Rendered Fat Content


About 90% of painting requires no paint. Preparation so dominates every job that the act of painting nearly qualifies as a vacation from the real work. In the paint store, 90% of the shelf space does not display paint, but preparation supplies. On the job, the paint cans idle while the would-be painter scrapes, sands, washes, caulks, and putties the surface in question. Calling such work painting seems equivalent to calling writing punctuating.

This is honorable work, one that discloses quite a lot about the one engaging in it. The finished product might well out-live the creator; each brush stroke potential legacy. The next one in line will know almost everything worth knowing about the previous painter of this particular surface; their patience or lack thereof, their taste, their values, their skill. Slip over here for more ...



Twenty five days into this adventure and I’m almost smothering on change. Sure, I’m still reveling in the familiar differences of my oldest digs, and I’ve been digging in the most familiar dirt, but the sideshows seem to threaten to overwhelm center stage. Look, it was straightforward. I’d watch The Grand Other, maybe putter around in the yard a bit, but The Other claims some mornings, “I don’t want to be babysat!”

”Okay,” I respond, “then we’ll grandpa sit today. You watch me.” And she does. Slip over here for more ...



I realized yesterday afternoon that I’d been here for two and a half weeks. I have a terribly long list of undone objectives, and I’ve been bustin’ my freaking hump every day. The gentility we found here before was supported by more grunt work that anyone should ever mention. Tough to reclaim that in a few days, even if those days happen to be the longest of the year.

The connections between the individual tasks take the largest toll. Wait times—for promised estimates, application forms, through the untenable hottest hours of the day—extend even the smallest tasks into tomorrow or next week. My body stiffens and aches, discouraging me from extended repeat performances, especially after a particularly productive yesterday. I see progress without feeling it. My ideals shift around tenacious realities. Slip over here for more ...



I despise learning. It disrupts my internal model of how this curious universe works, threatening me and my identity. It feels more like dying than living, more like influenza than like nurture. I don’t mind acquiring information, but reconfiguring that aging mental model hurts.

The Grand Other learns quite a bit every day. I understand why, by the end of the day, her mood devolves to cranky. Much of what she’s learning, she’s learning from teachers who seem unaware that they are teaching her anything. She a mynah bird and a skilled impressionist, mirroring almost everything she experiences. Slip over here for more ...



Progress might be the persistent illusion that something’s getting done when we’re merely rearranging deck chairs. I don’t say this to denigrate any of the fine deck chair rearrangers in any crew, for they often perform masterfully. Their’s is a performance, sometimes tremendously satisfying for both themselves and their audience(s), but it will not last. It will not settle anything. Nothing will be finished; nothing done.

I believe a balance persists through each iteration of any activity, all the elements interconnected. I can shove and dig, wash and paint, curse and praise without changing this balance, for the balance persists in spite of what I might do with the intention changing anything. I can even stand back at any convenient punctuation point and note how far I’ve come without ever knowing how far I still have to go. The effort might seem over, but it is more likely infinite; endless. Slip over here for more ...



I have no idea if I’ll ever live in this house again, this place we called home, the one we labeled The Villa Vatta Schmaltz because we felt as though we’d fallen into a vat of Schmaltz when we found it. Or was it that this house found us? This was no mere investment property. We did not even think about potential ROI. I’d never made a penny in real estate, perhaps because I’d never considered real estate investment-grade. One should never, according to my ethics, invest in anything as personal and sacred as a home. One moves because one’s moved. ROI sours the well.

Well, circumstances being what they became, we could no longer live here, though we retained the usual sense of responsibility associated with any real home. From three thousand miles away, we’ve had some difficulties overseeing or even very significantly influencing much that happens here. The place has a life of its own in our absence. We play catch-up with either an abstract ideal or a deeply-seated responsibility whenever we come back. Slip over here for more ...



Lewis and Clark and their entourage walked barefoot across a significant part of what is now Montana. Oh, there were small cacti underfoot, too. I never expect hurt to play much of a role in my adventures, but he always seems to find some way to insinuate himself in there. Drag a load of prunings to the pile and some muscle pulls funny. A hand unaccustomed to pulling that hand plow across rocky soil swells and aches the next morning. Halfway through the adventure, gravity starts pulling harder and the internal metronome assumes a slower cadence. Frantic fractures into slower motion and the goal seems to shrink further into the future than it stood before the adventure began.

I woke hurting this morning. Slip over here for more ...



For a four year old, truth seems a fungible commodity. She can and does generate more than her fair allotment of crocodile tears, but remorse seems to live only almost as long as the typical anemic fruit fly. She personifies expediency, equally savoring ill-gotten and properly-earned gains. She plays her grandparents as if the price tags still hung limply from our straw hats. She plays pretty much everyone, for the universe does in fact circle around her.

Pure ego must need such innocence to thrive. I lost that innocence long ago, trading up or down, depending upon your perspective, for more of the other stuff. My shriveled sense of self benefits from these immersions in a four year old’s centrism, though I’m apparently unable to replicate it for myself. I remain the boss, however, in matters involving permissions, even though I know full well she’s often misrepresenting her needs. She’s teaching me to say “No!” more emphatically, but also more lovingly. Slip over here for more ...



Visiting the old home town moves me to tears. Nostalgia, that curious force that opposes the notion that one cannot go home again, kicks in whenever I show up here. I ache only a little bit for the good old days, which were neither that good nor particularly old then. I’m moved by the hospitality.

Maybe absence does make hearts grow fonder, or perhaps the simple prospect of my leaving again makes it easier for others to appreciate my presence. My temporary presence might collapse what would otherwise swell into onerous obligation, freeing both my generous hosts and I from the normal day-to-day complications permanence insists upon. Slip over here for more ...



Aging seems to occur in insignificant increments. For most of most of our lives, we experience life as a relative timelessness with no more than brief glimpses of change. We ride a slow-motion train, destination well-known if largely unacknowledged, arrival indeterminate. I seem about as old as I ever was, though not quite as young as I used to be.

My mom was in the hospital again this week, admitted for observation after a bout of unresponsiveness. Her Parkinson’s might have spitballed her. The doctors couldn’t say anything but that she seemed not nearly ill enough to admit as if her condition were treatable, and well enough to release her back to her assisted living apartment where her needs overwhelm the staff. The doctor advised that we should expect to see a fairly rapid cascading of ill effects, each of which have more or less haunted her all her adult life, but now seem to be conspiring together against her survival. Slip over here for more ...



I built the composter first thing, before we’d moved all the way into that HUGE house. After years living in a tiny apartment with nothing more than a few containers for a garden, I was ready to become a real gardener again, and gardening demands tilth, well-rotted organic material, and that means composter.

I used plans from James Underwood Crockett’s Victory Garden book, what he called his Cadillac Composter. Three spaces of about a cubic yard each. The left-most for fresh material, the middle for half-done, and the right for the finished stuff; a simple, heavy wooden frame encased in chicken wire and landscaping cloth with boards stacked in milled grooves along the front. I bought a box of composting worms and started collecting every bit of organic waste I could get my mits on, but not grass clippings. Those sour the mix and are better left on the lawn, anyway. Slip over here for more ...



I hear trouble’s boiling over again in the Middle East. Somebody said Boehner’s still mumbling, explaining as malfeasance unintended consequences. Near as I can tell, the volume and velocity of rhetoric remains unchanged, except for the unmissed absence of one usually attentive observer. I scan the headlines of this small city’s daily, my Washington Post subscription suspended for the duration of this adventure, but no news seems terribly new.

The World has shrunken to about the size of a familiar backyard, Slip over here for more ...



I swear I could spend most of my days roaming around in my head. Well, I do spend many of my days there. In the East, especially in the sweltering summertime, head space seems far preferable to anyplace outside. There, the sun rises and sets like a wet blanket, varying only by the smallest degree between morning, noon, and twilight. That sun slinks through his days, and I seem to slink right along with him.

Here, I set the alarm for four am, as if anticipating some grand performance. I sit on my brother’s patio, scanning the brightening eastern horizon with a child’s enthusiasm, and the sunrise performs entrancing magic tricks. Of course my brain’s clicking away all the while, but engaging with that world rather than disengaged with it. Slip over here for more ...



History used to live in books, large tomes featuring sepia photos of people wearing suits while farming. Now, it follows me around like the neighbor’s cat, a quiet, constant presence. I’ve spent so much of my life in this town, like a wheel spinning in place, that I find ruts most everywhere I look. I’ve dug this dirt before, and I recognize then remember the small idiosyncrasies each plot carries and every plant exhibits. I’ve resolved most of these difficulties before. They’re back again in slightly different guise.

I took my sweet time the first time through, thinking I was changing for the ages, but age seems determined to convince me that nothing I do will preserver beyond a season or two. Slip over here for more ...



There’s a secret in this house. Though nobody’s even whispering it, everyone feels its presence. Deep, dark, dreaded, endlessly fretted over, nobody goes unconscious around it. It hurts to hold it, even more to keep from mentioning it. Visitors can’t quite understand.

I make up stories explaining why this might be. They range from generous to scathing; each fiction. I wonder if the shame I sense might be fictional, too.

Might not a fictional joy elbow her way into this tragedy? She would be no more real than the unmentionable. She might even maintain anonymity by being unspeakable herself, but leave a palpable enlivening behind her. Slip over here for more ...



I remember a pristine garden, edges sharp, beds clearly purposed, shrubbery freshly shaped. I recall the textures leftover after sweating out a particularly recalcitrant stump, the scrubbed-clean scent of the dirt I purposefully disturbed, improved, then raked smooth. My arm still holds a small sore spot from carrying tub-loads of castoff out to the refuse pile, as if I’d never quite recover from that transformation. As if that work would be permanent. As if I’d accomplished something.

But this world tends towards weeds, which means my work here must always be at least partly composed of cleaning up and clearing out. Planting ain’t the least of it and harvesting hardly a blip on a lifetime’s radar; passing fancy. Prepping and schlepping account for much more than 90% of owning anything. Little sitting back to rest on laurels when that laurel bush really needs pruning. It will always need pruning. Slip over here for more ...



The Muse asked me to ask whoever was sitting in the seat next to me if they would be interested in moving ten rows closer to the front of the plane so she could sit next to me. I think the wiry guy wearing the camo ball cap in that seat opined as how he figured he was just fine where he was. I flashed The Muse the no deal sign and settled in. “I gawt m’ shit up there dow’ here already.”

I never did learn this guy’s name. Never thought to ask. I secretly labeled him Demosthenes because he spoke as if he had a mouth full of marbles. Sounded like Amarillo, Texas to me, though he claimed to live in Arkansas; well, Ar-Can-sawr. I later learned that his father hailed from West Texas. My ear’s getting better Slip over here for more ...



The Muse and I declared our exile ended last New Years. After five years’ separation from where our hearts once thrived, we tumbled into a love-the-one-you’re-with acknowledgement that permanent separation might not quite work as a lifestyle. Whatever the shortcomings, subtle and obvious, of living on the edge of Washington, DC, however unlike the ‘real’ Washington, we’d be better off just splicing in here.

I suppose some people might find the opportunity to be born in the right place and the right time and never have to migrate from there, but I suspect their number continually shrinks. Most, it seems, come from somewhere else, and whether that place was heaven or hell, the gradient between then and now requires some splicing together. The exile perspective presumes no splicing, though I’m uncertain if unspliced could ever be real. Slip over here for more ...



I admit that when I first heard about the Project Management Institute’s initiative to turn project management into a profession, milk snorted out of my nose. I knew, without possessing an ounce of prescience, where their effort would lead. I wish I could have been surprised, but I’m not.

Professionalism seems more religion than guarantee. The Golden Lie insists “increasing professionalism will improve quality,” but there’s little evidence of that. Twenty years after PMI began its professionalism push, projects succeed and fail at about the same rate they always have and always will. There seems to be little correlation between knowing about how project work is supposed to be done and improving the quality of that work. Slip over here for more ...


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