sew for themselves. My dad taught his sons to put their heads down and toil without complaint. Sloth stood as the sole unforgivable sin. We learned to get by in spite of whatever game the rest of the world seemed obsessed with. Prosperity meant not complaining about stuff that couldn't possibly matter. We had each other, and a fine home filled with make-do eccentricities. The windows might have frosted over on the inside on the coldest winter nights, but one could wear a coat to bed or throw on another hand-me-down quilt, the coal fire would be warm in the morning.

My parents never once owned a new car, and never really wanted to.

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Time-Id

Time-Id
"I continue to be my own worst tyrant."

Six days in and I'm thinking that I might have finally resolved the fall-back time change problem. Dropping daylight savings time feels like punishment to me, a cruel bait-and-switch. Just as daylight becomes increasingly scarce, we, by fiat, by mere convention, agree to swipe another hour of it from the time we need it most, from the end of already seasonally dreary days. Could there be a better way to ensure the onslaught of seasonal affective disorder? I think not!

Most years, I've become a complaining victim to this curious convention, shuffling along into longer and darker nights, but this year, I decided to take a stand.

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Interpregating

Cat_kitten_avatar-35-512
" … he seems to be Interpregating, interpreting to integrate rather than to separate."

This world seems to be continuously trying to teach me stuff. I remain a reluctant student. I suspect that I absorb most of what might eventually become learnings sub- or pre-consciously, and I feel truly grateful for this small gift, for if I had to maintain attentive concentration, I'd certainly fail to learn much of anything at all. We've acquired a kitten who reminds me what learning actually entails. The Muse and I find his antics entertaining, sometimes in a rather mean way, for he seems to endlessly play the fool for us, perhaps to teach us something. Learning seems to entail much foolishness, approximations of congruent responses morphing over time into ever more well-adapted ones. The first few attempts qualify as genuine comedy, easily observed when someone else performs but not so easily recognized when we mount the stage. We're always on stage but only occasionally aware of the observers surrounding us. We're probably always trying out some new routine, but largely unaware that we are. The more well-rounded among us might construct lives of well-practiced, numbing routine, but even these masters might continuously try out fresh variations unaware of just how silly they might seem to the rest of us.

The best I can claim about myself seems to be that I'm still learning.

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Volting

Volting
"A red state turns purple with suppressed rage before finally blowing up blue."

The Muse and I live in an area reportedly beset with voles. Our neighborhood ListServ frequently reports troubles blamed on the hamster-like critters, though we've never experienced a single instance. They're essentially invisible tunnel dwellers, browsing from the bottom up, apparently devastating some neighbors' plantings. We try to keep with native plants, not mistaking this region as part of the Northern Arboreal Belt. Trying to maintain some semblance of a classic English Country Garden here seems to buy more trouble than satisfaction, so we keep our garden aspirations modest and hopefully aligned to our seventy eight hundred arid feet of altitude. We consider the lowly vole as much a part of the native fauna as the deer and the elk, features rather than pests, and we try to live while letting them live.

Come election day, though, it seems as though the voles rush to the polls to cast votes in favor of those initiatives only a tunnel-dweller could love.

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FallTogether

FallTogether
"Small completions seem to render everything possible."

How fortunate for my life to FallTogether in the Autumn. So much these days seems to be progressively falling apart; my present great good fortune seems an outlying experience, almost a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. I'll manage my accompanying guilt somehow. I'm much more practiced at coping with guilt than I'll ever have even half a chance of becoming at coping with good fortune, so perhaps the two will balance out each other. Months of accumulating procrastinations have been resolving themselves with little effort. I cannot claim to have cleverly planned my present state. It visited me without making reservations. Nor did I finally achieve a level of self-loathing which finally pushed me onto a straighter and narrower path. I simply seem to have stumbled into this place.

One thing leads to another.

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Reflexivity

reflexivity


"It takes someone completely immersed in a subject to explain it in ways that nobody not immersed in that subject could ever understand."

I enthusiastically reserved George Soros' latest book, a collection of essays on the subject of Open Societies. I'd read other works by this great philanthropist and self-proclaimed failed philosopher, most memorably the one where he deconstructed the 2008 market crash. I found him both insightful and frustrating, as he exemplifies the above quote. He's long railed against certain foundational tenets of economics and social science in general, arguing that these fields seem to suffer from physics envy, and attempt to find level ground by adopting perspectives that could lead to truth only when analyzing physical stuff and might reasonably only lead to useful insight when applied to human systems, those being where human judgment and preference cast deciding votes about the outcome. He characterizes social science as compromised by investigators trying to emulate their physical science counterparts while lacking necessarily separate, agreed-upon social-science methods. Building upon Karl Popper's postulate which claimed that scientific facts forever remain hypothetical—prone to undermining with a single example of falsehood—he notes that social science cannot hope to achieve even that modest end, since social sciences rely upon human perspective, always subject to change. If you've ever gone shopping for something you deeply desire, found exactly what you'd imagined, then found yourself dissatisfied when using the product of your successful search, you've experienced Reflexivity. All human system most prominently exhibit Reflexivity.

The scientist, though, seems schooled in a firm belief in objectivity, a fundamentally paradoxical perspective which seems to hold that one could muster an observation without utilizing the services of an observer.

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Thyme

Thyme
"I might even throw up a fresh shoot or two in defiance of a regulating authority hardly worth believing in."

Our thyme plant expanded to several times its original size before I brought it inside for overwintering. Its tips turned brown though its stalks still seem viable and green. It's assumed a rather wiry habit, tough to harvest and difficult to strip, stems more like twigs than herbs. I remain fully aware that I fiddled with time, attempting a premeditated extension of an admittedly over-shortened growing season. The whole herb pot, a slat wood peck basket, now overflows with mutating herbals. Relocated into a sunny kitchen corner in front of the sink, sure, but missing wind, rain, and the temperature shifts that once kept its contents pliable and young. The contents have entered another stage of life, on the first hints of life support, destined to die, but not quite yet. The tarragon yellowed in protest, though it also threw up a few fresh shoots as if mistaking this recent life change for Spring. It will most certainly never see another Spring.

Daylight Savings Time seems like a godsend to me, its annual disappearance always more a setback than a simple falling back into regular time, for there never was any such thing as regular time.

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Dayzed

25 five hour day
"I'll recover somehow."

I take too much pride in my ability to thrive with little sleep. Pride, going just before falls and all, presciences inevitable downfall. I probably over-rely on this gift, for it leaves me with scant margin. I seem to do just fine with four hours sack time, but less than that can really cut into me. I imagine that someone who routinely sleeps two of my short nights' worth, won't so much miss an occasional odd hour or two shortfall, while I most certainly will. Micro sleep usually comes with some sort of travel-related activity. The last night in Vienna might find me sleeplessly waiting up so I won't miss my obscenely early ride to the airport, but little's lost as I'd just as soon crash on the plane crossing the pond, anyway. Giving others a ride to the airport provides a similar experience but with the downside that I'll then need to drive back without losing too much of my consciousness along the way.

Of course necessary stops seem to hinder my return.

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Dismay

dismay
Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
" … we're likely to be recovering for a very, very long time."

The news deeply disturbs me. We have a madman in the White House. It's not that I don't understand, because I do understand while reportedly so many clearly do not yet. Yet. Did we just grow to take for granted that an election would filter out the most glaring extremes and prevent anyone actually barking mad from taking the top job? I'll grant you that we've had a bad run, from Nixon to Reagan to Bush, we've seen Presidents push around our Constitution, largely, it seems in retrospect, due to their utter ignorance of its tenets. But this guy combines ignorance with arrogance, distain with cruelty, self-dealing with amorality, and lies heaped with even more lies until his inner insanity screams for wide public recognition. Yet the wheels of Constitutional government move achingly slowly, particularly when populated with those who've sworn fealty to absolute insanity.

Corruption should have more consequences than any election.

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OnceInA...

OnceInA 8.07.17 AM
"We take turns, one day the fool and some days the fortunate child, …"

We live in extraordinary times, or so the media insists. Who among us could resist reporting that seems to so solidly confirm just how special we must be to live in such extraordinary times? The old hometown team won the World Championship for the first time in ninety-six years. "We" set several low-temperature-for-the-month records this week. Never before has "it" been so damned cold this early in the year. Surrounded by unlikely events, we don't have to pretend to be special anymore. Even acknowledging the obvious fact that several of these stats seem spurious,—I mean, who keeps track of all this crap?—nobody can deny that we seem to find ourselves living in truly extraordinary times; just like yesterday, just like last week, just like every day since time immemorial.

Every day brings another blue moon somewhere.

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Preparation

Preparation
"Failing to fully prepare might resonate nothing more alarming than the human condition …"

No one has yet discovered a fully adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation. Google 'preparation' and you'll receive the sort of wisdom nobody really needs. You'll hear that "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and other equally vacuous advice. I'll excuse you if you come to believe that preparation is the universal key to success, the Midas Touch on wheels, and the one absolutely irreplaceable determiner. Preparation is clearly the key to every kingdom, except, of course, for all the ones where only a deeply sincere lack of preparation reigns. The difficulty arises when we realize that we cannot always predict when preparation will be key and when a sincere lack of preparation might better prepare. I'm noticing that many people carry a sort of civil engineering preparation philosophy. Why wouldn't one prepare before engaging in activities focused upon moving stuff through space and time? Many activities, though, can't qualify as amenable to civil engineering preparednesses. For those, some sort of non-preparation seems if not necessary, certainly justifiable.

My greatest shortcoming as a project manager was always my lack of prescience.

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DreckNology

captcha
"These are clubs I might be wise to decline every opportunity to join."

My friends host podcasts, but the technology supporting those baffles me. I sometimes think that I really should offer an audio version of my daily musings, but the gauntlet of interfaces separating me from that end reliably chases me off again. Somewhere in that chain, I encounter a Captcha barricade and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I'm supposed to be matching. They want a Pastword, too, and while they offer to allow me to reset forgotten Pastwords, that process, too, proves impassable. I experience technological damned-whatever-I-Do until I construe what seems their underlying intent. Perhaps they're paid for attempts to scale the ramparts rather than by whatever they dangle as possible inside. It's all hidden behind crude sophistications that leave me questioning just how smart our overlording technologists might not be. Nobody ever once designed an interface with me in mind.

I don't mind, or not that much.

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SnowingIn

SnowingIn
"Lord knows this world could use some concerted frittering today."

The weather reporter seems to imply that I should consider panicking. I'm not panicking, though. I know that this storm will most certainly threaten my precious mobility, but it encourages me to reconsider just where I thought I was supposed to be going from here. A lengthening list of sudden imperatives intrudes upon my serenity, but the increasing impossibility of resolving even the least of them quietly thwarts those wants. None of them fully qualified as needs and I decline a clear opportunity to become ruled by whatever I believe myself to need. What if I needed nothing more than what already possesses me in this very moment? Invulnerable to any supplemental advertising, I might revel in some temporary semi-self-sufficiency.

The snowplow plies the roadway outside, piling freshly soiled snow berms across the driveway entrance.

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BreakingIn

BreakingIn
"At least I was used to them."

Our new cat slinks around the place like a sneak thief or spy. I fancy that I understand why, for I, myself, never qualified as resilient when encountering change. I tell myself, and rather over-proudly, that I carry an extreme form of context sensitivity such that I become a very different person when I'm immersed into a different place. I could be the poster child for Heraclitus' old saw about the same old thing being different in different places. As a child, when press-ganged into visiting my aunt's family in Southern California, I'd usually hold out for two or three days before finally consenting to eat anything there. Even familiar old milk tasted different, and not better different. I could even hold out on using the bathroom until my parents would finally resort to force feeding me into restarting my essential life systems. I empathize with the new cat. How utterly strange everything must seem to him.

We imagine that holding him will soothe him rather than ourselves, but he flees behind the couch when unattended, batting idly at curtain strings, peeking around the corner until we sing out another intended-to-be welcoming greeting.

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Pending

Pending
"I, too, am my father's son, and he could not fix much of anything at all."

I sit between storms this morning. Snow still covers the ground from that last one and the weather app warns of worse than that last one to come. Pending seems a perpetual state in these mid-latitudes. Living here yields a life spent somewhere in-between. When will that next storm arrive? There's always a next front just over the horizon. Will it come from the north, west, south, or, that most dreaded of all directions here, the east? Storms from the east seem to violate the first principle of western weather, which almost always travels on the eastbound train. When a counter-clockwise flow kicks in, though, it means heavy wintertime snow or battering summertime thunderstorms. Winter gets called for a day or two of spring before resuming its seasonal status quo again. Summer snow's not unknown. Like everywhere, the locals here proudly proclaim that if the current weather doesn't suit you, just wait a minute or two and another climate might just pass through. It's high desert with seasonal monsoons, crazier than a flock of schizophrenic loons.

Snow serves as the iconic image for all of Colorado, though peaks, let alone snow-capped peaks, do not cover most of the state's surface.

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Insubstantial

insubstantial
"The considerable spaces between molecules far out-measure the span of substances themselves …"

It first seemed as Insubstantial as pollen. I had to squint to see it at all. Even then, I felt uncertain whether I should trust my vision. I'd been fooled before, moonlight casting a convincing illusion of snow, though I was prompted by the weather report to believe a real dumper was coming. Even when I stepped outside, I simply could not tell for sure whether it was really snowing or just blowing around a little freezing fog. I stopped watching, focusing my attention on my inside chores instead, and shocked myself an hour later when I found the start of substance accumulating outside. The onslaught continued into the night, finally sticking to road surfaces around sunset. I'd check from time to time, still unable to tell if it was really snowing out there, whisps of blowing snow coming off the roof edge my only intermittent clue in the porch light backlit by darkest night. The ten o'clock news reported that the freeway was shut down for the twenty miles West of us, cars and trucks spun out in what so recently lacked any substance at all.

The next morning, the deck seemed knee deep in this so recently tenaciously insubstantial substance, a genuine undeniable presence by then.

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Homing ...

Homing
"Family catches up with us, not the other way around."

Homing pigeons have nothing on me, or on any of us. A serviceable homer might reliably return to a familiar place, but people can return to places they've never been to before. Home moves like a spinning kaleidoscope for us, vectoring overlays, a twisting Venn diagram casting a wide variety of shadows. Our home seems like a mobile home, unlike the old home place which passed out of the family after my mom sold off the back forty to the neighbor with the perennially remodeling house, the shabbiest place on the block, clear evidence that she was vacating her once prominent good judgement. Before, family would gather there and feel as though we were home. After, our previous concept of home shifted and still refuses to settle.

Home seems more concept than place now, contingent upon who's present more than where we congregate.

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PTBD

550px-The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights,
oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid
"I seem to be better able to recognize blessings in retrospect."

Trauma seems the most modern of disorders. Everyone I meet seems to be working hard to recover from some past experience. Unsurprisingly, most of these prior traumatic experiences lean toward the painful side of the ledger, but not all. A curious portion of these traumatic experiences seem to have been more closely associated with pleasure than with pain. While the painful ones grab the bulk of the headline space, I thought I'd today reserve a little place to speak about the other, less widely advertised ones, those traumas resulting from a surfeit of blessings, good fortune, or luck. I can speak for myself when I insist that my most difficult to recover from traumas came about because I experienced an unaccustomed stream of extremely good luck. I'd been seemingly bred for coping with negative outcomes, but found myself utterly unprepared to integrate dream-come-true quality experiences. I most often created some uproar in response, upsetting some otherwise perfect little applecart, which enabled me to quite cheerfully switch into a minor form of disaster recovery mode, a response I might refer to as PTBD or Post Traumatic Blessing Disorder.

Literature seems woefully ill-prepared to present portraits of prolonged happiness, reserving the happily ever after for a footnote very near the end of an otherwise disastrous tale.

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GreatSignificance

michelangelo-creation-of-adam
"Whether any of this amounts to anything at all, couldn't possibly be the point."

I try to imagine myself accomplishing things of GreatSignificance, though I usually struggle with my attempts. GreatSignificances only emerge from great distances, it seems, and almost never from up closes and personals. Later, perhaps much, much later, the parsing might resolve to highlight just how terribly important that by then long-distance event was. It might be important to acknowledge that in the actual moment of occurrence, its GreatSignificance had yet to emerge, however much any participant might have sensed its presence then. Within the larger scale of history, most current events resolve to fuss, perhaps fuss with feathers flying, but little more than fuss. I suspect that any odd second might spawn the greatest event in the history of our universe, but it probably won't.

I'm picky, anyway, sincerely believing that I might pick and thereby choose the activities destined to age into a legacy of personal greatness.

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BigDeal

BigDeal
"If I'm not feeling overwhelmed, I'm never feeling very much at all."

I'm at my best when under the thrall of some BIG, hairy, audacious something. I might be able to limp along with some molehill conflated into a mountain, but my mileage soon lags as if I were dragging along rather than leading any charge. I find my best resources when I'm almost convinced that I couldn't possibly access enough to satisfy the situation before me. Furthermore, I seem to need to really, really, really want some likely impossibility before I ever come close to discovering what I'm capable of producing. I initiate none of these pursuits confident of my ability to achieve closure, quite the opposite. The pall of probable failure must accompany me almost every step of the way. I might conclude my work uncertain if I actually crested the originally-envisioned peak, but for the duration of the effort, I will feel curiously compelled. I might conclude afterwards that my efforts were never really about achieving anything, but more about the heart-filled pursuit.

It doesn't work to make a BIG deal out of some obvious triviality.

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HollowSpace

hollowspaces
"No will in the universe countermand's any season's commands."

A glance out the front window into the predawn darkness convinced me that a thin dusting of snow had fallen overnight. Stepping outside, I saw that moonlight had created an optical illusion. No snow had fallen. This morning, I told myself that I would not be fooled again when I glanced through that same front window, then I stepped outside to find a light dusting of snow and no moon. The neighborhood, and by extension the whole world, seemed hollow inside, as if I live within a snow globe's confines with no possible escape route. I felt hollow inside, too, a recursion befitting the season. Septober's definitely over, Octember's clearly begun.

I'd pruned out the wildflower garden in my shirtsleeves the afternoon before, absorbing warmth from the late day sun.

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Conflating

conflating
"My weaknesses could be my greatest strengths in unlikely guise."

Conflating doesn't have to mean mistaking one thing for another. Congruent conflating means nothing more sinister than combining two separate entities to produce an integrated new whole. Incongruent conflating, though, juggles apples and oranges while imagining them the same because they both travel beneath the ambiguous flag of fruit. Add a tomato into this conflation, and a logical fallacy might become more obvious, since most of us know but cannot quite accept that tomatoes are fruits rather than vegetables. Conflations seem to say much about how one parses their world. Insanity involves employing differing parsing strategies. So does genius. Seeing similarities between traditionally divisive distinctions can create harmony or great discord. Jesus is said to have insisted that he would see the unapologetic sinner on an adjacent cross in paradise. His conflation of sinner and penitent might have blown up the distinction between good and evil. He claimed that all humans are sinners. How do we tell the good guys from the bad one, then? Hat color? Religious turmoil persists.

Conflating has become a growth industry.

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AfterEffects

AfterEffects
"How else could any of us deal with the volume of accumulating AfterEffects we inherit?"

We talk about effects, but might be more deeply affected by AfterEffects, those unanticipated externalities closure brings. AfterEffects delay that expected closure, sometimes permanently. Long after "completing" the race, the race somehow continues in the complaining of a suddenly and surprisingly bum knee where there was never before any bum knee. The race continually haunts, threatening permanent disability. My two weeks spent devotionally kneeling before my great wall refurbishing project left a little knee stiffness behind after I'd finished my extended display of agility up and down the scaffolding. I thought little of it at the time, as though it might prove to be little more than a mildly bruised ligament or less. It's been over ten days now and the discomfort seems greater now than it did when I'd just concluded. I wonder if I've deluded myself again.

This bum knee encouraged me to think about all the AfterEffect externalities I carry with me.

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Reassurances

reassurances
"We need more critics about as much as we need another alarming increase in greenhouse gasses."

I believe that reassurance must be the primary responsibility of primary educators. I'm not suggesting that reading, writing, or even 'rhythmatic should disappear from the curriculum, just that Reassurances seem an essential precedent to successfully learning anything. The ever-popular whip and chair techniques only scare students into attempting compliance. The result might well seem wooden and tentative, lacking supporting self-confidence instilled first by means of repeated Reassurances. For those concerned that prominently focusing upon reassuring might produce snowflake students, so emotionally dependent upon supportive stories that they lack the callouses necessary to get along in life, I turn a scoffing cheek. Those who rarely receive reassurances turn into the most emotionally needy, callouses and all, if only because they ARE emotionally needy thanks to the severe shortage of Reassurances in their lives.

I was always afraid of my teachers, and almost terrified of learning.

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Slurvey

"You're doing just about as well as anyone could reasonably expect, given the circumstances."

I visited my nurse practitioner last week, so I could hardly feign surprise when the easily anticipated customer satisfaction survey showed up in my message queue. My first thought insisted that I should just delete that sucker before it spread, but I felt too lazy for such decisive action then. I this morning decided to just open up the link to discover if anything there might prompt me to respond. I was pleased to find that this survey had been designed as I believe all surveys really should be designed. I could respond to any question by not registering a response to that question, a critically important feature of any useful survey, lest the designer's presumption that their target might provide useful information to any question doom the potential relevance of the whole danged instrument. I usually peruse these damned things before deleting, if I even peruse first, but this time I decided to duck through the small gauntlet of questions by not responding to any of them before completing the two designated optional boxes at the end. I told them who I was and how they might contact me, then slammed the enter key (which, predictably, exited me from that domain.)

I despise surveys because they almost always ask the wrong questions, and sometimes fail to even successfully present a single wrong question, but simply irrelevant ones.

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Playoffs

Playoffs
"I know that it's never over until it's over …"

By mid-October, even the very best major league baseball team has been running on fumes for at least a month. Whichever team embodied invulnerability through August, starts showing some cracks. A key player or two show up on the disabled list and the play-by-play commentary starts leaning toward the team that was rather than the team remaining on the field. Playoffs seem like a Special Olympics for professionals by then more capable of delivering winces than clutch hits. Games become excruciatingly tedious as recently reliable pitchers revert back to their pre-season performance levels and batters watch pitches repeatedly wiz almost over the plate. Some games see almost no scoring, so-called small ball, where strikeouts and short flies dominate what hardly passes for play. Other games turn into stumble sessions defined by errors and misjudgments. The two teams surviving this final gauntlet, one from each league, are deemed proven prepared for one final best of seven game face-off, one of which might be called due to snow.

Players show up wearing cowls and layers, and balls fly about as well as rocks.

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Nevermore

Nevermore

"Why, I wonder, has it taken so very many words to report that no words visited me today?"

What if, I wondered as I slinked down into my writer's chair this morning, I find nothing to write about today? I peeked back through the last three years of material I'd written on this date and found it good. I scrolled back through the prior couple of weeks' stuff and stumbled away impressed (if I do say so myself), but what if this morning brought the day when I found nothing remaining worth saying anything about? What if? I've seemingly invested so much of what I've grown to believe represents me being here that I fear a vacuum might make me disappear. It would be as if my recurrent delusions of invisibility had come to fruition, that my walking could no longer produce footprints, as if the shrubbery no longer whispered with my passage. I wouldn't even be a ghostwriter then, perhaps not even a ghost.

I received in my email this morning a request to connect with a fellow on LinkedIn.

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ArmchairPhilosophy

armchairphilosophy
" … nobody ever really pays the slightest attention to philosophers …"

I hold the opinion that there's no such thing as a comfortable chair and that the belief that there could be such a thing has become a burden to mankind. I freely admit that I possess a deep aversion to furniture in general, particularly to the purchase of it in any form, though I do allow inheritance as the sole proper means for acquiring it. The Muse and I own a remarkably mismatched furniture inventory. Different ages, styles, colors, and concepts combine to exude an otherwise unattainable Early Undergraduate ambiance. Each chair stands as a unique form of torture, with each most certainly its own form of torture. Oh, one might just seem comfortable upon first sit, but try staying put for a half hour. I simply cannot. I can perch for a few fleeting moments before something seems terribly awry and I simply must move myself somewhere else.

I've grown to prefer sprawling on the floor when I watch television.

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AntiSocialism

AntiSocialism
"In any contest between social and anti-social, I choose the social, even if some wag attaches a misleading -ism to the tail end of it."

We live in an era of rampant paradox. I wager that nobody understands a single slogan, yet we speak almost exclusively in slogans. We interact via a medium euphemistically referred to as Social Media, a place where anti-social speech seems expected and surprises nobody, not even those it shocks. In politics, we argue as if every issue were all or nothing and as if moderation rather than extremism was the greatest crime of our time. Trump employs the most offensive speech for those he derisively refers to as socialists, offering a clear choice, I guess, between social and anti-social candidates, with him embodying the latter. His strategy seems to rely upon confusion as its primary enlightening element, betting that he can persuade more voters with provable bullshit than his more social opponents ever can with simple truths. Truth, in his crude calculus, is socialism, pure and simple, and socialism, by definition supported by flurries of out-of-context references to obscure discredited economists, seems to be evil. Truth is thereby proven to be evil. How could it be otherwise?

I will not mention the most "socialistic" government program ever devised, the Oil Depletion Allowance, the original tax-everybody-to-subsidize-the-richest operation, and perhaps the most socially ruinous, vehemently defended by the most self-proclaimed conservative and anti-social voices.

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OilyBoyds

OilyBoyds
"Just who could I think of myself as being otherwise?"

Back in the days when high speed Internet access was scarce, I took to writing at Starbucks when away from home. I'd arrive when they opened at five am, and settle in to write at a front table looking out on a deserted street while conversation from across the shop grew increasingly loud and occasionally annoying. I'd slip in and out of my writing coma, barely aware of my surroundings. An hour or so later, I'd finish up, surprised at just how bustling the place had become. The early arrivers seemed to invariably be older men. Their conversation an unsurprising mix of sports, politics, and local gossip. They seemed insular, a self-contained little society, probably life-long friends. They seemed to be on a first name basis with the counter help. I seemed hardly a shadow there, myself.

As I've grown older, I feel a growing compulsion to get up and out early in the same way as a younger me might have felt compelled to go out in the evening to mingle with crowds.

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TheEllWord

IMG_4381
Before
Painting by D. Wilder Schmaltz, May 2001
IMG_4373
After
Photograph of the same place, October 2019
"True love doesn't guarantee a happy ending, but a more engaging life."

A friend asked me why I went to all the trouble of scraping and repainting the front of our house and I surprised myself a little bit by responding with, "Love," but I couldn't honestly explain my effort in any other way. I feel a devotion to that place, a deep sense of stewardship that might not make any sense to anyone else, but which makes perfect sense to me. Over the nearly twenty years that The Muse and I have owned the place, it's taken up a great deal of space in my heart. I might, by all rights, hate the place by now. It can be overwhelmingly needy. It's proved me the fool so many times that I by all rights should be reduced to drooling my dinner down my shirtfront. Worse, we've lived away from it longer than we've lived IN it. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

It keeps calling me back.

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TranSitIon

TranSiTion
"I have no idea what comes next …"

The early flight out of Walla Walla departs at 5:15 AM. I wake myself at 2:30 to watch my alarm clock tick down to my scheduled wake-up time. I'm out the door before a quarter to four, struggling with my brother-in-law suitcase over-stuffed with leftover tools and work clothes. I call that suitcase my brother-in-law because dragging it around feels like I've brought a clumsy, indecisive shirt-tail relative along. I find a conspicuous spot to ditch the step=son's enormous truck and lock the keys inside, then schlepp my baggage into the terminal. Small town airport check-ins lean toward the informal until trying to pass through Insecurity, which seems over-staffed with a half dozen unbelievably busy agents hovering around the process. I'm almost first in line, but still spend fifteen minutes while two agents pour through my knapsack's contents, which I know includes at least two illegal items which I should have sequestered into a separate plastic baggie. I've carried that nasal spray and those eye drops through Insecurity for over ten years and never been busted. They ineptly reorganize everything before passing the bag back to me, curiously handing over my car key and a flash drive separately. The couple behind me receive similar scrutiny.

The airplane looks like a preying mantis, ungainly in the pre-dawn squall, the inside miniaturized.

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FiguringGround

FiguringGround
" … even if that hero only ever existed in my own mind."

I ask myself, "What am I to make of that?" because my experiences seem unendingly ambiguous. Was that a last result a blessing or a curse, or even worse? I never can tell for certain, so I face some choices. By what criteria might I judge an outcome, each of which seem to serve as a set-up for some subsequent experience in a seeming never-ending chain? Today's delay might later prove to have more properly positioned me in ways that an on-time arrival could not possibly have. Today's disappointment might well become tomorrow's godsend. Today's blessing, next week's curse. It's even worse than simple either/or. Though the patterns seem to replicate, none of any of this has ever happened before. We are the pointy end of a very long stick. We clearly perceive neither our origin or our destination.

Two weeks of intermittent effort seems to have produced an array of changes.

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Dreader

dread
" … no easy mark for all the voices that shriek through the dark."

Some seem to exude confidence. I inhabit the other end of that scale. I exude dread. I don't envision worst possible scenarios because I'm confused by the concept of worst, but I only very rarely anticipate anything turning out right. Any impending event can send my imagination spiraling into likely complications. I tend as a result to enter well-prepared for what only very rarely ever occurs, and no amount of contrary positive experience has (yet) drained me of my preternatural dreadiness. Any fresh challenge, every freaking aspiration sends me crouching into the experience. My current refurbishing project serves as a fine case in point. I fuss the finer points, sure, and also natter over the larger ones, too. My head grumbles like a zoo just before feeding time.

Am I a man of little faith?

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Workitation

workitation
"Those without long, unforgiving rows to hoe might not ever come to know …"

Plumbers work with their mouths closed. Some work demands taciturn incumbents. Long incommunicado hours foster a rich internal world. Ear worm jingles give way to recollection and quiet consideration and a kind of meditation sets in. Endless uncountable hours spent in repetitive motion does not degrade the craftsman, but seems to elevate him instead. He's not so much working as workitating, as immersed in his experience as any cloistered monk might be within his. Time loses relevance. Aching joints shed their significance. Authentic transcendence settles over the job site. Phone calls seem to come from other dimensions. Removing gloves to answer disrupts the trance, if the ringing even penetrates the serene flowing bubble. I might not be home then, anyway.

Judgement seems to sharpen within this flow.

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Yretsam

MirroredMastery
"I didn't know how to tell him that my paint choice had almost nothing to do with the end result."

I suspect that every social scientist suffers from Maslow Envy. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which presumed to delineate a set of sequential stages necessary to achieve self actualization, reverberates as perhaps the foundational presumption of most every social science. The nagging fact that it's probably wrong notwithstanding, it provides a clean and convenient framework within which to consider otherwise terribly fuzzy concepts. The fact that it's irreducible, remarkably impervious to scientific proof, only makes it more powerful. If only I could concoct such a foundational model rather than run down one that just seems so right to so very many. I'm not even a social scientist, yet I admit to carrying my fair share of Maslow Envy, too.

Back when I was still an active consultant, I employed models to impart concepts I thought my clients might find useful. Some actually proved useful

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WrestOrRant

smallplates
"I'd really prefer to depart with something other than notching in my belt on my mind."

One phrase strikes terror into my soul: Small Plates. Tapas run a close second place. I never know these days what I'll find when I step into restaurant or diner. Dinner might await me there, but it seems increasingly likely that I'll find little more than a feast fit only for a Barbie® doll and her friends. The menu might not describe the portion size, misleading my mind into believing that just because it promises roasted winter veg that they won't come reduced to a meager puddle almost obscuring the three (count 'em, three) halved fingerling potatoes vainly trying to avoid suffocation. The lamb chop up top, so encrusted with heirloom herbs and crap that it appears to have been a stillborn mistake from a faulty EZBake oven in the back. I'm still hungry just looking at it, the plate that would be supper. I'm still hungry after, so I order another consoling beer and ask the waiter to bring me a pile of fries like that woman's plate over there. He does not charge me for this supplement to my meager supper.

Restaurant has come to mean, loosely translated from the original French, "leave hungry."

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MissedAppropriation

MissedAppropriation
"I might most vehemently defend what was never really there at all."

We seem to hold many fallacies as self-evident truths. Even those who preach against the likelihood of physical evolution seem to hold social evolution as unimpeachable truth. We might not be descended from monkeys, but some (most prominently, themselves) sure seem clearly superior to others. They might even cite some behavioral psychology experiment performed on birds or dogs to justify human behavior, shrugging in acquiescence to what they might firmly believe to be immutable scientific fact while quietly discounting a raft of conflicting experimental results. They defend social status quos as god-given and progressive-minded change as the devil's own handiwork. I suppose, given random, entropy-infused experience, humans simply must project some sort of reassuring patterns onto the screen. Our projections seem drawn from simple models, side-stepping the more physically common exponential and logarithmic progressions, preferring straight-line addition of two and two over anticipating any point on a wave or curve. We fill ourselves with these fantasies and they quickly become our baseline realities.

What are we supposed to believe, anyway?

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Hard(ly)Work(ing)

HardlyWorking
"I am a man because I harbor such delusions."

My Puritan forebears would today easily be classified as masochists. They prayed hard, sure, but they worked harder, and not exclusively for the glory of any God here on Earth, but for the glory of the real estate speculators who'd financed their incursion. They arrived at Plymouth deeply indentured, beneath the yoke of powerful financial interests with the ear of the king. Their's was a speculative endeavor, certainly no sure thing. They'd traded a settled existence for an unimaginably primitive one, the sobering yoke of great debt perhaps most prominent on their shoulders. Many didn't make it. I might reasonably insist that only their myths survived.

Their myth intertwined piety with hard work, self-sacrifice in pursuit of so-called higher ends.

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IdlingTime

IdleTime

"The end, a terminal condition where IdlingTime starts threatening me again"

Forget the Chinese Water Torture. Ten years at hard labor? Kid stuff! If you want to inflict maximum punishment, mete out a sentence of a hard week of forced idleness. Prevent the convict from breaking big rocks into little ones. Set him in an isolation cell with nobody to tell him to do anything at all. Treat him as if he was not there and he'll more than disappear. Forced IdlingTime takes away even the more engaging mind. Force me to take a week reclining on a sunny sugar-sand beach and I swear that I'll go bat-shit crazy for you. Take away my keyboard. Rain me out for two mornings in a row and I already know where I'll go. I'll try to escape into sleep, but sleep won't come then. I'll look for a place to lie down, then watch my mind spin without engaging any flywheel. I'll burn my whole tank of gas without leaving anything behind to show that I was even there. True desperation.

I do not find vacation time rewarding.

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PickEmUp

pickemup
" … fifteen hundred pounds hauling a bedload of air and leaves blown in there late last autumn."

I possess no more than glancing knowledge of PickEmUp trucks. For me, they serve as an annoying presence on the road. They goad me from behind before leaving me in their dust and coal smoke. I've borrowed my share from brothers-in-law to haul the odd load of yard prunings or to move a few bed-fulls of grape skin mulch from a winery, but always with an alien's eye, the driver's seat too impossibly high a perch. The steering wheel positioned inconveniently right between my eye and the windshield, a patina of dust and grit priming dashboard and jockey box. I'd crawl between destinations feeling as though I was piloting The Queen Mary through narrow channels, the turning radius of a mile-long coal train, gun rack in the back window.

These ungainly vehicles have become an unlikely symbol of masculinity.

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RainedIn

cancelled
"What else was life supposed to be besides a series of clever recoveries from the way it was supposed to be?"

The chairs still sat atop the tables with lights still low when I showed up at 'my' Starbucks to write this morning, so I decided to try the truck stop instead. I found a welcoming wi-fi signal there, and an atmosphere much more conducive to pursuing my intention. No soundtrack blaring. No deaf regular screaming everything he says. No altogether too high-test decaf to jangle my spirit. As quiet as a library. My huge DIY project looks like it will be delayed today, with weather reports increasingly agreeing that today and likely tomorrow, too, will be rained out. Baseball games still get rained out. Sometimes schools close when the snow flies. Flights might get delayed or cancelled when threatening weather settles in, but most activities continue as if invulnerable to any kind of vagary.

Where might a person find a reliable source of disruption for their plans if not even a rainstorm can get much cancelled?

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MindlessEffort

MrMachineManual-7
"My name is Mr. Machine!"

Once I've laid out the job, my mind starts reducing it, influenced, I suspect, by The Principles of Scientific Management I've so long reviled. I am not, I insist, a machine, except, of course, when I willingly assume the role of machine while in pursuit of completing some repetitive series of tasks. Then, I'm actively searching for movements I might reasonably eliminate, seeking a pattern of least resistance, creating a simplified set of repetitive motions of the sort which might well leave behind permanent damage. I willingly, enthusiastically become a machine. The jingle from that sixties toy commercial endlessly echoes through my head: "Here he comes, here he comes, when you see him, you'd better run 'cause his name is Mr. Machine." I am become not light, not a force for goodness and right in this world, but a genuine machine.

My mind feels perfectly satisfied with my self-appointed role.

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ExpertAdvice

expertadvice
The Conjurer, 1475–1480, by Hieronymus Bosch or his workshop.
"Another spare ounce of budding expertise standing in for a ton of actual skill."

Experts tell others stuff, exercising cheeky presumptions that the advice seeker cannot validate. Some of the stuff they share seems unlikely to the point of unbelievable, but then the more complicated human activities have always seemed counter-intuitive. Charlatan experts abound. There are probably already a hot half dozen YouTube videos posted on whatever subject you need, ready, and perhaps a tad too willing to offer "good advice," each of which kind of contradicts every other, worth every penny any novice might not agree to pay for it. Real expertise seems different from the phony kind, though, and as I began yet another semi-massive Do It Yourself project, I decided to engage in the one way most seriously dedicated DIYers never would, I consulted a genuine expert.

I had reason to believe that my expert was of the genuine variety.

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Trabbeling

trabbeling

"Do not for a minute envy my mobility."

The Muse and I find ourselves Trabbeling again. Merriam-Webster defines Trabbeling as a common variant of the more common traveling, and while a variant, the term seems to better impart what I experience. The Muse Trabbels all the time these days, so her mileage varies considerably from mine. I once lived on airlines, weighted down by so many frequent flier miles that they had to seat me way up front so as to counterbalance most of the rest of the load. Then, I was a fearless flier, unruffled by turbulence normal or exceptional. Now, I've matured into more or less a complete ninny.

I presume that an airline reservation will probably fly me into the valley of the shadow of death, so I consider flying anywhere a reminder of my inescapable fallibility.

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Septober

Septober
"If I can't own up to the inescapable fact that I started out all wrong again,
I will never make anything right."

This morning dawned grey and gloomy. Septober arrived with her usual mope. Autumn never has qualified as even the second runner-up in The Hopeful Seasons Pageant, a little too much goose flesh showing during the Catalina Swimsuit portion of the competition, I suspect. We know where Septober's going. In with a mumble and then out with a slam. It signals the start of a season featuring thick socks, slamming doors, and serious preparations for another overlong hibernation. We should feel cranky when considering this nap time.

The Muse and I head out early tomorrow morning for yet another extended absence from the Villa Vatta Schmaltz High, this time to try to refinish the front of the original Villa Vatta Schmaltz before Septober suspends outside work for another year.

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KnowingNuthin

snob
"I shake my dead in weary dread
when I sense a superior beside me."

Supremacy carries the certain scent of some internal sense of its own inferiority. Lording over another seems to leave the lorder looking a lot less lofty. Feeling special doesn't seem to be anything special, we've all experienced it, but that sense of being special serves like a museum piece, meant to be exclusively displayed on interior walls. Taking it outside disqualifies in ways nobody can convincingly say without appearing a contender as superior scold. It demonstrates a disagreeable neediness in the proclaimed possessor, a separation between heart and soul we all know signals a moldy mushiness within. It hardly seems to matter where the realm of superiority lies. Holier than thou seems more than slightly similar to smarter, richer, handsomer, and cliquier. Effeteness sleeps in its own lonely backstreet.

The effete sometimes gang up.

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BegEnding

Oroboros
"I hear autumn approaching."

I never come seeking closure, though sometimes closure seems to stalk me. It whispers, "The end draws near." It promises clarity but demands that I forfeit purpose, to exchange kinetic for static, questions for settled certainty. I never feel more alive than when first setting out. That first step seems the stuff of eternity, the last seems simply past. This book making makes for the strangest bedfellows, ones who sincerely want to share my scheming, who seem to need to somehow capture my soul, perhaps to sell it for something less permanent, like gold. I'm told that something called a market stands out there. Precisely where this chimera might lurk, I do not know. I do know that nobody could possibly show me where. It might exist in the great unmappable nowhere. Its presence scares me.

I come to the end of another season, one I began, like I start all seasons, with a purpose, indistinct as all proper newborn purposes should be.

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FakeNews

Bullshit1
"Simply swallowing seems to make me sick."

Our venerable New York Times seems to have come under harsh criticism for having published a glaring omission, a shortcoming that they reported shortly after publishing. The harshest critics complained that this little incident, and it really was, in the scope of everything, a microscopic error, proves a point they'd been trying to make forever, (Or did it just seem like forever?) that the mainstream (or, in their vernacular, "lame stream") media has always been untrustworthy. The critics scream (must they always scream?) "Fake News" again, but we're deaf to their frenzied exhortations. We know that the REAL Fake News outlets never report on their own shortcomings, so na-na-na-na-na-na!

Truth is, the venerable New York Times has never once published an edition that failed to include a few errors. It has likewise never published an edition that did not feature an A Section column entitled Corrections, where the editors fess up to their own shortcomings. It also publishes readers' letters, a disturbingly large percentage of which take umbrage with something the paper published. Hardly invulnerable to criticism, seeming to embrace it instead, this whipping boy of those who insist it deals exclusively in Fake News somehow manages to maintain the self esteem to publish, then publish again. Shameless!

Well, perhaps not completely shameless.

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