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PluralSelves

pluralselves
Frédéric Bazille: Self-Portrait (1865/66)


" … a life far removed from its author."


Most of the great nineteenth and twentieth century painters produced self portraits, works that at first probably looked very much like them but which later seemed to take on other lives. Writers perform this trick, too, for they also inescapably produce self portraits. I might argue that everything any artist produces amounts to another self portrait, whatever the content, and that each work goes on to live a separate life from its creator. Artists live life as PluralSelves, with at least as many instances of themself as works they produced. Publishing distributes an artist's work more broadly than their studio. In this way, an artist's presence need not depend upon that artist's physical presence. Their influence stretches much farther than they ever know.

Few consumers of any artist's work ever think to drop that artist a note of appreciation, just to thank them for exerting the influence they produced.

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APublication

apublication
Utagawa Toyoharu:
Newly Published Perspective Picture of the Gate
of the Palace of the Dragon King
(Shinpan uki-e Ryugu karamon no zu)
(c. 1772/89)


" … illegal prepositions at the end of imperfect sentences."


My son Wilder, visiting with his two kids over Spring Break, slipped upstairs as we waited for breakfast, returning with a slim volume. It was the long-awaited book of my dearly departed Dwarlink Dwaughta Heidi's poetry, freshly published. After she died, a family friend who had also lost her poet daughter, at an even younger age, volunteered to edit a volume of Heidi's surviving works, for her poetry seemed suddenly immortal, certainly more so that their author. My first wife wrote a brief forward, I contributed an afterword, and my son, an accomplished fine artist, produced the cover art. I held a thin slice of time in my hand.

APublication can achieve this sort of impossible.

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DamnedPandemic

damnedpendic
Weegee (Arthur Fellig):
Audience Reaction (c. 1940 - c. 1950)


"I'll always continue wearing my mask."


Our continuing Damned Pandemic has utterly changed my relationship with this world. Previously unimaginable reactions to what certainly appeared to be clear and present dangers left me feeling extremely paranoid. I gratefully took to wearing my mask, baffled why some found the task onerous. Fresh definitions of freedom emerged: I with my freedom to wear my mask in public, a great and reassuring liberty to me, and others, with their apparently belligerent insistence to never wear one, whatever the personal or collective consequences. I saw self-centered cynicism run rampant, even among family members. I, myself, sequestered. I took respite behind firm defenses. My paltry social existence further withered. I essentially became a hermit.

I invited a few into my bubble, and a bless
éd few accepted my offer.

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SmallStumbles

smallstumbles
Attributed to Augustus Cordus:
The Fall of Man with Scenes of the Creation (1544)


"This is Publishing?"


The first few steps disorient me. I had become accustomed to success, easy success, steps taken within my domain. Outside, trying different, I find walking disorienting. I cannot find my spot. I need to think carefully, ponderously, before moving, and even then, I discover that I'm moving in some wrong direction; not precisely backward, but not precisely forward, either. I seem capable only of SmallStumbles. I inch my way along. My more grandiose schemes utterly gone, I seek footholds and still stumble. I relearn that I can move forward in reverse, backing my way into my future, but I have to look over my shoulder. My perspective narrowed, I feel grateful for achieving any momentum and call that progress. Small steps with SmallStumbles amounts to initial success.

I'm not yet sold on the idea of Publishing.

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BreakingGround

breakingground
Winslow Homer: The Brush Harrow (1865)


" … hoping for better without ever really expecting it."


Spring threatens before arriving. I can imagine it already here even before the equinox, even while it continues snowing some mornings. The sun's angle serves as inexorable evidence of its imminent arrival. I'm caught unprepared. Even if I had properly prepared last Fall, I would still feel unprepared because everything suddenly wants doing at once. Wherever I might begin will feel like the wrong place to start, a distracting sideshow from the real effort needed. It doesn't matter where I get started. It very much matters that I begin.

However much I might have prayed for these days' arrival, I will drag my heels.

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Averting

averting
Rembrandt van Rijn:
Bust of an Old Bearded Man, Looking Down,
Three Quarters Right
(1631)


"I imagine that I am watching for it."


It's been a tough week here in old Lake Woebegone, or so Garrison Keillor would have said, starting another in a decades-long weekly update from his fictional home town on the prairie. He and his Prairie Home Companion radio program long ago left my Saturday afternoons, but it was a staple while it persisted. Little remains of much of my experience. I retain more writing than I seem able to manage and a few rather scant memories. I took very few pictures, opting for the primary experience rather than the experience of attempting to capture that experience. Shifting my focus toward Publishing, the challenges seem overwhelming. I find myself Averting my attention from the full ramifications of my fresh choice. I deliberately avoid trying to see the whole expanse before me. I can barely deal with whatever's right before me. I do not need the complications a panoramic perspective provide.

Averting seems like a minor art form, yet still a definite skill.

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HelpAsk

helpask
Pieter Jansz Quast: Lame Beggar Asking for Alms,
from T is al verwart-gaern [It’s already confusing]

(not dated-early 17th Century)


" … continue into the thoroughly unforeseeable future."


If Publishing differs from writing by the fact that it requires a community's effort, an early shift for the aspiring-to-publish writer must include the HelpAsk. This act does not really resemble asking for help, for our publisher nee writer can't yet form proper requests. He does not know what the difficulty might actually be. He suffers from symptoms and knows it. He further lacks even the expertise to properly select an expert to help. He might start 'asking around' only to find that he's surrounded by helpers whose real skills he never suspected. One, then another, will disqualify themselves for the best of excuses. The community first grows to include the self-rejected, though these people help, too, for their refusals help narrow the search and might even render the seeker a tad less clueless, though he's unlikely to feel any improvement. He comes to understand that he's more lost than he imagined, that he'd been inhabiting a kind of fantasyland where a sense of competence served as the common experience. He grows less competent my the minute, and feels this.

It would be perfectly acceptable to reject the call to this adventure.

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FamiliarTerritory

familiarterritory
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
A Way of Flying, from Disparates [Nonsense],
published as plate 13 in Los Proverbios [Proverbs]

(1815–17, published 1864)


"This lost feeling surely shows progress."


My blog's not working again this morning, an all-too familiar start to my day. I'll write my daily missive in the blog software's word processor anyway, out of long habit rather than for any rational reason. I inhabit FamiliarTerritory, a Very Late Status Quo Space, a convergence of shortcomings I have been watching close in on me for a very, very long time. The blog software has been hinting at impending failure for ages. I've been investigating resolutions without making discernible progress. I began a fresh series yesterday, and stumbled rather badly coming out of the blocks. I finally successfully posted something to SubStack before spending much of my following morning editing that content, fixing apparently unavoidable errors. SubStack turned out to be just as opaque of an application as my month spent researching it suggested it would be. I should properly be months if ever sorting out details on that platform.

It always starts like this.

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Authoring

authoring
Ryūryūkyo Shinsai:
Boy Writing (Edo period, 1615-1868)


"Welcome along for the ride!"


I became a professional writer thirty years ago, when I sold an article to a periodical for a couple of hundred bucks. I've been professing to being a writer ever since, though my brushes with actual publication have been infrequent. This distinction between writing and publishing gets to the heart of Publishing, for an author does much more than just write. Sure, writing's a huge part of the profession, but it amounts to little more than a beginning. While writing can be an isolating undertaking, Authoring's much more social. It requires a community to author anything, however hermit-like the writer's habits. Authoring requires emerging from that shell to engage with a broader world. Any introvert worth his temperament should shudder a little at this prospect.

My writing practice seems unsustainable unless I manage to connect to an output spigot.

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Sseccus

sseccus
Katsukawa Shunsho 勝川 春章:
Man Falling Backward, Startled by a Woman’s Ghost over a River
(c. 1782)


" … because it couldn't."


I came to understand that I previously understood Success backward. It was not as I'd imagined it before I began this dialogue with myself over its nature. I make no firm conclusions, just this observation that I must have previously understood it backward. I might acknowledge that properly engaged in, dialogue often produces this sort of result, which is to say, no conclusive result at all other than to suspect a previous backward understanding. Understanding grew, but also created less certainty, an apparent paradox which everyone might notice seems perfectly congruent with their own experience. We do not, as a general rule, ever get to the bottom of anything, though we might sometimes misleadingly sense that we're moving in that general direction.

The purpose of dialogue might just as well be this very outcome.

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Futures

futures
Giulio Bonasone, After Giulio Romano:
An Omen of the Future Greatness of Augustus (16th century)


" … we're heading in precisely that direction!"


Optimism seems an intrinsic part of Success. I can't imagine Success without a significant contribution from positive anticipation. The Eeyores of this world can't experience Success, perhaps because their perspective won't allow it to manifest. Those who firmly believe in their own positive potential seem to more comfortably realize some semblance of it. The belief need not necessarily be based upon any verifiable facts, and might well eventually prove to have been pure fantasy. It might still contribute positively to some sense of Success, even if it proves to be less than anticipated. It might be that Success mostly inhabits such Futures, perhaps better savored in anticipation than it will ever be in realization. Futures seem wide open, with ample space available for such notions. Presents and pasts seem constricted in comparison.

I try to travel hopefully.

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Pasts

pasts
Johann Georg Wille: The Philosopher of the Past (1782)


"It isn't, but was, and promises to one day be before slipping behind me again."


I most often imagine my Successes as assets, like coins stored in a bank, except I know that there's not really any bank there. I remember high points, but I ultimate must admit that I do not reside anywhere near them. They belong to my Pasts, the many and various people I've been and places I've inhabited. Each Success seems forever tied to the particular place and time in which it occurred, and though I sometimes think of them as if they were tangible possessions, I understand that they are not and never were. They exist as memories, which seem tricky characters sometimes capable of seeming real, as if they are living in this present moment rather than suspended somewhere before.

Each of my careers experienced some Successes.

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Grudgements

begrudgements
Jacob Duck:
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist
(mid-1600s)


" … steal every possibility for achieving Success"


I possess no foolproof method for attracting Success, just the collected anecdotes included in this almost finished series. These, distilled together, would not render much of a magic potion, and it was not my intention to write a how-do, Do-In-Yourself series on attracting Success. Success never was a commodity to be traded and conjured, but more of an ecosystem of experiences, emotions, knowledge, and actions. Attracting Success seems a fool's mission, but not quite so its opposite. I believe that the least of us can reliably chase away Success, and often without even thinking very hard, probably usually without really thinking at all. One element seems to undermine Success wherever and whenever it occurs, and that element seems to be Grudgement. Carrying a grudge quite naturally chases most of the positive energy out of the vehicle and renders the driver its slave. Carrying a grudge seems the surest way to ensure that Success stays just as far away as possible.

I present as evidence our most recent former President, who still hasn't conceded his most recent defeat even while claiming to be running for a repeat performance.

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TimePassing

timepassing
Claude Monet: Cliff Walk at Pourville (1882)


"Everything was different after that."


Success and failure seem every bit as mercurial as time, for the mere passage of time seems capable of utterly changing either's nature. An apparent failure can become a clear Success when seen through the long-ish shadow of additional experience. Events which seemed clear Successes in the moment they occurred can erode themselves into even clearer failures later. TimePassing seems capable of utterly reversing almost any experience, of turning pretty much any event into its opposite. There's real wisdom in the advice to sit on or with a failure before wallowing in it, for The Gods, or somebody, remain capable of fiddling with events, reversing their nature. A stumble might enable a better rhythm to emerge a little later.

I'm sure that we all have our stories of catastrophes narrowly averted by what in the moment appeared to have been a serious setback of fortunes.

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Puzzlements

puzzlements
Okumura Masanobu:
Solving a Puzzle (n.d., circa 1700-1760s)


" … no more often than occasionally, please."


When the annual New Yorker Puzzle Edition arrives, I resign myself to missing my usual reading material that week. I won't even look at the offered puzzles because they have always just confused me. Likewise, I hop over the New York Times crossword puzzle page. I find puzzles puzzling rather than entertaining. I consider those who dedicate themselves to Wordle, whatever that is, unfortunates. The Muse is forever playing solitaire or something on her phone. I find even the mention of card games boring. I will not submit to playing board games, either, with the very occasional exception of Scrabble. I find board games apply named in that they just seem boring. Given the choice between sitting quietly in some corner and solving a puzzle, I'll chose sitting quietly in some corner fifty times out of twenty.

I admit that Success sometimes demands that I solve some genuine Puzzlement.

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|Success|

_success_
Claude Monet:
The Departure of the Boats, Étretat (1885)


" … my purpose must be clear,
for it is always and without exception,
what my actions manifest here."


I think of Success and failure as areas rather like positive and negative arcs on the old number line, with Successes progressing outward to the right of the midpoint, and failures fading outward to the left. Both great Success and great failure can be represented there by their distance from the center. Some Successes don't really amount to much, less than ten on an infinite scale, while others loop off into the far, far distance. Same story with failures, though their emotional content leans toward the sorrowful rather than the joyful. Each point on both sides, though, denotes some emotional content, from small to great, and therefore might qualify for assessment as absolute values, rather than as opposites. Yes, sadness might well differ in content while similar in strength. A ten on either pole might then be considered roughly equal in content, though opposite in emotional texture.

I bring up this admittedly arcane point for a potentially useful reason.

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AbjectSuccess

abjectsuccess
Walter Crane: King Midas with his daughter,
from
Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1893 edition of
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys
(1893)


"The absence of its opposite …"


Midas stands as the archetypal embodiment of a certain sort of Success none of us hope to achieve. To at least try to be honest, his error seems innocent enough. He had not thought his greed to or through its logical extents. He overreached. Each of us has just as innocently stepped over some similarly unseen edge, if only when gorging at a holiday table. We celebrate our great Success and satisfaction, only to render ourselves miserable as a result. Too much of some good things seem worse than the worst of all possible outcomes. Midas sought a magic touch such that everything he touched might turn to gold. Granted that short-sighted wish, he found himself unable to eat or drink and, when he touched his beloved daughter, Abjectly Successful.

I suspect that each of us hold this capacity.

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Hackcess

hackcess
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Self-Portrait (1876)


"Hackcess ever only happens once …"


I admit that I've mostly lived my life outside the boundaries of propriety. I didn't seek an advanced degree before practicing my professions, but rather made up my approaches as I went along. I experienced at least my fair share of Success, but perhaps by unfair means. I dropped out of my high school typing class rather than flunk it, but I still went on to become a best selling author, though I'm still an absolute hack typist. I present all of my two and a half typing fingers as prima facie evidence, along with my best seller and the second dozen manuscripts I will have finished by this Summer's solstice arrival. I garden, but not according to anyone's rules, not really even my own, since I seem to continue making up my practice as I go along. I'm always learning but never learn
éd. Forever the hacker.

One way to most reliably fail seems to me to be to hold one's self to someone else's recipe, the way things are supposed to be done.

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ThePrice

theprice
Honoré Victorin Daumier:
The Print Collector (c. 1857/63)


"Success seems priceless"


The cost of Success might eventually come into question. The underlying idea being that the value of the Success should stand in excess of the cost, that Successful action should properly show a profit rather than a loss. Upon reflection, this sort of cost accounting should seem spurious since it employs less than uniform units. How might one assess value and on what basis? Likewise, how might one reasonably account for profit and, again, using which values? Close scrutiny should properly find the whole effort spurious if not entirely worthless. Few of us won't catch ourselves attempting to complete such an assessment, though, us having been reared within a capitalist system. We were raised to produce profit and loss statements.

When its comes to Success, though, we might prefer to cipher in units of happiness or joy.

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TrueConfessions

trueconfessions
Alfred Stieglitz: Dorothy True (1919)


"I must tell my stories or else …"


It's always seemed unlikely to me that I might ever Successfully meet any challenge. I tend to start with a glass already half empty or, more often, no glass at all with which to address the challenge. I eventually discovered my adequacies lurking in eternally unanticipated places, and that I almost always proved capable of Success, however impossible it had earlier seemed. There's a lesson lurking to be discovered in there, I suspect, but I hope it's not an obvious one. I despise discovering that I've been seeing right through some prominent something, the last one in the room to finally acknowledge what everyone else long ago perceived. It peeves me. It might be true, though, that I was never nearly as inadequate as I felt, that I could have always interpreted those sensations as representing something else besides my inadequacies, whatever that might have been. I might have always actually been more than adequate without hardly ever actually feeling as though I was.

I am learning that confessing really does clean up the spirit.

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Starting

starting
Hans Kleiber: Starting on the Hunt (20th century)


" … much, much, much better at it than I've ever been."


I think of Success as necessarily tied to completing something, but its natural antecedent lies in Starting something. I can become an enthusiastic finisher once some pattern of execution settles in, but Starting seems to be my nemesis. I do not easily get moving in any direction, regardless of how alluring any impending Success might seem. Until I've found some rhythm and anticipatable pattern, each opportunity just seems like another unopened can of worms to me, otherwise unnecessary complications. These complications might actually always be necessary, a little dedication test left expressly for my challenge, for if I cannot manage to get myself Starting, I'll never propel myself into any Success.

I search for a handhold, some place to start, for each effort seems first a smooth, blank wall.

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QuestioningDichotomies

questioningdichotomies
De Scott Evans: The Irish Question (1880s)


"We all know what happens then."


A decent enquiry seems to follow a predictable trajectory. It begins by making some clear distinction, defining its territory. Later, this initiating dichotomy starts breaking down, as the earlier clear distinction starts evaporating, first a little, and later, a lot. By the end of the investigation, the initial distinction should have properly almost completely fallen apart such that the beginning arguments might well seem utter nonsense, the subject having been rendered nearly absurd by then. Like this series, started in relative innocence, into the nature of Success, I have grown to question my founding premise. I no longer believe in Success as I once presumed it existed. I've reached no definitive conclusion, also typical of any genuine investigation. Our expectations might have been utterly poisoned by our too close exposures to crime fiction, where endings bring resolutions. The real world deals more in enlightening confusions.

It might just be that all dichotomies must ultimately prove to have been fictions.

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SuccessDelayed

successdelayed
Peter Paul Rubens:
The Voyage of the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand of Spain from Barcelona to Genoa in April 1633, with Neptune Calming the Tempest, Alternate Title: Quos Ego (1635)


"I revel most in those long-delayed Successes!"


Some messes prove difficult to resolve. I do not know why. The pile of boxes accumulating in the basement dated from a year ago last Christmas, if my forensic flattening figured out anything. Finally, yesterday, I tore into that mess and resolved it in something under an hour. I loaded up Elizabeth, our Lexus pick-up truck stand-in, and The Muse and I performed a royal procession to the cardboard recycling station at the local landfill. We were filled with a deep sense of genuine accomplishment, a feeling far greater and more rewarding than could have ever come from routinely dealing with those boxes as they'd come. That pile of boxes, long a source of quiet disgust, held great potential to produce tremendous satisfaction, but only after it had been liberally marinated in fifteen months of my most dedicatedly degrading procrastination.

Those months of quiet disgust at just how slovenly I'd been, turned into the greatest sensation of Success I'd felt since before last Christmas.

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Nullness

Nullness
Thomas Wright:
An original theory or new hypothesis of the universe
(1750)


"Success often resides in no result."


Determining when something's working can prove damnedly difficult. Scientists have over many, many years devised counter-intuitive methods for better bullet-proofing their assertions. Prominent among them must be The Null Hypothesis. This convention turns inquiry on its head, because instead of presuming effectiveness, i.e., something's different, it presumes no change at all, or no significant change. Success under this arrangement must be inferred because it might not prove directly observable. We can see what isn't much easier than we might see what might be there. This convention leads scientists to produce different conclusions than those produced by the typical lay person, even one armed with connection to The Internets, because the lay person tends to ask the wrong sorts of questions.

Search, for instance, isn't very closely correlated with research.

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Judge

judge
William Blake: God Judging Adam (ca. 1795)


" … exclusively reserved for my inner masochist."


Who judges Successes and failures? For me, I'll suggest that most of the time it's nobody but me. This assertion makes sense, since nobody but me witnesses most of what I do. I am usually the only witness to my actions. Only a select few of my engagements ever prove witnessable because most of them occur entirely, or mostly, in my head. A few busybodies with nothing better to do might be snooping over the back fence, but nobody really cares about their judgements, so they make lousy Judges, anyway. The ever-feared Court Of Public Opinion might render the occasional judgement, too, but only the upwardly mobile ever really care to seek their opinion. Bosses, spouses, and police forces each seem inattentive in comparison to my primary Judge: me, myself, and I.

I sometimes wonder why I ever subject myself to harsh judgement.

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SelfSaboteur

selfsabatour
Jean-Siméon Chardin:
Self-Portrait with a Visor (c. 1776)


" … my fair share of nothing much at all."


However Successful I might have otherwise become, I might always remain most Successful as a SelfSaboteur. I undermine my intentions in at least ten thousand shifting ways, rarely precisely the same way twice. I head myself off and detour my own progress. I discourage myself like a master chef fillets a salmon, one clean cut and my courage pulls free, leaving exposed flesh. I can be critical. I become distracted. I shift my priorities so that my heart's most fervent desire can't find itself on my schedule. I fritter most mornings away. I go to bed early and rise even earlier until I swear that I can find no time to actually accomplish anything. Most of my life has always seemed to be pending, idling, waiting for something. In all these things and many more, I count myself most Successful.

Success, though, real Success, hardly requires much excess time or talent.

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FeyLure

feylure
Hieronymus Wierix, after Ambrosius Francken:
Volwassenheid [Maturity] (1563 - 1584)


" … our world seems much more Successful for our forebears' fumbled passes."


My parents' generation matriculated in the school of hard knocks. Their elementary education, such as it was, occurred through the depths of The Great Depression. They came of age into a world at war with itself, where the battle between good and evil actually killed their cousins. They were as a result, traumatized and paranoid adults, easy prey for the propaganda of the day. They saluted the flag or else. They devoutly opposed everything Communist. They voted the straight Republican ticket because Eisenhower was the embodiment of the victory over evil in this world. They tried and gratefully failed to instill their world view into their children.

It has always been thus, parents failing to fully enlist their offspring into the trauma that fashioned their adulthood.

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AlsoRan

alsoran
Charles François Daubigny: The Dray Horses (1850)


"Such is the eventual nature of continual competition …"


Every horse race features a winner along with a second and third place finisher, losers, but still paying off some bettors. The balance of the field AlsoRan, but ran out of any money. These animals lost the race. They aren't even really considered contenders. Their statistics will reflect this disappointing outing. Some of this crowd, for it comprises the majority of the entries, will be on their way up, destined for better, while others experience another step on a long and inexorable slide. It might be that the majority of every field—the entrants in every race—contribute nothing more than contextual significance. They were never destined to win, more destined to lose or not really compete, certainly never competing in the way that the reliable winners do. They might be counted as present, but without distinction. They showed up without showing.

I believe that this AlsoRan state describes me, most of the time.

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HasBeen

hasbeen
Hendrick Goltzius: Gillis van Breen (1588/92)


" … the most Successful HasBeen I can remember."


No inquiry into Success could possibly be considered complete without at least a mention of the HasBeen. The HasBeen might have once held high office, but does no longer. His legend's much stronger than his presence. He once was, but is no longer. In government service, there's a protocol which insists that anyone retired shall forever be acknowledged by the honorific appropriate to the highest office they held. A former President shall be forever referred to as Mr. President, even though he might have also once been a dog catcher or a Senator. Ambassadors might come a dime a dozen, but nobody outlives that designation. There's just no living down some things. Those of us who never served in government might struggle to identify the highest role we ever fulfilled. Protocol remains mute on the question of whether it's appropriate to refer to an ex-Data Analyst II's highest position when acknowledging them or if the less noteworthy titles just defer to Mr. or Ms., though this suggestion backs up to treacherous pronoun territory, which should be avoided under every possible condition.

One ages into a HasBeen without volition.

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Begrudging

begrudging
Pieter van der Borcht:
Christus in het huis van Martha en Maria
[Christ in the house of Martha and Mary]
(1555-1608)


"Success brings no wisdom."


Begrudging seems the least likely side effect of Success, yet billionaires everywhere seem to have become full time disgruntled social commentators. I would have thought that a billion might have bought a certain sustainable level of satisfaction, but I would have apparently been wrong, and not a little wrong. Indeed, the very rich and (if only by implication, then) the very Successful seem to have been grievously wounded on their way up through the ranks. Not even those homes located in fabulous places or their super yachts or private airliners serve to salve those festering wounds, which appear to have become incapable of ever healing. Some spend lavishly churning up the rabble, funding propaganda campaigns and think tanks so well endowed that they never have to resort to actually thinking. Begrudging might seem beneath them, but it turns out to be their purpose instead.

Why, I wonder, do so many of the uber-successful consider themselves radical conservatives?

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Levitating

levitating
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [child floating in water] (c. 1950)


" … and it's "just" a feeling."


The Successful seem subject to overall less gravity weighing down their lives. They seem to Levitate above many of the most common human concerns. While I'm almost certain that they are subjected to precisely the same gravitational forces the rest of us carry, those forces seem to affect the Successful differently. They seem less a burden, less encumbering, as if they possessed their gravity rather than gravity possessing—owning—them. The unsuccessful seem as though they were owned by some onerous forces, invisible yet also seemingly inescapable. Maybe just an attitude distinguishes one from the other. If so, that difference sure seems to make a huge difference. They've always insisted that success breeds success, but it does more than that. It's like Success bestows a higher rate of return. The Successful seem to earn more than their more disappointed counterparts for the same amount of effort. Life does not seem to get them in the same way it gets others.

The Successful seem to age more slowly.

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-itating

-itating
Torii Kiyonobu II:
A Priest Sweeping in the Snow (1731)


" … sweeping that floor that never needed sweeping."


If you or I were to run off to a monastery to seek enlightenment, upon arrival, the Master would undoubtedly assign us some seemingly menial task and solemnly declare that work our chief responsibility. Basically, these assignments usually amount to sweeping floors that apparently do not need sweeping. If we find ourselves bored and go back to the Master seeking some more challenging assignment, our request would most certainly be rebuffed. We would be told to stick to the given job. Eventually, we might discover the deeper significance of our job that does not need doing, that we were not so much sweeping some floor that didn't need sweeping, but we were -itating instead, in this instance, probably med-itating.

Whether iterated sweeping floors that don't need sweeping necessarily leads to enlightenment isn't for me to say.

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Chimera

chimera
Gustave Moreau: The Chimera (1867)


" … just wait a minute and see what's served up next."


I suspect that the subject of any inquiry might eventually come to lose its initial identity. What began almost pristine in its innate separateness eventually faded into a seemingly self-sameness with its surroundings, to the point that it might have just disappeared. What was once such a specialize focus evolved to involve pretty much everything else. Try though he might, the investigator would find himself unable to segregate his inquiry into ever sharper foci, for the more he'd come to know his subject, the more it might well seem universal. Success, for instance, my focus these past two months, has expanded far beyond what I initially presumed might be its reasonable territory. I'm coming to believe that I could consider anything—any idea, any object, any emotion—in the light of Success, and find that idea, object, or emotion, somehow another integral part of it. This inquisitor's moved to wonder if this effect amounts to enlightenment, because it seems quite the opposite. Is endarkenment even a term?

The naive separation into individual pieces seems a reasonable enough starting point.

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DeepMystery

deepmystery
Gustave Moreau: Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra
(1875/76)


"Success often seems a stranger to me."


I hold many things to be DeepMysteries to the point that I, like everybody, I suppose, believe myself special, and not in any particularly good way. My DeepMysteries prevent me from engaging with this world as I imagine that I might, had I proven myself capable of resolving these DeepMysteries. These irresolutions do not really affect major situations, but minor ones, which in most ways makes them even more insidious, for I'm often stymied by some innocuous door handle or, even more often, packaging. I cannot get to the product inside thanks to the paranoid-level security system wrapped around the thing, which sits there so innocently within its perfectly transparent yet utterly impenetrable outer shell. I usually call for The Muse to help, since she is only very rarely stymied by such things. She seems to be able to quickly, even preconsciously, slip through barriers I cannot penetrate under any condition.

I purchased an industrial-sized package of dish washing detergent this week.

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Ex-Success

ex-success
Peter James Studio: Untitled
[man posing with "success" poster] (1952)


"Success only exists in past tenses …"


How long might a Success last? Some seem truly eternal while others quickly evaporate. We celebrate some Successes forever. Christmas, the celebration of light Succeeding over darkness, comes to mind. When the home team wins the pennant, it seems in that minute as if every fan in those stands has experienced something truly eternal, yet two short seasons later, those once heroes have become a gang of bums again, spoken of derisively by the counterman at the delicatessen. Most Success seems alarmingly fleeting, however peaky the initial experience. Repeat the story enough times, and even the hero would really rather forget that journey. After a point, it turns into nostalgia which no amount of retelling could ever reincarnate.

I carry my standard packet of Success stories.

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Fuccess

fuccess
Franz von Stuck: Wounded Amazon (1905)


"I'll never erase those debts my Fuccesses inflicted …"


I speak today of Success that feels like failure, the advancing through terrifying turbulence, the wounding of the enthusiastic optimist. We've all been through this, where the cost of advancement hardly seems worth the effort, though we convince ourselves that it probably will be, eventually, even if it sure doesn't feel worth it that day. Success can be a terrible taskmaster, demanding much more than we would have willingly invested when we started, but often no more than we'd enthusiastically part with under coercion, as necessary to turn off the punishment or nudge us across some promising finish line. We imagine the expense worth it, though validation of that presumption usually has to come later. We might always carry the scar of that Success, for that wound might just have made all the difference, a debt carried forward, a down payment never actually repaid. Sometimes Success changes more than one's fortune.

One might well learn to approach each opportunity warily, as if Success might feature teeth and claws, once it has wounded.

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Method

method
Albrecht Dürer: Tekenaar tekent een luit
[Draftsman Draws A Lute]
(1525)


" … perhaps they're necessary, …"


Method might be necessary but never sufficient. The baker needs much more than a recipe to Succeed. So does everybody, yet the trainers invariably start by sharing recipes. They possess a "methodology" and they promote it just as if it could contain baking's Gestalt, its practice. I suppose that teachers have to start somewhere and wherever they start just must prove inadequate to describe the complexities of the practice. Still, even the canny apprentice tends to imprint upon the recipe, their earliest introduction, as somehow emblematic of their practice, when it's just at best necessary but always, always, always inadequate, just like any entrance isn't the contents.

The recipes for Success seem numerous.

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Stinginess

stinginess
Juste de Juste: Pyramid of Five Men (c. 1543)


"Those who share the most toys, never really die."


Stinginess seems to have always been one of the more reliable indicators of Success. The Successful seem to become Scrooges while the more humbled remain generous Jacob Marleys. This apparent paradox, where those most able to afford dedicate themselves to hoarding rather than sharing, has become the very foundation of modern economics, where, even more than in ancient and even in antebellum times, wealth flows upward toward those least in need of it and away from those most struggling to supply it. The whole system seems some combination of heartless and needless, unnecessary, one of those anomalies we should have collectively figured out how to resolve, but we have not. We seem to be sliding even further from resolution.

I've never for a moment understood why any sentient employer would fight their employees forming a union.

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Impostoring

impostoring
Suzuki Harunobu: The Face in the Mirror (1766)


"… must be merely hollow inside."


It would surprise nobody to learn that virtually everybody engages in Impostoring, though there seem to be varying grades of individual mastery. Some practitioners work like ventriloquists, never moving lips or larynx, while others perform like the four year old in the family production, exhibiting much more enthusiasm than talent. Fifty years ago, this notion that even the apparently very Successful experience abiding senses of inadequacy, was still a closely-held secret. It might have been a prominent presence in even the most Successful's lives, but this had not yet been discovered and named. The pair that discovered and named this condition referred to it not as a syndrome, as it has become popularly known, but as a less dramatic phenomena. In the years since, this eighth sense has taken as prominent a placement as has competence in the skill set of the truly Successful. One can hardly Succeed these days without at some level faking the skill.

When I finished my big book, I remarked that it would forever stand as testament to what a sincere lack of faith in my ability can accomplish, for I never once had a sense when creating it that I was crafting anything very special.

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Satiability

Satiability
Honoré Victorin Daumier:
“- Mr. Alfred Cabassol! You are the only one in the class who succeeded
to get through the entire week without blowing your nose into your sleeve.
Please stand to receive this prize of honour for cleanliness,”
plate 6 from Professeurs Et Moutards
(1846)


" … moving forward, if not necessarily ahead."


Given the human tendency toward dissatisfaction, I suspect that the average Satiability of the typical Success seeker might be measured in minuscule quantities, hours and days rather than months and years, but I could be wrong. I know, or think I know, that when pursuing Success, I tend to get very single-minded, as if that objective was pretty much the whole of my existence and also that the satisfaction I'll experience will approach infinite. After, and often even just after achieving it, I feel more of an "Oh, Is That All?" sort of sensation before going back into trolling for yet another infinite-seeming satisfaction, which will, of course, fall short of expectation once delivered. Around and around and around I go. You might go around like this, too.

Some Success seems more sticky.

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EmergenceScenes

emergencescene
Rodolphe Bresdin: Biblical Scenes (Not Dated)


" … Successfully seeming so damned ordinary."


What if a writer didn't start with his story's end in mind? What if he considered his art, his calling, to be something different than transcription of a cleverly pre-developed plot? What if he never gave plot a single thought, but instead, considered conveying plot to be an emergent property rather than an underlying purpose of his work? What might result, aside from said writer being rudely thrown out of the fraternity? The result might produce EmergenceScenes, glimpses of what might easily be mistaken for deliberate plot were they not so divergent. They might sum to the same thing, after considerable considering, to produce a certain coherence not evident while the emergence was busy unfolding. Rather than starting with his ending in mind, the creator of EmergentScenes begins with the intention of discovering what might later be mistaken for a plot line. He begins by simply beginning with intention.

In our real world, in our lived lives, no clever plot lines exist.

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Spot

spot
Gordon W. Gahan: Star's Daughter (Fourth of eleven):
Her favorite spot for studying scripts is the big window sill in her Manhattan apartment. (1964-65)


"My internal state determines my Success …"


I have a Spot, a place where I feel emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and physically balanced and secure. I do not continuously inhabit this place, but seem to be trending toward inhabiting it instead. Some days, I find myself smack dap in the center of it, while on others, I cannot seem to find even its least edge. When I stand near the center of this Spot, I feel remarkably powerful and comfortable, "in my skin," as the old saying goes. When I'm away from it, I feel the absence, though not always deeply. When absent, I understand that I'm more likely to do something short-sighted, even stupid. I'm divorced from my very best when I lose my Spot. Losing it serves as grounds for some serious searching, and often searching in vain, for I usually prove inept when I've lost my Spot.

My Successes seem strongly correlated with my inhabiting my Spot.

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CruelOptimism

crueloptimism
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Le Cruel rit des pleurs qu'il fait verser
[The Cruel One Laughs at the Tears Which It Causes To Be Shed]
(1793)

" …
getting better and better!"


Novelist and radio personality Garrison Keillor described his fictional Minnesota town of Lake Woebegone as "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Nobody needs me to tell them that in no population do all the members measure above average for anything. We have all been schooled in proper comportment, at least to the extent that we understand that a passing question like, "How are you?" simply must be responded to in the positive: "Fine, thanks. You?" Our response might well qualify as pure fiction, but then so was the question, for it was mere acknowledgement of presence and never intended to encourage disclosure. Societies depend upon such understandings.

I last night began reading a book that I'm certain I will never finish.

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Style

style
Dominicus Custos:
A Grotesque Head with a Helmet in the Style of Arcimboldo (1594)


" … a nearly sacred responsibility to judge my own behavior …"


I yesterday experienced an existential crisis. I encountered another dark side of Success, the idea that it might be all about competing. I felt as though I'd fallen into an inescapable pit, like I'd made a poor, perhaps even hasty choice when selecting Success as my focus for a series. As with any existential crisis, I was blinded by an insight and could not see beyond it. I scratched a barely legible note on my cell wall and moved on into my day feeling supremely disappointed in myself. I sank into a bout of self pity from which I figure I might one day recover. My realization shook me to my core. My inquiry into Success had produced an overwhelming feeling of failure, for I had not intended and definitely never wanted to cast myself as a competitor. I consider competition to be a serious illness best treated by refusing to engage in it. I'd imagined that Success might be managed as something other than as a competition. I still believe this must be possible.

I could take each of the seven deadly sins and expose each in turn as a primary means for achieving Success.

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Complitition

complitition
Édouard Manet:
Beggar with a Duffle Coat [Philosopher] (1865/67)


" … might be an improvement."


I tried to imagine Success as something other than a result from some kind of competition. I failed.

I tried to imagine Success as something independent from winning or losing.

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T/MakingStock

t_makingstock
Berthe Morisot: Woman at Her Toilette (1875/80)


"Progress never was my most important product."


Checking progress has always been the great enemy of progress, for those focused upon making progress can barely bear to slow down, let alone stop, to TakeStock. My old friend Norm Kerth wrote a definitive book about this dilemma, reframing the stock taking into more of a stock making, transforming the drudge into celebration, but the connotation was never completely removed. TakingStock does not seem like a productive activity, and to those focused upon making progress, it's probably always destined to seem like a relative waste of time. It might mostly be a waste of time.

About every month, I finally get fed up with the lack of space in my freezer and clean out the sucker.

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Fear

fear1
Walter Gramatté: Die Grosse Angst [The Great Fear] (1918)


I Fear Success. I suppose that I am not alone in my feelings toward it, even though anyone might argue that Fear hardly qualifies as a rational response to the threat of Success. (Yea, Success seems threatening to me!) Fear, like all feelings, was never supposed to follow any rational ideal. Like all emotions, it visits on its own schedule, for its own mysterious reasons, and remains fundamentally non-rational. My job seems to be to figure out how to cope with Fear's appearances.

Success seems as though it might well complicate more than improve.

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AmplifiedReflective

aplifiedreflective
Arnold Böcklin: In the Sea (1883)


"Successful beneficiaries …"


Years ago, The Muse returned from a workshop with a fresh term. I deeply appreciate The Muse's willingness to subject herself to workshops, since that urge helps me acquire fresh perspectives I'd never willingly seek by signing up for a workshop for myself. I gain much vicariously that I steadfastly refuse to receive the old-fashioned way. I used to teach workshops, but I can't imagine a situation where I would agree to submit to one myself. I properly fear all forms of education and not only because I tend to test poorly, though I do tend to test very poorly, indeed, a condition that a lifetime of training has failed to improve. Altogether too much emphasis exists to somehow prove that students were paying attention and that they've managed to retain what might have never stuck. The purpose of education was never validation, but try telling that to a system trying to justify its existence.

The term The Muse dragged home was AmplifiedReflective, one which I instantly recognized as perfectly formed.

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Nuthin

nuthin
Pieter Symonsz Potter: Vanitas Still Life (1646)


"Nuthin' might serve as a perfectly satisfactory purpose …"


Of all that anyone might Successfully achieve, Nuthin' ranks near the top of the Most Difficult List. The difficulty seems to be the doing. Nuthin' requires nothing, and plenty of it, generously spread over time, and something about time naturally repels Nuthin' like oil on water. A few minutes into the effort, the monkey mind takes over and starts casting thoughts out into the ether where they try to take root, and even that simple nearly non-action ends up amounting to something, the opposite of the intended Nuthin'. Even if the monkey mind doesn't derail the initiative, boredom might doom the effort by driving the incumbent into something, however well-intended the effort at accomplishing Nuthin'. It's hard work, perhaps the hardest.

The Muse continues healing from her throat cancer, the primary treatment for which she finished three months ago.

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Proximity

proximity
Albrecht Dürer:
The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine (c. 1496)


" … a flow wherein the sense seems to come and go …"


They insist that misery loves company. It might be that every state aches for its similars such that any emotion promotes more of itself, any perspective creates the context for self-preservation and replication. Success seems to crave company, too. Perhaps the best preparation for any Success might come from merely placing one's self in close Proximity to some Success, be that person, place, or thing. Hang out with Successful people and I might find myself infected with something akin to Success germs, so that I might have little choice about whether to feel Successful. It "just" happens. Hang out in a place known as a Success and feel how deep an influence that place seems to exert. Our Successful remodel rendered our modest villa into a relative palace. We live like royalty as a result.

This simple principle might well justify a certain discernment, the exercise of careful judgement when choosing anything.

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SuperBorsolino

superborsolino
Gordon W. Gahan:
Untitled [man in white shirt and fedora] (1965-1968)


" … clearly styling."


Success seems to attract symbols of its presence, none more prominent, I suspect, than wardrobe. We 'dress for success,' as if our manner of dress would quite reasonably attract Success to us, and I suppose that this practice even works, after a fashion. I know that I subscribed to 'dress for success' magical thinking during my tenure at The Insurance Company. I'd carefully shop the sale racks at the "better" haberdashers, and spend every Sunday evening ironing my week's shirts, heavy on the starch. I arrived at the office each morning in costume and ready to perform the role of up-and-comer, poised to impress myself, if nobody else. And I suppose those strange attractors worked, more or less, for my fortunes steadily rose there, and that Success could not possibly have been related to any particular talent I possessed. I might as well blame that Success on the vests.

Others possess lucky underpants, socks, and tee shirts, and some even carry a "lucky" rabbit's foot on their keychain.

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Askemption

askemption
Isoda Koryusai:
Girl Playing a Prank on a Young Man who is Napping (c. 1769)


"It must have just happened just because."


I do not consider myself incurious, yet I frequently squelch one line of inquiry. I might with genuine curiosity ask the usual who?, what?, and when? before squelching on the why?. I do this because I long ago decided that why? serves severely limited utility and mostly fails to rise up to within the range of a necessary question and worse, why? most often proves to be an absolute barrier to resolution. In those rare instances where my personal motivation might come into question, and where I'm the one expected to perform the answering, why? seems an entirely unremarkable question, but these conditions rarely reign. More often, the situation involves another's presumed motivation coming into question, or worse, a chain of presumed motivations shared between a string of actors, none of whom seem available for cross examination. Then, I can only deepen the mystery by asking why? questions. Insisting upon answers from an apparently indifferent universe seems as though it could only ever make matters worse. I try to remember to cease and desist then, and grant myself an Askemption.

Success often stands beyond closure.

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Approval

approval
Gabriël Metsu: The Herring-Seller (c. 1661 - 62)


" … rendering the whole system suicidally cynical."


By the end of his second year in office, President Joe Biden could tout one of the most successful administrations in the history of his country. On nearly every scale, he had prevailed in fixing, improving, resolving, and minimizing serious problems and longer term inequities. In spite of a cruelly opposing Senate majority, he prevailed, probably due to his superior understanding of how his government worked and in no small part due to the utter ineptness of his predecessor, who, in stark contrast with Biden's administration, produced a succession of absolute disasters. Still, Biden's Approval rating hovered around forty percent.

The previous incumbent's Approval had ranged as low as the low twenties, but in both the best and the worst cases exemplified in back-to-back cases, the majority failed to Approve of either administration's actions.

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Austerity

austerity
Edgar Degas: Breakfast after the Bath (1895/98)


" … only investing in the future could move us there."


Our siblings in Great Britain suffer from decades of foolish leadership, effects we've barely sidestepped ourselves. After Reagan's disastrous economic strategies failed, along with his ally Margaret Thatcher's, a succession of Repuglican politicians continued hammering the same senseless drumbeat, warning of dire consequences for our children and our grandchildren should we not invoke deep spending cuts and agree to subject ourselves to an indefinite period of Austerity. They insisted that we could starve our way to prosperity, an absurd yet strangely popular strategy, albeit one that steadfastly ignored overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We were never in great danger of smothering ourselves with our spending. Quite the opposite! After forty years of dire warnings, our debt service remains a most modest just under two percent of GDP, the envy of pretty much everybody else in the world.

The chorus continues in even greater earnest.

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Edgercating

edgercating
Lucian and Mary Brown: Untitled
[children in classroom looking at globe]
(circa 1950)


"I still haunt my own periphery …"


I suspect that we all received a somewhat different than standard education. I certainly did. Rather than advance directly to college after high school, passing Go and collecting the obligatory two hundred dollars, I entered a kind of Limbo, where for a year or so, I was neither here nor anywhere, really. I enrolled in the local community college which I referred to as high school with ashtrays, and set about trying to avoid getting drafted. I never really suspected it at the time, but I was receiving an exquisite education, albeit from around the edges. I would receive no advanced degree in observational methodologies, just one Hell of a lot of practice in the field. I might not have been formally enrolled in one of the finest universities, but I was nonetheless receiving the highest quality instruction, personally curating content as well as instructors.

Within a year, I'd followed the woman who would later become my first wife back to her shared apartment in Seattle's U District, for she was formally enrolled in a genuine University.

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BlowingItUp

blowingitup
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen: Truth and the Two Soldiers (1891)


"Blowing It Up Better."


I consider it to be perfectly normal to start off in the wrong direction. We are, after all, human, and humans have always excelled at heading off in some wrong direction, often for the very best of reasons. Anyone, at any time, remains perfectly capable of making just such a mistake. The only question might be how long it will take before one notices and takes corrective action. Any of an array of familiar responses might emerge whenever a human finally notices their error. (A different set appears when we notice someone else in error.) Some will attempt corrective action, just as if the fix should not require any major course correction, though if one's headed in the wrong direction, it might well require anything up to and including a one hundred and eighty degree deflection. I usually manage a fix in more like a dozen similarly wrong-headed attempts at correction.

The issue at hand rarely seems to be a question of intent.

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Anticipations

anticipations
Edouard Manet: Le ballon [The Balloon] 1862


"Who's to say my Anticipations don't create my future?"


Success must surely be at least ninety percent Anticipations. We more often see what we believe than believe what we see. We might be incapable of moving cleanly into any future, each future first manifesting in Anticipations of what might be seen. It might be most common for one to anticipate worse rather than better. I know that I usually first feel a foreboding when considering what's coming. That seems to be my default setting. It requires great concentration for me to warmly anticipate any future. I'm more apt to consider its potential shortcomings than in any way expect blessings. I suppose that I might most often manifest something worse than I would have otherwise conjured had I merely anticipated better.

Leading up to a meeting I've been invited to facilitate, I anticipate disaster.

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Gatekeeper

gatekeeper1
Waldemar Franz Herman Titzenthaler:
A soldier of the Prussian guard (1903)


" … one must always serve as their own Gatekeeper first …"


I live in conflict with my beliefs. I suspect that everyone does. Yesterday, I wrote a fine story about how I believe that Gatekeepers surround Success and deny entry to any and all not holding
GoldenTickets. As near as I can tell, I've always believed some variant of this story, even though it has rarely held true. While it's true that I have at times benefitted from some Gatekeeper's intervention, it might be equally true that they probably did not command the sole means for my gaining access. Even when a Gatekeeper intervened, I also needed to have at some point intervened on my own behalf. I was never a passive commodity impassively passed, but an active entity making my own choices.

It might be true that one must always serve as their own Gatekeeper first, however unlikely this role might seem.

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GoldenTicket

gatekeeper
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen: A Veteran of the Old Guard (1915)


"If I could just manage to hold onto those golden tickets …"


I imagine Success to be securely defended territory guarded 24/7 and then some by experienced and deadly serious Gatekeepers. These defenders of the status quo just seem to know when something different approaches and they have their game plan down pat to prevent each and any encroachment. Anyone wishing to enter those Elysian Fields must carry an invitation engraved with their personal information, issued by some duly designated authority. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, ever gains entrance by accident or solely by their own volition. Each must have gained and been given explicit permission, for entrance remains exclusively and forever By Invitation Only, no stragglers, gawkers, or mere do-gooders allowed. Success has always been and intends to remain an exclusive club.

At least, that's how I imagine Success.

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Rarely

rarely
Willem van Mieris: The Raree-show [’t Fraay Curieus] (1718)


" … the sorriest sort of Success."


Something encourages me to distrust anything that continually occurs, especially Successes. Success seems as though it should appear unreliably, Rarely, lest it forfeit its specialness. The magician who reliably delivers flawless performances must travel because no hometown audience would ever tolerate such consistency. No hitter delivers a homerun every time they take to the plate. No painter produces endless flawless masterpieces. Flawed production might even be necessary to properly frame the extraordinary. Success seems as though it should be at best a rare occurrence.

What of the remaining performances?

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2ndOrderSuccess

2ndordersuccess
Lucas Kilian: Second Vision, from Mirrors of the Microcosm (1613)


" … just seem to take care of themselves."


Back in the sixties—fifty years ago—it seemed that almost every new thing came as a spinoff from President Kennedy's mission to send people to the moon and back by the end of the decade. A raft of space-age products resulted. A powdered orangish juice-like drink, said to be part of the astronaut's diet, emerged on the market and became wildly popular, even though it was clearly inferior to the genuine article. We began living in the future, "tomorrow today," as one multinational corporation labeled the experience. Life then was much more advanced than it seems today, as we basked in the 2ndOrderSuccess emanating from our sacred national undertaking.

2ndOrderSuccess might be best considered as what one gets as a result of achieving a Success.

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Sexcess

sexcess
Thomas Couture: The Supper after the Masked Ball (1855)


" … the only option for avoiding the addictions …"


In this culture, my culture, anyone can get addicted to absolutely anything. What was once revered as "the land of the free and the home of the brave," today seems to have increasingly become the land of the spree and the home of the enslaved. Those suffering from Success Addition Disorders (SAD) seem to be among the most troubled class, for they turn their personal colossal successes into abject failures. We see evidence of their influence in the tatters of the present Republican Party, a party once dedicated to promoting equality and now obsessed with just avoiding taxes. As with any negative target, and doubly true with any obsession, focusing upon avoiding anything tends to attract precisely what one seeks to avoid, that, or a deeply engrained paranoia. Today's Success addicted, those suffering from Sexcess, exhibit all the usual symptoms of any full blown addiction, with the added affliction that they're the most conspicuous consumers, almost as if they're proud of themselves. Don't let their gyrations confuse you. They're ill and suffering, stinking rich!

Dissatisfied with simply spending their fortunes, they employ themselves in the more dubious professions, focusing upon wealth defenses, primarily through concocting fresh schemes to avoid taxes but also extending into funding hyper-conservative pseudo-political movements.

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Vortices

vortices
Claude Monet: The Departure of the Boats, Étretat (1885)


"Success emerges from such turbulence."


Time moves irregularly. This fundamental law of the universe might have been lost on physicists, but not once on the rest of us, for we daily struggle to cope with time's inherent variety. Days, even those which measure of equal length, pass differently, with wide variations apparent if not always precisely measurable. Even calendars remain steadfastly unequal, with January days typically at least forty percent longer than June's or July's.

Attempts to rectify this obvious imbalance have so-far resulted in worse, like the French Revolutionary Calendar

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Grasp

grasp
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:
Studies for "The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien"
[Saint, Mother, and Proconsul]
(1833)


" … a genuine symbol of that abstract Success."


It seems that us humans easily become attracted to abstract concepts, for they seem to be the brightest, shinest objects distracting our focus. Napoleon insisted that men would only fight to the death for the more abstract concepts if first outfitted with bright sash and flashy uniform. The unscrupulous promote an undefined patriotism and an undefinable faith to attract followers and encourage passionate responses. Only the very highest ideals seem capable of fueling the most degrading engagements. We might claim to want tangible goals, but our behaviors strongly suggest that we really desire the opposite. Running a flag up a flagpole inspires more passion than does any dozen well-reasoned treatises.

These strange attractors carry one thing in common.

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Reach

reach
Alexandre Cabanel: Woman Reaching Over a Wall,
study for The Life of Saint Louis, King of France (1878)


"Reaching for the occasional impossible …"


The Muse and I differ in significant ways. I'm by far the more delicate of the two flowers. She's one tough cookie. She's more likely to dream big. Her grasp often seems to exceed her Reach. She often manages to successfully grasp something seemingly beyond her Reach. I do not know how she does this, but then neither does she. She apprenticed in a world where her grasp reliably fell far short of her aspirations, where even her own bootstraps seemed to lay beyond her Reach, until they just didn't anymore. She ascribes the shift as having had to do with dreaming bigger. I might insist that if you want to reliably Succeed, simply reach for things well within your grasp, while she insists that one must stretch further than that to Successfully achieve an impossible. She should know because she has had the Successes to show this sometimes works. Not every one of even The Muse's dreams fall within her grasp, though.

A class of aspiration exists which stands exclusively beyond any human's Reach or grasp, and these seem poisonous.

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Slippery

slippery
Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)


"Zealots sure seem to receive the higher quality experience …"


Success seems an especially Slippery substance. It rarely seems to become what it's anticipated to become, but arrives in some different guise, often surprisingly different. We seem to pursue it with naive intensity, capable of dedicating ourselves to the merest shadows of understanding what we're actually pursuing. In the heat of such passion, clarifying questions only very rarely get warmly received. We behave as if further analysis might just spoil the possibility for Success, and our concern might well be well advised. It seems as though we can't afford to simultaneously know and pursue, that the pursuit of success requires some deep ignorance of the true nature, the actual potential for what we might actually achieve. Throughout history, the chroniclers have wondered what they must have been thinking when trying to reconstruct the causal chains of the greatest successes and failures. Mostly they marvel that nobody seemed to be thinking all that deeply. Both Success and failure seem particularly Slippery substances.

In the weeks leading up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Mitzi Wertheim scoured the Pentagon, asking anyone who would accept her questions what was supposed to happen once the invading force gained Baghdad.

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PlantingFace

PlantingFace
Albrecht Dürer: St. Christopher Facing to the Right (1521)


" … the impossible nature of the questions asked …"


The holy grail of project management has always been the ability to determine whether an effort is on track to Succeed. It's damnedably difficult to determine, so a raft of artificial methods have sprung up to service this essentially insatiable need. When a method fails, that event merely fuels demand for a newer and improved means, even though there's really no way to determine beforehand whether each newer and supposedly improved means will deliver on its promise. I've sometimes speculated that the whole enterprise, project management as a practice, survives on the promise of delivering on its promises, rather than on actually delivering on them, but then that's the price of living in the future. It's never present.

The present's all we have, though, even though it's bound to be different than the future.

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Accshleptance

accshleptance
Jozef Israëls: Children of the Sea (1872)

"I pack 'em. I schlep them, too."


Someone wiser and even more sardonic than me once concluded that life's a Schlep. We might start out without carry-on, but we quickly accumulate enough of an encumbrance to limit our mobility, then head downhill from there. Some people seem natively capable of accumulating more than their fair share, though I will not mention here The Muse, who sometimes must be physically restrained to prevent her from "just stopping and looking" at every estate and garage sale she happens by. Of course she almost always finds some reason there to add to her burden, and I remain mostly grateful for her discoveries. We try to maintain a strict interpretation of the You Brought It, You Schlep It Rule. We do not consider helping anybody with their baggage to be a form of chivalry.

My study of Success has so far resulted in some additional carry-on.

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Modest

modest
Claude Monet: Bordighera (1884)


"Most Success is more modest than it appears."


I blush when I think of saying, "Modest Success." It seems as if I'm promoting underperforming, for everyone knows that Success was supposed to be more unconditional, as if the universe were surrendering to someone's dominion, as if the usual rules of engagement were suspended for a moment.

This idea that Success doesn't seek limits seems very deeply ingrained in me and I sense that it's not really that healthy of a perspective.

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Phobe

techterror
William Blake: Dante and Virgil Among the Blasphemers (1824-27)


"We swallow hard and continue humiliating ourselves …"


I firmly believe that we remain in the first technology era, the same one that featured both steam power and plug board computing. Our more modern user interfaces only appear more advanced, for they remain enmired within the most primitive possible mindset. We have not yet stumbled into any more advanced orientations even though we daily suffer under the yoke of our backward understanding. No better example exists than what I might call The State Of The App. My iPhone and my laptop purportedly run many different apps, though they each feature essentially the same shortcoming, that being that I, their primary user, does not in any way understand how to properly use them. That's okay, the apologists explain, because nobody understands the first thing about the least them, much less even their designer.

I rest my case there.

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Envy

envy
Matsubara Naoko: Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (1984-86)


" … the burden of being the wealthiest …"


If I were the richest person in the world, I would be better at it than the present incumbent has been. I would not become a right-wing troll or promote senseless conspiracy theories or be even the least bit stingy. I would gladly give away most of my wealth, freely share my good fortune. I wouldn't own a private jet, but fly coach, asking for the middle seat in the last row and hope to find a new mother with her cranky baby seated next to me. I would live to surprise my fellow human beings, for I would dedicate myself to being a truly human being. I'd be the most benevolent person anyone would ever remember, a saint, a gem.

As it is, I am not now nor am I ever likely to share the challenges the world's richest person faces.

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Heaven

heaven
Matsubara Naoko: Waterfall (1966)


" … it produces its own perpetual Success …"


I embrace a distinctly
Panglossian philosophy. If this isn't the best of all possible worlds, it seems to be the one I have. It seems to me that I only ever inhabit the place I stand. Past has gone and future remains safely out of hand, out of touch. I can pine after what already left or aspire after some state not yet achieved or I can find satisfaction with what I presently possess, with what presently possesses me. I might be becoming but I am also being, and my being seems more powerful, more present, more dominant than any shit ton of whatever I might one day become. Consequently, where I sit this morning might just as well be Heaven, since it probably amounts to the closest I'm ever likely to see of it, anyway.

Believe me, please, I remain hugely aware of the contradictions inherent within my belief system, within any belief system.

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Limiting

limiting
Matsubara Naoko: Chinese Theatre (1959)


" … probably every damned one of us at first."


Projects more often die from indigestion than starvation. Success more often results from Limiting scope than from expanding it. If, as I proposed yesterday, all Success is Limited Success, the fine art of Limiting stands as an essential ability for anyone seeking Success. No whining, now, for we are not ultimately judged by how much crap we can cram into any pillowcase, but by how well one manages to sleep on what was finally crammed in there. The surest ways to fail seem tied to trying to drag altogether too much stuff across any finish lime. It might seem heartless, but it seems essential that we each learn how to abandon so that we might thrive. We might even be best defined by what we managed to leave behind.

I know almost for certain that my first iteration of expectations will prove too rich, altogether too expansive for me to ever make good on.

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Limited

limited
Matsubara Naoko: Winter Forest I (1967-1968)


"After the game show ends, the taxman cometh."


There's no Success like a Limited Success. Without some limiting factor, Success cannot exist. Contrary to the adolescent outlook our cultural myths insist upon, once Success occurs, "all" will not be and never has been resolved. Maybe motivation requires that we inflate the influence Success will wield. Maybe we just speak in abbreviating shorthand, but we seem unwilling or unable to speak of Success as bringing limited and limiting results, for anything achieved likely means something else foregone, not in anything like a zero sum outcome, but featuring both positives and their counterparts. Even great Success usually introduces externalities, unwanted negatives resulting from the otherwise purely positive result.

We might reasonably survey the downside and choose to pursue our outcome anyway, for every decision involves making trade-offs.

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Longuage

longuage
Matsubara Naoko: Quaker Meeting (1967)


" … never the guiding light."


Barely three weeks into writing this series and I still feel like I'm missing language to describe what I'm trying to say. This seems like familiar territory, though, because every time I've tried to introduce a different idea or perspective, I've discovered the same barrier to entry: the language couldn't support the fresh concept. Language contains the commonly understood. It finds no use for anything not yet needing describing, so of course new concepts will be missing from the choices.

Budding communicators tend to rely upon one of three old reliables when their language proves wanting. They:
1- create new words,
2- create new meanings,
3- create new metaphors and allegories, fresh stories.

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SupposedTo

supposedto
Matsubara Naoko: Weeping Beech Tree (1967)


"I was SupposedTo want what that Success offered, but didn't."


I've always struggled with SupposedTo expectations, the ones which insisted upon one specific response. I couldn't always muster such a reaction, but I also noticed that the very injunction tended to nudge most of my motivation to comply right out of me. I'd start plotting how to avoid satisfying the expectation instead. I became a terrified learner, for instance, strapping myself in for another ordeal the first day of every quarter, certain only that I would shortly feel overwhelmed with expectations with which I'd feel unable to comply. I came of age understanding that I should probably be self-employed, if only I possessed a talent.

Oh, I could work for someone else, but it helped if I could concoct a story which reframed the relationship from me depending upon their job to the job more depending upon me.

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Improbability

improbability
Matsubara Naoko: Funaoka [Pine Tree] (1964)


" … see what that gets you."


Someone eventually wonders after the cause of a success, and asks about it, often in the form of, "What were the keys to your success?" just as if success necessarily had keys, whatever those might be. Does it follow, then, that Success originally comes with locks which, absent keys, prevent anyone from achieving it? The usual list of expected suspects emerges highlighting the rational elements usually associated with any achievement, almost always prominently featuring a few exceptional qualities possessed by good old you know who. The net effect should, if properly presented, leave the successful person seeming part wizard and part fortunate, with always a little bit of bloomin' luck wisely attached. The result should be an exceptional story featuring a genuine hero and a happy ending, a pattern which any aspiring might emulate.

Reality, or what generally passes for it here, rarely if ever travels so formally, and often hitchhikes.

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WayStation

waystation
Matsubara Naoko:
Harvard Yard in Spring (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


"Success seems to end with concerted continuing. …"


We might be trained to parse our lives in Edwardian fashion, as if experiences had discrete beginnings and endings, as if stories came with morals firmly attached. We more likely live in a quantum universe, where experiences can seem either more like waves or like particles, depending upon how we filter them. Certainly my expectations seem most calibrated to anticipate cleaner plot lines than usually emerge. In practice, my life seems in need of a decent copyeditor to insert the boundaries my experiences tend to omit. I believe that I've reached an end to a story, only to find that particular plot line continuing into one additional unwanted chapter after another. Even this writer understands that a story really needs to bring a cleaner ending than living usually provides. The clear hallmark of fiction might just be discrete plot lines.

My experiences must be real because they would never make believable fiction.

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Striving

striving
Matsubara Naoko:
Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (circa 1984-1986)


"I strive to achieve an innocence forever lost."


I missed a deadline this week. I had been hyperaware of its approach yet felt powerless to meet it as it arrived. Sometimes, a responsibility lands on me to find me unprepared, though I've had decades to prepare myself. I remain then just as inexperienced as I felt when I was just starting out, before I'd imagined who I might end up becoming, back before I'd become anybody. Missing a deadline reminds me just how tenuous the balance remains between Striving and arriving, between aspiring and succeeding. Success does not seem to be greatly improved with practice. A dozen of them does not necessarily render an impending one any less daunting. The pattern of one does not seem to be terribly transferrable onto others. Each instance seems fresh and intimidating.

I accumulate my little failures more readily than I ever collect successes.

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Common

common
Matsubara Naoko:
Boston Common (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


" … a Common sense and an even commoner wisdom …"


A local group, inspired and funded by outside money, fancies itself the store and font of common sense here. They call themselves Common Sense Republicans, which, by their very title, suggests that they're probably about anything
but common sense, Republicans having long ago adopted the practice of naming anything they promote the opposite of whatever it might actually be. I feel confident that the members swell with associative pride to think that they've ascended to the altitude where they evoke the spirit of Thomas Paine, a revered founder, whenever they congregate. They appear at city council meetings to protest "despotic" mask mandates, school board meetings to lobby hard against freedom of speech, and in the letters to the editor column of our local newspaper to champion the most uncommon ideals, all under the rubric of common sense. Common bullshit, I might suggest.

Still, it's a part of our common mythos to believe in the sense a commoner quite naturally makes.

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WhatPrice

whatprice?
Félix Edouard Vallotton:
Money, plate five from
Intimacies (1898)


"Be careful what you wish for …"


Who among us isn't prone to, in moments of extremity, insist that we'd willingly pay any price, bear any cost, to achieve our desired Success? We're each probably occasionally guilty of employing loose talk rather than free speech. We will beseech while praying that the bill collector never comes calling to collect the desperate debt, especially if our sweaty investment has failed to payoff yet. Some bets never payoff in anything but desperation.

I've been watching with train wreck fascination as Kevin McCarthy, the seemingly life-long wannabe Speaker of the House of Representatives, degrades himself and his prospective office, groveling before his obvious inferiors (a term I used hesitantly, if accurately, presuming for a second that it's not more likely that McCarthy enjoys only betters).

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TulsaTime

tulsatime
Georg Pencz: The Triumph of Time,
plate four from The Triumphs of Petrarch
(c. 1539)


" … a halfway decent Country song …"


The Number One Country song of 1987 was written by accident. A well-known songwriter and studio/backup musician found himself out on tour and snowbound in the Sheraton in Tulsa. Snowbound in Tulsa could have been this Number One Country hit, but wasn't. Our songwriter was toodling around on his guitar, half-bored in his hotel room, the kind of boredom that, songwriters understand, no cable television in the history off this universe ever once thwarted. One toodles around on a guitar in such instances or one goes out of their mind.

A two chord lick emerged, as two chord licks are wont to emerge under such circumstances, and our songwriter, experienced as he was, recognized that he'd almost created something.

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CountingChickens

countingchickens
Odilon Redon: The Egg (1885)


" … already become well-introduced to the feeling …"


Much of the Success experience occurs before the Success actually arrives, in anticipation of the bless
éd event. Once the finish line's crossed, the real Success experience begins, but leading up to finishing the race, much might depend upon how the runner believes he's doing. Whether he's ahead or behind, does he still feel as though he has a chance of succeeding? Any hint of impending doom might materially influence his remaining performance. If he senses certain defeat, it follows that he might not find his feet responding nearly as fluidly as they otherwise might. The story he conjures to describe and explain his present state affects how or even whether he ever finishes this race.

Our lonely long distance runner probably has no idea about the pattern of his progress or, indeed, of the pattern of a winning trajectory.

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Syccess

syccess
Seaver W. Leslie: Thinking of Other Things (1972)


" … depending upon what I choose."


I might have already established that Success probably doesn't quite qualify as a
thing, but more likely exists as feeling, though we might best recognize it as a set of criteria, what we used to call in project work "success factors." Success Factors held the criteria upon which, ideally, any objective observer might determine whether the project had delivered upon its promises. These were not precisely the promises themselves, but more the outward signs of inward conditions. These criteria often contradicted themselves, if only slightly, such that some might practically become mutually exclusive with others. In those cases, it became a matter of judgement and perhaps even politics as to whether intentions had been satisfied. Success would often, perhaps even always, come down to a generous judgement that "good enough" had resulted. Sometimes, Success would come as an acknowledgement that no amount of continuing effort would likely improve the result enough to prove worth that additional effort. Then, Success might come as acquiescence, however different from original intentions; a divorce with ramifications.

In addition to the feeling aspect of Success assessment, there's often also a systems aspect.

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HollowingOut

hollowingout
Winslow Homer:
A Winter Morning Shoveling Out (published January 14, 1871)


" … reward for my latest Success and precursor to the next."


After New Year's, this world enters into the HollowingOut Season, one destined to continue until Spring. With winter not yet a fortnight old, I feel unaccustomed it its rhythm. I continue cruising on the cadence I adopted toward the end of Autumn, one which helped propel me into a great and glorious Success. That past, the horizon fills with emptiness, at least on those days when the freezing fog lifts enough for some semblance of a horizon to appear. Those days seem rare. I experience Success's common companion, the HollowingOut feeling designating the recent absence of something. The question always becomes, following even modest successes: What next? What now? Somehow, achievement's reward always includes a healthy dose of bereavement. The familiar pursuit's sudden absence leaves a disquieting silence.

I never know better.

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Completition

completition
Jack Gould: Untitled [man standing behind small
boxing ring where two cats are pretending to fight] (1946)


" … nothing we might do in competition would produce anything more than a failure."


It wasn't until I entered Junior High School, seventh grade, that I encountered any serious experience with Completition, the erosive side of the much-touted competition some say our civilization's founded upon. Survival of the Fittest seems to be a deeply engrained notion, so firmly and widely held that we feel no compunction when we apply it to contexts within which it might not naturally hold. Darwin proposed it for physical evolution, but it's now routinely applied to social situations just as if relations should quite naturally follow the same forward paths as physical development. Social Darwinists hold the most fantastical beliefs, prominent among them the notion that competition quite naturally improves those who engage in it, when it might at best improve the winner, but only if he manages not to become a sore winner, a long shot bet in many instances.

I believe competition to be at root an evil and at best an addiction.

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TheCurse

thecurse
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Be Careful with that Step! (1816/1820)


" … just beneath the end of every rainbow."


New Year's Day brings the usual flurry of best wishes to drown out the flood of remembrances old years leave behind. We do not send good enough wishes, but only the very best. We do not wish ordinary times upon each other, but exclusively extraordinary ones, as if it wouldn't be good enough to wish anybody mere adequacy, only excellence. Whenever we project into the future, we seem to command or demand the exceptional. Back when I worked with projects, it was almost never the case that the founding vision of any effort proposed producing a good enough result. They insisted instead that they, unlike every other project in the history of this universe before them, would produce the greatest product. It was usually not as though the organization really needed an exemplary outcome to survive. They just proposed utopian outcomes, though none ever delivered even one.

This difference between proposed and delivered reliably sparked some controversy.

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Retrospecting

retrospecting
Joseph Keppler: Looking Backward, from Puck (1893)


" ... more infinite and much more significant."


It being New Year's Eve, the last day of this year, I asked myself an innocent question: Have I been successful this year? Innocent or not, this question got me to Retrospecting, reviewing what I'd accomplished and dreading discovering what I had failed to finish. I could not even remember the names of the four series I'd written through the year, not off the top of my head I couldn't. I had to look back through the transcripts, the 364 individual installments, to determine what I'd been so focused upon. I figure that I spent roughly fifteen hundred hours nurturing my writing habit through the year and yet I could not, near the end of the period, even remember the names of the titles of the four series I'd completed. Have I accomplished anything more than successfully forgetting what I'd created?

I read the first and last installments of each series to get a feeling for what I had been intending and how I'd judged my effort in the moment I completed each.

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Career

career
Cornelis van Poelenburch: The Expulsion from Paradise (after c. 1646)



At nineteen, I was certain who I wanted to be when I grew up. By the time I hit twenty-five, that certainty had abandoned me as surely as I had abandoned my first and only Career. Thereafter, I wandered this world careerless, without a defined profession, a professional without explicit portfolio. Had I gone on to pursue a Master's Degree, I might have finally come to adopt a professional identity. Because I hadn't, I became a generalist, a B-school graduate without a specialty. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated into the sort of work reserved for people like me. I found myself not so much attracted to, but conscripted into the ranks of project workers, matrixed into various roles depending upon the situation, a utility player without a formal position. I later gravitated into project leadership, then project management, but that's no career. It's more of an adjunct association with an organization, existing only for a duration and not forever like a regular role. I became management with a tenaciously small 'm'.

I searched for an association of project people, but when I found it, I refused to join because it didn't seem to be true to any principle.

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SuccessThink

successthink
Alexander Voet: The Old Fool and His Cat (17th Century)


"Successful might be the very last thing I ever wanted to become."


Just about the time I graduated from business school, I became interested in how I might become successful. I started frequenting the Self Help section of Powell's Books and accumulated quite the collection of self-proclaimed helpful titles, among them perhaps the most influential Self Help title ever published, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. T&GR was originally published in the late thirties, and it came with an enviably attractive backstory. It seems, according to the author, that he'd interviewed Andrew Carnegie, who had confided the secrets behind his success. Hill characterized himself as merely the messenger, a link in a chain stretching back into ancient eternity, for he contended that all rich people subscribed to more or less the same guiding philosophy. The difference between me and them was, according to Hill, just a difference in outlook. Adopt the philosophy and practices his book outlined, and wealth would find me. I was skeptical. (Carnegie's estate found no evidence that Hill ever visited.)

I never quite managed to get clear to the end of that book, though it still stands on my shelf.

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ExplanatoryStory

explanatorystory
Anonymous Germany (Augsburg): The Rich Man
- Scene from the
Story of Jehosophat and Barlaam (1476)


"Sometimes it seems like something entirely different."


Martin E. P. Seligmann was a graduate student when he stumbled upon his Success. He was performing experiments with dogs when he noticed that under certain conditions, the dogs seemed to become pessimists and started refusing reinforcement. He hypothesized that dogs could learn pessimism. He wondered, if dogs can learn to become pessimists could they also be taught to be optimistic, and could humans? Thus began his life's work, which so far, at age eighty, has taken him to the top of the Self Help (a genre he almost personally invented) bestseller lists and to the head of The American Psychological Society. His book, Learned Helplessness, became the basis for the now burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, and spawned a cool half dozen follow-on books which built upon that original base. Learned Helplessness includes a very clever and attractive chart which lists various tactics for countering Learned Helplessness. We've probably all been subjected to some form of these tactics.

When I was a kid, my mother's go-to tactic for countering sadness was to advise her suffering child to, "Turn that frown upside down."

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FeelingsOf

FeelingsOf
Jacob Hoolaart, after Adriaen Brouwer:
Man met een geldzak [Man Holding Moneybag] (1723-89)


"I am not at this moment feeling all that successful."


I feel as though I have been dancing around my subject with these first Success Stories. This might be a reasonable if inconvenient time to confess a misgiving I've carried with me since I started writing this series. I admitted then, in my introduction, that I didn't feel as though I knew very much about Success, given that it had been a rare presence in my life. I speak even now of success as if it were a thing, ascribing the infamous 'it' to it, as if it was ever an 'it.' The thing about 'its' is that they are, by international agreement or something, supposed to at least vaguely refer to some person, place, or thing, an entity. Success seems awfully disembodied to qualify for 'itness,' and fitness for itness might matter. Of what do I speak when I attempt to speak of Success?

As near as my beleaguered brain can ascertain, Success might at best (or worst) qualify as a feeling.

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TheGames

thegames
Charles Samuel Keene: A Game of Cards (1870/91)


"Success comes in many colors …"


What are the success games? There seem to be many. Some long, others shorter, some seemingly competitive, others more solitary. Must one master a wide array of games to become consistently successful, or does a niche strategy more likely succeed? Some seem to inhabit a dog-eat-dog world while others seem to live in almost blissful ignorance of even a hint of competition. Some become team players while others, definite solos. I think it unfortunate that in our culture, we imagine so many different kinds of engagements to be at root competitions, ones which by definition spawn winners and losers. Many still subscribe to zero-sum perspectives whereby one's success by definition dictates another's failure. Some envision a roiling marketplace of Roman gladiator games where it's kill or be killed, without apologies, just the way the game's played, thank you.

Success might involve personal choice more than might seem obvious.

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TalkingInto

TalkingInto
Jack Gould: Untitled [door to door salesman talking to woman] (1950)


"Success follows many paths home."


My writing work falls into two basic categories: Flow and TalkingInto. The Flow pieces pretty much take care of themselves. I start them off and the writing commences, continuing until they're done. I remain remarkably absent from the process of creating these. They come to me. The TalkingInto pieces remain the rarer of the pair. They come when I'm more self-conscious, often when I feel I have some significant stake in the outcome. They might appear when I feel self important, or when I feel as though I should feel self important, as if I had something important to say. My TalkingInto state might be a form of writer's block, an affliction with which I fortunately have little personal experience. The TalkingInto pieces become real work before they're finished.

I usually try to flee when discovering that I'm engaging with a TalkingInto story.

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The Or Deal

the_or_deal
Master of the Die:
Venus Ordering Psyche to Sort a Heap of Grain (1530/40)


"My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission …"


Near the end of each of her weekly examinations as The Muse went through her cancer treatment, Erin, the designated keeper of records for the clinical trial, would ask the same question: "Do you want to continue the trial?" To which The Muse would respond with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely!" This ritual reminded me of one common feature of successful engagements, The Or Deal. The option always exists to bail out of most any activity, though in the middle of the typical fray, one might not necessarily consider this option. One gets set into a trajectory, and changing it becomes kind of unthinkable over time, though the latitude to turn off the engagement almost always exists, and remains at least worth considering. At some level, every engagement serves as a kind of dedication test, a check to determine if you retain the stomach not only for the success, but also for the often previously hidden cost of that success, the ordeal. Either you do retain the stomach to continue or you don't, that's The Or Deal in a nutshell.

Looking back on my now long life, I easily recall a few of the more prominent choice points.

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Suckcess

suckcess
Elly Verstijnen: Jongen met pop [Boy With Doll] (c. 1900-1930)


"No one is ever apathetic except when in pursuit of another's objective."
-Folk Wisdom


"I feel unlikely to ever outgrow my worse bad habits."


The most troubling successes of my life so far have uniformly been the kind I was supposed to want but didn't. These were often promoted as somehow being for my own good and uniformly seemed more for my certain detriment instead. I'd drag my feet because I just could not seem to muster sufficient motivation to manage any other response. In this way, I laid myself open to various criticisms. If only I could exhibit more discipline. If Onlies then seemed to utterly dominate my foreground. I always thought these sorts of experiences exemplified the pursuit of mammon, and were trying to tell me to shift my focus from chasing something destined only to do me in. This sort of wisdom almost always came later in the game, after I'd already invested more than I felt I could afford to lose. Veering off onto another, healthier trajectory always proved difficult to impossible.

It might be true that nobody ever knew what they were supposed to do.

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SuccessStory

SuccessStory
Thérèse Schwartze: Portrait of Lizzy Ansingh (1902)


" … reframing what success might mean …"


This story marks the first installment of a new series focused upon Success. I feel distinctly unqualified to write this series. This sense alone might qualify me to at least attempt to write it because I hold a growing belief that those who've been held up as examples of success serve as at best poor examples of it. Certainly the richest, often presumed the default most successful, have well proven just how unqualified for emulation they tend to be. Nobody wants to grow up to be Henry Ford or Elon Musk anymore. We pity them their public frailties. Likewise those examples from most any field one cares to name. Each seemed to be poor exemplars on some level. I might well conclude that one of the better ways to elude Success might arise from attempting to emulate anyone touted as successful. This world hardly needs one Elon Musk. Heaven forbid that it had to suffer through two, even if that second one just happened to be you.

I poke at Mr. Musk since he's widely recognized as the world's richest man.

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Impossibles

impossibles
Paul Gauguin: Soyez amoureuses, vous serez heureuses
[Love, and You Will Be Happy]
, (1899)


"I will not be telling anyone what I didn't intend to tell them again."


By long tradition, the final installment of any story series should at least attempt to summarize, to digest whatever it might have attempted to impart in its prior pieces, to, in the crude vernacular of the professional trainer, "tell them what you told them." There almost always came a time, in my career as a teacher of professional people, when the organizer would start speaking of Training The Trainer. This point signified the impending end of my relationship with that organization and the doom of our inevitably short-lived initiative. Corporations seem to need to frequently change their imperatives, as if to keep fresh whatever impossible they pursue, and they might well be wise to insist upon such shifts, because when dealing with Impossibles, freshness might remain the most important consideration. While it might well be absolutely true that most corporate imperatives represent some sort of impossible intention, one cannot continue perpetually holding the unrequited. It must be "achieved" or abandoned, left without fanfare in favor of some fresh and more enlivening initiative, also inevitably another impossible, eventually facing the same fate.

The Train The Trainer speech gave notice that the client intended to transform their present impossible into standard curriculum, a process which dumbs down its content.

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PerfectEnding

perfectending
Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau:
(She Thinks of the Ghost or The Ghost Thinks of Her),
from
the Noa Noa Suite (1893/94)


"I'm not quite finished yet."


To speak of a PerfectEnding might be to speak heresy, for the orthodoxy does not usually believe in such things. For them, endings bring opportunities for analysis, for determining what went wrong, to identify root causes, and to inflict judgement, all for the purpose of pursuing the ultimate unachievable objective: continuous improvement. Without such operations, orthodoxies would very quickly go out of business, for without the need for imposing salvation, it's whole operation seems simply fraudulent. If improvement isn't warranted, what's a higher power supposed to do? Could it thrive living in parity with its laity?

In SetTheory, such traditional hierarchies do not hold sway, for they become just another basis for conducting analysis intended to make sense of their presence.

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AfterMath

aftermath
Winslow Homer: After the Hurricane, Bahamas (1899)


"Even happily ever after suggests the storytelling will continue."


After the HouseConcert, what then? What's next? My attention had been so intensely focused through these SetTheory stories that I gave scant concern over what might happen if my dream came true and I somehow, against great odds, managed to perform a set of my songs. Well, the dream came true. The Muse and I stayed up late after the HouseConcert, doing dishes and relishing the receding warmth the evening produced. By the time The Muse went to bed, piles of clean dishes on the kitchen table and my guitar standing in the front window were the only remaining evidence that a gathering had even happened. The following morning, I woke late, feeling deeply satisfied. I had accomplished something.

I had not started studying my curious SetTheory to change the world, for I've always considered notions of changing this world to be sins of self importance.

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HouseConcert

HouseConcert
Adriaen van Ostade: The Concert (1644)


" … another storybook ending."


As unlikely as it seemed for much of the journey there, the long-touted HouseConcert actually happened. It even arrived a little ahead of the schedule requirement, which I'd imagined to be before I'd reached the end of the current seasonal quarter, before the upcoming Solstice. The right people showed up, too, precisely the proper cast which could not have been improved by the concerted efforts of even an army of over-experienced talent scouts. The light supper was very well received. It just seemed such a freedom to invite folks into The Villa, whatever the pretext. Delivering this SetList of songs seemed an embellishment atop what would have qualified as a very decent holiday gathering regardless.

I'd set the stage, such as it was, along the recently refurbished front window seat, directly in front of the massive front window, which The Muse had decorated with multicolored Christmas lights.

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FinishingTouched

finishingtouched
Gaston La Touche: Pardon in Brittany (1896)
A "Pardon" is a Breton form of penitential pilgrimage
conducted at twilight with candles.


"What's inevitably started in innocence
must perhaps necessarily end in gratitude."


Those of us instructed to 'start with the end in mind,' eventually find ourselves going out of our minds since the end always shows up differently than originally imagined. These projections must always originate hopelessly out of that future context, which carries subtleties impossible to imagine beforehand. I suppose this injunction's real intention was never to enable anyone to envision any future, but to serve instead as motivation or inspiration, just to get the imaginer moving toward something, however unlikely that something might be to ever actually manifest. As a result, people often experience endings as bait and switch operations, where what was promised never seems to have been delivered. Success sometimes feels more like a failure.

My almost three month preparation for my house concert carries all the usual vestiges, for it was an initiative no more than normally blessed.

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Patter

patter
Albrecht Dürer: The Monstrous Sow of Landser (1496)


"The breathtaking's almost always worth taking the risk."


If my years as a performer taught me anything, they taught me the necessity of Patter and also of the absurdity of preparing Patter beforehand. Proper Patter, my experience taught me, should be impromptu, off the cuff, unscripted. The Patter of which I speak comes before and between the songs, the introductions and reflections that serve as a sort of stage punctuation in the performance conversation. I know that the old vaudeville performers scripted every second of their stage time. Us veterans of coffeehouse stages and small college venues did not, or learned not to. We sought a more authentic presence on stage and did not seriously consider ourselves to be performing, certainly not acting a part, or so we would have insisted at the time. We all were, of course, trying hard to successfully channel whomever we wished to be like, so that we would be liked. Many were bad Dylans. I, myself, leaned more toward the awful Donovan persona, though I was serious about aspiring for authenticity.

What does the term Authentic Performer even mean?

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Winnowing

winnowings
Willem Witsen: Man die aan het wannen is
[Man Winnowing] (c. 1888)


"Winnowing serves as the final embellishment."


Any efficiency expert—probably even any efficiency apprentice—would tell you that this amounts to perhaps the least efficient means to accomplish anything: Over prepare to under deliver, yet this phrase precisely describes the proper method for producing a set of songs. One defers the LifeboatDrill decisions until very nearly the ending, thereby ensuring that more than twice the number of songs actually performed get rehearsed, and not half-assed rehearsed, either. Each must have been considered a genuine contender and even the more difficult ones should have been painstakingly practiced, even unto and beyond great frustration. The list, too, should have properly been re-ordered several times as if the set might last almost ninety minutes, just as if our earnest performer could last a full ninety minutes, which he probably can't.

But performer capability probably sits beside this point.

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SittingOnTop

sittingontop
Jacob de Wit, after Peter Paul Rubens:
Oude vrouw met kind en vuurtest
[Old woman with Child and Fire Test] (1734)


"There might not be any better feeling …"


I wrote most of my songs in the Key of D, both because chords in D seemed easier to play and also because its notes fell comfortably within my singing voice's range. I've noticed that many songwriter/performers write exclusively within a single key. Our recently departed and dearly beloved Nanci Griffith also wrote and performed everything in D, so I must be in good company. This choice can produce similar songs, ones only narrowly differentiated from each other, as if every one was the same one all over again, producing a Groundhog Day catalogue like Bruce Springsteen or Tommy James and the Shondells. Fans don't care that they're fed the same supper every night. They are rarely gourmets and, like my cats, tend to reject any supper that's not instantly familiar. Still, the performer might notice and try to stage songs so as to minimize this same-old effect; vary a bit.

The venerable old Key of D no longer proves one my singing range can easily reach.

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Convergering

convergering
Artist unknown [Japan], Fukusa [Gift Cover] (circa 1801–1900)


" … The Muse departs those premises for good …"


As we pulled The Schooner into the Cancer Center parking lot, the radio started playing Leroy Anderson's arraignment of Sleigh Ride, the only absolutely essential holiday song, complete with wood block hoof pounding, slapstick, and full orchestration. The Muse commenced to shake and jiggle in the seat beside me. I asked what was happening and she replied that she was channeling when she played percussion with the Groton, SD high school band. "I'm shaking sleigh bells," she said, "and whipping the slapstick." Our reverie resolved into tears, and we held hands there while weeping in recognition that this infusion would be the final one in The Muse's months-long sleigh ride through CancerLand.

The oncologist had little more to offer.

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LifeboatDrill

lifeboatdrill
Stefano della Bella:
Mannen in een reddingsboot [Men In Lifeboat]
(Undated- circa 1620-64)


" … nobody intended or wanted to do anyone any damage …"


As consultants, The Muse and I often employed experiential exercises to help our clients gain insights. These amounted to what appeared to be silly little games, though they usually managed to help the client gain traction against some difficulty. We were extremely careful with our game design, though, as we came to understand that these silly little games could leave lasting, even damaging impressions. We always avoided introducing any game which might resemble what we called LifeBoatDrills, those games where a group was forced to choose to vote one or more of its members "off the island," for these can spark real trauma and produce permanent ill feelings, more harm than good. Curiously, this design seems the most common one employed by what has been strangely labeled "reality television," since reality only very rarely if ever actually delivers these sorts of dilemmas. Those who practice LifeBoatDrills probably practice for conditions they will never encounter in the real world or they produce the sorts of experiences nobody ever really wants, probably both. A master of the LifeBoatDrill seems the sorriest master of all.

My long-anticipated house concert, though, seems to have morphed into somewhat of a LifeBoatDrill.

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Newing

newing
Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)


"Not a slave to precedent nor an idiot to improvement."


For me, nothing seems sadder than a tribute band, one dedicated to reliving some heyday on stage. I respect original work, but seeing a late middle-aged troubadour replay their pubescent angst on a stage seems just as sad as Lawrence Welk's orchestra seemed in their later days: dated and then some, unappreciable. Their easy mastery no longer resembles talent or skill, but clearly came as the result of ad nauseam repetition. It was always a wonder that those band members could stay awake through the chorus of most of their tunes because they knew their parts too well to produce a credible performance, which must seem like discovery to really work. They seemed to most need some strategy to just let bygones become bygones. Their performances most reminded their audiences of the absolute the necessity of retirement.

I carry vestiges of these feelings about performing my own compositions, though I have not been vainly repeating the same old songs for generations.

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UndressedRehearsals

undressedrehearsals
Unknown Artist, Italian, 17th century:
Juno Commanding Aeolus to Release the Winds (Not dated)


" … all about believing self-deception …"


Practicing slowly morphs into rehearsals as the performance date nears. Practice focused upon bare mechanics while rehearsals include some stagecraft. A performer might scrutinize camera angles, hoping to expose their best profile and, of course, cloak the more unflattering perspectives. Beginnings and endings become more deliberate and the performer actively projects into the ever nearer future. Knowing the performance allows no do-overs, he pushes each tune to conclusion, no longer so quick to stop and repeat a flubbed phrase. He might even gain time consciousness, a terrible addition. What once was timeless becomes time bound as what was once lost slowly gets found again.

The neck of the guitar becomes less restrictive as recent familiarity increases, the product of repetition as well as rediscovery.

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SoundCheck

soundcheck
Jacob van der Heyden:
Sound, plate two from The Five Senses
(Not Dated: Artist's working dates 1593–1645)


" … success finally seemed within reasonable reach!"


Sound became the most difficult element of my effort to prepare for my house concert. I'd managed to dredge up lyrics and mostly even found the voice to sing them, transposing one song into a more workable range, but getting the sound through my microphone and guitar pick-up bedeviled me, increasingly frustrating my efforts. The slow realization that the house concert would need to be in part broadcast only increased processed sound's importance. If it wasn't my microphone troubling me, it was my studio headphones. I swear that I will never grow entirely accustomed to trailing cables behind me. They leave me feeling like a prisoner, restricted to only a scant few feet of movement whenever I'm plugged in.

I was on a Zoom® call with my old friend Franklin yesterday and had decided to plug into my sound board to give it a test with a knowledgable listener on the other end.

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Sequence

sequence
Stuart Davis:
Art Theory Text with Color Sequence Diagram (1951)


"Who's on first? …"


I hold the utterly irrational belief that natural orders exist in both nature and in the works of man, even mine. For instance, I imagine myself ordering the songs in my SetList in such a way as to maximize their impact. I imagine this without for a second having access to what might constitute impact from my perspective or from anyone else's. I might know after I've performed a set, but can only imagine after that natural order beforehand, and even if a song order works, I will have no way of verifying that the order constitutes the natural one or was in any way superior to any other. I must, it seems, create and then manage to believe in a layered fiction which might somehow reinforce itself, bringing resolution. I am today attempting to properly order my SetList songs, a provably impossible undertaking.

Sequence seems like one of those meta conditions not obvious at first glance.

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Invitation

christmasnoise
Antique Christmas Card
from The New York City Public Library's digital collection


" … who would even agree to attend … ?"


This week, I need to send out the invitations for my SetList performance. I've long planned to deliver this performance in The Villa, with me seated before the grand front window with bookshelves on either side. I've imagined my audience arrayed back into the living room, with perhaps a couple of dozen easily fitting into that space with furniture rearranged and extra chairs. A few might choose to stand. I'd keep the SetList short enough so that nobody would get too fidgety before I finished. We'd drink some wine before and more after as well as enjoy a light mobile supper. It would be a celebration as well as the conclusion of this series, my appreciation for the attention I've received through the lengthy preparation. It would also serve as an introduction of sorts, a first exposure for most present to my semi-secret songwriter background, who I once was as well as who I always was beneath my facade, and who I'll also always thereafter be. I planned it as a curious kind of coming out party.

In the two years and nine months since This Damned Pandemic locked us down, we've rarely hosted any of our usual gatherings.

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Seconds

seconds
Edward Penfield:
Will You Help the Women of France? (1917)
Printed by W. F. Powers Company Lithographers
published by United States Food Administration


"We're still praying and waiting …"


Ten days after Thanksgiving, Tetrazzini season settles in for a short visit. The turkey's tailpiece remains, the so-called Bishop's Nose, along with an odd wing and a piece of that greasy meat that once covered ribs; little else besides bone. These pieces, proven poor sandwich material, ache to become stock, their last chance to become anything useful on their way out of this world. Half the leftover meat disappeared over Thanksgiving night at the hands of what I suspect to have been a raccoon sauntering through our walk-out refrigerator, also known as the back deck. I'd used Zip-lock® bags to secure the goodies and the raccoon apparently carried a switchblade—we all know they all do— which made short work of my weak defense. The remaining bag contained the more marginal pieces, greasy and barely edible even when amply disguised with The Muse's housemade cranberry sauce, mayonnaise, and thick slices of Swiss cheese. I, too, was aching to render that meat into stock.

The Muse continues recovering from her radiation treatments.

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Justifying

Justifying
Friedrich Amerling: The Young Eastern Woman (1838)


"The cost/benefit analysis of every artistic endeavor,
SetTheory concludes, produces only The Null Set …"


In my apparent insistence to at least attempt to overthink every damned thing I engage in, I stumbled upon the poisonous question: Why? Why seems naked standing alone. It seems to need a question mark attached to its backside, as if to conceal something, and why(?) probably has much to conceal. Its unceasing attempts to justify come as close to original sin as anything anyone could possibly engage in, primarily because it asks a fundamentally unanswerable question. Nothing anyone might muster in response could possibly satisfy it. It sparks excuses, sure, and often long-winded explanations which ultimately fail to explain to anyone's full satisfaction. It amounts to distraction, focusing attention away from essence and toward insistence, like any "good" advertisement attempts. Its likely purpose seems to be to sidetrack focus, to undermine true inevitably unspeakable purpose, and to encourage a commercial mediocrity upon activities which hardly deserve this. As I said above, Why(?) almost always proves poisonous.

In business school I learned how to concoct cost/benefit analysis, this to guide what was labeled decision-making.

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ClawingForward

clawingforward
Félix Vallotton: The Protest (1893)


"I try to not make a habit of such behavior."


Each setback provides a fresh premise for ClawingForward, a new dedication test trying to determine the depth of commitment behind the pursuit. I can always forfeit whatever I've already invested and walk away, hoping nobody will notice that I surrendered. Honor, or some emotion very much like it, encourages me to continue anyway, to perhaps even courageously overcome whatever barrier I've encountered. My response more often comes from embarrassment than bravery. I cannot quite face what it might mean if I cannot overcome this encumbrance, so I continue the struggle. I sometimes even succeed, even though trying in no way guarantees any outcome. I fancy myself tenacious when I'm probably just stubborn, but hitting a wall usually incites me into action, and often into investigating some new direction, anything to maintain accustomed momentum.

I read the freaking owner's manual, though the submission was, indeed, painful.

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ReSettingBackwards

ReSettingBackwards
Claude Monet: Stack of Wheat (1890/91)


"Wrong-footed, I sprint for the finish line."


After a week of reporting solid progress, my SetTheory efforts finally hit their wall (again.) The first principle of all forward momentum mentions this wall as a certainty, an inevitability, not a possible encounter but an unavoidable one. This wall generally appears early in an effort, as the usual notional initiation notices that its context differs from what was earlier imagined and planned upon. The experience always feel deflating, as if some cruel mistake had been made against the proceedings. Most efforts manage to recover, albeit almost always on different terms than originally imagined. The possible takes over from the original imaginal intentions and the effort resumes, and often in a different direction. Initial notions of end results almost always amount to fantasies. The quality of leadership usually devolves into the acceptance of some closer semblance of reality over the originally motivating fantasy. The Wall reigns eternal, though. One can choose to go over, around, or through it, but ignoring it never works for long.

Ignoring it almost always seems the preferable alternative when it first appears.

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Fining

fining
Hans Weiditz (II) (anonymous:)
Mannen bij een proeverij [Men at a Tasting] (1514-32)


"I paint my face with well-practiced authenticity."


The mirror image of the project-initiating Milling Around Period appears nearer the end of the effort. It amounts to much dusting and polishing, sequencing and clarifying, none of it strictly necessary but all of it nonetheless useful. It might even qualify as meaningless work, but since ninety percent of all work apparently qualifies as meaningless, this classification alone provides no excuse for avoiding engaging in it. Besides, it feels so danged satisfying. Most of the earlier stress and anxiety have by then been leached out. What deadlines remain carry little threat. I feel prepared if not quite prepared enough. I am Fining.

Once a wine or a beer has finished fermenting, it's done for most intents and purposes, save one.

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Transcending

transcending
Charles Sheeler: Amaryllis (1924)


"I can see a transparent shadow of myself …"


Practicing seems like a primitive form of what this performer intends when he picks up his instrument. Initially, I struggle to just remember the progressions and to propel myself to the end of each piece, but later, after some considerable time spent immersing myself into these mysteries, my practice shifts. After, it becomes easier if not precisely easy, more expression than re-creation. I often catch myself improvising then, as if I no longer seek to resurrect or recreate, but to manifest a feeling for which the original words and music were always mere indexes, means to access a sense more than the purpose of practicing or an end unto themselves. This after space I enter amounts to Transcending, I guess. It certainly feels like a religious experience, if that description doesn't put too orthodox a spin on it. I leave refreshed and slightly light-headed, eyes clear and voice phlegm-less for a welcomed change. I feel high, as though I'm floating slightly above my former existence, witness to my experience more than mere actor.

I'm seeing that the purpose of this SetTheory experience was less about resurrecting my songbook than about rediscovering Transcending.

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Spectacular

spectacular
Henri-Edmond Cross: The Pink Cloud (c. 1896)


"Her forbearance might well be remembered …"


The Muse's oncologist reported that her "numbers are Spectacular," an uncharacteristic characterization from any practicing physician. They're professionally more restrained, less effusive. On good days, they might allow themselves to express guarded optimism and, always, unshakable support, but they only rarely enter the unconditional superlative realm. I ask a follow-up question and receive a more sobering perspective in return. I note that her tumor had become invisible on the last scan we saw. He cautioned us to take such visual evidence, however seemingly reassuring, with a grain of salt. He explained that this cancer's cells remain unbelievably tiny, that we can only visually verify their presence when they're present in the billions. A few hundred million of them cannot be seen by even the most sophisticated scanning technology. Visual verification's virtually impossible. We're poking sticks into darkness, he explains.

I thanked him for blunting my enthusiasm, and I meant it.

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FinalPrep

finalprep
Jacques Callot: Camping Place of the Gypsies:
The Preparation of the Feast

(Artist's working dates 1612–1635)


"I figure I can finish FinalPrep in the final fifteen minutes before I take the stage."


The National Weather Service predicted snow by early evening and the sky had already started spitting fine ice by the time I returned from an errand across town. I wanted to finish cleaning up the latest leaf fall before this storm hit, since the weather service also predicted a week of very cold temperatures with intermittent snowfall providing no later opportunity to complete the last of the Autumn chores before an early Winter settled in. I faced the choice of working through the icy rain or just accepting that I would fall short of my aspirations this season. I slipped into my overalls and stepped out into the weather. As usual, once imbedded within it, the drizzle seemed less ominous. I focused upon quickly removing those leaves and soon found myself finished. Then came the piddling around time.

The Muse swears that she can complete a month of unfinished business in the final few hours before she leaves on an extended trip.

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MakingPerfect

makingperfect
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait (1887)


"Will we poison ourselves with critical mediocrity or with generous perfection?"


I ordinarily cannot countenance mention of perfection, for as the owner of both an aging home and body, I see little day-to-day evidence of its existence. I'd come to think of perfection as a poisonous notion. As an objective it seemed to guarantee frustration and failure. As a representation, it seemed falsely overbearing, a transparently misleading characterization. Few experiences greater frustrated me than a shopgirl mindlessly parroting everything I'd mention with a "Perfect!" exclamation. She'd ask me if she could help me with anything. I'd decline her offer and she'd declare our encounter somehow "Perfect!" I'd pray that she might somehow pull her faux enthusiasm to the curb and join the rest of us down here on the surface of the planet Earth rather than continue inhabiting her alien-seeming stratosphere above. I found her realm annoying in the extremis.

But I think I might have groused a tad too much.

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PlayForWork

playforwork
Jan Havicksz. Steen:
Children Teaching a Cat to Dance,
Known as ‘The Dancing Lesson’
(1660 - 1679)


"Maybe mastery makes fun of everything."


Early on, I imprinted on the idea that work really should be play. I sensed that the term work mischaracterized its own possibility, creating a false and disastrous dichotomy. Work might not necessarily be the opposite of play, but the very highest example of it. Mischaracterize that high-order play as work, and people might primarily engage in it to earn time away. Folks might day-dream of retirement rather than reveling in the very embodiment of what they might have been dreaming to achieve. In this way, the carrot became the stick and people started consenting to investing their time in productive but meaningless activities. Some even agreed to become professionals and a few of those consented to become responsible, and before anyone knew it, adulthood had gone to Hell without even the comforting benefit of handbaskets.

When work becomes play, it gets easier to get through the day.

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Begetting

begetting
Hans Weiditz (II) (possibly):
Het produceren van wijn en andere medicinale dranken
(Producing wine and other medicinal drinks) (1620)


"… continued Begetting regardless …"


I felt shocked when The GrandOther, sitting at our Thanksgiving table, was the one insisting that we each express our thanks for something. We're no Norman Rockwell image of any holiday family, not even piss poor Presbyterians when it comes to the iconic rituals of any holiday table, yet there was The Other, the youngest at the table, insisting that tradition be acknowledged and performed. Lord (or somebody) knew that we had plenty to feel thankful for, even though this has been a difficult year. I heard myself insist that the hardest years seem to produce the greater volume of gratitude, and not just that they're over. As a blessings generator, hard times just seem better at Begetting blessings, an apparent paradox often lost on those trudging on their knees through the harder of the hardest times. Like with all religious convictions, I guess, the blessings emerge later as reward or punishment, their eventual existence a matter of faith until they manifest.

The question comes, then, how one might reliably induce gratitudes.

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PlagueWinter

plaguewinter
Arthur Wesley Dow: Marsh Creek (c. 1905)


"The future sure seems lonely."


As we enter the third successive PlagueWinter, I find little evidence that I've fully incorporated any learning from the experience. I still pine and plan as if this disease were little more than a passing inconvenience rather than endemic, as it surely has become. I'm just starting to understand that this disease will most likely haunt my remaining days here, even if I live for decades. Gratefully, neither The Muse nor I have yet contracted this bug, though her son has been through three bouts of it and has been wrestling with long Covid symptoms for two years, since he started recovering from his first bout. A friend just finally tested negative after an eight day run with his second infection this season, and he took Paxlovid just as soon as he tested positive both times, and had just the week before received his latest booster. He said it was like having a bad cold. Of the ten people who attended his ukulele group, two apparently came already infected and six of the remaining eight tested positive the next day. Covid-19 remains alarmingly infectious, though apparently not nearly as deadly as it once was for many.

I've been dreaming of a 'normal' Christmas season, similar to the ones I used to know.

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Knotting

Knotting
Albrecht Dürer: The Fifth Knot (c. 1507)

" … to grow more familiar with my knots …"

It might be most common to think of one's self as an untier of knots, but I'm thinking just how complicating that characterization inevitably becomes. Those of us guitar players who scrupulously maintain closely-cropped fingernails find ourselves at a natural disadvantage if we consider ourselves untyers. Many others hold no particular interest in solving puzzles, merely finding them frustrating and so best avoided. No, I'm growing to appreciate that I'm naturally more of a knot tyer. My legacy, if I ever deign to have one, should probably be comprised of knots neatly tied, suitable for untying should anyone feel so moved, but otherwise perfectly fine unresolved.

Preparing my SetList songs for public performance, I almost fell into the terrible trap of believing that I would necessarily need to resolve each mystery I encountered when resurrecting every song. …

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MakingTheBest

makingthebest
Franz Marc: The Bewitched Mill (1913)

" … once existed forever."



Make The Best

"Make The Best of the curious choices
life brings you.
They won't always rhyme
and they won't always leave a reason behind them,
'cause this is a sloppy opera and a stupid ballet
and if it isn't for the best
at least it is forever."


I always use this song to end my performances.

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Innerfacing

innerfacing
Arthur Wesley Dow: The Clam House (circa 1892)


"This so-far mythical future house concert …"


Much of my effort to resurrect my SetList of songs probably qualifies as inner work. Not to go all nineties on anybody, when the publishing world gorged in The Inner Work of pretty nearly everything, the inner work of performing even my simple tunes proves daunting. The inner world, my inner world, refuses to cleanly translate into outer mediums and contexts. Feelings repeatedly fail to pass the explicit test. Meanings steadfastly remain mysterious. Even hearing what I'm singing proves complicated and seems best amended with microphone, headphones, and a confusing array of software filters.

I've been failing to learn the software through which I filter my voice for twenty-some years and I feel no closer to figuring it out than when I started.

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SurfacePrep

surfaceprep
Arthur Wesley Dow, Pencil Proof (early 20th century)


"Great inconvenience can be tolerated to ease the prep."


Yesterday's SetTheory story,
SurfaceTension, only introduced a topic key to my navigating through to finally produce my performable SetList. New readers should understand that I'm just shy of two months into an effort to resurrect a set of my own compositions into a performable set of songs such that I might perform a house concert around the upcoming Solstice. I've been introducing here the songs I'm considering including and following my process for preparing, which doesn't always seem very much like a process at all. Yesterday's story reported on the barriers to entry I encounter when I attempt to enter the once-familiar singer/songwriter space. The door does not seem wide open. I bump into encumbrances. I recognize these for what they are, completely normal, but I'm feeling a need to more deeply explain what I'm learning about overcoming these.

Upon closer scrutiny, I perceive some commonality between what I'm experiencing resurrecting my songs and what I came to understand about managing projects, back when I worked as a project management consultant.

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SurfaceTension

surfacetension
Vasily Kandinsky: Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons) (1913)


" … results that I still feel certain anyone can see through."


Each fresh task seems to carry a certain SurfaceTension which I must penetrate before I can fully engage. While the act of penetrating that tension might look like I'm engaging, it seems much more tentative than that, as if whatever effort I expend breaking through that barrier doesn't count. Indeed, that work often seems a distraction, an irrelevance. It seems to prevent me from getting started rather than an integral part of starting. I very often find myself stymied by these initiation rituals in precisely the same way that I often cannot determine how to open a package or penetrate the bullet-proof plastic shell covering a new purchase. I cannot open these things with bare hands. Scissors usually prove useless, too. I most often submit these to The Muse for resolution, since she seems to have developed specialized strategies for opening these. I most often prefer to just set them aside as not having been designed for my use. I'm easily discouraged.

I reflect on my academic career, such as it was.

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Excusing

excusing
Martin Schongauer: Saint Sebastian (c. 1480-1490)


" … everything I accomplished will become roughly equivalent to everything I ever wanted."


Two years and eight months into the Covid-19 pandemic, I've grown expert at Excusing. I understand the limitations that this damned pandemic places upon The Muse and I. I probably understand them too well, for while most of my contemporaries, colleagues, and friends seem to have moved on and back into what now passes for ordinary times, I remain steadfastly tied to wearing my mask, anti-social distancing, and, basically, turning down the opportunity to do much of anything. I'm still not eating out. I find disturbing the prospect of ever flying again. Oh, I also have somehow managed to avoid contracting Covid. In short, I live my life immersed in considerable negative space, informed more by what I refuse to permit myself than in what I grant myself permission to engage.

I some days feel as though I've become a master at Excusing.

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Marathons

marathons
Arthur Wesley Dow: Crater Lake (1919)


"We have only inadequacy to accompany us through."


As wearying as sports metaphors can get, I might best represent cancer treatment as a sequential series of Marathons, any one of which might well prove challenging and the sum total of which certainly overwhelms. No shortcuts exist. No respites, either. From the initial discovery through the diagnosis process took The Muse three full months. Once treatment started, which began with little respite from the exhausting diagnosing effort, the insults prove unrelenting. Radiation subtlety sears. Immunotherapy infusions invade. No places to hide emerge. It's one hundred percent exposed, day and night, through the treatment period, which is scheduled from the outset: five weeks of radiation at six treatments per week and six immunotherapy infusions, one every other week for eleven weeks. Next, an indeterminate period of recovery where The Muse's body will work to rediscover all the facilities wounded in healing. It's all grueling.

If food tasted decent.

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InconviencingMyself

inconveniencingmyself
Arthur Wesley Dow:
The Long Road--Argilla Road, Ipswich (1898)


An Inconvenient Time

"
It's An Inconvenient Time to cross a line,
An Inconvenient Time to be opening any new cans of worms
'cause me and my sanity have just settled into familiar scenery
and love is the last thing on my mind:
An Inconvenient Time."


I find myself very near the bottom of my tentative SetList.

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Rest

rest
Arthur Wesley Dow: Boats at Rest (c. 1895)


" … the tacit component of the effort."


Avant Garde composer John Cage famously insisted that silence comprised the essence of music, that the notes only exist to space the silences. It's easy and seductive to focus solely upon the overt pieces of a composition when preparing to perform it, but its silences significantly contribute to whatever presence it might ultimately induce. Likewise with stories. I once published a story which featured no spaces between the words. Using this technique, I was able to present something on the order of 40% more letters on the page, but while it was certainly possible to read the result, the reading felt tedious and unrewarding. The purpose of writing was never intended to see how efficiently it might employ paper. Hoarders never seem to catch on that much of the satisfaction of owning something comes from the ability to stand a few steps away and admire it. An overstuffed closet might just as well contain nothing.

I sat this morning to begin my daily writing ritual and felt for a fleeting moment as if I'd been there before.

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Noughting

noughting
Juan Gris: Nature morte cubiste à la guitarem (1924)


"I find that tension thrilling …"


I'm not just a songwriter, but also somewhat of a guitarist. Not the kind commonly seen accompanying jazz bands, fretting hand all over the neck, fingers impossibly limber, intimately familiar with a hot half-dozen forms for even the most intimidating chords in every key. I use my guitar rather more defensively. It stands between me and my audience, a wooden fence I hide behind. I do okay but aspire to play no better. I accompany myself and I struggle wherever I attempt to get too fancy. I think of myself as primarily a lyricist, certainly much more than a guitarist. I'm a single acoustical act because I'm really not fit to play with anybody else. I keep my own tempos. I play exclusively my own songs. Consequently, I might be the only one who knows how to play along or when I play one wrong.

I became a curious kind of performer, one who'd always much rather not be the center of anyone's attention.

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Prospector

prospector
Marsden Hartley:
Landscape No. 3, Cash Entry Mines, New Mexico (1920)

"I have been the one creating that world."

Jeremiah
"Jeremiah's just as wiry as the sagebrush.
He built his home out on the desert sand.
Just a toothless old fool with a mangy mule beside him,
and a scrap of worthless parchment in his hand.
But Jeremiah says he doesn't mind his neighbors,
'course he's the only living soul for miles around,
With fifty-five years behind him in the Arizona sun,
searchin' out that old Lost Dutchman's claim."


Most of my songs seem autobiographical in that I serve as the obvious protagonist.

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TheWaitingGame

thewaitinggame
Edgar Degas: Waiting (c. 1880–1882)

"My juggling of the spaces in-between …"

Only one essential game exists: TheWaitingGame. This requisite game comes imbedded within every other game, within every occupation, whether it's considered a game or not. The one element of every engagement certain to appear before it's finished, TheWaitingGame seems anything but integral. It seems more like a waste, far worse than fallow, yet it certainly must be something other than mindless idleness. Why else would it appear universally, regardless of culture, regardless of time, age, or intelligence? The stupid receive their ration right along with the smarties. The handsome as well as the ugly, no exceptions granted. No exclusions.

My efforts to resurrect my songs and create a performable SetList feature much annoying idleness.

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ChanceEncounter

chanceencounter
Martin Lewis: Chance Meeting (1940-41)

" … the good kind of double-damned bind."

Chance Encounter

"Let’s hear it for the Chance Encounter,
Let’s sing the praise of unplanned design;
‘Cause she’s always there keepin’ an eye on,
Unlikely you’ll leave her behind.
More unlikely, she’ll leave you behind …"

I fancy myself a great believer in the ChanceEncounter.

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Twenty-fiveDown

twenty-fivedown
George Stubbs: Hay-Makers (1785)


"We've both come close to exceeding our patience, waiting."


"Twenty-fiveDown and five to go," The Muse whispered as she returned to the impossible puzzle on the side table in the radiation waiting room. She swore that she'd finish that puzzle by the time she'd completed her thirty dose radiation therapy, and she was down to the last week. Reduced to whispering now and without losing even an odd ounce of weight, she was entering what both of her oncologists had predicted would be remembered as her Hell week. Well, this week and the next, since the radiation continues cooking her cancer and her system for at least a week after the final application. Throat raw and increasingly exhausted, she still insists that she's feeling much better than she'd expected, and much better than almost any other cancer patient feels at this point in their treatment.

In that waiting room, there are never any exuberant patients or Emotional Support Animal spouses or children.

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Entropying

entropying
Unknown artist-Central Tibet, mid 15th Century:
Tsong Khapa, Founder of the Geluk Order
(c. 1440–1470)


"May I never learn better."


Each season change brings a fresh disorder into focus as the reigning arrangement suited for the receding season falls out of fashion. What served as orderly then, now only appears disorderly and in need of cleaning up. Which of the infinite choices might suffice for order this time? The possible arrangements hardly approach the infinite, and seem limited by practical factors. I have limited time and perhaps even more limited imagination. The disorder seems powerful, for it disables significant portions of my imagination. I acquire a blindness to certain potentials and affinities for the familiar. I am as a result not so much ordering or even re-ordering, but Entropying: aiding and abetting a continuing disorder, rearranging deck chairs, blithely unaware.

I'm realizing that the disorder I found when I started poking into my songbook probably resulted from an inevitable.

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MellowCat

mellowcat
Cornelis Visscher: The Large Cat (1657)


" … I have no idea from precisely where this one came."


Me and My Mellow Cat

"Winter, my life is moving slow.
My dreams have turned into yesterdays
with no place left to go
and so I find myself
on this dark side of the sun,
just tryin' to find the ones I used to be."


I despise my anticipation of winter more than I've ever actually reviled the season in practice.

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Founding

founding
John William North: The Wood Gatherers (1869)


[Herbert Alexander, the artist’s biographer, described the artist’s interpretation of nature as similar to that of a poet, suggesting rather than describing: "In watercolor and oil an effect of intricate detail is found on examination to be quite illusive—multitudinous form is conjured by finding and losing it in endless hide-and-seek till the eye accepts infinity." from The Cleveland Museum's description of this work.]

" … as if my life might really have a purpose."


My songs seem to experience the most remarkable life cycle, for I've lost each after completing them, then found and resurrected some after they've spent some period essentially wandering in wilderness. Many still remain there. Had I not resurrected them, they would have most certainly been lost to the ages, as if they'd never existed, and they might well yet be lost, for this cycle most likely continues well into the future. My legacy, such as it might be, will probably be more determined by chance than by deliberate intent. I'm uncertain, anyway, what form a legacy might take and how I might set about to form one, if I was disposed to even attempt such a feat. My tunes have faded out then back into fashion. This might just be their nature, and mine.

Through the first part of this series, I noticed myself chewing on myself for losing the songs.

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Fretwork

fretwork
Frans Hals: Jester With A Lute (c. 1620 - 1625)


" … only I could ever punch the ticket I was holding …"


Little suggests that I possess my superpower. No spandex® suit, thank heavens. No special badge. Like anyone, I appear unremarkable, just another face in the crowd. Yet I believe that I possess a real gift, but one so subtle and unobservable that even I often overlook its presence. It's taken this concerted effort to produce a SetList and preparing to perform a house concert to surface this gift. Real guitar players culture their fingernails until their picking fingers become fingerpicks, darned near indestructible. Not I. Every guitar player develops calloused fingertips on their fretting hand, and often, as in my case, that hand grows a mite larger than its counterpart from constant stretching through the decades. Other than those fingertips and the outsized hand, nothing suggests that I'm a songwriter, and those aren't definitive tells, since not every guitar player writes original songs.

Songwriting's a presumed skill, one that's really only present in any verifiable form after the work's done and the purveyor becomes one who has written, but even then, the evidence of that ability won't be in evidence, not even to the scrupulous eye.

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Journaling

journaling
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: The Apple Seller (c. 1890)


" … we're each much more complicated than we appear …"


I find myself feeling extremely grateful for the songs I've written over the years. Rediscovered, they seem to represent a curious form of Journaling, diary entries made without the author intending to catalogue his experiences. Yet, replaying each song seems to reliably resurrect the times and places within which it came into being. I have been revisiting those times and those places as I recover these songs. I realize that my experience has been much more diverse than it formerly seemed as though it had been, for I suppose that nobody ever carries many details of where they've been and who they were before. Our memories summarize, favoring brevity and so-called representative snippets. We might remember an encounter without really recalling how it felt, for instance. My songs seem capable of resurrecting feelings to produce a fully emotional remembering experience.

Earlier in my adulthood, I took to Journaling.

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PaintMeAPicture

paintmeapicture
Thomas Cole: Distant View of Niagara Falls (1830)


" … the performer doesn't quite get it yet."


Paint Me A Picture

"I'm workin' my way through,
only two more sets to go and I'll be gone.
And the spotlight sees right through me,
but I don't think it shows, I mean I'm holding on.
'Cause I've been deceiving myself through the worst of it,
just hopin' to make the best of this someday.
Hey, hey!"

I began anticipating the end of my chosen career as a singer/songwriter several years before its actual demise.

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Exemplary

exemplary
Isack Elyas: Merry Company (1629)


"She has not managed to bust out of any of the human condition on her road to recovery …"


The slow-baked yellowfin tuna in cream sauce featuring lobster mushroom and shallot seemed a decent choice for supper. The Muse had, after all, received two terribly reassuring assessments over the preceding week. We could afford to celebrate her headway. Her radiation oncologist had declared her progress through cancer treatment, "Great!" and her other oncologist had just that morning characterized her condition as she passed into halfway through her immunotherapy treatment regimen as "Exemplary!" Her progress could not have been better, but she found that she could not swallow the tuna entree. She fell back to the baked acorn squash with Bosc pear side dish. Even that, she swallowed reluctantly, the radiation treatments culminating in a rough, raw throat wherein her shrinking tumor still resides.

It's Tuesday, the morning when I deliberately set aside the primary focus of this series to update on The Muse's progress through her present bout with cancer.

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Pipes

pipes
Luc-Olivier Merson:
Head of a Boy Singing [Study for Music] (c. 1898)


"I see much whispering to myself through the near future."


My songs might well be eternal, but only conceptually. Actual eternity requires more resources than might seem obvious. That ditty you heard on the radio probably cost thousands of dollars to produce. The simpler the song, the more its production likely cost, with studio time alone costing beaucoup bucks per hour, not to mention engineers, musicians, and backup singers. My songs, as I've explained before, are more like freeze-dried preserved. They need to be reconstituted each time. This requires not only the words, melody, and chords, but also a fresh performance of those, using my voice and accompanying myself on my guitar. Recovering these tunes touches every aspect of every song. I've struggled just to recover the words for some. The melodies and chords were never transcribed into musical notation, which I never mastered and couldn't read in realtime, anyway, so those need recovering from my ever-faulty memory. It was long my dream to record in a real studio, though I only ever managed that feat once. I recorded five songs in the hour I'd reserved, if you don't count the extra time the studio's owner gave without charging me, so I could finish what I'd intended, because he liked what I was doing. Even those need recovering if I ever intend to actually perform them.

So, when I say I'm recovering a set of songs, I mean that I'm actually recreating those performances, or, more accurately, creating them anew again.

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Fingerlings

fingerlings
Anton Mauve:
Aardappelrooiers [Potato Harvesters]
(1848 - 1888)


"I pursue my best with the least promising resources …"


After a few years of relative inactivity, my fingers seem almost as agile as Fingerling potatoes. They've lost their limberness. They feel stiff and inattentive when attempting to play anything the least bit intricate. They transform my guitar's fretboard into an authentically fretful place. I attempt little and achieve worse, cursing under my breath. I face a long recovery, a bare uphill track featuring few useful landmarks. I some days doubt that I will ever recover my former mindlessness, for proper guitar playing requires little if any thought. It's incarnate muscle memory in action, not in any way thoughtful or strategic. Once mastered, it just happens, freeing up consciousness to remember lyrics or control voice and volume. The guitar should properly accompany, not feature, and in order to properly disappear into the background, it must be transcended. No struggling to remember chord order or, heaven forbid, proper fingering. That must follow as a matter of course, without thought or fuss.

Now, it remains mostly thought and fuss, of course, which reliably produces the absolute opposite of reinforcement to practice, which will provide the only viable escape route back to even the appearance of competence.

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SpecialCrazy

specialcrazy
Vincent van Gogh:
Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle
[La berceuse]
(1889)

" … this song cemented our sanity."


A Special Kind Of Crazy

"It takes a special sort of Fool to write a song for you.
That Special Kind Of Crazy can't help but just shine through,
Other lives and other places
You with yours and my displacements,
We'll integrate or simply leave behind,
'cause I'm crazy of that very special kind."

And so I started what promised to be a really terrific tune.

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Underpants

underpants
Underpants of Hendrik Casimir I: Anonymous
(1630 - 1640)


"Give me superficiality or give me certain death …"


Those who've followed my FaceBook benediction postings after my Friday PureSchmaltz Zoom Chats already know that I favor what're labeled "Novelty" tunes. I take my music seriously, as the pieces I've already introduced doubtless make clear, but I'm never more delighted than when The Muse slips some smart-assed something into the mix. Like many other songwriters, I've never really been in charge of which songs emerge. I've proven myself capable of following inspirations, but never really facile at creating them. Songs more visit me than I create them. They lead, I dutifully follow, and the responsibility does, indeed, feel like a duty to me. Like anyone, I feel enjoined to make my particular sort of noise in this world. Otherwise, why was I even born?

Amid all my more serious works, my self-described Top Fifty Truly Terrible Traveling Tunes stand eternal.

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InvisibleHusband

InvisibleHusband
William Henry Millais: Steps in a Garden (1860)


"This wholly unlikely story is absolutely true."


The Invisible Husband

"It’s late. I’m going to sleep.
You’re still awake in an airplane seat.
I’m here, holding fort,
the cats are tended and the house is dark.
I’ll see you late Friday night,
too late for supper, I’ll keep the bed warm,
let yourself in if I couldn’t keep my eyes open."

If any of my songs have proven emblematic of an era, this one certainly managed to became that.

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Magick

Magick
Corita Kent (Sister Mary Corita):
m is for magick (1968)


"[Magick] might materially misrepresent its eventual impact."


The wheat and the chessboard problem dates from at least the thirteenth century. In it, a king foolishly agrees to pay a mercenary in grain, a single kernel for the first day's effort, two kernels for the second, doubling the amount each successive day until all sixty-four squares on a chessboard are covered. The amount of grain accumulated after the first thirty-two days of effort seems huge, something on the order of 279 tons, but the thirty-third square calls for twice that amount. By the sixty-fourth square, only more than 1,600 times the world's annual grain production will meet the requirement.

I recall this story to describe how cancer treatment works.

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FoolHead

foolhead
Sebald Beham: The Fool and the Foolish Woman
(circa 1531-50)


"What wiser course could any half-wit devise?"


My mother would have said that I was singing my FoolHead off, but I was actually singing it on. Plugged into my studio headphones and finally satisfied with the filtering, I was suspended in an other world, singing while playing my guitar. Once tuned up and with my eyes closed, I had dulled all extraneous senses so that I could focus upon the few of them important to my mission. I was, in the vernacular, practicing, but I was more like focusing. The focusing's much harder, and a necessary precedent if practicing's to satisfy its purpose. The biggest challenge involves overcoming the distractions, and plugging into my sensory depravation system definitely helps. It seems that I can accomplish nothing as long as my full range of senses remain active. I must dismiss some feelings to make either sense or progress. I must put on my FoolHead, not remove it.

Performing seems a necessarily mindless activity.

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TheVoices

thevoices
Jacob Jordaens:
The Conversion of Saul with Horseman and Banner
(c. 1645–47)


"Better if he focuses exclusively upon making a joyful noise."


Performer Leo Kottke famously described his baritone singing voice as sounding like "Geese farts on a muggy day." I've long agreed with him, yet his singing voice seems perfectly appropriate, the perfect accompaniment to his masterful guitar playing. He plays his guitar so skillfully that any accompanying voice couldn't help but mesh well. A long line of less than perfect voices have passed in and out of notoriety in my short lifetime, so many that I marvel at how few really wonderful voices I've ever heard. Clearly, the quality of a voice and the quality of any given performance remain two very separate experiences, with the twain only rarely converging. The quirky seems to have little problem attracting an adequate crowd, and often, much more than a merely adequate one.

An unheard voice, the voice within, always accompanies the one projected over the accompanying music.

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BornToSee

borntosee
Frederic Edwin Church: Twilight in the Wilderness
(1860)


"Another dichotomy bites some dust."


Many of my song lyrics describe apparent contradictions, where opposites might temporarily take the same side. I was always attracted to seeming paradoxes, relations that make no rational sense, but which could be resolved with a little perspective shifting. I have often been fooled when some opposite turned into something much more similar than I'd earlier expected. I might have been making war on dichotomies, trying to demonstrate just how simplistic and self-destructive classifications can become. Many of my lyrics register surprise at discovering another nature lurking behind the obvious one. I believe that this phenomenon represents real learning. When all the innocent and ignorant others disappear into similar forms, enlightenment will have occurred. Until then, good and evil continuously battle to nobody's obvious benefit.

BornToSee The Light

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OneMysteriousDream

onemysteriousdream
Jean Morin, After Jacques Fouquières:
Landscape with a Wheatfield (17th century)


" … it matured to say precisely what needed saying …"


One Mysterious Dream

"I will take to the morning on the first day of my life
and wander through the sparkling dew and sunshine,
and let her icy tingle wipe the sleep out of my soul,
for it seems to me I surely have been dreaming all this time.
But I almost half remember this One Mysterious Dream
that came upon me just before I rose."


Metaphysics might be the one consistent sub-theme running through all my lyrics.

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AFriendOfMine

afriendofmine
Unknown artist: "Pistol-Packing Pirate" still bank
(20th century)


"We're moving targets with static language."



A Friend Of Mine

"Talk about your side streets,
go on and talk about your country roads.
Talk about your alleyways, Daddy
where you're not supposed to go alone.
Sing me a song of the city at dawn
where the neon fades in shame,
and tell me all about your doorways, Daddy,
when you're sleeping' in the rain."


And so began the story of the end of AFriendOfMine.

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AWOL

awol
Albert Emmanuel Bertrand: The Absinthe Drinker
(c. 1890)


"Absence made this heart more insistent."


The Muse insisted that I take that trip, which made me absent for those treatments. The treatments had become routine. The radiation, a mere few seconds. The aftermath, difficult to assess. The oncologists both promised worsening experience over the next months. Still, each day passed without any dramatic changes: a definite but subtle tiredness, a growing willingness to sleep in each morning and to retire ever earlier after supper, but nothing dramatic. We, the patient and her Emotional Support Animal (me), might have grown complacent, continuing a long streak of decent good fortune into a surprisingly welcoming future.

The Muse's cancer treatment occurs as an experiment.

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Estranging

estranging
Maurice Denis:
But It is the Heart That Beats Too Quickly,
plate twelve from Love
(1898)
published 1899 by Ambroise Vollard


"No way could we ever possibly be tempted to say …"


Just To Break A Heart

Half truth, and half promise
like we knew our future from the start.
I told you the truth when I said I loved you,
it came right from my heart.
Then we moved through our lives with confident strides,
just as if we knew love, just as if we controlled our hearts.
Let's just say as we tumble away
that we played Just To Break A Heart.

The yin/yang symbol illustrates how this world might seem equally divided between light and dark, but that the dark also contains a spot of light and the light, a spot of dark.

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Wandering

wandering
Albert-Charles Lebourg: A Miller's Carriage (c. 1895)


The horse-drawn carriage parked at the curb beside the ice cream parlor where families sat at outside tables and watched while other families boarded and unboarded the carriage. The carriage with its driver and passengers would leave, horse walking, before making a left turn a block down the street then continuing on its excursion. A few minutes later would find that same horse and carriage moving regally up the next street over, passengers watching unremarkable storefronts pass before them. People love to take rides. That carriage would take its passengers on a short journey to nowhere, past places they could more conveniently view while walking. What compelled their adventures to no place? What drove their excursions?

The horse threw a shoe as it began a later trip.

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Elbowing

elbowing
Fons Van der Velde:
Koppen in een menigte [Heads in a crowd]
(1880 - 1936)


" … no business expecting any different."


It seems a wonder bordering on a miracle when anything gets accomplished, for setting a definite priority might have always been the surest way to create competing distractions. I might look at my calendar, conclude that I have few upcoming demands, and so take on some fresh obligation. The very moment I set that intention, competing commitments swarm such that I quickly find that I'm Elbowing my way through them to find a few stolen moments to attend to what I'd intended to complete. This simply must be some sort of law of this universe, as inexorable as entropy, because it always, always, always seems to happen to me. Those around me lodge similar complaints. One apparently never actually manages to clear a schedule to thereby exclusively focus, as if that were even possible. No, we swim through diversions or we never manage to get anything done.

The end of a day should bring exhaustion even though we might then wonder just what we managed to accomplish.

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Past-ing

past-ing
Arnold Böcklin: Ruin by the Sea (1881)


" … cast some shadow and light …"


I caught myself attempting to recreate my past, a common enough affliction for anyone touched by nostalgia, but it's an impossible. Not one of those "impossibles" intended to challenge to greatness, but one destined to produce growing frustrations. You see, the past is past and will not be seen again. Oh, I can always change the past by changing my story, by rewriting the history, my history, if I choose, but it will not be resurrected or reanimated or re-present-ed again, but only because it can't be. What I should have been aspiring to accomplish might be better understood as manifesting. I can manifest a SetList inspired and, indeed, informed by my past, but I cannot recreate what once was. Let's say that I left that on a bus back in the late seventies, so long ago that the bus company has already purged their lost and found a few dozen times since then. That past's gone and it's not ever coming back again. Period.

If I care to avoid this mistake, then, I simply must frame this SetList effort as a creating rather than as a recreating one.

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Unconvinced

unconvinced
Gerard van Honthorst: The Merry Fiddler (1623)


Three weeks into this SetTheory experiment, I remain Unconvinced of this effort's viability. I know that I was supposed to be all in as a precondition for beginning, but I believe that such strict entry criteria might do more damage than good. The myth of the necessity of unambivalence persists, though. It haunts me as if my engaging without full conviction might doom the effort from the outset. I'm beyond outset now, though, and this work seems to be unfolding more or less normally. The resulting slight sense of inevitable failure haunts me. I have my good days and my struggling ones. Some mornings I could swear I've been blessed by angels, and others, cursed by them. I wend my way rather than stick to anything very straight or narrow. Progress mostly crawls.

Yet I sense that I'm making real progress.

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Practicings

practicings
Agostino Carracci after Federico Barocci:
Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy (1595)


" … all the time remaining in this world to Practice …"


At its best, Practicing renews. Any its worst, it undermines its own intentions. It's never real work. It doesn't even pretend to be productive, to produce anything. It's all preliminary, preparatory, precursor to some future delivery, meaningless without its future looming before it. All that said, it can sometimes feel essential, necessary if not exactly required. It can inspire. It aspires to be more than it will likely deliver and therefore must be grasped with a forgiving hand. It can reward but it's never obligated to payback anything. It might revive or disappoint. It's too easily avoided. It probably qualifies as one of the very few truly good habits.

I become a different person under the influence of my Practicings.

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FirstIteration

firstiteration
Odilon Redon: Evocation (undated)


"I hold raw material now, rather than "half forgotten memories," …"


I realize that I had been actively resisting writing down the FirstIteration of the SetList I've been insisting I've been working to create. I'd taken solace in its absence, comforted by the latitude I could maintain until just after I started nailing down by creating a concrete target. I might have been reveling in theory more than practice, and this response seems typical of one of mine. Maybe it's an example of Hastening Slowly at the beginning, but it eventually came to feel more like active procrastination. This morning, I resorted to pen and paper, and toughed out a FirstIteration SetList. It seems certainly wrong, by which I mean it could not possibly be the FinalIteration, for that should perhaps properly come the evening before the end of this quarter, or the final morning before I'm scheduled to perform. This project just took one giant step toward becoming real.

Reality can be such a drag.

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ValleyOfShadow

valleyofshadow
Odilon Redon: Profile of Shadow (c. 1895)


"I'm left wondering who either of us might end up being …"


It might be that Tuesday mornings become the times when I set aside my SetTheory stories to visit the infinitely more significant background saga presently accompanying The Muse and my days. Consistent readers might recall last Tuesday's story, titled
Consequential, wherein I introduced The Muse's cancer diagnosis and her acceptance into a clinical trial which allowed her to forego the typical poisonous Chemo treatment. This plot twist in the cancer diagnosis that she'd already labeled her Plot Twist, left the both of us feeling extremely fortunate, as if she'd dodged an otherwise inevitable bullet, but the plot twist within this plot twist brought terms and conditions with it. She would still have to submit to radiation therapy, six times each week, for thirty iterations. Yesterday, one week after receiving her first infusion of immunotherapy magic, with no evident side effects, she was scheduled to submit to her first radiation treatment.

I was struggling with side effects from my latest Covid booster, which left me feeling clogged and groggy, but I managed to put myself together so that I could at least chauffeur her to her first radiation therapy appointment.

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Illegitimate

illegitimate
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo:
The Immaculate Conception: 1767–1768


" … some sacred responsibility to hear myself."


My talents, such as they might be, all fall under the general label of Illegitimate, for I came by none of them through proper means. I was never recognized as a prodigy of anything. I did not distinguish myself as a student of any art or science. I was never recognized as an especially inspiring leader or a particularly gifted teacher. What notoriety I have received came in through the bathroom window and was only narrowly appreciated and, even then, often misunderstood. My songwriting therefore grew to become a more private than public thing, something I demonstrated after dinner with a properly lubricated and intimate audience. I didn't so much suffer from imposter syndrome as embody it.

I believe that many, indeed, most, legitimate artists began their careers as Illegitimates.

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PluggingInto

PluggingIn
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Miss Loïe Fuller (1893)


"Maybe I'm deep down trying to sabotage my effort …"


I struggle most with the technology, which I believe someone invented with the notion that it might somehow render things overall easier. Under whatever rule has always reigned over technology, though, the best one can ever expect from it might be a slight shifting of some problem, never outright resolution, and each incremental improvement in something inevitably erodes some other aspect, thereby keeping everything more or less even in this universe. Advancement might well cause the cosmos to crash in upon us. Yet each field seems to eventually yield to the ceaseless seduction of a technological improvement never once evident in actual results.

My second career involved helping to upgrade computer systems into alluring futures.

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InMyHead

inmyhead
Giambattista Tiepolo (Giovanni Battista Tiepolo):
The Head of Truth (c. 1744)

" … organizing something that only exists InMyHead."

Eventually, the vague and attractive notion that initiates an undertaking starts wondering where it's going. It has always been one thing to break the inertia of rest and quite another to set a coherent course, and it's entirely normal to get moving before becoming completely clear about proper direction. It usually doesn't much matter at first if one heads off in a wrong direction as long as one gets moving. U-turns are common early on and not unknown even nearer an ending. Job one's always focused upon getting moving. Later, increasingly unsettling questions bring the questionable gift of self-awareness, especially when the adventurer cannot quite imagine how to answer them. What at first seemed if not precisely clear but certainly clear enough, comes to appear opaque. Two weeks out and self doubt enters the frame.

The questioning usually comes in the form of the universally unsettling question: If you had that, what would you have?

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Habituals

habituals
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
The Claws of a Cat and the Dress of a Devotee -
similar to Vice is often clothed in Virtue’s habit,
plate nine from Los Proverbios (1815/24)


"The devil deals in Habituals."


It has sadly become common practice that people try to acquire what they consider to be good habits. I guess they figure that if they can set some activity up as automatic, they're more likely to continue engaging in it. I've even heard of some who claim to have managed to set up a mindfulness habit, the thought of which just makes me cringe. Clearly, bad habits exist and seem to be almost impossible to disengage. Ask any smoker to explain why. I've long considered the Habituals a rather cheap shot, and a fundamentally misleading one at that. I doubt that salvation lies in that direction. Most things require more attention than any Habitual reaction allows.

I prefer ritual to Habitual.

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Selfless

selfless
Claude Monet: Caricature of a Man with a Big Cigar (1855/56)


I lose myself sometimes, a most curious and disturbing situation. I do not remember anyone ever tipping me off to even the vaguest possibility that I might at times misplace myself, but I have. I most often lose myself when I engage so deeply in some activity that I forget I'm there, not in any way a disturbing happenstance. I sometimes try to lose myself in the interest of experiencing what some have labeled 'flow,' but trying to lose one's self rarely works. It seems that selves must slip off all by themselves, unnoticed. It might be that one cannot notice the absence of themself while they are missing. Who would be noticing if the self was gone?

My effort to create a SetList might be my attempt to reconnect with a part of myself lost in the process of living my life.

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Dawdling

Dawdling
Pieter van der Heyden, Engraver
[after a drawing by Hans Bol, artist]
Autumnn (1570)


"… my life's work might have only approached accomplishing anything …"


The Romans insisted that one should Hasten Slowly at the beginning, but were mute with advice for ending. I've long proposed hastening even more slowly when approaching an ending, though it's become tragically popular to hasten ever more quickly then. An old saying in the project management community explains that it's "all assholes and elbows" at the end, as everyone rushes to meet some inevitably artificial deadline, rendering it and its products more meaningless in the process. Following a lengthy effort, the end rush seems ignoble, disrespectful of the painstaking effort invested into what quickly degrades with impatience as its ending approaches.

I prefer perpetual motion though I understand that it's physically impossible to achieve.

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Reviving

reviving
Gerard de Lairesse: Bacchus and Ariadne (c. 1680)


"I can sometimes hear my former selves whispering."


Creating this Set List involves reincarnating past work. My work freezes time and place in the same way as might any book or film. I watch old black and white movies expressly for the purpose of Reviving the time and place within which they were created. A Hitchcock film seems forever frozen within its time, and cannot escape into the here and now, no matter how many times I might watch it. It takes me back instead. In this same way, Reviving a song I wrote thirty years ago invokes that place and time, reanimating the me I knew so well then, one I might not have seen since. Of course, I'm older if not necessarily wiser now, so I cannot fully immerse myself into that vessel, but I get a taste, a "snootful", anyway. These excursions might feel delightful or painful, or, more probably, simultaneously both. They prove to be emotional roller coasters.

I remember the dismay I felt when I saw some once-favorite character actor twenty years after they played that role.

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Laziness

lazyman
Félix Edouard Vallotton: Laziness (1896)


"Our catalogues might eternally be narrower than even we expected."


I haven't quite come to fully accept my narrow musicianship. I get by with a few keys and just about as many chord progressions. I might daydream of writing complex Hoagy Carmichael-like melodies, but I've so-far stuck with far simpler structures. Further, assimilating new chords into my tiny repertoire seems unlikely, as my hand turns into a claw whenever attempting a fresh form. I'm reminded, again and again, of Meredith Wilson, who composed the entire The Music Man score employing essentially one melodic structure, every song a slight variation upon the very same theme. His accomplishment reassures me that my apparent Laziness might hold real promise. If it doesn't, I'm probably sunk.

I've pretty much always employed applied Laziness as my primary coping strategy.

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Dredging

dredging
Sakai Basai 酒井 梅齊:
The Sand-Carrying Festival [Sunamochi Matsuri] (1856)


"It's already far too late to have properly filed my history the first time."


Creating this set list involves considerable dredging. Had I properly filed my finished pieces, I might just scroll back through a pre-existing list and choose, but I did not maintain a list of completed works. I have multiple lists of completed works, none complete themselves, and not all even accessible any more due to obsoleted file structures and operating systems. Anything once saved as a WorkPerfect file is perfectly inaccessible now. I have paper backups which have fared little better, since the lists and, indeed, the actual lyric sheets seem spread over a considerable geographical area, some essentially unfindable. Seeking hard evidence of the existence of any specific song becomes a slog slowing filling with self-recriminations. It's already too late to do anything right the first time. Some pieces have been lost to the ages since their inception.

It's no great tragedy when I lose evidence of some past creativity.

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Delving

delving
Societa anonima cooperativa per la fabbricazione delle maioliche (Deruta, Italy):
Display Plate with a Man Striking a Heart on an Anvil (c. 1550)


" … grasped without really understanding what we're choosing …"


This work creating a Set List seems a bit different than the standard purposeful effort. Like you, I was exhorted to Start With The End In Mind, even though whatever end I might initially envision would have to be wanting, given that it was by definition not informed by the effort to determine it. That end, whatever I believed it could or should be, would just have to be different than I first imagined or it could not have been worth pursuing. So, Set Listing (if I might call my current occupation that), doesn't qualify as a standard engineering effort, either. The specs aren't nearly specific enough yet, and might never lend themselves to mechanical drawings. I sense that I am not so much pursuing, but Delving into.

Like all projects, this one began with a bright idea, a big, alluring statement of purpose, utterly vacuous at inception.

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Reassurance

reassurance
Jean-François Millet:
Peasant Returning from the Manure Heap (1855–56)


"I necessarily remain a novice at this work …"


Judging from how I seem to drag my feet into practicing, this creating a set list seems like hard work. Even the hardest work, though, might include some Reassurance, some occasional sense that it's not just hard but also rewarding. My anticipation decides much, and I too often anticipate some worst coming. This set-up leaves me surprised and sometimes even delighted when my effort produces some glimpse of goodness, when some of that old confidence shows, or when I seem to know what I'm doing again. A body of work long left idle awakens fitfully and requires Reassurance to fully awaken. Creating this set list was first just an idea, though I do not mean to demean its source since ideas seem capable of sparking most anything. Beginning again seems more daunting than was the original creation of these songs.

I sat before a small window in a cramped hotel room, guitar in hand.

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Practice

practice
Honoré Victorin Daumier: A zealous student practicing at home,
plate 6 from Les Baigneuses (1847)


"It's the pursuit of premise pursuing purpose …"


The old joke asks how to get to Carnegie Hall before disclosing: Practice, Practice, Practice. Of all human endeavor, certainly Practice stands near the most curious. I expect that we misunderstand it because I'm confident that I misunderstand it, mostly because I can't hardly stand to do it. It seems infused with purposeless, and I suppose that natively, Practice is always separate from purpose. It might be that Practice largely entails mustering a motivating backstory so as to make the effort tolerable if never entirely pleasurable. For me, it reeks of self discipline and self possession, a separation in preparation for making a connection. I often spend my practice time aching to be finished practicing and on to something more sociable and meaningful.

Still, if a musician or even a lowly songwriter ever expects to perform his work, it seems he must prepare somewhere.

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CrimeScenes

crimescenes
Mary Cassatt: Under the Lamp (c. 1882)


" … evidence of criminal conspiracy afoot."


Each song in a thirteen song collection of my original compositions evokes its source when I perform it. The situation, location, and conditions then present flood me, often almost overwhelming me, and sometimes succeeding in absolutely shutting me down. I am not always able to finish a song I've started for it transfers such an emotional load I cannot bear it in some moments, and I just have to stop. Other times, I'll get so distracted by the ginned up context that I'll forget the words. It's helpful, if deeply embarrassing, when The Muse reminds me of the next phrase after sensing that I somehow got lost on such tenaciously home turf. The scene of the original crime reappears each time, if, indeed, the birth of each song constituted a crime. If they were crimes, I could claim that they were innocent crimes of omission rather than of deliberate commission. I never once intended to capture that time, or any time, in any kind of bottle, but writing a song, any song, seems to inadvertently produce just that sort of result.

Room 327 in the La Posada in Alburquerue, originally built by Conrad Hilton, lord knows when, and featuring the most wonderful Spanish tile lobby.

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RealPlay

realplay
John George Brown: Boy Playing a Flute Date (c. 1860)


" … the play seems too real to be too serious."


Anyone raised under The Protestant Work Ethic should find confusing the concept of playing for work. I suppose all entertainers suffer from some of this muddle, with comedians perhaps suffering most, for they slave away in laughter mines more oppressive than South African diamond ones. Musicians, though, too, also deal with material most closely correlated with leisure. Their work is their audience's play. They are even said to "be playing" when they perform their work. They're supposed to at least appear light-hearted and, dare I say (in the most traditional way) gay whenever they're up on stage. Nobody pays good money to watch a morose bluesman perform. His lyrics might describe absolute despondency, but the ethic governing its presentation insists that the performer definitely not be suffering when recounting his humiliation at the hands of some two-timing nobody, his reported "baby." He's supposed to be above actually grieving over the experience and somehow, paradoxically, be absolutely reveling in it. "My baby left me, cha cha cha!"

The songwriter, too, suffers from expectations, or can if not properly disciplined.

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RealWork

RealWork
Paul Gauguin: The Large Tree (1891)


"It was an inconvenient time …"


I look at an old set list and I realize that it represents RealWork that I actually accomplished. Each title manifested the hard way; none came easy, thank heavens, for RealWork must be difficult if it ever hopes to become rewarding. Nor was I ever paid to create even the least or the very best of the songs appearing on that list. I created each as an act, and sometimes an extended act, of something very much like love. Not like love of country or of spouse, but of self, but not narcissistic love, more like the filial kind. I created none of my songs in the hope that I might one day make money off them. Well, I should amend that blanket statement by saying that I wrote precisely one song with the sincere hope of making money off it, at the encouragement of my then agent, who'd insisted that the only way I'd ever make any real money in "the business" would be to write a disco hit, so I set about attempting it. The result was the biggest piece of shit I ever produced. I will not play it for you even if you ask nicely. I won't even play it for myself. It was a blessing of a lesson, one which further solidified an understanding. RealWork's not for pay or for profit, but properly for the ages.

My understanding came slowly, the recognition that I had been training myself in RealWork since I'd started becoming addicted to my instrument, since I wrote that first song.

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DiffsGiftering

diffsgiftering
Jan Harmensz. Muller:
Blind Fortune Distributing Gifts (16th-17th century)


"Nobody ever requests the greatest gift they receive."


The ancients believed that Fortune distributed gifts to The Gods, rendering each unique. In more modern times, Fortune seems no less occupied bestowing gifts upon mere mortals. The Gods having been long ago gifted, Fortune's only alternative might have been long-term unemployment, an intolerable condition in a fundamental force of nature. It seems inarguable that different people seem to have been bestowed with different gifts. Some were seemingly born with the gift of gab while others' superpowers seem to quite naturally stifle them. It seems common enough that some aspire to achieve what for which they were never naturally gifted, with sometimes tragic results. When I attended Junior High, a purgatory between childhood and adulthood that every child must pass through, I was subjected to what was labeled a career assessment instrument. It purported to be capable of questioning a twelve year old kid and, by analyzing his responses, determine his best prospects for a career. I was declared a probable accountant, an appalling assessment I swore to resist with my heart and soul. I could not relate to the black and white photograph of a buzz cut geek in a short-sleeved white shirt and skinny tie, smiling beside a ten key machine. I dedicated myself to growing up to become anything but that!

It might be that such experiences weighed on me to the point that I would never fit into proper society.

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SetTheory

settheory
Stuart Davis: Art Theory Text with Diagrams (c. 1932)


" … employing the magic of SetTheory"


My first career, more than fifty years ago now, was that of a songwriter, an admittedly made-up career choice attractive because it required only informal study. My high school guidance counsellor declared me Not College Material, a designation I later learned actually meant Not High School Material, which cut me off from a common birth family exit. Further, I had declared myself a pacifist in the face of the Vietnam war, so the military didn't offer me an offramp, either. I pursued music, though to be fair, I really should declare that the music pursued me first, and my response was at least half defensive. I, like many in my generation, acquired a guitar addiction while still in grade school. I fell in love with the thing and dreamed in chords and rhythms. I'm convinced that it altered my DNA. Unlike most, I came to write my own songs and, through that high school within which I never belonged, I nurtured my identity performing on a tiny stage in front of an actual brick wall in a church basement coffee house replete with tiny tables and flickering candles. I later even learned to hitchhike.

I encountered my first sets in that basement.

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CodaMysterious

codamysterious
Winslow Homer: Leaping Trout (1889)


" … make way for the next day's fresh blade."


Reviewing my now extensive oeuvre,—an utterly unpronounceable word meaning 'collected works'—I see that I've written this story at least a half dozen times before, probably more. I variously labeled it BegEnding or one of its variants (BegsEnding, etc.), suggesting that an ending often also represents a beginning, perhaps even that endings tend to be infinite rather than definite. They often smear into the next story, to live beyond their pages. This result should not surprise me or my readers, since this operation, my operation, runs on precisely this sort of stuff. Enough never proves to be enough. Doneness doesn't just quit.

It might be that the most valuable element of any of my collections of stories doesn't actually inhabit any individual story or, indeed, any collection, either.

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FinalFullDay

 FinalFullDay
George Hitchcock: The Blessed Mother (1892)


" … trying to find someplace to fit into a finished picture."


What started as an experiment became a practice before changing back into an experiment again: Againing. The once full moon this morning displays only the thinnest sliver of itself, preparing to preside over an equinox, one seemingly delayed a full day beyond its usually 21st of the month appearance, scheduled to show up in this year, 2022, on the twenty-second, thanks, I guess, to the magic of Moon Mathematics. Moon Math can shave as well as add, rendering expected into slightly different forms, recognizable, but never precisely. Expectations come, I suspect, exclusively in regular shapes, while experience tends to slop over edges. We perceive similarities as well as differences, sensing familiar without fully believing when we've found it. Life still seems new, even after so much time spent both on and off the shelf of it. My sense of self still seems unfinished again, Againing.

What did I think I was doing?

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ReMounting

remounting
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec:
The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon) (c. 1888)


" … permanently resolve nothing all over again again."


Months later and I still hadn't finished painting that first side of The Villa. I'd innocently believed when I started that I would have completed painting all three sides I'd planned to repaint this year, but I hadn't. I'd become an intermittent in practice. In theory, I almost always work continuously, diligently laboring until I finish a job. In practice, I lose my spot. This year, I could safely blame the weather. Too much rain early, then way too much heat later. Whatever, I could not maintain the natural rhythm of the work, let alone find it. I relegated myself into a odd-lot contractor, unable to reach scale or maintain cadence. My execution was therefore patchy. Oh, the emerging finished product looks fine, as if produced by continuous process, even if it was not. It took more effort as intermittent work than it could have possibly otherwise taken. As I near completion, I watch myself ReMounting that scaffolding one more time.

That first time climbing to the top resolved nothing.

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Incompatible

incompatible
Attributed to Suzanne Valadon: The Circus (1889)


" … our relationship utterly depends upon us making the most generous possible interpretations …"


The Muse and I acknowledged last week that twenty-five years had passed since we met. Anyone might presume, then, that we're a compatible pair, and I suppose we are compatible, but only up to a point. In many ways, we have always been Incompatible. Our stars were never in complete alignment. We each contribute a fair measure of frustration to the relationship. We each have our ways of accomplishing things. Attempts to partner don't always fall apart, but they also don't always work. I've learned to not take these failings very seriously, for that's the point where Incompatibility begins to matter, where it starts breaking down a relationship, tearing asunder. North of serious, things work. South of there, they absolutely don't, and couldn't.

Both The Muse and I were married before, her once and me, twice.

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CreatingContext

CreatingContext
Hans Sebald Beham:
Adam zittend op boomstronk met appel in zijn hand
[Adam sitting on a tree stump with an apple in his sinning hand] (1519)

" … a seemingly secret path to actually achieving it …"


The Muse had been complaining for months about the trash wood pile on the front porch. The pile, the natural product of last year's Grand Refurbish, needed cleaning up and we both knew that it was my responsibility to clean it up, and yet that job had never risen to the top of my UnfinishedBusiness queue until yesterday. I knew that I'd have to clean up that mess before we could replace the brick pillars around the front porch, but that job had crept into the unlikely category as Summer threatened to turn into Fall. It was supposed to start in Late August. Further, just that morning, Our Carpenter Joel, in his role as prime contractor for the repillering job, had reported that the contractor he'd lined up last Spring had gone incommunicado, apparently communicating by not communicating that he'd decided not to do the job after all. Suddenly, there was even less urgency to clean up that pile.

It's not that I hadn't contributed considerable brain power to considering how to satisfy The Muse's request.

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UnfinishedBusiness

unfinishedbusiness
Stuart Davis: Study for “Unfinished Business” (1962)


" … one stumbles back out of what one stumbles into …"


The end of a season invites in the auditors to assess progress made. Nobody wants a disappointing auditor's report, but some seasons, conditions seem to conspire against success, against progress itself. For me, this result typically happens when I've managed to accumulate more obligations than I can successfully juggle. It never takes much, more like it tends to take no more than an ungainly mix of even small stuff. A single procrastinating act might set off a cascade of small avoidances which quickly accumulate into an overwhelming backlog, one which appears beyond anyone's means to dent, let alone to clear. This accumulation becomes my burden, invisible, perhaps, to everyone else, but front row center prominent for me. It weighs extremely heavily upon me, encumbering everything I attempt, dissuading me from even trying to clear the scales.

The Muse notices but wisely mostly declines to mention.

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WindingDowner

windingdowner
John La Farge: A Rishi Stirring Up a Storm (1897)


" … in preparation for an on-time arrival."


The two most dangerous parts of every airplane flight come at the beginning and at the ending of the flying. The flying itself, once aloft and leveled off at cruising altitude, becomes pretty routine, but both beginning and ending observe what the regulating authorities call Sterile Periods, where, by law, crew must remain focused upon their responsibilities. No chit chat and no playing mumbly-peg in the cockpit. Beginnings and endings remain serious business. Writing's no different, and, I suppose, if I researched any profession, I'd find a traditional respect observed for beginnings and for endings. An innocent oversight before departure can bloom into a crisis once away. In some ways, I suppose that every profession amounts to life or death since none of the time any of us invest proves to be refundable. We hasten slowly when starting and no more quickly when coming back to Earth.

This Againing Series, begun in sublime ignorance almost three months ago, has started making noises like it's just about ready to land at its destination, wherever that might be.

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Adaptigrating

adaptigrating
Thomas Cole: View of Schroon Mountain,
Essex County, New York, After a Storm
(1838)


" … appearing more or less unbidden, wet and fearful …"


Anyone insisting that they grew up in the Good Old Days was not paying attention then. The Old Days I hail from would not nearly pass muster today. It was impossible then to find a decent loaf of bread in wheat country, and even the largest cities lacked a decent cup of coffee. People smoked with impunity and drank Coke® without irony. We might have gone to church each Sunday but we went right back to our same-old secular ways come Sunday evening. We were innocently and ignorantly every -ist in today's playbooks, and damned proud of it, mostly. Say what you might about 'wokeness,' but its precursor amounted to worseness, and we are as a people and as a culture getting better, as they say, with few notable exceptions.

Conservatives thrive on the Good Old Days Myth, though a myth it most certainly remains.

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Smoked

smoked
Salvator Rosa: Philosophy (1641)
Inscription: "Keep silent or say something better than silence".


" … they remind us how blessed we remain once their curse has fled."


The late summer forest fire has become a defining event in the Great American West. If not by the end of August, then certainly by the end of September, an incident will light some woodland on fire and the resulting smoke will set about obscuring sun and sky. For days or weeks, no sunrises or sunsets grace the time. Horizons shrink. Even the foothills a short distance away disappear into thick haze. Latitude for action shrivels, too. Driving comes to seem dangerous, perspectives narrow. After perhaps weeks spent hibernating from extreme heat, the smoke seems to add insult to indignity. I ache then to free myself from this place of my liberation.

It's certainly Heavenly here, or as close to Heavenly as I've yet experienced here on Earth, yet even this Eden hosts its apples and serpents.

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Illness

illness
Félix Vallotton:
La Malade (The Patient): Hélène Chatenay (1892)

"This Illness does not render her any more special than she already was, which was always considerable."


Illness seems different and distinct from mere sickness. Sickness seems an interruption, something contracted then resolved as a matter of course. In most cases, one simply recovers from the flu without long-lingering symptoms. Illnesses seem unique in that recovery's not presumed. They typically do not just take care of themselves. They need treatment. Sometimes, a course of medicine counterbalances the intrusion; often, more extensive interventions: surgery, quarantining, physical therapy, hospitalization, psychological counseling. Some of these responses might continue for the rest of the patient's life while others come in passing. One does not necessarily ever recover from an Illness. The Parkinson's my mom contracted at sixty was still with her when she died at ninety-something, though it had progressed considerably from its beginning as a questionable quivering into a totally debilitating presence. A person might be rendered free of cancer, but they're not considered "cured" until cancer-free for five years.

The Muse found a lump in her throat and to her credit, she followed up on it. I consider this act courageous.

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Backdooring

backdooring
John Singer Sargent:
Entrance of Blue Grotto, Capri (May 21 1869)


"Wider recognition only spoils the intention."


The Muse and I have been trying out new routes between our heres and theres. Most prominent at the moment, a route through Washtucna, a town of little note and far less substance. Access comes via two lane blacktop, up through the very least densely populated portion of our county and into an even more lonely stretch in an adjacent one. The road twists unconscionably, which makes for slow going. Yet we've taken to making our way up the Road To Washtucna wherever we head West, toward Seattle. Faster ways exist, though none shorter. This route features no semi-trucks, the bane of every traveler's adventures. It's a backdoor route, one not obvious to first-time tourists and uninteresting to those who equate freeway driving with freedom. We can toodle our way away and back again without any fear of anyone spotting us getting away or returning. We're Backdooring.

The older I get, the less interested I seem to be with status and notoriety.

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Aspect

aspect
Moon over Stevens Pass 9/11/2022, 3am


" … conspiring to escape my defenses …"


Up in these woods, this weary world seems fresh. A full moon crawls beyond a sixty-foot cedar to stare down unblinking upon my very early morning doings, and finds nothing wanting, nothing awry. All seems perfectly right with this world in this moment, travails intact, problem unsolved. The Aspect here precludes the usual fears. I feel suspended above and safely beyond wanting. All seems calm. All bright.

The Muse announced the presence of her cancer in a brilliant social media post, one which nobody who knows her could have possibly mistaken her not having been its author.

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Offlining

offlining
Salvator Rosa:
Diogenes Casting Away His Bowl (1661–1662)


"I might be someone other than who I pretend to be …"


My great great grandmother, born in the eighteen forties, lived to be almost a hundred. During her life, she experienced in her youth a medieval-quality existence as an immigrant on two great migrations from New York into Florida following Gadson's campaign and then on into Texas. As a young wife, she traveled the Oregon Trail clear to Oregon on horseback. By the time she died, WW2 had ended. People were flying. Just a few years before I was born, this world had already invented most of what we would readily recognize today, but in more primitive forms. Now, all those newspapers and magazines, radios and televisions visit us via a single medium, one we carry access to with machines small enough to comfortably fit into a pocket and powerful enough to utterly distract us from ourselves. My great great grandmother was a life-long pioneer. Her great great grandson, a slave.

I admit my addiction.

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TheReveal

thereveal
Frederic Remington: First and Best Camp of the Trip (1895)


"Each a detective, none a master."


We believe in TheReveal, that whatever mystery harasses us, we will eventually come to understand and thereby resolve it. This seems an inherently naive notion, since this world, this universe, seems more vast than even our imaginations might ever grasp. Still, we entertain and employ ourselves seeking answers, often to the wrong questions. We collect pieces to these puzzles in the belief that we might one day fit them together and release the tension. In Hardy Boy novels, this release came about in TheReveal chapter, where all the story's threads came together to affect resolution. The reader would learn
who done it? and the perpetrator would be carted off to jail. Frank and Joe might receive the heartfelt if slightly surprised appreciation from the police chief or their detective dad, then go on to stumble upon another mystery needing resolution.

I am here to reveal that life does not often work like that.

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RealChange

RealChange
Félix Vallotton: Corn Fields (1900)


"Things will never be the same again."


Change seems the real constant in this world, in this life. Stasis seems impossible, yet we're weaned to wish for difference, not stasis. We genuinely fail to see the essential contradiction in our constant striving for change, RealChange. I doubt that I would recognize the real McCoy if it sat on my face. The real McCoy might look more like nothing different at all. It might seem so familiar as to appear utterly unimportant. Remember when The Damned Pandemic forced us all to take up a sedentary lifestyle, always staying home, rarely roaming anywhere? That was a real and significant change to which many reacted by feeling bored and uninterested. We ached for the same old and called that different. Change seems the constant, constancy the real difference.

The Muse and I are poised upon the cusp of a significant change.

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Becausing

becausing
Attributed to Frans Pourbus, the Younger:
Profile Portrait of a Lady (1569 - 1622)


"Just let that mystery be."


Because belongs to that august class of words which carry no specific meaning. It seems to mostly play the role of placeholder, standing in for some more substantial explanation. It pretends to explain something, but utterly fails, except in omission. It seems to say, "Don't ask. I cannot tell," more of a brush-off, really. In the absence of a root cause, just say, "Because," just because.

Psychologists insist that we become more or less the sum total of our explanatory stories.

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Dazing

dazing
Rembrandt van Rijn: Old Woman Sleeping (c. 1636)


" … done Dazing for this waning season."


At this latitude, summer changes like a supertanker turns, in a wide, almost indiscernible arc. I might be excused for thinking the first hints mere feints, practice moves with no conviction behind them. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, though, the easy mornings finally give way to presenting high fifty degree temperatures and I gratefully don a sweatshirt and happily bid goodbye to my sweaty pillows. As almost unbearable as the nights have been, the days have been absolutely overwhelming me. If I was not done with my outside chores by eight, at the very latest nine am, I could forget about completing them that morning. I might occasionally squeak in an additional couple near the end of the day, having by then once again grown somewhat accustomed to the insult to the point where I could complete 'em in hundred degree shade. The bulk of my August days were spent Dazing, in hot weather hibernation, idly gazing, almost dozing. It was my final defense.

Let the record show that I didn't completely collapse, however otherwise misleading appearances might have seemed.

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Laboring

Laboring
Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)


" … we observe it from a safe distance in the shade."


Labor Day might be the only holiday we do not celebrate. Oh, we observe it, or we certainly try to observe it, but something in the American character steadfastly refuses to celebrate Laboring. Our native Yankee genius has always been attuned to figuring out ways to avoid Laboring instead, and specializes in producing labor saving devices. We secretly consider anyone laboring to either be a convict, sentences to a term at "hard labor," or a fool, too simple to concoct a way to avoid the sweaty stuff.

We paradoxically, though, claim to revere the hard worker.

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Pa

pa
Hercules Seghers: Enclosed Valley (c. 1623–30)


" … I love my overalls …"


Years ago, when my son was barely one year old, my first wife and I bought our first house. It wasn't much. Two bedrooms featuring peeling wallpaper, worn paint, and a basement given over to cobwebs and mouse poop, but we set about fixing it up, though neither of us considered ourselves qualified. The interest rate on the mortgage was fifteen and a half percent, the best we could bargain for under Reagan's grand prosperity strategy, which left us feeling as if we'd landed in the middle of The Great Depression. The old guy we'd bought the place from left a weary pair of overalls on a basement shelf. I washed them up and tried them on, never having previously had the pleasure, and took to wearing them as I labored around the place. As often happens for me, that clothing imparted a new identity to me. I became 'Pa' whenever I wore them, a character loosely based upon an actor in a popular television series at that time, The Waltons.

I guess I needed a role model and imprinted upon him.

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NextChapter

nextchapter
Thomas Birch:
Capture of the Tripoli by the Enterprise (1806/12)


" … I'll still already be gone by then."


My experience of this life so far strongly suggests against the existence of sequential anything. Sequential seems a hypothetical, one possible alternative rarely actually encountered; a theoretical, all things being equal, when things only very rarely end up being very equal. I skip around instead. I might set off in some definite direction, following the simplest of instructions, but soon encounter some distraction, some unexpected abstraction needing fleshing out. The road not taken seemed the very soul of straightforward. The road actually traveled seemed to have meandered.

Oh, plans rely almost entirely upon sequential construction.

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Anti-

anti-
Alfred Stieglitz: Listening to the Crickets (c. 1900)


"Impossible and necessary …"


I this week declared myself Antifa because I consider myself vehemently anti-fascist. Who wouldn't be? An old acquaintance called me out, noting that a shadowy group considered to have been responsible for much anonymous street violence travels under the Antifa label, but then so, too, does a deeply anonymous collective of hackers who have uncovered considerable elite wrong-doing, and so, too, does a loose association of equality-seekers who protest financial elitism, which seems the very soul of fascism. The problem might lie in the Anti- label, what philosophers refer to as the 'negative space' identifier. Yesterday, as my dentist fitted a new cap onto one of my molars, he asked me to try to determine if it fit properly, a state I might recognize because I wouldn't notice any difference when I bite down. A positive space target would have provided an experience from which to judge success rather than the absence of an experience. We worked until I decided that I couldn't feel any difference, but I left with doubts that I'd succeeded in properly reporting success. Negative spaces work like that.

My Anti- feelings toward fascism fail to characterize what I'd consider an adequate replacement for fascism's presence.

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FairWeather

fairweather
Ben Shahn:
Untitled [county fair, central Ohio] (August 1938, printed later)


"Nostalgia seems a much more reliable companion …"


Summer's finished. It just doesn't quite realize it yet. As if to demonstrate its remaining vitality, the temperature pushed a hundred again, but the people long ago grew accustomed to even that extreme. They stream to the Fair, regardless. So do The Muse and I. We come to work the Democrat booth, a fabled responsibility. Occasionally, some delusional Q fan or Trump supporter has been known to wander by and harass whomever's working the booth, so we're wary. Cowboys wander by with smirks on their faces and "Brandon" on their lips, quietly shaking their heads as they pass. Our people stop by carrying their enthusiasm with them, grateful for our presence. It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. They're really out to get us.

The booth has a grandstand view of the fair's entrance, a broad sidewalk where everyone entering must pass.

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Resettling

Resettling
Paul Gauguin:
Manao tupapau [She Thinks of the Ghost or The Ghost Thinks of Her]
(1894/95)


"The playing field suddenly seems wide open."


I peeked into The Muse's office yesterday and found her desk barren, her large display monitor and high speed printer gone, returned to The National Lab as a sure sign of her retirement. We returned to a different place than we left. Further, we returned different people than the ones who left, too. The cats were the first to notice. We came as ghosts and, once familiar patterns disrupted, neither cat seemed to know what to do with our presence. It took a day for them to switch back, or really attempt to. The house, too, seemed changed. Absent the presence of The Muse's career responsibilities, the place seemed more open, freer. It would take some Resettling to settle back in here, though I wonder if there might not be any real back to begin settling into. This rehabitation might well be an invention.

People our age refer to their forever home.

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HotPillow

hotpillow
Ary de Vois: Jacob’s Dream (1660 - 1680)


" … just as long as I don't have to make a steady habit …"


The Muse admits to being a hotel snob. After all those years spent working for the lab, through which she most months traveled at least a few days, she developed certain standards, certain expectations for what a hotel should and should not provide. Because she stayed at first class hotels when traveling on business (Why not? She received the government rate!), her previous minimum standards shifted upward. Believe me, we've stayed at some marginal digs, the kind author James Elroy referred to as HotPillow joints, implying that their primary business might not be providing places of rest but of salacious exercise. Few experiences prove quite as upsetting as discovering, typically at about three in the morning, that your sleeping room is adjacent to a brothel. This sort of thing rarely happens in your higher class lodgings, but probably only because they feature more effective soundproofing.

Now that The Muse has retired, she loses some of her previous perks, government lodging rates among them.

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Trans-IT-ioning

trans-it-ioning
Caspar David Friedrich:
The Woman with the Spider Web between Bare Trees (1803)


" … deferring arrival into our future together …"


The Muse retired three days ago, but because we haven't arrived back at The Villa Vatta Schmaltz yet, she's still Trans-IT-ioning into whatever she will next become. The traveling days serve as a buffer, allowing us both to try on fresh identities, and I say "us both" because while she's retired, my role changes, too. One cannot change any element within a tightly-bound system without also effecting every other piece, and our relationship's no exception. The Invisible Husband might not have retired, but his role significantly shifted with The Muse's. I think it a significant blessing that we're sort of dawdling our way back home, since it provides an opportunity to stumble across a fresh identity or two and try them on along the way. These things take time.

We visited The Golden Spike National Monument on our way through Utah, perhaps a premise to extend our Trans-IT-ioning, but a worthwhile one.

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TakingTime

takingtime
Weegee (Arthur Fellig): Weegee by Weegee (c. 1953)


"a thief for this day"


The outward trip insisted upon arriving "on time," for we travelled with purpose. The Muse had obligations, presentations to perform, and she could not afford to be tardy, so I drove as if MakingTime. Returning, The Muse freshly retired, urgency seemed to have been bled out of us by then. She lazed around until she was good and ready to get up, and I patiently played along. I felt anxious to get back, as I always am on the return leg of any trip, home calling, but she seemed in no hurry so we began the day's drive with the morning already half gone. Further, I drove passively, not insisting upon even keeping to the speed limit, cruising for something other than progress. We passed through Glenwood Canyon. Any day marked by passage through that timeless portal proves remarkable, whatever else might happen.

We found a mediocre barbecue joint for lunch, where I was served what seemed like a cud of pork and The Muse, an over-done and dry rib, each more satisfying than they had any right to seem.

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ExilesEnd

Exile'sEnd
Gustave Courbet: Panoramic View of the Alps,
Les Dents du Midi
(1877) unfinished work


"We gained a garden at the cost of losing that world …"


When does an exile end? The homecoming just begins the exit, for attachments made out there still hold. The Muse retained her position, so she continued connecting in more or less the same fashion after relocating home. She became a remote worker, just like any other until The Damned Pandemic started lifting. Then, she'd occasionally return, working in borrowed space, back into the workplace she'd inhabited before. Her exile followed her back home, her liberation incomplete until this week when she formally retired, turned in her credentials, and forfeited her computer and phone. Her departure almost seemed like the start of yet another exile as we drove through Golden, a town we'd grown so damned familiar with during the actual exile.

I, too, sensed the continuing connection, my well-practiced role of The Invisible Husband during the exile, continued even after we returned home.

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Morebility

morebility
Charles Laborde: Traffic, Montmartre (1925)


"Mobility has become its opposite."


My mobility will very likely be the death of me, for I cannot seem to deny the primal urge to move. My dissatisfaction with simply sitting invites me into perhaps the most self destructive habit on this planet, driving. The imagined freedom of the road goads many into what I might label Morebility, the morbidity of movement; movement for its own sake, movement as compulsion, movement as self-justifying. In the small city to which The Muse and I have settled, traffic only rarely presents a problem. When the travel time across the whole place takes about eight minutes during the peak of rush hour, such as it is, nobody's really in the business of seriously trying to limit the number of cars on the road. Along the Front Range of Colorado, though, traffic has become much more than a problem. It seems more a disease as each takes their leave and the roads quickly clog, filled to beyond their design capacity for several hours each day. Rush hour moves at a snail's pace. Freedom of movement becomes a parody of itself.

The Gods, of course, absolutely love this stuff.

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AThousandMiles

athousandmiles
Katsushika Hokusai: A Mild Breeze on a Fine Day (Gaifu kaisei),
from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei)”
(c. 1830/33)


" … enough distance to change the past."


I woke up AThousandMiles away from home, and feeling the distance. I sensed a deep familiarity along with an accompanying alienation, for this place, once the site of our extended exile, no longer belongs to us or us to it. When we owned a home here, I could at least believably imagine that I belonged. Since we left, I'd hardly given it an idle thought. Yet here I am and here it is, confronting each other again. Me, with my muscle memory still so well-tuned to this context that my fingers remember when to change the cruise control speed in perfect anticipation of an upcoming change. I remember which lane sets me up for the turn, just like an old hand.

I notice that this place has not stood still in my absence.

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StoryOuting

storyouting
Unknown Artisan(s)-Netherlands, early 16th century:
Story of Perseus and Andromeda (early 1500s)


"We are stories perhaps never coherently told …"


Faced with the existential crisis a birthday brings, I long ago ceased shopping for relief. I decided that I could not possibly buy myself out of this dilemma brought on by the urgent need to give the very best gift. In the past, I've usually resorted to producing a poem, and there've been plenty in their time. [I excuse The Muse her …, you get the drift.] I've sometimes produced an original song, one of which was the first ever Folk Noir tune and another, which accurately predicted our future. (The Invisible Husband, circa 2011.) This year, The Muse's Day happened when we were away. I attempted to write a poem while creeping around our shared hotel room but the context didn't feel right and the words wouldn't come. Writing a poem, especially one of potential importance, will not just come if beaconed. It must be reckoned with. It comes when it's ready and never entirely due to any sense of urgency, which most often serves to scare off the damned thing, anyway. Birthdays, as I said, produce existential crises.

We had five hundred miles of two lane blacktop looking at us, a day of traveling ahead.

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MakingTime

makingtime
attributed to Mewar Stipple Master:
Prince Amar Singh Drives His Own Elephant (c. 1695)


" … I will have become a system …"


What am I doing while I'm driving? That's a complicated question that gets down on one knee and begs an equally complicated answer; but I'm a simple man, one more prone to simplification than explication. I hold deep suspicions about anyone attempting to definitely answer that question, for too many moving parts get involved, along with human emotion. No, my friend, that's one terribly, terribly complication question.

I, myself, seem barely present when driving.

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LeaveTaking

takingleave
Jean-Léon Gérôme: Leaving the Oasis (1880s)


" … having re-earned our presence by being good and gone."


Folk songwriter John Gorka once insisted that as a traveling performer, he left more often than he ever came back. There was a time when The Muse and I lived like that. We lived as if on a continual grand tour, departing before gravity could catch us, always on the move. The Damned Pandemic slowed our viscosity. We rarely take leave now. A whole other existence lays on the flip side of mobility, a settled life, a more dependable existence. One can come to think of one's self as indispensable by default, since the home place rarely needs to get along without one's presence. Absence becomes unthinkable and the promise of LeaveTaking feels like an existential threat. I spend a few days in growing denial before finally accepting the inevitability less than twenty-four hours before departure time.

In the final hours, The Muse suggests that we might fly instead of drive, and I put down my foot. With This Damned Pandemic, I won't fly.

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TheIrrelevancies

theirrelevencies
William Michael Harnett: Memento Mori, "To This Favour" (1879)


" … inevitably slipping into a growing good twilight."


Mastering TheIrrelevancies might be that true purpose of advancing age, for youth becomes obsessed with establishing the relevance nobody can take to their grave. A younger generation will always be on the heels of any one spawned before it, and they must and will find the flaws in their forebears' arguments if they ever hope to gain prominence for their own. Some try to fight this trend and attempt relevancy until the ultimately bitterer end, an exit inevitably rendered ever more bitter and irrelevant, but irrelevancy by omission turns out to be a much, much different experience than irrelevancy by commission, the former a form of humiliation, the latter holding hope for at least some sort of salvation.

The GrandOther fulfills her part in this grand scheme by purposefully discounting pretty much everything I mention.

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CellAbrate

cellabrate
John Singer Sargent: The Birthday Party (1885)


"Each birthday just reminds me that the lifeday's the thing …"


I can't say how much I appreciate all the birthday greetings I received yesterday. I can declare that I deeply appreciated each and every one and would have written a lengthy response to each had the volume not overwhelmed me. Many insisted that I should take the day off to celebrate, which I did, but probably not in the way any of my well wishers envisioned. There was no cake. In these Damned Pandemic times, no gathering. No party, no favors. No rabble roused, nothing soused. I celebrated as I damned well pleased, as I secretly prefer. I engaged in my usual activities of daily living a tad bit more mindfully than usual, appreciating what I had, not seeking to acquire any more than I already possessed. No presents. No pretenses. I reheated leftovers for supper, fled to bed early, and slept a sleep of angels. Happy, happy birthday, indeed.

I remember when I was about ten, my parents organized a birthday party for me.

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Schrödingers

schroedingers
Giovanni di Paolo:
Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness (1455/60)


"May I prove worthy of my future …"


Each morning, I sit before my keyboard possessing another unstated story. In some ways that story will only degrade from that initial point, for with each finished sentence, its potential further collapses into just whatever it will be. At the moment of inception, it could include anything. By the time I finish writing it, or call it done enough, it will have become a definite and smaller presence. It will have become unique and specific rather than general and infinite. In this way, I seize each day.

I'm coming to acknowledge that first moment as a Schrödinger, in homage to Erwin Schrödinger, who, in 1935, attempted to criticize an interpretation of a quantum condition by explicitly describing a paradox whereby a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of its fate being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.

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PlotTwisting

PlotTwisting
Edward Burne-Jones: The Garden Court (1870–75)


" … the ability to fall apart into unanticipated constituent bits …"


The standard fairy tales seem anything but standard, for each story prominently features some barely believable PlotTwisting. What might have begun as a straightforward stroll to grandmother's house, invariably turns into something much more interesting and, frankly, barely believable, if believable at all. Wolves do not as a general rule wear a grandmother's clothing, even after swallowing her whole. They rarely consent to crawl into anyone's bed, let alone come inside, even to chide a remarkably innocent and gullible Little Red Ridinghood, who, remarkably, does absolutely no riding in the whole story, though in the story's final scene, she does manage to perform some major surgery—or is that an autopsy?—as she extracts whole and otherwise unharmed, though apparently unmentionably slimy, her previously swallowed grandmother from the wolf's belly. The whole story's allegory, twisting in an uneven wind.

Your story and mine are, if scrutinized, hardly any less believable than the least of Hans Christian Andersen's.

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LivingInTheDark

livinginthedark
Marsden Hartley: The Dark Mountain (1909)


" … blindness seems to help me see some things better."


The more we learn about our universe, the more light seems an alien element. Our Earth, like its moon, naturally produces almost no light, but depends upon light cast by a rather distant sun. We "see" into our universe by means of light, mostly the ultraviolet kind we cannot sense without mechanical assistance. What little light we manage to produce, fleeting and dim, slips through our fingers, gone almost before we sense it and certainly leaving more than ever arriving. In a galactic sense, we LiveInTheDark. Nobody in any distant galaxy has been tracking me by the light we emit because we hardly qualify as even a dim bulb in the firmament, though we still remain eminently capable of sometimes feeling absolutely full of ourselves.

Most, and me included, hug close to our light sources.

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DoggedDays

DoggedDays
Pieter van der Heyden (engraver),
after
Pieter Bruegel (artist):
The Four Seasons: Summer (1570)


" … as if splooting somewhere in the middle of a frozen food aisle."


I abandon my bed just after midnight, wondering if night cooling has finally rid us of the previous day's heat. These Dogg
edDays of summer exhaust me. The Muse does not complain as I disappear to lie in front of a box fan or into the shadows of a lengthy mid-day nap, replete with disturbing dreams. These dreams further exhaust me, refreshment presently beyond my grasp. I hold my compass heading but make little progress. The Muse asks what I have in mind for dinner and I reply with a distracted, "Nothing," before resuming what I wasn't doing before she asked. Friends flee to the beach where fog and cool breezes bring respite. Here, wheat harvest continues and the air fills with chaff and dust and the scent of diesel engines. A flour mill burned down last weekend in Pendleton, victim of a bad bushing and an inattentive watchman. The initial fire was quickly drenched and a watchman posted to monitor for flareups. The watchman was pulled after a few hours and a couple of hours later, that fire flared and nobody was there to report the incident. By the time the brigade returned, the place had burned into a smoking shell, a total loss. Blame the DoggedDays of August.

August rhymes with exhausted.

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Mutualizing

mutualizing
Giuseppe Baldrighi: Lion (1750s)


" … this world is better off, too."


I start most days with a period of interspecies communication, Mutualizing, with Max our cat. He initiates these sessions. I'm uncertain about the details from his perspective, but I suspect that he's showing me appreciation and respect when he ambles into the library to hop up onto my lap and stretch out for a scratch and a purr. We share not even the odd verb, but I sense that we're conversing after a fashion. The chat always starts with some questions and tentative answers. Sometimes, he hesitates but consents to allow me to pick him up by the scruff and plop him onto my lap. Other times, he clambers up onto the chair back and climbs down my shirtfront. He quickly settles in, sometimes for no more than a minute—"Just checking in," he seems to say—and other times, he'd stay for hours if I didn't have business to attend to after an hour. He usually lingers for a half hour, sprawling, completely vulnerable, trusting and peaceful.

I cannot imagine a more reassuring way to start any day than to have a fine cat, who could easily choose sublime independence, decide to share some of his wildness with me, seemingly appreciatively.

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Sloughing

sloughing
Margaret Bourke-White:
World’s Highest Standard of Living [Silver Gelatin Print]
(1937)


"Arbeit macht frei!"


I fail to explain, even to myself, how I came to live this essentially binary existence where I'm either working hard or hardly working, producing something or Sloughing off. There seems to be no middle ground, or none that I've found. Even when I manage to tucker myself out, I have not even then earned a rest. What respite I grant myself, I account for as laziness, pure and simple. What rest I take, I consider sloth rather than rejuvenation, and I allow myself only the barest minimum. Beyond that, I start accumulating guilt about failing to properly apply myself. I consider myself to be a wasting asset, one which degrades, whatever I engage in, for I tend to fall short of full engagement, which would be a state with which I cannot quite relate, but recognize only by its absence. I'm confident that I've never experienced full engagement. I'm just a dabbler, I suspect.

I hear politicians divide our great population into two otherwise undifferentiated parts, the hard workers and the intolerables.

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Relentlessness

relentlessness
Jean Antoine Linck: Study of Weeds (1800-1850)


" … more like who I was when I started …"


I feel most impressed with the utter Relentlessness of this universe, where nothing, it seems, succeeds like excess. Particularly in this season, Summer, where I find myself up most mornings, dragging hoses, watering. Weeds which stand outside the watered perimeter thrive. I have no idea what they survive on, for the ground cracks and presents as distinctly unpromising, yet there's always something adapted to even the most wanting place. Give a patch of clover an inch and it will at least attempt to overgrow the whole lawn, growing stronger, shrugging off weed killer, multiplying before exponentiating with abandon. Each plant, each species, seems to lack a governor and quite naturally, Relentlessly, seeks dominion.

I speak emphatically about community, about giving and sharing, but our role models seem indifferent to such.

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Heap

Heap
Alfred Sisley: The Seine at Port-Marly, Piles of Sand (1875)


" … enriching our historical record …"


Future archeologists should be able to fairly accurately map our rhythm of life at The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, primarily by excavating our noble compost Heap. The Heap holds sequential record of our dining year from which even half-baked archeologists should be able to piece together a decent portrait of our preferences and practices. I noticed yesterday that we'd re-entered the Green Chile part of the year, which has always been squeezed in-between the cherry/apricot/plum Stone Fruit season and the now impending tomato time. We put up produce in turn, producing piles of pits and peels which we dutifully pile on top of The Heap, thereby laying down our gastronomic self portrait.

Very little goes to waste here.

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Unseen

unseen
Jacques Callot:
The Uneven One with a Cane, from
Varie Figure Gobbi (1616)


"I am also the sum total of what remains Unseen …"


The following day, my vision returned with a vengeance, in HDTV-quality as if to remind me of all that I had not been seeing, of all that I had not noticed, of all that had recently gone Unseen. I found it humbling to discover what I never really suspected, a prominent blindness. I gratefully never caught myself incapable of seeing. I never quite suspected the depth of my blindness, and presumed that I was experiencing just a slight reduction, a general fuzziness, but I had for months, perhaps a year or more, lost whole dimensions. The vision I experienced that next morning, following the cataract replacement lens clearing laser procedure, were nothing less than extraordinary. A fresh world presented itself to me, distracting in its detail. Colors brilliant, even the muted ones; the textures, profound.

I suspect that blindness must be one of those states that does not exist in any moment. It exists in reflection, by comparison.

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Seeing

seeing
Reijer Stolk: Gmünder See mit Traunstein (1906 - 1945)


" … no more than an annoying background mumble eliciting a muffled scream."


I might privately admit that over recent months, my vision had gone to shit, but I would never otherwise consider admitting this because vision, Seeing, seems such a personal and private experience. My optometrist commented—in no more than an aside, really—that it appeared to him that the lens installed during my cataract surgeries three years ago were starting to look a little cloudy. Cloudy, I thought? But I believed that the cataract surgery would be the last such insult to my eyes, to my vision, that they wouldn't require additional procedures. So much for belief, for I later learned that pretty much everyone who receives that surgery needs a follow-on procedure a few very short years later. I told my optometrist that I'd get back to him later on the subject, thereby entering that first stage of acceptance, denial.

A few weeks later, I'd grown weary of fuzzy perception.

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Installing

installing
Louise Pithoud:
Male and Female Bacchants Installing a Herm (1792)


"I consider them ours."


Installing comes after design and fabrication, and little of either of those earlier stages really prepares anyone for the final challenges. This is where idea finally meets its context, where imagination finds its anchor. Final boundaries and ultimate limits finally come into play. There was probably no way to fully prepare for this day other than to acknowledge it coming. The ruminating that dominated design matters little now. The overlooked will have their day. Last minute surprise will complicate the whole conception, a final reckoning occurs. Reputations might well be threatened and might be made. Be very afraid. It won't matter.

I warmly anticipated Installing the new front porch stair railing.

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Mac&Pleas

macnpleas_
Miep de Feijter:
Hans en Frans verkleed als Alkmaarse kaasdragers
[Hans and Frans work as
Alklmaase cheese carriers] (
c. 1928 - c. 1941)


" I eat my share warmed over …"


A time will come, because it always has, when I will once again be called upon to make "my" Mac&Cheese, my famous Mac&Cheese. My Mac&Cheese became famous because The GrandOtter liked it, or, more properly, loved! it. I made it for a few dinner parties, too, and many proclaimed it the very best they ever consumed. It thus became famous, though dinner party proclamations tend to be heavily lubricated and contextualized by a generalized camaraderie. Nobody ever openly criticizes dinner party dishes, and some gushing seems common to all of them, still, I had reason to believe that my Mac&Cheese was at least pretty good. I knew it was unusual, for I didn't use milk in my cheese sauce. I used stock, which makes a fine sauce without delivering what usually turns out to be a milk pudding sort of base. My Sauce Velout
é provides a better foundation for the cheese. I also usually avoid using actual macaroni in my Mac&Cheese.

Mac&Cheese is always, really about the cheese.

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IfOnly

IfOnly
Willem Claesz Heda: Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635)


" … slinked home without salvation …"


The Muse suggested a drive up to the top of The Scenic Loop to show her visiting nephew John a different part of this valley. We soon found ourselves standing beside a dusty road, threshing wheat in our palms, working on creating gluten balls for chewing. It's long been our practice in harvest season to glean a stalk or two from the periphery of a wheat field and wonder at the magic within them. The Muse counts forty-five kernels from one head, recalling how her father could count one head's kernels and fairly accurately project the bushels per acres he'd harvest from his field. The Muse reports word of bumper crops this year, with eighty bushels per acre on dry land and twice that from irrigated fields. Her dad counted forty bushels a bumper crop in his place and time.

We drive on, working that wheat paste as if it were chewing gum, up further into the mountains, since John lives in South Dakota and has rarely seen mountains.

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Periphery

periphery
Gustave Caillebotte:
Les raboteurs de parquet [The Floor Planers] (1875)


"I just live here."


When The Muse holds a gathering, I prefer to work the Periphery. I'll busy myself with some self-appointed responsibility perhaps only distantly related to the proceedings. I'll flit in and back out again and very likely spend the bulk of my time offline, on the back deck, perhaps, grilling something intended for the table later. I might greet a few people at the front door, but rather quickly disappear, only to reappear to lead a brief guided tour of recent home improvements. I'll suggest a beverage and see that it's delivered, stay for a brief conversation, then evaporate again. I'll contribute, but on my own terms.

I found it curious whenever I took to a stage as either a performer or a teacher that I never seriously intended to become anything like the center of anyone's attention.

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Break

break2
Gustave Caillebotte:
Study of a Man with Hands in His Pockets (1893)


"The Break seems beginningless until it doesn't."


Autumn sends a postcard sometime in August to preface the coming season. After a forever hot spell, one morning brings goose flesh or the strong suggestion that it might still exist, a distinct impossibility just the day before. Nothing never ends, not even nothing, not even that seemingly endless heat, the one that had so rudely interrupted Summer. Summer seems three separate seasons now that global warming has imprinted her presence. Early Summer's an extension of Spring, Mid-Summer's an ordeal, and Later Summer's Early Fall, clearly not yet Autumn, but reminiscent of it in the early mornings and later evenings. Later Summer seems a welcome respite, a Break from the frightening Mid-Summer melting point.

Cool eventually intrudes.

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Fittings

fittings
Mary Cassatt: The Fitting (1890–91)


" … we might just as well be satisfied with the process destined to ultimately delight us."


In the house I grew up in, the music room—the room with the piano and also the room where 'us kids' could isolate to practice our band instruments—doubled as the fitting room for my mom's seamstress business. She'd make wedding dresses and ball gowns, and she'd escort a steady stream of society ladies into that room to try on their new creations. Some pieces required multiple Fittings, as completion took on an iterative nature. There are apparently many elements of dress construction which can only be approximated without the person who will wear it present. Custom made clothing demands a great deal of patience. My mom would pin together seams for later sewing. Occasionally, she'd have to pull out the old seam ripper to completely redo something. It all seemed so exacting.

These childhood experiences tipped me off to the fact that complicated constructions do not come in one-and-done forms.

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Reward

reward
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardine:
The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them (1766)


"I'll just have to wait and see …"


I sat in the dentist's chair feeling consigned to enduring my well-deserved penance. I had, after all, avoided dentists for more than a decade while I failed to work through a small trauma, a slight so minor, so seemingly routine, that I might have not even noticed, except I'd noticed and blown it all out of proper proportion, and there I was, collecting my just deserts. Except this work didn't seem all that onerous, especially when compared to how I'd for so long imagined it would be. Compared to my pre-catastrophizing, this was nothing. I imagined the same routine work being undertaken fifty years before under the technology and fumbling hands of my childhood dentist, Himmler Pearson, who always seemed to revel in the discomfort he imposed. More modern practices emphasize patient comfort. I almost expected to be offered a brandy and a Montechristo, but wasn't.

With little left to do but imagine through what once would have been the excruciatingly painful portion of the procedure, I began to consider what, if not punishment, if not penance, was I experiencing?

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Bloggering

bloggering
Edouard Vuillard: Orchard (1897)


"I seem to need to work in stone tablets."


I blog, and therefore, am. Am what? Well, a blogger for starters and by extension I suppose that I become a writer, though blogging isn't precisely what one might call writing, for blogging's pickier than simply writing. It requires considerable classification and codifying in order for the finished product to properly display and organize. I blog in series, relating all my production into quarterly segments, my current Againing Series, an example of this convention in action. Each addition, each fresh post, must satisfy a few qualifications before it can be published by posting. Each must have a unique title, for the blog software goes a little crazy when it encounters two identical titles, even when those titles belong to different series. Title must be unique, so, once I've decided upon a topic, which first often amounts to little more than a proposed title, I search both my blog archives and its Resource file to ensure that the proposed title has never been used before. I often find that I need to adjust what I thought would be the title to work around this uniqueness convention.

Molly or Max, my cats, might show up just about then, seeking breakfast and reassurance, providing distraction.

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Vectoring

vectoring
Jacob van Hulsdonck:
Still Life with Meat, Fish, Vegetables, and Fruit (c.1615–20)


" … a narrowing and no longer terribly elegant Broadway."


When my first wife and I moved to Portland, OR, in December 1975, we arrived as refugees. We marveled at the supermarket produce aisles after surviving two winters living in rural NE Pennsylvania, where produce seemed scarce off season. In Portland, all things still seemed possible. We took a main floor apartment on a bus route—by which I mean, the Belmont bus actually passed through our living room four times each hour— and we set about creating our future. Our future, like all futures always have, would get cobbled together by means of Vectoring, a process by which billions of possibilities get winnowed down to a single manifestation. Nobody actually understands how this process works because it has altogether too many moving parts and nobody stands positioned to monitor or even sense the presence of all of them, or even of most of them. We attend, instead, to the few within our purview and project what we expect to result.

The result famously manifests as something other than what we expected, and we might, as I did this weekend, consider how it was that Portland's present manifested out of its past.

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BagPoem

bagpoem
Yamada Hōgyoku: Dog with Bag Over its Head (1830s)


" … there could be worse fates than smothering on tradition."


Who knows where traditions get started? Who knows where they end? Some arise from innocent mistakes. Others seem more tenacious habit than anything resembling the presence of grace. A few seem genuinely sacred, in that neglecting to observe them seems more sin than oversight. Family traditions might hold no known origin, like the old apocryphal story about the preparation of the Easter ham, which had always included the traditional step of cutting one end off the ham. The youngest great-granddaughter asked her mother why she cut off the end of the ham and was told, "Because that's the way my mother prepared it." So the great-granddaughter asked her grandmother the same question and received the same answer. She finally asker her great-grandmother, who had apparently started the tradition way back during the Great Depression. "Because the only pan I owned was too small to hold the ham, Great-grandmother explained. Some traditions seem like metastasized necessities.

In my family, one tradition began as a small shortcoming.

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SynchronicitySwarm

synchronicityswarm
Yi Taek-gyun: Books and Scholars’ Accouterments
책가도 (冊架圖) (late 1800s)
Ten-panel folding screen; ink and color on silk


" … the research librarian remains a doubtful skeptic."


The Muse and I moved down the Portland sidewalk like the old hands we were, for she had just been recalling that I'd brought her to this neighborhood on her first visit, twenty-five years before. She said that she did not miss the bustle of living in a city, though, as we slipped around a clog of people doing jello shots and smoking at a sidewalk bar. The restaurant that used to tout its hundred beer taps now advertises its space for lease and this city seems weary and confused. From our hotel room, high atop an anonymous city center tower, I can look into the upper floors of a marvelous old tile-fronted office building, its upper floors just as empty as any abandoned warehouse, and no more elegant. New development continues, surrounded by vacancies and boarded up storefronts.

I feel enlivened by the variety, though, the juxtapositions attract my eye.

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Blistering

Blistering
Charles Angrand: End of the Harvest (c.1892–1905)


"Nostalgia omits many details …"


As August draws near, the annual counterpoint to deepest, darkest Winter emerges, its opposite to polar, Blistering weather. It, like most opposites, produces a remarkably similar result to its mirror: doors and windows shut tight against the outside, a kind of hibernating happening in. By eight in the morning, it's become uncomfortable out there. We've already drawn the shades and turned up the air conditioning, and set the box fans blowing. The overnight low came just before sunrise and barely fell below eighty degrees Fahrenheit, 26C. It's Blistering.

I set sprinklers in darkness, running them until an hour after sunrise, when evaporation renders them wasteful.

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Absolution

absolution
Noël Nicolas Coypel:
The Miracles of Saint James the Greater (1726)


"I can breathe again!"


Who seeks Absolution by going to the dentist? Who, that is, besides me? I hold a convoluted story about my recent relationship to dentistry, one which I'm uncertain I should share, which explains why I'm choosing to share it, under The One Must Speak What's Not Supposed To Be Spoken About Rule, one of my personal Ethical Responsibilities. That twinge suggesting I should stay mute on a subject too easily becomes an excuse to stifle myself and I'm reasonably certain that my purpose here might never have been to master self-stifling. I'm not struggling to justify disclosing embarrassingly inappropriate details, just something perhaps painfully necessary, a shortcoming and its accompanying redemption. An act of Absolution.

I do not believe that my primary purpose here was ever to pass judgement, either.

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StrongLeader

strongleader
Rembrandt van Rijn:
Man Helping a Rider to Mount a Horse (c. 1640-41)


"Vote for the one not trying to impress you."


Lord, help us, please, resist the StrongLeader's seduction, for we do not need StrongLeaders. We need leaders who can do their freaking job without continually plotting strategies for getting away with breaking the law they swore to uphold. We do not need leaders who just make stuff up as they go along, who act upon their animal urges, who hold eternal grudges. We need leaders capable of leveling with themselves and their followers, ones who eschew the trappings of power, rather than those who seem to need to impress, anyone with mommy or daddy issues. We need clear-eyed adults, ones who've dealt with their stuff, ones who might have crashed and burned before, ones who remember who they are and were. We need magnanimous ones, ones willing to kneel before their followers, in service to their supporters, ones who won't pander to get ahead. Ones with a head on their shoulders and a heart in their chest. Ones for whom good enough is best.

Il Duce, Mussolini, was the prototypical StrongLeader.

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Reverting

reverting
Jacob van Ruisdael:
Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle of Egmond (1650/55)


" … face being all grown up …"


Contrary to how I might appear to any naive observer, I have not quite grown up yet. I experience moments of maturity, sometimes stretching into full afternoons or evenings of it, but I remain capable off Reverting to earlier releases of myself with little provocation. Last evening, chopping garlic for supper, I sliced into a fingertip with the extra sharp chef's knife and instantly reverted back into a five year old child. I yelled for The Muse while rushing into the small bathroom off the kitchen where I grabbed a handful of Kleenex® and whimpered. I became essentially helpless for the balance of the evening. The Muse had to finish prepping the supper I had almost managed to finish preparing, even though it was clearly my evening to assemble supper. The Muse clucked over me, suggesting that I might need stitches, while I switched out tissues and waited for the worst of the bleeding to stop.

I felt inconsolable inside. No amount of care could have erased that error.

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Failure

failure
Paul Cezanne: The Basket of Apples (about 1893)


" … everyone eventually becomes."


There's nothing quite like being greeted at a restaurant's reception desk by the question, "Just you?" Of course the greeter means no insult, but The Muse and I always fein offense and ask, "Just? Are we not enough?" The greeter briefly blushes before going back to more important business, like where to seat these clowns. Our point being that nobody's ever "just" anything. We're much, much more and never simply one thing.

At my age, I can easily claim to have been a Failure, but not "just" a Failure, for I have also at times been a success.

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Recipe

recipe1
Barthélémy d'Eyck:
Still Life with Books in a Niche (1442 - 1445)


" … I will struggle to respond."


I am sometimes asked to recite a recipe for something I've made and I always struggle to respond because I don't usually use recipes. Oh, I might reference one to understand proportions—how much water to how much rice?—but I rarely very slavishly follow any instructions. Recipes seem the very epitome of frozen action, listing stuff as if stuff could be listed, sequencing actions as if sequence mattered. Consequently, I do not bake things because baking is too exacting, demanding slavish adherence to rules which successfully distill action into script. I'm not that kind of cook. For me, cooking seems more discovery than recitation. I'm never quite certain how to cook anything. Even if I've cooked something similar before, I've forgotten precisely how I prepared it and I did not write down my discoveries. I consequently do not cook the same thing once, let alone twice.

I am a man of simple tastes.

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Unintentionals

Unintentionals
Grant W. Pullis (attributed to):
Construction of the New York Subway (1908)


"Might just as well embrace the inevitable."


My early mentors cautioned me about unintended consequences, apparently inescapable side effects of every significant effort. Setting out to change any world will very likely set into motion forces which will certainly change something else, too, and those side effect changes might well become the effort's legacy, like that county sheriff in coastal Oregon who decided to rid the beach of that rotting whale carcass with a little dynamite. He managed to cover a sizable crowd present to witness the transformation, including news cameras from Portland, with a thick patina of rotted blubber. This one act became the entirety of his legacy, thanks to a single unintended consequence.

Other Unintentionals seem possible, though, positive ones.

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SacredDuty

sacredduty
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes:
The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and the Muses (1884/89)


" … if any of us can still muster any of that within ourselves."


While it might seem unlikely from within anybody's daily routine, I believe that we each labor within an often tacit SacredDuty. It doesn't very much matter our occupation, we each hold a similar obligation, to each other, to ourselves, to our society, however wounded or unjust each might appear to be. We hold this SacredDuty for our own good and for the good of those around us, for the good of the universe, if you will, if I dare mention it. It probably doesn't matter where any individual acquires their sense of duty, their specific marching orders, though it matters much whether an individual received theirs and whether an individual managed to hold theirs sacred, to respect it and to actually attempt to live up to it. However we're each employed, we each report to the same supervisor, the same cruel overseer, and that ruler is us, ultimately our 'I', and no other, though we each might start with a mentor, an exemplar or two who attempt to clue us in to ourselves and our duty, and to our own sacred nature, with varying degrees of success.

The House Select Committee's Public Hearings on the Events of January 6, 2020, reminds me of the presence of such a thing as SacredDuty.

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Nocturnal

nocturnal
James McNeill Whistler:
Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water (1872)


" … revel in the respite my predawn time brings."


In the highest summer, I turn Nocturnal. My usual habit of rising early becomes more than habitual but essential to the simple maintenance of life. Oh, the mornings remain mostly tolerable, at least until around ten, then the day degrades into near unbearable brightness and glare. Working out there becomes essentially impossible, for I will not, under any circumstances, wear either short-sleeved shirts or shorts, due to an unfortunate family history with sunlight. I exclusively wear long sleeves with cuffs buttoned against the sun and my usual long' legged jeans. My only concession to the season will likely be sockless feet. I'm not wearing sandals, either. I will also wear a broad-brimmed hat or one of my many havelocks. I'm as tucked up against the summer sun as any burqa wearer might be against temptation and sin. If I'm working, I'm also wearing gloves.

What do I wear when I go to the beach?

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Inducing

inducing
Eugène Carrière: The Contemplator (1901)


" … to thoroughly enjoy not being fully there."


I'm not so much working as actively Inducing, successful to the extent that my actions entrance me into satisfying action. I could not possibly have managed to complete the work I finished yesterday had I been fully present for the festivities. I was up and out early, climbing scaffolding again, finally finishing that busy slice of wall that had long been my dread and fear, my nemesis. I had by then conquered her. I'd even removed all by myself the rubber matting the electric company lineman had wrapped around the formerly terrifying incoming electric wires, an unimaginable act a few long months before. I was for that day, the self-acknowledged master of that stripe of wall. For my final act, I called in the cable company technician to replace the worn and weary-looking cable line coming down from its anchor, and to tuck it in around the conduit pipe and tie it down with fresh zip ties so it looked as nice as the rest of the wall. No outstanding anything after finishing a couple of final touch-up soirées up to the top and back down again. Then, my reward was tearing down that scaffolding to reconstruct it one click to the right.

I was crawling all over that wall like the monkey I am not.

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EverydayMysteries

everydaymysteries
Paul Gauguin: The Call (1902)


"I just let these EverydayMysteries be …"


The older I grow, the less I seem to know for certain. This outcome surprises me, if only because I naively believed nearer the beginning of my life that I would become, if not older and wiser, at least older and more knowledgable, but this has not been my experience, unless I count stuff I've come to know for certain isn't reliably knowable. So the number of mysteries I juggle has greatly expanded while the number I manage to resolve has plummeted. I'm okay with this state of affairs if only because there seems to be nothing I can do about it other than accept and perhaps revel in it. It's just the way it is.

Earlier in my life, I dabbled with becoming somewhat of a detective, for I'd convinced myself that if I just applied myself, I could come to understand pretty much anything.

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Touched

touched
Henry Wolf: The Torn Hat (Date unknown)


"We're here to touch and to be Touched in return."


By the time I've nearly completed repainting another stripe of wall, I've Touched every square centimeter of it several times. Looking at The Villa from down the street, it seems unlikely from that distance that anyone ever touched even once every square centimeter of that looming hulk, let alone touched it several times. The property deed and mortgage papers never mention the unsettling fact that the actual price of owning this place would be the willingness, the patience, to do precisely that, or to hire another to do it for me. I entered into the agreement willingly and ignorantly. I suspect that nobody ever understands such implications in the moment when making such commitments. Those consequences come later, well after the initial thrall disperses. Then, anyone might find reason to accept that they must have been crazy to sign such a contract, then set about making it good, whatever the price.

While I busy myself touching several times every square centimeter of this place, this place is touching back, because Touched seems a two-way arrangement.

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Torn

torn
Jheronimus Bosch (manner of): The Temptation of St Anthony
(c. 1550 - c. 1600)


"… to better appreciate my many shortcomings."

"The requirements for design conflict and cannot be reconciled."

David Pye: The Nature of Design


When I'm painting, I'm also pining, for I shirk other responsibilities while fulfilling my repainting one. The rest of my little overwhelming universe does not freeze until I find time and focus to attend to them. They continue unsupervised, yellow-blooming clover conspiring to overtake my lawn, the annual purslane bloom taking root. The side of the house I'm painting is presently living up to my highest standards of maintenance while the rest of my existence slums it. I only have so much to contribute and, as David Pye reminds, the requirements conflict and cannot be reconciled, always have and always will.

The notion that I should be able to keep up, to not merely juggle all those chainsaws, but to simultaneously operate a hot half dozen of them, that seems to be the source of the problem.

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Clusters

clusters
Floris Claesz van Dijck: Still Life with Cheese (c. 1615)


"For me, it's only sometimes something …"


It would be news to nobody if I reported that things tend to happen in Clusters. Nothing much will happen for the longest time before a single week will bring a flurry of activity. Often, stuff will break down together, as if unrelated stuff were secretly conspiring and dedicated to causing only occasional trouble. Visit one repair department and you'll probably visit a half dozen in quick succession. It might be a law of the universe guiding this sort of thing.

A week ago today, I managed to swipe my watch off my arm by bumping into a crosspiece on the scaffolding.

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NightDrive

NightDrive
Charles François Daubigny: Night Effect (1862)


"Imagine how appreciative The Muse must have been!"


Of all of humankind's truly ingenious inventions, the headlight must certainly rank just below the bottom of the list, for headlights simply do not work for the purpose intended. Some do, indeed, light the way, but only paradoxically, for if they enable me to see, they blind everybody coming toward me, clearly violating the First, Do No Harm Clause of Design and Manufacture. A NightDrive easily turns into a life-threatening experience because of this one piece of so-called safety equipment. How would an automobile designer resolve this grave shortcoming? Maybe by switching to the infrared spectrum? How am I supposed to know? I'm just the victim of this design, not its inventor.

The Muse will insist that my complaint lies with the remnants of that cataract surgery I underwent four years ago this month.

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CuttingIn

cuttingin
Piet Mondrian: Composition (No. 1) Gray-Red (1935)


"The library's a function of the quality of its shelves."


Prepping finished, priming finally done, the time comes for adding color. Up until then, everything's focused upon foundation, the sole purpose being to create a consistent surface: as smooth and uniform as possible. The prime coat serves as a proof of sorts, a test to determine if the surfaces have been sufficiently worked such that they might hold the promise of a decent-looking final finish. Of course it doesn't quite satisfy the discriminating eye, so that prime coating features a little back-sliding, some additional sanding, scraping, and filling. The eye always misses something the first few times through. At the point where color comes into play, the game changes. Before, I'm focused upon the broad plain of the surface. Edges between trim and wall color become meaningless. I work when priming as if there were no edges. Once the colors come out, the whole game becomes one of CuttingIn the fine lines separating the various trims and the base wall color.

Once finished, the eye will fail to register much variation on a properly prepared surface.

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MadMen

madmen
George Wesley Bellows: Dance at Insane Asylum (1907)


"You eventually became just another part of the problem …"


Who has not caught themself working for a crazy boss? Who has not found themself laboring within some crazy-making context? Who has not caught themself questioning their own sanity as a result? That questioning one's own sanity seems to be the one reliably meaningful way for validating one's own sanity, for the truly crazy never seem to question their own context, their own motives. So much seems absolutely presumed without questioning, and those presumptions can carry considerable weight and exert much subtle influence. It properly feels as though you never learned the rules and so seem especially unperceptive to yourself. The guy in charge poisons everyone's facility to properly assess reality. This seems primarily the work that MadMen accomplish. They warp the reality around them.

The challenge for those not actually crazy comes with the resulting crazy-making context.

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FreshInfinity

freshinfinity
NASA on July 11, 2022,
released the first full-color image
from the James Webb Space Telescope.
(NASA/AFP/Getty Images)


The new image is what is known as a “deep field” observation, with the telescope staring at what NASA called a “patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson as quoted in the July 12, 2022 Washington Post

"Would that our native sense of self-importance were not expanding faster than our universe."

The James Webb Space Telescope might be the largest rear view mirror ever produced. Capable of reflecting thirteen billion year old light, it provides formerly unattainable resolution. It represents just a next step, but one doozy of a step. In my lifetime, infinity has undergone multiple radical expansions, from the planetary outward, every few years, a deeper penetration became possible, and with each further immersion, the scale of my own existence, my problems, fell from the all-consuming into the infinitesimal. If the above image reveals what's visible out there through a grain of sand-sized lens, I understand in a new way just how incomprehensible this universe must be, by which I mean, that it's clear that I understand nothing at all about anything.

I consider this reset necessary and important, for without periodic refreshers on the scale we're actually dealing with, people can and do become subsumed with self-importance.

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Dedicting

dedicting
Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ: A Eunuch's Dream (1874)


"That exquisite poison has no substitutes …"


By my accounting, I stopped ingesting nicotine a year ago. I mention that now because it's only very recently occurred to me that I have been Dedicting ever since, that I have been attempting whatever the opposite of addiction might be. I'm uncertain if I have been successful, for the Dedicting continues. I considered calling this story Dedicted, except I doubt whether I'll ever experience a definitive moment when I no longer feel either that tug or its absence, either of which constitute a sort of continuing relationship with the substance. It might be true that nobody's ever through with any physically addictive stuff, and/or that stuff's never truly through with them, for the attraction seems to go both ways. Tobacco's superpower lies deeper than just in the souls of its admirers, but also in its apparent ability to attract individuals unto itself. It seems to find its most appreciative followers.

It was a special class I once belonged to, the smokers.

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Preparings

preparings
Giovanni Battista Gaulli: Sketch for "The Four Prophets of Israel"
[for Il Gesù
, Rome] (c. 1675-1677)


" … perfect's almost just as relative as done ever was."


Preparing should be considered an exclusively plural term, since preparing rarely seems complete after a first iteration. Much suffering results from a fundamental misunderstanding presuming that preparing or, indeed, preparation, should be completable with any single pass, when few can be; so few that for most every everyday intents or purposes, one should presume preparation's plural nature and think of preparing as a process better thought of as Preparings, presuming multiple iterations. One other catch lurks within this concept, and that relates to its fundamentally asymptotic nature. How many iterations prove necessary to complete Preparations? Think of this as a Fundamentally Unanswerable Question —aka FUQ (implied expletive intended)—because Preparings are rarely ended because they've achieved what might be easily recognized as completion. No, Preparings end only when the preparer decides they're done, a decision which might come at any time and for any of a wide variety of reasons.

Kurt, Our Master Painter, taught me this fundamental principle of painting, or he certainly tried to teach me this.

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ReBeginning

rebeginning
Katsushika Hokusai: The Day Before the Beginning of Spring
(c. 1790) Publisher: Tsutaya Jūzaburōe


" … simply the sum of those restarts."


I imagine this morning that I am beginning, not merely beginning, but beginning again, ReBeginning. I've begun before. I've started way more than I've ever finished and I do not intend to correct that imbalance. Finishing seems way over-rated. The beginning's the thing. I figure that if I could only master beginning, I might be capable of anything, I might even, eventually, complete something, so I practice ReBeginning this morning in the belief —or is that a hope?—that this time, my efforts might finally amount to something.

I have been in the middle of the repainting project for so long that I can no longer remember the initiating premise for the work.

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Exhausting

exhausting
Jean François Raffaëlli: The Exhausted Ragpicker (1880)


" … simply too Exhausting to continue."


I've recently started noticing the weight this continuing Damned Pandemic exerts upon me. It's come to feel considerable, even unreasonable, and the newspaper promises even more of even more of the same, though the upcoming even more will continue becoming ever more highly evolved. It will become more communicable and craftier at evading our defenses, its offensive skills out-pacing our defenses. Since we must respond to defend, we're inevitably lagging competitors. Competing with this virus has been Exhausting, but insidiously so. It's never presented any particular hardship to me personally, for instance, to wear a mask in public or for this introvert to avoid gatherings. I rather enjoy going incognito and often chose not to go out into public places, though the option not to continue defending increasingly seems like a glaring omission. I'm just as free as I've ever been, just a little bit more constrained, yet the constraints, however small, seem increasingly limiting.

The experts label these feelings Pandemic Exhaustion and warn about its insidious influence.

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HamSandwich

hamsandwich
Willem Claesz. Heda: Still Life with Ham and a Roemer (1631-34)


" … the very stuff of despotism."


I will qualify what follows in advance, explaining that while I only rarely delve into what some might classify as political speech—as opposed to my usual more philosophical babble—I remain capable of engaging on the political level. Political talk rarely ages well, though today's story might straddle the political and philosophical, and might thereby consider itself more timeless than merely timely. Its topic seems timely, as this story has been aching for me to tell it. It's been my experience that while I'm avoiding telling a story that deeply desires to be told, whatever else I might produce tends to lack a certain substance. In that sense, it's like talking about what's not supposed to be talked about. Whatever else one attempts to talk about instead of what's not supposed to be talked about tends to miss the point, like an unmentionable elephant in the room sucking all the oxygen out of every alternative. I hope this story will prove to be pointed.

When Our Supreme Court codified the myth of fetal personhood into law, they managed to trivialize both the law and human life.

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Sleep

sleep
Charles Bird King: The Vanity of the Artist's Dream
Former Title: The Anatomy of Art Appreciation
Former Title: Poor Artist's Study
Former Title: Still Life, The Vanity of An Artist's Dream
(1830)


" … only then could the aspiring artist ever come out to play."


Of all the skills that have eluded me in this life, Sleep certainly heads the list, though I should have had adequate practice with it by now. I early identified Sleep as an enemy and alien state, and set about trying to as much as possible eliminate it from my routine. It seemed such a sorry waste of time, time I might spend doing whatever else I might please. The wee hours, those downplayed by those who've perhaps never intimately engaged with them, seemed the perfect medium for me to practice as an artist, for a budding artist needs plenty of cave time. My earliest performances were barely fit for my own experience, practice far preceding whatever perfection might later emerge. My writing, too, demanded bounded solitude and could not be produced with any sort of audience hovering nearby, and certainly not with anyone even distantly inquisitive about how it was going at any time.

So I routinely stayed up way past my designated bed time, reading with a flashlight beneath covers, hugging my warm bread loaf-sized radio to my chest, master of my own wee hours.

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HolyDays

holydays
John F. Peto: Lights of Other Days (1906)

" … Have A Happy, anyway."


Us moderns do not celebrate HolyDays, we observe holidays instead. A Holiday serves as a secularized HolyDay such that even in the unlikely event that a Holiday started out as a HolyDay, most forms of actual religious observance, of humility, charity, or dignity will have been beaten out of any formal observance. One might succeed in privately genuflecting in the general direction of something genuinely sacred, but only if no spectacle's attempted. The spectacles belong solely to the secularists now, and are often performed with passion and fervor, but only in the general direction of mammon.

It's generally considered proper behavior to wish another "A Happy" on secular HolyDays, even if the greeting grates on one's soul.

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Seasonal

seasonal
Claude Monet: Stacks of Wheat [End of Day, Autumn] (1890/91)


" … it's not usual, whatever that means."


Each season here carries certain markers which seem to suggest and regulate certain behaviors. We've been experiencing some unseasonal weather this year which has thrown off my usual anticipations and responses. I complained plenty this Spring about the rain which kept me off the scaffolding and away from my repainting project, even though we here have been cautioned to never, never, never complain about rain. This semi-arid region can always, always, always use more moisture and last year saw us limping through on much less than usual. Last summer, too little rain. This summer, a little too much so far. The wheat crop, which likes it hot and dry, has contracted rust this year. Crop dusters buzz around the valley trying to rectify that imbalance before harvest. When I step out onto the back deck at four o'clock in the morning to gauge the day's prospects, if the sky spits at me, I feel moved to surrender right then and perhaps just head back to bed. I expected Seasonal weather but received different instead.

I remain fully capable of adapting, but something's clearly missing whenever I'm forced to fallback into adaptation.

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Being

being
Jack Gould: Untitled (party in laundromat, woman being pushed in cart) (1957)


" … the perfect profession for me."


On these midsummer evenings, I like to sit in the garage with the roll-up door open, and watch. The scene before me, freshly painted siding boards poised on two by fours balanced atop old cat litter tubs, my pop-up paint shoppe, various roses and flowers, seems like a microcosm of my life. The Schooner's parked a little further down the driveway, laurel bush out-growing its space, the mock orange that refuses to bloom spreading out behind. The cats will pass through, stop for quick head scratches, then crawl beneath something and give themselves tongue baths. They'll watch, too.

This feels like the apotheosis of my Being.

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Untouchables

untouchables
James McNeill Whistler: Amsterdam Nocturne (1883–1884)


"Just imagine how capable I'll one day feel …"


Now that The Muse and I have been back in The Villa for a year and a quarter, I'm noticing an increasing backlog of undone chores. Some appear to have become permanent and threaten to migrate out of Someday Likely To Get Done status into Untouchables, or apparent ones. These I will just consider to be features rather than problems, finished as they sit, however unsightly and indicting. Some will represent me coming to accept my limitations and others, my fundamentally lazy nature. A very few will permanently seem too daunting to ever seriously consider, bridges too far or too big of britches. However they became Untouchables, I will maintain them in that state with most of the dedication I also reserve for actually completing tasks. They will become as much a part of my identity as any actual accomplishment, that spot I can't see I never shave properly, the lucky shoes which will always look scuffed and worn and yet favorites. Idiot children.

I imagine that one day I might maintain a maintenance schedule as if I meant to maintain it.

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OutOfTheBlue

outoftheblue
James McNeill Whistler: Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water (1872)


" … an old acquaintance, an even older friend."


It should not be news to any of my frequent readers that I sometimes suffer through some blue periods. I can get down on myself and feel downright worthless, then spool into despair territory. Nothing all that scary, just part of any normal trajectory. I personally never trusted anyone who could endlessly keep it bright and sunny, optimistic even in the bleakest times. I preferred the more human leader rather than some statue to virtue, and strived to show that I was not made of stone or anything invulnerable. Still, I despise those days when I cannot find my way. I become as if I were three again, small and overwhelmed, unable to figure out how to play the games surrounding me. I often attempt to sleep through these times under the First, Do No Harm Rule. I'm no doctor, but I figure that sleep might just be the all-around best medicine for discouragement and depression.

Then, something happens. It almost doesn't matter what.

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Misplaced

misplaced
The Old Woman Who Lost Her Dumpling:
attributed used to
Suzuki Kason (1902)


"I come to rely upon the understanding of kittens …"


Pardon me, but I seem to have Misplaced my identity. I clearly remember recently having one, though I can't quite recall when it slipped my grasp. I wonder how long this condition might last, with me an apparition of my former self, or is this the new and improved me I'd so long been aspiring to meet? This one might take some getting used to if, indeed, I could ever get used to this me, this great mystery.

We each seem to stand on a spot, a spot where we seem to belong.
Most of us stand there long enough to swear that it belongs to us, our special space, our place. Then we might Misplace that spot. Maybe we're nudged aside or just fail to notice it slipping away until it's too late. Once it's gone, it's lost as sure as any tool we just sat down then could never find again. Lost as certain as the scent of last season's flowers. Lost as certain as the certainties of youth.

A certain confusion should settle in. Where I once just knew, I can no longer quite imagine. Where I once stood ground, I now seem surrounded by insubstantial air. I might have gone anywhere but I seem to have disappeared. I left no trace. I chased after myself until I was no longer clear which direction I was headed. Already lost, I complicated my position. No way back to anywhere from here.

The most curious thing about being might be that it's not constant. Physicists insist that this all resolves to waves, ebbs, flows, pulses, and currents. Things as well as their opposites, with much more dark matter than anything visible. Life has always worked like this, like motion pictures where we mostly don't quite see the tiny spaces also projected between each frame, except sometimes continuity shifts and we're suddenly seeing the spaces instead of the movie, the blanks that always came with the story. Then, it seems as if we've Misplaced something, a key, perhaps, or the story. We were supposed to have remembered something we never quite registered as knowing, being something we always just were before without even trying. Trying then resolves nothing. What manifested without effort cannot, by effort, manifest again.

I swear that almost everything just happens. Our solutions and our intentions and our dedications chase experience, imagining stories that probably never occurred. As long as I can muster a half-decent leaning into, I seem to make progress. It almost seems as if this universe demands no more than compliance. Keep moving and meaning might emerge. Keep standing and vision and perspective might be the reward. Think too much and one might notice their spot Misplaced, some significant unnamable missing. Then this mystery deepens. I come to rely upon the understanding of kittens, who seem to seek me out then, needing some extra attention, which might be the very last thing I have left to give anyone.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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Concerting

concerting
Edgar Degas: Café-Concert (The Spectators) (1876/77)


"I'd packed two pair, two for each ear …"


I avoid attending concerts. Now, of course, because of the Damned Pandemic, but before, due to the fundamentally uncontrolled nature of the performance and the audience. I never took to being herded around as if I were just another sheep in an unruly flock. I also try to avoid landing wherever crowds congregate, the parking hassles, the turnstile troubles, the behaviors I only ever see when there's a crowd surrounding me. I never learned how to behave in such venues, my reticence a reasonable result of simple lack of practice. The last concert The Muse and I attended, I spent the whole evening curled up in the fetal position, ear plugs ineffectively in, trying to avoid the caterwauling coming off the stage. Everyone else seemed delighted. I, perhaps alone in that audience, felt terrified by it; assaulted.

I think it remarkable as I watch other people show up with the right kind of chair, for only certain types of chairs are allowed into the open air arena.

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MissingMeals

missingmeals
Unknown Japanese: Set of food dishes (mukōzuke)
(early 18th century)


"My work is my reward here …"


I measure engagement by how many meals I miss when working on something. I might just fail to notice when mealtime arrives or I might find myself so focused upon whatever I'm doing that I cannot quite face pulling away, and so meal time just slips by. Other times, I find myself indecisive, unable to imagine anything like a coherent meal arriving. Why bother? Meal breaks sometimes seem like a waste of my day. It's not like I'm in any danger of drying up and blowing away. For me, most meals seem optional. If lunchtime noses past about three-thirty, I'll usually just let it slide, deciding to let supper pick up the slack. Sometimes, I abandon supper, too, usually when I'm just too tuckered to bother. By the following morning, I might regain my appetite or I might find myself focusing in and away again.

Dining out long ago lost its allure.

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Fictions

fictions
Piero di Cosimo: The Misfortunes of Silenus (circa 1500)


"Hell emerges in the absence of Fictions."


The world was going to Hell that Sunday morning, so The Muse and I decided upon a round-about route, one which might offer us a few hours beyond cell range, beyond what passes for civilization over on the West side of the mountains. We wondered if we might so easily escape the thrall. It might have been that after going to all the trouble to take the route less taken, we'd find a caravan of weary flatlanders also following our plan to escape up and out of the heat and crowds, but we were lucky and the roads were lonely. A few odd stragglers quickly passed us, leaving us to move at our own pace, to find our own cadence.

While the world went to Hell, we ascended into a Heaven of sorts.

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Strangering

strangering
Vincent van Gogh: Adeline Ravoux (1890)


"I regain my attention …"


Other than passing through on the freeway, I'd never even thought to stop to see what might welcome me here, so I arrived without preconceptions, as a genuine stranger. This city could have been anywhere. I had no emotional attachments here. The waterfront attracted my eye, but I could not recall, if, indeed, I ever knew, the name of the bay. The city looked worn but worked over, as if considerable effort had been applied to prevent it from simply becoming derelict, with mixed results. This was clearly nobody's Disneyland. Its rough edges seemed prominent. I had never wondered about the history here, how it might have managed to turn out this way. I would be Strangering here within this mystery.

I much prefer to walk when Strangering, for driving moves me too quickly for me to see very much.

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Hoteling

hoteling
Gustave Doré: Liberty (c. 1865–75)


" … we still hold the instinct to survive … hospitality."


After two and a quarter years of housebound isolation, I find myself in a hotel room this weekend. I was once a frequent guest, traveling for business. One year, I managed to stay in more than one hotel room per week on average, and I stayed in a few of those rooms for more than a week, so I must have really been on the move that year. I became accustomed to the patterns and rhythms of modern Hoteling, which seem so different from the Grand Hotel tradition. No longer does one use the lobby as an extended sitting room, for instance, taking to an overstuffed chair to read or simply people watch. Modern hotel lobbies seem reserved only for transitions, for checking in and checking out and nothing else. They usually feature little furniture other than a front desk and a concierge stand. Everything's self service.

Hoteling's a kind of camping experience.

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DashingOff

dashingoff
Fan Qi 樊圻: Album of Miscellaneous Subjects, Leaf 4 山水花鳥圖冊 (early 1650s)


"We all eventually become the genius of ourselves …"


My friend Franklin reported that he'd participated in some online gathering that garnered him more clients than any other single event in his career, over a hundred. He went on to complain that he'd been invited to participate late in the cycle and so had not prepared his presentation as carefully as he most certainly would otherwise have. He's usually more careful than that, painstakingly preparing, often, it seems, almost asymptotically, as in preparing almost to the point of never actually achieving 'prepared.' This time, though, starved of sufficient time, he hacked out a quick almost good enough contribution and was fortunate to garner more paying clients than ever before from a single presentation.

Had he had adequate time, there's really no telling how many more clients he might have found.

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Suddenlied

suddenlied
France, Lyon(?), early 16th century: Time (From Chateau de Chaumont Set) (1512–15)


"… usually expecting the unexpected …"


Occasionally, I'll decide to write about a topic only to discover that I'd already written a piece with that same title. As you doubtless noticed, I make up a fair number of my story titles by fiddling with otherwise serviceable words, trying to better fit them to my purpose. My blog software keeps me honest by disallowing duplicate titles, complicating my life if I inadvertently try to slip one by, requiring some messy searching and deleting to correct the oversight. This morning, I innocently attempted to write a story about
Suddenlies, only to discover that I'd already covered that topic in a post from five years ago. I considered just reporting that story under the Againing banner, given that I've chosen repeating as my overriding notion this quarter. Then I decided that the very fact that this title came up twice might suggest that I'm dealing with a universal experience, a pattern notable for its subtle repetition, that I had just then been Suddenlied again.

As I said in the earlier story, things tend to continue unchanged until some suddenly appears.

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Scaredy

scaredy
William Blake: The Book of Job: Pl. 12,
I am Young and ye are very Old wherefore I was afraid
(1825)


" … some days I even manage to muster an appearance …"


I often feel afraid. It never takes much. The prospect of engaging in even the smallest activity can raise the hairs on the back of my neck, rendering me frozen for a spell. The serial insult of mounting the scaffolding some days drives me into an almost comatose state where I just cannot function. The Muse asks me if I'm alright, and I am alright, just cowering from another phantom. I eventually manage to face whatever dread presented itself and evaporate it by merely moving into it. Once I begin, whatever surface tension prevented my entry seems to disappear and I'm free to go about my activity, certain only that I've sidestepped calamity for then and that it might well return again tomorrow. I slink from place to place, mustering up either courage or foolhardiness in turn, never especially brave or foolish.

When I agreed to serve as a delegate to the state convention, I figured that I'd just attend virtually since the organizers in the party had touted that they'd designed a convention which would not discriminate against those unwilling to mingle inside a superspreader event.

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Againing

againing
Winslow Homer: Boy with Anchor (1873)


" … that must be my manner of living."


For the eighteen hundred and twenty-sixth time in an almost unbroken chain, I sit down this morning to write yet another missive. I hold one intention prominent, the very same one I've held for each of the preceding mornings. I intend this one to be different than all of the others. A different title, a different focus, at least a slightly different perspective. Some insist that each of my postings, each little chapter, sums to pretty much precisely the same thing and that, while not exactly nothing, isn't ever very tightly focused, either. None of them convincingly concludes yet each seems to be up to something. I've explained before that I intend to project here a manner of living, not explaining how to live or even how to live better, but rather merely how it seems to be that I go about my living. I've previously established that I do not hold myself to be in any way an exemplar, an example of how one ought to go about living, going so far as to insist in one collection of stories just how Clueless I've always been. My most prominent purpose seems to be exposition.

That said, I also write my stories to remind myself what it is that I'm doing.

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Sprunged

sprunged
Robert William Vonnoh: Spring in France (1890)


"Some things never leave …"


A short ninety-one days ago, I landed on this shore which, today, starts heading for the door, chased off by overwhelming forces. The Solstice shoves away the powers that brought it about, Spring, which does all the heavy lifting, carrying in the longest day of the year. Spring leaves just before the beginning of the slow decline which, a mere one hundred eighty-two days hence will find us facing the final few days before Christmas from the shortest day of the year. Fear Summer, I say, and Autumn. Winter starts the renewal Spring finishes. The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer will squander their inheritance, leaving us with less light and ever later sunrises. Spring was always the life-giver, Summer, the taker.

By the day before the Summer Solstice, Spring has sprung and just about Sprunged, an irretrievable state.

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Satisfiction

satisfiction
Kobayashi Kiyochika: Pomegranates and Grapes (1879-1881)


" … I sit each morning in an office window overlooking the center of the universe …"


I trade not in the truth, but in truths, for truths come in such variety that only plurals can properly represent them. I pity the absolutists who seek THE truth and nothing but, for they seem to unnecessarily limit the range of satisfactions possible from their enquiry, whatever it might be seeking. The desire to boil anything down into a single essence just seems to spoil the seeking. A proper conclusion tends toward the ambiguous, at least recognizing the influence differing perspectives might bring to something. Very little of what any of us experience amounts to either science or engineering, and most of what I sense might be best classified as tenaciously unsettled; could be this, might be that, or perhaps it's something else. I must, it seems to me, frame my experiences in some way that works for me to achieve satisfaction. Often, I suppose, this work results in what I might agree amounts to Satisfiction, a flavor of fact that's not above employing fiction to produce satisfaction. I make up stories.

I've long held as an ethical responsibility the need to make the most generous possible interpretations when I lack access to better information.

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ContextShifting

contextshifting
James McNeill Whistler: Man in Plaid Shirt (Not dated)


"Shifting impressions flicker before me …"


It seems perfectly representative of how change works when, with me focusing intently upon whatever I've decided to change, the context within which I labor shifts instead. It might even be that change usually works like this, that the budding change agent always labors under some misconception that whatever he's doing might prove directly useful, when it more often sums to something different than expected. I seem to mostly experience ContextShifting, which changes the meaning of whatever I'd been so intently 'fixing.' It's not so much that I'm powerless, just relatively clueless. It might be that the resulting change was what I would have wanted had I been adequately prescient at the beginning. Change seems more often what we receive rather than what we directly engineer, our job, my job, largely to make up some story that eases acceptance and encourages gratitude toward what I never really intended.

I might focus upon context if I really want more directly influence outcomes, but I question whether I really want that level of control.

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Shift

shift
William Blake: The Pastorals of Virgil, Eclogue I:
The Blasted Tree (1821)


" … There never could have been one best way …"


I began this Reconning Series by declaring myself a Begineer, a skilled purveyor of starts rather than of finishes. I never feel very certain where my beginnings might be heading and I'm almost always absolutely clueless about the ending. When it comes time to draw conclusions, I typically lose my crayon and go still and silent, for I must not be in the transformation business. I might be more an evolutionist, and a slow one at that. I head off in a direction without really knowing where that compass heading might be leading me and with little more than a vague notion in my mind of what kind of an ending might result. Unsurprisingly, then, nearing the end, I sense no great understanding emerging from this particular wandering. The enquiry, rather than any specific conclusion, might have been the purpose of this enquiry, too.

The typical metric measures "Shift," often in something like tectonic units.

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HomeRun

homerun
Harold Edgerton: Child Running [Bob Edgerton] (1939)


"I remember how it was before that flooding …"


It's two hundred and forty-five miles from the Villa to my old neighborhood in Portland, a distance I know better than any distance on this planet. I've driven that distance in every possible weather, in every season, in sickness as well as in health, and stopped at every exit along the long way at least once, probably more than once. Without too much prompting, I can muster up some personal story about every exit along that route, stories of joy and despair, hope and frustration. No other route better illustrates my life, for it represents my HomeRun, my primary route home as well as my primary route away. My home has been on each end at times, sometimes here and other times there, never in-between.

I've crawled that route on glare ice, taking two days to navigate across.

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WellAtEase

wellatease
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Elles: The Seated Clown,
Mlle Cha-u-Ka-o (1896)


" … a clear violation of my intention of doing nothing for a change."


I consider my inability to do nothing a serious personal shortcoming. Over the last sixty years or so, I have focused the bulk of my attention upon doing stuff, often toward being up to something, sometimes even to accomplishing shit. My life's properly been all about creating what was not there before my passage, just as if any of that might make a difference. And I understand from reports from the field, that I did manage to make some differences, local, personal, not necessarily global. I studied the lessons in self-discipline and stayed mostly true to those intentions. I never lingered in bed in the morning. I didn't surrender myself to degradation long enough to do any permanent damage. I've come through, but with this little personal shortcoming intact. It seems to me as though I might have managed to learn how to do nothing by now, to not feel so ill at ease when unengaged, but to feel instead a certain WellAtEase sensation, where the world seems well enough without me obsessing about the quality or volume of my current contribution. Just sayin'.

I might have Ill At Ease down pat, though.

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Haunter

haunter
Winslow Homer: Adirondacks Guide (1892)


" … destined to become the eye beholding the beauty …"


Make no mistake, I am here as a representative of the past. While my powers once focused upon my abilities to disrupt and introduce disquieting futures, my sole role now seems to have coalesced into one focused upon representing what once was. Consequently, children and small dogs suspect me, and with good reason, for their remit opposes mine. Both the kids and the smaller puppies should properly be attempting to make some difference, although in the small dog's case, their effort's destined to be fruitless, if only because small dogs seem frivolous and ineffective by design. The children, though, rightfully take umbrage with how it was and with how it's been, and so wade right in with whatever might prove different, and can't seem to help it, while I steadfastly stand with the past.

My memories have not started fading yet.

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Ghosted

ghosted
Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau [She Thinks of the Ghost
or The Ghost Thinks of Her)] (1894/95)

"I doubt if I'm here this morning."


Returning to the scene of a former life reliably induces the sense that I have become a ghost. I almost remember the details of my daily life there, but not quite. I perceive in general gists, relative positions, though distances seem distinctly different, whether foreshortened or lengthened, funny somehow. I recall how I used to slip down to the corner market to buy a pack of smokes but I cannot for the life of me remember how it felt to be panicking over a needed nicotine fix. My whole life then must have been perpetually suspended upon that knife edge separating a fleeting serenity and a more permanent insecurity. I inhabited what I would one day recall as a heaven on Earth, but had one devil of a time living in it then.

Times were hard. money, scarce, success uncertain, even unlikely.

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Boyk

boyk
Paul Gachet: Six Etchings: Head of a Kitten, Part of a set. (1895)


" … contribute his own gibberish into our conversation."


House cats do not speak English because their owners tend to slip into an irreproducible dialect of the language whenever their "kitten" appears. A stalwart cat becomes a kitten, regardless of its age, and jazz-like variations of its given name start spewing from said owner's yap. I have inexplicably begun calling my own "kitten" Max, Boyk. Perhaps just to get along or maybe because he knows from whence his cat food floweth, he responds as if he recognizes himself in that alien sound. I caught myself holding forth to him on the etymology of his latest Pet Name, as if he would quite naturally understand or be interested when I suspect he's just used to my babbling. He might even find my plumy-toned mumbling reassuring, a familiar sound in the otherwise quiet as a mouse early morning house.

Boyk, for those discerning readers, is a derivative of 'Boy Kitty,' a classification I often catch myself proclaiming when encountering Max in the wild.

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Aaaah

oooh
Suzuki Harunobu: Young Man Reading over a Young Woman’s Shoulder (1765 - 1770)


"Reconning resolves back into itself …"


As I approach the fifth anniversary of the start of my daily writing practice, I also see another impending ending. This series, this Reconning Series, seems to be heading in the very same direction its nineteen siblings met. I began each series on a solstice or equinox and wrote as if attempting to discover something. Each a Hero's Journey, in the full Joseph Campbell sense of that term. I'd depart reluctantly, still attached to the recently completed but not then feeling as though I'd achieved closure. I'd persist, meeting the usual collection of dragons and bugaboos, more or less vanquishing each in turn, before finding myself at the always surprising end of yet another writing season, attempting to celebrate a homecoming of sorts. Each felt more like a combination homecoming and departure again, because each was both, or at least I experienced them as both. Before the carcass of the old series had even cooled, I was off in some new direction.

As I mentioned in yesterday's story, I sustain myself as if a bird of the field, taking advantage of the natural abundance surrounding me.

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Drizzling

drizzle
Utagawa Kunisada: A Man in Nightly Rain (1835 - 1836)


" … in need of some Drizzling to remind me what I was trying to accomplish …"


Yesterday reminded me why I'd planned to finish repainting The Villa's exterior before full summer visited. Working in at best partial shade with an almost fierce sun beating down upon me, I found no escape from my labor. I shifted into one of my many dissociative states, the one my father taught me about long before I turned eight years old. I tucked my head down as if that make me invisible and worked, forcing myself ahead, step by step, insisting that I finish. I can become quite the taskmaster sometimes. My neck turned bright red as the sun found its inexorable way through or around my havelock's shade. I sweated through my overall bib.

Afterwards, I sat in shade rehydrating with beer and wondering what I thought I was doing here.

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Penance

penance
circle of Jean Bourdichon: Leaf from a Book of Hours: King David (c. 1500)


" … if not precisely wiped clean, at least a shade tidier …"


I'm not so much repainting The Villa Vatta Schmaltz as I am performing Penance for past mistakes. When The Muse and I bought this place, I was then a naive homeowner. Indeed, I doubt that I would have agreed to purchase this house had I been even half as experienced in home ownership as I am now, for I was a reluctant student of the dark arts of home ownership and I remain a wary graduate of innumerable hard knock lessons. Not that I'm complaining, for I doubt that I could have even hoped to be half the man I am today had this old place not put me through my paces, serially, often cruelly. I hold no grudges. I count most of those lessons as blessings, several still in considerable disguise. A few, I continue to hold genuine contrition for having committed, though a couple of those sins were clearly more incurred by omission than any personal action I might have taken.

Life collects its toll.

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TheAges

TheAges
Rembrandt van Rijn: Self-portrait (c. 1628)

"TheAges eventually reveal everything …"


How fortunate for me that I inhabit this particular time slice in history. I sit here this morning, surrounded by TheAges, much of their story as yet unwritten. Creation's probably only beginning, precursor very likely hardly hinting at upcoming marvels. I try to remember that much of what I take for granted today was unavailable to even the most powerful people in the world a scant few generations past. I see no reason not to believe that the future, the one within which I might at best aspire to become a small footnote, won't deliver similar wonders. Born neither too late nor too early, I seem to be suspended here. I am in no particular hurry.

Almost five years ago now, I began this portion of my journey.

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SideTracking

sidetracking
Juan Gris: Violin and Glass (1915)


" … I'm just along for the ride."


"I had planned" are the keywords of my efforts this Spring. Whatever I claim to be doing, I'm probably, in any observed moment, very likely to be SideTracking rather than accomplishing whatever "I had planned." I admit that I hold conflicting objectives and that these conflicts cannot be resolved. I figure that this probably amounts to a completely normal condition, such that anyone would be hard pressed to even remember ever inhabiting any other state. We as a species tend to stack our obligations up in messy collections, with one pile inevitably infringing upon another and another upon another, and so on, ad infinitum.

My intentions are never for naught, though they do suffer from considerable buffeting.

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WashingMyPhone

washingmyphone
Lucian and Mary Brown: Untitled
[baby standing next to bath tub] (c. 1950)


" … little wiser for my absence."


Much of the work I engage in around The Villa either induces a trance in me or requires that I induce a trance in myself as a precondition for participating. I cannot seem to retain my wits about myself when I'm attempting to complete some mindless task, but must first become adequately mindless myself. Different tasks require different trances and varying degrees of that magic mindlessness, and it can be a real challenge to shift and then switch back after completion. I can attest that I am not always successful, and frequently find myself stumbling only partly present into whatever comes next.

I will occasionally even embarrass myself like I did last night when I was juggling between starting supper and switching out of my paint scraping overalls.

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ApparentlyMeaningless

appearantlymeaningless
Willian Frazer Garden: Trees and Undergrowth (1885)


"Appearances effectively deceive."


Much of my training focused upon engaging in purposeful work, activities worth my investment, yet I've spent the bulk of my life engaged in ApparentlyMeaningless effort. This experience does not mean that I have largely invested my time in meaningless work, because there's often a huge difference between the ApparentlyMeaningless and the absolutely meaningless, and I might question whether absolutely meaningless even serves as a meaningful category, given how meaningfulness tends to emerge from even the most ApparentlyMeaningless work. The flat ceiling perhaps serves as the epitome of ApparentlyMeaningless effort. Why do we go to the considerable bother of constructing and maintaining flat ceilings when there's absolutely nothing but custom encouraging that effort? Flat is hard, yet we insist upon it.

My stories comprise my most significant body of ApparentlyMeaningless work.

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YetAnotherRainyDay

yetanotherrainyday
Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)


"Cabin fever reigns while rain falls."


The low pressure preceded the rain's arrival, then hung around as it settled in. Yesterday morning dawned sunny. Today's slipped in unnoticed behind a thick cloud veil. I heard the distant dripping through the brief night, downspouts hardly even amused at the trickle coming off the roof. The snowball bushes have almost lost their blossom for this season. They sometimes grace us with a second blooming in the early Fall, but it's not at all clear why. We're moving beyond the damp season now and into the desiccating one. We live by a single principle here, that we never complain about moisture in whatever form it appears. We must at least pretend we're delighted by its presence, however unpleasant its persistence.

My to-do list stretches to new lengths.

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OpenWindows

openwindows
Édouard Vuillard: Landscape:
Window Overlooking the Woods (1899)


For the first June in our twenty-plus year tenancy in The Villa Vatta, all the original double hung windows freely open and close, both top and bottom sash. This might seem like a minor accomplishment, but it precisely represents how us homeowners measure progress toward full possession. It seems entirely unremarkable that this accomplishment required twenty years of intermittent effort, because great things, or, at least, the greatest of things, exclusively manifest via lengthy intermittency. We're busy and our priorities, continually shifting, serve as no definitive determinant of what we might complete or when. We're essentially simultaneously working on everything and so, working on nothing. It's a genuine wonder that anything ever turns up as done. We're well accustomed to works in progress. It remains the normal homeowner's primary lifestyle.

I noticed the windows working because this week, after a lingering March, OpenWindows season seems to have begun with the First of June.
When we first moved in here, this same time of year, not every window would yield to opening. Many had broken window weight cords and a couple had been painted shut, a felony even in friendly courts. I imagined then a future time when I would spend the bulk of my homeowner time reclining within an environment of my own making, where pretty much everything worked and there were no rooms we'd bar from visitors. Kitchen, baths, stairs, and porches would all have been finished and operating as intended. The place might even exude a faint scent of fresh limes. It would be The Muse's and mine and no others'.

The Muse found the first blossom of what will become a very large and spreading climbing rose, which she's planned to take over the pergola over the back deck. When we first moved in, that rose's predecessor dominated that space, scenting the back half of the place in this very season, providing a plenty good enough reason to want to open windows wider than we could force them at that time. I hope to repaint the pergola before that rose takes over, then once that rose covers the back, another of those quiet little metrics of ownership will have manifested. The Muse will sit beneath that rose's essential shade on even the hottest summer days and feel well-covered. Just another outward sign of our inward ownership, each a source of quiet pride.

The massive Refurbish we accomplished last year completed something more than half of the outstanding fixes we'd imagined necessary. The exterior repainting I'm attempting to accomplish between rainstorms this Spring, will, when finished, represent a huge accomplishment, a combination penance and advancement. I keep whispering to myself, with distinctly mixed emotions, that I will never be repainting this place's exterior again, but I know for certain that I will catch myself wandering around the perimeter at some point in the future, marveling at what I completed and how I managed to finish. As of this writing, completion remains a speculation. I'm making slow progress and when asked this week how much longer the work would take, I plead No Contest. It's not at all clear, as, of course it should be unclear, if I will ever manage to finish, what with all the high priority distractions encumbering forward progress and my own failing motivation. It's a genuine wonder anything ever gets done, but when OpenWindows season comes, I'm reminded why I begin.

—————————

I always feel tempted, come another Friday morning, to find some over-riding metaphor to represent the events of the receding week. Something like the local Walgreens might feature in a full page, full color advertisement stuffed into a Sunday supplement, declaring their OpenWindows Week Sale, just as if whatever the heading declared constituted some real reason for celebrating by slashing regular prices. Nothing, apparently, says "Happy!" like a fifteen percent price reduction! It's a continuing seduction for me to produce just such a reduction, the briefest of summaries, to what, precisely, save my loyal readers the trouble of doing what they apparently relish, reading my stories? The stories were what they were and came without forward designs. I did not write any of them so that they might be conveniently digested into composite mush. Such, I guess, is my writer's experience.

I began this writing week reveling in
Slivers. "I search for and maintain my knowledge-bases, but I also often catch myself engaging based upon mere Slivers of intuition, and they're not often wrong. I have no proof, no systemic scientific evidence, but anyone who's ever lived, ever thrived, should already understand that it's not just knowledge that drives their successes."

I next wrote about a bless
éd form of dependence in Helped. "We're not here to isolate. Nobody is. We're here engaged in an essentially communal endeavor, part of the purpose of which simply must be to find premises for engaging together."

I reported from the site of yet another vigil called to remember a fresh set of victims in
Vigiling. "The candles we hold give in to the wind. Some spend the whole time relighting their neighbor then receiving a relight from them. Back and forth and forth and back again."

I engaged in what some might have interpreted as whining about This Damned Continuing Pandemic in
Squelching, the most popular posting this period. "My home is my cloister, I should not want. My own backyard should be green enough pasture, but isn't always."

I reported on what simply seems obvious in
LittleBoy. "I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not."

I next considered the type of effort, exceedingly common, where the ending proves elusive, in
Asymtoting. "I might find myself in one of Virgil's more curious circles of Hell, where I'll just keep working until infinity appears. Or, it could be some undocumented circle of Heaven where I'm destined to pursue my heart's desire without ever once actually possessing it. Almost there, but never quite, Asymtoting to my own delight."

I finished my writing week praising my many
NewBeginnings. "To be indentured to some imminent satisfaction might produce the most satisfying possible experience. Supper savored in advance usually surpasses any one actually swallowed."

What over-arching meaning might I propose for my writing week just passed? It truly does not matter, for whatever I might propose might well conflict with one you'd supposed. Better, most likely, to let those stories lay where they landed. Each, I suspect, contained some Sliver of universal truth, slivers we each sometimes forget. How we're Helped here. How our Vigilings never for naught. How life does, indeed, sometimes seem to insist upon each of us Squelching significant pieces of our story. How we carry a LittleBoy within and how we sometimes seem to be endlessly Asymtoting rather than accomplishing anything, our only redemption coming early each morning like another in a seemingly endless series of NewBeginnings! Thank you so very much for following my ramblings, even if I steadfastly refuse to summarize them for you, though I will, in season, sometimes consent to opening some windows.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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NewBeginnings

newbeginnings
Marsden Hartley: The Last of New England—The Beginning of New Mexico: (1918–19)


" … with hungry eyes we run into the day."


Depending upon how I parse my life, it's either comprised of endings or beginnings, and probably both. I'd wager that my life, and any life, features many more beginnings than endings, though, again, depending upon what I consider a beginning and an ending. I've grown to think of every morning to at least represent, if not precisely 'be', a NewBeginning, where the slate, if not exactly wiped clean, seems to lose some clutter. My life seems much simpler at three in the morning than it ever does at noon. By sunset, which in early June at this latitude comes ever nearer 9PM, with twilight stretching until well after ten, I'm never certain when the end of any day has finally come. It arrives after I've already headed for bed, where I dream of fewer complications and the promise of a mulligan.

If only each new morning actually brought a NewBeginning, a Dorian Gray Day where history's relegated to an odd attic corner and I have no reputation.

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Asymtoting

asymtoting
William Blake: Colinet’s Journey:
Milestone Marked LXII Miles to London,
from The Pastorals of Virgil (1821)


"Almost there, but never quite …"


Everyone insists that everyone needs at least one overwhelming, almost infinite aspiration in their life. Well, they actually insist that others need that. For the most part, everyone's pretty much satisfied with aspirations that they can wrap their arms around, for those infinite buggers too easily overwhelm. Our whole essentially reductionist understanding of project management utterly depends upon an ability to chunk infinites into more infinitesimal pieces, then assuming that linear strings of finite activities might somehow expand to satisfy some more infinite need. This does not always prove to be the case. In fact, it might be that this is the rarest of all possible cases and that the normal case cannot be covered by standard project management understanding and its dependence upon finites. The more typical case seems to attempt to muster infinites to produce infinites by a process I might call Asymtoting.

Asymtoting seems more like driving a car in which one cannot quite see over the dashboard or reach the pedals.

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LittleBoy

littleboy
Claude Monet: Boy in the Country (1857)


"May I never grow weary of yearning."


I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not. More often than most adult males will admit, their LittleBoy has taken control. No telling what might happen then.

The LittleBoy can be kind or cruel, generous or stingy.

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Squelching

squelching
Günter Fruhtrunk: Cloister Garden (1963)


"My home is my cloister …"


By my own assessment, I've become an expert at sequestering. I maintain no public schedule of appearances other than to manifest at pharmacy or grocery, both on irregular bases. I shun invitations. I do not ever drop in to visit. I keep my own counsel and exclusively mind to my own business. I feel overwhelmed, unable to maintain my own expectations, let alone live up to any others'. I'm behind on my weeding and feeling as though I might never finish the current repainting project. I hold myself hostage but send no ransom notes. I feel reasonably certain that nobody would respond to my ransom demands, regardless.

Two years and two full months into This Damned Pandemic, I might finally be approaching the eigenvalue of my disengagement.

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Vigiling

vigiling
Pierre Guérin: The Vigilant One (1816)


" … keeping the faith after it's been wounded again."


We all know where to go, where one goes when they're intending to show up. Some bring signs, others, candles. We all bring evidence that we have not forgotten and aren't likely to ever forget. We wonder sometimes if anyone besides us listens. We keep repeating our slogans, our mantras, our prayers anyway. We make mournful noises. Even if we're only making symbolic sounds, we figure that we've made our choices. Perhaps we gather solely to reassure ourselves.

There is no man here, nobody really in charge, no one charged with creating change, nobody who's job description includes empathic listening.

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Helped

helpedalong

Martin Schongauer: Shield with a Lion, Held by an Angel (c. 1430/50)


" … I'm good to go again, together."


As the lineman from the power company wrapped the power line running in front of the slice of wall I intended to paint, I caught myself thinking back to my first pass repainting that wall. It was a truly different time and place, before The Muse and I went on exile. Work was scarce so I decided to do something about the most embarrassing wall on the place, the South-facing one that someone in the past had attempted to save by very nearly destroying it. Rather than gently smooth the weathered surface. the perpetrator had liberally smeared silicon caulk all over the hundred year old siding boards, creating a truly terrible mess. Silicon easily fouls sandpaper, possess an extremely high kindling temperature, and a lifespan of something around fifty years. I ultimately had to tease that stuff out of the wood with an extremely anemic heat gun while suspended from a makeshift ladder-supported scaffold of sorts, a mushy old plank I'd borrowed for the purpose. This through the hottest part of a summer. I labored in tortured isolation.

I can honestly say that I made that first pass all by myself.

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Slivers

5:27:2022slivermoon
View of a Sliver Moon
from The Villa's upstairs hall back window,
early morning 5/27/2022

" … when I heeded what I couldn't have known for certain."


It must be clearest to me that I do not really know what I'm doing, though I suspect that my more dedicated readers understand well enough to appreciate the depth of my ignorance, the shallowness of my knowledge. I remain reasonably certain that nobody reads my writing with the intention of learning anything, since I seem to have very little if anything at all to impart. I mostly deal in impressions without drawing all that many conclusions. Any proclaimed certainty from me might be evidence of some fresh delusion. I'm mostly justifiably confident that I do not know all that much.

In our era, knowledge has become perhaps our primary delusion.

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NotAllIn

NotAllIn
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Wrestlers in a Circus (1909)


"He who picks away at things … also makes progress."


I suppose that ambivalence amounts to the greatest sin. When I cannot go All In on something, I seem to fritter away my gifts, however modest. I divide then slowly conquer myself, undermining my best intentions. Still, as I explored during my Authoring series, being AllIn might resolve little all by itself, for it, too, seems to take a toll, though perhaps a tad more decisively. I am realizing that I'm NotAllIn on my current batch of efforts. This Reconning Series seems to lack a certain focus. Repainting The Villa has not proven to feel all that motivating, certainly not as energizing as I'd expected it to seem. This Spring, with the weather definitely not cooperating, I've managed to fall behind on almost everything I've tried initiating. I'm realizing that some significant something's been missing and I'm loathe to understand precisely what. I'm already sorry I brought this up.

I should start listing the standard lame excuses here, explaining how this present condition might not actually be my fault.

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Knots

knots
Akan, Brass: Goldweight [Knot] (19th-20th century)


"I might have arrived too late to ever actually arrive."


I am not yet the man I intended to become. Neither am I the husband I aspired to be, nor the gardener, the songwriter, not the neighbor or the father, either. On this occasion of The Muse and my twentieth wedding anniversary, very little seems to have turned out as we'd so confidently projected back on that unforgettable day in May when we publicly declared our intention to stay together as long as forever might carry us. Those people, us, seem so innocent now, not having yet experienced all we came to know. They didn't know the depths to which I would not become. Neither did I.

That The Muse and I remain together probably amounts to at least a minor miracle.

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MovingScaffolding

movingscaffolding
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎: Fuji with a Scaffold,
Detatched page from
One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei) Vol. 3 (circa 1835-1847)


"The next slice will very likely seem completely different …"


I expect some controversy to continue into the far distant future whenever the question of change enters the conversation, particularly whenever the question of how much shift constitutes a "real" change. I contend that infinitesimal shifts might carry significant impact while others contend that nothing very short of a tectonic event creates much difference. I'm noticing, for instance, just how much difference I experience after I finish MovingScaffolding. I yesterday relocated the tower just two lengths down the wall, a distance of about a dozen feet, yet when I hoisted up the pieces to add the third tier, I felt as though I was standing in absolutely uncharted territory. The sea legs I'd so ably demonstrated atop the prior placement abandoned me and the shaky involuntary twerking motion had moved back into my legs again. I realized that I would have to relearn my whole scaffold repertoire, just like every time before. Twelve feet proved ample shift to qualify as significant.

I began the moving back into ritual, placing a plank across the top support, eying the electric service wire with fresh suspicion.

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MendingMitres

mendingmitres2


" … to square up that which was never square to begin with … "


The Muse holds woodshop fantasies. She dreams of sawing and planing and sanding fine wooden creations into existence. I'm the guy who hopes to never own another power tool and wouldn't use a powered saw if I had one. My sander's plenty of power tool for me. She seems to embrace opportunities to cope with obtuse angles while I seek opportunities to avoid them, yet here I am, facing a stack of mitered corners needing mending.

The Villa might be classified as a foursquare, but it's not precisely square, not rectangular, either.

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TopCoating

topcoating
Vincent van Gogh: The Large Plane Trees
[Road Menders at Saint-Rémy] (1889)


"TopCoating's practice for the FinishCoat's flourish."


I believe our language proves generally inadequate to represent our experience. We adopt labels which, if taken literally, seem to materially misrepresent what they intend to impart, but we've mostly tacitly agreed to let that insufficiency pass, considering no better could possibly be following. To become educated, then, might be to finally be introduced to the real meanings, those which cannot take formal form in words or phrasings. I might say I've been painting without noting or even really intending to suggest that I've said almost nothing about what I've actually been doing, for painting, like everything else, comes in layers, in stages, and it depends upon which stage I've been engaging in, whether I've managed to impart any understanding about what I have actually been doing. I could give a hint, though, that the part of painting I have been engaging in actually involved a brush and paint. This almost makes this stage unique in the various stages of painting. Not all painting involves paint or brushes.

I was engaging in the fine and satisfying art of TopCoating yesterday, this effort distinct from the equally fine and perhaps even more satisfying art of FinishCoating, which I expect to engage in later this morning.

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Transplant

transplant1
Adriaen Coorte: Still Life with Asparagus (1697)


"Most came from somewhere else and grew into this place …"


In this valley, folks give considerable credence to the native born. We use the phrase "born and raised here" to claim that birthright. All others take second place. Though my birth family moved me here when I was eight months old, I cannot rightfully claim the native born title, for I was born elsewhere. I, too, remain a carpet-bagger, like most folks here, not to even mention the forty-some years I did not live here, for I was one of the majority who relocated to someplace with more opportunity than this small city could afford me, and I became one who could not sustain viability after returning, so that I had to go away and reinvent myself all over again a second time before I could try to call this place mine again. I needed a place with a bigger future and a much shorter memory for me to ever outgrow who I'd become known as when growing up here. Like most, I guess, I felt that I sincerely needed to reinvent myself before I could grow into my true self, however self-deluded that might make me seem.

I wonder how the 'born and raised' crowd ever found enough space to properly reinvent themselves for adulthood.

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Respiting

respiting
Camille Pissarro: Rain Effects (1879)


" … a rusty iron fist enclosed in a soggy velvet glove."


I claim to be repainting The Villa, but I've only spent about one in five days painting so far. Almost two months in and I've completed only two stripes of wall, with a third one perhaps a day and a half away from done. Had I been able to work steadily each day, I might be a week away from finishing the job, but instead, I'm suspended somewhere not quite in the middle, in the middle of the first third, with no idea when I might finish, confident that my clever plan to complete the work before the searing summer heat reduces operating hours has become a shambles. Further, I carry a decent start on a sense of guilt for not having realized the progress I'd so confidently predicted before I began. Not only have I proven disappointing in delivery, I predicted poorly, too.

What was it that I did with that tranche of non-refundable time?

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ThinkingAboutThinking

thinkingaboutthinking
James Gillray: Political Mathematician’s, Shaking the Broad Bottom’d Hemispheres (1807)


"There are good reasons I'm not a civil engineer."


Frequent offenders (er, readers) here will have noticed my fractured relationship with most things mathematical. I am nobody's mathematician, not even my own, a condition that baffles about as much as it delights me. I understand that I really should not revel in any utter ignorance, but I get some satisfaction in recognizing this difference. I'm clearly not the standard issue. I recognized early that my MannerOfThinking was apparently insufficient to accumulate the requisite inventory of procedures and rules to support even a modest mathematical practice. Further, one apparently needed to exhibit something like a genuine interest in concepts that, quite frankly, never made much of an impression on me. I could never quite find interesting answering or even asking mathematical questions, ones intended to definitely decide something.

I have sometimes, though, gazed longingly across the chasm, wondering if I might someday and somehow stumble upon some spare proficiency in something mathematical.

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TheObserver

theobserver
Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre (early 1887)


" … to feel as if my presence mattered for something …"


I find repainting The Villa refreshing because it involves me actually doing something. I'm scrambling up and down the scaffolding. I'm caulking cracks. I'm rolling and brushing in lengthy 'Wax On, Wax Off' exercises that leave my arms rubbery and my hair in disarray. I ache by the end of the day and I sleep deeply. This pattern seems very different to me because, I realize, that I've spend most of my life not as a doer, but as TheObserver. I did not plan not to do anything for a living, but I quickly became a supervisor then later a consultant, both occupations that observe in lieu of doing. They produce intangibles, exhaust insidiously, and leave little behind, certainly no physical product, not even anything as ordinary as a finished paint job. I could never at the end of a shift walk around something and marvel that I had made that. Like most holding jobs these day, I provided services, working without actually producing anything, a rather lonely and isolating sort of occupation.

Much of what's written these days appears without internal attribution.

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Paranoiac

paranoiac
Francesco Colonna: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
-The terrified Poliphilus flying before the dragon (fol. d iii verso) (1499)

" … reassuring us that we're Hell-bound without hand baskets."


I apologize for what follows, for I find what follows extremely disturbing. I only write the following because I notice myself wrestling with how things seem to be. How things seem to be, to my estimation, should come naturally, yet they do not always seem to come naturally, for we inhabit a distinctly Paranoiac culture, and the paranoid cannot seem to ever just let things be. The paranoid feel as though they somehow owe the world salvation and they're always acting, or always saying that they're acting, to save the world, as if the world needed saving, as if they held leverage to save the world, both deeply questionable propositions. The most paranoid behave as if they are on a mission from God, an affectation that I suspect God, should such a being exist, finds deeply disturbing but hardly surprising, for if we were actually made in God's image, God should be intimately familiar with Paranoiac reactions, and so understand the choices presented and selected.

I suspect that paranoia's a choice, a particularly seductive one, and one which starts with a single victim before working outward from that middle to infect others both inadvertently and also on purpose.

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Challenging

challenging
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Study for "Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys"
Former Title: Study for "The Young Spartans Exercising"
Alternate Title: Petites Filles Spartiates provoquant des Garcons /
Spartan Girls Provoking the Boys (c. 1860-61)


"I'm just wrestling down another run-of-the-mill conundrum."


From where I stand atop the scaffolding, I cannot quite see into the one valley on my roof that manages to catch every bit of debris that passes by. There's a clog of accumulated leaves, Maple tree whirligigs, and hardened mud rendering the gutter in that corner, the only inside corner along that roofline, essentially inoperable. When it rains, water pours over the gutter and down onto the fiberglass roof of my cold frame, sounding like an arrhythmic timpani behind the rain's otherwise quiet patter. This clog hangs just above the slice of wall I'm currently Challenging myself to repaint.

I was taught that in order to feel fully alive, a person needs at least one great and almost overwhelming Challenging expectation hanging over their life.

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HollowedDays

HollowedDays
Cornelis Huysmans: The Hollow Road (c. 1700)


" … we're resigned …"


Our mostly feral cat Molly supervises the day-to-day operations around The Villa Vatta Schmaltz. She tends to be the first to notice whenever something, anything's changed. She's sniffing scornfully around the difference, just as if to determine who might be to blame for this latest outrage. I'm convinced that she'd rather everything just stay the same from day to week to year. She insists upon regular meal times and comes sniffing around should I somehow miss the deadline. She's capable of moping when she's denied her way. She's loving, in her fashion, which sometimes means she's slashing at a hand that was only trying to reassure her. She trusts no human.

The times when The Muse goes away for a few days upsets Molly most.

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Sleepwalking

sleepwalking
Honoré Daumier: The Hazard of Sleeping on a Journey (1843)


"I could be participating in One Mysterious Dream."


"I will take to the morning on the first day of my life,
and wander through the sparkling dew and sunshine,
and let her icy tingle wipe the sleep out of my soul,
for it seems to me I surely have been dreaming all this time;
but I almost half remember,
this one mysterious dream,
that came upon me just before I rose."

—One Mysterious Dream (A lyric I wrote back in the seventies)

I'm uncertain whether I'm Sleepwalking through this part of my life since I have little with which to compare my present state of mind, state of mind being at best a fleeting sort of experience, and not the sort to hang around to serve as the basis for any comparison, but I feel as though I might have recently been less than fully attentive.

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Forgivenness

forgivenness
Pier Leone Ghezzie: The Prodigal Son (c. 1720–30)


" … looking for some more Forgivenness to replace it."


If anything, age, maturity, further deepens my sense of inadequacy. What might have begun as a quiet stumble has by now established itself as a repeated pattern, a part of my personality, no longer merely transitive information but established definition. I still hold aspirations, though I mostly successfully hold them at bay. I do not wake up most days with any renewed sense that I might outgrow some long ago established shortcoming. I usually wake up accepting who and what I seem to have become, not often aspiring to overcome or get beyond anything. Some days' though, I'm tempted to ignore the preponderance of evidence and believe again, if only for a few fleeting moments, that I might hold different fates, untapped abilities, long hidden skills that might liberate me from some long-standing embarrassing shortcoming. These beliefs almost never deliver on their innocent promises, and leave me nurturing what I might call Forgivenness for myself again.

I think of Forgivenness as the self-bestowed state allowing acceptance of apparent fate.

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Paced

paced
Xiao Yuncong 蕭雲從: Album of Seasonal Landscapes, Leaf G (previous leaf 7) 山水圖冊 (1668)


"Slow and steady sustains a pace."


All activity seems to possess a pace, a rhythm most natural to its motion. This cadence doesn't always immediately disclose itself. It seems common for initial engagement to feature effort sometimes wildly out of synch with this natural one and it's not at all uncommon for the first few results to suffer somewhat from this absent understanding, too rushed or too painstakingly formed. Either can affect the quality of both the result as well as with the experience of producing the result. Initial discomfort often results from some mis-match between the adopted and the natural pace of a piece of work, and diagnosing this difficulty tends to be complicated, in that too many unknowns enter into the equation. A milling around period's often necessary before an appropriate Pace can emerge, often after investing altogether too much effort. One wonders how anyone could maintain a practice until stumbling upon a rhythm and pace that makes it easy in comparison.

I've long preached about the necessity of finding this natural rhythm but I'm realizing with repainting The Villa, that I had and still have no clue about how to induce this understanding.

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Recuperating

Recuperating
Unknown: Twenty-Armed Dancing God Ganesha,
Remover of Obstacles
(10th century, India, Madhya Pradesh)


" … the true meaning of life was presented on a day
when I was tucked up on the couch, Recuperating from something."


In the middle of it, Recuperating feels indistinguishable from slacking. The inactivity seems identical. I struggle to interpret my condition with the generosity it might not wholly deserve, for if I were true to my upbringing, I would have already cleared myself for reengagement and ended this forced idleness, but I am not true to my upbringing. I have been more or less actively rebelling against my upbringing since before I was fully brought up, and I seem unlikely to change my behavior now. It's not that I was raised by wolves. I mostly revere my parents intentions, even though they were sometimes difficult to discern. My most generous interpretation insists that they always meant well even if they weren't always able to do as well as they intended. In that, I was raised to be like them, but a point came where I needed to make my own decisions, my own choices, and beyond that point I needed to become my own parent and, curiously, my own child.

I wounded my knee painting.

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TheMovie

themovie
Charles Sheeler: Church Street El (1920)


" … none of it can ever be usefully interpreted literally …"


I believe that I am immersed within a movie produced especially for my edification and occasional enlightenment. The scenes I witness reflect something about me, always allegorically, and it's always up to me to interpret what they're trying to say. Some days I pay close attention. Other days, I doze. I know for certain that I miss much that might have proven significant had I paid closer attention, but it remains a significant part of the human condition, to which I'm no less subject than you, to not always pay close enough attention such that opportunities to more deeply understand quite naturally slip by. Nobody else can interpret my movie for me and I can never interpret anyone else's movie for them, either, and not just because I cannot quite see their movie from my perspective. Sometimes, a movie appears that was apparently produced for communal consumption. In those cases, more than one might watch and make shared meaning from the experience. This world is a complex multi-plex, with innumerable simultaneous movies running on an almost infinite number of screens.

Very few things are as they first seem.

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DsKnees

dsknees
Unknown Artist from Mexico, Guerrero, Olmec: Kneeling Figure (c. 1200-600 BC)


"Humility might humiliate …"


That part of planning asking the planner to list vulnerabilities always bugged me. Even I knew that the known vulnerabilities posed little threat, if only because one tends to cringe in sympathetic anticipation whenever anything threatens a known vulnerability. The real vulnerabilities prove to be unlistable. It's their very nature. I, for instance, when starting to repaint The Villa's exterior, would never have thought to identify my knees as anything like a vulnerability. Thanks to a persistent insistence to avoid jogging, skiing, and spinning, my knees have never bothered me. I am not now nor do I ever expect to be enqueued for knee replacement surgery, but six weeks into the effort, D'sKnees have become an unanticipated issue.

Perhaps it was those days spent grubbing out the swamp elm roots behind the garage that first prompted the pain.

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Winering

winering
Willem Claesz Heda: Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635)


" … we already live in a destination now …"


I remember when this valley evoked not a single notion of wine. Decades later, its very identity seems inexorably tied to the stuff. A place once revered for peas became one renowned for wine, with wineries dotting the rural byways and tasting rooms lining Main Street. It's a small city story many aspire to replicate, from backwater to tourist destination, from home town to boom town. I woke from my Rip Van Winkle dream to find myself living in The Napa of the North and I doubt that I will ever successfully adjust to this shift. Cute Crap Shoppes have taken over my once practical central business district. The Goodwill Store's moving out beyond the edge of town, some tourist attraction soon to follow into its space. Barrel Tasting Weekends, periodic seemingly spontaneous celebrations, bring grid lock to downtown and lines of expensively-clad tour bike riders wandering around in circles.

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz still sits on the same three way corner it was built on a hundred and sixteen years ago when this was the edge of civilization and streetcars swept through our streets.

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Affinity

affinity
Leaf from Gratian's Decretum: Table of Affinity
(c. 1270-1300) Italy, probably Naples, 13th century


"almost identical, always unique."


I met Mark and The Muse on the same day, September 14, forever after a holiday, a day for celebrating Affinity, a mysterious attractor, a ceaseless benefactor. I cannot recount or recall how it was that we found ourselves so connected. It seemed quite natural at the time, nothing entirely unexpected yet also something absolutely extraordinary. It seemed as if we could always finish each other's sentences, always understand, always empathize. Now, when Mark visits, old patterns revisit, too. An ease. A conversation cadence more than familiar, so natural as to beg identification. We just are together, picking up wherever we last left off, continuing the narrative where it had always seemed to be headed.

Mark and his wife Rita were the first to visit The Muse and I when we entered into exile.

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SheetMetalScrewed

sheetmetalscrewed
Thomas Hart Benton: Homestead (1934)


" … there's always a trick and … the experts always neglect to mention it …"


It turns out that if I volunteer to serve as my own housepainter, the universe will quite unselfconsciously presume that I am also by extension signing on to become my own sheet metal worker. How this natural expansion occurs remains a mystery, but that it occurs seems indisputable. I set about to paint a slice of south-facing wall, this one with a downspout hanging on it. I ask Kurt, who serves as my painting consultant because he's a real painter, if I really need to take down the downspout to properly paint that face. He reassures me that it's completely optional. I can choose whichever without compromising my highest intentions. I admit that I'm more opposed to the idea of taking down the downspout than actually opposed to the taking down of it, for the idea complicates my simple-minded notion of what I'm supposed to be up to. I signed on to serve as my painter, not, by extension or otherwise, my own sheet metal worker. That downspout was fabricated out of sheet metal and while I know little about painting, I know much less about sheet metal working. I know nothing whatsoever about sheet metal working, so if I were to decide to take down that downspout, I would by extension, again, be agreeing to become my own liability, even more than agreeing to become my own housepainter rendered me. I'd step over that invisible line and crossover into truly clueless territory.

Yea, I ultimately decided that I would have to take down that downspout if I were going to properly paint that wall.

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PaintingMyHead

paintingmyhead
Unknown Artist(s): Busts of Bodhisattvas
[from Mogao Cave 321,
Dunhuang, Gansu province, East Asia, China]
(Tang dynasty, 618-907)


"It's always something."


I first negotiate with myself. The scaffolding always seems impossibly high, higher than it actually stands. It looks modest enough when standing beneath it, but climb up onto the second tier and a primal fear leaks into me. I gaze at that top tier from there and cannot quite imagine myself transported up there. It seems flimsy, however securely assembled. It seems too narrow. There are no railings up there, just a wall face and soffit, not quite six feet above it. I stand transfixed as if any option other than upward existed. I favor my good knee then, pretending that the other hadn't been wounded from too much penitent kneeling on rough concrete and scaffolding. I finally nudge myself upward, having lost or won the negotiating, depending upon how I judge the outcome. In that moment, I feel as though I've lost, but I was burning precious daylight and needed to just get on with the proceedings, wherever they might be leading me. I feel as though I've entered the famed Valley of the Shadow of Death then, and I'm proceeding. Another painting day's begun.

If I could live with myself, I would run in some other direction, but I made myself a promise and I intend to deliver on it, Hell or High Water, maybe both.

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Sprinting

sprinting
Edouard Manet: The Races (1865)


"I might just as well surrender to this feeling."


This Spring, this Reconning Spring, has moved slowly, dragging what passes for her feet every inch of its way. One day, sunny, the next three, raining and cold, some days snowing, other days just blowing, it's been inhospitable if also welcome weather. It's been welcome weather because last year, these rains never arrived. We sat here watching July and August's wheat harvest dehydrate in the fields, expectations for yields steadily plummeting. Conversation out at the Ranch Supply leaned toward catastrophe. Nobody had seen anything very much like it. No end ever came into sight right into August when the worst case descended. Wildfires raged in the mountains and a heat dome hung low over the valley. Every day dawned clear if smoky and the sprinklers ran overtime all summer. The fuchsia didn't make it.

I've admitted to hiding behind this weather, of taking solace that I could too easily justify slow walking into this season, for I was facing a daunting personal challenge. I'd committed myself to repainting the Villa, to repairing the damage I'd caused when last trying to defend it against inexorable aging, but my heart wasn't in it.

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DoubleBound

doublebound
Georges Seurat: Seated Woman with a Parasol
[study for La Grande Jatte]
(1884/85)


" … I hover on the edge of some fresh enlightenment."


I often experience what I internally mischaracterize as some sort of a problem even though no obvious solution occurs to me. These difficulties can remain remarkably persistent, essentially unsolvable for the longest time. Many of them I never resolve even though they might continue to bedevil me. Sometimes, I just conclude that the difficulty out-smarted me. This conclusion does little for my self esteem, but then I already knew that I had little to hold in very high esteem to begin with. I was just confirming facts already more than adequately evident when I failed to solve the problem that might not have been a problem in the first place. Many of these are dilemmas, damned whatever I do choices. A few fully qualify as DoubleBinds, which I might define as difficulties which straddle contexts, existing in more than one place at once, and therefore conventionally unresolvable from within any single context, or so they appear. My life, like yours, overfloweth with DoubleBinds.

It might be helpful if we each had finished at least some Post Doc work in Theoretical Physics, for if we had, we might find ourselves better positioned to cope with these damnable DoubleBinds we're forever discovering invading our lives.

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LilacSeason

lilacseason
Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt: Sering
[Syringa vulgaris] (1596 - 1610)


" … though this news was never once reliably reported anywhere."


I am reliably informed that this world has already gone to Hell. Reliably informed yet still disbelieving, I somehow manage to face each new morning, influenced for certain by Molly our cat and her first thing in the morning enthusiasm. She's tripping me down the dark staircase, often trilling in apparent anticipation, hopping up onto the dining room table as I pass, to mug for a head scratch our even a full length body stroke. She quivers in anticipation of what comes next. Next, she'll race me into the kitchen where she'll vault onto the kitchen table, glancing back to make certain I followed, where she'll position herself for what must serve as a great conformation for her, her first thing in the morning ration of kitty treats, which I pile up on a piece of newspaper before her. She digs in, every bit the trencher I know her to be at heart, submitting to ever more enthusiastic stroking on my part. I pet her in humble and sincere appreciation for her reminder, served that same time every morning, that this world has not necessarily already gone to Hell, nor does it really seem to be headed in that direction. For that moment if for no other, all's right with the world, whatever calamity flashes just over the horizon.

In the same way that Molly's enthusiasm reassures me every morning, when Spring finally arrives after weeks of unconvincing promising, the world around me takes up Molly's morning role and commences to exhibit considerable enthusiasm for life as it just is in that moment.

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Incivility

incivility
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar: Ballad of the Snail
[Corrido del Caracol] (19th century)


"Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will."


The small pick-up truck parked in front of Popular Donuts featured a tailgate spray painted with the words Fuck Biden. That sight was enough to convince me that I didn't want any donuts that day. I felt deeply disturbed, embarrassed for the pick-up's owner, who, I suspected, had fallen in with a bad crowd. I remembered back to my late grade school days when I first encountered people my age behaving like "adults." I placed adults in quotes there, because even then I recognized that those people were more mimicking their elders than behaving like them, for there seemed a touch of the perverse in a fifth grader dabbling in four letter words and stolen smokes. The effect just embarrassed me and I quickly slipped away from those guys and tried to give them wide berth going forward. I thought them trouble if only due to their decidedly uncivil performance. They didn't so much seem grown up or liberated, as degraded, and they were voluntarily doing that to themselves! I decided that I would choose not to use that sort of language, not even to myself. I still, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, scream "Danged Nab It!" rather than some four letter deep blue facsimile of it. I won't even cuss when it's just me about.

I consider this convention to be a necessary element of civility, and Incivility to be early evidence of rot.

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Unemployable

RP-P-2018-698
Pieter Schenk: Carefree life in Hsin-yang (1702)


"We will never satisfy the formal definition of Hard Working …"

People ask me if I'm retired and I reply that I'm not, just Unemployable. I believe that unemployability has become a common state for people of a certain uncertain age. For some, Unemployability comes early and for others, later, but I dare suggest that it eventually comes for most. This amounts to no tragedy, for employability seems to be a self-liquidating state. The very act of holding a job undermines an incumbent's ability to hold that job. Eventually, this contradiction does in the job or the incumbent or both, often resulting in the incumbent's growing sense that he just can't bear to do that anymore, coupled with a conviction that to continue doing that might well prove terminal. Eventually, no amount of money in this world could properly compensate the afflicted individual. No "opportunity" sufficiently attracts. In other cases, more like my own, an individual simply grows to lack baseline skills necessary to successfuly maintain employment. He becomes a buggy whip in an automobile world. I, for instance, cannot operate a PC or type with more than two and a half fingers, both terminal shortcomings in today's competitive job market.

Unemployability seems distinctly different from obsolescence, for the Unemployable are far from idle.

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Structural

Structural
James Abbott McNeill Whistler: The Unsafe Tenement (1858)


"I'm much more skilled at the consequently superficial …"


I specialize in superficial strategies. I was the one who imagined such a thing as Brief Consulting, a philosophy rooted in the firm if not always fully justified belief that most difficulties might be fairly easily co-opted via clever reframing, that insight might often trump knowing, and that we mostly suffer from varying degrees of The Normals. It was a radical perspective dressed up as conservative approach since it only infrequently insisted upon anyone making any structural changes. It accepted the way things are as the way things are, and didn't often aspire for very much different. It was more about coping than changing, anyway.

I still find little to criticize about Brief Consulting.

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Inistential

inistentiel
Albrecht Dürer: Celestial Map of the Southern Sky
[Imagines coeli meridionalis] (1515)


" … we are the existential threat …"


We seem to inhabit a world beset with existential threats. An existential threat, for those who, unlike me, do not collect lengthy terms like fishermen collect worms, imperils our very existence. In other words, should an existential threat come to fruition, it would destroy us. Polly Pureheart faced an existential threat when Snidely Whiplash tied her to that railroad track, though I never understood why he chose to do that. Had a train come along while she was tied there, it would have been the end of her. Fortunately, Dudley DoRight's horse Nelly noticed something amiss and carried Dudley to the scene of the impending existential threat, where he was able to easily neutralize Snidely's trumped up existential threat on poor Polly, who, as a result, fell in love with Nelly, if my memory serves me correctly. Existential threats, as this story demonstrates, are very serious business.

We might also inhabit a world beset with what I might call Inistential threats, imagined perils we project, which certainly seem to us to qualify as existential threats.

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ThinkingUnder

ThinkingUnder
Attributed to Ignace-Joseph de Claussin, after Jean Jacques de Boissieu: Oude man in denkende houding (1805 - 1844)


"I make progress, then, depending upon how utterly stupid and uninquisitive I can remain …"


I have been accused of over-thinking on many occasions, perhaps because I tend to think as a first defense. It's my default response. Like all default reactions, this one does get over-used if only because it's almost always the one already saddled up and ready to go whenever anything happens. This results in a fair number of false positive reactions, where I apply precisely the wrong leverage in response to some otherwise ordinary perturbation. This amounts to perfectly normal behavior, though it often appears absolutely crazy. I imagine myself producing similar results whatever response I favored. If I tended to burst into tears in response to anything, I would seem well-adapted some percentage of the time, but I'd mostly build a reputation for being weepy. I suspect that most of us favor some pre-loaded reaction and thereby tend to react strangely some of the time. My thinking responses do not really qualify as wholly unreasonable, though thinking can sometimes violate the First, Do No Hard Clause under the standard rules of engagement.

Much work is by nature properly considered mindless.

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FairTrading

fairtrading
Juan Gris: The Painter's Window (1925)


" … the new dog teaches the old dog a new trick or two."


The Repeated Offender reader of these musings will remember Kurt Our Painter, who was a prominent figure during our extended Grand Refurbish last year. Kurt proved an able sidekick, teaching me about the practical application of paint, which turned out to be a surprisingly—shockingly— philosophical endeavor. Kurt carries an easy half century experience as a professional painter, and he's still learning, for painting, like most activities, I suppose, never was a simple matter. Of course, any Jehu can slop the stuff, though sloppy painting does disclose a definite lack of character. Real painters are painstakingly careful, patient even beyond their own belief, and wise. They change the world one mil at a time or less. They refer to accumulating paint in mils, though measuring actual depth proves impossible.

When painting, Kurt taught me that a single mil of paint sufficiently covers any lightly-used surface.

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AgingInSpace

aginginspace
Mayfield Parrish: Painting for cover of 30 Aug 1923 Life magazine


" … enjoying the journey though I knew where it was leading."


I find myself presently engaged in a rare effort, though I suspect that such activities might well become more frequent and more common in upcoming years. I claim to be repainting three sides of The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, an activity I have already in this lifetime engaged in once. What Makes this iteration different? I reasonably and fully expect that this time will be my last time erecting scaffolding around this building. If this work ages as planned, this place will not require another coat of paint in my capable lifetime. It will certainly need repainting in the far distant future, but by then, I do not expect to be physically capable of performing this service, however much I might wish to. It's genuine pain-in-the-butt grunt work, so it wasn't precisely a gift I gave myself when I decided to perform this job, yet I felt gifted.

I imagined myself savoring each brushstroke, immersing my full consciousness into the experience, painstakingly burning the effort into permanent memory, however foreshortened that might prove now.

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PhilosopherWork

philosopherworkman
Maxfield Parrish: The Lantern Bearers (1908)


"The philosopher's wary."


I have my heart set on a blue front door. Kurt Our Philosophical Painter reappears in my stories this week as he returns to finish the door we left undone in deference to Winter as we otherwise completed our Grand Refurbish. I'd intended to replace the rickety front screed door, thereby making it possible to secure the front even with the door removed, and that screen was replaced earlier this month. I peeked out my office window to see a crew of two exit their truck and head for the porch. I opened the door before they'd knocked and welcomed their presence. The new screen was fully installed less than an hour later. I didn't help much because they'd caught me immersed in my PhilosopherWork so I wasn't dressed for workman work. I find myself continually shifting gears between one persona and the other. Which am I really? Neither and both.

The philosopher in me prefers to work in slippers.

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HomingPlace

homimgplace
Marsden Hartley: “Still Life” (1932-1933)


" … our point of real reference."


It may be that there's no place like home, but I'm noticing that there's really no place like the HomingPlace, that place from which one continues the infinite homing search. It seems that search never ends. For me, my old home place is not a place of rest. My Reconning didn't cease when The Muse and I retook possession, but increased both in pace and purpose, for my Reconning finally had a base from which to once again sally forth from again and again and again. I might roost here, but this old place more prominently serves as a point of departure than a place of repose. I'm clearly going somewhere. So's The Muse.

When on exile, our Reconning seemed more like practice than purposeful.

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CaughtUp

caughtup
French (cartoon)/South Netherlandish (woven):
The Unicorn Purifies Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries)
(1495–1505)

"None of us run this race to win it …"


I complain that I'm behind just as if I was ever what even a generous interpretation might consider CaughtUp. As near as I can tell from here, I was born behind and I have been falling ever further behind since. Even when I accomplished something, I recognized that I could have done more had I really applied myself like I know I could have. Whenever I accept a fresh assignment, it lands on top of the pile of unfinished business I already have open and cluttering my desktop. When I finally organize something, a few bits of whatever it is won't quite fit into my new classification scheme, such that a strict judgement of the finished product should be that my product isn't quite finished. I maintain many backlogs, just as if they'd ever become anything else. Finished and done largely seem like acts of abandonment. I graduated from both high school and university with unfinished business. It took me a while to understand and accept that graduation resolved nothing except that I'd never be able to clean the plates I left partially eaten there.

I almost remember a time when I had actually CaughtUp.

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HighApril

highapril
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Circus: The Spanish Walk
[Au Cirque: Le Pas espagnol]
(1899)


"… maybe saunter over to the neighbor's …"


Both Max and Molly, our cats, were scheduled for their annual vet visit Tuesday morning. Anticipating trouble from Molly, who remains steadfastly standoffish and feral, I dosed her with enough CBD to mollify a moose. Even so, I slipped into my heavy leather yard gloves before attempting to pick her up and tuck her into her carrier. I pulled off that move without a hitch, but Max had witnessed the kitnapping and just to help, Molly began crying most plaintively, which clearly alarmed Max. Wary then and probably remembering his past cat carrier experiences, he bolted. Then we played an extended game of catch or, more properly, failure to catch. I did manage to nab him twice as he passed by, but only because he's so deep down good natured that he likely couldn't quite muster the belief that I intended him harm. I stuffed him into his carrier, or tried to, and he managed to contort himself into a ghost and exit while I shoved him in. After two failures, I gave the game to him and decided that I would just have to explain his absence and seek another appointment, taking Molly in alone, which would probably be better, anyway.

Molly, probably thanks to the CBD, performed beautifully, submitting to touching and probing from a stranger, something she won't usually agree to at home among family, and all was well with the world.

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Interruptus

interruptus
Juan Gris: Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912)


"Higher education, lower expectation."


The pace of classes at university fascinated me. Assignments came without regard to the size of my plate or any preexisting condition. The fact that some other class featured unrealistic expectations in no way inhibited every other class from having them too. These conflicts could not be resolved. Such was the paradox of higher education. One was chided to become a good student, but not even the best student was really expected to complete every assignment, to read every chapter, to ace every exam. Those who excelled were like The Muse, who was born with the ability to pass any test, even if she'd not studied, because she understands how to ace tests, I guess. I was not so blessed.

My university days were filled with guilt over all I could not complete.

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Finishing

finishing
Juan Gris: The Sunblind (1914)


"Some future unobservant audience will most certainly be impressed …"


I say that I'm refinishing this door, but I do not expect to reach an end. A time will come when I will choose to abandon this effort as either lost or good enough, essentially equivalent conditions, and focus my attention elsewhere, but for now, for today, I focus here. So much of my life seems to carry just this quality, where I'm not actually doing whatever I'm declaring myself doing. I do not intend to misrepresent my actions, for with this kind of work, misrepresentation might be the only possible representation. I say I'm finishing. I might be refinishing, but I do not labor to reach an end. I labor to begin and to properly attend.

This door was once damaged beyond all hope of repair.

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Refelance

refelence
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh (Paris, Summer 1887)


"[I] never learned to trust popularity."


I might fairly characterize modern life as a search for relevance. Certainly media, public as well as social, a prominent presence in our Damned Pandemic-separated lives, operates under a strict perversion of the Democratic process, where the number of views/likes/shares/comments determines relevance. I'm uncertain who first proposed simply voting as a means for determining relevance, but majorities have since voted in favor of the most remarkable and remarkably stupid things. It seems rather rare that a number one-rated program comes anywhere near being the best program produced that year. Same with recordings. Same with films. Same, too, with seemingly almost everything. Popularity in the polls has become the new relevance, a condition to which I'll assign a potentially more telling term, Refelance, meaning 'referred relevance.'

How does an artist, a creator, any producer determine relevance?

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Resturrected

resturrection
Raphael: Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1502)


" … already arrived and on the path intended …"


Perhaps the gravest error when Reconning lies in the usually innocent attempts to plot courses to the past. We know the past much better than we know our future, so it seems a smaller stretch of imagination to project that rather than to muster fresh visions, but resurrecting's no less speculative and much more dangerous. This universe, for better or for worse, runs exclusively forward, from past toward future, and any attempt to reverse this sequence should properly create serious consequences, however unintended. That a major world religion was predicated upon resurrection seems curious if also telling, for Jesus' great works all came before the resurrecting rather than after. After, he managed an ascension, which I guess amounted to another separation, with promises, of course, but he seemed just as gone after ascension as he seemed just after crucifixion, leaving an observer to wonder what resurrection accomplished other than to confuse a question. After ascension, the legend remained, plenty powerful and present, same as just after he first departed.

I suppose I speak heresy or disclose my lack of biblical literacy, but on this Easter morning, I find myself considering another sort of celebration than one focusing upon defeating death with resurrection.

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Reprieving

repreiving
Thomas Hart Benton: City Activities with Dancehall
from America
Today mural (detail), 1930–31


" … this universe appears to be self-correcting …"


I imagine this to be a self-correcting universe. I suspect that this notion comes from the inescapable fact that nobody really has the slightest influence over this universe's trajectory and that most of its business occurs on scales which could never have the slightest direct effect on anybody. It's a continuously playing movie which never once repeats but which appears so uniform as to appear familiar. My plans might not always come to fruition, but among the infinite alternative resolutions, at least one workable substitute very reliably seems to show up. Eventually. The net effect seems to be an infinite engagement in which I for some reason choose to involve myself in finite segments, some of which do not work out but for those that don't work out, I receive a Reprieve. An alternative appears to, if not precisely save the day, preserve potential.

That's not to say that I've never been disappointed.

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ExilesReturn

exilesreturn
Thomas Hart Benton: Outreaching Hands from America Today mural (1930–31)


" … to seek dignity rather than desire."


An Exile'sReturn feels no less traumatic than his exit, for both events demand skills not previously in evidence in our hero's experience, however vast. He left only because he could not possibly stay, hardly a proper preparation for anything following. He returned because he'd finally earned passage, but after such a long absence that he would not be returning to from whence he once departed, but into a rather darkening sunrise. In most ways, an Exile'sReturn turns into yet another exile, an extension of the discontinuity begun when he first fled into exile, unaware that he would never, could never, return. It would be, he comes to understand, off-handed adaptation from there on. It would be a great blessing that he returned just as unaware as he departed. Understanding, in probably this world's greatest blessing, always comes later, after confusion and well before wisdom. An Exile'sReturn proves revealing.

After eons of ceding one's heart's desire, one might recognize that hearts know little.

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ThirdYear

thirdyear
Thomas Hart Benton: "America Today" Mural (detail), “Coal” (1930–31)


" … it sure is a good thing that The Muse and I relocated to overlooking The Center of the Universe …"

As the ThirdYear of Our Damned Pandemic began, its prolonged presence seemed to foreshorten our future. That April, our prior years' toodles around Paris and the French countryside seemed almost epic adventures dredged up from prehistoric times, times long past and unlikely to ever return, like an innocence forever lost, like coal once was. The Muse and I have so far dodged the Covid bullet, whether through early and frequent vaccination, obsessive masking, or dumb luck, nobody can say. Certainly people every bit as scrupulous as us fell prey and others who seemed scandalously pass
é stayed safe. Most recovered fully, but not all. A million people just in this country are absent today who wouldn't be gone had Covid-19 not come along. It remains, ebbing and surging, leveraging large number laws, quietly disappointing hopes and dreams.

The routine seemed perfectly sustainable at first, as any fresh experience might.

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AtHardLabor

_hardlabor
Thomas Hart Benton: Steel from America Today mural (detail) (1930–31)

"I know, ironic."


I seem to need to relearn a simple lesson each Spring, just as if each prior Springtime hadn't taught me the same damned thing. I leave my long Winter hibernation with aches and pains I can never remember acquiring. It's not like the season had demanded too much of me. Aside from a few simple snow shovelings and some firewood carrying, I hardly stretch a muscle once the Autumn leaf harvest is in. I still awaken with a grumbly back or something. It's always something. A muscle group complaining without a discernible cause. I limp around and attempt my annual stoicism performance, which fools and entertains nobody, especially me. Eventually, even The Muse catches on that I'm aching. I take my ibuprofen and attempt to carry on, avoiding strenuous activity.

Then I relearn that I need some strenuous activity to iron out Winter's remaining wrinkles.

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Hesitance

hesitance
James Gillray: The cow-pock,
-or-The wonderful effects of the new inoculation!
- Vide - the Publications of ye Anti-Vaccine Society (1802)


"I'm more of an amateur than that."


He who hesitates might be temporarily lost, but not often permanently so. The one who tries to seize the day to appear decisive more easily loses himself, but doesn't seem to notice. I usually opt for Hesitance over decisiveness if only because I only rarely ever seem to possess enough information to justify engaging very quickly. I tend to sidle up to experiences, suspicious of their impact and influence. I do not usually readily volunteer. I am an avowed and proud foot-dragger. I prefer to catch up rather than rush ahead. I'd really rather that you go first. I'm not being polite, just cautious.

Try as I might, I cannot quite manage to characterize my Hesitance as a vice.

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ZenosReality

zenosreality
Pellegrino Tibaldi: Zeno of Elea shows Youths the Doors to Truth and False (Veritas et Falsitas) (C.late 1580s)
Fresco in the Library of El Escorial, Madrid


" … we might never notice ourselves incapable of stepping into the same river once."


It has long been a popular pastime among mathematicians and logicians to poke fun at the humble Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who left a memorable, subtle, and profound legacy of observations. He was the one who posited that one can never step into the same river twice and also the guy who cared enough to ask after the barber who shaved only those who didn't shave themselves, and wonder who shaved that barber's chin. Zeno pointed out how no arrow could logically hit any target, since each would subsume its progress by halving remaining distance, which could never logically resolve into any end point. His observations are today usually seen as provocations, interesting if largely irrelevant little insights into the limits of logical reasoning when explaining actual experience.

But we are not merely logical beings.

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SmallWinters

springsnow
Itō Takashi: Spring Snow at Kamikochi (1932)


"My boot lugs still carry soil they picked up last season …"


It's funny, but I don't remember this much variety in prior springs here. Snow spots the backyard this morning where The Muse and I planted her new Mirabelle trees yesterday afternoon. An almost fierce wind kept me off the scaffolding again and the cold will prevent me from painting today, forcing me back inside just after I'd started feeling the rhythm of this season. As if to throw my timing off, it's almost winter this morning, as I was finally prepared for spring. Of course our Colorado springtimes featured full-blown blizzards, but here in these gentler elevations and under Japanese Current influences, I just expected more consistency than this.

If I went back and checked, though, I suspect that the record would show just this slow build of the season, even including some SmallWinters in it.

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Permissions

permissions
Johann Michael Rottmayr: Apollo Granting Phaeton Permission to Drive the Chariot of the Sun (1690/95)


"I remain just as free as I'd ever care to be …"


As a gentleman of a certain age and social position, I suspect that many might suspect me of being free, or of at least feeling free to choose to do whatever I might choose to do, but that second suspicion would be far from the truth about me, a truth that only I could ever properly see. I have this gatekeeper inside me, and he decides for me what I might engage in and how. He's a stingy bastard, protective, and won't allow me to engage in just anything. He'd say that he at least tries to maintain certain "standards," but he administers them inconsistently enough that not even I can always predict what he'll permit and what he'll disallow. He insists that he's protecting my interests as he inhibits my freedom of movement and my liberties, not nearly as free as I might at first appear to be.

Consequently, I maintain a list of things he's frequently denied to me, if only to save myself the humiliation of him having to remind me again what kind of person I'm not.

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AttractingAngels

attractingangels
William Blake: The Angel Appearing to Zacharias (1799–1800)


"None of us ever was an island."


It's long been a matter of contention among theologians just precisely what human actions best serve the intention of AttractingAngels. Some insist that contrition works most reliably. Others vote for humility. Still others stand on the side of righteousness, believing that angels tend to hang with like-minded spirits. I anecdotally believe that angels seem to be attracted to trouble such that if I want to see an angel, all I have to do is get myself into some sort of trouble, even the generally irredeemable kind. If I can keep my eyes open and pay attention then, in my experience, I soon learn that whatever I did, innocent or not, if it resulted in trouble, it probably ended up attracting angels. Even sins tend to be fairly reliable attractors. In my humble experience, the kinds of angels I end up attracting do not seem all that picky about who they help. They're like the Lone Ranger but without the silly costuming. They mostly seem indistinguishable from any regular Jane or Joe. They'll let you know they're there.

Last night, I drove over to a nearby airport to fetch The Muse, who was returning from her first genuine business trip since the start of The Damned Pandemic.

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GrapeHyacinth

grapehyacinth
Publisher William Curtis in The Botanical Magazine, Hand-colored engraving #23727 (1791)


"I am not my name, either …"


In Spring, I channel my spirit flower, the humble, lovely, GrapeHyacinth. He embodies the season like no other bloom, an early riser and also a real eye catcher, he's up and at it before most others have broken ground. He's easily found and effortlessly, endlessly spreads into lawns, always beyond original intentions. He's utterly without pretension, simple, beautiful. He's neither grape nor hyacinth, but GrapeHyacinth, in that curious way that English allows a negation to become an identity. He is precisely not what he's named, but almost entirely something else.

I cannot bear to mow over that piece of lawn into which my sacred GrapeHyacinths have spread.

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Scaffoldingly

scaffoldingly
Shubha Taparia: Crescent (2021)


"I seem to need to expose myself to a certain amount of danger …"


I may have identified the source of my sense of disconnection with the recent changing of the seasons. After a long and lonely enough Winter season, Spring should have welcomed me with open arms and I really should have stepped right in there for a reassuring hug. I became stand-offish instead, as if Spring were trespassing upon my private space. I had become complacent over the final few weeks of that bleakest season, wasting opportunities to engage in this or that project, seemingly satisfied to lean back and let a little time pass by me. That was never satisfying work, but more of a defensive effort. After The Grand Refurbish ended mid-December, I'd retrenched, feeling aimless. The Muse was after me to finish a few projects, but I remained steadfastly disengaged, fitfully napping. Nothing really seemed worth doing after engaging in such a grand and satisfying furbish. Every alternative engagement just seemed to fall tragically short of something. I practiced moping.

Yesterday, Kurt Our Painter brought over his pickup truck to help me fetch scaffolding so that I could start a rather modest repainting of The Villa's outside.

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Ninja

ninja
From Suikoden of Japanese Heroes (Yeiyû Yamato Suikoden,
英雄日本水滸伝)
Publisher: Kujioka-ya Keijirô (c. 1843)
Scene:
Ogata Shuma (later Jiraiya) raising his sword to kill a python attacking a large toad,
Jiraiya is portrayed as being a ninja.


" … more lifestyle than profession."


I'm afraid that I feel compelled to break with a semi-sacred tradition and report that I am a Ninja. Yes, anyone engaging as a Ninja was cautioned in their training to keep their true identity secret, though no clear punishment was associated with violating this warning. I well understand the complications this disclosure might create, for the first and most enduring response to any Ninja disclosing their secret tends to be incredulity. Nobody ever believes it. They treat this confidence as a joke, since no Ninja in the history of this world so far ever looked like they might be a Ninja when they're out of costume, and, indeed, the costuming might well account for ninety percent of a Ninja's magic. Ninja-ing's a cosplay occupation.

I've confided this secret before, though never quite this publicly.

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Pruning

pruning
Kanō Sanraku: Set of sliding doors of Plum tree (early 17th century)


" … the Sum total of all I could not bear to Prune."


With Spring comes the great cutting back, the annual Pruning effort which eliminates unwanted excess while encouraging new growth. Pruning makes space for both new and different. It co-opts default repetition while heading off degradation. Even weeding might be considered a form of Pruning, since it, too, eliminates some life to encourage others.

I have always been a reluctant pruner, hesitating with my hedge trimmers and shy with my clippers.

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Muse-led

muse-led

Charles Meynier: Apollo and the Muses, (late 18th century)
Polyptych, from left to right:
Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence
Erato, Muse of Lyrical Poetry
Apollo, God of Light, Eloquence, Poetry and Fine Arts with
Urania, Muse of Astronomy
Clio, Muse of History
Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry


"Almost anything proves possible given perspective and well-informed choice."


I am not navigating by means of the nearly infamous Ded Reconning, which plays off past positions to imagine future ones. Christopher Columbus was reputed to have been a master Ded Reconner, famous for "finding" North America when he was searching for India. My reconning, the kind I employ here, might be properly referred to as Alive Reconning, for it relies much less upon the fates and intuition than does its Ded Reconning cousin. I might even suggest that I am never entirely alone when I'm navigating, for I firmly believe that my Reconning has always been inspired by muses, Muse-led.

I speak of The Muse when referencing my wife, but I speak now of The Muse
s who guide my trajectory when I'm unable to guide it myself, which is usually.

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Incompleteness

incompleteness
Paul Cézanne: Maisons parmi les arbres (circa 1904-06)


" … never finished, just contributed."


If I were charged with grading my performance so far in my life, I would not assign an immediate 'A', and not a 'B', either; nor a 'C', 'D', or even an 'F', and not only because I have not yet finished performing. I suspect that I still have an act or two left, perhaps even a few more full productions to produce, but I harbor few delusions that any future performance might nudge my grade up into the exemplary range. I am pretty much who I am. I no longer stay up late studying to achieve the next level of anything. Those who love me, love me. Those who do not, don't. I'm not completely uninterested in flipping my critics or in chasing away my fans, but I certainly do not invest much sweat toward achieving either. I am just about who and what I am, no more and little else. So what grade would I assign to my own performance so far? I'd award a big fat Incomplete, the orthogonal judgement, the forgotten achievement. Whether any fat lady's sung or not, my performance ain't quite finished yet.

Famous composers and artists left behind unfinished symphonies and paintings, so do us less famous brethren.

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Scrounging

scrounging
Vincent van Gogh: Shoes (1886)


"Without such provocations, I might never feel truly inconvenienced."


Scrounging tends to be one of the early casualties of prosperity. The dumpster diver becomes a WalMart shopper and a trajectory changes forever. Aging, though, can shift certainties to reintroduce the vagaries one might not have even noticed losing. Proud ones might faunch at the shift, feeling as though they've been assaulted or rendered undignified by it. The lucky ones might notice a certain vitality reentering their lives as what they'd grown accustomed to perceiving as their birthright is formally denied them. Insurance companies seem particularly adept at denying access once considered sacrosanct. For me, after The Muse shifted health insurance companies, the inheriting operation refused to pay for a refill for the only prescription I felt certain actually delivered on its promise. They were, of course, absolutely obtuse about their reasoning, never once actually confirming what they'd done, leaving it up to pharmacy clerks and nurses to attempt to interpret their intention and deliver their message.

As near as any of us could tell, they'd denied the refill request in spite of doctor's orders and expressly because the prescription actually worked.

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Securing

securing
Jean Metzinger: Man with a Pipe (Portrait of an American Smoker) (1911-12)


" … acknowledging this simple fact."


Two full years since my friend Thomas strongly suggested that I install a PastWord security application, I finally invited my tech guy over to install the system for me. I'm nobody's application installer, apt as I am to not quite understand the app's authors' intentions and instructions being inevitably inaccurate and imprecise, I much prefer to hire a professional to perform installations. I quickly felt satisfied with this decision as a fresh and new dizzying array of terms and functions flashed before me. My job was relegated to repeatedly entering a single PastWord as each installation stage progressed. Brian The Tech Guy somehow managed to resurrect long lost PastWords and convert them to new uses, like actually providing access for a change instead of simply serving as barriers to entry. I realized as he installed this package that I had been living incredibly insecurely, my only potentially saving grace being that I'd set up my systems in such a convoluted manner, that nobody could have ever been very likely to crack the codes, though they most prominently kept my systems secure from myself.

I, like everybody, possess a long, shadowy, and largely insecure history with security.

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Narrowing

narrowing
Jean Metzinger: Landscape (Marine, Composition Cubiste) (1912)


" … what I imagine to be their essence."


I've been noticing that the range of my Reconning radar has been Narrowing since The Muse and I returned from exile. On exile, I maintained awareness of more than just my immediate vicinity, but also of the goings on 'back home.' Back home, I do not reciprocate my interest. I doubt that I'll ever return to Colorado's Front Range. I think of it as a place we holed up in for a few years before repatriation. Now home, I've lost interest in that place, which never felt terribly hospitable or home-like, anyway. I never held more than a tactical interest in the local politics since I planned no future or legacy there. It's now become a good riddance for me.

Before exile, The Muse and I roamed a wide area.

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Gettin'

gettin_
Jean Metzinger: At the Cycle-Race Track (Au Vélodrome) (1912)


"I'd just stopped paying such close attention to what I wasn't doing."


I'm Gettin' over the idea that I need to be Gettin' over ideas. I might instead get under, around, or through, or, alternatively, I might simply let a condition be. The idea that I might one day get back to normal might perhaps prove the most poisonous possible aspiration. I seem to too easily imagine that I once experienced conditions I had never actually experienced, my old, fondly remembered, largely fictional Old Normal. Memory's a notoriously unreliable mentor. I try to take things as they come and often fail, falling into one of apparently many cognitive traps. Just day before yesterday, I complained here of feeling
StovedUp, as if that were a treatable condition rather than a statement of simple fact. I've felt StovedUp before and I most probably will feel StovedUp again. I might even find that I'm more frequently feeling StovedUp these days and pine after the time when StovedUp had not become my new normal. I only imagined it as a permanent condition, but, then again, nothing's permanent except perhaps that sense of permanence that sometimes visits.

I toughed out my StovedUp-edness.

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SurpriseSpring

suprisespring
Julian Schnabel: Rose Painting (Near Van Gogh’s Grave) V (2015)


" … just not quite prepared for it this time."


Though I thought I was paying close attention, this Spring successfully snuck up on me. I'm struggling to get into synch with it. Most years, I would have already sorted through seed packets and sliced out at least one nursery visit by now, but I have barely soiled my overall's knees yet. I just cannot seem to find the rhythm of this season. After all those years in exile dreaming of how it would finally be when we were back in The Villa Vatta again, this turn of events seems particularly disappointing, perhaps tragic. It might be a bout of Dream Come True Syndrome, where the object of long affection becomes the opposite once secured, where the true love only lives in anticipation of finding it, and withers as soon as it's actually touched. Or, it might well be something considerably less insidious. How could I possibly tell which?

I've started baby steps.

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StovedUp

stoveup
Egon Schiele: The Family (1918)

"A reckoning might be impending …"


The Muse and I arrived out of exile one year ago today. We found an empty house waiting patiently for our arrival. We set up the inflatable bed in the living room then set about settling in. The Muse's son's family had not quite finished moving out, so I spent the next day helping to relocate their stuff out of the basement in preparation for the moving van arriving the following day. The rest, as they say, is history. Few days would be spent idle until the following winter. We shaped up the yard and repainted the front porch before setting about to refurbish nine rooms, floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and doors. I spent the last day possible to paint outside, finishing painting the exterior trim on the last window before settling into a long-ish idle winter. I'd supposed that I'd earned a break, but three months off have only left me feeling StovedUp for spring.

I have aches and pains the likes of which I never once had when we were on exile.

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TheRoadToWashtucna

roadto
Rolling Hills of Palouse: Wojtek Powiertowski (2016)

"One goes nowhere to unburden."


I long ago noticed that every road in this part of the country seems to go to a little place that’s almost no place at all, Washtucna. Drive along I-90 between Spokane and Seattle and it seems that every exit between Sprague and Ritzville mentions Washtucna. Same story driving US395 between Pasco and Ritzville and US12 between Walla Walla and Lewiston, and WA127 between Colfax and the Pommeroy cutoff, every intersection points the way to Washtucna. It’s the center of the universe surrounding the center of the universe within which I live. It’s actually a very small and shrinking town plunked down in the center of a geographic square maybe seventy miles on a side. Bordered on the West by the mighty Columbia River, the East by the humble Blue Mountains, the North by I-90, and the Oregon border to the South, with the Snake River running its last stretch right through the middle before joining the Columbia. Within that square lies inarguably some of the finest cropland in the world and also some of the worst. Geologists refer to the stuff Washtucna sits on as scabland, basalt scrubbed almost barren by a series of Ice Age floods, leaving a dry Coulee country not quite large enough to qualify as grand, yet still plenty impressive.

Why would anyone willingly choose to take any of the many roads leading to Wadhtucna?

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Stages

stages
Jean Metzinger: Paysage coloré aux oiseaux aquatiques (1907)


" … it's all a series of silly games we play with passionate sincerity."


I began this Reconning Series because I sensed that I had entered a new stage of life. Typical of my species, I suspected that I'd detected this change considerably after the change had already occurred, but I still felt almost compelled to take a little deeper look and consider ramifications. One of the saddest cheap human tricks involves essentially engaging at the wrong logical level, for instance, engaging in age-inappropriate ways which might include wardrobe dysfunctions up to behavioral ones. Few sadder sights assail anyone than a person wearing some follow-on generation's fashions, the sixties grandma wearing Carnaby Street or the once distinguished gentleman in day-glo bell bottoms. These errors transcend mere faux pas to enter the realm of pathology, perhaps even treatable conditions. I suspect that many of these transgressions occur inadvertently and demonstrate more ignorance or personal insensitivity than volition. Few volunteer to appear the fool.

Yet many still manage to appear foolish, if not in their own eyes than pretty much everyone else's.

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MidnightCreep

midnightcreep
Camille Pissarro: Boulevard Montmartre in Paris (1897)

“I wrote it so that I would know what I was thinking.”


My work’s signature element must be that I engage in it almost exclusively in the wee hours. I’m a MidnightCreeper. I might forgive anyone for believing that I’m a little shy about my profession, for I engage in it so damned stealthily. Aside from the fact that I’ve lately, since reinhabiting our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, taken to writing in perhaps the most exposing window in the place, I remain terribly private and secretive about my practice. Few pass by to spot me writing in my wee hours and even then, I most often write in near total darkness, my desk only illuminated by the faint glow my laptop screen makes, my eyes dilated like a lemur’s, my silhouette essentially invisible from out there.

I remain rather embarrassed by my peculiar practice, which I think of more as ablution than actual profession.

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MidnightCreeping

MidnightCreeping
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Sentier dans le bois (circa 1874-1877)


"I have other habits which overtake me sometimes and drive me to commit equally minor crimes for all the very best reasons."


I would have pleaded passionate excess or perhaps temporary insanity, for had I been arrested in my youth on May Day, I would have most certainly been guilty as charged. No, I had not participated in any violent protest on that day or bumped off a bank. I would have probably been charged with some form of criminal trespass for sneaking into some fortunate soul's yard around midnight for the purpose of liberating a few of his choicer flowers. May Day reminds me of this once perhaps over-proud tradition which I practiced with diligence and without supervision for well over a decade. Before I had my own gardens, I'd one night each year take it upon myself to swipe a few of another's excess blossoms to craft a May Basket for my love. It would be a simple thing, often crafted from a page torn from a notebook or a cut down paper bag, but it would mean something. It would mean that I'd risked my freedom to express my ardor. It would mean that I had not forgotten. It encouraged the sort of domestic tranquility only ever known by hardened criminals who'd made a clean getaway. I'd return to my innocent ways in days following and stay on the proper side of the law until over the night before the next May 1st. I was a studied recidivist.

The Muse and I now count ourselves among the fortunate souls who have a yard overflowing with flowers on May 1st.

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Distantcing

distantcing
N.C. Wyeth: from Robinson Crusoe, Cosmopolitan Book Corporation edition (1920)

" … I feel as though I am still free floating …"


Between my career and our grand exile, I grew accustomed to being away from home. I always felt as though I adapted well to road life, but I see that I will most likely be more tied to one place, our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, in the future. Not even Our Damned Pandemic sequestered me at home at first, for it arrived at the start of our last year of exile, stranding me in our final interim home rather than what The Muse and knew to be our real one. Finally arriving home, I hardly knew how to comport myself. I'd been short-timing myself for so many years by then that I'd become more attached to my shadow than to my actual presence. You see, as a passing entity, one gets excluded from many of the rights and obligations of full citizenship. One votes, of course, in local elections, even if on exile, but one probably does not feel as though they're contributing to any personal future by so doing, since the one certain thing always remains that you will not still be there by then. On exile, one never possesses a local future, only a far away one, and only then if lucky. One forfeits a full present local identity for the duration of exile duty.

Washing up back home felt both enormously relieving yet also deeply disturbing, for I'd grown accustomed to the emotional as well as the physical Distantcing.

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NextSteps

nextsteps
Johannes Vermeer: Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (c. 1657–1659)


"This is how our world progresses."


Beginning might break surface tension but it does little to nothing to determine NextSteps. These seem barely implied by initial movement, uncertain even of the direction taken so far, for little distance was covered and no clear rhythms or end points have yet come into focus. The first few postings of any new series sort of try on identities, hoping something clicks, for the Author aspires to create something capable of making some sort of difference. The significance of his topic choice not yet obvious, similar past beginnings managed to step up to and into their own importance, but there's nothing insisting that this one must or will step up to or into until it does and already has. I mark my time to hold my place in line. NextSteps emerge awkwardly every time.

Breaking surface tension, though, amounts to the first great success of this series for me, for nothing's written, either, insisting that surface tension might be broken this or any time.

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Begineering

beginnering
Claude Monet: The Japanese Footbridge (1899)


"I am a begineer!"


The first full day of Spring and I find myself Begineering. Beginning a fresh series, sure, but also Reconning, investigating this new space I attempt to create. I chose Reconning as the name of this series because it lately occurs to me that I have been either outrunning my past manners of living or am very likely to be out running many of them soon. Like many in my generation, I was able to extend my adolescence far beyond my childhood, and my mere adulthood well into middle age, and my middle age out to beyond its relevant range, leaving me in uncharted and largely unwanted territory. I never aspired to achieve either majority or dotage, but they seem to have almost successfully conspired to overtake me. I could die my hair and seek Botox® injections, or find some semblance of dignity in my eventual downfall. We all know for certain where this path is heading, but not its timetable.

No need to go all morbid about this.

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Whimper

whimper
Johannes Vermeer: The Concert (circa 1664)

"Thanks for coming to my table."

The final essay in my Authoring Series should wrap up my investigation, and I suppose that this piece might manage to do precisely that, though it won't succeed in the way I'd imagined it might when I started this series three months ago. Then, I had the writer's equivalent of visions of sugar plums dancing around in my head, for I, as seems so often the case, began this enquiry under innocently false premises. I'd imagined that Authoring might result in some sort of a publishing contract and a physical book sitting coquettishly on some bookstore shelf somewhere. How nineteen forties, right? We're in the twenty-first century now and you might not remember the last time you set foot inside a bookstore, and online book shopping's different enough to not really qualify as book shopping at all. Further, the book market has been static since 2007 when 400,000 new titles were shoved into it. Today, four million new titles compete for the same shelf space, much of it virtual. My publisher, the one who published my best selling The Blind Men and The Elephant back in 2003, reports that the only books that stand much of a chance in today's cluttered market are ones tied to an existing marketing plan, a subscribed workshop offering or a frequent keynote speaker. That's not my manuscript. It's not my aspiration, either.

It might be that Authoring's no longer as I imagined it might be back when I started this enquiry.

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Patience

patience
Vincent Willem van Gogh: Rain (Saint-Rémy, November 1889)


"Whatever it becomes, comes later."


I don't fear that we'll not get clear through all of Authoring's Stations of the Cross before we run out of time to explore them here, I know for certain that we'll run out of time. Running out of time seems Authoring's common companion, for Authoring as a craft and as a profession turns out to be one of the longer cycled occupations. This seems fitting if only because once published, a manuscript becomes essentially immortal. Even if it joins the ranks of the majority of published works and gets quickly returned for pulping, those three copies submitted to The Library of Congress will account for something, and anything shelved in that permanent collection remains forever retrievable. That said, Authoring's Fifth Station of the Cross simply must be Patience, for Authoring will not be rushed. Even the fast track to publication seems terribly pedantic, with checks and unbalances complicating each and every step. Even then, an error or two might occasionally get chiseled into granite, but the intention of publishing flawless works mostly works. Authoring features innumerable moving parts.

My folly at setting aside a quarter year to consider Authoring says much about the profession.

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Promotion

promotion
Sassetta AKA Stefano di Giovanni: The Agony in the Garden (1437-1444)


"This Fourth Station ain't worth my tarrying over."

And so we come to the Fourth Station of the Authoring Cross, Promotion. I have nothing authoritative to say about Promotion, for I have never mastered it. The real underlying reason I began this enquiry into Authoring had everything to do with Promotion, and, specifically, SelfPromotion, which I've long recognized as my Achilles Heel, as I explained in my earlier Reconsidering series. For someone with a degree in Marketing, I seem a particularly inept marketer. I shudder whenever I'm called to say a few supportive words about my work and either feel as though I'm bragging or underplaying, often both. I had hoped that a more focused considering of Authoring might enable me to find a more comfortable frame within which to place this Fourth Station and its many expectations, but as I watch the calendar moving toward the expected ending of this endeavor, I realize that I'm no closer to feeling any more comfortable with promoting my work than I ever was. I feel as though I've played this game to stymie again after specifically re-engaging again to learn how to play around or beyond stymie. I feel about ready to accept that I actually am me, and that the earlier instances of myself which I thought were perhaps just underdeveloped manifestations might have been instead finished pieces and I've been in denial for decades. This result does not surprise me.

I've been shopping the usual marketplaces.

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FutureFocus

futurefocus
Georges de La Tour: The Fortune-Teller (probably 1630s)

"The universe couldn't care less what you decide."

Much of whatever Authoring entails occurs on the broad plain between writing and publishing. There, the Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions reside, serving as apparent barriers between the writer and his aspiration to become a published Author. These questions also serve as the raw material for utterly transforming the Authoring experience both for the better as well as for the worse. As barriers, they reliably produce what certainly feels like worse experiences, at least until they encourage some breakthrough thinking that transcends the initial trouble. What started as a continuation of the story about writing evolves into a deeper and richer story situated above and slightly to one side of the writing as well as to whatever story the manuscript attempts to tell. This perspective emerges from what seems like overly extended wandering in wilderness, from an abject loneliness and deep isolation, from genuinely not knowing, the sure source of all understanding.

Authoring's Third Station of the Cross might well represent the lion's share of the whole Authoring experience.

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Voce

voce
Orazio Gentileschi: David Contemplating the Head of Goliath (c. 1610)
" … it's absolute magic!"


I'll call the Second Station of the Authoring Cross Você [pronounced Voe Che], because it mostly deals with the Author's manner of speaking. The writer writes while the Author shapes. The writer creates rough approximations in relative isolation, each piece produced in absence of any broader context. Once the writer completes the pieces, the Author can set to aligning those chunks into a more continuous whole. Você becomes primary among the various elements of this aligning process because it's the subtlest piece and also the one most easily noticed as absent. The voice the reader finds speaking out of the page must be recognizable, not different from chapter to chapter, beginning from end. Further, the Você stands above and beside the story and serves as the medium within which whatever story gets told. It's often best when as innocuous as the almost still and silent voice each of us knows as our own internal one, our conscience, if you will. Whatever the Author chooses as the work's Você, aligning and preserving that timbre might be the underlying purpose of the so-called Proofing pass, which superficially seems to mostly focus upon spelling and ridding the draft of dangling participles.

A great editor can preserve and even amplify the Author's voice better than even the Author could.

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TinyShifts

tinyshifts
Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?): Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel (about 1460–1470)


"The greatest significance tends to hide in the tiniest focus."


I yesterday mentioned The Authoring Stations of the Cross, my sense of Authoring's underlying sequence. My sense has shifted since I started this Authoring enquiry, but shifted in unanticipated ways. Like you (I suspect), I focus upon what might make a big difference, figuring I can always fine tune the tiny side stuff, so I set about looking for whatever might make a huge contribution in my understanding of Authoring. As I near the end of the enquiry, I realize that TinyShifts seemed to have made the most significant differences, perhaps a contradiction, though not, upon reflection, a particularly surprising one. If change sometimes seems frustrating to create, it's often due to focus. I'm so intent upon seeing significance that TinyShifts slip right through my diligence. My futures tend to slip in when I'm paying attention to stuff that couldn't possibly make much difference. Authoring's no monolithic practice, but a series of almost insignificances only the experienced appreciate. Authoring's very likely to slip right past even the attentive at first because us attentive ones tend to focus upon the wrong scale, by which I mean, way too large.

I see now that if I shift just a couple of things in my daily practice, I will have much better integrated Authoring into my routine.

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InfiniteObjectives

infiniteobjectives
Artemisia Gentileschi: Danae (c. 1612)


"It's infinite engagement or its meaningless …"


With a scant week left in my scheduled Authoring investigation, I stumble upon an understanding that might have better served me at the beginning. It's really no great tragedy if I prove myself to be too late smart again, but then I wonder how this inquiry might have proven different had I achieved this small enlightenment nearer the beginning of this effort. Looking back, I realize that I might have frittered away quite a lot of time failing to winnow whatever I was up to into a finite form, as project management theory and practice have always counseled. The job of the proper project manager was always said to involve building baffles and defining edges such that the 'process' as well as the product might be thoroughly described in definite language, without hyperbole or abstraction, for the tools and techniques of 'proper' project management each utterly depend upon thorough grounding. No Utopian notions allowed. No notions allowed at all, only tangibles.

I long ago wrote a piece about solving the world hunger problem, which I characterized as an aspiration, not a realizable objective.

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ComFormation

comformation
Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes (1608)

" … just so much spit in an indifferent wind."


Half of the people I'd Bcc-ed on the manuscript submission email found that message in their spam filter, so it seemed a reasonable assumption, a fifty/fifty proposition, that the publisher's spam filter had also snagged my missive. I explained yesterday how hesitant I felt about calling to confirm receipt, wanting to avoid appearing pushy, but after further goading from my supportive community, I took the chance and quickly confirmed that the publisher had, indeed, received the thing and was warmly anticipating reviewing what I'd submitted. In that moment, a line of communication manifested, its first message comforted more than I can describe. The manuscript had survived another passage from source to out there and it had found another interested reader. The publisher, too busy to review the damned thing yet, warmly anticipated reviewing it. He promised to get back to me just as soon as he's finished his perusal. That should be soon. The Blind Men was submitted and accepted in the same week. This one, accepted or rejected, should prove little different.

The often lengthy periods between submission and ComFormation hold no substance.

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StageFright

stagefright
Orazio Gentileschi: The Lute Player (1612)

"I'm just barely learning … ."


Once the manuscript's submitted, a form of StageFright settles upon the budding Author. He wants feedback but dreads it. He wants acceptance without suggestions, especially those damned helpful ones. Part of him hopes his submission just gets lost in the mail. Should the package return, he might file it on an easily overlooked shelf and conveniently forget to open it rather than submit to the judgement of the world out there. It might be a special curse that those who engage in the performing arts—and make no mistake, Authoring qualifies as a performing art—all suffer from some degree of StageFright. We desperately want to share our gift, however modest, with a world that deep down terrifies us with its casually harsh criticisms. Formally trained artists get themselves subjected to toughening up exercises as a part of their studies. They're taught to dish out harshness and also to take it in huge volumes so that they might relegate others' judgements into mere background noise. They learn not to take that shit very personally, to interpret criticism as first about the critic, and to thereby hold their creative space. Even the trained ones, though, experience a kind of StageFright as a form of respect for the performing space, which should rightfully always awe an artist at least a little bit, lest they grow calloused about entering it.

In my youth, my first real career was as a 'single acoustical artist,' as a so-called singer songwriter.

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ReConsidering

ReConsideringAuthoring
Unknown: The Stigmatization of Saint Francis,
and Angel Crowning Saints Cecilia and Valerian, French or Italian (1330s)


"I've done dark wood before."


Three years ago, I spent the whole first quarter of the year Reconsidering. I was then a year and a half into what has now turned out to have been a nearly four and three quarters-year effort, one within which I've dedicated a part of myself to writing and posting a daily essay. I began the exercise to remind myself that I was, or had been at one time, a writer. I suppose that I quickly reassured myself before falling into a rather tender trap, one which insisted that if I really was a writer, I should be writing daily, or, perhaps I'd really need to continue daily writing or lose my identity as a writer. Whichever, I've continued the practice, which you've doubtless noticed. Every morning another reflection arrives. I finished my Reconsidering series on March 20, 2019, while visiting our then rented out home in Walla Walla, the final reflection, reassuring.
[Link here.] Now, that series exists as a book, or, more properly, as a manuscript, as of yet unsubmitted for publication. I've carried the presumption that one day, Reconsidering would certainly reach publication, but my more recent focus upon Authoring finds me reconsidering that earlier presumption for that one and its soon to be nineteen brothers, as well as those two others I've written and should some day get around to properly compiling into submittable form. I do not lack for product.

One of the more useful outcomes of any investigation might be the inevitably different perspective focused perception produces.

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Spent

spent
Lewis W. Hine, photographer: Tony Casale, Newsboy, Hartford, Connecticut (March 1909)
"It might be that his urge toward Authoring was a big mistake."


This announcement will not make headline news. It won't make the back pages, either. After seventy-seven days Pursuing Authoring, our budding Author's feeling Spent, like a spawned out salmon gasping in the shallows of his home stream, wondering what that excursion might have meant. It certainly seemed circular, a round trip, there then back again, but what was gained and what might have been lost? What was that purpose again? What initiated the urge, the one that pushed the fish out of sufficiency into an apparently necessary pursuit. The long and tedious descent to sea level, the lengthy period feeding in the open ocean, the perilous return up fish ladders and over dams, dodging sea lions and gill nets, what was all that drama about? Our fish feels reasonably certain as he watches his once-noble nose turn crooked and rotting that this might not have really been about him, that he was only playing a part in a much wider and longer arc of history, a bit player, an instance. Whatever the purpose or the reason, our fish feels certain he's Spent, done for now, over, finished.

This is the point where the Author steps in to make light of the gravity of that opening paragraph. What? He isn't?

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Serializing

serializing
J. H. Garnsey: A gentleman . . . standing on his head on a footstool,
from Billtry, by
Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895).
An illustration from a dime novel.

"Whatever produces Ink, works."

A hundred and fifty years ago, many popular novels were published twice. They were first Serialized in a newspaper or weekly magazine, then later compiled into a book, sometimes in different editions ranging from cheap dime novels to leather bound presentation finishes. By the time a Dickens novel was published, it had already been read by tens of thousands, each novel already a best seller at the point of publication. The blog, I guess, replaces such Serialization in today's publishing world. For an Author, Serializing offers one great benefit over simply publishing books, a more frequent experience of "Ink," the term Authors use to describe what it feels like to see their work in print. We say that we've received ink as if we'd received a blessing or a sacrament or something similar. It might serve as the true purpose of Authoring, to receive a jolt of recognition when spotting one's own writing upon a page.

It doesn't matter to us Authors, either, whether that Ink comes in the form of a Letter To The Editor in a newspaper or a hard bound book

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KnotKnowing

knotknowing
Aurèlia Muñoz: La font de la vida [The Source of Life] (1976)
"David The Rather Mediocre Author But Still Perfectly Normal"


Authoring has thus far offered me an extended experience of not knowing, KnotKnowing, by which I mean coming to discover that I'm tangled up in another Gordian Knot again and again and again. These knots seem to be the kind that cannot be simply untied, though a few have proven vulnerable to a blade. I have, like Alexander The Great (back when he was still widely considered Alexander The Rather Mediocre) just cut the untenable knots in half, thereby untying them after a fashion, but I have proven almost always incapable of conventionally untying them. My inability to succeed at conventional untying first came as a blow to my delicate ego. I felt that if I was really going to ever become worth anything as an Author, I should most certainly be capable of untying most any conventional knot, but I clearly was not. This acknowledgement reverberated down through my spirit to weaken my resolve as well as my self esteem. I felt as though I must have been proving to be a truly terrible Author.

Part of my difficulty arose from my insistence upon attempting to answer the wrong questions.

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AllIn

allin
Gustave Doré: Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1877)
"AllIn and then some … "


When I started this Authoring Series, I went AllIn. Like you, I was reared on the gospel of commitment. If I was going to do something, I should fully engage rather than dabble. I should take my engagements seriously. Consequently, my work has generally become my identity more than my occupation. I understand that when we declare what we do for a living, we say "what we are," this while also insisting that we maintain work/life balance, whatever that might be. For me, my work has usually been my identity, or perhaps I should say that I have largely mistaken my work for my identity. I do seem to become whatever I'm doing. When I throw on my overalls, I become Handyman Dave for the duration of the chore. When I play my guitar, I become David, my single acoustic performing artist self circa 1975, not having aged a minute. When I cook, I cook rather than dabble around the edges. The very minute I started this Authoring Series, I became an author for all intents and purposes. The Refurbisher I'd been the previous quarter disappeared as I focused my attention, heart, soul, body, and spirit on Authoring. Who am I really? Interesting question.

Of course, I was just play acting, for I had few clues then just what Authoring entailed.

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CopingBetter

copebetter
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi: Meet the People (1948)
"What's that latest book about, David?"


Once an insight visits, the real work begins, to interpret and explain it. The initial insight passes quickly. It might linger for less than a minute, perhaps less than a second, a flash of lightning, difficult to believe it was ever there once it leaves. The interpretation relies upon observational memory, the type of observation taken when blinking, uncertain anything was even seen, but fueled by a flush of conviction. Something terribly profound just happened. Let's not let it get away from us, now.

The first impression might serve as little more than an anchor for the receiver of the insight, an index, a reminder.

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Cogitation

cogitation
Léon Spilliaert: Self-Portrait Before the Mirror (1908)
"This Authoring's convoluted business …"


Looking back through my accumulated Authoring stories, I discover that I almost two months ago posted one entitled Cogitating which considered the long contemplative periods Authoring also entails. Today, I want to take the noun form of that same idea and explore where that might lead me, though I already know that, being a noun form, it won't contain much action or acting. As a budding codger as well as an Author, I perform much of my magic via Cogitation, by which I mean by apparently doing nothing. I excuse myself by explaining that I'm considering, thinking, figuring out, though I'm clearly not any sort of action figure while so engaged, if, indeed, I can even fairly describe myself as engaged during those times. I have gratefully not resorted to watching daytime television—how could I live with myself then?—but to any outside observer, (how did YOU get in here, anyway?) I might easily appear to be simply, perhaps profoundly slacking, and I might be slacking. The evidence that my Cogitation might bear fruit remains firmly in the grasp of the future tense during these lengthy periods. Cogitation accomplishes nothing, and without evident elegance, either.

I could probably pass for a retiree, if I would only allow myself to retire, but I remain tenaciously engaged even when, even if, I seem awfully disengaged.

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WrongQuestion

wrongquestions
Franz Marc: Birth of the Wolves [Geburt der Wölf]) (1913)
" … this tactic sometimes even works … "

They always ask the WrongQuestion, probably because there are no completely right and proper ones. The purpose of asking WrongQuestions might vary a bit from what we might innocently consider the purpose of asking a proper question, presuming, of course, that such questions exist. The purpose of asking WrongQuestions might extend no further than a desire to start a conversation, like when someone asks Fundamentally Undecidable Questions, though those might prove both right and proper. The difficulty, or at least a chief difficulty, arises when one presumes that a WrongQuestion is, in fact, a right and proper one, and being right and proper, that it deserves a right and proper answer. Therein begins the trip down into a rabbit hole and into an often inescapable labyrinth.

There are tells, clues that the question offered might prove problematic.

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TimeLagging

timelagging
Gustave Doré: Found in the Street (1872)
" … trust in my experience, even when it seems, at best, half-vast."


The Muse knows that if she wants to understand my perspective, she'll have to ask and then … … wait, for I never seem capable of responding instantly with any status request. Ask me what I think and my first reaction will be to wonder, "Was I supposed to be thinking?" I'll need to sort out some fairly hefty existential baggage before I'll muster a response. Asking me how I feel about something should spark an even lengthier delay, for I do not keep my feelings within easy reach. My mean lag time between intention and engagement tends to be lengthy, too, as I seem to need to consider most things through to some point of leverage before physically starting, so it might well seem as if I had been actively forgetting to follow through rather than spooling up for my opening gambit. I have proven to be a most frustrating partner.

I am a frustrating partner for myself, too.

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ThatVoice

thatvoice
Giorgio de Chirico: The Seer, Winter 1914–15
" … wondering if my Authoring voice might ever gain parity or prominence."


I have a voice in my head. Or is it that a voice in my head has me? Either way, there's a voice up there, though I'm uncertain if that voice belongs to me, if it's mine. Like when I hear my voice on a recording, this voice doesn't very much sound like mine, like the one I hear when I speak out loud to myself or to anyone, so I suppose that the voice in my head could belong to anyone. It chatters. It narrates my life. It tells the stories as they unfold before me, as if it had access to the script. Sometimes it reads ahead. It can fill me with delight or dread. It's my faithful companion. When I startle awake at zero dark thirty in the morning, ThatVoice greets me. As I fall asleep in the evening, it wishes me well, often by replaying that day's greatest hits and misses. It's never far and rarely silent.

Radios were originally installed in cars to prevent ThatVoice from having too much influence over each driver, to promote more uniformity and less daydreaming.

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Spark

spark
Jan Collaert: New Inventions of Modern Times [Nova Reperta],
The Invention of Book Printing, plate 4

(ca. 1600)
"If I can stay in the game and somehow retain my patience, insight eventually visits …"

When I started this Authoring series two full months ago, I suspected that success would require some fundamental understanding to emerge, though I didn't at the time understand just what that understanding might entail. Authoring involves wrestling with so many simultaneous mysteries that they prove impossible to inventory. It seemed that at least one question was hounding me each morning. Through early days, I found it convenient to just let the mysteries be. Later, the unresolved ones seemed to slow then stall my sense of forward progress. I felt tempted to just put my head down and bull through those barriers even though I knew, or believed I knew, that these were the sorts of barriers that nobody ever successfully bulls their way through. I suspected that something would happen, some seriously uncertain something, which would transform the series and at least contribute to turning the resulting book into something more than mere writing, into Authoring.

Many things just seem to require patience.

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Paradigming

paradigming
Giorgio de Chirico: The Painter’s Family (1926)
" … from his future turned dystopian on him, he might caution others to be wary …"


I want to have written a book of unique form rather than just another copy cat derivative work. All books seem very much alike in that they feature a number of pages tucked between covers, called "boards" in the trade, but the old adage that you can't tell a book by its cover also holds true for a book's form. A book is not simply a book in that it also holds the potential to transcend what the term book meant before this one came along. Forever after, history will be divided into two components, before this book and after this book. That book's the one, if I'm honest with myself and with my readers, I want to have written, to be writing. I want to believe that's the book I'm presently creating and also the book I have up in manuscript galleys awaiting publication, a great treasure awaiting discovery. A part of me, the rational, more-or-less sane part, understands that this future probably does not stand before me, yet my hope still springs eternal. The result seems to be a generic Want To, Have To, but Can't Dilemma, in no way exceptional, for it might well be that everybody, every writer, painter, chef, and teacher aspires for just this sort of impact and also that it cannot ever be engineered, no matter what. There are good reasons for this to be the case.

First, such Paradigming can only occur after the fact.

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TimeShifting

TimeShifting
Thomas P. Anshutz: The Tanagra (1909)
"Best if nobody can peek into the workshop while Geppetto's carving."

I write in the wee hours. Everything else in my life, including Authoring, comes after my writing's finished. I try to interface with everyone else's world, but I insist upon at least my writing time each morning, and that sometimes sloughs over. It seems important that my writing occurs early in the morning, under the cover of darkness into dawn. By dawn, I'm almost always finished, cleaning up the mess I always make, completing my final edits, Proofing one or two more times. By seven, I'm free to start thinking about breakfast and to get myself suited up for my day, though the last two years have found me largely suiting up to go nowhere given the Damned Pandemic restrictions, which have suited my lifestyle just fine. By the time The Muse wakes up, I've already put in four or five hours. I live that far ahead of her, I imagine. I'm TimeShifting.

We eat supper together, which might be the only time we see each other all day.

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Authdacity

authdacity
Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
[French: Nu descendant un escalier n° 2] (1912)

"To do it properly means that you must seem to be doing it all wrong …"


The Muse engages in project work, which has always been a curious offshoot of what I might call regular work. Project work seems strange because its primary purpose seems to be to do away with itself. A successful project will work itself out of existence, which seems like an odd foundation upon which to build a career. Further, most professions prescribe practices common to all practitioners. Sure, a few outliers always exist, but the mainstream engage with remarkable consistency, so it shouldn't be surprising if project practitioners, too, usually attempt to adhere to a few widely-acknowledged blessed practices. The Project Management Institute even publishes and maintains what they refer to as a Body of Knowledge, an encyclopedic collection of practices they've blessed for broad application. For an engineering project, these practices might generally work, but project work, being unique, often requires some differences in how one engages. The Muse, for instance, often engages in scientific projects, ones intending to discover something. One does not plan, control, or track a scientific engagement as if it were an engineering assembly effort. Or, I should say, that one shouldn't plan, track, or control a scientific engagement that way. Most try to. The Muse doesn't, wherein lies her mastery. She appears to do it wrong.

I'm learning that Authoring, too, seems to demand some different sorts of management than does other kinds of engagement.

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BigChicken

bigchicken2
Melchior de Hondecoeter: A Cock and Two Hens, with Chicks, in a Landscape Setting (1656-95)
"A BigChicken will swallow anything."


My face mask might successfully cloak from the usual observer the fact that I'm a BigChicken. Pin feathers successfully tucked in beneath an over-sized N95, and anyone might mistake me for a man. Inside, behind that mask, lies a deep truth and a continual embarrassment. I tend to move forward by first crouching behind. I will not lift up my head to survey the territory before me for the longest time, choosing to nurture terrifying fantasies rather than getting to the normal business of slaying dragons. I am evidently not brave. Oh, I've accomplished plenty in my time, but not nearly as much as I've fled from or declined engagement with. I first imagine failing, and failing big, before getting over it and proceeding.

What courage I do exhibit tends to be of the counter phobic kind.

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Systemantics

systemantics
Peter Paul Rubens: The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies (1628-29)
" … without having yet achieved any maturity."


My Authoring efforts amount to nothing more than my attempts to master another system. An old systems thinking adage insists that learning one system provides insight into all systems, and having learned many systems in my time, adding Authoring to my vitae should not prove utterly impossible, and yet some days it seems as if Authoring might prove special by proving itself utterly impossible to master. The systems thinkers have this contingency covered, too, for as John Gall, system thinker and author of the sadly entertaining Systemantics- How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail (General Systemantics Press: 1975/78, 1986, 2002), all systems are not only part of larger systems but also comprised of many smaller systems, each of which is infinitely complex. Nested infinite complexity explains a lot of what I see when interacting with and attempting to master Authoring, and also what I experience when attempting to interact with even the more mature systems in my life, the ones I might naively expect to perform predictably.

Last week, I pulled into my pharmacy's "drive thru" window, responding to an automated voice message which alerted me to prescription refills ready for me to fetch.

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Backsliding

backsliding
Hans Sebald Beham: Engraving of the Prodigal Son as a Swineherd (1538)
"Backsliding into my future."

After three weeks of steadily improving Spring-like weather, the temperature started falling yesterday and has plummeted down to twenty degrees Fahrenheit (-7C) this morning, with light snow. I spent a rough half hour this morning finally managing to get past LinkedIn's login gauntlet, failing a half dozen times before mysteriously being allowed in, only then to wonder why I'd bothered. I found messages from three years ago and even older, from before I'd last lost the questionable ability to log into that world. I found an essentially infinite queue of long unanswered messages and no evidence of anything resembling my much-touted network, along with what's still the most bafflingly opaque user interface in an industry where bafflingly opaque user interfaces remain the standard. I still can't tell what LinkedIn does, what it's for, it's purpose. The universe seems to be reminding me this morning that progress, once General Electric's "Most Important Product," does not now nor has it ever moved exclusively forward. Once the very epitome of conglomeration, GE has lately been divesting, retrenching back into once core businesses. Progress was ever thus. Even rivers, if one can quiet their mind long enough to observe rather than project what they see, will exhibit prominent backeddies and backwashes along with what we generally perceive as exclusively forward motion. Progress, seen as it actually manifests, proves confusing, a complicated calculus.

And so it probably should be for Authoring, too. It's both Chutes as well as Ladders out here on the cutting edge.

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BookSale

booksale
Thomas Fleming: Inside the Old Curiosity Shop. Source: Around The Capital with Uncle Hank (1902)
"I wonder what it might have felt like to live in those days …"

The boxes sit everywhere around this town, in front of shops and stores, clearly marked as present for donations to a BookSale. The local chapter of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) sponsors this annual event as its primary fund raiser. For a weekend, they take over a large conference room at the best hotel in town and fill it with donated books, sorted by general topic and kind, and commence to selling them. This always proves to be well attended. Who wouldn't want to browse through piles of musty books on a February weekend?

The inventory includes all of the usual suspects.

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Avant

avant
Oskar Schlemmer: Bauhaus Stairway (1932)
" … wisdom can only come after already expending altogether too much time and energy and effort overthinking these questions."

I don't usually identify myself as an Avant guarde writer, but I've been rethinking that notion since The Muse introduced me to a woman who advertises herself as an Avant Gardener. In most ways, I suppose, she's a traditionalist, but she brings a twist to her focus. Sure, she can spout off Latin plant names, but she imagines them in unusual combinations, in places where no traditionalist would ever consider placing them. In this respect, then, she fully qualifies as an Avant designer, Avant meaning 'combining forms.' In a similar way, I guess, I might qualify as an Avant writer, since, I, too, combine forms to produce a unique result. Reading one of my manuscripts produces different sensations for me than does reading others' work. I thought the differences mere quirks at first and found myself rather embarrassed by them. As I've reflected upon my experience, though, I see a sort of signature emerging. This must be emblematic of David's writing, how he does it. It's not precisely wrong, but different. Whether it produces pleasing sensations might be a different question.

One should always question how to judge the quality of any Avant creation, for comparing it should properly prove problematic.

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Detritus

detritus
Winslow Homer: Sharks; also The Derelict (1885)
"I can please The Muse by finally getting around to cleaning up the last of last season's mess …"


When we replaced five large picture windows last Fall, we created Detritus. We leaned the old glass up against the fence at the back of the formal rose garden, almost out of sight and definitely out of mind. I'd asked our carpenter's wife and business partner if she knew how to advertise the panes on Facebook or somewhere and she said that she'd take care of it. Sure enough, a week or so later, she texted me to report that she'd found an interested party. I'd not seen her text until a couple of days after she'd sent it and the deal never closed. Winter passed with that