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BoundUp

boundup
Roman; Rome, Italy:
Mosaic Floor Panel Depicting a Bound Rooster
(2nd century)

" …
so I almost fervently imagine."


I cannot definitively declare anything about my paternal grandmother's family. Everything I ascertain seems based upon questionable scholarship, the result of seekers perhaps desperate to confirm their most craven convictions. Everyone secretly believes their family comes from royalty. Everyone imagines they're due some long-lost inheritance. Everyone imagines they come from noble characters, dukes, and dutchesses if not grand viziers. It sometimes even seems clear how to get there from here. Just log into Ancestor.com and follow the threads if you can. Nobody adequately imagines how much speculation went into those records and how little source documentation was ever discovered. Those who retain old family bibles might have the best documentation possible. Still, in the case of those immaculate births where the offspring seemed remarkably mature for a newborn, even the Good Book might contain fiction, if for all the very best reasons.

So, I try to take my discoveries with hefty spoonfuls of sand.

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Leaps&Bounds

leaps_bounds
Charles Bentley: The Leap, from Fox Hunting (1828)

"She ultimately came to carry even her trauma well."


Caroline (Carrie) Nettie Bounds, my paternal grandmother, was nobody's notion of aristocracy in action, though her ancestry strongly suggests aristocratic blood. Belief in the supremacy of aristocratic ancestry seems to be similar to believing in white supremacy or any inheritance-based privilege. These were stories concocted to encourage acceptance of other than democratically-elected rulers. Science suggests that genius does not run in families, though enough examples convince most that it certainly must. I swell with pride when I imagine my German genes giving me an advantage. As the history of paternal hierarchies demonstrates, good governance was never inheritable; neither was good sense. Each generation brings certain privileges and deficiencies into play. Very little's ever decided on day one.

The environment one's raised in might better determine later successes and failures, but ample stories suggest that almost anyone can overcome nearly anything in this life.

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GilliamCounty

gilliamcounty
Dorothea Lange: On transportation outskirts of a small Oregon town
on the Columbia River. Arlington, Gilliam County, Oregon
(1939)


"Those churches held the records."


My second great-grandparents were mostly late arrivers in Oregon. Those who weren't late arrivers found their farm after lengthy delays. Somewhere around 1885, Alonzo Kenaston and Maria (Seward) Kenaston finally returned to Oregon after their thoroughly discouraging honeymoon trip in 1865, this time by train. They'd homesteaded in the Nebraska Sandhills after dropping four children in Illinois and Missouri, including my great-grandfather Luther, in 1875. Four more in Nebraska, only two of whom lived, left them with five kids ranging from twenty-one to two by July of 1886 when Alonzo finally died of His Troubles, the effects of the Rheumatic Fever he'd contracted while marching barefoot in the snow during the Civil War. They'd finally realized their dream, acquiring acreage on Buckhorn Road just West of Mayville, Gilliam County, Oregon.

Another set of second great-grandparents had recently acquired the land next to the Kenaston spread.

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TrackingProgress

trackingprogress
Julius Gari Melchers: Mother and Child (c. 1906)


"This world moves exclusively in mighty mysterious ways."


I can track my forebears’ migrations by noticing where they dropped their babies. Those prior generations seem to have been constantly on the move, though vagaries of time might better explain their apparent restlessness. I can relive a decade in a minute, but they lived it a minute at a time. The births maintained a background rhythm that seems extraordinarily regular today. Another child would appear every eighteen to twenty-four months, most with a birth location attached. By tracking where and when those babies arrived, I easily visualize a map of their progress. They generally kept moving West, with settled periods of varying lengths. My fourth great-grandfather, James Emsley Mayfield, returned to Central Tennessee from his birthplace in Albemarle, North Carolina, and raised his family there in apparent proximity to his extended family. Born just after The Creek killed his father in 1780, he lived until he was 75 and died in 1855 in Montgomery County, Illinois, near the end of what was known as The Great Highway, the primary route between the headwaters of The Potomac in Maryland and The Mississippi.

Interestingly, that country was where James Emsely Mayfield's father had served with William Rodgers Clark in The Revolutionary War.

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AndrewJackson

cumberland
David Claypoole Johnston:
Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures: Satire on Andrew Jackson (19th century)


" … this swirl of stories constitutes adequate justification …"


I've long wondered why two of my great-grandfathers were named Andrew Jackson Mayfield. What must have moved the senior AJ's father, James Emsley Mayfield, to name his firstborn after that future President? What experience could have been so significant to move that son to name one of his sons similarly?  The answer might lie in where AJ senior's grandfather, James M. Mayfield, my fifth Great-grandfather, settled after he slipped over the Cumberland Gap and into Indian Reserve territory sometime before 1780.

Mary Carter's book Fifteen Southern Families states, "The Mayfield family all seemed to have been of the caliber of Daniel Boone, David Crockett, and other frontiersmen.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 4/11/2024

ws04112024
Nicholas Richard Brewer: At the Spring (c. 1895)


How Utterly Renewing!
It must be that expanding one dimension also expands others. Shoving deeper into the past might naturally nudge further into some future, too, like one of those graphic images with 'preserve dimensions' enabled. When I push my Fambly history further into the past, my future seems to extend itself in sympathetic balance. The result broadens, deepens, and heightens to keep all dimensions in synch. The result seems like a net expansion but with much less effort than expected. I shove one single edge, and the rest harmoniously maintain their relationship relative to me. Who knew that delving into history might invoke principles of physics? My world seems in ever greater balance as a direct result of my effort to dot a long naked 'i' and advance what I figured needed to be advanced. There will be no finish. Finishing could not possibly be the purpose of this series. I have been discovering myself in the stories I've been uncovering. Blow off the moss and rust, and they might be as fresh as they ever were. My history, like yours, presents as extended metaphors. I dare not interpret the least of them literally, yet I dare not interpret them in some way. How utterly renewing!

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RatHoling

ratholing
Engraved by John Slack:
Shakespeare’s Seven Ages (c. 1805)


"You may now safely refer to me as "Sir."


I'd always felt bothered that I had so little information about the Mayfield family's background. My Great-Grandmother was a Mayfield before she became a Kenaston, and I had a wealth of stories about the Kenaston clan. The Mayfield story petered out in the South just before the Civil War. I suspected they were separationists and Confederates, though, because two generations of the line, my 3rd and 4th Greats, were named Andrew Jackson Mayfield. My stories about them went no further. I suspected them of Southern sympathies during The War because they'd lived in Tennesee, and the elder Andrew married a woman from Georgia. I understand why my forebears revered Andrew Jackson. They loved him because he refused to shine a British Officer's boots during The War of 1812, then routed them out of New Orleans. They probably liked him better because he helped open land for settlement in Florida and Georgia, west to the Mississippi, killing or exiling the natives. His Trail of Tears was cause for enthusiastic cheers for those would-be pioneers waiting for openings from East of the Alleghenies.

So, I started following the stories and checking a variety of sources.

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NewAmsterdam

newamsterdam
Jacob van Meurs: View of Nieuw Amsterdam.
Novum Amsterodamum
(1662)


" … there were many mysteries involved in their history."


The Northern Netherlands began building their foreign trade early in the seventeenth century. They were late to the party. England, Spain, and even Portugal were well ahead of the Dutch in creating colonies. The Dutch weren't even a complete country yet, for they had split themselves in trying to separate from Spanish domination, the Southern portion of the country still Hapsburg Catholic clinging to Spain and the Northern part just exploring an identity as an independent nation. They were still trying to invent an identity when their Dutch West India Company began exploring territory in the New World: New Netherland. A contract English captain, Henry Hudson, investigating the possible existence of a shortcut to the Far East, "discovered" The Hudson River, resulting in a Dutch fur trading settlement in what would become Albany, New York. Manhattan, adjacent New Jersey, and Long Island were likewise claimed as New Amsterdam.

By 1636, The Dutch West India Company was importing contract laborers to colonize this territory, including my tenth great-grandfather Cornelis Aertsen Van Schaick.

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Evan&Sara

evan_sara
Warren Mack: Waves of Wheat (20th century)


"It should be no wonder."


According to a history written by their daughter Ada, my 2X great-grandfather Evan Arthur Wallace, born in Marysville, Iowa, in February 1847, married my 2X great-grandmother, Sara Adeline Jackson, born in March 1851, on August 16, 1868, at Lovilia, Iowa. They moved onto a farm situated between Lovilia and Albia, Iowa, where they brought three sons into the world: Theodore Penn (1869), my great-grandfather Nathaniel Parker (1871), and William Elmer (1874). When Elmer was three weeks old, they left Iowa with all their belongings that they could carry in a buckboard and set out for Fort Dodge, Iowa, intent upon joining an emigrant train bound for Salt Lake City. They expected to buy a covered wagon, supplies, and tools, then travel overland to Dayton, Washington. Reports of "Indian trouble" along the route convinced them to take an overland stage instead. "There were no roads, just wagon tracks, and driver knowledge. Women and children rode inside the stage while men rode on top with rifles at the ready." They were frightened by Indians twice, and at The Great Oregon Divide, women and children left the stage to walk rather than ride over that narrow passage.

The stage took them to Walla Walla.

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CreatingHistory

creatinghistory
Sebald Beham:
The Departure of the Prodigal Son,
plate one from The History of the Prodigal Son

(Early Sixteenth Century)


"We are actively, if extremely subtly, becoming the very stuff of our transcriptions …"


It seems unlikely to me that I am at this moment CreatingHistory. I began creating this Fambly history under the mistaken impression that I would just be transcribing previously assembled information when it seems more likely that I have been CreatingHistory instead. I realize that this unfolding story had never been told before now. Oh, bits and pieces of it have certainly previously crossed lips, but never these particular configurations. The stories sure seem familiar, but they include fresh particulars. It seemed that every time I told a story, it became different. I can't quite claim to have been the source material, but I must admit I significantly changed it in assembling it, I included some speculation but tried to clearly identify when I was guessing. I wasn't really creating my history, but my Fambly's. Still, I must admit to having been the author.

Where does history originate?

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TheWallaceProblem

thewallaceproblem
David Octavius Hill: In Ayrshire Dairy (1822-1870)

"Geneology seems indistinguishable from vanity … "


My mother's maiden name was Wallace. Wallace ain't quite Smith, but it seems an uncommonly common name. People wondered if she was related to THE Wallace, the one depicted in Braveheart. There's plenty of genealogical information on the Wallace Clan, and I can employ the term 'clan' because it's an authentically Scottish surname, as Scottish as Burns or Bruce. The wealth of information brings both ease and complication. The fame has attracted hoards of researchers before me, and they've left the rough equivalent of a muddy trench where a path might otherwise lie. Almost every query quite naturally slipped into that trench. Before I knew it, I was twenty-eight uninterrupted generations back to the true Patriarch of every Wallace since: Elmerus Galeius of Wales around 1100. That such a quintessentially Scot hailed from Wales carries no wee dram of irony. I suspect such contradictions underlie some of what the world recognizes as the Scottish attitude.

I feel suspicious of my own research.

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Patriarch

patriarch
James Barry: Eastern Patriarch (1803)


"sate in stocks for railing."


Patriarchy can prove to be slippery to determine. In some ways, each generation produces a patriarch, though some generations produce especially noteworthy ones. Those who serve as the center point of a grand convergence or the point of exceptional dispersal most often earn the label. In practice, assigning this title must surely prove arbitrary, with little besides opportunity or convenience deciding. In the Kenaston clan, I choose to name John Keniston, my 8th great-grandfather, born in 1615 in Manchester, England. (Spellings were fluid then; Keniston remained with an 'i' until around 1700 when the 'a' replaced it.)  He arrived in Dover, Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1623 at the age of eight. His parents, Henry and Elizabeth Leeze, and his sister, Mary, and brother, James, died of "The Sickness" shortly after their ship, Margaret and John, arrived.

At age thirty, in 1645, he married Agnes, daughter of The Reverend John Moody, and settled into the fishing village of Strawberry Banke, now known as Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 4/04/2024

ws04042024
Walter Shirlaw: Toning the Bell (1874)


I Couldn't Possibly Be Any Different
The seasons shifted and I find myself already past Easter, past Passover, and screaming toward summer. The distress the receding winter visited upon me was unremarkable in retrospect, though it seemed anything but unremarkable as it was passing. Retrospection rarely carries any existential dread. It sugarcoats experiences and unavoidably misrepresents. As I create these Fambly histories, I remain almost painfully aware of all I cannot capture in them. I might curse the incompleteness I encounter in the surviving records while acknowledging that I am choosing not to mention some details. I attempt to capture essences without knowing what might comprise them. Merriweather Lewis believed dread to be an unforgivable sin. He insisted that he should move forward without much concern about the immediate future. That will sort itself out without anticipation. I might productively progress into indifference, too, interested in how my story unfolds and confident that I'm capable of coping with whatever unfolds. The historian seeks to know what happened next but dares not dwell too much on precisely where he's propelling himself. Not one of my forebears ever once knew how their stories would turn out. I might accept that I couldn't possibly be any different.

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Kenaston

kenniston
Alonzo Trembel Kenaston
1843 – 1886
My 2X great grandfather

"History seems to happen exclusively by accident on purpose."


All of his adult life, my two times great-grandfather, Alonzo Trembel Kenaston, suffered from a condition he referred to as his Troubles, which began with his service as a nineteen-year-old in the Army of the Cumberland's Kentucky Campaign in the Autumn of 1862. He was a fresh recruit from Illinois with only three weeks of training before he marched into Kentucky to chase Bragg's Confederate force out of the state. The campaign achieved its objective, but at ruinous cost; the Union lost battles but managed to scare off its opponents with sheer numbers. The march proved ruinous enough, that country having suffered through the summer drought, leaving little water for fifty-five thousand Union and seventeen thousand Confederate troops. The campaign became a pursuit for the Union, hampered by rough and hilly terrain culminating in an unseasonal wet snowfall, which left the barefoot troops at great disadvantage.

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Seward

Seward
John Bunyan:
The pilgrim's progress, frontispiece (1684)

"Time exclusively moves in both tiny and enormous increments."

William Seward and his wife Grace (Norton), my eighth great-grandparents, arrived from England in what would become Guilford, Connecticut, in the late summer of 1639. They were genuine pilgrims and pioneers. They slowly built a town that eventually spread beyond the land they'd initially purchased from the female chief of the local natives. Tensions built over time. They and their son John survived King Philip's War, a two-year tangle between colonists and local natives that left a thousand colonists dead and more than two thousand natives killed or enslaved. In 1682, the second generation of native North American-born Sewards arrived, John, Jr. He would start a migration further North. My fifth great-grandfather, Aaron, John Jr's tenth child, would marry Elizabeth Clark in Granville, MA, in 1757, then serve in the Revolutionary War, father nine children, and end up in Kortright, New York. I suspect he received a land grant for his service in the war.  The matriarch Grace's headstone remains legible, built into a fine wall constructed in Guilford when the original burying yard and town square were repurposed. They had prospered.

I used to believe that my Sewards were somehow related to President Lincoln's Secretary of State because that Seward also hailed from upstate New York, but I was mistaken.

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Spokes

spokes
Lee Russell: Blacksmith with wagon wheel hub and spokes. Depew, Oklahoma (1940)


"Silences must frame meaning."


I earlier characterized history as being like tributaries. Like all metaphors, this one should seem imperfect in practice. Imperfect but also essential, for some visualization appears necessary in order for me to produce an orderly—or orderly-seeming—exposition. I dare not just jump all over the place, a practice I've engaged in when performing oral representations of my histories. Short stories don't demand the quality of continuity insisted upon by broader themes. I've more than once already considered that my mission might have always been impossible, even at the beginning when I felt energizing motivation. Like many endeavors, this one began as a Bright Idea! Bright Ideas! bring their own motivating forces with them and require little goosing. Bright Ideas!, however, seem fundamentally different from projects. They might prove to be the seed of a project but will need to mature into something characterized by other than blind enthusiasm. Coherence insists upon something different and much more complex.

I've been amending my original notions about this history since I started laying down the first story.

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MigratingHomeward

migratinghomeward
Jozef Israëls: Homewards (not dated)

"I am the product of apparently inexorable attraction, destinies manifest."

After 1800, the Swift family's arc shifted westerly. Its second century in the Americas would watch it move into, then through the so-called heartland. If family history was a race, the Swift progeny were to win it, for they would be among the first to see The Eden At The End Of The Oregon Trail. They would have to leave the Eden at the other end of that trail, though, and Grayson County, Virginia, clearly also qualifies as an Eden. Even the area of North Carolina where the Thomas Swift family first settled after traveling down The Great Highway from Maryland still seems Eden-like, it having been the setting of the old Andy Griffith Show's Mayberry, a museum in Andy's honor is located near the old Alamance Battlefield. The forces driving western migration were growing, though. Of course, my interest focused on those who left rather than those who stayed. Those who left became my forebears, while those who stayed behind will forever remain ever more distant aunts and uncles, cousins and hangers-on.

The records turn fuzzier after Flower Swift left Grayson County with his discredited son Thomas, probably first for Kentucky.

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OddEnds

oddends
George W. Boynton, Engraver
T. G. Bradford, Publisher: Maryland (1838)


"The story could have been irretrievably lost in any generation."


Over half of the people coming to the British North American Colonies before the Revolution came as indentures. In 1674, one of my ninth great-grandfathers appeared in court in Maryland. A ship's captain, Thomas Jones, brought my forebear, his servant Edward "Teage," before the court, asking the judge to assess his age. The judge decided he was fourteen. The following year, Jones returned to court to claim a "headright" of land granted to him for transporting Edward Teage and three others to Maryland. A headright claim could grant land to anyone transporting people to the Maryland colony. Typically, those transported then worked as servants to the transporter for some period of years; after, if they survived, they would be free to do whatever they pleased. Fewer than half survived their indenture. Teage survived.

In 1695, Teague was back in court, claiming the right to 300 acres of land.

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Prominence

prominence
Unknown Artist:
Lee's cavalry skirmishing at the Battle of Guilford.
(Print Issued 1789 - 1880)


"He left his Prominence behind."


Perhaps due to his Militia service in the Revolutionary War, my fifth great-grandfather, Flower Swift, rose to Prominence. With this came close brushes with several famous personalities. He served with distinction, though few details have been passed down. Those that survived show him to have been plucky, taking full advantage of his good fortunes. After Charleston's fall but before Camden, he was captured by a Tory patrol. As was the custom, he was disarmed and immediately paroled. Still, before he was dismissed, he overheard two British officers speaking of a planned assault on a crucial Rebel lead mine in his district. He reported this information to his officers, who passed it up the chain, clear to the offices of Virginia's Governor, Thomas Jefferson, who mustered additional militia units, appointing William Campbell, Patrick Henry's brother-in-law, to lead the expedition, and Walter Crockett, Davy's great uncle, as second in command. Swift's company most certainly fought under these in the following Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a pyrrhic victory for British forces that helped weaken the British before Yorktown. He certainly also fought at King's Mountain and in some expeditions against the Cherokee in Tennessee.

Swift served as a quartermaster when not riding or fighting.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 3/28/2024

ws03282024
Robert William Vonnoh: Spring in France (1890)


Stories That Might Never Manage To Be Completely Told
Writing history seems very similar to writing fantasy. The writer must focus on coherence and continuity in both genres, for every story demands these. Nobody ever foresees what any story will demand of them. Research always proves wanting. I've been pouring through papers I have been collecting for decades, stumbling upon fresh details, and choosing which might fit into these stories, for no history scales to one inch equals one-inch granularity, and their continuity ultimately relies upon omissions. Complete histories must prove to be utter confusion; ditto with complete fantasies. Infinite effort might eventually prove the most satisfying. John Cage insisted that silence serves as the soul of all music. Mattisse allocated white spaces on his later canvasses. My progeny might easily use my history as a departure point to create some related, perhaps even more pleasing installments, for history seems alive and ever-growing. The actors eventually depart, but they leave behind their more resilient parts, stories that might never manage to be completely told.

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Militia

militia
Stefano Della Bella: Virginia (17th century)

"Eye for an eye justice ruled the rough Western edge of our emerging nation."


Some accounts describe Flower Swift as a Quaker, while others report he was likely Baptist. Such distinctions made little difference along Virginia's Western Frontier in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Swift's wife, Mary Bedsaul, was most certainly a Quaker, having come from an acknowledged Quaker family, and it's recognized that the militia company Swift led, first as a Captain and then later as a Colonel, was labeled a "Quaker" company. He might have been deemed qualified to serve to lead Quakers because he had Quakers in his extended family. Quakers might seem unlikely members of any military force, for even in colonial times, they refused to take the otherwise required oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth:

"We whose names are hereunder subscribed do swear that we renounce all allegiance to George Third, King of Great Britain, his heirs’ successors,

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Flower

FlowerSwift
Flower Swift, a fifth Great-grandfather
(artist unknown) circa 1810


"The Revolutionary War was brewing … "


In the decades following the Lewis and Clark expedition, geographers and surveyors scoured the inner-mountain West, attempting to create accurate maps of the newly discovered territory. They were able to produce credible maps, too, which were certainly helpful enough to guide the upcoming pilgrims who would soon be flooding the Plains. Genealogy seems a similar occupation, for I'm scouring unfamiliar territory, seeking the source of incoming flows. If I find evidence of an ancestor, I wonder where they originated. I spot the higher peaks, knowing that more water will likely come off them. The high peaks in genealogical research tend to be the more famous people, for their notoriety encourages more researchers to focus and, therefore, discover more incoming flows.

The highest mountain in my family's history contains the unlikely name of Flower.

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PilGrimEconomics

PilgrimEconomics
Postcard: Landing of the Pilgrims, Plymouth, Mass. (1898 - 1931)

"Their future insisted upon first routing them through their distant past."

Today, our Pilgrim ancestors are most often characterized as religious people who fled Old World oppression to found a new world rooted in religious liberty. Most pilgrims didn't believe in religious freedom. Besides Roger Williams, who founded a break-away colony in Rhode Island, Pilgrims were the soul of intolerance. Their intolerance was not solely rooted in spiritual conviction but perhaps primarily in economics. They'd mortgaged themselves as well as their ideals to fund their colonies. Not even in the early seventeenth century did money grow on trees. A wealthy congregation member didn't fund their expedition; stock investors did. They fronted our ancestors with the explicit expectation that they would be repaid and expected to be repaid handsomely and quickly, for they imagined they'd outsmarted the market to get in on the bottom floor of unlimited profits. Wasn't that New World brimming with resources ripe for plundering?

As always, the wild-eyed investors wildly underestimated the challenge, as did their Pilgrim debtors.

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Perils

Peril
Hermann Vogel: Alexander in peril of his life 1885


" … what it must have meant … "


Writing history seems much more risky than writing my usual Philosophical, Autobiographical, Historical Fiction in the same way fantasy seems less exacting than fact. In fantasy, space wars rely upon thrusters and explosions spouting blossoms of flame that, in reality, simply could never happen. Real space battles would seem dull in comparison. Lest history seem tedious, the seduction to embellish hovers nearby. Who wouldn't want to characterize their forebears as noble? The inherent ambiguity present in any history leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Should I explain that the displaced local natives referred to my great great great grand pops as "a good white man," or am I indulging myself in whitewashing if I mention this, however much truth it might hold? I find myself surrounded by such judgment calls, each a dilemma with no entirely defensible resolution.

I choose. I feel forced to choose blindly.

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Jackson

jackson
Sidney E. Morse: Iowa (1842 - 1845)
Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division
New York Public Library


" … only a little more than one-sixty-fourth of my DNA."


When she died in 1826, my fourth great-grandmother, Rachel Parker Jackson, left behind a four-year-old son with a high falutin' name, Nathaniel Parker Jackson. His paternal grandparents would raise him and his two surviving siblings to maturity near the Ohio River in Miller Township, Indiana. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday in 1843, he would head West toward Iowa territory in an oxcart with his new bride, Elizabeth Jane Teas. There were rumors that his grandparents had been stern replacements for his deceased parents and that he was anxious to get out on his own. I've always wondered why he set out so late in the year, for starting a westward journey in the Spring was more common. They left late in the year and made it only as far as the Burlington, Iowa, Mississippi River ferry crossing before disaster struck. Elizabeth slipped on the ferry and fell into the freezing river. She contracted pneumonia and died on her honeymoon, buried in Burlington, Iowa.

Ferries then were not yet steam-powered.

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Parker

cynthia_ann_parker
Cynthia Ann Parker, or Narua (Was Found),
and daughter, Topsannah (Prairie Flower), in 1861


" … I carry some of their life lessons within me …"


Cynthia Ann Parker, the niece of my fourth great-grandmother, Rachel Parker, might have been the most famous person in the history of our Fambly. She was the granddaughter of famed frontiersman and Revolutionary War soldier John Parker, Rachel's father, who was also a Predestination preacher of a Calvinist sect so conservative that it would have probably refused to grant Calvin admission into their congregation. Parker's vitae reads like a library full of dime-store frontier novels. He helped clear the frontier with Daniel Boone (stay tuned; there's a direct relationship with one of Boone's children in a later chapter), subdued the Cherokee, and generally made life miserable for natives and, later, Mexicans. Steven Austin invited him to migrate into Texas territory in the immediate aftermath of the Alamo debacle, where he founded a fort named after him, which is now Fork Parker State Park near the Texas town of Groesbeck. He was my fifth great-grandfather.

Shortly after he arrived in Texas, his rough blockhouse fort was overrun by Comanche, who killed him and four of his sons, along with other settlers.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 3/21/2024

ws03122024
Robert John Gibbings: Thanks for Wine (20th century)


The Freedom To Not Quite Notice
I write without an outline, reorienting myself each morning depending on what I created the day before and how I feel in that moment. My intention involves letting the plot-line emerge rather than concocting it beforehand, though this practice guarantees a few inconsistencies. I cannot return to make up a missed day, for my practice depends upon accepting whatever happens. If my laptop crashes and refuses to produce, I have no net to catch me. My iAlogue Series weighed in at only eighty-five stories rather than the usual ninety due to technology failures and some winter ennui, perfectly normal disruptions. My writing practice depends upon an uncertain amount of innocence on my part, a dedicated absence of artifice. I sometimes embarrass myself, but fortunately for me, I rarely notice. One of the joys of naive practice must be the freedom to not quite notice or care when I crash.

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DeepBackground

deepbackground
Robert John Gibbings: Ancient History (20th century)

"I understand who's driving."

Asking where a family comes from presupposes that a family might have originated in some specific place. Mine didn't. Yours probably didn't either. While I sport an apparently German surname, even its origin proves more complicated than any one location might explain, for the part of Germany that part of my family left had been contested territory, sometimes France and other times Germany, for generations and even before that contention, complications existed between ethnicities and religions. I might claim to 'be' German, but my family could just as easily declare a hot half dozen other origins. We've been on the front lines of most of modern history, and who knows how far back we go; other than that, we know for sure that our family, like yours, didn't originally spontaneously appear out of nowhere. I might claim to have had a noteworthy ancestor alive in 500 AD, but anybody can make the same claim even without anybody noteworthy on their tree. Our origins disappear into antiquity, DeepBackGround.

Following my family's progression across just this continent proves equally frustrating, for we have at one time or another claimed to inhabit perhaps a third or more of the present states in this union.

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Fambly

fambly
Edgar Degas:
Henri Degas and His Niece Lucie Degas
(The Artist’s Uncle and Cousin)
(1875/76)


“ … Their marriage was long and contentious …”


Family's different. Whatever the usual rules entail, notable exceptions exist for family members. Greater patience might seem necessary, and such patience gets granted without making too much of a spectacle. Family served as the primary medium for your orientation in this world, much more than school, church, or other affiliations. It served as the teacher when nobody noticed anybody teaching anything and the student when nobody noticed anybody learning anything. Its lessons were subtle and sometimes profound. They helped set up patterns that would resonate in your behavior for generations. You probably passed some of them on to your children. You might notice a few appearing in your grandchildren, too. They represent the way your family works.

Families create their own language, which is slightly different from every other family's.

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LittleOldMen

littleoldmen
Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell: Old Father William Balancing an Eel,
from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
(c. 1901)
" … still in the flower of my youth …"


The Muse remains Under Surveillance after her tussle with throat cancer the year before last. The doctors say it will take five years before they can confidently claim to have conquered it. Until then, she visits The Cancer Center every few months for what has become another perfunctory examination. No evidence so far of any need for continuing concern.

Once an anonymous corner, The Cancer Center now holds memories and familiarities that seem inevitable if one is fortunate enough to live to become old.

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BackingInto

backinginto
Paul Cezanne:
Standing Bather, Seen from the Back (1879-82)


"Nothing better captures both the peril and reward …"


Contrary to popular notions, we humans perhaps most often BackInto our futures. I know, the mythology insists that we're upstanding and forward marching, but we're more often cowering and feeling overwhelmed by our next challenge. We can't quite face what's coming, so we quite naturally BackInto the face of it. This tendency need not be embarrassing. Once admitted, it might become a point of considerable pride in the same way that any natural human tendency sheds shame once acknowledged as such. As a species, we've always wrestled with the differences between what we believe we should be and what we actually turn out to be, for we were led to believe that we were special, perhaps even sacred, but continually discover that we're "just" flesh and bone. Of course, we're more than merely flesh and bone; we are never transcendently more, only slightly and never overwhelmingly better.

I imagine myself to be many magnificent things.
I imagine myself both rough and ready, able to initiate whatever needs doing when, in actuality, I'm often hesitant to engage. Spring surprises me however quickly or slowly it arrives, and one day, I hope to be better able to accept that it comes in its own time. I'd intended to prune the Sacred Apricot tree a month ago, on President's Day, but I came down with a cold and begged off my responsibility, a definite sin. One cannot go begging off on a responsibility and hope to maintain self-esteem. And then it came to pass that The Muse and I left that weekend for what would become a two-week absence. Three weeks past my original obligation when I returned, I didn't just jump in to fulfill what I'd clearly shirked. I had other work pressing and so continued messing with my fate as well as my reputation. Another week slinked by.

This week, though, now an entire month past my original President's Day target, I have been blessed with a tardy Spring. The Sacred Apricot has not yet started budding, let alone blooming, so I have not yet managed to completely screw up this sacred obligation. I might still squeak by with few the wiser if I can finish my hesitant BackingInto procedure over the next few days. I expect fresh along with the usual distractions to tempt me, but I might this year manage to redeem myself just before I become eternally damned.

I am just a man, I explain to myself, trying to not be all that whiney about it, for whineyness hardly becomes a manly presence. A man is different from how he's been described. He's likely to disappoint expectations. He is a mythical creature who comes to believe his own myths, one whose self-esteem depends upon him believing he's something he never was. After some fashion, he manages to navigate his way around the world, but never in the way he was ever supposed to navigate his way around the world. Do not envy him either his possessions or habits for a second, for they're all illusions. He possesses nothing but occasional bouts of gumption, which visit him more than he deploys, and certain untrue notions about himself and his innate capabilities. A man isn't ever as he believes himself to be but something different.

I will stand beneath that Sacred Apricot, carefully pruning limbs that, if left, will produce fruit I will not be able to reach. I will bring down the canopy so I will be able to reach, and this act should prolong my favorite tree's life. It might well also lengthen mine, for a man lives by what he prunes. The myths insist that he thrives by what he grows, but what do myths know? They refuse to acknowledge that our future lies behind us because we can only face the past. We might try to peek over our shoulders but just catch glimpses of futures distorted from lack of perspective. I am BackingInto and secretly proud of this fact. Nothing better captures the peril and reward of trying to accomplish something than the simple acknowledgment that the accomplishment was not made face-on but by BackingInto it with luck, grit, and a fair measure of embarrassment.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved






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Uncrashing

uncrashing
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [close-up of wrecked car after crash] (c. 1950)


"It could well have been worse."


Aging amounts to remorse wrestling with inevitable loss, for none of us get to choose our demise and nobody warmly welcomes theirs. It does not help that we crash and burn at our own hands. We gain weight one mouthful at a time. Even when we limit our intake, our nibbles eventually do us in. Not even the lifestyles of the rich and famous amount to any real insurance against these crashes. We lease our youths. Not one of us ever owned theirs outright.

I overwhelmed my hard drive with the same process, one innocuous keystroke at a time.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 3/14/2024

ws03142024
Oliver Herford: The Goat, for "The Crocodile," by Oliver Herford (1891)


Usual Long Morning’s Nap
A definite rhythm resumes as the vernal equinox and the end of this series nears. The sun, which could not even remotely be characterized as troublesome through the long winter months, turns pesky again, blinding me at my breakfast table and finally casting genuine shadows. Pruning season comes to find me unprepared, for I am the sole of the one thing not allowed in pruners: empathic. Pruning demands a loving heartlessness, a ruthless insistence upon reducing now for the purpose of enhancing later, but the timelines involved make the effort seem cruel. Our long Toodle from which we rightfully never returned, recedes into mildly unbelievable legend as the rightful rhythm returns. Max, our boy cat, melts into my lap when I sit in our enormous wing-backed chair to survey the world each morning. There, he holds on for dear life and purrs ecstatically while his sister Molly stands in the foreground window and surveys the budding morning outside. They’ll be out on their rounds within the hour before returning to the second-floor window, where they’ll cry for somebody to open the cat flap they’ll never figure out how to pass through unaided. I interrupt my writing to get up, let them in, and then cheer them on, for they are resetting my clock for this season that hasn’t quite arrived yet. They insist that hibernation’s already over before settling down for their usual long morning’s nap.

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Crashing

crashing
Oliver Herford:
The Crash, for "The Bashful Earthquake" (1898)

"It's a wonder any story ever results."

The most challenging part of writing comes from the technology intended to make it easier. We're centuries removed from the quill pen, but the modern equivalent demands skills every bit as arcane as whittling goose feathers. My MacBook Air usually requires me to do little more than find the unmarked 'on' key, but it demands an array of skills for which I haven't even the tiniest aptitude. File management remains beyond me. I only recently learned how to save image files so they don't take up more than a hundred 'k,' whatever 'k' means. I have developed schemes after decades of practice that may or may not satisfy at least the spirit of the formal rules of use, though I suspect they're just rituals based upon mistaken impressions.

I, for instance, need to keep several apps open to accomplish any morning's writing.

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TerriblePresuppositions

terriblepresuppositions
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley: The Birth of Fancy (1892)

" … the betrayals chance delivers …"

Almost everything significant in substance I've accomplished started with some presupposition. I assumed some skill, ability, or knowledge not previously in evidence, then somehow leveraged that presumed ability into actual accomplishment. I had never been evidently a best-selling writer until well after I presumed to write. I had never cooked that first supper until I somehow managed to cook that supper, after which I could reasonably presume myself to be a cook. Or, maybe I no longer had to presume I was a cook because I had cooked something. My earlier presupposition became reasonable only after my accomplishment. Before then, it might just as well have been delusional and probably was.

When does a presupposition qualify as delusional, then?

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 3/07/2024

ws03072024
Archibald McLees, Engraver:
New Spencerian compendium of penmanship, Part 2 (1879)


No Wonder Why
How curious that I seem to become most like the self I know when I'm away from home. It's almost as if when home, I need to keep up appearances, and when out and anonymous in the world, I can feel free to be whomever I feel moved to be. It might be that I feel more moved when traveling; the whole point of that activity being to move me. I see whatever I've seen before with fresh, if familiar, eyes and feel moved all over again by the flood of memories. The recounting of experiences on long-ago family vacations where we collected credibility measured in bumper stickers from Trees of Mystery and Sea Lion Caves, Marine World and Disneyland. The families with the greatest number of bumper stickers seemed the luckiest, though even my eight-year-old self wondered how those families managed to make any headway. Over the years, we collected our share and managed to experience almost every tourist trap between home and Los Angeles. Those were fine old days, a long time passing now, but I can remember myself as I was when traveling then and seem to come closer to him when traveling today. The Muse insists she travels with an eight-year-old driving, and I'm in no position to disagree, given that I hold so much responsibility to keep us both entertained. We agree that I become a dip, a dork, and a dweeb on the road. It's really no wonder why I cannot maintain those personna when home.

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QualityOfExperience

qualityofexperience
Pietro della Vecchia: Experiment of the Bowl (c. 1640)

"Everybody trying to win the race creates so damned many losers."

Our host suggested a route along which we might make the best time on our return trip. The Muse explained that we were not trying to make the best time. Momentarily taken aback, our host replied, "Oh, you're focusing on process, then." Upon some reflection, as we wended our way up a particularly satisfying long way around, The Muse reported that, no, we were not focusing on process, but something else. The Muse was once considered a process expert, a process analyst capable of minutely decomposing actions to make them more efficient. She now considers process derivative of experience, as if one could distill and abstract expertise into a single best way. The notion of single best ways has enjoyed a spotty reputation. It seems to encourage chasing phantoms and all manner of inhuman expectations for the purpose, of course, of improvement. One should properly wonder, "Improvement for whom?"

The history of process focus and improvement could fill a small library without necessarily creating compelling reading.

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Inconsistencies

inconsistencies
Donald J. Handel:
Behold the World and realize that nothing is so constant and inconsistency. (20th century)

"We weren't really heading anywhere but home again, anyway."

The modern American road system was expressly designed for freight trucks, not passenger cars. We see the resulting confusions, as cars struggle to wend their way around trucks, resulting in great frustration for all parties. The government ceded the highway system to trucks when it became obvious that it lacked the power to reign in the railroads' malign monopoly over their segment of society, forcing businesses to rely upon trucks to transport goods. Under the old highway system, trucks could not efficiently transport anything, so the government created the interstate highway system. The railroads were, therefore, able to cherry-pick what they would transport, prioritizing bulk items over passengers, and the American society began its slow descent into its current self-inflicted purgatory.

Toodling attempts to reintroduce sanity into the human portion of our thoroughly compromised transportation system by judicious injection of Inconsistencies.

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Reentry

reentery
William Turner: Study of a Tree in Bloom (c. 1835)

"It seems like entering the goddamned Garden of Eden …"

The barrenness of The Colorado Plateau wears on me, its stubbornly arid presentation, its stoic hard rock face, indifferent to season. It first seemed a vacation from the coast's riotous greens but soon degraded into oppression. I ached to escape. The distances didn't ease our exit. The Great American Desert is not meaningfully measured in miles. It might be gauged in numbnesses. My senses cannot assimilate so many layers. The windshield turns into a Viewmaster® screen, and the horizons shimmer as my brain fails to properly resolve depths and heights. I remain tightly focused on whatever shenanigans the freight truckers might get up to so I can avoid what sometimes seems inevitable collisions. Our exit seemed perilous between the truckers, the dedicated speeders, and the wind.

We arrived across the Tehachapi and down into the Central Valley just as Springtime came.

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DayOff

InfiniteSets
Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴: Poem (Mid 18th century)


" … to take a DayOff from our vacation."

How often have The Muse and I stayed in historic hotels only to find ourselves too busy to experience the places? They each presented themselves as space to escape, but they more often seemed to become places we'd get even more involved. We'd have a workshop to lead or a conference to attend, so we'd forego the amenities in favor of more urgent necessities. They considered themselves somehow literary and usually included extensive libraries of which guests were encouraged to take full advantage. A few fancied themselves writer destinations, typically places where someone famous had penned part of a popular novel. The rooms in one were named after famous literary figures, which many guests had probably never read. We primarily associate from some distance, as if mere presence could compensate for the effort literacy requires.

We declared a vacation from our vacation, a day off from our continual Toodling.

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Blown

Blown
Johann Georg Wille: Gale (1777)


" … hardly a memory by then."


Like every other human activity, Toodling depends upon a certain amount of good fortune. One can plan until their head nearly falls off, but weather will always trump planning. Routing along the least-taken roads does not guarantee that they will not be overflowing with traffic. Days where everything goes as planned might not be worth counting. Fortunately, most unplanned events turn out to be better than expected or, perhaps, better for not having been expected. Many happy accidents go into making any Toodle memorable. One sad one might render it the most memorable of all.

So we take to the road knowing we cannot know, reveling in the knowledge we're on vacation from knowing for sure.

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Halfsies

halfsies
William Henry Fox Talbot: [Calotype negative]
Portrait of Talbot’s Wife (Constance)
or Half-Sister (Caroline or Horatia)
(c. 1842)


"It's a one-way road."


The Muse and I toodled to Tucson for the expressed purpose of seeing Elizabeth, who'd lost her husband, Rich, last October. Rich and Elizabeth had been present at our wedding and had been good if distant friends and helpers for three decades, even before The Muse and I had discovered each other. They'd sheltered me when I visited their Menlo Park neighborhood and extended every courtesy and support over many adventures. Rich and Elizabeth (never Elizabeth and Rich) were like a single entity to me, as couples become after long proximity. They became indistinguishable from each other, parts of a distinct whole, each fulfilling their functions to create their unique presence. I held considerable angst about visiting with Rich absent. I didn't know what to expect.

The house seemed welcoming, though I immediately noticed the prominent absence—the same dog, the same decor, but absent some once-prominent markers.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/29/2024

ws02922024
Théophile Alexandre Steinlen:
Diverse portret- en figuurstudies van vrouwen en mannen
(1869 - 1923)


Still Present From Our Own

The state of being gone has always fascinated me. In perhaps the most fundamental sense, no one can ever achieve goneness in their own presence. When I'm gone, I'm just absent from someplace in which I used to be present. I'm still present then but surrounded by perhaps less familiar territory. There's no place like home, but then there's no place very much like any other place. The Muse and I engage in our epic toodles not to escape but to delve more deeply. We seem to become closer and more interdependent when we're toodling, more patient and forgiving, and less distracted. We become precisely who we always were, only a little bit more so. Nothing's really very different except the scenery and the company. We remain intact. We receive daily reports on the state of the cats we left behind. They remind us we have a place to return to and people who notice we're missing. They're adapting as they always do—as we always do, too—and we'll require some reconnecting after we return from an absence we never entirely experienced for ourselves. We are absent from the cats' perspective while still present from our own.

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Forested

Forested
Kamisaka Sekka (神坂 雪佳: Forest (1909-10)

“I couldn't imagine.”

Contrary to popular mythology, little of the North American continent seems Forested. Yes, more of it once was than now remains, but even then, the bulk of this place was initially comprised of empty spaces. Anyone expecting to encounter forest primeval here must adjust their expectations or face severe disappointment. While histories might speak of vast arboreal Forests covering the original Eastern seaboard, a few centuries and a blight or two later have reduced what once seemed infinite into the essentially invisible. Great fires eliminated the once-great Northwoods. Lumbering humbled the once impenetrable Cascade and Sierra. We've successfully put nature in her place as a servant to humanity's desires, not that those have ever called upon terribly much humanity from man. We see nature as our resource to do with whatever we please, with remarkably predictable results.

A toodle across western lands mostly traverses what might appear to be wasteland.

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TimeTraveling

timetravelling
Carle Vernet: English Travellers (1815–25)


"I found a familiar sense of place …"


When toodling, The Muse and I are not merely traversing space but also TimeTraveling. All time seems present in The Schooner's cabin then, and even the territory we travel through seems unhinged and separate from the present. The ages of this world seem well-represented, from the earliest recorded activity to the present weather, all linked together. We do not seem just to inhabit the present, either. We're not just some audience passively watching a separate world pass, but an intricate part of those spaces and those times. Our conversation reflects this effect as it wanders through halls in its bathrobe, flitting from there and then to here and now, then forward to some future where and when. Our story's just as unhinged as our journey.

A stiff wind blowing sand met us as we entered The Mohave, and our stories shifted to that time when my birth family held up overnight behind a retaining wall behind a gas station there.

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CaliforniaRules

CaliforniaRules 2
Dwight C. Sturges: The Juggler (1934)


"I'm not the one to point out ironies …"


Toodling demands a high degree of adaptability. Not that anybody should ever attempt to become a chameleon. One should properly acknowledge the differing and varying local customs without trying too terribly hard to fit in, for such adaptation tends to highlight just how one does not fit in, often annoying locals. I say the visitor should properly stay precisely who they always were while deferring to whatever occurs around them. For instance, I consider myself a highly disciplined driver, as exhibited by the fact that I rarely, if ever, exceed the posted speed limit. I consider it a matter of virtue and discipline that I observe this limit and a form of immaturity to disregard it. Certain alien cultures see their world differently. In California, for instance, driving discipline entails almost the opposite of my parochial custom. In CaliforniaRules, speed limits serve as the baseline from which all driving must occur. A speed limit there does not mean 'do not exceed' but 'must exceed,' for it serves as a terminal minimum. Regardless of the conditions, a Californian must drive faster than any posted limit.

They seem to drive like lemmings.

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Finding

finding
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎:
A Mild Breeze on a Fine Day
(Gaifu kaisei),
from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
(Fugaku sanjurokkei)”

(c. 1830/33)


" … maybe those things just found us …"


Finding doesn't necessarily require seeking. When I put myself out there, I stumble across something serviceable if I pay at least a halfway kind of attention. Presence or any particular mindfulness need not precede discovery, either. It's mostly a matter of me just being there. My more noteworthy discoveries might find me, though they might not seek me or anybody. It might be that these adventures, these plots and twists, result from random interaction and that all our fervent instruction in the supposed fine arts of seeking amounts to little more than attractive distractions, useful for diversion and entertainment but useless for their stated or presumed purpose. I've usually found something other than advertised when I attended some workshop or training, whatever the intended purpose. So it always seems.

Toodles seem to bring out the best of this class of experience in us.

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GreatBasin

bigbasin
Coy Aron Seward: Mountains and Desert (1929)


"We'll be on to someplace different before then."


At first, The Muse didn't believe me when I told her we would be toodling through a part of the country where rivers don't drain to the sea. Vast areas of the inner mountain west feature no outlet to any ocean. Whatever moisture falls there either evaporates or easily slips into the thin rocky soil. Whatever runoff proves too voluminous accumulates into salt lakes or sinks where it becomes unusable for irrigation or potage. Seasonally, much of the landscape sees moisture, especially if the winter, like this one, proves snowy. In late Winter, just before Spring, the landscape seems remarkably well-watered. What looks like a greasewood desert might be slough, a few inches deep in slow water from upland snow melt. Sheep might graze there for a few weeks before being herded into the higher country to finish their season.

Our little dish bowl valley would be a basin were it not open to drainage.

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Saidlines

saidlines
Pieter Cool: Chariot with the Seven Deadly Sins (c. 1590)


"Saidlines are not deadlines …"


The days leading up to any scheduled departure become increasingly challenging as the date approaches. My internal monologue escalates toward a frantic pitch as I enumerate fresh expectations to myself, setting Saidlines. I begin with a single relatively simple notion of something I should accomplish before allowing myself to leave, something like 'clean out the fridge,' always a good idea if I'll be absent for more than a week. If I could only leave my expectations there! I continue adding additional notions until I've amassed a burden no ten people could manage to accomplish before departing. I add these additional ones in innocence, for I don't tend to notice how onerous the list has become until after it's already overwhelmed me. Then, I'm negotiating from a position of little power or authority because that list has me by then. There's really only ever one way I will ever manage to exit and that's by deciding what I will leave undone.

I sense an underlying evolutionary imperative working here: I'm not just weird.

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Easing

easing
Charles E. Burchfield:
The Back Street [Two Houses under a Viaduct] (1931)


"It might be inhuman to learn this obvious lesson."


Language seems to be a means by which we represent by misrepresenting. There's nothing especially earthy about Earth. It's just a label, and dirt by any other name might smell every bit as musty. This can't become a problem as long as we hold the translation key. It becomes interesting when considering internal conversations where one encodes and decodes exclusively for oneself. We all employ little phrases to describe our experience to ourselves. These phrases are not necessarily meaningful to anyone else, but they only need to contain meaning for ourselves and nobody else. I continually characterize what I intend in ways that materially misrepresents my intention. I plan, for instance, to do things I should know I won't do in the way I describe them. I might insist that I'm going to jump right back into my everyday activities of daily living after laying low with a cold, though I might better describe what I'll do as Easing back into. I won't resume at cruising altitude or speed but will need some time to regain my previous momentum.

Two hours back into work after a few days of laying low, I felt as though I'd just swam a marathon.

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WellAgain

well
Urs Graf: The Healing of the Man with Dropsy (1511-15)


"We could not have experienced healing had we not first caught that terrible cold."


It feels like a miracle occurred overnight. I wake refreshed for a change, perhaps for the first time. I'd forgotten the effortlessly breathing sensation of merely being without the burden of anything intruding. Molly, so recently still a feral cat, has taken to cuddling in close on these cold nights, creating a crease of warmth between her and The Muse's comforter-covered leg. She welcomes me now as I reach to stroke her reclining body, ears to tail in the predawn darkness. She purrs like the kitten I long ago predicted she would eventually become under my tireless tutelage. She might one day soon even consent to sit on my lap. Then, her transformation into a kitten will be completed, and contentment will reign. I fear that she will never again be capable of reverting into her feral self, which means that I might not need to be nearly so wary but also that she will have finally forfeited her birthright fierceness. However close we might seem in these early mornings, she will always remain a killer inside.

I wish the world peace this morning.

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Better

Better
Denman Waldo Ross:
Portrait of a Young Man (19th-20th century)

"Maybe by tomorrow …"

At best, Better seems to be an incremental element, difficult to assess. The Muse asks if I feel Better today, and the best I can muster in response tends to be a lackluster "Maybe." I must measure altogether too much to draw any more definitive conclusion. I definitely felt better a few moments ago, but then my nose started running again just after I'd considered that portion of the program finished. It's fits and starts with plenty of backsliding. At best, I might be easing into Better, but I have not quite arrived there yet. I've heard stories of some people with cold-like symptoms taking weeks to finally resolve their situations. What began as no more than a slightly annoying tickle in my throat seemed to take the long route through and back out of this host organism. It's been so long, with the Damned Pandemic and all, since I had a cold that I'd entirely forgotten what the experience entailed. They sure do seem to be long-tailed infections.

I seem to remember that the sneezing represents a virus' last attempt to survive.

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Noisemaker

noisemaker
Unknown artist: Ivory Grogger (noise maker), Middle East or India, (20th century)


" … almost all the actual effort should seem lost in rounding."


A recent New Yorker article (The Next Scene by John Seabrook, February 5, 2024) reports on Sir Lucian Grainge, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, the "largest music company in the world." In his decades in the music business, Grainge has survived many disruptions. He began his career in the LP era before facing the transition to CDs and then file sharing, each shift threatening to nudge him and his industry into oblivion. Now, AI looms. From a world where "labels were the only game in town" to one where platforms proliferate, … of the hundred and eighty-four million tracks available on streaming platforms, 86.2 percent received fewer than a thousand plays, and 24.8 percent—45.6 million tracks—had zero plays." Competing against a hundred and twenty thousand new tracks appearing online daily is tough.

Grainge dismissingly refers to most of this flood as "noise," and some of it certainly qualifies.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/15/2024

ws02152024
Attributed to Wilhelm Leibl: Head of a Man (1879)


There But For The Grace


It might be true that the best work emerges during breaks. Certainly, this principle serves as the centerpiece of OpenSpace meeting technology, that conversations in the hall will reliably prove superior to any more formally organized in scheduled sessions. For me, too, my writing seems to come to fruition more fluidly when I’m being a foreign correspondent, attempting to post from some primitive replacement for my usual office, chair, and window overlooking The Center of the Universe. I usually find some coffee shop corner where I can bum some internet and sip an Americano while composing my posting. In San Francisco, though, coffee shops no longer offer chairs to patrons. The tables remain, but the chairs are absent. I suspect they do this to keep the homeless from encamping there. I found that I couldn’t enter without offering to buy someone a cuppa and some breakfast. It’s small potatoes for me and more significant for the receiver. Decency demands this, with at least a small remembrance that There But For The Grace Go I. I’d slink back to the hotel and write in a shady corner off the lobby while listening to the city waking up around me. That fog-shrouded light remains incomparable.

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Reprehensitive

reprehensitive
Small Jade Sculpture Representing a Crab Grasping a Branch of Blossoming Chrysanthemum
(18th century-Qing dynasty, 1644-1911) East Asia, China


" … a future better informed if not necessarily better served …"


Following Donald Trump's election in the Fall of 2016, a small group of local progressives scheduled a time to show up at the downtown office of our United States Representative to discuss issues. They were welcomed by an admin who listened and commented, but they were denied access to their actual representative. They returned each Tuesday morning for many following months until, apparently begrudgingly, she finally deigned to offer them an audience. She invited a local conservative businessman to attend, perhaps to buffer her opposition's presence. She listened after a fashion, railed against regulations, and nothing happened. Over the following years, her presence continued to be scarce. She would conduct so-called town meetings with her constituents but only announce the meeting time and location to members of her party. She'd often visit this city without announcing her arrival, conduct business privately, and then disappear back to Spokane or Washington with her opposition none the wiser. In frustration, a group conducted a rally on the courthouse lawn with the theme, Where's Cathy? Bikers showed up to drown out the speakers.

She announced her retirement last week, and the local paper quoted prominent party members, citing her unwavering support for our region.

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Candid-Ate

candid-ate
Unknown Artist: The Rail Candidate. (1918)


"Democracy is a form of governance utterly dependent upon such delusion."


During the presentation, I lean over to whisper into The Muse's ear, "It's rare to see a candidate simultaneously balance atop three third rails." The Candid-Ate, of course, seems oblivious. She appears to believe that her positions represent the very soul of reasonableness, and they might, within the narrow world she seems to have inhabited. We live on what must seem the fringes of her district. Her comparisons and even her metaphors employ characterizations that disclose that she doesn't know the perspectives of most of her electorate. It's okay; she's free to stand on anything during her candidacy, even abject public insanity. Lord knows the opposition often has and continues. She will be eaten alive by her competitors. I pray that her candidacy does not survive even until the primary. She's still too much the naive rookie to survive even a modestly better-informed challenge. She'll embarrass herself in anything like a public debate. She does exceptionally well in that department all by herself.

Candidacy seems like a simple extension of something most of us do.

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EscapeArtist

escapeartist
Peter Sekaer: Fire Escapes and Shadows (c. 1935 - 1938)


"I suppose I never had."


Our trip to San Francisco got my internal dialogue (iAlogue) generator humming. I remembered, fondly and otherwise, past lives, proximity reminding me with flashes of both brilliance and darkness. I can't help but conclude that I was probably clinically insane between the ages of forty and fifty, the period of my life when I set about to reinvent myself. Instead of ever getting away with anything, I became more emphatic examples of myself. Still, I managed to maintain a different enough lifestyle that even I struggled to describe what I was trying to achieve. I divorced and remarried twice. I created my seminal works and watched them struggle to gain acceptance. I'd escaped what I'd imagined as a great trap only to discover myself trapped at different logical levels. I might have enjoyed frequent-flier upgrades but lost the charm of unengaged Tuesday evenings. I became an EscapeArtist who ultimately never got away with anything.

I became familiar with a dozen different local rhythms, priding myself on my ability to find a decent bakery and acceptable coffee within about an hour of landing anywhere.

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Looking

looking
Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (workshop of):
Portrait of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (c. 1533)


" … our faith in Spring, ourselves, and this universe renewed."


"You can see a lot by looking."
-Commonly attributed to Yogi Berra


A tradition was born on January 21, 1979, when a young family decided to take their ten-month-old son for a drive in the country. It was a Superbowl Sunday, a holiday for everybody except for this young family with a fussy baby. They found the roads down into the Willamette Valley remarkably empty. The typically cool and grey afternoon seemed distinctly more Spring-like than any they'd seen since their son was born. Over that year, they'd moved out of their final college apartment and into their first home, a genuine wreck of a place with potential. The husband and father had finally graduated from university, and with the addition of their delightful son, life seemed distinctly promising. About an hour into the toodle, they spotted a field filled with sheep and a few gamboling lambs. Nothing—and I mean nothing—better screams "Spring!" and hopefulness than a green field filled with gamboling lambs.

We took our son out of his car seat and stood transfixed beside that fenceline for the longest time.

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SF_Oh

SF-Oh
Coit Tower mural: Works Progress Administration, Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California
Painters: Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Jane Berlandina, Ray Bertrand, Ray Boynton, Ralph Chesse, Rinaldo Cuneo, Ben Cunningham, Mallette Dean, Parker Hall, Edith Hamlin, George Harris, William Hesthal, John Langley Howard, Lucien Labaudt, Gordon Langdon, Jose Moya Del Pino, Otis Oldfield, Frederick Olmsted Jr., Ralph Stackpole, Suzanne Scheuer, Edward Terada, Frede Vidar, Clifford Wight and Bernard Zakheim. (1934)


"Light winds no clocks."


I first came to San Francisco seeking my future. I didn't find it there. Instead, I discovered a surprisingly immature city, one more suburban-seeming than New York City, one striving more than succeeding to seem European. It was impressively large and overwhelming. I couldn’t quite imagine myself unfolding there. I came home feeling like I'd been somewhere: Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows, Potrero Hill above the fog, the Golden Gate.

Rather than being a city that never slept, it seemed like one sleeping in, its ass end beneath the Marin Headland seeming to protrude halfway to China.

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Down_Time

Down_Time
Unknown Artist (postcard): Piped Down (1907 - 1908)


"I've experienced worse."


The Muse proposes the getaways in this family. I'd just as soon stay home. After all the difficulties we overcame to secure this place, we might just as well stay put. She argues in favor of Down_Time, which seems a distraction and might well be one. I'll make no headway on completing any of those urgent chores from which I have diligently procrastinated all winter. My routine will have to go begging. In her defense, The Muse insists that I almost always end up enjoying my time away. "Things happen when you're out in the world," she proclaims, and I cannot counter. Still, I dread time away. I worry about my kittens' well-being even though we entrust them to the most loving and reliable sitter ever. They even like her!

I was not raised by a modern family.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/08/2024

ws02082024
Morris Shulman: The Writing Lesson (1935-43)


Better Acknowledge The Contradictions

Poised up here in my West-facing office window overlooking The Center Of The Universe, I must confess that I often feel far removed from everything. I use my office for creating more than for revisiting. I struggle to recreate even fond memories here. My responsibility extends no further than forward, inexorably moving beyond the experienced and past the known. Decades of experiences have not left me knowing even myself, much less anyone or anything else. I continue searching, increasingly wondering if my purpose ever was to finally find anything. I seek without the explicit expectation that I will find anything, even me, waiting at the end of my effort. I continue creating my purpose, adapting to emerging circumstances. This world, this life, and even this iAlogue Series were not as initially proposed. I proposed to find a motive rather than to frame an achievable objective. Should I achieve what I intended, I will have failed in the final performance. The reward for diligently seeking might finally be the need for even more diligent seeking. My purpose might never have been to conclude but to better acknowledge the contradictions. Thank you for following along.

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Vaxxer

vaxxer
Timothy Cole: Louis Pasteur (1925)


"We are not nothing, but we're never entirely anything, either."


It wasn't until the height of the recent pandemic that the concept of being for or against vaccinations became a public question. There had always been certain conservatives who refused their shots, insisting they disrupted God's plan or bespoiled the arms of man, but most just rolled up their sleeve when asked. It had become a form of civic pride, a demonstration of fealty, and even evidence of sanity. Who in their right mind would expose themself, let alone their children, to some contagion if the means existed to avoid it? I always thought of the issue in black-and-white terms until antivaxxers emerged.

Then came stories of measles parties, where self-proclaimed rational parents would take their kids to mingle with some who were exhibiting symptoms of the most contagious disease around.

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Grumps

grumps
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Old man on a swing (1825/27)


" … You'll get grumpy, too."


I was not yet an old man when my grandson Roman was born. At sixty, my lifestyle had not appreciably changed in twenty years. Some enjoyed extended adolescence, while I extended my Middle Ages. Oh, I'd seen plenty of changes—two divorces and two marriages—over those twenty years, the heights of success and the depths of failure. I wouldn't want to suggest that my life hadn't been just as much a roller coaster as yours, but still, I had enjoyed good health, if not significant wealth, and great, if not necessarily sustaining success. I had managed to greet sixty with most of my optimism intact, and it was with pride as well as joy that I welcomed my grandson into this world. I introduced myself to him as "Grumps," his grumpy grandpa, a joke, intending irony. As everyone employing irony learns, irony eventually turns on its users. I grew Grumpier each year as my old age finally started overtaking me.

I was not on hand when he was born.

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Training

training
Totoya Hokkei: Trained Monkey Performing with Jingle and Gohei (1824)


" … many had been successfully entrained …"


I might be untrainable. I know something about training because I worked as a trainer for many years. Those who participated in the workshops I facilitated insisted that I was pretty good at training, too. I didn't often disclose my secret, that I steadfastly refused to train anybody, if only because I firmly believed that my "students" were much better positioned to train themselves. I'd give them permission and assign the odd exercise, but these most often served as useful distractions to direct attention away while the actual learning occurred elsewhere. My techniques would have probably proven to be lousy ways to train airline pilots, but I was never Training airline pilots. The usual cram and recall schtick couldn't help anyone learn what I was teaching, for I traded in life skills rather than theories, the knowledge that resides more in muscles than memories.

I believe that most knowledge resides somewhere other than the head and that our most significant difficulty lies in our unshakeable belief that our brains are in charge.

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Lyricist

lyricist
Hatta Kōyō 八田高容: Scholar’s Studio:
Rakushisha no aki [Autumn at the Rakushisha]
(1925)


" … overlooking the center of the universe from the edge of the familiar abyss."


Every morning, I ask myself what kind of writer I am. My usual response might surprise you as much as it surprises me. You see, I do not consider myself much of an essayist or story writer. You might have noticed that my writing style seems challenging to categorize. My stories do not seem precisely like stories. They're more vignettes, glimpses rather than fully fledged. Some seem complicated but rarely very long: three or four minutes. I think of them as songs and focus more on their rhythm than their contents when laying them down. I think of them as lyrics, for I was first and will, therefore, probably always remain a Lyricist. I almost exclusively write songs, though most still need music, or written and performed accompaniment, anyway. For me, they elicit their scores. I can hear their accompaniment in how I perform them and how I end up reading them to myself. Each story leans toward the lyrical.

Or, that's my self-image, anyway.

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Acculturating

acculturating
Albert Sterner:Three natures (1932)


“Nature is the realm of the unspeakable. It has no voice of its own, and nothing to say. We experience the unspeakability of nature as its utter indifference to human culture.”

— James P. Carse

Now that The Muse serves as a Port Commissioner, she gets called on to attend no end of local functions: fundraisers, friend raisers, and the odd assorted barn raising. I accompany, if only in my role as Arm Candy. I attend but never feel very at home there, for while I am from here, I never felt as though I was 'of' here, for the native culture always felt pretty alien to me. If I cannot feel at home in my own native culture, where, precisely, do I feel at home? It's an interesting question because I suppose I feel most at home as an alien. After decades of working far away from home and the dog years in exile, I feel I have no culture other than that of the typical hermit in transit. The Muse complains that I don't get out much, and her complaint seems accurate; it's just that I don't understand why my not getting out much qualifies as a complainable condition. If one has no culture, I suppose one tends to stay close to home, where the differences likely seem less glaring and where one can most conveniently associate with one's own kind.

As it is, I can hardly go out in public without noticing what certainly seems like some odd anomaly to me but probably not to anybody truly 'of' this culture.

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Disappearing

Disappearing
Claude Monet: Road toward the Farm Saint-Siméon, Honfleur (1867)


" … my world ultimately most skilled at Disappearing on me."


I write this iAlogue Story for anyone who ever lost their heart pursuing love. I mean, I mostly write this story for myself. I've lost more than my heart chasing love. I've also lost my mind pursuing reason and myself while seeking to find myself. Disappearing seems the common outcome of any attempted manifestation, for how could I have possibly known how to go about acquiring what I'd never had, never known? My plans unavoidably suffer from naive notions of both outcomes and necessary actions. I generally passionately head off in some wrong direction, thinking I understand which direction to head. Later, I might come to understand that I never understood. The Gods will have been cruel or kind by then, the single common outcome being the Disappearing.

I do not get to go back home again if only because home no longer exists by then.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/01/2024

ws02012024
Elihu Vedder: Fisherman and Mermaid (1888-1889)


Unaccustomed To So Much Drama

As I was fixing my coffee this morning, a Neighbor cat, Tux, zoomed through the kitchen out of the basement. He’s always nervous when The Muse or I spot him on one of his trespasses. He’s a nice one, well-behaved, and more talented than our cats, neither of which has yet figured out how to use their cat flap door in that back second-floor window. Tux must have watched them hopping onto the deck superstructure where they can walk up the kitchen roof to meow at their flap door for The Muse or I to let them in. We’ve tried everything but have failed to teach them self-reliance. They crouch by the flap, crying for the help we rush to provide, making sure they leave outside that bird they’re holding. Had they learned to operate that door, the upstairs hall would be feathered sometimes. Tux clamored back upstairs and noisily let himself out that flap window while Molly, distracted from her breakfast, followed his progress by staring at the ceiling. Once she heard Tux landing on the deck, she was off outside for her morning’s adventures. Max, upstairs napping, was none the wiser. I took my coffee upstairs to finish creating my Weekly Writing Summary, unaccustomed to so much drama so early in the morning. Life continues in considerable earnestness, even in Heidi’s absence.

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FebYouWary

februewary
Edouard Manet - "La Prune" [Plum Brandy] (1877)


februewary1
Edouard Manet: "La Prune" [Plum Brandy] photograph, x-radiograph (1948)

" … clearly never really intended to understand anything."

My daughter Heidi was born on April Fool's Day, though she was never anybody's fool. Her birth transformed that day from one of pranks into one of deeper understanding. Foolishness runs no deeper than skin; underneath, things get serious. My daughter Heidi died on Groundhog's Day in February, the first month of Spring at this latitude, the month I always relied on to deliver hope after an exhausting Winter. Her death transformed February into FebYouWary for me, a time I approach hesitantly now, dreading its arrival. I do not dread Spring's arrival, just the Groundhog's Day re-reminder that Heidi's gone forever. I never understood Infinite until my darling daughter disappeared there. My world seems hollow without her here, trapped within the finite with me. She's free. I grieve.

February belongs to that class of words that have no proper pronunciation.

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Shouldering

shouldering
Henry Fuseli: Thetis Mourning the Body of Achilles (1780)

"Not one of us ever was whole or normal …"

We each possess some weakness, though it often seems like it possesses us. Either way, it comes to dominate some days, crowding out intendeds for its senseless imperative. In my time, I've suffered through various afflictions, not one of them worth mentioning in their absence. The details couldn't matter. I presently feel my right shoulder more than anyone should ever feel their right shoulder's presence. This weakness goes back to last Spring when I was over-enthusiastically prepping the back deck for painting. After a couple of days of vigorous sanding I was feeling done in. I diagnosed the condition as deltoid bursitis, but it could have been anything, for a stubbed toe by any other name, to paraphrase Shakespeare, would feel the same. I hired our painter to finish that job while setting out to cure that latest affliction. I was better two months later.

I am confident I do not know what I might have done to encourage this condition to occur.

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Indicting

Indicting
Walter Crane: Miss Goody Two Shoes, accused of witchcraft. (1874–76)


" … these episodes make me stronger and more resilient."


I would have made one Hell of a Puritan. Always watchful, I'm rarely able to slip anything by myself. I catch myself out and then indict without anything resembling a preponderance of evidence. The merest hint of an infraction, and I'm crawling up my own ass, complaining. I then set about worrying myself back into rough compliance, if that’s even possible. It isn’t always possible. I perform a form of penance, usually accepting the accusation without much questioning before joining in with the punishing portion of the performance. Quickly incarcerated with an immutable sentence, I set about serving my time. Having fallen short, I understand that I will never stand tall. Reform's beyond question. The best that could happen might be that, over time, I find that I've forgotten so that I no longer carry the full weight of my well-deserved burden.

I was painting, an occupation in which I usually exhibit competence.

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Chinooking

chinooking
Edward Hopper: The Evening Wind (1921)


"Just that breath of Spring reset the calendar."


In early January, I told myself that Winter was here for good. After a week or two of chilling temperatures and slick roads, I'm more than ready to hibernate until Spring. Everything freezes, even beliefs. Impossibilities come to dominate, and hope wisely recedes into some obscure corner. I go on autopilot and nap more than seems healthy. Then, I take an initiative. Just a small one, a chore I've been avoiding since we first bought this place. A typical obligation for which the proper time to dispatch it conveniently never arrived. A home properly contains a few dozen of these embarrassments. They understandably rarely, if ever, get addressed, so it seems newsworthy if one finally gets dispatched.

Just starting helps.

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Phantoms

Phantom
Mario Bettini: Imaginem in cylindrica superficie rectè formatam in plano horizontali ritè de formare.
[To form an image on a cylindrical surface correctly formed in a horizontal plane.]
(1645 - 1655)


"I continue hunting and pecking …"


I realize that I hold, at best, a severely superficial understanding of anything. I learned enough to convincingly fake it for a time, only to discover later that my knowledge would not prove sufficient. It appears there's always a deeper understanding lurking somewhere. This principle holds doubly true for procedures, which seem to exist in layers. The definable portion might get written down, though rarely very coherently. The rest exists as tacit understanding, or perhaps it is better described as contingent understanding, details that could never hold much meaning until after considerable superficial practice. Until I'm in over my head, depth holds little significance. Then, it suddenly becomes the most important dimension, just when I discover that I have little prior knowledge or understanding of coping with its presence.

The editor replied that I'd added "sections" to the manuscript, which had caused the paragraphs to strangely break, seemingly at random.

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NonProphet

NonProphet
John Singer Sargent: Study for the Prophet Obadiah,
Boston Public Library
(1892-1894)

"
I'm no prophet …"


Now that The Muse serves as an elected Port Commissioner, she finds herself under increasing demand. She's already been invited to join several non-profits as a board member or advisor, her electoral success perhaps perceived as a transferable skill. She remains wary since she's not yet fully aware of all her Commissioner role might demand of her, but she accepts the invitations if only to learn what's going on here. She's seen as one of the powerful now. Like anywhere, this valley benefits from many non-profits focusing on helping the less fortunate. They try to provide safety nets but often fail to fully satisfy the needs. The poor will, indeed, always be with us. These organizations employ armies of dedicated people and many volunteers, paying back and paying forward what their success afforded them.

The Muse sometimes insists that I tag along.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 1/25/2024

WS012524
Beatrix Potter: Mice with Candles (1903)


The New Finished
After only five and a half years of intermittent effort, I finally submitted one of my series for publication this week. The finish mirrored the process. I noticed as I skimmed through a compilation of the manuscript that I had not adequately indexed the text, so I went back through one final time to assign styles to everything: Body, Buried Lede, Caption, Verse, and Heading; this to ensure a consistent finished product and to ease making later changes. Just that morning, I discovered I’d inadvertently mislabeled my current series iOlogue instead of iAlogue. I’d felt stupid for making the mistake. Still, I felt redeemed when I immediately disciplined myself to go back and correct every instance of the error, which had proliferated in the over thirty days since I’d innocently committed it. I had to change records in my Blog master, manuscript master, Facebook intros, SubStack copies, and LinkedIn posts. This effort consumed more than two hours. With this experience fresh in my mind, I warily submitted that manuscript, aware that maintaining it would get even more complicated before publishing was finished. That manuscript’s final compilation revealed some inconsistencies in the compiling process. I submitted the damned thing anyway, noting to the editor that paragraph breaks seemed inconsistent from the source document. I figured that complication might be resolvable later. Not even that finished product was truly finished.

We labor in the misguided conviction that we might one day finish something when getting something started might be the very best we can ever hope to accomplish. Our work remains a work in process even long after we hoped it might be finished. Can’t Be Undone might be the new done.

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CrowdControl

crowdcontrol
Arthur Rothstein: Crowds at races,
Indianapolis, Indiana
(1938)


" … messier but more fully human …"


My internal dialogue rarely speaks in a single voice. It's more often an ensemble and often an unruly one. It can speak in contradictions or coherence, but it almost always features considerable noise in the channel, as if some connection was faulty. It can sometimes border on cacophony, deafening, dizzying, and more confusing than informing. It provides mixed messages that might encourage any action or any response. That level-headed reactions most often result sometimes seems like a miracle. I hear voices, some convincing recreations of voices now long past and others more similar to my own murmurings. I whisper to myself sometimes so that I can distinguish between emphatic direction and mere distraction. I seem like a ship steered by an unruly committee.

My work has always been rooted in my ability to control that crowd.

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Matter

matter
Stuart Davis, After Mark Rothko,
After William Baziotes:
Sketches of “Max,” Mark Rothko’s “No. 19,”
and William Baziotes’ “Moonstruck”
(1950)


"The fuzzy distinction between … won't become interesting until much later."


In Late January, Matter exists in one of two states: Sleeping or Not Sleeping. Not Sleeping Matter out-numbers Sleeping Matter several times, so much so that Sleeping Matter will sometimes seem a mythical state. Not Sleeping Matter often rests and might be easily mistaken for the Sleeping kind, but it differs in several ways. Sleeping Matter lacks self-consciousness, nor can it produce thumping noises like footsteps trundling down a hallway toward a bathroom. Sleeping Matter might snore, though it will deny that it holds that ability. Not Sleeping Matter tends toward grumpiness.

It's no wonder why Matter tends to bifurcate in Late January.

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Belligerence

beligerence
Jack Gould: Untitled [tug-of-war] (1955)


"Bruising sometimes occurs …"


Not every story wants to be told. Some seem adamant about remaining private. A few seem to employ extraordinary means to prevent their author from sharing them. On the other hand, a writer must sometimes insist, regardless of how vehemently a story might resist being tamed. The Belligerence, when opposing, sometimes seems overwhelming. While The Muse snoozes, I might be engaging in hostilities few should believe could happen. My office and desktop have seen countless wee-hour battles between my insistence and those stories' stubbornness, and I have not always won. Plenty of budding stories have lost their chance of becoming shared by merely holding their breath until they turned blue or just digging in their heels. Some of the best ones refused to be chronicled by me or anybody, and that's the honest truth.

As a lifelong pacifist, I cut a curious figure when I headed into battle with this Belligerence.

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ApoplecticAngels

apoplectic
Odilon Redon:
The Lost Angel Then Opened Black Wings, from Night (1886)


" … he noticed a shadow falling over his finished product …"


An Apoplectic Angel oversees my daily production. An even more apoplectic one supervises publication. Neither can quite comprehend what I'm doing. My work follows no standard development pattern: no plot, no protagonist other than the forbidden observer and The Muse, and no apparent purpose. The implied purpose does not seem well supported by the result. Readying my Cluelessness manuscript, posted initially as my CluelessSummer series in the summer of 2018, has taken five-and-a-half years to reach pre-publication, and even then, those ApoplecticAngels second guess my intentions. They compare what I've produced with what some other writer might have created and seem to have weighted their judgments in favor of the other fella. I hesitate, perhaps fatally, at the prospect of publishing this book.

I want to reread it, hoping that a sixth time through provides the experience the first five times didn't yield.

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ShopTalking

shoptalking
Adriaen van Ostade: Man and Woman Talking (17th century)


"It's a sincere form of caring to keep nodding rather than merely nodding off."


As The Muse assimilates into her new career as a Port Commissioner, her ArmCandy gets to learn previously unimaginable dialects. He had grown accustomed to her speaking in alien tongues when she signed on to work with the Biofuels program in The Department of Energy in DC fifteen years before. Learning the various terms and acronyms she began tossing around from day one was a bit of a chore. He knew his job was to help talk her down from whatever ledge her new job responsibilities had left her hanging from, even on those too-frequent three-gimlet evenings. He would listen as if he understood and grew to think himself awfully good at pretending to understand. He would occasionally toss in an innocent question and ask for a translation into generally accepted English, but usually just accepted as gibberish what seemed to hold such deep significance for her. Spouses have done no less throughout history.

Every profession carries its unique dialect.

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Discerning

discerning
Henriëtte Ronner: The Musicians (c. 1876 - 77)


" … betters tend to sum to worses …"


I think of myself as a Discerning person, my internal dialogue constantly comparing this to that and that to something else, seeking, if not best, better. I have little use for best and no reasonable way to determine its presence except by direct comparison. As a Discerning person, I am continually comparing, though, considering how well I'm doing. I often feel dissatisfied without being able to imagine alternative means to improve my experience. The simple act of dissatisfaction rarely carried its antidote along. Usually, it is quite the opposite, as dissatisfaction prevents me from perceiving any alternative.

I had long been dissatisfied with how I created my Weekly Writing Summaries.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/18/2024

ws01182024
Jan Ekels (II): A Writer Trimming his Pen (1784)



Some Hand Greater Than The Writer’s
This expectation I hold that I will always possess something worth disclosing usually serves me well. Writers come to understand the redeeming power of expectation, how the otherwise trivial act of expecting often results in producing something worth disclosing. No cause-or-effect relationship actually exists, though. Something else creates the result. I sometimes believe it’s the cornering effect at work. Reduce options to one, and often, that one remaining option will seem ideally suited to whatever couldn’t have even been intended. We speak of synchronicity but more often rely upon even greater mystery than synchronicity delivers. I could have sworn when posting this writing week’s stories that I had fallen short with every one. It was not until, as usual, I slowed down to reflect upon what I’d produced that I caught the edge I hadn’t noticed I’d created. Some hands more skilled than the writers always work the keys. Thank you for following along with me here.

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NightWatch

nightwatch
Rembrandt van Rijn: The Night Watch (1642)


“ … failing to make much sense of my mission again.”


Weather dominates my news through Winter's first quarter. Every day brings another aspect into focus as a series of fronts promising change move into and over the area. One morning, snow's expected. The following: record low temperatures. I anticipate each shift as if being invaded. My sleep, normally ragged and discontinuous, turns almost non-existent as I lie there, wondering if the next assault has started yet. I cannot seem to successfully ignore it or just let it happen. It seems to want a witness, and I seem to need to witness as if it couldn't occur without me there or as if some catastrophe might ensue if I were absent. I have been slouching in a reading chair most recent nights, peering out the big front window, waiting for the latest show to start, neither sleeping nor especially alert, on NightWatch.

My internal dialogue seems muted then.

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Interpreting

interpreting
Benjamin Gerritsz. Cuyp:
Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker and the butler (1630)


" … just like everybody else."


My daughter Heidi, gone nearly three years now, worked as a teacher and interpreter, performing simultaneous translations for patients and plaintiffs unfamiliar with English. Her career focused precisely on what we all engage in, if less explicitly, for we are always Interpreting whatever we witness. No experience comes pre-interpreted for our convenience, and it's probably for the worst that we grow complacent over time, even losing the sense that we are Interpreting when it's all we ever do. Heidi complained of fierce headaches after a day of intentionally Interpreting. I sometimes register the same complaint. I often feel as though I never learned how to interpret and that I generally make a hash out of my attempts.

I am a particularly inept mind reader.

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Mumming

mumming
Eugène Romain Thirion: Study of the Head of the Angel
for “
Joan of Arc Listening to Voices” (c. 1876)


"I have no story today because I have not a thing to say to anybody …"


My internal dialogue never was continuous. Though it usually seems uninterrupted, breaks do occasionally appear. I do not always notice, and since I'm the only one serving as witness, if I don't notice, it's as if it never happened or just as good as never happening. I do sometimes notice, though. I notice these empty slots without commentary, for any comment would nullify the Mumming effect. Mumming appears like a slip of paper placed between pages in a set, a spacer. If it serves any more profound purpose, I have never been party to it. It signifies nothing and needs no meaning attached to justify its presence. I think of and about it only in its absence, for when it's present, I let it lie or leave it lay. My internal dialogue has nothing whatsoever to say while I'm Mumming.

With all the attention presencing attracts these days, I can sometimes seem altogether too present, too aware, too much in a moment.

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Unspeakables

unspeakables
Henri Martin: Silence (1894/97)


"Only I hold the power to counter that power … "


Silence surely stands as the most powerful of all the superpowers granted to mortals, though it's pure potential, so few suspect its presence. The Unspoken commands great authority in human affairs, and the Unspeakable unquestionably holds the greatest. A mouthful of Unspeakable feels like gravel. It's genuinely embarrassing. It seems illicit and dirty. It too easily convinces the one possessing it to remain silent, even perhaps unto death. The bulk of its great power comes from just this sense: if it's mentioned, great calamity might ensue. Someone might get offended. Relationships might have to be ended, friendships ruined, associations severed. A great and terrible truth might render asunder even the tenderest alliance.

The secret might consume its holder, rendering them not merely mute.

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gNattering

gNattering
Percy J. Billinghurst: The lion and the gnat. (1900)


"The human condition demands much worrying and little changing."


I consider myself to be a world-class worrier. I anticipate well and catastrophically. I natter better than almost everybody. I dread exceptionally well. This continual background noise in my cognitive channel might serve as my screen saver, exercising my internal dialogue without producing any overwhelming excess of anything, for gNattering produces nothing and might even disperse otherwise troubling accumulations. Nobody remembers whatever they might have been gNattering on about, for the exercise might have always been to prevent retaining. Had I been contemplating instead, I might have needed to store something for later reference, further filling my head. gNattering effectively prevented that inventory, leaving me more ready to acquire something substantial later, or not.

I understand that I only utilize some tiny portion of my brain's potential.

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DJ

discjockey
Dorothea Lange: Disc used in corn fields in California.
It is drawn by seven horses. Tulare County, California
(1938)
" … seems to be looking out for me."


My internal dialogue occurs on several seemingly concurrent channels, like SiriusXM Satellite Radio, which features dozens of channels, each carrying a specific type of program. I frequently listen to their Broadway channel, for instance, where I can usually access some big production numbers that lift my spirits, and their Sinatra channel, which plays The American Songbook. I mention this because my internal dialogue is not exclusively comprised of verbal interaction but also sometimes includes music, often with lyrics and sometimes without. Like with my Ruminating that I described in a recent story, my internal dialogue serves up more than conversation.

The musical channels fascinate me.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/11/2024

ws01112024
Yoon Kwang-cho: Heart Sutra (2007)


About To Happen

What would you do if your dream came true? I engineered most of my life to cope with not achieving a dream-come-true state. An encroaching dream coming true feels genuinely threatening to my well-practiced status quos. I know precisely how to cope with disappointment but feel totally unprepared to accept success, however modest. I procrastinate, hastening extremely slowly into its grasp as if it were a trap. I wonder what its embrace might bring. I puzzle over the changes it might insist upon my sacred routines, however shopworn they seem. I sense the potential that I'll have to write a different story, one I only secretly ever intended to author. Stay tuned. Something interesting's about to happen here.

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MorePerfect

MorePerfect
Photograph of Lincoln Memorial Youth March for Integrated Schools.
Photograph/National Archives Catalog.
Department of the Interior. National Park Service.
National Capital Parks. (10/9/1933 - 1/22/1962).


" … toward MorePerfect but not perfection …"


I admire Abraham Lincoln's facility with English. He could really turn a phrase. His most memorable moment came in his first inaugural where he spoke of our responsibility to create "a MorePerfect union." He cleverly avoided proposing perfection as a target yet deeply implied that it might lurk somewhere out there where we might move in its general direction. He managed to remain realistic while projecting an idealistic glow over the proceedings, producing one memorably masterful phrase.

MorePerfect probably describes much of my iOlogue.

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TrashTalkingToMyself

trashtalkingtomyself
Bothe, after Paul Friedrich Meyerheim:
Apen in een atelier [Apes in the studio] (1852 - 1915)


" … a great and enduring blessing in my life …"


My chattering mind never completely shuts down. It natters away night, day, and every moment in between. It has essentially nothing to say. It never did and probably never will, yet it still serves a beneficial and essential function in my psychological ecosystem. It might be my linguistic gyroscope, that part of my iOlogue, my internal dialogue, that keeps me sane. However, anyone besides me, privy to the conversation, might reasonably conclude the opposite. The content makes no objective sense, exemplifying nonsense. It sounds, even to me, as if I'm shoving shit at myself, for it's comprised of critique and passing commentary, seemingly just so much chattering, monkeys manning my belfry.

When The Muse and I arrived in exile in Washington, DC, I noticed two distinct cultures as I walked the streets.

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BothSides

BothSides
Joe E. Brown:
You Said a Mouthful, [Front cover, Pamplet] 1944


Talk out of both sides of your mouth: idiom
[US disapproving (also speak out of both sides of your mouth)]

To say something that is the opposite of what you have said before or to express different opinions about something in different situations in a way that may deceive people.
—Cambridge Dictionary

" … speak out of every side of every mouth …"


I never aspired to be recognized as the pinnacle of consistency. I try to appear reasonably coherent, but I'm apt to contradict myself anytime. I was not born with a mind that remembers what's come out of my mouth in the past, so I might innocently insist upon the opposite of what I formerly absolutely insisted upon. I explain to myself that the context shifted, but I doubt my more scrupulous listeners buy that excuse, even though it probably represents the whole truth. The truth is, I might appear to be lying. This isn't a strategic choice but almost always an accident, an honest representation of what's happening inside me. I hold some convictions very loosely.

I'm the kind of witness easily badgered on the stand.

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TalkingThruMyHat

talkingthrumyhat
Amedeo Modigliani: Madam Pompadour (1915)


" … frantic iOlogue might appear."


Talk through your hat: (idiom UK informal)

To talk about something without understanding what you are talking about:
"Nothing of what he said made sense - he was talking through his hat."

—Cambridge Dictionary

More often than I comfortably admit, I speak before I know. Before I know enough about the context. Before I know sufficient to knowingly comment. Before I know whether my target is even listening. I only sometimes embarrass myself after I should have embarrassed myself speaking. This occurred when I spoke too soon or had no charter to say anything. I often just wanted to stay in the conversation, to contribute my share even when—and maybe especially when—I felt I might not have anything intelligent to contribute. It's then when I tend to say something stupid and wear it as if I were wearing some outlandishly inappropriate hat that can't help but dominate my presence. I almost exclusively humiliate myself.

Strictly speaking, TalkingThruMyHat may not belong classified under iOlogue, internal dialogue.

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DrDoolittle

drdoolittle
Thomas Rowlandson:
Doctor Syntax drawing after nature (1812)


" … that conversation could also be pure projection."


Talking with animals seems rather like talking with God. It's only troublesome when the animals start talking back, though those of us dedicated to this practice often receive responses from our partners. I do not care if these responses come from my projections or if I only imagine a conversation occurring. I receive my intended result. I feel more connected, which might be close to the whole purpose of human existence. A person isn't always available or amenable to civil discourse, while most animals agreeably absorb whatever observation I might care to share with them. Even my friend Caroline's dog Banjo, who, strictly speaking, was never a scrupulous listener, seems to appreciate my comments as he attempts to whip me into submission with his tail. He's exuberant whenever company arrives.

I swear that the primary reason I'm a cat person must be their willingness to listen.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/04/2024

ws01042024
Ben Shahn: Sideshows at the Ashville,
July 4th celebration, Ashville, Ohio
(1938)


It's A Genuine Wonder
The winter holiday season provides several prominent mileage markers. I can easily anticipate whatever's coming next for several weeks before entering into January's relative wasteland. I find myself praying for weather, anything to differentiate one cold, foggy day from another. I tucked into a long-procrastinated painting project, one I'd imagined becoming a messy can of worms if started, but my dread was unrequited. As is often the case with procrastination, initiating effort disproved my delaying premise. I should feel grateful for an asperation really worth procrastinating over. Once finished, I will need to drum up another possible can of worms to properly dread or perhaps simply surrender to the January ennui. I might be in the final stages of signing a book contract. I fear that will also become a can of worms, so I have been expending some of my excess procrastination energy on not gaining closure on that effort. It's a genuine wonder I ever accomplish anything.

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Play-By-Play

play-by-play
Stefan Martin and Ben Shahn: Baseball (1968)


"I feel reassured then and tuck my head down …"


Besides TalkingMyselfInto, Through, and OutOf, my inner dialogue, my iOlogue, mainly consists of what I might best describe as Play-By-Play commentary. Like a sportscaster, I'm reporting on my performance in real time as the movie unfolds. Sure, I do my share of after-action reporting, but most of my attention focuses on the action happening right before me. Unlike most sportscasters, though, I also perform the role I describe. It's as if a pitcher was wired up and offering color commentary as he throws the game. If this seems as though it must be distracting, it tends to be, as you, dear reader, certainly know, for you probably fill the same role in whatever game you're calling. This must be how we each first attempt to make meaning of our performances. We'll reserve the right to make second, third, and even more guesses, but initial impressions tend to get laid down as the play progresses.

I deeply admire Play-By-Play announcers, the good ones, anyway.

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TalkingMyselfOutOf

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


"I fancy that I finish better whatever's left on my plate …"


I should probably be most grateful for all my many unanswered prayers, for as I have continued aging,  I have become an absolute idea generator. More bright ideas spring out of my imagination than any dozen Davids could ever follow up on, so I have, by necessity, become perhaps most skilled at TalkingMyselfOutOf. Out of doing. Out of completing. Out of starting in the first place. Most of my great ideas drift to the bottom of the very well they seem to spring from to compost or perhaps regenerate, likely for me to reject or deny them again. I suffer from idea indigestion. I rarely swallow.

I often wonder what my life would have become had I had to struggle for every alluring notion I needed to sustain me.

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HappyTalk

happytalk
Nelly Spoor: Kinderorkest in een tuin
[Children's orchestra in a garden]
(1912)


" … delighted to have even a bit part in this latest ongoing production."


My iOlogue, my internal dialogue, most often amounts to a soundtrack rather than a back-and-forth conversation, a concert more than a dialogue. I serve as a passive observer, witness, and fan. I firmly believe The Great American Songbook contains most of the advice worth taking in this world. If I had my druthers, I'd re-release The Bible as a compendium of Twentieth Century pop, jazz, and show tunes with lyrics more usefully instructive than any other moral/spiritual guidebook ever compiled. The vast majority of the tunes are so-called love songs and many focus on the more practical aspects of the emotion than does the typical heavenly host. Even the occasional vengeful tune employs language in ways that render them extremely attractive and unforgettable.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's
HappyTalk, from their hit Broadway show South Pacific, typifies what I'm talking about here.

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SilentPilot

silentpilot
Anders Zorn: Pilot (1919)


"Nobody ever was or ever will be an island …"


I claim to carry on an iOlogue, an internal dialogue for the purpose of navigation, but I might misrepresent the actual mechanism. I do carry on an iOlogue once inspiration visits, but inspiration visits silently, like that proverbial thief in the night, like Santa Claus, like nothing at all. However I might seek direction, it seems to take its own sweet time to come, for it owns that seeking time. The harder I strive, the longer I wait, or so it so often seems. The notion I seek doesn't speak to me so much as to tap me on my virtual shoulder to gain my attention. Once my attention focuses, the inspiration's passed and my benefactor returns to his natural state, which seems both silent and invisible. He surfaces relatively rarely even if usually daily, for the instant he appears measures in sub-seconds before he disappears again.

I speak of him as 'him,' but only for convenience.

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SummingUp

tottingup
Unknown Artist:
Daikon Radish and Accounting Book
(19th Century)


"I'm still wondering."


I create my series off calendar. I begin each on either a solstice or an equinox so that the ends of months and years never mark the end of any series. The twelfth installment of this iOlogue Series falls on the last day of this year, 2023, and it feels right as well as proper to pull over here and at least try to take stock of what this year has wrought or what I've managed to wrought this year. Reviewing my work, I'm first taken by how little I crisply remember. It seems to have left little in any way resembling a permanent impression. I have written daily, ninety-some stories each quarter, at least two-hundred-sixty over the year in parts of five different series, yet I have to reference my archive to even remember the names of the series I labored so diligently to produce.

What must it mean to have produced so much while remembering so little?

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TalkingMyselfThrough

talkingmyselfthrough
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen:
Tramp Passing Through a Sleeping Village (1902)


"I still have mentors, but none better than the one I found lurking near the end of my journaling pencil."

As my fortieth birthday approached, my life grew increasingly complicated. I had not willed this change. It just seemed to visit me unbidden. Fortunately, helpers emerged as if somehow deliberately called to assist. Powerful teachers just seemed to find me and I entered into a fresh phase of learning, of living. Almost everything in my life would have to crumble before I would emerge on whatever passed for the other side, but the shift was never nearly as clear-cut or dichotomous as that. It first felt like a descent from my achievements long before it seemed anything like an improvement. I later learned that this challenge had long been considered routine, nominally labeled Mid-Life Crisis. The reality of the experience far overshadowed the seemingly benign name we'd assigned to it. In  his Divine Comedy, Dante described it: "In the middle of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost."

I was merely on the edge of learning my most profound life lessons thus far.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/28/2023

WS12282023
Gustave Doré:
Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall (1866)


The Mysteries Will Prevail
I tell myself I keep moving forward but cannot honestly tell. I lack the perspective to determine. I follow my established as well as emerging rituals, wondering where all this might be leading while simultaneously convinced that I know full well where I'm headed. Writing seems to be one of those skills where, to be successful, one must never know before finishing. That not knowing might serve as the absolutely necessary predicate to achieving. One comes to know without knowing beforehand. The initial innocence and ignorance serve as essential leverage. No reader needs to understand any of this. In fact, the reader's experience might be improved by their misconceptions of what authorship entails. It involves much speculation and ritual with a pinch of discovery mixed in. Some weeks prove more enlightening than others. Some prove stellar. There's never any predicting except that the mysteries will prevail; there will never be any vanquishing them.

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TalkingMyselfInto

talkingmyselfinto
David Deuchar:
Man Wearing an Apron, Talking with a Boy
(18th-19th century)


" … I just have to try your patience first."


I tend to be a tough sell. Try as anyone might, I often prove inconvincable by any means, or any means other than one. In the end, if I am to be convinced, it just has to be me doing the convincing. I mean I have to TalkMyselfInto it, whatever it is. I need to find my own damned reason and cannot ever quite countenance acquiescing to anyone else's. I suspect my apparent stubbornness stems from my sense that I'm natively gullible, too easily persuaded or goaded into doing what's not always best for myself. I hate to say it, but I distrust. Last night at dinner, a trainee waiter admitted that he was upselling, an admission that undermined his purpose, but he was still learning. I would that everyone attempting sales could engage so transparently. I don't mind being upsold as much as I resent being fooled. Why do salespeople seem to treat honesty as their enemy?

I often simply fail to understand at first.

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SelfTalk

selftalk
Edvard Munch: Self-Portrait in Moonlight (1904–06)


"I might one day learn just to appreciate its presence…"


My story shifts from day to day. One day, I might feel the hero, and another, the cad. More consequently, the story I tell myself about myself also constantly shifts. Whether I think myself a hero or a cad might matter. Some studies suggest that I might even be capable of talking myself into performing either role by simply repeating a story suggesting as much. SelfTalk, one of the pillars of the ever-burgeoning self-helpless industry, refers to these stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. The accuracy of these stories seems to have little to do with the effects they encourage. If I think myself a cad and tell myself stories reinforcing this notion, I might be much more likely to act out as if those stories were accurate in what might be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of its initial validity, I might become the story I tell myself about myself.

This notion suggests that I had best be careful when choosing my internal narrative, implying that I should nurture only the best opinion of myself regardless of my actual performance, lest my SelfTalk degrade my experience.

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Holidayed

holidayed
Unknown: Puzzle jug (c. 1750)


"The chestnuts, alas, were inedible after roasting."


For me, holidays mainly exist in my anticipation of them. Before they occur, I feel perfectly free to imagine them becoming anything. Once they arrive, my degrees of freedom when anticipating collapse into one or two definite outcomes. By the end of the day, not even that was left: a kitchen filled with dirty dishes and some lingering puzzles about what that was supposed to be about. They were never any different. The jolly tends to leach out a day or two before the mistletoe engages and seems scarce on the actual day of. The day of becomes more focused on producing tangible results, inherently less satisfying effort than anticipating ever was. Stockings hung hold enormous potential. Once filled, they become more or less has-beens until the following ultimately hollowing season.

The absence of the need to be preparing eliminates what had been my primary motivation. It had been what had been getting me up mornings.

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Epiphany

epiphany
Paul Cézanne: Jules Peyron (c. 1885-1887)


"There will always be the before and then the ever after …"


I am an Epiphany junkie. The urge to experience Epiphany drives me. It's what gets me up in the morning. I am always, always looking for the anomaly, the odd ant/elephant combination that might harbor an insight, for I believe Epiphany to be accessible to everybody all the time. Certain religious holidays advertise themselves as Epiphany-related, but I firmly believe that everyone retains access to the transcendent, to the glorious. It's not reserved for Sundays or Feasts of Grand Retribution but remains an everyday thing, extraordinary yet perfectly ordinary, remarkable yet common.

Remarkable Yet Common might as well serve as my tagline, for I have no personal use for the exclusive.

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InfiniteSets

InfiniteSets
Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴:
Poem on Meditation [Poem about Snow]
(Edo period, 1615-1868)


"I carry on these internal dialogues as if they might prove helpful."


I realize that every one of my dilemmas stems from dealing with essentially InfiniteSets. I define an InfiniteSet as any entity, idea, or thing that seems fundamentally indeterminate in size. These might, indeed, qualify as uncountables or just prove essentially impossible to count. Any entity so vast as to chase off any practical strategy for rendering it definite becomes infinite by default. By this definition, I am presently living an infinite life because while I know for sure it will at some time end, that ending remains essentially indeterminate. This need not goad me into profligacy, for I can always respect my potential without burning whatever candle I have remaining at both ends. I can conserve as well as consume my InfiniteSets.

I can write because language proves to be one of those essentially InfiniteSets.

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PoemCycling

poemcycling
Tosa Mitsuoki:
Autumn Maples with Poem Slips (c. 1675)


"I suspect Santa experiences a similar reveal …"


For each holiday season for at least the last twenty years, I have created a poem cycle instead of buying presents. A poem cycle amounts to a small collection of poems written on more or less the same subject, this cycle's topic: the Winter holidays. I give the resulting poems to family and close friends instead of giving them something I've purchased. I devised this strategy after many years of disatisfying effort attempting to guess what gift might please which recipient. I was always a lousy guesser, and I suspected that I usually guessed wrong, though few ever confirmed my suspicion. Feigned delight resulted in gracious acceptance being the exchange's only redeeming element. In the first few years, the poems seemed an even lamer excuse for gifts, but over time, recipients grew to expect them and transferred their feigned acceptance to this new medium. Don't get me wrong, these were rarely James Whitcomb Riley-quality works. They were, by and large, lame poems exhibiting, above all, just how much it might be the underlying thought that actually counts.

I initially held myself to producing these works between midafternoon Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning.

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iAloguing With The Deafened

iologuingwiththedeafened
Will Hicock Low: Deafening the Swallows’ Twitter, Came a Thrill of Trumpets (1885)


" … a halfway decent conversation with myself."


As one newly introduced to iOlogue, the fine art of solo dialogue or talking to myself, I can report that it's a challenge, given all the foreground noise. If I didn't know better—and I might not know better—I'd insist there's a vast and insidious conspiracy against anyone even attempting to hear themself think, just as if they considered that sort of thing dangerous and to be dissuaded at every turn. Significantly, during this sacred season, the competition expands beyond all reason. Wherever I go, holiday music follows or greets me as I enter. I recognize that It's Looking Like A Lot Like Christmas without having that recognition blasted into what's left of my consciousness every time I enter a store. I know why I cannot remember what I came into the store to purchase because my inboard navigation system was short-circuited by the Musac® there.

Even when it's not the sacred season, the competition seems staggering.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/21/2023

ws12212023
Forbes Mac Bean: Public Writer (1854)


Whatever Change Was Supposed To Promise
I believe we're all here to spot curious convergences. We might try to establish routines to make our lives more efficient, but something, thank Heaven, always seems to manage somehow to disrupt them. While we struggle to reestablish what was probably never destined to be sustained, we tend to stumble upon change. We speak of change as if we might one day master it, but I believe we're destined to remain its humble or humbled servant. Our clever strategies for creating it often leave us feeling like fools while its designs for insinuating itself into our lives properly leave us gasping. We were never intended to master change but to be shifted by it. We should lose our mooring. We should lose our heading. When we can keep our wits about us, we often spot something interesting. When we lose our wits, the experience can become even more interesting. Reasoning’s definitely not required. Of course we cannot yet understand its eventual significance. It travels in relative obscurity, seemingly fueled by synchronicity, accidentlies on purpose, accidentlies bringing renewed purpose in clever disguise. This final week of GoodNuff stuff brought all of whatever change was always supposed to promise. I feel changed for the good as a result.

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FinishingIn

FinishingIn
Charles Folkard:
She found...ripe strawberries, poking up dark red out of the snow. (1911)


"… an appropriate backdrop for such a ragged undertaking."


I do not believe in smooth transitions but ragged ones. In theory, we finish before beginning anew, but we probably never do in practice. There's always some tail dragging behind the prow, some finishing touches needed even after a masterpiece was exhibited. I segment my days into tidy-seeming stories, but my internal dialogue discloses the underlying mess. I require much forgiveness to start before I've completely finished, but I could never begin if required to complete my prior work. Yesterday, I published my reported "last" installment of my GoodNuff Series. I even accomplished what I'd never managed before. I completed assembling those ninety-four stories into a finished manuscript. I even compiled them into a single document, complete with illustrations, suitable for submission on the same day I posted the final piece. I usually drag a finished series behind me for a very long time before I finally catch up to compiling the completed manuscript. My life seems more than littered with unfinished business.

The moment I finished compiling that series, though, The Muse mentioned that I'd misspelled something in that last story, negating my advance.

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iAlogue

iologue
Quiringh Gerritsz. van Brekelenkam:
A Confidential Chat (1661)


" … engaging in solo dialogue …"


It's accepted wisdom within the publishing business that an author must know his comparables. This essential knowledge becomes critical when classifying a work, and classifying has always been necessary before a work can become a marketable book, for without a classification, no librarian or bookseller could know where to display the damned thing. So, a few years ago, I asked a friend who teaches library science at a prestigious Eastern university to gift me with a classification for my work. He returned with one I found only distantly satisfying: Historical Autobiographical Philosophical Fiction. He claimed this grouping included many of the most popular authors publishing today. I felt flattered to be included in any category, let alone such a prestigious one, but I couldn't help feeling like I was still missing something.

The authors he listed as comparables didn't seem to be in the same business as I had been.

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HowIDo2

HowIDo2
Jack Gould:
Untitled [workmen constructing new house] (1950)


“Another GoodNuff Story's published!”


Like with all activities, "finishing" does not necessarily mean done. I say I'm writing even though the writing might take up less than half the time I spend "writing." As I said in the last installment, the writing, initiated after lengthy context and content-setting work, occurs in timeless space. I must not think too much while writing lest I disrupt what might pass for flow. I learned long ago to separate editing from writing, for instance, because the two activities remain antagonistic and seem better left sequential. Once I've "finished" writing, I begin editing. If anything, I've increased my editing efforts in more recent years. I once over-revered my native voice, preserving my hems and haws as representing greater authenticity. In most realities, many asides make for difficult reading. Editing can streamline stream-of-consciousness writing, rendering it more palatable, understandable, and, therefore, more enjoyable to read.

I start my editing passes by slowing myself down.

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HowIDo

howido
Honoré-Victorin Daumier:
"Let's go..., my friend, I do not find this painting pretty..."
From the book:
L' Exposition de 1859, 11 (Le Charivari, 21 June 1859)
Original Language Title:
"Viens donc..., mon ami, je ne trouve pas..." (1859)


Writing, like all activities, has little to do with itself. The activity of writing seems almost beside the point, for much context-setting and content-framing work must occur before writing can productively commence. These set-up activities sometimes prove insurmountable, especially if a writer cannot transform many into rote routines or preparatory rituals. I think of my writing set-up routine as sacred since all I produce must first pass through it. Without it, I could produce precisely nothing, so my HowIDo explanation seems worthy of perhaps even an overly wordy presentation with pictures. Here come some picky details:

Who knows where the idea of a story originates?

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WhatIWillNot

WhatIWillNotDo
Leonard Leslie Brooke:
The eldest son refuses the old grey man
[from The Golden Goose Book]
1905


"I am my own audience."


I have made some decisions over the years I have engaged in this writing experiment. I have been honing my skills, which always involves removing some of the blade to improve performance. Less becomes more. I would write about anything early on, for my explorations remained relatively unconstrained. I had yet to develop many preferences and had not formed what I might describe as taste. I would catch myself being myself and sometimes quake at what I witnessed. That much of my early work was uninformed by very much of a body of preferences showed in ten thousand ways. With many repetitions, some druthers emerged slowly, ranging from preference choices to down-right insistences. Mark Twain insisted that the primary difference between the common jackass and the typical human has always been that there are some things a common jackass won't do. With adequate iteration, though, even the typical human might manage to back into a list of things he steadfastly refuses to do.

I refuse to dispense advice.

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WhatIDo

whatido
Jean François Millet: Peasants Going to Work (1863)


"If you glimpse yourself in there, you're finally seeing the other."


I write loosely autobiographical sketches, whatever that might mean. What that might mean remains an issue of considerable interest to me since I turn out to be the author of my experience, of these experiences. I harbor deep doubts that I know how to actually do what I claim to be up to. So deep run those doubts that they entice me up and out of my bed every morning to see if I might manage to prove my case to myself. Some mornings, I feel as though I've come close to approaching that purpose, but even then, I still feel aspiring.

My specific autobiographical details should properly be of little interest to any of my readers.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/14/2023

ws12142023
Ishikawa Toyonobu: Writing on a Fan (1765)


"I work for nobody but my legacy and my readers now."


I have been wondering with renewed energy what I have been doing here for the past six and a half years. From the morning I began writing this series of series, Summer Solstice 2017, I have been dedicated to producing stories every blesséd morning. This occupation has almost always been refreshing. I do not very often consider this occupation all that onerous. I have been learning—perhaps even teaching myself—that my muse proves reliable. When I ask, she delivers. I seldom even need to insist. But now, as I look at this next to last week of my twenty-sixth series, I suppose I'm bumping into one of those Is That All There Is? Moments where I feel compelled to question purpose. I began wanting to describe my manner of living, whatever that might mean, and have ended up creating an overwhelming result, something on the order of ten thousand pages. It would take me over two and a half weeks just to read through the twenty-six manuscripts. I have copyedited only a few of them to completion. Am I destined one day to cease producing new stories so that I  might focus my attention on the previously finished ones? I wonder what anyone might glean from reading them. I wonder what I might glean from rereading them.

I suspect my questions amount to completely normal ones, for nobody ever knows the ramifications of anything they're doing from the beginning. We begin in innocence—necessary and beneficial—and work toward experience. We should rightfully wonder along the way what we originally intended, whether that intention holds and has proven satisfying. As I back into the longest night of the year, my path should rightfully seem obscured. I had no real reason to believe that I knew what I was doing. I might feel perfectly free to change my justification along the way. I work for nobody but my legacy and my readers now.

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BackToWork

backtowork
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen:
Laundresses Carrying Back Their Work (1898)


"It might qualify as an obsession."


With one exception, whatever else I'm doing, I know what I should be doing instead. I should be doing my work instead of whatever else I'm doing unless, of course, I'm doing my work. I might be obsessed, though I confess I do not know how to do otherwise. My work calls me, and it punishes me if I do not heed it. I fear offending whichever god granted me my work, for I do not feel as though I chose it. Maybe it chose me. However it came to be, it owns me. It jealously guards my time, scrutinizing how I allocate it. I, therefore, inhabit one of two states. I'm either doing my work or playing hooky from doing my work. Doing my work does not satisfy any obligation I might hold to be doing my work. It's not worthy of reward, just not subject to chastisement.

When doing my work, I do not feel haunted by ghosts pulling me back into my work.

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PublicService

publicservice
Unknown: Washington swearing the oath of office (nineteenth century)


" … the only thing standing between any of us and absolute tyranny."


The Muse returned from Port Commissioner Training with new information. She'd won the election with less than a complete understanding of what she was running for then. The office had a rough job description, but then job descriptions, by long tradition, barely scratch the surface of describing actual responsibilities. Historical precedent tends to expand or contract the delineated scope, and simple preference can profoundly influence what such jobs entail. She could become an activist or a pacifist, depending. The training presented legal boundaries and explained implications. The notion that candidates cannot be required to satisfy certain conditions proved to be among the more surprising revelations.

Candidates have always been required to meet two broad conditions: that they are a citizen of a certain age of the municipality within which they intend to serve and that they swear to uphold the constitution of that same place.

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TheBus

thebus
Jack Gould: Untitled (passengers on crowded city bus) (c. 1950)


"I wonder if we'll follow through."


Elizabeth, the other car I primarily use as a pickup, even though it's a luxury Lexus, was in the shop but ready to get picked up. I decided that I would, for a change if for nothing else, hop TheBus down to the shop. I could have walked it in reasonably short order, but it was a drizzly morning, and after last week's traveling, I needed something different. The Muse said she could just drop me off, but where was the adventure in that? I invited her to ride TheBus with me instead, if only to see how some of her new constituents lived. She accepted.

The Muse and I are staunch bus veterans, each hopping busses through most of our first professional careers.

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ShowingUp

showingup
Jan Toorop: The Arrival of the Muses of Art at Architecture (1890)


" … tomorrow will bring yet another opportunity for selfless service."

The ArmCandy role requires more than merely SuitingUp. The successful incumbent must also ShowUp at a surprising variety of functions, many innocuous and many others substantive. Evenings, once reserved for rest and recuperation, become crowded with invitations. Organizations of every stripe send invitations where the Commissioner simply must appear. Her appearances with ArmCandy in tow might improve her visibility and effectiveness. I'm expected to show up invisible, sans obvious agenda, and do little more than whisper encouragement and questions. I do not have to pay attention to the proceedings. Indeed, it might be better for all involved if I reserve comment, for I'm no fool. I carry decades of group process experience and can determine when another cluster fuck's emerging. It's not the ArmCandy's job to intervene, though. I can mutely watch or quietly excuse myself when the proceedings turn too dicey.

Of course, I'm not merely The Muse's ArmCandy.

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SuitingUp

suitingup
North German: Infantry Armor (c. 1550-60)


" … may I please remember who I've been and who I became …"


Starting to explore the positives associated with my new role as ArmCandy, I experienced a sensation from the past when dressing for an outing: the feeling of truly fine shirt fabric against my skin. I surrendered my wardrobe once it became moot. When I no longer had any reason to be SuitingUp in the morning, I reverted to more practical choices. My three-piece suits fell into disuse. Even my sports coats moldered in the furthest back corner of my closet. Most eventually gravitated toward a donation bin at a local Goodwill® shop and were soon forgotten. Not so easily discarded, though, was that sensation of SuitingUp. I missed that ritual, that reassuring sequence of unfolding the laundered shirt and putting on those pants, choosing a tie to match, and filling my pockets with wallet, comb, and handkerchief. I wouldn't leave until I'd passed muster with everything in place. I felt as though I was donning my armor in preparation for combat. I probably was.

In the evening, I'd reverse the sequence.

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ArmCandy

armcandy
Paul Giambarba: The Withered Arm (c. 1960)


" … practicing holding out my pinkie finger just so …"


The Muse was invited to attend a Port Commissioner Orientation session as her first official function in her newly elected role. This would undoubtedly be the first of innumerable functions she will attend after she's sworn into office later this month. Like many elected offices, the Commissioner's role might be fairly classified as functionary since it involves performing official functions, often publicly. These will include endless lunches and official dinners, many of which the spouse has traditionally been obligated to attend. As the first female Port Commissioner in this body's history, The Muse drags along her form of First Husband rather than the more traditional aging bride. The beauty accompanying the functionary beast has traditionally been colloquially referred to as ArmCandy, a role I have now been conscripted to play.

I was not elected to the ArmCandy position.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/07/2023

ws12072023
Jean Jacques de Boissieu: The Public Scribe (1790)


To Thrive On The Absurdity
They refer to them as old haunts not because the present revisits the past there but because what's now past was present then, and we who were present were ghosts then, just as certainly as we continue to be ghosts today. Consider how much of our presence hung around on that stage to be revisited later. (Nada!) This writing week's revelation revealed simply that concept, as I attempted to explain in GhostVisiting. I barely qualify as a being, just about as much as I ever qualified as a had-been or as a has-been, either. I keep moving, hardly resting between infatuations, sincerely dreading each new attraction. I remain sincerely up to something of very little consequence. I almost exclusively accomplish the ethereal. I produce little material, rarely bothering to print off my production, that being both expensive and curiously redundant. My work should properly remain virtual, ghostly, and essentially immaterial. I amuse myself by making my keyboard click. I seem to thrive on the absurdity of this.

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ChildishThings

ChildishThings
Maxfield Parrish: Seein' Things (1904)


"I was once addicted to life …"


Aging seems to reduce into a process of weaning myself off earlier fixations, some of which managed to metastasize into genuine addictions while others never progressed beyond predilection. Of all the so-called skills I've acquired in this life, my begrudging ability to break entrenched behavior patterns amounts to my greatest superpower. I always initiated these terrible interventions under unadvantageous circumstances, often without a shred of evidence that I might succeed. I initially forced myself, no matter how necessary or desperate the effort. I never once wanted to grow up in that way, to finally face responsibility and make anything better. I was never courageous, never brave, though I admit that I sometimes ascribed success as the result of my dedication rather than desperation.

Meals were once a necessity.

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GhostVisiting

ghostvisiting
Albrecht Dürer: Descent of the Holy Ghost (c. 1510)


“I must be the ghost of my Christmases past …”


The Muse, my son Wilder, and I reverently stood in shock over my daughter's gravestone. The conflict inherent in seeing evidence of a member of the next generation gone took my breath. Whatever story I might have conjured to explain her absence these last two years and ten months resolved itself in granite, for there it was, the name my first wife Betsy and I had given our darling baby daughter, etched in stone, the stone of her maternal great grandmother with whom she shared the name Astrid and now her grave. I've always loved that name, and it so well complemented her first name, Heidi. Heidi Astrid, 1982 - 2021: was her presence already receding, or was ours just proceeding onward?

There are many reasons we pray that our children will outlive us here.

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GhostWriting

ghostwriter
Bartolomeo Pinelli:
The Letter-writer in Piazza Montanara in Rome
(19th century)


" … an utterly impossible aspiration …"


This week's excursion has taken us into territory I once inhabited, though seemingly several lifetimes ago. I have been experiencing real trouble distinguishing between now and then, and I'm finding that I revere the past more than the present. The present seems like a Fun House Mirror reflection of the familiar, similar but degraded, whatever the advertised improvement. The world has changed over the last fifty years but somehow failed to improve, for the replacements I find masquerading fall utterly flat when attempting to live up to even a distant shadow of my expectations. When home, continual exposure lessens this effect, though it's certainly still present. Traveling, I have only current sensory experience to compare with my expectations, so I live in continual discouragement.

I remember when because I still live there.

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Vexpectations

vexpectations
John Singer Sargent: Olive Trees, Corfu (1909)


" … just the sort of vigilance succeeding demands."


Much of whatever ends up constituting GoodNuff stems from expectations. It seems I can guarantee better-than-expected results by merely expecting things to turn out worse. While this focus might produce an Eeyore existence, it might reasonably assure that actual experience, aside from the self-induced expecting, reliably ends up being better than expected, if only because whatever else I might propose, the worse rarely results. More often, an outcome registers a meh on the grand scale of experience, neither great nor terrible, somewhere in the middle. The outcome might only sometimes register, given the swirl of experiences stemming from a swirl of expectations. Connections easily get lost and seem meaningless. Even when I fuss and fret, my anticipations might get lost in rounding on my monthly account statement. It sometimes pays to be inattentive.

Our drive from Portland to Sleaseattle proved almost effortless, even though I'd invested so much time dreading the experience.

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Dread

dread1
Cornelis Anthonisz:
Allegorie met Waarheid, Kennis, Haat en Vrees
[Allegory with Truth, Knowledge, Hatred, and Fear]

(1507 - 1553)

"I seem to chase off worst case scenarios …"


I prepare for each of my adventures by practicing Dread. Over my lifetime, I've fed myself so much anticipatory doom that it's a genuine marvel that I have somehow survived. I might have succumbed to the effects of pre-living my demise. My salvation might no longer be possible by any means. I might have doomed myself by conjuring visions of my end whenever I even consider engaging in anything. If we get what we expect, I should rightfully expect Hellfire and eternal damnation coming, for that's surely what I have been expecting, though every damned time so far, I've somehow sidestepped that sure and all but inevitable fate. I suppose that it's never too late to fail, but my long string of successes has so far delayed the reckoning. I feel certain each time, though, that this time, I might finally be destined to succeed in failing, and so I dread anew.

I invested much of the week before this latest excursion, denying it would happen.

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Hardworker

hardworker
Lewis Wickes Hine:
A View Of Workers In Ewen Breaker
Of Pennsylvania Coal Company
(1911)


"One might, with practice, even eventually become an EasyWorker sometimes."


Whatever the profession, in this culture, we expect every practitioner to be a self-proclaimed HardWorker. Hard work, as opposed to all the other kinds of work, seems to be an integral part of the much-touted and probably mythical American Way. If we're not killing ourselves to maintain our existence, our existence ain't worth much. HardWorker seems to be the essential marker of morally upstanding people, too, for lowlifes seem best characterized as slackers. HardWorkers have no time for lowlier pursuits. They're tuckered out by the end of their shifts.

Curiously, the HardWorker designation belongs to more than just the exhausted laborer.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/30/2023

ws11302023
After Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael:
Seated Youth Writing in Book (17th/18th century)


I Am Not As Advertised
The freshly shaven yard looks more like a golf green than anything I should be walking on. I remind myself just how powerful I always was when wielding a simple fine-toothed steel-tined rake, standing up the grass, wrenching out tangles and moss. The soil underneath seems more moist than it's been since last December, with tiny, shiny red ornamental crabapples hiding in the crevices. A flight of geese startles from the nearby creekbed, fleeing into the past participle of themselves in the process: A Fluck of Geese. The scents and colors suggest Galacia, some Old World land between empires. I am a peasant at heart here, and may I always remain one. I tried to take comportment lessons, to dress in the proper colors for each season, and to become invisible in the hope of fitting in. Proper society struggles to permit requisite variety, and so always works to undermine its stated intention. I write, and so I eventually tend to embarrass myself. I am not as advertised, thank heavens, and am in no need of reform.

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Enormity

enormity
Charles Martin:
Gazette du Bon Ton, 1914 - No. 1, Pl. III:
L'Arbre Merveilleux / Costumes d'enfants pour Noël
(1914)


"The magic only ever comes after I feel overwhelmed enough… "


Once the leaves fall, the street opens up, appearing much broader and longer than during Spring or Summer. With winter closing fast, the world seems to be expanding. Its expectations stretch, too. I feel humbled by the sheer Enormity of the upcoming weeks. They seem irreducibly huge, and I feel incapable of coping with the expectations they bring. More threat than promise, the holiday season falls upon us, bringing a fresh set of obligations while we seem to have yet to greatly expand our capacities. These two hands will not become three regardless of the needs encountered. These two feet will slip when the street freezes. Socks have already become a mandatory part of the standard uniform again. I feel like Atlas, expected to hold the world on my shoulder, or Sisyphus, rolling the world uphill like a boulder, only for it to slip back toward the bottom again and again. It's Autumn for a reason.

I suspect that fresh challenges feel overwhelming for that reason.

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Indecision

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

"I'm still not doing anything except not deciding yet."


Growing up in the Inland Northwest provided ample opportunity for me to study the fine art of Indecision. I've seen innumerable books touting The Art Of Decision-Making, but I've seen none promoting its equally important opposite, for Indecision seems every bit as essential, if not more so, as its counterpart. Here, for instance, the winter weather patterns offer almost endless Indecision points. The Muse and I were planning to drive to the state's Western side. Which route should we take? In November, the mountain pass route rarely seems the best choice, for capricious snows and such complicate passage. The alternate route, down the vaunted Columbia Gorge, also offers complications with notorious winds and frequent weather changes. Two days out, Indecision rules, and while it might seem necessary to—just Decide, already!—the tenets of Indecision counsel otherwise.

In this culture, Indecision is widely considered the eighth mortal sin, following and resembling sloth, for Indecision seems like nothing, and nothing's never considered a viable choice.

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Conventions

convention
Attributed to Firuz Mirza Nusrat al-Dawla:
Practice Calligraphy [Siah Mashkh] (c. 1850-1886)


"Writers create by means of surface imperfections."


Each profession and every practice holds certain principles and actions as necessary and sufficient. We, especially fellow practitioners, hold anyone claiming to practice a discipline responsible for exhibiting these skills. Innovation comes from flouting these rules, often at the cost of early adopters' reputations. Early in his career, the art establishment did not hold Matisse to be a very skilled painter. He flouted color Conventions, for instance. The earliest Impressionists couldn't paint straight, apparently incapable of reproducing with photographic integrity. The earliest abstractionists were considered crazy, mainly because the orthodoxy could not comprehend the artists' Conventions, which were still evolving. Eventually, Matisse came to exemplify an evolved set of Conventions, as did the impressionists and abstractionists, though their Conventions, too, were later flouted by upstart practitioners.

Paul Lynch, who won this year’s coveted Booker Prize, declared, “Well, there goes my hard-won anonymity,” as he accepted his prestigious prize.

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ThePalouse

thepalouse
Russell Lee: Sign. Whitman County, Washington.
The Palouse country is most famous for its extensive wheatland

(1941)

" … dense fog settled around us."


Just to the north of this valley lies a rare country on this continent and in this world. Loess hills define Palouse Country, an area South of Spokane and West of Idaho, East of I-90, and North of the confluence of The Snake and Columbia Rivers, something less than a hundred miles square. Within this space lies considerable space, as if wide open was reimagined and arrayed in three full dimensions. Within its confines, tiny towns and isolated wheat stations dot a rolling landscape where wheat and lentils grow, and some of the finest barns anywhere stand. Driving through ThePalouse has always been a cleansing, a new beginning, a small vacation into another world.

I can't imagine ThePalouse when I'm not embedded within it.

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Trajectories

trajectory
Giorgio Ghisi?, After Giulio Romano:
The Prison (16th century)


" … Trajectories upon which I warmly rely."


This week, I stumbled upon a short video of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson describing what science has discovered about the afterlife. He was brief and unemotional as he explained that neither biology nor physics has anything to say about the subject. Neither field has uncovered any evidence that such a state exists in nature. Of course, other fields exist. Theology, for instance, seems to have little to say besides afterlife commentary, though different branches have produced different stories. Most theologies at least agree that such a state exists, though they, too, lack the observable proof any physical science requires. Theology and related fields inject a property science refuses to employ: belief. They circle their square by insisting that their perspective only works; indeed, it was only ever intended to work for those exhibiting steadfast and unshakeable belief in it. Their philosophy seems to sum to, "If you believe in it, it will manifest."

I have long jealously admired the facility with which true believers navigate this world.

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NaughtKnowing

naughtknowing
Pieter van der Heyden
after
Pieter Bruegel, the elder
published by
Hieronymus Cock:
Big Fish Eat Little Fish (1557)


“I hope somebody influential is praying for us.”


The cobbler and I inhabit different worlds. As I appreciated him for fixing that pair of boots, I asked him how long he thought he might continue practicing his craft. "Well, I turn seventy next week," he replied. "It mostly depends upon how long the government will let me continue." What followed left me gasping. The most remarkable spew of hearsay and innuendo I'd ever heard described a world I was not familiar with, one where our government conspires against innocent shop owners to undermine their lifestyles. "That carbon tax should have been put to a vote. It's illegitimate and will eventually raise the gas price by a dollar a gallon!" As if that would be a bad thing. How else could our government convince people to use less gas if it doesn't raise the price of it?

After The Muse and I made our awkward escape, I realized that I'd witnessed Confirmation Bias in action.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/23/2023

ws11232023
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon: Dr. Thomas Dagoumer (1819)


The Fussing Seems Eternal
I often wonder what benefit my writing provides. I engage in the sometimes requited belief that engaging might eventually accomplish something, though the progress most often seems slow and almost begrudging. Some weeks, I could swear nothing happened. Other weeks seem filled with insights and other visitations. This writing week represented a transition from a period where it might have still been possible to deny the encroaching winter into when that would no longer seem plausible. Denial or acceptance seem the stark choices. I usually tend toward choosing both, investing without going all in and denying without constructing much of a believable argument against. I often feel in suspense, between, impending. This week, I seem to have successfully transitioned from before into now, from past into my next future. I have a scant month remaining before this GoodNuff Series will be finished. I suspect that this series has been progressing normally. Once I've cleaned up the leaves, I move on to other fussing. The fussing, though, seems eternal.

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Prep

prep1
Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri:
Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640)


"Bless all those less fortunate than us."


The Muse and I celebrate holidays primarily through Prep. The actual feast always turns out okay, but it takes so little time compared to completing the steps leading up to the sitting. Prep typically starts weeks in advance, with The Muse initiating some of the effort. In between, there's much gathering and sorting, considering and deciding, baking and boiling. There were times, much earlier in our relationship, when all this effort seemed unique. Now, it's taken the form of ritual, still unique enough but also terribly familiar. We solve few mysteries between larder and table, besides the pedestrian kind of finding key ingredients like
Giblets. We're not interested in what The Post and Times suggest we include on our menu, for we're observing traditions stretching back generations. And, no, there will be no Jello® salad served.

I say "we" when I mean "she” for The Muse performs the bulk of the Prep.

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Fogging

fogging
Winslow Homer: The Fog Warning (1905 - 1915)


" … remind us what we cannot see …"


I hail from the country Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer must have hailed from. Come November, and through into the following year, we experience deep, sometimes freezing fogs. We locals curse their arrival as our nearby neighbors enjoy clear skies. We valley-dwellers know the curse. We lose our horizon. We lose our stars. We cannot see to the end of our own block. We drive as if suspended within space and time, both more visible than useful. We hear of the Fog of War but know The Fog of Everything, for fog becomes our baseline experience through those darkening weeks. We have The Fog of Breakfast, The Fog of Lunch, The Fog of Supper, as well as The Fog of Midnight and The Fog of Noon. Veterans have spent at least one night in Seattle after their late-night flight was forced back due to limited landing visibility here. We could see clear down to the ground but not straight ahead. Fog messes with your head.

I'm trying a fresh attitude toward our hazy resident this season.

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Hexpectations

hexpectations
Jean-Baptiste Oudry:
Quizzical Bird; verso: blank (18th century)


"You might not ever be the master of your fate …"


I began my rounds confident that my mission would fail, for I had declared the unlikelihood of success as a part of my mission statement. I complained that the likelihood of finding Giblets here, so near the end of every supply chain, would very likely be tiny. Instead, I insisted upon eventual failure to maintain my haughty worldview that I would be suffering, doing without, nobly bereft. Imagine my surprise when I found my Giblets on my first stop! I'd imagined a course that would take me from shop to shop, allocating a couple of hours to the effort. Immediate success spoiled my whole premise. I guess I should have felt delighted, but I was pissed instead. I came prepared to sacrifice, not succeed. Under those conditions, success sucked!

I had not thought about this very much before this fresh experience.

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Giblets

giblets
Harry Annas:
Untitled [two men holding turkeys] (c. 1950)


"We're willing to go through Hell to receive that blessing."


The Muse and I start our annual search for Giblets as the holidays approach. When we lived closer to the beginning than the end of this economy's supply chain, our search was never in vain, for supplies of everything seemed more certain. We'd often drive a hundred miles to find some fresh citron, a point of considerable seasonal frustration, but Giblets were common and widely available then. Here, nearer the Center of the Universe but further from the source of much, supplies are such that it seems more a matter of luck than anything when we manage to assemble our seasonal essentials. It would be much simpler if we had ever managed just to lie down and accept the inevitable homogenization of even our most heartfelt celebrations. Had we settled for whatever we quickly found, we would have eliminated our seasonal running around. Still, as entropy continues trying to eradicate all tradition, it's gotten to the point that we take it as a personal challenge to continue our mission unto perdition if necessary. It sometimes seems essential.

I might refer to as Giblets any picky addition anyone deems necessary to properly celebrate.

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TheRains

therains
Helen Hyde: In the Rain (1898)


"I might just as well be hibernating."


All the week before, I worked like a man possessed, for word on the street predicted their arrival. There would be the time before and then the time after, and I had work to complete before the time before ended. I admit that mine was a bogus alarm, for nothing would be won or lost whether or not I successfully prepared. I sometimes construct phony deadlines to goose myself into action. I suppose everyone does. Still, my concern seems real. I drive myself. I exceed my capacities and work through my lunch, exhausting myself as if I was making a difference—an as if that seems to work regardless of whether that difference matters. I cleared the yard of leaves before TheRains arrived, satisfying myself and maybe saving some additional effort. A soggy leaf pile, the approximate volume of a Volkswagen bus, hugs the curb out front. It seems like the largest on the block, a point of considerable pride for me and my underlying bogosity.

In my youth, I often constructed deadlines for myself.

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Leavfing

leavfing
Karl Gustav von Amling: Autumn (1698)


" … really looking like home."


I harvest a prodigious crop of leaves each autumn. I take great pride in scraping my yard bare before the snow starts falling and in time for the final municipal leaf collection. I think of this work as a civic responsibility, but I actually do it for myself, for no other activity provides the opportunity to practice one of my minor masteries. I'm very good at raking leaves. Leaf raking can be a frustrating business, for they're surprisingly heavy, and even when they fall light and airy, they cannot be meaningfully condensed and must be removed in tiny stages. A tarpload of wet leaves weighs hundreds of pounds and feels like dragging a carcass across the lawn. A steady pace succeeds where brute force fails. Leave-taking tries patience.

It's chess played on a grander scale, requiring strategy and tenacity in more or less equal measure.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/16/2023

ws11162023
Karl Bauer:
Portrait of the Writer Stefan George
(19th-20th century)


When It Made Me Special, I Was Less For It
I once worked in a place I had to commute to by airplane. My work week involved predawn departures and late evening arrivals with a corporate apartment where I could never remember whether the refrigerator needed milk. I spread myself thinly then, continually leaving, saying goodbye more than I ever said, "Hi!" I learned to live alone. I almost became self-reliant but failed the exit exam. I often felt empty-handed, dependent upon resources I'd left on the other end of my commute. Traveling now dredges up those memories of when it mattered to me that I got upgraded when I'd accumulated more frequent flier miles than Croesus ever did, when I’d garnered recognition. Now, I'm relegated to the last boarding group, hopeful to be the last one on board. I'm assigned the window seat without a window or the last row, where the seats can't recline. I hope for a fussy baby nearby. I never reclined my seatback, always wary of inconveniencing anyone behind me, even if the person seated before me wasn't so thoughtful. I travel to remember why I stay home. I see it as a necessary evil, a means to another end, a mere bookend. When it made me special, I was less for it.

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FinishedSketches

sketchingfinish
Claude-Emile Schuffenecker:
Study for "Landscape with Figure and Houses" (c. 1891)


" … precisely what she's so confidently projected …"


The Muse figures that, based upon remaining ballots and her win rate so far, once the final ballot count finishes, she will have garnered 8,126 votes, precisely the number she projected she'd need to win before she even began her campaign.

In April, The Muse roused me from whatever more critical activity I was doing to sequester me in the largely unused front upstairs room.

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SeparationDance

separationdance
Artist unknown: The Dancing Fox (1766)


"By this time tomorrow …"


By the final day of an excursion, the new has worn off. Discovery, which dominated the first days, no longer rules. We know how to get from here to everywhere. We've stumbled upon enough to fully satisfy our objectives yet we still have a day to fill. We've grown listless, muscles remembering the first day's exuberance. We're sanguine, almost indifferent. We barely manage to feed ourselves.

We fill in with the remaining items we promised ourselves we'd see, but these were never our primary purpose, and they only partially satisfied.

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Glimpsing

glimpsing
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Singer with a Glove (c. 1878)


" … what should I make of that?"


Gurus insist that emptying the mind encourages these experiences, though I, who've never once managed to quiet my chattering monkeys, notice perhaps more than my fair share. You know what I'm speaking of here: the Glimpsing of the extraordinary lurking within the otherwise most ordinary situation. A wrinkle in space or time impresses upon your consciousness, producing a glimpse of the profound when you had no intention of stumbling into any such encumbrance there. You were just going about your ordinary business when the infinite intruded, when beauty or profound truth or the eternal dropped in and left you breathless. Some of us experience this sensation more than others, or so we all seem to believe, though not one possesses any factual basis to hold this conviction. It might be that we're all constantly Glimpsing, that we need no special training to encourage it other than perhaps to remember to pay attention, though failing to pay attention seems to encourage it, too.

Traveling tends to increase the number of Glimpsing events, perhaps because, out of ordinary circumstances, more things just qualify as eye-catching, as unusual enough to attract this sort of attention.

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Museuming

museuming
John Singer Sargent:
Venetian Glass Workers (1880–82)


" … none of them the one the artist might have intended."


As The Muse and I waited to board our flight out of The Valley Near The Center Of The Universe, I used that idle time to check messages. Like you, I maintain a tenuous relationship with my iPhone. I utterly rely upon it while it continually disappoints my expectations. I often fail to receive notice upon receipt of a text message, so I usually go for days before discovering that I received one. People have come to use texting more often than calling, which means that attempts to contact me almost always fail to reach me at first. The worst-case scenario involves a real emergency where the informing party texts me. A week or so later, I might saunter into my Messages app to find a smoldering ember remaining from some three-alarm fire.

This text had come early the previous morning, informing me that my new lenses were in.

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SmallestTown

smallesttown
William Merritt Chase: A City Park (c. 1887)


"It sure feels like home."


Though I hail from a small city, I do not even pretend to represent the interests of small towns or their people, for mine's not the smallest or the largest town in that category. No, the SmallestTown I've ever visited must be New York City, for it represents everything a small town or city should properly embody. I know it does appear to exhibit a somewhat inhibiting size, which would seem, at first glance, to disqualify it as if not a smallish place, then certainly as the smallest. Yet I insist New York City is the perfect example of the SmallestTown I've so far found. I won't pretend that other contenders might exist, but I will insist that I stopped searching after visiting here and discovered perhaps its most closely held secret: its size.

You see, this place is not a single place but a series of tightly nested and uncontested neighborhoods, each featuring remarkably few people, each of whom understands their place.

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Reveling

reveling
Johann Sadeler: De mensheid voor de zondvloed
[Humanity before the flood] (1581 - 1585)


"Excess is not synonymous with success …"


In New York City, to celebrate The Muse's campaign victory, we're faced with how we might go about Reveling in the success. The traditional wine, women, and song won't work with The Muse involved, so we settle for wine, dinner, and song. The musicals we're scheduled to see should adequately cover the song part of our Reveling. We discover that we've booked a hotel on the fabled Tin Pan Alley, an auspicious sign if ever I've encountered one—the wine we handle with a decent Aglianico, purchased in a lovely little Italian bistro. We're seated in a basement annex, perfectly out of the usual distracting noise and bustle, with a waitress whose accent I cannot begin to wade through. Fortunately, The Muse makes sense of her sentences, and we settle in for a celebratory feast.

After a day of fasting on the cross-country flight, we're famished.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/09/2023

ws11092023
Stefano Della Bella: Boy Writing (17th century)


I Wonder If I Ever Leave
I should be packing, but here I am writing again. The Muse and I intend to spend a few days away to kickstart the recovery from six dog months of campaigning. The transitions seem the most troublesome, for they offer little to distract one from all that's suddenly missing. The routine no longer needed, and no replacement routine ready yet; we figure we'll be better off far away from our usual surroundings, wandering. I continue to hold my precious patterns, writing rather than packing, condensing departure into a frantic few minutes. I expect to forget something important, but not my writing, my constant companion, my one abiding obligation. I do not know what I would be doing if I was not describing something. I take no vacations from my vocation. I take my obligations with me when I go. I wonder if I ever leave.

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Palning

palning
Koloman Moser: "Golden Butterflies" wallpaper design
from the portfolio "Surface Decoration"
(1902)


"… better to disappoint ourselves by sequencing our desires  …"


Planning for a few days’ respite in New York City, I again encounter my embarrassing relationship with planning. Though I spent the bulk of my working life actively engaged in planning, I have always been lousy at it. I might have been attracted to the activity merely because I performed it so poorly. I might have mistakenly believed practice would eventually resolve this increasingly glaring shortcoming, but it hasn't. I worked my way up the career ladder instead, moving on from participating in creating plans into teaching others how to do what I had clearly never mastered. I might have even risen to the peak of my ineptness there, embodying every element of the infamous Peter Principle, rising to inhabit the pinnacle of my incompetence. My heritage and legacy stand there, a testament to man's inherent inhumanity, how one might embrace their inability rather than master something for themselves.

This might be the most human trick, the call of desire muffling reasoning.

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ComingUpRoses

cominguproses
Koloman (Kolo) Moser: Woman’s Head with Roses (1899)


"That sweet scent sure seems familiar …"


In the 1959 Broadway musical Gypsy, songwriter Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Sondheim created a song they intended to sound as if it had been a common idiom for ages. They succeeded with a repurposed melody and Sondheim's remarkable turn of the phrase, creating what would become star Ethel Merman's signature song, Everything's Coming Up Roses. When first introduced to the tune, show director Jerome Robbins asked, "Everything's coming up Rose's what?" Fortunately, Sondheim accurately predicted that nobody would be asking that question after hearing the song, which has since become one of the standard soundtracks accompanying success, so when The Muse appeared to win her election for Port Commissioner, this
melody popped into my head and hasn't yet left. It's become the earworm for what promises to be a new age here.

Some days, everything shifts. Something of actual consequence happens, and whatever remnants of any odd old status quo cannot make the shift.

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JudgementDay

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


"That difference will not be undone."


Six months ago, The Muse began her campaign by researching histories of local campaigns to discover what had gone wrong and right so that she might focus upon elements likely to help her get elected. She feigned disinterest, insisting that she was just weighing the pros and cons to decide, but she had already decided to run. Her only questions were about how to productively pursue that end. She registered as a candidate on the first day registration opened. She rented a post office box, set up a bank account, and set about designing her campaign's look and feel, and while she had help, she decided. She chided me into volunteering as her campaign manager, a role I later renamed Campaign Mismanager, a title that better described my contribution. Please make no mistake: I played the role of placeholder. She managed her own affairs.

There should have been a rule that spouses couldn't serve in any formal role on any campaign because a couple's peccadillos couldn't help but go on public display whenever that occurred.

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Oven

oven
Jan Joris van Vliet: Baker (1635)


" … the answer approaches the infinite."


I never was anybody's baker. Oh, I have proven capable of roasting the odd chicken at three hundred fifty degrees for an hour and slowly braising a pan of pork cheeks on a bed of seasonal veg for longer, but the more intricate recipes I leave to The Muse. Bread has always been beyond me, for instance. I've convinced myself that my shortcoming stems from my dyscalculia, my inherent inability to perform specific calculations, for an Oven operates on a complicated table of equivalents, variables requiring understanding to balance. To complicate this calculus further, The Muse bought a Combi Oven Christmas before last. This Oven is an Oven on steroids. It adds an additional heat source (top, bottom,
and back), steam, and a fan to create conditions utterly unanticipatable by this man. If I fly blind operating a standard Oven, I fly comatose with this one.

I ironically call this Oven my EZBake Oven in homage to the light bulb-operated one my sisters had when we were kids.

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DarknessSavingsTime

darknesssavingstime
Ben Shahn:
Untitled [Cherry Street, New York City] (1933-1935)


"To not do so seems inhuman."


I am told that I have sometimes accepted change as if I were a mature adult. Not often, mind you, or necessarily memorably, but I apparently have some track record. Still, nobody's surprised when I react to some change by kicking and screaming; obviously, I'm not always able to help myself. The progress of humankind seems especially ragged sometimes, so it's little surprise that my maturity fades in and out accordingly. I, for instance, have always considered Daylight Savings Time to be humankind's finest invention, mainly because it had no moving parts yet carried a profound positive influence. It required compliance, nothing more, to work its magic, and it managed to achieve that compliance without resorting to marshaling tactics. People obeyed without more than minor grumbling. Everyone benefitted!

So it's understandable when backsliding brings out the worst in me.

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Between

between
Alfred Stieglitz: The Net Mender (1894)


" … when all finally seems right enough with this world."


I find myself Between passions. The Muse's campaign all but over, my contribution finished, and my next passion pending; I feel at more or less loose ends. I presently have no particular end in mind. Not even our impending excursion to New York City interests this homebody. I move listlessly, as if little matters, probably because very little seems to matter at this moment. I understand that I'm supposed to be actively engaging, appreciating my good health while I still have it, flaunting my lack of physical complaints. I have no complaints. Disappointments haven't tainted my outlook. I've harbored no grudges. I've not been wronged. Nor have I taken it upon myself to change this world, however much it might scream for someone's intervention. Archimedes taught me everything I understand about leverage, and I feel certain there's no fulcrum sufficient to change even a willing world, and ours doesn't appear to be all that willing to me.

I rise at my usual time but lengthen my preparation.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/02/2023

ws11022023
Dodge Macknight: A Narrow Way, Montpezat (1885)


More Complex … Not In Need Of Further Simplification
I am increasingly convinced that none of us understand what's happening around us. We unknowingly speculate. The purpose of civilization sometimes seems to protect us from knowing the purpose of our civilization, for it seems in odd moments to be conspiring against us, against us ever understanding our purpose here. It insists, for instance, that we focus out there, as if out there might hold the secrets to ourselves. We, in turn, might counter with introspection, insisting that our essence might be better defined in absentia of our context. In practice, we might be both-and animals, neither feral nor conditioned, neither learned nor especially ignorant. These transition weeks tend to highlight these inherent contradictions. We aspire to be able to declare some simple definitions. We tend to eventually learn that we were both more complex than that and certainly not in need of further simplification.

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Change

change
Dodge Macknight: Rain (19th-20th century)

"The living actively practice forgetfulness …"


"And if you achieved that, how would you know?" My consulting clients always struggled with this question, for wanting seems an inherently subjective experience while describing aches for more objective specificity. A raft of difficulties always emerged whenever I asked this question, and, indeed, I never knew how to answer it, either, for it teeters on the edge of Fundamentally Undecidable. It might not matter how anyone answers. It mattered more that someone struggled to respond, for a deeper understanding can't hardly help but come from the struggle to answer. I asked the question to encourage insight more than a definitive answer, anyway. Rarely would any client produce an answer they found completely satisfying. Inducing that dissatisfaction might have always been my deeper purpose in asking, for there are few things worse than a cock-sure client who believes that they'll know change when they see it. We might all be much better off accepting inherent ambiguity than precisely knowing. Few future things benefit from precise proposals.

I knew, or at least strongly suspected, that we would not need much specification before beginning.

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Effolution

effolution
François Bernier:
La Liberté, soutenue par la Raison,
protège l’Innocence et couronne la Vertu
[Liberty, Supported by Reason,
Protects Innocence and Crowns Virtue]

(1793)


" … just buy a replacement whenever their dreams need repair."


This culture believes in positive progression, perhaps above all else. Our future has always been destined to be better than our parents. Our sons will be better off than we ever were. Whether through evolution, revolution, or simple propulsion, we would move ever forward, ever onward, upward, and away. While this notion might represent reality across decades, generations, or centuries, the actual on-the-ground experience of these -volutions tends to be much messier than expected. We didn't, for instance, evolve from Neanderthal to human in a single generation. Many trials and inevitable errors emerged. I suspect this shift involved all of the usual struggles our cerebral models tend to ignore. We crawl forward more than march and might move backward on the way. Straight and narrow paths exclusively belong to myths.

As a kid, I was fed a steady diet of myth.

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WryDing

wryding
Pierre-Quentin Chedel:
Le Maître d'école [Writing School ] (18th century)


"That's how I use the English language."


I cannot rightfully claim to feel proud of my profession. Indeed, I cannot even rightfully proclaim to have a profession. I fancy myself a writer. I trade in writing or WryDing, as I might more accurately describe it. It can't qualify as a profession because it has never really amounted to anything. It's never translated into something even vaguely resembling a living. Over my lifetime, my WryDing has produced a deficit, a record kept exclusively in red ink, revenue never once exceeding expenses. Were it a business, it would have been shuttered ages ago, and its proprietor would have shuffled off to some other field or wisely retired. The usual rules for comportment, investment strategies, and civil niceties don't seem to apply. A terribly narrow set of general guidelines apply instead: Keep WryDing.

Should a day slip by without at least a little transcribing, identity crumbles, for WryDing demands full attention.

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SuperImpositioning

superimpositioning
Edward Hopper: American Landscape (1920)


"Old campaigners never die …"


A point comes in every political campaign when the election process enters the quantum realm, most prominently during that excruciatingly brief period when both candidates have won. After the mail-in ballots drop but before votes are counted, Schrödinger manages the ballot box. That box holds both victory and defeat without definitively disclosing which outcome will ultimately manifest. There's nothing a candidate or an electorate can do to influence an outcome that's already moved out of their hands. The results exist in superposition, both-and rather than either-or. However, by the evening of election day, their quantum state will finally resolve after a frustrating fortnight of SuperImpositioning, the supreme imposition not knowing induces. The Muse has fliers remaining but little means to influence voters now. Many already voted, one way or another, and those that haven't voted become increasingly less influenceable, especially since it's an off-year election featuring only local races. Ballot return rates have historically measured in the low two digits regardless, yielding an unpredictable race.

The die cast but yet to land, out of hand but not yet settled and countable.

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HighCrimes

highcrimes
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [little boy throwing baseball] (c. 1950)


"I do not believe in anything like learning to forget some things."


Premeditation aside, the worst crimes tend to be crimes of inadvertency. One backs into these infractions without malign intentions, often with innocent misconceptions. These crimes seem less committed than incurred. They're usually wrong-place-wrong-time shortfalls, actions that would have never happened save for convergent conditions. We walk on someone else's territory not to trespass but simply in passing. We might not even notice at first. Another might finally clue us in, or we clue ourselves in well after the fact. However we learn about our crime, we might well always remember it. Punishment might become a life-long haunting remembrance of the event, something no amount of penance or forgiveness will ever adequately compensate for committing or erase the accompanying sensations. We wound another by backing our bus over them without noticing.

These sins can never be undone.

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OddConvergences

OddConvergences
Arthur Rackham:
They'd such very odd heads and such very odd tails.
(1911)


" … just happened to be passing …"


One iron-clad rule I should never disobey pertains to disclosing the content of one of my PureSchmaltz Friday Zoom Chats. I began convening these weekly sessions early in the pandemic and continue them today. I originally designated them as dialogues without specific agenda, so they tend to contain whatever seems to need saying in that moment. I deliberately avoid recording the proceedings because I intend them to be the sort of conversation where you must have been there to understand whatever happened. Not to paint them too awfully mysterious, they feature the usual insightful comments about the weather interspersed with genuine genius. One must pay close attention some weeks to catch the genius, but it always emerges. I leave these sessions with a renewed appreciation of the brilliance lurking within everyday conversation. Something always happens.

To violate my iron-clad rule about my Zoom Chats, one of the participants said precisely that: Something Always Happens, in response to my reflection on my earlier posting,
Prabability, where I recounted the story of The Muse discovering that the gentleman seated next to her at a banquet was the nephew of her grade school bus driver, an OddConvergence.

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Inanity

inanity
Cornelis Dusart:
Violin Player Seated in the Inn (1685)


" … we washed up on this shore rather than some other."


My work seems either inane, insane, or both, probably both. It exemplifies doing the same thing and expecting different results, for I seem to follow the same damned process whatever I do. Not precisely the same steps, but viewed from a certain distance or altitude, it includes similar stages: from not knowing to finally dispatching, the flow varies little. Sure, the results seem different every time. This story never existed before this moment and will never appear in anything near to this form again. I do not plagiarize from myself, not yet, anyway. However, I can imagine a day when, steadfastly focusing on my rut, I invent an utterly unoriginal story, a mimeographed copy of some earlier one. This could happen, if only due to the similarities in my process.

Creativity turns out to be different from what it promised.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 10/26/2023

ws10262023
John Simmons: Window Writing, Chicago (1969)


Odds Might Not Matter
At times in my past, I still believed that I might get away with something. I suspected that I was only fooling myself but still engaged as if I might be wrong, that my life might be crafted for a song without hard labor, without undue or undeserved suffering. I found no convenient backdoor to anything, though, because stuff just happens. I'm uncertain if I believe in karma, for I've seen too many innocents visited with undeserved curses. I prefer to believe in a benevolent God, though I suspect she's at best indifferent. I can't not care deeply, though, often more for others than for myself. After almost a lifetime of surprises, I've practically lost the need to succeed. I do not expect my predictions to come true. I don't buy lottery tickets, either. I write for reasons other than pleasing anyone, often even myself. I might write to let an indifferent God know I was here, producing against insurmountable odds. The odds might not matter if I play to achieve something other than winning something. This is, after all, the letting go season.

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EmptyAir

EmptyAir
Camille Pissarro:
Woman Emptying a Wheelbarrow (1880)


"The hunter dreams of tomorrow's hunt …"


I had been steadily canvassing through a difficult precinct—streets with gravel verges instead of sidewalks, long distances between porches—and settling into the by-then familiar sweaty collar and yoke when The Muse called. She'd finished her video call and was ready to meet up with me to finish canvassing this latest Turf. I disclosed my location and predicted where I'd be fifteen minutes later before continuing to drop campaign literature on those increasingly rural porches. She arrived on time and parked in a turnout so we could confer. As usual, the software misbehaved, complicating our synching up. I proposed that she drive around to those places I'd passed up because the houses were too far from the main road, and she couldn't seem to find which houses I referred to. In frustration, I pleaded with her to at least deliver a sign to one homeowner who'd requested one. She needed literature I couldn't spare, so I passed the key to the other car where I'd left my excess. She drove away in some frustration, and I continued dropping fliers.

A mile later, she showed up again, explaining that her mailing had hit mailboxes that morning, so that canvassing might be too much information that day.

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ButtoningDown

buttoningdown
Ann Nooney: Closing time (1937-1942)


"I wonder if he'll ever discover the secret."


Eventually, every inevitable comes, every denial fails, and time slinks on. Even the once-endless Summer, gone to Autumn over a month ago, also ends. The first frost arrives with the news of the first frost's arrival, for it sucks the final sense that we might make it to Thanksgiving without regrets, without forfeiting anything. The slow Summer builds, gardens finally grown to blossom and fruit still look as though they might last forever. Some neighbors pre-emptively pull their impatiens, geraniums, and petunias, assassinating offspring to deny the assassin the satisfaction of freezing them out. I'll collect our corpses once they're well-wilted and ready for composting.

The Muse pulled her summer garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, picked over and uprooted.

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Insensibility

insensibility
Designed and executed by Florence Elizabeth Marvin:
Crazy Quilt with Animals (1886)


" … praying for deliverance."


We each possess gifts more or less unique to us. None of us were produced with cookie cutters. We're each different and different in non-obvious ways. We look deceptively similar, which can confuse even the most patient and otherwise understanding, but we seem to be most deceptively dissimilar. Diversity, lately the hobgoblin of conservative commentators, might be inescapable and uniformity unlikely regardless of how anyone might otherwise insist. We are different.

Try to design a one-size-fits-all experience, and you'll most likely fail.

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Prabability

prabability
George Baxter: I Don't Like It! (19th century)


We parse our world with probabilities. We ask, "What was the likelihood?" without considering whether we're dealing with a situation where probability might rule, for its domain does not seem as universal or infinite on close investigation as it initially might. Not every event falls beneath the governance of the law of large numbers. Many carry an essentially zero likelihood of ever occurring, yet they still somehow manage to manifest. While doubtless only partially purposeful, our development probably also doesn't qualify as random, either. The likelihood of me becoming who I am today was zero when I was born, but then nobody could foresee very much of anything that would be coming, so one might wonder what sort of fiction anyone could have been predicting.

The unlikely seems commonplace.

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LapCat

lapcat
Inagaki Tomoo: Seated Cat (Shōwa period, 1926-1989)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of C. Adrian Rübel


" … get on with my morning. "


Max has grown into the LapCat I'd once imagined he might become. When trying out a potential new cat member of the family, I was deliberately very picky. My memories of prior cats colored my judgment, turning every candidate into an unlikely companion. Their coloring seemed wrong, or their temperament suspect. Of course, it should have been impossible to tell if a six-month-old kitten might grow into a tolerable companion, but I persisted in my gruff assessments. The Muse and the visiting Grand Otter returned from a visit to the cat shelter insisting that they'd found the replacement I had been seeking, so at their invitation, I accompanied them back to the place to test drive this latest contestant.

He was the right color and perhaps the proper temperament.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 10/19/2023

ws10192023
Carlo Marchionni or Pier Leone Ghezzi:
Caricature of Man Writing (n.d.)


A Familiar Place I Should Feel More Accustomed To
I might have finally run out of time. I'd felt a certain draining of my resources as if mice had invisibly invaded my pantry and begun quietly consuming my commodities. I hadn't noticed any particular shortages, though. The flour, sugar, and other stores seemed unviolated, yet I continued feeling shorted. This sense might have been pre-emptive, a feeling intended to prepare myself for a future loss, just as if such preemption were possible. I engage in many just-as-ifs these days. My days absolutely depend upon just this sort of speculation. I am predominantly a faith-based initiative. I move forward on rumors more often than facts. I never feel very confident about anything, even in retrospect. I do know, though, that the sun's arriving later every morning and leaving inexorably earlier every evening, leaving me in the dark, a familiar place I should feel more accustomed to than I seem.

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Amaficient

Amaficient
Johann Theodor de Bry:
De ezel op school [The Donkey At School] (1596)


"I never come close to producing my best until I leave the paycheck out of the effort."

In this culture, my culture, we speak glowingly of The Professional, as if it occupied the highest rung of some hierarchy of goodness. Amateur might be just fine but it's never the quality a professional might produce, as if making money, getting paid for performing, somehow sanctifies an effort. Interesting how most of the effort expended in this culture cannot be properly classified as professional. We cede our most important work to amateurs.

I was once a professional.

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Laming

laming
Cornelis Massijs: The Lame Dancers,
from La danse des estropiés, Plate 10
(1538)


" … bare trees and I will still be standing."


Every step I take might advance me, but it also somewhat hobbles me, for I remain far from an infinite resource. I experience wear and tear and might never fully recover from any exertion. I poison myself as I nourish myself, this dichotomy apparently indivisible. I can't have one without the other. This fact comes into sharper focus whenever I exert extraordinary effort. Though I do not immediately recognize this shift, my limits might have receded to well beneath my earlier edges. I remain focused on my goal while imagining employing the same old machinery. I seem increasingly an imaginary character, fueled by fiction and grounded by my creepingly prominent limitations. I can still stretch to excess, but only if I'm willing to pay the price. I’m almost always willing.

I hope to never engage with cautious circumspection.

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Foreboding

foreboding
François Bonvin: Woman at the Spinet (1860)


" … before conceding that I would not succeed."


Fall predictably brings Foreboding, for we all know what's coming. We do not know—we never know—precisely when, but we understand what's coming next. Summer, which seemed permanent while it lasted, left without notice. I always hold my faith in Summer until it's been well and truly betrayed by a chill wind or days of rain. I never believe in Fall, for it seems to move unreliably, some days hot and some days almost cold, an outlier day nearly eighty, an easily ignored forty early one morning. My sweatshirts creep back into my wardrobe. Socks seem necessary again. As I said, I know where this is going and feel powerless to suppress it.

As usual, my work's backed up.

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MightyMachine

mightymachine
Robert Bénard: Goldsmiths' Cast Machine (1771)


"It was always destined to become a one-and-done contraption."


An old Pennsylvania Dutch caution insists we're "too late schmart." Smarts emerge only after stupidity tuckers out, usually much nearer the end than any beginning. Whenever we set about trying to accomplish something, we first set about learning how we might achieve that desired end. We might spend much more than half the time we've allotted to accomplishing, quite literally not accomplishing, making mistakes and course correcting. We might not finally stumble upon the magic combination enabling accomplishing until very near the end of the pursuit. Once accomplished, the by then MightyMachine we assembled to achieve our end probably becomes moot. We seldom find ourselves in a position to accomplish the same thing again.

Our learnings might go into cold storage until another related effort begins, but even then, considerable adaptation will be required before those past learnings find fresh relevance.

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BibleStudy

biblestudy
Rembrandt van Rijn: Woman Reading (1634)


"Please have mercy on the rest of us first!"


The Muse and I were invited to a dinner party of sorts. I say "of sorts" because the premise seemed suspicious since it was organized as a kind of lottery where somebody other than the host decided who would attend. That somebody was a group The Muse belongs to that also musters an annual used book sale, which has become a standing ritual on the local calendar with collection boxes prominently positioned throughout the town. The Muse sometimes disappears for an afternoon, claiming that she's going to "sort books," a good enough excuse and better than some. I anticipate these gatherings as if they were teeth cleanings. It's not that I'm anti-social. I just prefer to limit my social exposure to well south of any lottery.

We had met our host for the evening at an earlier ginned-up gathering, and I remembered her as a most unusual dinner companion.

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RandomWalking

randomwalking
Giovanni Fattori: Wooded Walk with Figure (n.d.)


"Discovery better imprints than simple direction ever does."


The Muse uses an app to guide her volunteers in performing literature drops. A Literature Drop refers to a distinct kind of Canvassing, the purpose of which is not to contact anybody but to leave a piece of campaign literature where a resident can find it and get influenced. Lit Drops can cover an entire precinct in an afternoon, while door knocking and full-out Canvassing take much longer and might even prove less effective because of the reduced number of houses full-out Canvassing can cover. This app guiding the volunteers does not prescribe a path through a precinct. Instead, it presents a picture of the target houses arrayed on a map. Since precincts are essentially arbitrary constructions devised for purposes other than creating an easily walked-through route, the volunteer must concoct their path, which will inevitably seem to make little sense to any outside observer, often even the volunteer.

Pattern seeker that I have always been, I search each precinct map for a path of, if not least resistance, then at least one demanding minimum effort.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 10/12/2023

ws10122023
Edgar Degas:
Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery
(1885)

I Wonder What Insufficiency Buys Me
In my seemingly endless search for sufficiency, I do not always notice just how extraordinary I might already be. I may have been too focused on improvement to muster a decent acceptance that how, what, or who I was might have surprisingly qualified as plenty, as enough. Our culture seems obsessed with pursuing continuous improvement, which amounts to a self-image of continual inadequacy. Who would hope to be presently inadequate so they might find themselves improved later? If we're not quite ourselves yet, who was supposed to pursue the aspired for improvement? We can deny that we're adequate, but what do my convictions of insufficiency buy me, really?

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RichLife

richlife
Pieter van der Heyden:
"Nemo Non” (Every man looks for his own profit) (c. 1563)


"I missed him before he left."


I received word that my dear friend Rich VanHorn died. He had been under hospice care since his physicians had released him from treatment two months before after eight months of effort to cure what started as a case of stage four lung cancer, which had migrated into his brain. He began treatment just as The Muse ended her immunotherapy response to early-stage throat cancer, with every expectation of a full recovery since he was an atypical patient. Never having smoked, the source of his cancer seemed mysterious, and he had access to one of the best clinics in the world. Initial responses seemed promising, but the cancer continued spreading until his doctors advised that he stop chasing a cure. He settled into that news with circumspection as if this phase of the disease had been sent to teach him something.

Rich took his undergraduate degree from Columbia Divinity, graduating into a position in the fabled Western Electric Human Resources Department in New Jersey.

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Overreaching

overreach
Jan Asselijn: The Threatened Swan (c. 1650)


"We were supposed to be better than this."


It seems to be in our human nature to Overreach. We tend to take some stand and then over-play our hand, undermining our intentions. Moderation might be the only reasonable cure, but since when did moderation come into play when anyone engages with passion? And we revere the passion over-playing our hand induces, for then the complex world reduces into a single blinding right outshining almost every other wrong. To find myself on the side of not just right but righteousness invigorates me in ways I cannot deny and dare not avoid. Such passion might be the right that can only go wrong, but one we willingly embrace and with which we feel especially blessed. Save us from such righteousness.

Our enemies tend to be invisibly passionate, just as we tend to be, too.

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Portending

portents
Adolf Hohenstein: Time Cooperative (1899)


" … giving my existence special meaning here."


As a dedicated fantasist, I can see anything in almost anything; everything's an omen of something. For instance, while driving home yesterday, the Schooner's rear driver's side tire went flat. Flat tires have become genuinely rare occurrences. I can't remember experiencing one since I was in my twenties, maybe fifty years ago. I'd known that the tires were getting near when they'd need replacing, but, as usual, I was stretching as much life as I could get out of them. The perfect tire seems to be the one that has less than a mile of useful life left in it when it's replaced. I'd found the one weak sister among the four and driven too far.

I pulled into a handy farmer's field to change the tire, an experience which I expected to become an ordeal but which I easily completed

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PacingMyself

pacingmyself
Will Hicock Low:
Foremost in the Envious Race (1885)


" … Traveling hopefully, if never fully arriving."


I never was exceptionally skilled at PacingMyself. My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, my aspirations greater than my capabilities. These tendencies combine to render me a much better dreamer than a manifester. As a writer, dreaming might be indistinguishable from manifesting, so I might have chosen my profession well. However, I suspect that my work chose me rather than the other way around. However I've found my way here, I am well familiar with exceeding my limits, with hurting myself. I expect more of myself than later seems reasonable, and I suspect I remain relatively immature in that respect. I might have imagined learning over time more precisely where my limits lie, but I have failed to assimilate this sort of knowledge.

Fortunately for me, my subconscious tends to be watching out for me.

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Celebrity

celebrity
Ben Shahn: Sideshows at the Ashville,
July 4th celebration, Ashville, Ohio
(1938)


" … providing the forehead The Muse uses to bounce her hair-brained ideas off of …"


The Muse's campaign to become elected Port Commissioner has already turned her into a local Celebrity. She's forever running into somebody she knows. It seems wherever she goes now, her reputation preceded her arrival. She's also taken to dropping names, not to show off, but to ascribe stories. Most of the names I do not recognize, but I understand that they mainly belong to those who already joined the ranks of the locally famous: leaders of various colors, executive directors, movers, as well as shakers. She was apparently inducted into that company, if only due to her audacity. She lost whatever anonymity she ever possessed when she started making a name for herself. Whether she was born a leader doesn't much matter. She now has many followers.

I have taken to introducing myself as The Muse's Arm Candy.

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MerelyHuman

merelyhuman
Gustave Courbet: Mère Grégoire (1855 and 1857/59)
" … the questionable superpower that comes from wearing Spandex®"


Like it or not, we live in a world that worships the superhuman rather than the more ordinary kind. Half the movies produced these days feature characters sporting so-called superpowers, capabilities no mere human ever possessed. These powers tend to be of limited utility, seemingly most often centered around fistfighting, for the villains in these films seem to be stuck in some pugilistic past where might makes right rather than in a more believable future where the bulk of the actual action occurs in firmware. The Spandex® suits suit few physiques, too, since few benefit from a costume that might just as well have been painted on. A more cultured hero might prefer to sport pleats and the occasional pattern rather than the uni-color jumpsuit with the obligatory logo.

Much of my life has been spent in the shadow of one or another superhero.

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CrowdingOut

crowdedout
William Henry Jackson,
The Immense Crowd, World's Columbian Exposition (1894)


"Even the CrowdingOut gets crowded out sometimes."


I hesitated when The Muse asked me to sign on as her campaign manager. Truth told I'd advised her not to run, but she went right ahead and ran anyway. To enlist someone who demonstrated their dedication to the effort the way I had bound me up, though I eventually relented. However, I did so, still clinging to my original misgivings. It wasn't that I didn't want to support her in this latest delusion. I was more trying to avoid colluding with myself against my own best interests. I avoid making too many commitments because I fear I will, by default, be CrowdingOut more critical stuff. I can never tell what that stuff might entail, but I keep my schedule more to the wide-open end of the scale than the slammed-shut side. Most importantly, I strongly need to protect my sacred writing time because I know how vulnerable that can become.

Writing fails exclusively through sins of omission rather than by commission.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 10/05/2023

ws10052023
Michelet: Een vermetel plan [An Audacious Plan](1888)


Careful Whatever I Wish For
My side work profoundly influenced this writing week, my day job mismanaging The Muse's political campaign. In that work, I found insight into what I might have been attempting in my real job, this story-writing occupation that only pays me in satisfaction. I watched myself meandering yet still making progress. I caught myself exhausting myself, too, and wondered who taught me to be so damned self-sacrificial. I suspect my loving parents taught me how to deeply wound myself because theirs had taught them the same lesson learned in the heartless heart of The Great Depression. Intergenerational self-destruction in pursuit of survival, perhaps even success, seems like a worthy inheritance. It seems pleasingly paradoxical yet stunningly familiar, an audacious solution for a common problem. I must be careful whatever I wish for because I can hurt myself in any pursuit.

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PreparationDance

preparationdance
William Strutt: A Lioness Preparing to Spring (August 8, 1889)


"Appearing genuine requires much preparation."


The week leading up to The Muse's first public debate in her Port Commissioner campaign featured what might be labeled her PreperationDance. Intricate and filled with significance, this dance involves about as much ritual as invention, along with ample idle periods. She remains focused in story, if not necessarily in practice. She begs off almost every invitation, explaining that she's in the middle of preparation. There's no successful arguing against her assertion, for she's maintaining a laser-like focus on the prize. She will make up through repetitive practice whatever she lacks in raw talent. She will leave little to chance.

I first noticed the dance when I heard rattling and commotion coming from our almost unused front upstairs room.

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Exhausted

exhausted
Rembrandt van Rijn: The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1644)


" … much better off just staying away from engaging."


Exhaustion might be the most dangerous of the human conditions, for those experiencing it lose their ability to recognize its presence and influence. Judgment typically goes to Hell, while once trustworthy intuition fails. Because of these and other ramifications, it's considered best just to avoid exhaustion. This probably means expending significantly less than one hundred percent of one's energy in any single instance to maintain some reserve and preserve some semblance of balance. For over-achievers, this moderation might feel indistinguishable from slacking and appear to observers as an absence of requisite dedication, as if one really should be killing themselves to show their deep commitment. The perfectly human tendency to turn even innocent activities into internal competitions only exacerbates this difficulty because competing further inhibits sensitivity. We willingly kill ourselves, often exuberantly!

We wash up on desolate beaches after falling overboard.

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Amounting

amounting
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio: Portrait of a Gentleman (c. 1505)


" … we might misattribute to ourselves."


I've taken to totting up my Canvassing efforts once I return to The Villa. So far, I've yet to cover neighborhoods too distant, all well within walking distance, but Canvassing distances differ surprisingly from any straight-line ones. I have yet to discover the conversion factor, and I might not. I just understand that the differences seem significant. On the first day out, I ranged up to two blocks from our front door yet still managed to clock nearly four miles when counting steps. Don't worry, I'm not nearly anal enough to actually count my steps, but The Muse reminded me that my iPhone has an App that cannot be turned off, which surreptitiously counts steps. Finding a website dedicated to translating step counts into distances, insignificant increments into numbers that actually seem to amount to something was a simple matter. Five days in, I broke over twenty miles marched, and that's only counting two precincts!

I've noticed before that progress comes exclusively in
InsignificantIncrements.

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ThePromisedLand

thepromisedland
Pierre François Basan:
View in the Neighborhood of Orléans (18th century)


"When the school seems like the fanciest property in the whole precinct …"


As my old hometown transforms into a destination resort featuring innumerable wine-tasting rooms and new high-end restaurants, I spent an afternoon walking around the neighborhood where I grew up sixty and more years ago. Fortunately, I was born into a boom time, Post-War, filled with promise. Most houses were filled with families who kept them up, with few exceptions. Lawns were regularly mowed, shrubbery trimmed. I've said it before: I grew up in a Walt Disney® movie.

It's instructive to see what's become of all that promise.

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Canvassing

canvassing
Siegfried Lauterwasser:
Outside the Door, Cologne (1950)


" … we might just be GoodNuff to accomplish that."


When The Muse was still considering whether to run for our county's Port Commission, I dreaded one aspect of campaigning. I figured that I could easily assimilate many of the duties of the role of the campaign manager she insisted I become, all but one: Canvassing. I carried a not unreasonable fear of going door-to-door to promote the candidate. This aspect dredged up images of selling vacuum cleaners and collecting for my paper route, my idea of the worst dead-end job, and my least favorite part of running my newspaper route. I was introverted enough to revel in riding my bike six and a half miles every morning, rain or shine, delivering papers. Still, I dreaded meeting the customers I served. I much preferred to be like the milkman, reliable yet unseen. I didn't want to creep around on people's porches interrupting routines. I also feared encountering one of those baby-eating MAGA morons who might try to use me for target practice.

I hesitantly agreed to try to fulfill the role of her campaign manager, a role I've recently renamed Campaign Mismanager because that title better describes the services I provide.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/28/2023

ws09282023
Hippolyte Petitjean: Self-Portrait at Easel (1897)


Light Seeps In Regardless
When The Muse gets The Blues, there's little I can do. Even though I am our relationship's recognized Emotional Support Animal, my powers do not stretch much further than my fingertips. When The Muse gets The Blues, there will be no laying upon of my fingertips. I cower in my corner, which, at that moment, feels more like hers, and I hope for the best. She cannot maintain her Blues for more than a few scant days, which, of course, last forever. She will have been actively working her way out of her ditch and around her wall since slightly before her fall, and she's never yet failed to find an exit. The moment she glimpsed the exit, the atmosphere brightend around here. Even the cats noticed the retreating low-pressure area. Life returned to what passes for normal again, though the receding downtime was not precisely alien. We know the whole mix that constitutes the human experience. I try to keep my head down and focus on my work when The Muse gets The Blues. I claim she was experiencing some campaign doldrums, a perfectly normal condition every campaign and campaigner has experienced before her. Light seeps in regardless, and the story continues with renewed earnestness, GoodNuff for our intents and purposes.

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AlreadyKnowing

alreadyknowing
Pierre-Auguste Renoir:
Madame Pierre Henri Renoir [Blanche-Marie Blanc] (1870)


"We're both still learning, or could be."


The older I become, the more I carry a sense of AlreadyKnowing, and this sensation seems like an awful burden. I could once routinely show up knowing I didn't know, leaning into a learning, open to new experience. Now, I often arrive dreading the upcoming experience, knowing that I will undoubtedly encounter some warmed-over rendition of something we did much better back in the day. Civilization progresses curiously, if it actually advances at all, for each successive generation seems to need to reject or otherwise forget their forebears' learning and reinvent their wheels. The result often seems to be wanting to anyone present when the original was operating. So much the worse for that witness, who can no more resurrect the past than revisit it. He's sentenced to the present disappointment.

Frustration results.

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TurningAround

turningaround
Edgar Degas: Dancer Turning (c. 1876)


"I solved nothing and resolved everything …"


Contrary to popular misconception, most difficulties do not need fixing. Yes, they certainly seem to need fixing, but this appearance often proves misleading. I spoke yesterday of TheWall, a real barrier to forward progress. I insisted that I would need to find some way over, under, around, or through that wall to unstick myself, but that insistence played into this prevalent misconception. I managed to escape that wall's influence by less radical means, by what I might call a GoodNuff technique. Please make no mistake, TheWall's still there, but it no longer holds much influence over my progress. Did I go over, under, around, or through it? No, I didn't. I evaporated its power over me instead.

Promise wields great and mysterious influence. I can, for instance, feel absolutely up against TheWall one minute and, the next minute, feel utterly liberated from that wall's influence.

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TheWall

thewall
Josephus Augustus Knip: The Aurelian Wall in Rome (c. 1809-12)


" … always stumbled upon some resolution."


It's not if but when. Never whether, either, because as near as I can tell, we each encounter TheWall, usually at an inconvenient time. TheWall often amounts to more of a cognitive barrier than a physical one, but the way this universe works, sometimes a physical barrier brings the metaphor into sharper focus. Anything that seems to stand in the way of forward progress can stand in as TheWall. Discouragement has always been a popular flavor if not necessarily a crowd-pleaser. Whatever flavor your barrier comes in, it will be your challenge to find some way to overcome the blockage. It rarely matters if one manages to go over, under, around, or through. The fates usually leave that choice up to you and the conditions at hand to influence. Some cognitive walls can be imagined into falling. Most walls turn out to be cognitive ones.

There seem to be rules against publicly admitting to the presence of a personal wall.

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The Wabi-Sabi Corner

the_wabi-sabi_corner
Tajima Hiroyuki: Small Garden (Shōwa period, dated 1967)


In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (
侘寂) is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature. It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art. -Wikipedia

" … a universal rule insisting upon less than perfection …"


Every gardener should maintain a Wabi-Sabi Corner, a corner deliberately unfinished, overgrown, and messy compared to the rest of the place. This practice helps keep the universe in balance, for this universe seems insistent upon maintaining a certain volume of unbridled messiness. Perfection might be its sworn enemy. Even the most famed gardens in the world feature one of these corners, though it might take some searching for a visitor to find them. They are never showcased, but they do exist. Even here, in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz Gardens, I scrupulously maintain an unmaintained corner of the yard. The Muse complains that this corner embarrasses her since it has traditionally been a corner everyone who passes can see. It's that edge just beyond the reach of every sprinkler, that corner not on my usual rounds. I've let the wildness take charge there, and the universe remains balanced. You're welcome!

Our neighborhood, too, has featured a Wabi-Sabi Corner property.

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Incomparable

incomparable
Billy Rose Theatre Division,
The New York Public Library
. (1911).
The Incomparable Albini Retrieved from
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b5cfbf49-a59f-7548-e040-e00a18060aef


"What if we've already arrived …?"


One of the more innocent human tricks involves comparing ourselves with others. A practitioner might select from an infinite number of attributes to compare, most of them utterly subjective. From the wicked witch's question—Who's the fairest one of all?—to questions of relative intelligence, each might represent Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions, FUQs. They might be responded to in an equally infinite number of ways, any of which might produce reassurance or devastation, depending on the situation. One rarely slows down to consider if these questions might be worth asking. What would you have if you truly were the fairest one of all? Fairness seems a fleeting attribute and rather superficial. Such assessments, especially when self-assessments, seem questionable. Other than a temporary boost to self-esteem, the question might not be worth asking under The Don't Ask Questions You Don't Really Want The Answer To Rule.

Let's say we're all the fairest in the land. If this notion seems untenable, consider the alternatives.

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AModestProposal

amodestproposal
Francis Gilbert Attwood:
General Benjamin F. Butler's Nightmare:
Proposed Procession of the Unemployed

(19th century)


"What if we're already plenty …"


To this day, I am assailed by the same old come-ons promising to make me a great leader. When did this sort of promotion ever have traction? I cannot imagine Abraham Lincoln, who was undoubtedly the most outstanding leader of his time, enrolling with an equivalent teacher to learn the "secrets to success," and not just modest success, but the very best there ever was. This very attitude renders its message untenable and unbelievable, yet they persist. If they did not exist in Lincoln's time, though I feel confident they did, what is it about our time that sees such a proliferation of these? Some skills cannot be taught, for they are not acquired through coaching, counseling, or conventional teaching. Whatever that is, leadership probably stands near the top of this pile. However, above all other topics, it enjoys the most significant proliferation of teachers and preachers, promising what anyone qualified to become a great leader must undoubtedly be able to see right through. This thought leads me to suggest that only those destined to become mediocre leaders need ever apply to learn these secrets, though they'd properly be sworn to secrecy upon acceptance.

The secret about greatness might be that greatness holds few secrets.

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CurtainCall

CurtainCall
Riva Helfond, Curtain Factory (1939)


"My purpose sleeps in the basement or beneath the neighbor's bushes."


I woke in the middle of my short night to crawl under the covers. Two hours later, I was crawling out into my morning, knowing I was crawling into an ending. I swear that I dread almost everything now, especially the inevitable. My Summer slips over a horizon foreshortened by low clouds and an utterly alien rain. The painting suspended for a day; I built my first fire of the season just to see that I hadn't lost that ability through the unrelenting Summer heat. When the turn comes, it shocks even the best-prepared, most anticipatory person, even the one who'd been counting down, even the one focused upon Honing.

It must not matter what topic I choose.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/21/2023

ws09212023
Ryūryūkyo Shinsai:
Boy Writing (Edo period, 1615-1868)


Stumble Into An Ownership
Experience doesn't very deeply influence some things. This week, I almost finished my twenty-fifth series, Honing, but nothing I'd ever experienced before properly prepared me for this almost event. I should have become accustomed to nearly finishing by now, but it remains a shocking and unsettling experience, not even the same way once. I started this series thirteen weeks ago and struggled, as I always do, to feel as though it belonged to me. I created the first stories as an imposter, holding my breath while hoping not to be discovered. I grew into their author, only recently feeling as though they might somehow come from and belong to me. It was never different. I crawl before walking and walk before I fly. I finally fly only to discover that I've run out of sky. The allotted time for this series is over, and I dare not linger over the carcass. This is how this writer experiences accomplishment. I finally stumble into an ownership, only to forfeit it to start my mystery anew.

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ExitStageLeft

exitstageleft
Edgar Degas: On Stage I (1876)


"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

—William Shakespeare
(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)


" … one final curtain call for this production that never actually was."


Contrary to popular misconception, all the world never was a stage, and all the men and women were always much more than "merely players." Yes, they might have their exits and entrances, but they do much more than just play parts in several acts. That's all analogies, and the one thing one must understand about analogies should always be that they do not describe actual anything. The fact that Shakespeare employed this analogy means precisely that all the world is not now, nor was it ever a stage. To think otherwise violates the first rule of analogy, which insists that they never be taken literally. We see the terrible result of mistaking analogy for description played out in the world's great religions, each of which seems to possess a widely misinterpreted guidebook. While it's undoubtedly true that misinterpreting makes miracles much easier to manifest, they also materially mislead. Misinterpreting brings glorious suggestions into the realm of misleading definitions where an analogous savior somehow manages to feed a multitude with a single small can of tuna.

How much richer our lives might become if we could steadfastly refuse to take anything literally, anything at its unavoidably misleading face value.

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UsedTos

usedto
Rembrandt van Rijn:
The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild,
Known as ‘The Syndics’
(1662)


"I UsedTo be an innocent, but now I'm more experienced."


I possess a long and ever-growing list of UsedTos: things I used to do, beliefs I once held but outgrew, foods I once treasured but now consider illegal, and assorted discarded habits, vices, attractions, loves, and hates. I like to think that my tastes have moderated over time, that my sophistication has been steadily climbing some evolutionary ladder, but that's probably idle chatter, my monkey mind keeping me distracted and entertained. I still declare several of my UsedTos as remaining on my list of current skills, though I'm surely out of practice on many. I was once successful, for instance, but it's been ages since my successes or failures have influenced my choices. I no longer strive after achievement. I put down my head and continue onward instead.

The purposeful life isn't all it was once cracked up to be.

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Estrangement

estrangement
Charles Émile Jacque:
Entrance to an Inn, with Peasant Drinking (1849)


"We remain related regardless …"


What can I say about Estrangement? It seems the strangest form of human engagement, for it can only exist between people who were once rather tightly connected. Strangers can never become estranged; only friends and family can. Usually, something happens or was said to occur before becoming a legend, a defining event, or a Rubicon crossed. The memory might have never captured the offense, but it will never forget the occurrence. Over time, the relationship will seem irreparable, and the principles involved accept this and move on. "On to where?" might be the operant question. It might have seemed slight to one of the parties, but the effect will become tectonic for both. An absence appears by mutual consent, and people move on with their lives, disappointed with how that one point turned out, yet powerless to make it different. The experience gets filed under Regrets but will never be understood in the same way or entirely forgotten by either party.

We read of Prodigal Sons and more distant relatives reconnecting after lengthy separations.

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Reading

reading1
Édouard Manet: Woman Reading (1880/81)


" … successful distraction might disrupt anything, even distraction itself."


I am a cog in an enormous machine every bit as threatening as the much-feared Military-Industrial Complex. I might label mine The Non-Military Conscientious-Objector Complex because of my background with the military draft, though my complex has little to do with military matters. Mine's all about conscience, conscientiousness, and consciousness, three similar words with enormously different meanings. These three terms share at least one thing in common, which might be, without stretching their native definitions or attempting to create controversy or conspiracy, Reading. I read because it's always the right thing to do. I can never go astray if I'm reading. I also read so that I might live well. I believe it's impossible to live well unless surrounded by books. I also read to achieve the awareness required to comprehend this life. I consider it my moral and civil duty to at least try to remain literarily current.

My occupation feeds this machine.

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Betterment

betterment 2
Paula Modersohn-Becker:
Portrait of a Peasant Woman (1898/99)


"I've written plenty, but that only matters if I'm still writing."


I began writing these stories to prove something to myself. I intended them to serve as a dedication test, proof that I was, as I believed myself to be, a writer because writers don't just declare their profession; they write. If they pursue commercial success, writers must also publish; indeed, those might well budget more time for promotion than production. Most writers were never published, for they created for purposes other than publication. We believe that the system set up to identify and distribute the best writing succeeds in achieving that end. Still, we have no way to verify that this is or ever was the case, for the stuff the system failed to identify was never included in the assessment and couldn't have been. In Dicken's time, for instance, it seems entirely possible that a few dozen scribblers produced novels immeasurably better than anything he ever imagined. However, for one reason or another, they never found a publisher or any means of distribution. Their neighbors might have seen those authors as eccentrics, perhaps even hermits; they maybe even became the butt of ungenerous stories about how they only thought of themselves as writers. Only the writers themselves ever knew the truth. If they wrote, they were writers.

I long ago proved the point of my experiment.

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BetterStory

betterstory
Lewis Wickes Hine: Climbing up the Beams on the Empire State-100 Stories Up (1931)


" … it will only be my legacy."


I have lately encountered several people who seem to be living disappointing stories. They serve as complainants in their own lives, disgruntled by their plotlines. I wonder why they chose to feature those stories, ones which seemed especially designed to disappoint them when they might have chosen any of a nearly infinite array of more satisfying ones. I didn't ask any of them that question, and I suspect, without testing my suspicion, that few of them would offer an easy or appreciative response.

What about reality?

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/14/2023

ws09142023
Edward Wadsworth: Requiescat (1940)


After The Physical Experience Ends
My weekly writing summaries serve as both reminiscence and discovery. I inevitably discover insights that hadn't connected through the week before I paused to reflect. This might be the highest best purpose of reflection, that it sometimes elevates experience into insight. We move through our lives as innocents—ignorants—only understanding later, often after it's too late to make any difference. We sit, then, wondering how our experience might have felt different had we understood before we stumbled into the associated insight. Experience never ends at the apparent end of the experience. The ending lags at least a few beats beyond where the incoming ceases. Without reflection, the sensory experiences, even the lived experiences, make little sense. The meaning emerges shortly (or longly) after the physical experience ends. Better, probably, when we can acknowledge this difference.


Weekly Writing Summary

I began my writing week by reprising a posting from July, 2022 about
Sleep "I realize I'm a lousy sleeper. I never aspired to become any better at it than I've become. Indeed, my current lack of skill represents a lifetime of focused practice, the payoff, not an absence."

I admitted to an introvertion preference and described the effect of too much extroversion as
ExtroversionPoisoning. This story proved the most popular this period. "I sometimes feel after over-extended exposure that I'm suffocating and can hardly continue breathing. These times alarm me most, for the weight of the world presses down upon my chest, and I simply must find respite. I will decline your invitations then and avoid promising to attend. I will not attempt to be anybody's friend, for I must befriend myself again before I can be anybody else's credible companion."

I wondered if I overthink as much as I think I overthink in
OverThinking. "It seems a genuine wonder to me when I successfully complete anything. After working my way through a hazy half-dozen scenarios, each demonstrating how I could not possibly succeed, the most unlikely result always, always, always shocks and surprises me. I wonder then if I really do overthink as much as I think I do or if the accompanying rigamarole might just be necessary for me to get begun and then get through anything to done."

I experienced a familiar scenario this week so I wrote a story about its substance,
Idiot-Making. "We seem to be, as a species, very skilled at Idiot-Making. We can transform virtually anyone into an idiot by merely less than generously interpreting their performance."

I posted a curious story about the
DangerousPlaces I inhabit. "Cynicism happens when life wounds an optimist, innocence disappoints, and a certain kind of ignorance takes preference. Cynicism produces self-inflicted first-degree knife wounds that seem to be the devil's own work to heal."

I reported on a delightful rediscovery, that my life's work apparently resides in weeding and manuscriopt-making in
SafeHavens. "I felt surrounded by so much familiar that I lost that sense of alienation my wildly fecund prior month had induced. I felt fully re-immersed in my most treasured SafeHavens, writing and weeding. The world could go to Hell, though I'd miss it terribly. I was temporarily suspended in the space intended for me, manuscript-making and weeding, two seasonal rewards there for the taking."

I ended my writing week trying to describe an alien form of organization and operation, one I quietly envied when I encounter it in
IndustrialCivility. "They do not possess a prestigious address, nor do they ever care to. They know what they do, and they do that well. There's no identity crisis or search for deeper meaning. The operation is just what it seems to be, no questions asked. "

This writing week felt like a roller-coaster ride. I began by reprising something I'd written fourteen months before. This felt like both an abrogation—what? Nothing original this morning?—and an acknowledgment and recognition that I needn't necessarily reinvent what I've already adequately considered. I honored my past by making it present again. I acknowledged the cost of fulfilling obligations and over-extending myself with ExtroversionPoisoning. I wondered if I really was that guilty of OverThinking. This question, of course, needed no answering. I encountered some vehement Idiot-Making where I was the idiot again. I admitted to living in proximity to DangerousPlaces, which doesn't make me even a little bit different or unique. I then described my protective SafeHavens. I ended this writing week admitting a tinge of jealousy for a subculture I've never personally experienced, but to which I still feel an attraction. Thank you for following along. It looks like we're finally entering the final week of Honing Stories.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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IndustrialCivility

IndustrialCivility
Edward Alexander Wadsworth: Illustration (Typhoon) (1914–1915)


" … people like me can only ever be a visitor. "


We inhabit a culture comprised of innumerable subcultures, each with unique rules and protocols. These subcultures might be the many we claim to come out of, E Pluribus Unum. Encountering any subculture can make anyone more aware of their own, which ordinarily exists like a fish's water, present but not accounted for. We receive little more than glimpses of other's subcultures, often through cues that seem somehow alien, different. I recently encountered one that I found enduring, heartwarming. I labeled it IndustrialCivility because it appeared to me, in my experience, most prevalent in industrial settings, a standard set of protocols common to those enterprises. These seem starkly different than the practices I've experienced in offices, for instance, or in clinics.

IndustrialCivility first appears orderly with almost a military discipline.

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SafeHavens

safehavens
Camille Pissarro: Young Peasant Having Her Coffee (1881)


"… rewards there for the taking."


The hapless homeowner faces a fecund entropy through the month following mid-August. The garden's finally producing and achieving exponential returns. The Eurasian Stinkbugs find their prey, too, and threaten to spoil The Muse's long-awaited tomato party as well as the rhubarb. Weeds take full advantage of the often frantic watering as humidity levels plummet to the lowest of the year while solar radiation threatens to burn everything in place. It's usually a frenetic pace, a plate-juggling class of fruitless efforts. Self-esteem plummets in the face of overwhelming opposition to the regular rules of order. Fertility leads to pregnancy and pregnancy to a disruptive addition to the family. I struggle to fulfill my resulting unintended obligations.

I think of our Villa Vatta Schmaltz as one of our SafeHavens, a secure spot within the chaos.

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DangerousPlaces

dangerousplaces
Martin Schongauer: The Griffin (c. 1480–90)


" … some days seem to need almost the whole day to recover …"


I often forget about the DangerousPlaces my work compels me into. I engage almost blithely, innocently exploring when I might more thoughtfully engage. I consider my manner of engaging anything but calloused, for I firmly believe that one must never become cynical. I hold myself to knowing enough to justify cynicism but choosing not to become cynical as my way to get even or stay balanced. This sometimes works. Cynicism happens when life wounds an optimist, innocence disappoints, and a certain kind of ignorance takes preference. Cynicism produces self-inflicted first-degree knife wounds that seem to be the devil's own work to heal. Better to become a Griffin's dinner than to live a cynical existence.

These DangerousPlaces sometimes deeply wound me.

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Idiot-Making

idiot-making
William Nicholson: I for Idiot (1898)


"What I choose to do in that moment always defines the outcome of my effort."


When contracting for consulting work, I'd usually confide to my prospective client that if we agreed to terms, at some point during the following engagement, he would find himself convinced that he had hired a complete idiot as a consultant. I suggested that what we chose to do then would define the effort's success. This prediction usually came true, not because I possess any particular foresight but because it was in the nature of the sort of work I contracted to perform that I would usually appear to be an idiot if I performed well. I would not always seem capable of foreseeing because what I would be doing could not be foreseen but always needed to be prized out, discovered in stream, and not usually beforehand. It was more hunt-and-peck work that the less experienced invariably attempted to manage utilizing prior specification, a sure and certain recipe for the appearance of idiocy at some time during the proceedings.

We seem to be, as a species, very skilled at Idiot-Making.

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ExtroversionPoisoning

extroversionpoisoning
William Henry Johnson: The Blind Singer (c 1945)


" … I must befriend myself again …"


I "am" an introvert. This improper way to describe my preference ignores the fact the introversion/extroversion dichotomy does not express identity but preference. I remain capable of both extroverted activities as well as my more native introverted ones. The extroverted efforts seem to take more significant tolls, though. I can always engage as an introvert for extended periods without requiring any mental health break from the activity. I do not remember ever even once needing an extroversion break, where I felt compelled to find someone to spill my guts to so that I could maintain some internal balance. I often, though, flee into any handy old cave to recover from too much interaction, a condition I refer to as ExtroversionPoisoning.

Sometimes, I seem to become altogether too much of this world.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/07/2023

ws09072023
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Wisdom (1893)


Not Letting My Reticence Chase You Off
The Muse insists that I and the world are inevitably better off when I get out and mingle in the world. I tend to disagree on principles. As an introvert, my world revolves around something other than public spectacle, but I cannot successfully disagree that more variety appears when I get off my duff and mingle. Her candidate booth at the local fair, as well as her entry into the accompanying parade, had me living well outside my usual comfort zone through almost this entire writing week. I didn't die. I might have even thrived. I might admit under mild duress that I, at times, even almost enjoyed the engagements, but mum's the word on that account. I remain a writer, your writer, and not some itinerant schmoozer. I'm the guy who appreciates those with social skills, who gratefully cedes center stage to those who seem to gain satisfaction from standing there. I'm atmosphere people, more than satisfied to chronicle my emotional experiences via the PureSchmaltz. Thank you so very much for following along and not letting my reticence chase you off.

Weekly Writing Summary

I began this writing week with an encounter with bureaucracy that left me feeling absolutely
Gutted.

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Disconceptions

disconceptions
Percy Billinghurst:
The Fool Who Sold Wisdom (1900)


“ … a particular sort of Hell.”

My time in The Muse's Fair booth unsettled me. I saw an alarming erosion of conception before me as I spoke with some people. They possessed what they might accept as received wisdom, which seemed more like bullshit. I wondered how these people could each spout the same nonsense. I wondered about the source of their understanding, for it appeared unusually unshakeable. It reflected an apparently preconscious conviction that they possessed a wisdom denied their lesser brethren. I felt them suspiciously classifying me, passing me a sort of test to determine if I was one of them or one of those. I never once aspired for them to classify me as one of them in any of these conversations, but then I was also dancing along an edge because I didn't want to chase off any potential voters for The Muse.

Friends told me that these folks were victims of Fox News, an outlet I cannot get since The Muse disabled the remote control to ignore those channels.

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Last_Night

last_night
Edgar Degas: Portrait after a Costume Ball
(Portrait of Madame Dietz-Monnin)
(1879)


"May we always remember."

Every exhibitor finally figures out their trade on the last night of the Fair. The five long days before were merely practice for this grand finale performance. By five pm, everyone's walking around like zombies, the unavoidable effect of back-to-back-to-back-to-back twelve-hour days standing on unforgiving concrete or sitting in equally torturous folding chairs. Each became a master of their wares by repetition. The come-on tried a dozen ways before finally settling on one that reliably worked. Still, more strolled by than lingered, but those who lingered on the Last_Night stayed a little longer. Everyone knows full well that this show's just about through, and most seem to want to savor its presence while that's still possible.

We've come to know those showing around us.

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FlatWrong

flatwrong
Egyptian: Plaque Depicting a Quail Chick
(
Ptolemaic Period [332–30 BCE])


" … never any different from antiquity to present."


There's wrong, and then there's FlatWrong. Wrong tends to be a run-of-the-mill error, while FlatWrong catches the perpetrator by complete surprise. Wrong might surprise, too, but it carries little consequence. Wrong turns almost always seem easily corrected. Even taking that wrong freeway out of Lexington, Kentucky, without discovering my error for over an hour resulted only in a different route home. I couldn't turn around without adding another hour to a trip I'd already lengthened by about an hour, so that error produced a plot twist of little consequence. FlatWrong cannot usually be undone. It's an unintended center stage pratfall on opening night. There's no undoing that sort of performance.

The truth's out, then.

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TheSchmoozeAlarm

theschmoozealarm
Thomas Jones Barker: Two School Boys (c. 1830)


Schmooze: To converse informally, make small talk or chat (שמועסן, shmuesn, 'converse', from Hebrew: שמועות, shəmūʿōth, 'reports/gossip'; OED, MW). Noun: schmoozer, abbr. schmooze. Wikipedia

"Blessed are the Schmoozers …"


We're each familiar with the snooze alarm, that feature of modern alarm clocks that allows us to temporarily turn off an alarm clock without actually waking, setting up an unconscious response cycle destined to undermine the very intention of setting the alarm. I would count this invention as one of humanity's peak innovations, for it reliably achieves the opposite of its designer's intentions before going on to be in almost ubiquitous use. Everyone has one, and everyone learns to sleep right through it. The very term Snooze Alarm has come to describe where an explanation further confuses and where an excuse convinces otherwise. No salesperson or pitchman wants to "hit The Snooze Alarm" when attempting to persuade. No politician does, either.

A friend running for office might be what anyone might call a wonk, a person so enthused by his knowledge about a subject that he can almost instantly chase anyone else off by just starting an explanation.

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Roe-Day-O

roe-day-o
Harold Edgerton: Rodeo (1940)


"Who or what was never made explicit."


I'd never been. I'd never attended the rodeo part in the sixty-some years since I first attended The Southeastern Washington Fair and Rodeo. It required an additional admission, and I had no particular interest. The Fair had also featured parimutuel horse racing, something for which I possessed neither curiosity nor inclination, so my birth family and I satisfied ourselves with the offerings on the Fair side of the fairgrounds: the midway, rides, animal barns, and 4-'achie entries, massive ice cream bars, and, of course, the Dippy Dogs, the local variation on corn dogs, and turkey legs. We'd see the fair queens in the parade and witness loads of cowboys, even some with cattle as well as hat, but we were never once tempted to enter into that world, even as witnesses. Never once until last night, that is.

Friends offered us loge seats in one of the newly-constructed platform boxes suspended above the chutes on the opposite side of the arena.

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RealPolitic

RealPolitic
Jack Gould:
Untitled [several people holding political posters
and signs at mock convention]
(1955)


The Muse works the passing crowd. The Pavilion at the Fair serves as its Grand Central Station. Families move through the aisles, stopping at booths to collect free handouts and enter raffles. One booth offers a free set of Bluetooth speakers; another, eternal salvation. The politicians do not dominate this space, though they are present: a city council candidate and The Muse, candidate for an open position on the local Port commission. I swear she can pull almost anyone in for at least a brief conversation—many last much longer as she makes some personal connection with the potential voter.

She starts with The Question, the qualifying question intended to winnow out those who cannot vote for her. "Are you a voter in this county?"

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Gutted

gutted
Russell Lee:
Gutting tuna at the
Columbia River Packing Association.
Astoria, Oregon
(1941)


"It would have just been my fault."
——
The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gape-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’
Or ‘Billy Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

HILAIRE BELLOC

I arrived at the Fairgrounds just after eight a.m.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 08/31/2023

ws08312023
Stefano Della Bella: Boy Writing (17th century)


Something More Suited For The Ages
I sometimes forget just how very delicate everything is. Nothing's robust or built to last. Everything’s destined to dust, however unlikely that fate seems near the beginning of anything. That head of fresh lettuce seems eternal until a few days later, when it, too, betrays your trust. I flipped my compost heap this week, an infrequent pleasure I'd delayed due to a volunteer pumpkin vine that had sprouted out of the middle bin early in the season.

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FairTrade

fairtrade
Hans Sebald Beham:
Dansend boerenpaar [Dancing Farm Couple] (1537)


" … invulnerable to most of the ailments common to mere fair visitors."


Like every public entity, Fairs operate on an Upstairs/Downstairs model. There are insiders, and then there are visitors. Staff and exhibitors live on the inside while guests remain on the outside, even after paying their admission fee, largely ignorant of the machine supporting their experience. The visitor might see the gatekeeper but will register few of the insiders making their experience possible, for insiders try hard to remain invisible. One might see somebody with Security printed on their jacket but never really witness security in action, escorting an unruly guest to the gate or invisibly monitoring booth traffic. This year, given that The Muse has contracted for exhibit space to advertise her candidacy for Port Commissioner and interact with voters, She and I get to be Fair insiders.

I revel in the permissions granted me.

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TheTurning

theturning
Suzuki Kiitsuexpan:
Moon and Waves
(First half of the nineteenth century)


" … surveying my small kingdom …"


However subtly this season might start to change, it finishes the job in a swoosh. A mighty wind blows the last complacency aside, and the world turns upside down in a single afternoon. Change seems to resist itself for the longest time before finally caving into its inevitable, unable ever after to recover what it ultimately could no longer retain. It's always been the same. The only question has always been precisely when, a question without anything resembling a reasonable response. TheTurning does not pivot on preciselies but on eventualities. Eventually, inevitably, the change appears, however lengthy the preceding longing might have been.

The Fall term starts as if to set off TheTurning.

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Fairness

fairness
Russel Lee: At the Imperial County Fair, California
(1942)


"Everybody heads home a winner anyway!"


I feel confident that I have no idea how to describe The Southeast Washington Fair and Rodeo, though I've attended this celebration for more than sixty years. The "Fair" seemed enormous and exciting in my youth, a vast playground of unusual sights and experiences. Rides, sure, but also animal barns where the farm kids would camp out with their prize stock and walk around with straw in their hair. In the old days, the Midway was a place of awe and petty crime where carnies and unlikely charlatans took the usual advantage of gullible townies. One of those sharps correctly named my first-grade teacher's first name, an astounding feat made more remarkable by the fact that her name was Pearl. What were the odds besides impossible? That single transaction convinced me to avoid betting on anything ever again. The odds are very likely somehow invisibly in someone else's favor.

The modern-day Fair seems tame, down-right lame in comparison.

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MoreAuthentic

moreauthentic
John Downman: Attention
(n.d., late 18th, early 19th Century)


"Whomever created this clockwork universe seems to have installed it backward."


We deem old stuff as MoreAuthentic than more modern things. We seem to revere the good old days with our language, for it seems to disparage newness. They must actually not build them like they used to; every updated everything, worse, slower, and ultimately more expensive rather than better, faster, or cheaper. Upgrades degrade performance and disable familiar capabilities and should be deferred as long as possible. Replacement parts invariably fail to fit properly or seem so much more cheaply manufactured that they never quite match original surroundings. New and improved prove to be an oxymoronic marriage incapable of fulfilling its promises. We remain wary of improvements and most likely should be. Progress never was anybody's most important product; entropy was.

When penny candy costs a quarter, the future has arrived as feared.

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Authentic

authentic
Jozef Israëls: A Laren Scene (1905)


" … a caricature of its original intentions."


Here in The Napa Of The North, we're noticing an encroaching reduction in authenticity as the BIG growers buy land and move into this valley. Main Street, which once offered every service imaginable in its few short blocks, now primarily features what the locals call Cute Crap Shoppes and wine-tasting rooms, so many that I haven't mustered the courage to enter any of them. They seem undifferentiated, each featuring essentially the same decor and identical ambiance. Perhaps the wine's unique to each, but I doubt that. If I attempted a tasting tour of Main Street, I doubt I could make it there and back again without over-indulging on modest pours and origin stories. Each winery and vineyard must possess a founding myth and an abiding ethos to justify its existence. The wine business never really was that much about wine.

Visitors arrive aching to experience The Walla Walla Difference.

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SlippingAway

slippingaway
Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川 広重:
Yoshitsune Awaits Benkei at Gojo Bridge (c. 1840)


“ …leaves drying before turning …”


Summer, above all seasons, seems just to slip away. Once fierce, it tames. Its once dominant sun loses weight. Somebody blows out some of her candles. Even when the thermometer hits eighty, it's a toothless and unconvincing heat. It's just going through the motions with almost another month left where it will be expected to continue fulfilling obligations. The time for frying eggs on sidewalks has already past. Successive cues will continue before this season's gone, but it’s now become an imposter and will not return until next year.

Summer became the scariest season, replacing Winter over recent years.

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Returning

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


"Nobody needs everlasting anything."


Returning rarely carries the cachet leaving exudes. Departure reeks of adventure, while Returning more often smells of dirty underwear and sour beach sand warming in late summer sunshine. Whatever the season, it will seem to have changed during the absence. Summer will suddenly be leaving, when a week before it had settled in until at least November. The first signs of Autumn will appear in some sunburnt Vine Maple still turning color despite the drought's malign influence. While leaving seemed an escape, Returning seems an acceptance. However adventurous the departure seemed, Returning requires genuine courage to face with renewed dedication what might have driven you away.

The hero never returns from his adventures.

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ValleyOfThe

valleyofthe
Roger Fenton:
The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855)


"Stories never end."


The Old Wives insisted that deaths arrive in threes. I remember this notion being considered fact from my earliest recollections. I remember it proving true, too, which seemed even more disconcerting, for it was one thing to presume and quite another to experience confirmation. After my great-grandmother died when I was twelve, I dreaded another funeral for weeks after that event. These days, I've matured enough to recognize the fundamentally random distribution of such events and how my parsing can make unrelated events seem causally associated. I remain wary. When one drops, I anticipate a follow-on. When that occurs—notice how I didn't use the descriptor 'if'—I always expect a third and am rarely disappointed, though successfully anticipating departures doesn't qualify as a win. "There it goes again," I mumble to myself. Whoever posited that third time's a charm was not paying close enough attention.

I wrote this week about losing my dear friend TheAngelClair.

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Waiting...

Waiting...
Winslow Homer: Waiting for a Bite (1874)


" … reduced to roughly the equivalent of the quality of your Waiting…"


(I submit this story in recognition of The Muse’s birthday.)

No travel guidebook worth its salt would dedicate a chapter to the underappreciated art of Waiting… . This one will, though strictly speaking, this collection of Honing Stories doesn't quite qualify as a guidebook, or at least not as a conventional one. I've reported before that I have little use for guidebooks. Nobody can ever recreate another's travel or adventure, so one should properly read guidebooks only as biography or fiction—probably fiction—and work hard to avoid trying to replicate the author's experience with their own. It cannot be done, and attempting it will very likely ruin your vacation. All that said, I will try today to write a sincere appreciation of the magnificent and underappreciated art of Waiting…; for some significant portion of every adventure, every vacation, every damned day gets expended with Waiting…, and we seem ill-prepared for this effort.

The Muse and I checked the ferry schedule to learn that we would have needed to schedule our trip sometime in the past to secure a reservation on any crossing before nine-fifteen that evening.

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YachtSeen

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


"Let the inquiry fail to resolve the mystery."


The Muse and I, putting up in an ancient Bridge Tender's Shack while visiting old friends in a small hamlet on Puget Sound, encountered a culture for which we have no referent. We can register its presence but cannot reason ourselves into comprehension of it. The Yacht Culture, the denizens of which tie up their vessels at the modest town dock, which the deck of our tiny shack overlooks. The Muse Googles to find that the biggest one would sell for well over a million dollars and comfortably sleep six couples. Our friend recalls watching one embark with a crew following their captain's directions via Bluetooth headsets. Such grandeur! Such pretense!

I cannot imagine that scale of existence, the idle time required to engage in it, or the wealth needed to support it.

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Rememberer

rememberer
Thomas Wood: Remembrance (valentine) (c. 1850)
(I could find no biographical information on this artist.)


"They hold us upright …"


Of all the roles I have played and continue playing in this life, the role of Rememberer might qualify as the sleeper. I focus most of my energy into my role of primary experiencer, for that seems to be the most purpose-laden role available. I make my history by engaging in the innumerable activities that will eventually comprise my history. I never schedule time to set aside engaging to do some serious remembering, even though much of my activity involves writing, which relies upon recollections. I never catch myself stuffing away reflections. They seem to accumulate more or less automatically, never by me more tightly focusing my attention. Indeed, squinching my mind in order to capture memories better seems paradoxical. One does not really capture anything for later consumption. Some stuff just seems to stick.

I remember visiting St. Peter's in Rome only to find the place overrun with people carrying video cameras attempting to capture their visit to St. Peter's.

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TheAngelClair

theangelclair
Odilon Redon: THE APOCALYPSE OF SAINT JOHN
And Another Angel Came Out of the Temple
which is in Heaven,
and He also Having a Sharp Sickle

1899


"Travel well, ya old bastard!"


On the morning of my seventy-second birthday, I received news from an old Takoma Park neighbor that our mutual friend and former neighbor Clair had died of congestive heart failure and dementia. I had anticipated and dreaded this news since my last visit to our exile. On that visit, Clair had agreed to fetch me from some bus stop somewhere but was uncharacteristically tardy. I started walking the route I knew he'd take, and eventually, he came along in his familiar red Prius, though it seemed to have suffered extensive front-end damage. He pulled over, I clambered in, and we retired back to his familiar home next door to the site of the first rental of our exile. He explained that it was "the damnedest thing" that his car seemed to damage itself. Michele, his artist wife, was displeased that he was still driving. He slurred his story.

I'd met Clair one bright June Sunday morning.

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Vacatering

vacatering
Eugène-Louis Boudin:
Vacationers on the Beach at Trouville (1864)


" … every other place an also-ran."


We simply must leave preparation for the very last minute. The Muse must run out to The Home Despot as the sun sets to buy replacement parts for the watering computers we hadn't used since we couldn't remember when. Leaving home in mid-summer makes no sense because who will water in our absence? We have a long history of losing plants when our automatic watering system fails. I can't use the damned things because their user interface is written in machine language. The Muse can even change their batteries. We stood in the sideyard, testing long-unused sprinklers, working out a strategy. I usually use three of our vast array of sprinklers, moving the same ones from place to place. We have no such luxury available in our absence. We must set zones so that every inch of the property gets watered without human intervention because we will be off Vacatering, absent.

I worry over the cats, who I know can take care of themselves.

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WritingSummary 08/17/2023

ws08172023
Johann Andreas Benjamin Nothnagel:
Hermit Writing (18th century)


I Seem To Flourish Anyway.

It has almost always been the case that the greater my feeling of inadequacy when publishing or posting something, the greater the readers' appreciation. This does not translate into any meaningful or particularly useful metric, for I can't seem to leverage my sense of inadequacy into validation. I quite naturally quake when feeling that all-too-familiar sensation that I've fallen short again. It must be a particularly ironic blessing that these very items that spark my greatest concern tend to return the greatest appreciations. I cringe and publish anyway, understanding enough about the process to appreciate that whatever comes out represents the best I'm likely to produce that day. I receive remarkably few invitations to submit do-overs. Given the paradoxical feedback my audience feeds me, it's a wonder that I continue. I seem to flourish anyway.

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Harvust

harvust
Paul Sérusier: The Harvest of Buckwheat (1899)


"We will not need to make time then …"


Late Summer emerges from a hot and dusty sameness anyone would swear might be neverending. Crops start ripening and, in their fashion, quickly overwhelm anyone engaging with them. Narrow windows hold promise, a precious week for some and only slightly longer for others. One starts gathering rosebuds while they may. Miss a day, and I might miss the whole year. Time becomes the premium resource, for the calendar already seemed full. Each successive crop squeezes in anyway, sideways and unsympathetic toward any whining. One learns early, and the lessons stick through frequent repetition, be prepared to sacrifice anything to preserve the Harvust.

Each year I try to hone my technique.

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SocialMorality5

socialmorality5
Claude Monet: House of the Customs Officer, Varengeville (1882)


"Would be potentates might finally receive a subpoena."


Now and then, a politician will come along primarily dedicated to misrepresenting everything. They might start small but eventually expand their practice to include every blessed thing that comes out of their mouth. They seem to be enjoying the time of their life without compunction or consequences at first. They don't age. Their story changes unselfconsciously into whatever form seems most useful at any moment, always delivered with the same supreme confidence. Anyone might come to question their judgment listening to these lies, for it violates some primal comportment to so blithely misrepresent. Eventually, even gravity loses meaning. There are those still believing, and everyone else. True believers, by which I mean those who have built their belief upon utter falsehoods, will maintain unshakeable belief, and that belief will become their uncontestable truth.

Not even politicians ever manage to avoid the truth forever.

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SocialMorality4

socialmorality4
Govaert Flinck: Blessing of Jacob (1638)


Mrs Snipkin and Mrs Wobblechin

Skinny Mrs. Snipkin,
With her little pipkin,
Sat by the fireside a-warming of her toes.
Fat Mrs. Wobblechin,
With her little doublechin,
Sat by the window a-cooling of her nose.

Says this one to that one,
"Oh! you silly fat one,
Will you shut the window down? You're freezing me to death!"
Says that one to t' other one,
"Good gracious, how you bother one!
There isn't air enough for me to draw my precious breath!"

Skinny Mrs. Snipkin,
Took her little pipkin,
Threw it straight across the room as hard as she could throw;
Hit Mrs. Wobblechin
On her little doublechin,
And out of the window a-tumble she did go.

Laura Elizabeth Richards


" … the riskiest of all propositions …"


Morality, the Thou Shalts of behavior, necessarily restricts some behaviors and altogether enjoins against others. It would prove an absolute fool's mission for me or anyone to attempt to delineate all the terms and conditions within our or anyone's SocialMorality. In very real ways, one must come to know without explicit instruction; much of that learning can only come from sincere observation. Woe be to the unobservant, for they seem destined to embarrass themselves without knowing it. They will become the ones quietly looked down upon, the self-selected second- and third-class citizens who repeatedly disqualify themselves through their actions. These feral citizens complicate the operation of any decency-seeking society and create an attractive nuisance for the more acculturated, for unlike our Skinny Mrs. Snipkin, we daresent go throwing our little pipkins every time another manages to offend us. Rightness does not empower anyone to start tossing around their pipkin, however righteously engaged in.

The righteous hold greater responsibility than anybody.

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SocialMorality3

SocialMorality3
Edmund J. Sullivan:
Ah, love! could thou and I with faith conspire (1913)


"We remain in moral peril …"


Morality seems an inherently social entity, for it's anchored in commandments. An ethic involves an individual swearing to do something, I Shall, while a moral entails accepting a commandment, Thou Shalt. An immoral act involves disobeying an order or an understanding, violating a covenant between a respected authority and its supplicant. In the case of SocialMorality, the authority might well be disembodied, a cultural understanding. "One simply never on a Sunday does," for instance, the agreement appears more often tacit than explicit. The rules seem to have been forgotten or never understood in modern times. Throughout history, modern times have considered themselves the exception, present expressly to break traditions and make new ones. A core of more or less permanent morals has weathered such abuse and tends to resurface after much misuse and disservice. Gentlemen have comported themselves in specific ways throughout the ages despite passing fancies, for instance.

The new presents this unique challenge for us.

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SocialMorality2

socialmorality2
Mervin Jules: The Art Lover (1937)


" … seeking to act upon our interdependent moral duties …"


Every social act seems presumptuous, for we are born autonomous beings utterly dependent upon each other. Our social lives seem contradictory to our survival, but they aren't. Our autonomy too convincingly encourages us to isolate, discriminate, and individuate when we are inescapably plurals, “beings," not merely "being." It's all terribly confusing, and without some orientation, we might be destined to attempt to be -ists: rugged individualists or survivalists, neither of which seem anywhere near anybody's crown of creation. We live in communion, or we fail to thrive. Primitive formations of communion include cults, competing clubs, and patriotism, each of which paradoxically relies upon separatism as the medium for community, as its unifying purpose. Each vilifies difference instead of holding it supremely sacred. SocialMorality utterly depends upon a deep reverence for difference, not just the tolerance of it but an admiration equal to the wonder that difference actually entails. Difference seems to be the unifying principle underlying all social activity and, therefore, SocialMorality.

The purpose of school should be an orientation to—learning—SocialMorality.

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VelveteenEvening

velveteenevening
Hashimoto Okiie: Quiet Evening (1958)


"Once they're here, they're gone."


By late afternoon, the cats emerge from their moist shady lairs to make their way toward the back deck. If she's back from her day campaigning, the Muse shows up at about the same time. I'm already there waiting for this moment. I find the food and set out the cats' dinner. The Muse and I take to our chairs and survey the yard. She might wander back to check her tomato plants and cucumbers. Stink bugs have infested her tomatoes, and we're trying to chase them away with diatomaceous earth. We have yet to succeed. We ease into another VelveteenEvening.

I might set up the sprinkler, a considerable undertaking: moving hoses and figuring angles.

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WritingSummary 08/10/2023

ws08102023
William Merritt Chase:
Head of a Boy (Date unknown, late 19th century)


"When I wonder why I keep doing this …"


In The Middle of a Muddle
Summer seems to stretch on forever and ever from everywhere here. Rain visited this week, bringing the first measurable moisture since April and a velvety feel to the starch-crisp breeze. The apricot tree finally stopped pelting us with jam bombs, and I let the lawn grow an extra week before mowing it again, mainly to protect my shoulder from any fresh insult. I relearned the folly of my native hesitance to visit the doctor after investing three months in ineffective treatment and discomfort, a repeating pattern. I deferred several projects in favor of nursing an unnecessary wound. I suspect I'll repeat this old pattern when I hurt myself again. A cluster of clogs cleared out this week, blockages that had been inhibiting movement and growth. As I wrote, unstuckness always turns out to be inevitable though it's the very last thing to seem possible from in the middle of a muddle.

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Campaigning

campaigning
William Merritt Chase:
Portrait of Dora Wheeler (1882–83)


"I'm still dabbling."


The picky details stall me. I don't understand the underlying patterns governing the effort. I cannot find what I need when I need it. Her organization baffles me. My organization has yet to emerge, and might never. I've forgotten how to sort a spreadsheet if I ever knew how. I cannot access her Google Drive. I have to take a photo of her QR Code, attach that to an email, then retrieve and edit it into a graphic for use in the document I'm creating. I haven't heard half the rumors governing the effort. I just learned about some gatherings I thought I was supposed to be scheduling. Just creating a simple invitation freezes me. I suddenly do not know what to say to anybody. She produced a handout using the free software that came with some stationery? I can't reuse any of that content, so I use my two-and-a-half typing fingers to transcribe it. She uses a font I do not have and don't want. I'm supposed to call somebody about something, but I've forgotten who and what.

Campaigns are supposed to start naive and full of hope.

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Convergence

convergence1
Hanns Lautensack: Landscape with the Town on a River
and the Cottage between Trees
(1551)


" … purposefully moving forward again."


Once stuck, things tend to stay stuck forever—or almost forever. Points of Convergence emerge. Who knows from where? It's as if stuckness becomes disgusted with itself, weary of the abiding irresolution, to finally take its fate into its own fists, for stuckness seems a wasting state, one inherently incapable of sustaining itself forever. It appears to possess some self-respect such that it cannot abide its own idleness and finally injects some mobility into its existence. However this happens, one can be sure this will happen regardless of how hopeless any context seems. There's always space for dreams, which take up very little space, though dreams seem infinitely expandable. To have one might be to hold the whole universe because with them on hand, anything seems possible.

Since my shoulder seized up in April—it's now August—I fell into a period of stuckness.

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InstantMessaging

instantmessenger
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze:
Entertaining the Messenger in the Outer Hall (1856)


"We are the apps we invoke …"


I live surrounded by apps I do not know how to operate, whose instruction manual might just as well not exist. I've never cracked an instruction manual for even the most complicated. I have consented to try to sit through a tutorial or two, but certainly not more than a couple, and even those, I'm sure I never made it to the bottom of any of them. Apps are supposed to be intuitively designed, meaning they're supposed to work the way any odd user might expect them to work. Certain conventions seem universal across whole classes of apps. Map apps work similarly, and so do search apps. The differences between them might only come into play if one aspires to become a PowerUser, the sole class of app user who understands how an app works. These are such a tiny minority as not to be worth counting or counting on. They're the ones who supply the incomprehensible answers to the questions you post on an app's User Forum.

I presume I know how to operate the more prominent apps on my devices.

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Surly

surly
Paul Signac: Chromatic Circle (1888)


" … if you woke up as somebody else again …"


What kind of person am I? This question qualifies as a trick one because it couldn't have just one answer. Like those math problems that produce ambiguous yet valid solutions, this question undermines the whole purpose of calculating, of asking. The presumption that there might be a crisp and straightforward response disqualifies any more nuanced or less precise reply, however more accurate any might be. I am many things and irreducible to any single characterization. Like everybody, I consider myself generally nice, but even I've noticed some exceptions. Keep me from my work, and I can get Surly and disagreeable, "uncharacteristically" cranky, short-tempered, and even mean. I might justify this switch to myself in ten thousand ways, but none genuinely explains such a flip. It's uncalled for, seen as unseemly, perhaps unforgivable. The least civil among us are probably just the most scared.

I depend upon myself to prevent such slides.

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Beaning

beaning
Paul Cézanne: Road in Provence (c. 1885)


" … the Rosetta Stone recipe for beans."


My life as an erstwhile cook might most easily represent an extended study of dry beans in their near-infinite variety. I was always a fancier of beans. Bean Pot qualified as my favorite childhood supper. I'd ladle pressure-cooked pintos over a slice of bread and swirl a melting hunk of Tillamook Medium Cheddar into the mix to complete the protein and complicate the flavor. From there, I attempted to cook every size, shape, and variety of dry beans I encountered, from split dal to Christmas Limas, with varying success. My beans would often seem overcooked, lacking bite and texture, refried right out of the pot. Other times, I could not get the buggers to soften. Nobody's gastrointestinal tract appreciates blood-rare garbanzos.Further, the locations of my various kitchens and varying techniques influenced the results. Beans might never thoroughly cook at nine-thousand feet in the Rockies and might finish too quickly so that a moment's inattention can render them ruined nearer sea level in Seattle or Portland or even here at The Villa. I remained an enthusiastic, if inconsistent, producer in the Beaning department.

Three significant insights have improved my results over time, and an additional most recent experience promises more consistent future results.

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Paean

paean
Paul Cézanne:
Pistachio Tree at Château Noir (c. 1900)


Paean: a thing that expresses enthusiastic praise. (Oxford Languages)

" … nothing compared to most."


I sing today a song of praise for pain, that preeminent sensation. Above all others, it garners attention. It amplifies apprehension and can inflict damage with mere anticipation. Its sharpness can dull the brightest. Its dullness can sharpen even the boldest. Its lingering promise can thwart even the finest intentions. Its promise can utterly undermine inspiration. The dread of it distorts reason. Attempting to shed it encourages addiction.

Why a Paean for pain?

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WritingSummary 08/03/2023

ws08032023
Paul Lemperly: Correspondence (1896)


Right Enough With This World
A numbing sameness settles in for the second, the downhill half of any season. What was heartily welcomed becomes merely moribund, done yet continuing, a walking finish. I revel in open windows to sit at my desk with a morning breeze blowing over, around, and almost through me while I write, yet I warmly anticipate an overnight low, rendering it too cold some days. The Muse and I flee indoors during the hottest part of the day, hiding until the fierce sun slips further West to leave the back deck in shadows while a sprinkler whispers beneath us. As context goes, so goes content. My writing week mirrored this context. I felt over-stretched, reaching as if I was reduced to leaching out the final inches from an over-used well. The water bill will astound us. The stink bugs have been assaulting The Muse's tomatoes. The composter groans beneath its belly, full of cull apricots. The driveway features leathery patches where the sun dried some apricots before I could clean them up. The yard smells like apricot jam. All's right enough with this world.

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Politicking

politicking
Paul Cezanne: Bathers (1890/94)


"I'm learning to believe."


The Muse turns out to be the most naturally gifted retail politician I've ever known. She might be better than Bill Clinton ever was and a damn sight more authentic, too. She insists that as a candidate (for District 2 Walla Walla Port Commissioner), she only has two responsibilities, 1) talk to as many people as possible, and 2) raise money. She's so far, with two and a half months since she registered as a candidate, excelling at both responsibilities. Fortunately, she's also assembled a crackerjack campaign team, of which I'm the conscripted and periodically competent campaign manager. Still trying to find my footing, I have yet to act like a campaign manager; but the strategy seems not to have suffered from my initial ineptness.

Not a day passes, but what she returns with another astounding story.

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Harmony

harmony
Paul Signac:
In the Time of Harmony:
the Golden Age is not in the Past,
it is in the Future
(1893-95)


"The road to wherever we're going …"


Yesterday, our Justice Department indicted our former president on conspiracy charges. A man who swore to defend our constitution conspired to undermine it. He'll be arraigned tomorrow, and his actual trial might not begin until a year from now. Most commentators contend that it will only end after he exhausts all of his appeals, which might take years. Still, I feel relieved that the indictment's finally public. After the string of House January 6th Committee hearings, completed seven full months ago, many wondered if Justice would ever carry out the committee's recommendations and indict at least the ex-president. Six unindicted co-conspirators were also mentioned in the indictment, not because they will not be indicted, but apparently to keep this indictment simple enough to allow clean litigation. The ex-president has already proven that he'll employ any means to delay prosecution. Courts have been actively denying his frivolous motions since his first indictment. This latest string of accusations seems the most serious and might take precedent over his many other charges, moving this set to the head of an ever-lengthening line. Nobody sees any end to this.

I slept the sleep of the satisfied last night, even though I know yesterday was more like the start than any end of anything.

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Incompetenced

incompetenced
Paul Cezanne:
Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair (1888-90)


" … how to compensate for my obvious shortcomings."


"At some point during our upcoming engagement, you should come to believe that you've hired the most incompetent consultant that ever lived. It's what we choose to do then that will determine the success of this effort." This was how I often summed up my contracting conversation with a prospective client. It sometimes seemed even to me that I was attempting to sabotage the effort before beginning work, for even speaking of incompetence might awaken a genuine jinx and damn the effort before it started. Furthermore, in this culture, one should never speak of incompetence in the first person or admit to even glancing knowledge about the affliction. Incompetence is believed to exclusively belong to somebody else and never, ever, anyone's self, yet there I was, freely admitting an impending personal incompetence. I suppose I was daring my client to reject me or hold me blameless. My experience had taught me that every engagement would eventually encourage, if not insist, upon manifesting some incompetence. What value would I encourage by pretending it wouldn't happen this time?

It happens.

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AnotherEpic

anotherepic
Paul Cezanne: Auvers, Panoramic View (1873-75)


" … surrounded by easily investigated difference …"


The Muse insists a principal's involved. Those who live in a bowl must occasionally rear their heads above the rim to see what's beyond their usual horizon. Bowl-living demands that shift in perspective, and it needn't take much, just a patch of slightly higher ground, anyplace from which one might take a different look around.

We'd both been exhibiting extreme symptoms of late-stage vacation deprivation, our lives demanding our undivided attention again. One can only defer the necessary for so long before their defenses start to take over. Nobody notices the encroaching lack of focus at first, and few ever suspect that they'll be next to completely lose their context. We need a rest sometimes, a time away from the trivial and the essential, a spacer between our endless engagements. We prefer the Toodle, a humble form of reasonably aimless driving. Toodling's best if undertaken without much of an objective, just getting away. I'd plotted an attractive course from which The Muse, as the designated navigator, almost immediately began improvising. In this way, we would stumble upon AnotherEpic adventure where we mostly traveled by secret passages I hadn't even noticed when I first set out our course.

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pRead

pread
Paul César Helleu: Lezende vrouw in een stoel
[Woman reading in a chair]
(late 19th Century)


" … destined to replicate that one imperative."


I noticed a difference when I first encountered information presented on a screen, a mid-seventies CRT, primitive technology by today's standards. Big and bulky, it required a heads-up stance to read what I had formerly mostly absorbed in a heads-down fashion. I found that I could not retain what entered horizontally. The information seemed to slip right through me. It seemed perfectly suitable for transmitting anything that shouldn't require remembering. Indeed, those CRTs were mainly employed to present reference information, data formatted into templates where the same information was placed in the same position from case to case to case. The application seemed ideally suited to disseminating such eminently disposable information. If it needed deeper scrutiny, a screen print function allowed for a more traditional presentation.

Later, training materials began migrating to the electronic platform, baffling me.

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AlreadyGone

alreadygone
Giovanni Boldini:
Paul-César Helleu, Asleep (c. 1897)


"Time will come when time returns."


My priorities changed as I aged. Twenty years ago, I was all about presence. I actively practiced what I would have unashamedly referred to as "presencing," hoping to seize each moment or something. Twenty years later, I more often seek absence, an active disappearance into whatever I catch myself doing. If something's worth engaging in, it's well worth losing myself in, so I enter with the expressed desire to be transported elsewhere, where might not matter nearly as much as does that transcendent sense of having been utterly transported, slipping through the cracks, flying off the tracks, swiping an AWOL pass.

Flow, for instance, never seemed to be an example of presence but of absence.

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Vacationing

vacationing
Paul Cezanne:
The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque (c. 1885)


" … impatiently waiting for my body to catch on …"


I'm never ready for Vacationing. I dread it like I dread taxes. It seems extractive, determined to undermine my sacred routines. I've never been one to take the same two weeks every August to visit the same home away from home, no familiar lake cabin or annual beach rental. For me, Vacationing usually comes as a last-minute notion. The Muse will insist that we get away when she notices a wrinkle in her schedule. Of course, we've not made reservations, and we plot our path employing accidents, invariably happy ones. We see more than we imagined seeing had we planned the excursion. We vacate for a few days and return glad to be returning, a few fresh stories captured along with some new perspectives.

When I think of Vacationing, I wonder how the watering schedule might be maintained in our absence and who will attend to the cats, not just feed them, but be their companion, for they're family and need more than just access to their feed.

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WritingSummary 07/27/2023

ws070272023
John Singer Sargent: Drawing of Paul César Helleu
from the early 1880s.
Sargent cherished this candid drawing
of his lifelong friend
and hung it in the dining room
of his Paris apartment.


To Confuse and Occasionally Astound Myself
I have this persistent sense that I really should understand whatever I'm doing by now, and some days I almost feel convinced that I might. Later, I stumble upon the depth—or the shallowness?—of my delusion to conclude that I do not know what I'm doing and never have. Should this not prove disqualifying? If I really don't know what I'm doing, what benefit does knowing bring? I realize or hope that purpose might remain emergent, never evident until long after the act. Its absence should not necessarily inhibit my continuing engagement, but writing remains a deeply faith-based initiative, not as advertised or anticipated. I might engage in serial bait-and-switch, but not to hoodwink anybody but myself. The stories tend to untangle themselves in longer runs, on a Contingency basis, often just when needed though rarely under foreseen conditions. I might write to confuse and occasionally astound myself.

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Invisible

invisible1
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Invitation to a Glass of Milk (1897)


"We see everything as we are rather than how it is."


Fortunately for us, this world remains altogether too big and far too complex for any of us to grasp. We too easily see pieces as if they weren't disconnected, and we quickly jump to otherwise unwarranted conclusions. We often misplace the knowledge that we fundamentally understand nothing. The budding satisfaction we feel when things finally seem to be coming clear amounts to the largest illusion by far, for that feeling might be desperately trying to tell us almost the exact opposite of what we suppose it says. We think it means we know when it should reinforce our deepening sense of ignorance. An abiding innocence accompanies all this fuss. We're never nearly as sophisticated as we suppose, and this, too, serves as a sort of buffer. It's very likely that nothing's our fault. Not Global Warming or the rising popularity of the right-wing media, for both were born from our insistent ignorance and the utter invisibility of everything surrounding us and from our unwarranted conclusions, the drawing of which perhaps constitutes our only truly human ability.

I do not intend to make excuses here.

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Reconnecting

reconnecting2
John Rubens Smith:
Arms - proportions and attitudes. (1831)
"Plot twists never redefine our heroes."


What experience serves as information and what as definition seems as a much better question, Mr. Shakespeare. To be or not to be comes in, at best, a distant second, for many different states of being exist simultaneously, and not being seems to take the whole question of that side of the equation out of the running. Being or nothingness or Being And Nothingness? These hardly amount to questions, either. The Information/Definition Divide continually haunts each of us and profoundly influences our choices. My fleeing bout of Deltoid Bursitis adopted both guises throughout its tenure. It arrived as simple information, spawning questions first focused on identifying causes. I then held no doubt that the disability would pass quickly. My denial of it characterized our initial relationship. I analyzed it as if it afflicted somebody else. I mostly felt confused by its informational content.

I later came to mistake it as definitional.

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Reagency

reagency
Isaac van Ostade:
Interior of a Stable with three Children (1642)


" … driving home with dirty blues blaring …"


By late July, the garden takes on a frantic aspect. Its regeneration has gone exponential. Cucumbers mature from flowers overnight, and The Muse leaves her morning perusal with both hands full of produce. The tomatoes come next, challenging our tolerance for beneficence and Caprese salads. The apricots produced five years of fruit in a single season, and even the geraniums have gone frantic, needing nearly daily deadheading. We're suddenly running to keep up with what seemed passive last week. It's difficult for me to remember that half the growing season's already gone and that abundance tends to be backloaded, appearing only well after seemingly unacknowledged nurturing occurred. The return comes later when it's almost completely disconnected from its origins, the entire operation utterly dependent upon equal portions of prior knowledge and patience.

I visited the acupuncturist yesterday, an entire month after scheduling the appointment, a whole month and more after the immediate care doctor gave me his diagnosis.

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ContingentStory

contigentstory
Eugène-Louis Boudin: Approaching Storm (1864)


" … the last taste of unremarkable normalcy …"


I write this story for another time, for the time when it will be necessary. Today is not that time, for all seems relatively healthy and humming this morning. One day, though—not today and probably not tomorrow— such a story will be necessary, and the need will be evident to everybody. It seems as though days follow head to toe in an unchanging succession, but sometimes something disrupts that rhythm, transforming the familiar into alien form. Nobody knows how to respond. We lose our minds then or find it impossible to find them. We have no pattern from which to draw. We only notice something missing. I write this story for that morning, for the time I know for certain is coming without knowing anything about when it might appear. When that eventually occurs, may I happen upon this story buried in my archives and find solace and reassurance. I do not know precisely what I might need then, but I can pretend this story might satisfy what I cannot foresee. Let this one serve as my ContingencyStory.

I direct myself to remember when, to look back to the morning when I created this story, back before the previously unthinkable happened.

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Testing

testing
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Cupid Testing His Arrow
(Late 18th, early 19th century)


" … counting my cards, plotting my escape …"


I split these days between resting—forced idleness—and Testing—challenging my barriers. I'm supposed to cool my heels, but my heels already seem plenty chilled, and there's stuff in which I really should be engaging. The apricots won't pick themselves. The yard can't water itself, either, and supper, if it's ever going to come, requires some goading, some human intervention, or else I'll have to accept that I'll go without it again. I have my writing ritual to maintain, too, so I feel compelled to continue doing, albeit on a significantly reduced scale, or not doing will very likely become what truly ails me.

I was born to poke sticks into darkness, continually probing edges.

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Rest

rest1
John J. A. Murphy: Athletes at Rest (20th Century)


"A discontented grumbling accompanies …"


Forced rest seems anything but restful. It quickly induces resentful feelings, even in the more practiced procrastinators, for it looks really different from playing hooky—genuine slacking. Being ordered to relax leaches much of the fun out of the effort, rendering it more work than fun. One cannot be meaningfully permitted to possess what must rightfully only be freely taken. Without that freedom, Rest becomes nothing like what the sentencing judge intends. It cannot possibly be healing. It becomes a form of avoidance, a demerit rather than an accomplishment, a ruthless, if not all that unusual, form of punishment. The urge to idle ages poorly, quickly transforming itself into simple boredom, turning its practitioner into nobody worth emulating, worse than worthless in his own eyes.

All the work not engaged in gathers around him.

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Recovering

recovering
Indonesia, Central Java:
God Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles
(9th/10th century)


"I have no fallback position …"


I despise lingering. I much prefer events to come and go cleanly without smearing messes all over the countertops. My wounded shoulder (Deltoid Bursitis, the doctor diagnosed) continues lingering, leaving me feeling like a malingerer in the middle of harvest season. I've been resting as the doctor prescribed, resting then testing, for I know of no other way to determine if the ailment's past than to do things beyond the prescribed boundaries of resting. I have accumulated enough rest over the past two months to make up for every sleepless night I've ever experienced, and still, the pain returns with little encouragement. Lifting a gallon of milk recently set it off again. I am becoming surprisingly adept at using my left arm for most things.

I realize that I'm enrolled in some graduate studies in the fine and frequent art of Recovering.

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WritingSummary 07/20/2023

ws070202023
Anders Zorn:
Augustus Saint Gaudens II
[Saint Gaudens and his model] (1897)


A Step In A Very Long Cycle
I find partially decomposed apricot pits in my flowerbeds because in years past, I threw the culls into our compost heap, where the fruits would quickly decompose into rich dirt, but the pits would remain like small stones in the mix. The Rule of Compost insists that whatever ends up in there will be resurrected many times, eventually becoming indistinguishable from surrounding dirt—eventually becoming dirt—except for those pits, which remain for decades as markers of the dirt's heritage. This writing week found me loading up the compost heap with apricot culls again. We've had more bumper crop than we can keep up with, so each day has a period where I collect smashed remains. I set down tarps to catch most of them because it's easier to scoop up the goopier ones off the tarp than off the sidewalk. This chore will be the first step in a very long cycle, one which will continue long after The Muse and I leave this place behind us. This weekly writing summary seems like a similar effort, a step in a very long cycle, too.

Weekly Writing Summary

I began my writing week recounting my experiences U Picking produce after an afternoon picking somebody else's cherries in
ForToBe. "I seem to need to be a multiplicity, switching roles and identities. I could never bear to merely remain whatever I'd become. Achievement breeds its own dissatisfactions."
fortobe
Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)

"ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes."

I continued writing, remembering when I discovered a cache of my mother's home-canned Italian Prunes when cleaning out the old home place in
Preserving. "We preserve for an uncertain future. Perhaps we only preserve for ourselves. Or maybe, just maybe, we preserve to preserve the tradition."
preserving
Vincent van Gogh: The Blue Cart
[Harvest at La Crau]
(1888)

" … wipe away my leaking past."

I explained how I source the images I use in my postings in
Museo. "It's a brilliant contribution, and in the spirit that I post and in which the Internet was created, it's not seeking profit, just a better world."
Museo
Edward Burne-Jones: The Garden Court (1870–75)

" This work continues in earnestness and love."

I told the story of what I labeled the
StandardDilemmas, those situations which render us powerless. "We're raised on fables and typically so damned full of ourselves that we cannot quite believe in our occasional powerlessness. We rarely acquiesce, thinking it a form of cowardice, so we make a fuss and produce much of the drama surrounding us."
standarddilemmas
Lucas van Leyden:
The Expulsion from Paradise (1510)

" … continue collecting experiences."

I described how a friend had agreed to pay a cool half million dollars to buy a hovel in a neighborhood of other half-million dollar hovels in
*Homemading. This story proved the most popular this period! "Societies thrive on humble beginnings that promise, fifty years hence, a fenced yard where the grandkids can romp with the neighbor kids."
homemading
Carl Mydans:
Tar papered house in New Jersey. (1936)

"Societies go to wither and die where everybody tries to earn a cool million in real estate."

I next spoke of dreams not coming true and of how I managed to get through my first great disappointment by playing
A Different-Shaped Guitar. "I lost nothing of substance when I hit that wall. I only lost a medium that, truth told, had not been working for me for a very long time. Dreams, even the best of them, can only ever sustain a dreamer so far."
ADifferent-ShapedGuitar
Imitator of
Juan Gris: Still Life with Guitar (1913)

" … a success or a failure might depend upon nothing other than whether …"

I ended my writing week on a serious but lighter note, describing what I personally consider to be
SartorialSanity. "The Muse is forever asking me how I like her "top" I hadn't noticed. I almost always insist that whatever she's wearing looks just fine. I wonder what she thinks she's doing, asking the opinion of someone who considers his stained Chambray painting shirt the height of SartorialSanity."
SartorialSanity
John Singleton Copley: Nicholas Boylston (1767)

"It's all about how they feel."


We're in that season where every morning promises to turn into Too Darned Hot before noon. Early morning offers the only respite. The cats and I inhabit those hours like refugees, reveling in sweet breezes before they become dehydrating again. MidSummer's a dreaming season, like its first cousin MidWinter, where sanity depends on an active imagination. I began this writing week with ForToBe, imagining someone I only occasionally get to be and never completely. The Muse and I accomplished some Preserving, thinking we were mainly trying to preserve ourselves and our traditions. I stumbled into a nest of Standard Dilemmas. Who doesn't sometimes? I was reminded of the downside of ever-expanding real estate markets and fondly recalled learning to play A Different-Shaped Guitar. I ended the week appreciating the insanity that manages, most days, to keep me sane and beautifully dressed, at least according to my standards. Thank you for following along here.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved






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SartorialSanity

SartorialSanity
John Singleton Copley: Nicholas Boylston (1767)


"It's all about how they feel."


I have been Honing my fashion sense since my early teens, and I formally swore off short-sleeved shirts. During my professional career, I insisted on wearing starched shirts and woolen trousers regardless of the season, later gravitating toward blue jeans and simple cotton shirts. In recent years, I've reduced my wardrobe to the basics: long-sleeved blue chambray shirts, blue jeans, and Barefoot® shoes. My nod to seasons includes optional socks in the summer and cotton jersey pullovers through the cooler months. My closet holds a dozen almost identical cotton shirts and a spare pair of jeans. That's as dressy as I ever care to be these days.

I do not wear shorts, whatever the weather.

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A Different-Shaped Guitar

ADifferent-ShapedGuitar
Imitator of Juan Gris: Still Life with Guitar (1913)


" … a success or a failure might depend upon nothing other than whether …"


At some point in their career, everyone hits their wall. The fortunate find more than one. The experience fully qualifies as the most discouraging anyone ever encounters because it represents the end of a long and satisfying dreaming period. The Wall, at first innocuous, eventually becomes a serious barrier, impossible to go over, under, around, or through. What's a protagonist to do in the face of this flummox? The standard answer responds "Something else." Anything else.

The 'anything else' comes as a forced choice, a coerced alternative that nobody would ever wish upon themselves.

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Homemading

homemading
Carl Mydans:
Tar papered house in New Jersey. (1936)


"Societies go to wither and die where everybody tries to earn a cool million in real estate."

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz was no villa when The Muse and I bought the place nearly a quarter century ago. It then promised to serve as our fixer-upper, our bottomless money pit, our eventual salvation. We paid too much for it, which would not get us into a dilapidated garage in the current market. Like many neighbors, we could not afford our place if we tried to buy it at today's prices. Today's real estate prices have always seemed insane. Yesterday's have always seemed crazy, too, but for the opposite reason.

I bought my first house for $49,950.

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StandardDilemmas

standarddilemmas
Lucas van Leyden:
The Expulsion from Paradise (1510)


" … continue collecting experiences."


I believe in the existence of a set of StandardDilemmas whose primary nature has always been that they utterly negate human agency. No matter what even the most well-meaning human might muster in the face of any of these, that human will remain utterly powerless against it. One might exhibit wisdom when encountering one of them to cede to the superior force, to go without much kicking or screaming, for they represent incarnate fate. If there's nothing to be done, then nothing might serve as the proper response. Yet people rarely exhibit such rationality when facing inevitables. We're raised on fables and typically so damned full of ourselves that we cannot quite believe in our occasional powerlessness. We rarely acquiesce, thinking it a form of cowardice, so we make a fuss and produce much of the drama surrounding us. If the arrested person would just go without a fuss as the arresting officer thoughtfully asked, the unfortunate experience might pass without raising a ripple in the pond. We often insist upon making needless tidal waves instead.

It's not that we don't usually know when we've encountered one of The StandardDilemmas.

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Museo

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


" This work continues in earnestness and love."


Their structure has changed in the six years and counting since I began writing these story series. Early postings featured inconsistent format from story to story, though all have remained about the same size, approximately seven hundred words, give or take. Each has featured an image, one which I used to help me focus, for I always, always, always seek an image first before I start writing a story. The image allows me to envision what I'm doing and serves as my companion as I create. I often find myself taken by an image, its creator's story, or both. You might have noticed that sometimes I've employed a series of pieces by the same artist over a week or ten days because I was just so taken by that artist's work,
Matsubara Naoko a great example.

Finding that art has become easier over time.

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Preserving

preserving
Vincent van Gogh: The Blue Cart
[Harvest at La Crau]
(1888)


" … wipe away my leaking past."


After my father died and my mom relocated from the family home into assisted living, I helped clean out that old home place. It was over-filled with memories of times by then long past, as embodied in my mom's knick-knack collection, the mere existence of which spoke of bygone ages. Do people still collect knick-knacks? Most stuff elicited no emotional response from me, but somebody in the family found almost every "treasure" evocative. For me, the basement Fruit Room held by far the fondest memories and evoked an epic lumpy throat. Those shelves behind those plain plywood doors held at least thirty years of Preserving experience in fine quart jars still lined up like well-disciplined soldiers standing at attention.

There were Italian Prunes from the late sixties, I swear. I think I was there when she "canned" them in the steamy mid-summer kitchen.

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ForToBe

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


"ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes."


Fruit picking has been a part of my life since I was a toddler. I felt liberated yesterday when standing near the top of that tall orchard ladder with my head nearer the stars and my hands pulling five, six, seven, or eight cherries off at a time! Whatever the crop, my experience seems similar. I face a randomly-distributed collection that I try to tame. I feel challenged to figure out a process that promises progress as well as satisfaction. I often need to recover almost-forgotten techniques, though no harvesting yields to any single best way. The Muse scrambles up very near the top of any ladder she climbs, preferring altitude above all else, while I typically make my stand mid-way. We pick at almost the same rate.

Some crops demand that I get down on my knees as if to pray and reverently harvest.

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WritingSummary 07/13/2023

ws070132023
Gust van de Wall Perné:
Vrouw schrikt van een kikker
[Woman scared by a frog]
(1887 - 1911)


More Abundant Than Strictly Necessary
This writing week was a genuine embarrassment of riches. The apricot tree's fruit finally ripened, always a momentous happening. It produces more fruit than any ten families could reasonably consume. I realized I still needed to purchase a tall ladder to reach the highest branches. This fruit ripens first and plummets to the ground or onto anyone passing beneath. The fruit seems almost liquid, splatting in joyous reunion with gravity and the Earth. I spend some time each morning shagging fallen cots, collecting their smeared carcasses before interring them in the compost heap. The world seems too alive by at least half, and The Muse and I rush to try to keep up, a fool's mission, a cherished task. This world seems more abundant than strictly necessary, extravagant, and ultimately wasteful. It specializes in conspicuous production, so we might specialize in conspicuous consumption. The homegrown heirloom tomatoes even started coming on. Harvest should continue uninterrupted until after Autumn arrives.

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Pairings

Pairings
Bernhardt Wall: Sunbonnet twins baking. (1906)


" … just like every other Pairing of The Muse and her surroundings …"


The Muse continues to hone her political presence. Two months into her campaign, she's repeated her elevator speech dozens of times and has yet to completely memorize it. She is not practicing as an actor might with the idea of replicating each performance but with the notion that each iteration might prove authentic. Authenticity changes from performance to performance as each occurs within a unique context. There's never any telling which part of any context might prove defining. Sometimes it's the people, and other times, the hall; consistency couldn't possibly be the purpose of her practicing.

Here in this wine country, there's a lot of talk of Pairing, for each wine best combines with some sample of each menu.

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WorstKept

worstkept
Unknown artist (German) or William Kent
Two Travelers under Tree
with Village and Bridge in Distance
(1707)


"Thanks ever so much for finally …"


With the possible exception of confidential and top-secret government material, the best-kept secrets tend to be the WorstKept ones. This conclusion partly stems from the inescapable fact that anyone holding a secret might as well carry a neon sign across their chest declaring that they're holding a secret. With the possible exception of deep cover spies, almost everyone can tell when someone's withholding the whole truth and nothing but. That private business almost always turns out to be a whole lot more public than its holder ever suspects. If the lips don't loosen, some other body part will. As humans, we seem to ache to disclose, and this innate need renders our secrets into an abstruse form of public knowledge. They might not know the details yet, but they know for sure you're withholding and that the underlying story's eventually coming.

It's usually just a matter of waiting or asking.

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CuttingCords

cuttingcords
Jan Harmensz. Muller:
Creation of the World: Day One,
separation of light from dark
(1589)


"I might regret the radical act, but later."


I'd decided when I first reviewed the standard contract they'd sent in response to my query. I'd been dreaming of working with this publisher for over a year, yet when confronted with the details of what that might entail, I knew in that instant we'd never consummate a deal. I'm no lawyer, a declaration my Business Law professor insisted I memorize, but I didn't need to be an expert in contract law to recognize an embarrassingly amateurish piece of ‘work.’ I felt embarrassed and angry. Embarrassed for the representative offering this P.O.S. and angry that anyone would have ever thought it might pass muster under any condition. I thought it must show the state of desperation and innocence combined in aspiring authors that anyone would ever sign such a thing, and then I felt embarrassed all over again for my compatriots.

A part of me thought I might have been too picky.

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Wronging

wronging
Hans Weiditz (II):
Behaarde man kruipt door een bos
[Hairy man crawls through a forest]
(1514 - 1531)


" … without expecting to eventually avoid making more."


The Honing life involves more than and seems different from positive feedback loops. It primarily entails catching myself doing something wrong and nudging myself closer toward some path of righteousness, correcting my error if possible. My legacy might end up being a long series of close misses with a few more spectacular further misses sprinkled in for variety. Few hits and many, many misses. In the end, I will contend that I was in the game without often experiencing a winning season because my standards were never quite satisfied. My successes were failures, too, not usually on the scale of my catastrophes but of similar quality.

This lifestyle's no tragedy, far from it.

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RealPain

realpain
Theodore Lane: Champagne verdrijft de pijn
[Champagne driving away real pain]
(1825 - 1826)


"Waiting seems the worse sort of RealPain."


I, probably like you, have sometimes been called a real pain in the ass. I confess to the charges even though I struggle to accept the concept of RealPain, for pain seems almost entirely illusory. That's not to say that pain can't make a reasonably convincing case that it sometimes has substance; it's just that whatever that substance might be, it seems extraordinarily elusive. Even medical doctors rely upon a silly cartoon chart to asses pain levels, and their test requires patients to assess and report their own levels when most patients lack adequate experience to pass such judgments. My little sister, who would cry at the drop of a hankie, might declare a pain level of eleven for something I'd most likely label a twinge.

I've lived with chronic pain but learned not to take it very seriously.

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ZombieLand

zombieland
Hablot Knight Browne:
The Broken Cart-Rope
(n.d.-mid-nineteenth century)


Just before the 1929 market crash, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would, a hundred years hence, inhabit a world requiring them to work no more than fifteen hours per week. Even then, he insisted that fifteen hours would provide more labor than the economy would strictly need to effectively operate. We easily notice today that this prediction has yet to come to fruition, though we might notice too easily and miss seeing what's happening around us. Yes, most report ever-growing pressure to work ever more hours. Yes, overwork has developed somewhat of a cachet, a status symbol such that those who work the most believe themselves to be the most essential. Yes, everyone complains about their lack of leisure time, but I'm curious if leisure means what it meant back in 1929 when Keynes published his prediction.

Leisure time then didn't include a minute of cell phone time.

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TottingUp

tottingup
Unknown Artist:
Daikon Radish and Accounting Book (19th century)


“Data-Driven crazy …”


Come Friday morning, I'm TottingUp the week's receipts, just as if I ran a small business. I count the customers and imagine significances like bean counters have always done. I avoid the formal metrics, Google Analytics® and the like, because something about how I initially organized my web presence rendered it impossible to formally evaluate. I count contacts instead: likes, comments, and views assigning a nominal value of one (1) to each. For instance, a post like this week's Discernment attracted forty-nine views, no comments, and a single like on Facebook. It also showed twelve accesses via a LinkedIn link and twenty-one via my newer Substack path, for a total of eighty-four somethings. I have no idea what that number means other than it represents something equally indeterminant and rewarding. It's my payoff!

Since each of my stories seems separate and unique, they aren't comparable.

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WritingSummary 07/06/2023

writingsummary07_05_2023
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [baby reaching for typewriter] (1950)


We Almost Exclusively Worship Mammon
General Electric, the once proud exemplar of mid-century industrial America, spouted its motto: "Progress is our most important product" in grandiose television advertisements. Productizing progress seems a fair portrait of our post-war arrogance, one still firmly held by our more conservative neighbors. GE's pride prefaced their fall at the hands of another CEO who firmly believed himself brighter than everyone before him. The ones since he retired have found ample reasons to wax their vitaes, too, since history seems to see old Jack Welch as short-sighted now. Such is vision when it confronts experience. It becomes so much schmutz on the old eyeglasses, eventually in the way of seeing what's right before one and whatever's behind. I exclusively wend my way. I take my time. I'm in no hurry to arrive; Lord knows where. I'm more of a journey-focused person. I feel fortunate to have stumbled into my present and even to be dragging my considerable past behind me. I gratefully do not have to drag all that much progress behind me. It might be that the Chamber of Commerce's mid-century characterizations of the future coming, featuring flying cars driven by Spandex® citizens, helped me better appreciate how it was rather than worship progress. I'm down on my knees most mornings whispering prayers of thanksgiving that this nation was not founded Christian. We almost exclusively worship mammon here, if we can think of that as any kind of organized religion.

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OutOfSight

outofsight
Collection of Barnett and Annalee Newman:
Eyeglasses, in case (20th century)


" … everything becomes clearer."


My eyeglasses collect schmutz better than any other substance known to man. I cannot keep up with them. Further, this schmutz seems invulnerable to any but a serious professional's hand. I, for instance, am powerless to clean my glasses. The Muse is forever noticing that I probably cannot see anything through the grimy layer accumulated on my lenses. She's apt to snatch them from my face, take them into the kitchen, and subject them to vigorous scrubbing before returning them, disgusted at my lack of hygiene and caring. I have grown indifferent and consider it my fate to move through the world half-blinded by schmutz. I occasionally visit a local optometrist to get that stuff professionally removed. My latest visit started a mystery that entertained me for two full weeks.

The person cleaning my glasses noted that the lenses had become seriously scratched in addition to the almost impenetrable layer of Schmutz.

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RetailPolitics

retailpolitics
Russell Lee:
Group of residents of Weatherford, Texas,
listening to politician speak

(1939)


"This just seems a fait accomplis."


Politicians, like used-car salespersons, mostly deserve their terrible reputations. They seem to shave the truth more proficiently than a barber might shave a baby and just as unnecessarily. We approach them warily, if at all. We understand that they can put almost anybody under a thrall. We swear we will not fall again then we reliably do. We hold ourselves to blame but sense something profoundly unsound in our characterization. The politician can seem to be everybody's friend and also frame anybody as their enemy, seemingly the same person, sometimes simultaneously. We sense a dark art at work, another bait and switch, yet we still take sides. We justify the better of two obvious evils before voting the same straight ticket. Forced choice voting often leaves us sensing little choice at all.

The Muse is running for public office and so might well be fairly characterized as a politician, a politician being one who runs for public office.

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Dandy

dandy
William Nicholson: An Alphabet: D is for Dandy (1897)


“ … not as anybody's Dandy, Yankee Doodle-Do, or died.”


I am not a Dandy, Doodle-Do, or otherwise. Come the Fourth of July, I do not rush out to buy my weight in fireworks. I'm more apt to hide behind the garage, praying with my eyes closed for an early cessation of whatever hostilities fueled the heavenly outrage. I do not consider the recreation of artillery barrages a fitting representation of our Democracy's intentions. We were never defined by our hostilities but by our peaceful nature. We were never the type to pick the fight, more the type to work hard to end it, though our record could be better on this one. We have been known as haughty but never in the way that monarchs can get. You know how they can get. Those dudes seem as Dandified as all get out. They look and act ridiculous. Not like Democrats or even Republicans, with exceptions notable because of their extreme departure from our usual No Dandies traditions.

We prefer the plain-spoken sort of politicians who can tell their story straight.

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MakingDo

makingdo
Lewis Wickes Hine: Making Pittsburg Stogies (1909)


"Envy us."


The Muse and I feel blessed to live very near the end of most commercial logistics networks. This Center of Our Universe isn't conveniently on the way to or from anywhere. Our founding fathers made deliberate decisions to isolate this valley. Rebuffing the railroads, they chose to forego what would have most certainly caused commercial development. At the time of the great silver rush into Northern Idaho, Spokane, today a city of over 200,000 souls, amounted to a sawmill and an isolated Indian Agency. Walla Walla reached its commercial peak then, about the same size as now, with both prospectors and their supplies routed North through what was then the commercial center of the whole Northwest. No longer.

Likely, a few things on our shopping lists will not be available here for any price.

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Garge

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


" … I tidy until my soul can breathe again."


I think of myself as reasonably fastidious but lapse a lot in practice. My garage serves as my center, the abiding indicator of my general well-being. For many, their desktop serves this purpose, the clutter or absence of it the reliable outward sign of an inward orderliness. My desktop has never not been an apparent disaster, yet I can place a finger on anything teetering there faster than I can recover anything anywhere. Obvious clutter does not necessarily speak to internal disorderliness except in the case of my garage or, as I refer to it, my Garge.

Being the absolute center of my universe, my Garge says most about my mental health.

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Arcing

arcing
Aaron Bohrod's America, its history (1946)


"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. "
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
Speech given at the National Cathedral,
March 31, 1968


" … thinking ourselves especially blessed."


The history of these United States records a definite Arcing trajectory. We do not do straight lines. Neither did our forebears. We sidle up to our futures and tend to wend away from our results. We move like drunken sailors inexorably toward our salvation, and we, probably above everything, firmly believe in our eventual salvation. Any half-baked efficiency expert could demonstrate the obvious errors in our ways, in our methods, but we seem unteachable, uninterested in straightforward pathways. We're so damned busy meandering that we can only ever see trees, rarely forest. We disagree about almost everything yet insist that we're somehow united, one nation under our multitudinous God, with aspiration enough for all. Liberty and justice might seem to be trailing ever further behind, but that's just an illusion, the result of our Arcing course, making it damnably difficult to precisely pinpoint our position on our path toward our sure salvation.

Democracy amounts to the ultimate faith-based initiative.

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WritingSummary 06/29/2023

ws06292023
Percy Loom Sperr:
One of the letter writers in the
Ellis Island Hospital Library

(c. 1920s)


Considerably More Alive
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this week's revelations. My Vanity story couldn't describe the depth of my discovery because I wrote it just as I noticed the shift starting. A few days later, I continue reeling, realizing I could become a proudly vain author. Vanity Publishing seems a pejorative term bestowed by its competition to demean it in the author's eyes. It delineates an elite by omission, a chosen few selected to represent a whole with a decided minority. It elevates the importance of gatekeepers and reputation as if follow-on success were necessarily the product of past performance when the future remains undecided until well after it’s past. I now feel embarrassed by my hesitation to fully engage with my gifts, however questionable, in favor of impatiently waiting for recognition that was always unlikely to arrive. I feel considerably more alive after this writing week. May this sensation continue and expand.

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PerfectGame

perfectgame
Juan Gris: Glass and Playing Cards (1915)


"Play ball, not perfection!"


"The 10 regular seasons in between (2013 through 2022) featured 22,765 imperfect games," wrote NYTimes sportswriter Tyler Kepner the morning after. A PerfectGame was pitched the evening before by Yankee's pitcher Domingo Germán, who fans booed off the mound his previous start. It had been eleven years since the last Major League Baseball PerfectGame. Only twenty-four have been accomplished in MLB's long history stretching back to the 1800s. The feat will not guarantee the pitcher Hall of Fame notoriety. If history's any predictor, he's much more likely to retire into obscurity. Perfection remains just what it used to be, without lasting honor, especially in its own land.

I Hone with the implicit notion that I am seeking more perfection.

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Chronic

chronic
Duane Stephen Michals:
The Human Condition (1969)


"The Human Condition exclusively works in ways mysterious."


The Human Condition first seems acute and only later appears Chronic. There never was a cure for it, and though it at first seems passing—eminently overcomeable—it isn't. It never was. It seems more applicable to others than to you or me, but it belongs to everybody, though not necessarily equally. I acquire my aches and pains the same way as everybody. They visit, often without discernible reason, first acute, then, some of them becoming Chronic without rhyme or particular cause. The Chronic ones might settle in forever or seem to. My problem centers around my expectations. When I believe my pain's just visiting, I treat it as a guest. They might be my sensations, but I won't take them as seriously as if they were a permanent part of my extended family. Pain or Human Condition seems very much the same; we can reasonably anticipate them bedeviling us again and again and again.

My revelation yesterday transformed a long-standing acute condition into a Chronic one.

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Vanity

vanity1
Jan Saenredam after Abraham Bloemaert, published by Robert de Baudous:
Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity (c. 1600)


"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,
vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away,
and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth for ever."

Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 King James Version


I have for years danced against the idea that I might work with a "vanity" publisher. The vanity press represents that part of the publishing world where an author contracts with a service bureau to do all a standard publisher might do. These tasks include: registering a work and securing an
ISBN—a unique registration number assigned to each edition of a published work, designing format and layout, cover design, production, and placement, among many other possible services, paid for up front by the author. The mythology of authorship insists it's humiliating to work with a vanity publisher because a real author should properly be discovered and pampered into print by a benevolent publisher who fronts the resources necessary to produce the work. In the myth, the publisher more than recoups their investment from the resulting widespread acceptance. Each new title is always destined to become a best-seller, and every author produces well above average sales.

In practice, many fewer than one percent of published works recoup their production cost.

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Blindly

blindly
Paul Klee:
Follows with Concern, As Both are Blind (1927)


"… I'm unlikely to really understand how or why."


I might say that I resolved my hash mark issue, but that would, at best, be a partial truth. The issue was resolved, and yes, I was involved, but it would be a stretch to claim that the resolution was my fault. As I explained in earlier installments—
ArrowingThrough and StrategicHesitation—I'd received hints and instructions from fellow users of my manuscripting app, though they didn't immediately resolve my issue. Five tries had left my situation worse and me increasingly frantic. I'd decided to give it a rest, resolving to stand aside and leave that sleeping dog lie for a day before making a sixth attempt to fix anything. The lag time worked, for my sixth attempt resolved the issue, though I cannot definitively say why. I did what I'd intended to do the first five times, but only that last attempt worked. I'm left no wiser and, if anything, more hesitant to engage in further Honing efforts. The headings seem slightly too small, but I'm more inclined to leave them as they are since my earlier efforts had somehow made them disappear.

I Hone after some ideal, often just a notion of what might be possible, essentially Blindly.

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Insignificant Increments

insignificantincrements
Alberto Giacometti: Le Buffet (1957)


" … grown to annoying dominance …"


Honing work—and perhaps all work—exclusively occurs in InsignificantIncrements. Each piece initially reeks of insignificance and even accumulated into bunches, rarely seeming like very much. My Weekly Writing Summaries, which I push out early every Friday morning, sometimes seem to approach significance. Still, even those seem comprised of more grunt work than any casual reader might suspect. I've come to dread Thursdays, the end of my writing week, because they always bring this obligation which I swear is sacred but the creation of which most often feels perversely secular. I buck up and perform my work as if it might eventually prove meaningful, though I also compose it exclusively in InsignificantIncrements. Any thought I might be up to anything grandiose fails to pass my Smell Test.

Once I manage to accumulate ninety of my stories into manuscripts, I once thought those might rise to some level of significance, but those, too, prove to be stunningly banal in creation.

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StrategicHesitating

hesitatating
Alfred Stevens: Hesitation (Madame Monteaux?) (c. 1867)

" … obscured in utter ignorance.#


#

After receiving the fifth follow-up advice for fixing my hash mark difficulty, I engaged in StrategicHesitating. I rarely immediately follow up on any instruction. I ruminate on it first. I was not interested in a quick fix, for in my experience, quick fixes tend to encourage downward spirals where I end up in deeper and more mysterious trouble than I had before I'd asked for assistance. I need to circle the solution first. As I did in this instance, I will pretend to implement the fix, accessing the seemingly appropriate pages but not saving any adjustments. I wanted to determine what would happen if I saved the changes without exposing myself to the risk of actually changing them. I still didn't know what I was doing, but instead considered following essentially blind instructions. It's not that I didn't trust the advice, either, just that I was confident that I didn't understand the whole of it. I needed further orientation.

#

StragegicHesitating seems like a small investment.

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ArrowingThrough

arrowingthrough
Fernand Léger:
The Railway Crossing (Sketch) (1919)


" … colleagues who don't quite understand why I don't quite understand."


Filled with the resolution of a new series, I chose to report what appeared to be a bug with my manuscripting system. I often work around shortcomings with software because I've been run around the block enough to understand that I'm probably misusing the system. Its keepers do not always warmly receive my reports. They often blame the messenger. Not that this messenger was ever necessarily blameless, mind you, but the interactions can feel abusive and are not always conducive to progress. Most of the systems I use feature areas where I, by experience or habit, refuse to go. I've learned that some functions work for others but not for me. I've grown to understand that I very likely misuse every system I employ, not just because they were seemingly designed backward, though most were. I cannot recall one I've used that was designed forward.

So, it was with circumspection that I reported this shortcoming.

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WritingSummary 06/22/2023

ws06222023
Attributed to Elisabetta Sirani:
Young Woman Writing or Drawing
(n.d. - mid-17th Century)


Now Is The Time
There's nothing else like the enthusiasm accompanying a New Beginning. Old beginnings seem materially different because we've already traveled those routes before. The New Beginnings involve different paths and destinations, so not even our best imaginations can properly set expectations. I dream big then as if precedent were meaningless and everything might be different this time. There will be space to relearn that space and time remain relatively unchanged regardless of the charted path. We remain denizens of the same neighborhood regardless of where we travel. A new series, though, opens many doors. I already perceive my usual routine as different. I'm focusing on other things than I attended to when writing my Publishing Series. Honing might allow me to implement lasting improvements, which might even make my life a little easier. I've already created a little template that might allow me to avoid ten minutes of typing each morning. This after doing the alternative only about twenty-one hundred times. New Beginnings insist that now is the time, and so it is.

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FineTuning

finetuning
Jules Bastien-Lepage:
Mower Honing a Scythe (1878)


I woke feeling ill at ease on this first full day of Summer. I finished my Publishing series yesterday and finished reading the manuscript I'd created in the background of writing that series by midafternoon. I had yet to decide whether to continue creating a new series this morning or take an extended break to try my hand at something else for a change. The world seemed more disconnected than usual in the predawn darkness. The cats noticed that the rhythm of my morning routine had been broken. We ached together for its return. There was no more obvious cure than simply starting another series, but what topic?

I looked back at my last few series: Authoring, Reconning, Againing, SetTheory, Success, and Publishing, wondering what might serve as a natural next in the progression.

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MoreBegendings

morebegendings
Winslow Homer:
The End of the Day, Adirondacks (1890)


" … the serious side of the practice."


Today is slated to extend fifteen hours and forty-five minutes, with sunlight visible for seventeen hours. These conditions make this the perfect day to end something. They also suggest a new beginning, for each ending abuts into whatever comes next. This day marks six years since I began this now lengthy experiment where I would try to create a new story each morning. I long ago lost the need to try very hard to accomplish this end. The stories slip out as a matter of course now. This morning, though, I wonder if this story, this final story in my Publishing Series, shouldn't be my last produced under this regimen. I began this practice following a professional disappointment and a lengthy discouragement. I thought it might prove courageous or at least foolhardy to create a story every morning to try to prove something. If writers write, it would not be unreasonable to expect me to write each morning since that's what writers do. That or else, perhaps I wasn't quite the writer I'd imagined myself to be.

I turned out to at least be the writer I'd imagined myself to be and more.

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TidyingUp

tidyingup
Russell Lee: Cleaning up manure in milking shed. Large dairy, Tom Green County, Texas (1939)


"It's up to the protagonist to decide what …"


Almost as if by magic, another ending arrives. The distance to the end appears impossibly long at the beginning, and it stays that way until the last few days. The morning before the final one, it might suddenly dawn on me that I never intended this series to last forever and that it, too, would be ending soon. I'm rarely ready to begin anything and even less prepared to finish. I have yet to produce what I imagined I would produce back when I chose Publishing as my theme for this quarter. I'd imagined I would have published something by now, but I have yet to. I moved closer to a point of publication, but I cannot determine for certain. I made progress preparing a single manuscript without finishing that work, though there's still time to cross that line before this series runs out of allotted time tomorrow.

Things take as long as they take.

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MakingMantras

makingmantras
Rockwell Kent: Meditation (1929)


" … merely MakingMantras all along."


While reading beneath one of our backyard ornamental crabapple trees, it occurred to me that reading works like meditation. It seems to focus attention away as well as within, into, and without, the purpose often in doubt. I was reading a biography of John Singer Sargent, but it hardly matters the reading matter's content, for any words might encourage identical contemplations or self-similar ones. However thoughtfully crafted, the book and its contents do not serve as the sole or even the primary purpose of reading. They serve as mere mantras for the focus. They exist as context.

I was raised to believe—or somehow convinced myself—that the book was the object, the stuff that Publishing produced, but I might have been mistaken.

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AngryArm

angryarm
Paul Giambarba: The Withered Arm (c. 1960)


" … no fixing in the immediate offing."


I am taken by how much foreground attention even a superficial wound can command. The Vengeful god residing in my arm leaves it feeling angry and complaining whatever I do. I suddenly seem incapable of accomplishing anything without further insulting that AngryArm. I cannot play catch with my grandson without wounding the thing, so I decline to play. I cannot do anything without incurring more damage. As the list of things I cannot do without wincing continues growing, I wonder where all this might be going. The doctor who diagnosed the ailment (Deltoid Bursitis for those not paying close attention) wrote me a script for a ninety-day supply of remarkably ineffective pain medication. This prescription suggests that he anticipated a longer haul than a short one. I might be hosting this AngryArm for some considerable time to come. I try but fail not to think about this.

Now, everything seems influenced by the presence of this AngryArm, even my Publishing efforts.

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TheIllusion

theillusion
Strobridge & Co. Lith.:
Kellar and his perplexing cabinet mysteries (1894)


"The problem with communication is the illusion that it's occurred."

a common bit of folk wisdom


Publishing serves as a means of communication, and as such, it's subject to all the laws governing it. Primary among those laws might be TheIllusion, TheIllusion that it occurred. We inhabit the pointy end of eons of development of our communication channels. The very best I can claim about any of them might be that they're still subject to the same illusion that communication ever occurs. I famously struggle to keep up with my email, for instance, whatever 'keeping up' might entail. I understand that the probability of me receiving and comprehending any individual email as its sender intended remains slight, almost zero. The Muse is forever discovering that I never received the message she forwarded to me last week and, upon researching the cause, typically finds the message right where she had thought it would be, sitting plaintively in my email queue. It had somehow slipped by me without my noticing. Independent of her intervention, I never would have "received" it. It's the same for everybody.

Face-to-face oral communication seems just as likely to surprise and fail.

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WritingSummary: 06/15/2023

ws06152023
Bartolomeo Pinelli:
The Letter-writer in Piazza Montanara in Rome
(19th century)


We Inhabit Middles.
I realize I've already completed this series's final whole writing week. It might reasonably continue forever, and just how arbitrary was my decision to dedicate only a quarter to considering my Publishing issues. I've scratched some surfaces, some severely, but I surely leave remaining more questions than I've investigated. Each subject, each focus, seems to open something infinite within us. Yes, we might well find a universe within any old anything, for our curiosities reveal tremendous self-similarity. Each part of any infinite must also represent its whole; a piece of infinity might well seem indistinguishable from the total, smaller infinities retaining their context's character. Each writing week might be destined to fall short and leave more questions unanswered, but no amount of writing—or anything—looks very likely to ever get to the bottom of anything. We inhabit middles.

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20YearJob

20yearjob
William Merritt Chase: A City Park (c. 1887)


" … knowing that probably nobody will notice."


Most of my work seems short-lived. Mowing the lawn, for instance, buys me, at most, a week's reprieve from needing to mow the lawn again. Cleaning up the kitchen extinguishes in mere hours. According to my schedule, my writing, which I sometimes think of as eternal, must be added to each morning so its reprieve extends less than a day. If I finish writing a story by six am, another aches to be born by four the following morning. House maintenance work tends to run on much longer cycles. One repaints infrequently, often a few years after it becomes absolutely necessary. I think of it as a 20YearJob, one for which I will be much older by the time it needs refreshing. It might take me three or four years to entirely paint the Villa exterior, so it’s good that its frequency moves more like an ice age.

Yesterday, I finished refinishing three cast iron-framed park benches The Villa's prior owners left behind when they moved.

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Rapt

rapt_study_
Stuart Davis: Study for “Rapt at Rappaport’s” (1952)

rapt
Stuart Davis: Rapt at Rappaport's (1952)


"Publishing ain't whitewashing …"


Writers and editors long ago acknowledged that authors make lousy proofreaders and copyeditors because they're too involved with and invested in the object of their efforts. One would never dream of employing any craftsperson as their quality control inspector, for use demands a separate set of imperatives than fabrication ever does. The maker should fall under a thrall with his creations, ardor which properly disqualifies them from passing sound finishing judgments. While creating my latest manuscript, I harbored deep doubts about the product of my effort. Well into the first third of the project, I complained that I had not yet found the rhythm of it and openly wondered if the concept possessed any inherent rhythm within it. Only when I was more than halfway done did an underlying logic emerge. Then I became more protective than critical, more the father than the humble subcontractor.

A form of evolution governs the creation of a finished work.

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HearingMyselfThink

hearingmyselfthink
Follower of Frans Hals:
The Rommel-Pot Player (c. 1630)


"Nobody ever discloses greater secrets."


I believe, without hard evidence, that we each maintain a unique dialect of how we think. Unrelated to physical speech patterns, this manner of speaking to ourselves results from a lifetime of considering in the most personal possible ways. This voice accompanied us on our most harrowing as well as our most reassuring excursions. It was, quite literally, there then and remembers. It guided most of the figuring out we've ever accomplished. We might just as well consider it our most trustworthy friend.

It's a great gift when we're able to HearOurselvesThink.

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Contact

contact
Follower of Peter Paul Rubens:
The Apotheosis of the Hero (1630/40)


"We'll see where that takes us."


A year ago this week, a publisher contacted me to see if I might be interested in working with her organization. I reluctantly receive such calls because the caller often feels compelled to pressure me into agreeing to something before I understand the offer. Nobody appreciates feeling pressured into anything, so I feel baffled about why anyone relying upon persuasion or merely information to sell something would ever resort to pressuring anyone, but they do. I always ask for more details, paper if they've got it. I want to slow down the interaction so we might get to know each other before moving on to first or second base.

I've noticed a similar strategy at work when investigating the purchase of software.

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Harbingers

harbingers
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Workshop:
Young Woman at an Open Half-Door (1645)


“The outcome should properly prove surprising …”


The immediate care doctor reassured me that my latest ache need not be a Harbinger of things to come. It represents a strain that, properly treated, need not become chronic or recurring. I wonder, though, when aches and pains appear, whether they're here permanently, for good, ill, or whatever. In my youth, I imagined that aches and pains amounted to karma, just desserts due to some prior shortcoming or committed sin. Smoke for fifty years and see what happens. But as I've aged, I might have started learning better that much misfortune visits without an antecedent rhyme or reason, without representing anything but fortune. "It just happened" probably explains more than all the root cause analyses in the world. I still wonder which of my maladies might become permanent companions and which might reasonably disappear over time.

A month ago, I could quack like a duck, even flap my right arm wing-like in unison.

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WorkingWounded

workingwounded
Théodore Géricault:
The Wounded Cuirassier
[French: Le Cuirassier blessé quittant le feu]
(1814)


" … because that's what I do."


I admit to a certain degree of DIYdiocy. I do more than attempt to Do It Myself but sometimes seem to be actively engaging in Doing Myself In! A month or more ago, I finally set about cutting up those shrub trimmings clogging the driveway so that I could stuff them into the green waste can. After that work, an annoying ache took up residence in the region of my right deltoid, a shoulder muscle. I could manage that pain with regular doses of Ibuprofen and did. I tried to avoid activities that annoyed that spot, though just moving my arm laterally up or down could elicit a wince. I added some dedicated rest periods to my schedule and continued.

Repainting the back deck railings and superstructure brought fresh insults to my wound.

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FallingInto

fallinginto
Giuseppe Maria Crespi:
Bertoldino Falling into the Fish Pond (c. 1665-1747)


"How could I not continue?"


I prefer to think about the future as something I'm FallingInto. I understand the more popular notions insisting that we create and craft or design our futures, but those operations seem severely limited. Whatever my intentions or preferences, I might, at best, be able to choose my seat. The destination's almost always out of my control. This goes double for those engagements where I've taken charge of creating something. My influence, even under those conditions, seems at best secondary. Writing my current manuscript only came about partly by design. An awful lot of happenstance guided my hand. Much of my effort was only partially consciously driven. Writing anything includes elements perhaps best described as coming together. Set up a context, and much just follows. Any practice depends upon gravity guiding some FallingInto.

I do not suggest that I am mere flotsam. I exert great influence, just not as great and not necessarily to the degree I imagine.

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WritingSummary: 6/08/2023

ws06082023
Claude Emile Schuffenecker: Portrait of a Man Writing (19th-20th century)

If Irises Carried Grudges, Our Winters Would Never End.
I feel as though I made little progress this week, what with all the diversions and distractions presently haunting me. I might be blessed with so many interesting sidelines, but the ancient Chinese curse about living in interesting times echoes in more than just the background; it accompanies the foreground, too. Our front yard iris garden might best represent this writing week. This time last week, dozens of blooms graced the otherwise barren flowerbed. Now, only desiccated fronds remain a week later, and memories of those brilliant colors and alluring scents. Iris season lasts at most ten days, yet they require tending through the entire year. In winter, careless joggers and dog walkers tromp right through their territory. Come Spring, the unpromising plants come to reassuring life again, forgiving our many trespasses, each of which we most probably unknowingly visited upon ourselves. If Irises carried grudges, our winters would never end.

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CriticalEar

criticalear
William H. Martin: The largest ear of corn grown (c. 1908)

"I might have to smother it if I expect to succeed."


I get an earful when preparing my manuscript for Publishing. I listen to the stories in different ways than I listened to them just after writing them, and also different than I did while assembling them. Once assembled into a contiguous whole, I hear different voices than I remember hearing before. After so many repetitive listenings, my ear had learned to become more critical. If I'm not careful, and perhaps even if I manage to become really careful, my ear becomes critical. My prose relies upon a certain innocence from listening ears. Experienced through a critical filter, it seems to need endless reworking. It could have been simpler, my suddenly CriticalEar suggests. It could have been more eloquent. There's no end to the little improvements the later listenings suggest, just to be helpful, only to enhance.

I'm experienced enough to understand that the time for wholesale improvement has already passed.

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Diversions

diversions
Michael Wolgemut and Workshop
published by
Anton Koberger:
The Virtues of Christ and the Wickedness of His Enemies
Symbolized by Diverse Birds and Beasts (verso);
The Last Supper (recto),
pages 66 and 65 from the Treasury (Schatzbehalter)
(1491)


"… another good or great intention …"


Nexts tailgate my Publishing efforts as I move ever closer to concluding them, or I would be moving ever closer to finishing them were it not for the nexts crowding ever more closely and diverting my attention. I'm painting the back deck, by which I mean that I'm painting everything associated with the back deck except the deck surface, which was fabricated out of melted milk jugs and doesn't need painting. The railings and pergola-like superstructure above need repainting, so I set about to sand, wash, and sweep before settling into painting, a three-coat diversion that might take me a week to complete, what with the other diversions swarming my space. I started arranging to buy some tee shirts yesterday in lieu of painting and also instead of Publishing because The Muse is running for public office, Port Commissioner and I'm her campaign manager. Buying tee shirts pretty much marks the official start of her run. I'd been feeling delinquent because of all the Diversions lately tailgating my every movement.

I'll make no excuses or no concerted ones.

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TechSupport

TechSupport
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo:
God the Father Supported by Angels in Clouds, II (c. 1759)


"I once insisted that I would somehow maintain my naive state …"


I foolishly swore an oath when I was first introduced to what I referred to then as Barbie and Ken Computers. I referred to the so-called personal computers, those handy, steadily shrinking little machines we're not supposed to take too awfully seriously but do. My oath insisted that I would do everything in my power to remain a naive user of the damnable little things because I'd seen otherwise sentient beings disappear into some passionate swirl of technical engagement. Whether that attention went into coding or merely formatting didn't matter. My nonrefundable time mattered to me, and I swore my oath in the naive belief that I might somehow possess the power to make good on it, which, of course, I didn't.

To engage with technology inescapably transforms anybody into their own TechSupport.

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TeachingMyself

teachingmyself
Theodore Roussel: Portrait of Myself (1901)


"Teacher, teach thyself."


What sort of book have I written? What does this manuscript aspire to become, and what have I achieved by creating it? These questions dominate my internal dialogue as I listen to this almost-finished work for the very first time after spending months producing it. The story–the narrative arc—seems familiar but not overwhelmingly so. I only sometimes know where each story's going from its beginning, for I seem to have been blessed with a remarkably short memory. Each story's conclusions also seem familiar, though I often feel that I hadn't previously recognized some aspects. I often think the endings, in particular, exhibit a certain eloquence, a sense of accurately summing up something, but what am I reading? Fiction or non? Biography or vanity? Gibberish or wisdom or some tragic combination of the two?

The work seems just fictional enough to hold attention, though I based most of the stories upon actual events, however embellished.

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StoryTime

storytime
Attributed to Sumiyoshi Jokei:
A Story of Crickets (second half 17th century)


"The sweetest dreams always came before sleep …"


When I was a child, StoryTime was my favorite time of any day. My dad used to read to his children. We'd gather around, me often perching on the back of the couch, for the first imperative would always be to get just as close as possible to the narrator. The little sisters tucked in closest. He'd smell of aftershave. His baritone resonated whatever he recited. He was one of those who could read the stock market report to rapt audiences; the story's content always seemed much less important than his performance.

But even when he was unavailable to read, someone would read aloud, the older sister or even the youngest one when she was first learning to read.

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MindSetting

MindSetting
Adolf Hohneck, After Gustav Friedrich Schlick:
"My Peace of Mind is gone" [Faust] (1834)

"I could found The Truly Terrible Publishing Company to distribute my mediocre works out into an already grossly over- stuffed marketplace featuring ever fewer interested consumers." from my Success Series, TheGames, 12/26/2022

Sitting down to finally read through that freshly compiled manuscript proves impossible. Its author feels guilty instead. He senses he might be better off if he just skips reading through the result. He expects not to like what he's created as if the mere act of reading it could only disclose a previously undetected fatal error. If he was to be honest with himself, he could only reject the work and relegate it to history's ashcan, humiliated. So instead, he dances around the job, grateful he doesn't have a printer powerful enough to render its three hundred-plus pages to paper. He distracts himself, busying his attention elsewhere, hiding out. He cannot find an appropriate mind with which to engage in this work. He consequently feels justified in just shirking this necessary next step.

Perhaps he could just move to assembling the next series in line and become, rather than published, more accomplished at assembling, a necessary skill in the vast Publishing world.

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OldWeaknesses

oldweakness
Adolphe Martial Potémont:
Old Oaks at Bas Bréau (c. 1865)
“ … shamelessly incorporating our OldWeaknesses …”

I remain a change skeptic. I see clear evidence of change but perhaps clearer evidence that nothing very drastically changes. I remain who I always was, changes in context probably contributing more to the appearance of change than to any substance. I remain distinctly recognizable, even if my once girlish figure has disappeared into belly and sags. I still feel fairly youthful for my age. My OldWeaknesses remain if more contained than they were at times. My tastes have expanded some. My palate more refined. My experience clearly greater, but the unknowns still far outnumber the knowns, and my unknowables seem essentially unchanged across decades. I remain remarkably contained.

I suspect that my OldWeaknesses are my secret strengths.

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WritingSummary: 6/01/2023

ws06012023
Johann Andreas Benjamin Nothnagel:
Hermit Writing (18th Century)

A Decent Chance Of Becoming Requitable
Now that I've finished assembling my manuscript, my schedule allows me some distractions and respite from that all-consuming focus. I became a wannabe handyman again, entering The Home Despot only to have my desires dashed by the harsh realities they almost exclusively dispense there. Between that visit and a following one to a lumber yard, my grand plan to accomplish something besides manuscript assembling fell apart. I took these experiences particularly hard, for tight on the sense of success completing assembly had brought; I'd thought myself invulnerable to disappointment, only to learn better, by which I, of course, mean worse. I realize that my small successes influence little, almost nothing, yet they still feel consequential, at least until this old world starts dispensing its usual disappointments again. Again, I'm reminded of why I became a writer. It allows me to inhabit a world primarily of my own making, where my notions of what's possible hold a decent chance of becoming requitable.

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OnSpec

onspec
Constant Troyon: The Road to Market (1858/59)
" … worth gratefully beyond measure."

It pays nobody to misunderstand how Publishing works. It does not work like most markets or, depending upon one's ability to swallow experience, it works precisely like all markets, which is to say it works mindlessly. Those who believe they can predict how a particular work might sell, especially if from an unknown author, fool themselves first. Those who believe their book might make them rich and/or famous would be better served investing in lottery tickets, where the odds are somewhat better than those offered by Publishing's invisible thumb. Invisible hands put in their place, one need not necessarily remain naive to engage. Donald Trump, Jr., barely literate by most accounts, produced a best seller, but by the most tried and true method yet devised. The Republican National Committee purchased a hundred thousand dollars worth of the forgettable title "Triggered" the week it was released for use as "collateral," giving away a "free" copy with every donation. Trump's re-election campaign repeated that purchase with an even bigger buy. This market manipulation has become common among some wildly successful authors. You'd readily recognize their names.

Random House must be the most accurately named Publishing house ever, for the markets it serves primarily serve randomness to its players.

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Read

read
Nicolas Lagneau:
Elderly Man Reading a Book (C.1650)
" … one can be fairly certain it isn't …"

What does a writer really do? This kind of question seems useful, whatever the profession, for professions notoriously label themselves as something other than the professional's primary occupation. A cook might spend considerably more time prepping than cooking. A typical astronaut might spend less than 1% of their time actually astronauting, the balance spent primarily in training. Surgeons can only spend a few hours each day in surgery and expend the balance of their days engaging in all the ancillary activities attendant to performing surgery: diagnosis, evaluation, follow-up, consultation, etc. Nobody actually does what they're advertised as doing, not primarily, and a writer's no exception. So what do writers do in lieu of writing? They read.

Every book I've ever read about how to become a writer prescribed precisely the same regimen: Read.

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Poifection

poifection
Ben Shahn:
Detail of a log fence in central Ohio (1938)

"It must have been a form of magic …"

Nothing amplifies a sense of accomplishment like a long lead-up. Finish anything quickly and effortlessly, and little sense of elation accompanies the closure. Struggle over it, though, and it seems like a very big deal, indeed. Even the more evident and normal surface imperfections might seem to disappear in the shadow of the resulting joy. And so it seemed for this dreamer who set out to publish one of his works into something resembling a book. He learned that books do not just happen, nor are they the inevitable result of the concatenation of individual parts. They must be crafted, reworked, and reimagined, whatever their original form or concept. Much picky work and many unexciting details combine to finally produce something resembling a finished product. There's even more effort required after, but the appearance of something resembling a book works as a new beginning, a platform from which further adventures might resume.

I somehow managed to stumble upon the secret, that magic something allowing me to proceed to Go and collect my obligatory Two Hundred Dollars.

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PickyDetails

pickydetails
Charles Herbert Moore,
Copy after
Vittore Carpaccio:
Much Reduced Study of the Dragon in
Carpaccio's Picture of St. George and the Dragon,
in the Chapel of S. Giorgio dei [sic] Schiavoni, Venice
, 1876
"I'll never be much more than not quite a rank amateur …"

Once assembled, my manuscript must be printed before one more round of rereading and review. The formatting's not quite right, meaning I've entered the long-dreaded PickyDetails part of this Publishing process. I've long dreaded this stage because I have not even nearly mastered my manuscripting software, which seems by any measure an absolute behemoth. It does too much for any app even to attempt. Being a purported master of so many realms, the user who seeks no more than an informal relationship seems sunk from the outset. A unique vocabulary seems at least necessary to make any headway, and I still have not begun to master even a pigeon-English dialect for this one. The app comes with hours of detailed tutorial videos which introduce the app in curious slices. These videos induce sleep better than a bootleg prescription of Nembutal. Five or six years of experience with this app still leaves me well within the Naive User classification.

The question comes down to how I might accomplish this.

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Onward&Inward

onward_inward
Jessie Willcox Smith:
One foot up, the other foot down (1918)
" … exclusively produced by fools like me …"

Two months later, I stumbled across a finish line of sorts. I finally put together that manuscript I started assembling sixty days ago. This achievement amounts to more of a milestone event than a finish line one, for many subsequent steps remain along paths as yet clearly charted. I do not yet understand where this thread continues, just that I'm not at the end of it yet. However, this event still feels momentous, for assembling this bugger was a genuine struggle. Much of the effort required patience, a commodity perennially in short supply, especially when and if one's anxious to finish. The more one wishes to accomplish something, the more difficult it becomes to achieve. I suspect that if I could only become indifferent to accomplishing anything, my life would become a breeze, but without enough passion to sustain anyone, let alone me.  Besides testing dedication, frustrations help maintain momentum and purpose. I've made progress! Sixty-six thousand, nine-hundred and ten words, projected to produce three hundred and thirteen pages when printed. Estimated reading time: four hours and forty-seven minutes.

Next comes some different challenges.

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MixingMetaphors

mixingmetaphors
Jessie Willcox Smith:
Girl seated in flower garden (1905)
"Beware of good advice and even warier of better."

As I assemble my manuscript, I catch myself unable to imagine its contents. Yes, I wrote every word, but even after creating each story and reading through each several times, I cannot quite bring to mind most of its contents. I carry a general impression of whatever's between the covers, but the details escape me, or they would escape if they'd ever been captive. I sense that I might be especially stupid to find myself unable to crisply recall what I've written. When I reread a story, I quickly realized it was mine. I recognize the voice. I usually even recall the context within which each one emerged, but I'm almost at a loss to describe much of the manuscript's contents absent that prompting. I consider this a serious shortcoming.
Like all advice-givers and consultants, I once encouraged my clients to start with a singular focus.

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Introduction

introduction
Jessie Willcox Smith:
Heidi introduced each in turn by its name to her friend Clara (1922)

The Introduction tends to be the last chapter written and the first one read. The author might have drafted an Intro as at least a placeholder before writing the contents. That one better represented the writer's intentions but intentions rarely survive encounters with a keyboard. Like every paper you tried to write to the outline you were instructed to create before you started writing, writing takes intentions in different directions. By the time the author's finished writing, he holds a firmer impression of who he's become while creating the manuscript. More likely, it won't be until after he's finished assembling the manuscript before he finally manages to catch up with himself and affect some sort of Introduction. By then, he will have become different from the aspiring author he was at the beginning and even different from the more seasoned hack he became after he'd finished writing. The proofing and sequencing effort couldn't have helped but change more than just his perspective. It changed him into someone needing an Introduction to himself.
I have watched myself as I've crawled through this latest manuscript assembly.

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WritingSummary: 4/25/2023

writingsummary-_4_25_2023
Jessie Willcox Smith: Heidi writing (1922)


Refreshed if Groggy
I primarily create my weekly writing summaries for myself. I need the reminder of how I have spent my week, of what I've discovered. Once written, an insight's quickly forgotten, buried beneath subsequent discoveries. As I've assembled my latest manuscript, I have discovered plenty. I've been continually stumbling upon identities I'd forgotten I'd ever assumed, stories written in stone but still somehow lost, bits and pieces needing connecting. These stories do not just connect themselves. Connection requires deliberation, focused attention, and clear intentions. I catch myself over-anticipating creating these summaries. Come Thursday, I foresee a lengthy effort coming Friday morning. Often, something happens on Thursday that leaves me late to bed. The alarm rings almost viciously come early Friday morning. Still, I finish the summarizing effort, pleased with myself for having done it, for it marks a milestone as I create my next manuscript. I start my new writing week refreshed if groggy, clearer about my recent history, and ready to proceed into the upcoming unknowns.

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Resolute

resolute
O. Louis Guglielmi: The River (1942)


"Where another inertia ruled the start, its counterpart commands the finish."


I can't fairly characterize myself as relentless, but beyond a certain uncertain point, I have known myself to turn Resolute. This Publishing business, for instance, which has turned out to hold far more dimensions than I at first suspected, has left me feeling, in turns, helpless and reassured, overwhelmed and bored stiff. It has offered a gauntlet of negative reinforcement and many must-dos between the beginning and realizing my aspiration. I'd even gladly bartered away my beginning naivety for a better story once I realized that I could hold my dream or realize something tangible, but not both. Now that I'm down to the final few weeks of the planned excursion, I've grown more comfortable with the intrusion. I can sense an impending resolution; I swear that I can smell it now. Downwind of resolution, I might just as well turn Resolute.

My schedule, sometimes my staunch opponent, has now become my ally.

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TwoMillionPlus

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


"… we periodically pretended together that it was."


I claim to be a political Progressive, meaning I subscribe to the curious notion that progress remains both possible and net positive; unlike political Conservatives who view their future skeptically, often cynically, as if it serves as a descent from prior greatness, Progressives claw ever forward. In contrast, Conservatives seek to return to past glory. We cannot possibly experience either perspective, what with entropy and all, but they're belief structures, not intended to represent reality but to harbor aspirations. As a Progressive, I hold lofty aspirations. My Conservative neighbors seem to hold more catastrophic ones. It comes down to what sort of future I imagine since an actual future has yet to manifest and perennially can't.

The question of progress made and experienced eventually enters into every human activity.

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MysteryWithin

mysterywithin
Paul Gauguin: Arlésiennes (Mistral) (1888)

"He always was before."


I dreamed I was solving a mystery. Clues appeared before me, and I dutifully tracked them down, slowly building my case. Just when I felt as though I might be getting close to identifying the guilty parties, a thought visited me, an idea that, just for a second, wondered who was writing the story. Was I solving a mystery or staring in a story where I was cast as the detective, not really solving anything but more like serving as an author's character in some work of fiction, my role not real but made up. I considered shifting my focus then from merely acting as a mystery solver to chasing after the deeper mystery to see if I could identify who was this author. I received surprise testimony from a woman who claimed to be the actual author's mother, but even she needed help determining which part of the puzzle was figure and which was serving as ground.

I remember happening upon helpful strangers, of feeling baffled just before, as if by fortunate accident, fresh useful information came into my possession.

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Clicks

clicks
Albrecht Dürer:
The Four Horsemen, from The Apocalypse (c. 1498)


"How do I compare thee to a provocative headline?"


The cynicism in this world expands at an ever-expanding rate. What passed for crass fifty years ago will hardly make noteworthy today. From
Fuck Biden bumper stickers to clickbait social media headlines, today's world trades in raw attention—the less refined, the better. Publishing, too, has fallen prey to these emerging values—if I dare use value to describe what I see happening inside. Almost twenty years ago, some brilliant upstart experienced a revelation. Where Publishing had forever focused on distributing content as its purpose, an emergent goal appeared: attention. On the internet, the Click became the metric and the purpose, and everything was or would eventually be distributed via the internet. A hollow piece with an attractive title would easily attract more attention than any unprovocative, thoughtful piece. First one, then almost all others began focusing their attention upon attracting attention, upon encouraging Clicks. The brilliant insight centered around the realization that Clicks pay, but content doesn't.

At first, It didn't matter how long attention focused on any individual item.

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Obswerving

obswerving
Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre
(early 1887)


"The finished work isn't finished …"


I claim to be writing a series about Publishing, but I've grown increasingly uncertain if this effort will produce what it initially implied. I know, I know, that bait-and-switch suggestion might qualify as the subtext of this whole series so far. I can hardly pick up a stick but what that stick transforms into something else, or sure seems to. Iterate that experience a few dozen times, and anyone might come to question the basis upon which they'd drawn their conclusions. The jury might opt to continue deliberations and might not ever come to any firm conclusions other than that the case was clearly not as presented and not really as expected, either. It turned into something different.

Could I once, just once, leave well enough alone?

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WritingSummary: 4/18/2023

weeklywritingsummary4_18_2023
After Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael:
Seated Youth Writing in Book (17th/18th century)


Thrive On The Unresolvable
This week brought me back into my regular writing schedule after missing parts of three writing weeks. I had worried that I'd broken the trance that usually carries me into and through my writing work. I can be superstitious about my habits, mistaking them for necessary imperatives when they're more likely no more than random patterns. I learned—or I am still learning—that I need not necessarily fear upsetting my patterns. I am no longer the sum total of the habits I keep, for I have been actively breaking bad habits in favor of better ones, so far, without evident damage. In my relative youth, I might have been addicted to my life, convinced of the necessity of so many of my choices. One of the great gifts aging brings seems to be a loosening of those encumbering imperatives. I increasingly see that I am unnecessary, though I might still qualify as nice-to-have. I am no longer necessary if I ever was; my stories are not what they seem. It might be that our purpose here was never to resolve any great mysteries but to discover more of them. This world seems to thrive on the unresolvable.

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Piles

piles
Battista Franco: Rib Cages (early 1540s)

"Delusions like this one keep me moving forward."

One can tell a lot about an artist by learning how they organize their work. I utilize the venerable Pile, which started as a page, and emerged from an inadvertently random-access filing system. My legitimacy was always suspect because of the primitive methods I employed to keep track of my output. For me, Publishing attempts to right this error, to finally put form to what emerged almost randomly. My great sin as a writer and creator has always been that I have never understood what form my collected works might eventually take. I failed to properly anticipate. I'd produce a word, then a sentence at a time without deeply considering where I might store the product or what structure might best serve my someday heirs and archivists in the unlikely event that I left either behind. I'd pile one page upon another until the pile threatened to tip over, then I'd start another pile. Fifty years later, my library looks like an abandoned recycling center.

Fortunately, most of my pages and Piles are virtual.

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Repurposeful

repurposeful
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎: Recycling Paper (1821)


"I repurpose and therefore am."


By the time this story becomes part of a manuscript, I will have repurposed it several times. The manuscript itself might have always been the purpose of creating the story, but each seemed to need several interim iterations before I could quietly put it to rest there. It first appeared as a part of my daily production, my each and every morning writing practice. This initial iteration sure seems finished when I first post it, but it needs fixing before it can reach anything even remotely like its final destination. I often wonder if I could simplify this terribly complicated and intricate process until I recall that this present instance represents years of evolving improvements. The process isn't yet completely static, but it's become both much simpler and more complicated as various purposes have emerged and stuck into more or less permanent practices. I've become a Repurposeful writer, poster, and publisher, reworking essentially the same kernels to satisfy their varying purposes.

Much of this effort amounts to relatively mindless copying and pasting.

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Distracting

distracting
Allart van Everdingen:
Reynard disguises as monk and distracts cock
(17th century)


" … few intentions seem very far beyond us."


Publishing sure seems like an occupation especially designed to try a practitioner's patience. Every damned thing involved in the engagement takes longer than expected and ultimately seems more complicated than strictly necessary. Still, under the It Takes Whatever It Takes Rule, I cannot characterize even these demands as excessive. They simply refuse to align with my tastes. Someone somewhere would very likely find this work rewarding, but probably nobody who'd ever very likely find themselves actually asking to engage in it. Some professions seem just like this. They seem the exclusive domains of misanthropes, those who never hoped to find their gainful employment shipping out beneath those masts. Dies cast as they cast. I might just as easily insist that I've been blessed with my Publishing mess.

I lack sufficient discipline to make the headway I had been expecting, though, as with many things, I suspect my metaphor's lacking.

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Skeptical

skeptical
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins:
Miss Alice Kurtz (1903)


" … who once upon a time left a few utterly ordinary stories behind …"


I'm not much of a Booster. I'd make a piss-poor Rotarian, Kiwanian, or member in decent standing of the local Chamber of Commerce. My father before me stood off to the side, not precisely hiding but actively trying not to become the center of anyone's attention. The salesmen and hail fellows gladhand their way through their lives while others stand aside and gladly bid them pass by, for they seem to be on some mission. They're going somewhere, sure and certain of their own salvation, and excited at the prospect of improving others' chances, too. They seem to hold God's ear, his attention, with the explicit intention of collecting their due.

I feel uncertain whether I'm on a righteous path.

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Confidence

confidence
Adélaïde Labille-Guiard:
Portrait of Dublin-Tornelle (c. 1799)


"How could any of us ever experience the considerable benefits of our doubts if we've smothered them with our Confidence first?"


Confidence proves neither necessary nor sufficient to support any creative endeavor. It more often undermines an artist, who might find himself better served by slathering himself in criticism or doubt, for Confidence accentuates the positive at the onerous cost of other perspectives. It too easily evolves into studied self-deception, unshakable notions, and devotion to lesser Gods who grant unearned permissions and the pursuit of unwarranted commissions. One too easily falls into playing the Confidence Man, so practiced at self-deception that deception becomes first nature, trading in hollow and narrow platitudes, knowing for certain what nobody could ever know for sure, selling soap and Bibles.

The Confident author might not be worth reading other than as an example of what one should avoid reading.

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Outlying

outlying
Sebald Beham:
The Guard Near the Powder Casks
(Not Dated, c. 1520-1550)


" … my books look different than most others."


Each publication should be different than anything published before it. Not necessarily radically different, but just different enough. Nobody, for instance, really wants their New York Times to arrive looking like a tabloid Post or US News, for that difference makes little sense. So, superficially, each edition of The Times should appear, from a slight distance, almost precisely the same as every other, though once a decade or so, something so outrageous happens that the front page of even the staid and solemn Times might become an Outlier of itself to amplify the rarity of the reported event.

I try to make each of my stories unique.

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Disrupted

disrupted
Anonymous Germany (Wittenberg): Moses Destroying the Tablets (1558)


" … getting good and lost along the way?"


I usually isolate my stories from current events, hoping this convention will endow them with longer-lasting relevance. However, I make an exception with this story since this one considers Distruption. Today marks the end of the coronavirus public emergency, which, officials emphasize, does not mark the end of the coronavirus' influence on our lives. I, for instance, just tested positive (again) this morning, marking the thirteenth day of my first and so-far only Covid infection. The Muse recovered from hers more than a week ago and has been flitting around attending public meetings since then while I've hung out in the guest bedroom licking my wounds.

The libertarians, primitive thinkers that they've reliably proven themselves to be, gleefully proclaim that we live in an age of Disruption, just as if this condition were reason for celebration.

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Chiseling

chiseling
Unknown Indonedian/ Central Javaian Sculptor:
God Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles
(9th/10th century)


" … which explains my aching shoulder."


Publishing might qualify as a form of worship. Like all forms of worship, Publishing demands extended effort, as if Chiseling something out of stone, sculpting a practice from indifferent material. The practice itself needs to be coaxed into being using tools that should properly seem distinctly unsuited for their purpose, with straight edges intended to create curving lines and blunt instruments guiding the creation of fine edges. The outcome should seem unlikely from the outset and, if anything, even less likely as the faithful progress. This very difficulty feeds the resulting faith, encourages penitence, and sanctifies the practice. If it proved easy or convenient, it would prove worthless.

I mention this effort because the Amplified Collective revisited me yesterday.

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Rededicating

rededicating
Christian Julius Gustav Planer,
After
Philips Koninck: Hermit Reading (19th century)


"I might just as well be Rededicating my efforts …"


It doesn't take much to distract me. A tiny break in even a long-standing routine usually serves as more than an adequate impetus to go off my rails. I think of myself as a dedicated worker, but I seem to stand with one foot out the door, ready to divert my attention at the mere rumor of a hat dropping somewhere, anywhere. One might easily conclude that I lack an underlying discipline, and this observation might well prove both accurate as well as beside any useful point. Discipline should not be necessary and only prove essential in cases where one's held hostage, attempting to complete someone else's effort. Completing's one's own work should prove to enliven such that little discipline's demanded. I believe that if I'm focused on achieving my objectives, motivation should naturally take care of itself. That it only sometimes takes care of itself occasionally puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

The end of my Covid infection left me feeling ambivalent about Publishing, about everything.

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BoogeyMens

boogeymens
Vincent van Gogh: The Drinkers (1890)


“Our future seems secure together.”


Writing sometimes seems more like a haunting, for I am usually dredging up memories of past experiences to serve as grist for my work. I also sometimes exhume as yet unexperienced futures, and these can also prove to be problems. I imagine a few of my futures to be warm and inviting but more likely to harbor threats, many inhabited by BoogeyMens. The Boogeys remain from childhood stories rather than from lived experience. Their prior lives entirely consisted of stories, some of the types usually shared around a campfire on shadowy summer nights with a forest crowding in too tightly. Those stories promised an impending visit, scheduled for sometime between then and dawn. Later, some disturbance on the side of the tent will seem to announce doom's arrival, sparking some real drama inside. However, we almost always discovered the next morning some completely benign explanation for what we'd presumed had been our grisly demise. We'd somehow survived.

I've also somehow survived so far, though I often glimpse futures I would not willingly wish upon anyone, let alone myself.

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ReBeginningAgain

rebeginningagain
Attributed to Henry Fuseli: Perseus Starting from the Cave of the Gorgons (c. 1816)


"I should never again, ever be mistaken for anybody's spring chicken."


I somehow got the impression that beginnings and endings exclusively—or almost exclusively—came in matched pairs, with precisely one ending for each beginning and a single starting point for every ending. This notion could plausibly be further from the truth, but it needn't travel that far to expose its underlying fallacy. We've each seen multiple endings spawned from a single humble starting point, and many beginnings merge into a single ending. Commonly, something started finds itself interrupted, its routine disrupted, only to re-begin again; not usually to wholesale entirely start all over, but perhaps backtrack a little before trying to slip back into an established rut. These ReBeginnings always seem awkward, for it certainly seemed that the established routine had become well-engrained and unforgettable before the disruption. Some remembering with attendant struggling still seems evident. Nothing flawlessly re-begins.

Further, psychologists and metaphysicists insist that humans require disruption in their routines, however paradoxical this notion might seem.

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JustWhen

justwhen
William Michael Harnett: Just Dessert (1891)


"Life most often proceeds by other means than planned."


It might be an immutable law of this universe that JustWhen something seems lined up and ready to go, something else intrudes to blow up whatever best-laid plan was guiding the move. This presence justifies all the encouragement anyone can ever attract. But, regardless of how it feels, these intrusions are never about you. They're just this unsettling property of the universe breaking through at the invariably least convenient times. I know that it seems you get more of these than anybody, but that's a perspective illusion created by you having the only seat situated to see what happens to you but not to anybody else. Ninety percent of these JustWhens are invisible to everyone but the victim.

The occurrence of another JustWhen, no matter how common they seem, does not necessarily render the recipient a victim.

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CreepingFormality

creepingformality
Abraham Delfos: Oude man, schrijvend in boek
[Old Man, Writing In Book]
(1777)


"I do not yet know how I'll know when I'm finished."


As I prepare a manuscript for publication, I notice a CreepingFormality entering the effort. I began as I begin most things, naive and hope-filled. I will end this effort a little wiser and even a little more knowledgeable: more domesticated. The wild streak that fueled my first steps will have been tamed into a kind of compliance, for certain principles and practices have been replacing my feral enthusiasm with deeper understanding. I've already incorporated my earlier stage discoveries into more consistent practice. No longer simply hunting and pecking, I have been watching myself gain circumspection. No longer merely writing, I'm learning to avoid do-overs. This, despite the sure understanding that one tends to get whatever one attempt to avoid.

I sense a more profound responsibility to my broadening audience as I prepare postings for formal publication.

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Swooshing

swooshing
Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell:
Old Father William Turning a Somersault,
from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
(c. 1901)


"I might accomplish my Publishing without too much suffering …"


The prospect of a four-and-a-half-hour airplane ride opened up some space I couldn't find while sitting at my desk. I had been unable to locate the space I felt I needed to complete the arduous manuscript assembly process for just one of the titles I'd started assembling when I began this series. I have more than a dozen backlogged. I'd been dutifully chronicling activities I had not actually been doing, but then that tactic seemed typical of my usual approach to anything. I feel the urge to nail down the philosophy of something before fully immersing myself in it. Why should Publishing prove any different? Especially the daunting effort to assemble individual blog posts into manuscript form, an inevitable copy/paste/match-style coma inducer, intricate, supremely dull, and requiring pulling down commands because I cannot decipher their keystroke equivalents:
⌘⌥⌃V, for instance.

I admit I had avoided getting too much into the thick of this effort. It scared me.

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'Tweenings

_tweening
Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne:
Fishing for Souls (1614)


" … always somewhere in between."


I spend most of my days neither here nor there. I tend to transition between one and another state, not quite gone nor quite fully arrived at any particular point in time. My experience here has therefore seemed more of a smear than an occupation, not even my transitions precisely true to any clear standard. I have proven myself fully capable of fooling myself into insisting that I've successfully made transitions and somehow managed to grow up, for instance, even though many cues strongly suggest that I remain in transition. My presence anywhere remains distinctly ambiguous.

My Renewing efforts seem to be ending, or at least The Muse and I will be returning to ordinary time today.

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Renewing

renewing
Théodore Géricault, after Nicolas Poussin:
Man Clutching a Horse in Water,
after
Poussin's "Deluge" (1816)


" … a seemingly new you to see it through."


Renewing seems indistinguishable until after it’s over. During, it might be anything. It runs on intention until it succeeds or fails. One intends to renew, but one never really knows whether one'll be successful until the resulting feeling finally catches up to them. Until then, Renewing can resemble anything, even its opposite.

This underlying feature renders Renewing more similar than different from other intentions.

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PrimitiveProgress

primitiveprogress
Edward Sheriff Curtis:
The Primitive Artist - Paviotso (1924)


"I might scratch a story in a sandstone wall …"


Backward steps can produce forward progress. I tend to get so focused on improvements that I can lose the more primal assurance I can do without all my usual accoutrements. I only really need some of the utensils my kitchen holds, for instance, or a few of the array of pens I keep on my desktop at home. I am not only capable of making do without these tools, but I might also sometimes leave myself feeling better off without them.

It's long been understood that sudden reversals of fortune can produce personal improvement, a sense of freedom curiously lacking when surrounded by the trappings of success.

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ARRR&ARRR

arrr_arrr
John J. A. Murphy: Athletes at Rest (20th Century)


" … they get away with murder …"


The Gospel of Efficiency fails to mention the necessity of Rest and Recuperation. It exclusively focuses on nose-to-the-grindstone dedication, personal sacrifice, of laser-like focus. It calculates using only the sparest arithmetic, not the more complicated calculus of human-powered action. We naturally work in fits and starts, sprints and collapses rather than by more primitive fixed and so-called standard methods. We create by means mysterious, especially to us, so we seem prone to misrepresent our efforts, even to ourselves. We might, for instance, apply fierce dedication when some slacking might better serve. We can insist upon creating by the least creative means, defaulting to mistaking context for something industrial. We're apt to mix our metaphors and garble our messages, then follow our internal directions as if they made sense simply because we created them.

It's not until we catch ourselves slacking that we might notice that something significant must have been lacking from our earlier strategies.

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Backgrounded

backgrounding
Agnes Winterbottom Cooney:
Backyard View, Public School in Background,
Rulo, Nebraska (c. 1900)


" … a little embarrassed at my previous blindnesses."


Writing and, lately, Publishing have been my foreground occupations. These occurred within some background, typically unmentioned and perhaps unworthy of mention, for background just is and rarely seems to warrant acknowledgment. We humans are notorious for presenting ourselves as unconnected, as if we were not utterly dependent upon some fairly heavy infrastructure. Each of us belongs to a family which, depending, might or might not warrant mention. We inhabit places, sometimes embarrassing ones, which might seem as if mentioning them would somehow demean us in someone else's eyes, as a small-town rube or a big-city slicker. We conveniently neglect to mention details that might overly complicate how we wish to be perceived by others or even by ourselves. We mostly remain mum on many levels.

But we all understand that we're each imbedded within endless complications.

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Manifestering

manifestering
William Hogarth, Printmaker:
Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism. A Medley.
(1762)


" … never grant us any deeper understanding."


Publishing exists as an essentially infinite field. From an author's perspective, interacting with it carries all the context markers of any encounter with any infinite, by which I mean that there's no reasoning with it. Any individual interaction holds an essentially random possibility for any outcome: positive, negative, but mostly indifferent. In this way, at least, publishing does not quite qualify as a classic system. I might better describe it as a field and its products as perturbations. Something happens, but whatever occurs was never beforehand predictable. One casts into Publishing without ever knowing what might become of the encounter. One might dream of great good fortune, but there's no guaranteeing any outcome. The best anyone can promise might be an entry, an attractive offering. Whether anyone reads the damned thing, a matter of marketing, by which I mean a matter of credulity, superstition, and fanaticism: mysticism.

Ask any author how he happened to become successful, and the honest ones will answer with complete mystery.

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Erratics

erratics
William Pether after Joseph Wright of Derby:
Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight
(1769)


" … evidence of history having happened and still present …"


What makes these stories a collected work? What unifying theme do they exhibit? Publishers seem to love to ask authors these sorts of questions, for they seek a discernible purpose for publishing something. One does not properly throw any odd old bunch of pieces together and label them A Work. Consequently, I choose a theme, this series' theme being Publishing, then head out into the wilderness to see what startles up out of the underbrush. I do not work from an outline, which I'm convinced only ever exists in fifth-grade writing teachers' fantasies. I try to keep my wits about me and observe what I do, and these observations become the grist for most of the resulting stories. This series could not exist without the provocation of the overarching theme and my own continuing observing. Still, the resulting series sure does seem awful various from a publisher's perspective, Erratic.

What do I look for when I'm so aimlessly wandering through my writing wilderness?

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SwimmingLessons

swimminglesson
Fernand Siméon: Gazette du Bon Ton,
1921 - No. 6, Pl. 41:
La leçon de natation /
Costume et chale, pour le bain
[The Swimming Lesson /
Suit and shawl, for the bath] (1921)


"We all engage in SwimmingLessons which we'll never master."


I do not yet consider myself a competent practitioner of whatever it is that I do. I falsely claim to be a writer because I write, not because I consider my writing to demonstrate my competence. I no longer believe that practice might one day render me capable. I engage in a paranoid fashion, not merely as an imposter fearful of discovery, but as if I work on probation, subject to immediate dismissal at the whim of any uncaring overseer. I consider everyone competent to pass judgment on my production, their opinion, their own, and outside my direct influence. I no longer believe that I might one day manage to master my profession, but I will forever aspire to enter journeyman status from apprentice. Rather than practice, I work as if engaging in lessons, SwimmingLessons.

The ocean has never once been conquered.

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MetaProcessing

metaprocessing
Unknown, after
Masaccio: Procession of Figures (1700–1899)


" … mistaking wheel reinvention as some sort of fatal mistake …"


I've long suspected something fishy about process, and not just because of my professional encounters with Process Nazis, those people who could only see their worlds as a series of sequential procedures due to a genetic mutation or something. Modern recipes have no ancient counterpart, for the ancients never managed to become slaves to their routines. Instead, they seemed to have retained the ability to hold their intentions more lightly. As a result, they could only mass-produce a little of anything. Also likely true, they probably lived more satisfying lives as a result.

Now, we inhabit civilizations addicted to our processes.

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Bletting

bletting
Pieter Withoos: Still Life with Plums, White Plums, Peaches and Medlars (17th century)

" … maturing into final form."

Some fruits require aging beyond their tree to become edible: quince, persimmon, and medlar most prominent among these. Each proves too astringent without further curing, the medlar famous for needing to age right to the edge of rotten before it attains its highly-prized and unique flavor. This curing process, called Bletting, historically occurred in some cool, dark place on straw to cushion the curing fruit. Bletting delays the usual essentially instantaneous fruit-consuming process. Typically, fruit's fate has been immediate consumption once spotted, stored for only very short periods, or preserved, for it usually features a remarkably short shelf life. Some portion of the fruit I purchase ends up in the compost bin because I can't quite keep up with it. It's living while actively dying, and I often lose track of where it’s going until after it's already gone.

The medlar, praised since Roman times, seems especially ancient, for it might need six or even more weeks of Bletting before it comes into its own for consumption, which often involves making a jam or sauce to enhance other flavors, especially wine.

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Parallelling

parallelling
Rudolph Ruzicka:
Lowell House, Harvard University (c. 1931-32)

"My world, like yours, thrives on such intentions."

I maintain and manage a massively parallel publishing system consisting of many disparate parts conceptually connected but otherwise distant from and invisible to each other. I serve as the sole integrating factor, for only I know where the bodies have been buried because I was the one who buried every one. Using this system resembles serial graverobbing, in which my skills must approach master status. The resulting operation stretches the formal definition of system, as all integrated systems must. It was never designed and shows it. Nor has it ever been documented. Instead, it operates via a complex code of local knowledge and rumor. Some pieces barely serve their purpose, but its sole user knows of no better components or, at least, none cheaper. It includes nothing designed or marketed by Microsoft®, for our operator finds their products fundamentally unusable. This means that my publishing system most emphatically does not include MS-Word®, which, as near as I can tell, exists for the sole purpose of rendering writing, and so Publishing, fundamentally impossible.

This story, as every story I've written in this and every other series, simultaneously exists on several supposedly parallel planes.

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StrategicHesitation

strategichesitation
Alfred Stevens: Hesitation [Madame Monteaux?] (c. 1867)

"I might just be playing chicken with myself."


All who hesitate are not necessarily lost. Some certainly must be lost, but many engage strategically, not wanting to waste effort by expending it overenthusiastically and in a naive fashion. Especially immediately after experiencing some fresh revelation, people tend to go off half or even less than half-cocked, exercising freshly-discovered muscles in ways most likely to undermine intention and strain unaccustomed ligaments. I believe it essential then to resist that urge to charge forward holding that newly-discovered sword, lest that nascent swordsman do more damage than good to their cause. The first use of any insight might well best remain a sparing one. It's far too easy to overuse or even abuse unfamiliar forms of magic. It's often best to just use a sprinkle at first.

I have been encountering insights as I've explored Publishing.

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KnowingNuthingness

knowingnuthingness
Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville:
Artist admiring his work.
Jerome Paturot a la recherche d'une position sociale
[Jerome Paturot is looking for a social position] 1846

"It's an unfair trade …"

Any profession diligently practiced eventually leads its practitioner back into a state of KnowingNuthingness. Any iteration of knowing action ultimately leads to fracturing understanding. One morning, or one late evening, our protagonist will experience KnowingNuthingness, just as if he was forever before merely faking facility as if he'd never actually known a blesséd thing. He will feel embarrassed recognizing the scores of stories he'd previously and irrevocably published, tales with gross errors embedded within them, each of which quietly disclosed just what an idiot he was, how filled with presumption he had been, how he had been masquerading while probably only successfully deceiving himself. The scales fall from his eyes in that brilliant moment, and he experiences his profession's peak sensation: Nuthingness again. He knows only in that memorable moment that he never knew Nuthing, that all of his passionate strivings had successfully guided him back to zero again. Again!

The wise ones insist that these sorts of experiences benefit the professional.

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Homogenizing

homogenizing
Harold Edgerton: Milk Drop into Cup of Milk (2) (1935)

“ … only become accessible once Homogenized …”

Those final editing passes amount to a kind of Homogenizing of the manuscript. First drafts tend to seem rough and feral in form. When creating, the writer wisely ignored many of the lessons their teachers tried to impart in favor of listening to their small, almost still voices emanating from their heart. Hearts do not know crap about comma placement, however, and no amount of intuition, no matter how damned well-intended, can predict what a Grammar Nazi might insist. It seems helpful to pass the work by Hoyle to gain his perspective, but a writer must never cede creative rights to any rule book. Much that makes a piece of writing interesting comes from its personality, tone, and innate quirkiness. Nobody appreciates a voice victimized by too damned much Homogenizing.

The A-Eye Grammar Engine seems determined to homogenize my writing.

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Choreography

choreography
Thomas Lord Busby: Billy Waters, a one-legged busker.
Colored engraving from Costumes of the Lower Orders in Paris (1820)


"I build my castle upon shifting sands."

The steps I follow to successfully publish one of my daily stories have multiplied since I started writing this Publishing series. What previously seemed simple became complicated, though my intentions never considered creating anything convoluted. We all understand that this sort of outcome happens, though we remain largely baffled at how an urge to simplify produces complications. The expansion comes in insignificant increments, so-called inch-pebbles, rather than by milestones. An embellishment might require much more work yet produce an effect that seems damned well worth what initially seemed like a small additional effort. Multiply that tweak by twelve or even by five, and the resulting steps become challenging to hold in one's head yet remain too fresh to be easily turned into a checklist.

At some point, what starts as an inspired improvisation becomes an imperative, no longer mere embellishment but an integral part of every performance, not to be omitted.

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A-Eye

a_-eye
Lewis Wickes Hine: Powerhouse Mechanic (1921)


" … a rather bleak and lonely job …"


I have a confession to make. I sincerely hope that this one will prove to be good for my soul, as I'm reliably informed that confessions tend to be good for the confessor's soul. As with all confessions, this one might involve the disclosure of some sin I've committed or, if not precisely, a sin, some shortcoming. One confesses, I guess, in the sincere hope that one might gain forgiveness, at least from themself and, perhaps, from others. Atonement might or might not be indicated in this situation. I risk ruining my reputation, though, so listen generously, please, understanding that I'm just flesh, more than capable of falling short of any ideal.

I started using AI this week in the form of an Artificially Intelligent copyediting engine.

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RabbitHoling

rabbitholing
Camille Pissarro: Rabbit Warren at Pontoise (1879)


" … yet still enormously proud."


Final editing seems like preparing a corpse for burial. The body's mass and shape serve as no concern; only appearance matters then. The time for constructive criticism passed long before. The plot's pattern resolved; the author wants only to remember this story as one he finished without regrets. It will always be just as he leaves it now, and the work, on exit, nudges its author into what appear to be warrens, twisting tunnels down surprising holes. The final effort before publishing might as well be labeled RabbitHoling.

The actual finishing work feels remarkably renewing.

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PastSins

pastsins
Circle of
Hendrick van Cleve III:
Landscape (c. 1525-1589)


"A writer's work never gets done."


Publishing serves as the terminating step in a long series of creations. It works like beatification in that it represents a work's entry into that much-vaunted "state of bliss," whereby it might prove worthy of public veneration. More importantly, it moves out of what I might best describe as a persistent state of sin, for each unpublished work represents some PastSins as yet unforgiven. Writers feel haunted by their collected works which have yet to find publishers. These lay around like haphazardly set aside toys, interrupted before completing their mission. Many of those pieces probably could have never really qualified as more than practice, but they remain undead, never entirely forgotten.

The flotsam surrounding every working writer sometimes (like often) seems overwhelming.

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Grooving

grooving
Will Hicock Low:
Into the Green Recessed Woods They Flew (1885)


"The journey, not the arriving, might just be the purpose here after all."


I distrust anyone who seems to know where they're going from any outset, and that goes double for anyone who appears to know very much about how to get there. The first while should properly humble any adventurer as he settles into his somewhat surprising new context. It must be different than expected, or it’s not an adventure. More than half of any excitement comes from the surprise emanating from it. It really should seem different, though judgment had rarely matured to the point yet where very much appreciation accompanies these initiations. They're almost universally experienced as inconveniences, as problems, as broken and needing fixing. Usually and fortunately, by the time the initial disorientation settles down, some fresh Groove emerges from the chaos, and things at least start promising to unfold more smoothly, with no intervention to fix anything really necessary.

My inquiry into Publishing should have proven no different from any standard Class A excursion.

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FeedingSystems

feedingsystems
Joseph Pennell: Coal Mining Town (19th-20th century)


" … necessary effort …"


Writing works as a relatively self-contained and self-satisfying occupation because it's typically accomplished in near-perfect isolation. Just the writer and his thoughts bleeding out onto the keyboard, a tightly contained system. Publishing adds exponential complexity to writing's simplicity, to the point that writing might seem almost beside any point. The writer leaves the moment to live in anticipation of some future. He writes for an audience then and loses some connection to the familiar small, almost silent voices which had previously guided his hand. He gains the questionable gift of self-awareness, stage presence, and management obligations to engage in FeedingSystems.

That printed page proves insufficient to share and must be duplicated, packaged, and shipped somewhere, somehow, and all that requires systems.

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CopyWrongs

copywrongs
Jean Jacques de Boissieu [after Jacob van Ruisdael]:
The Public Scribe (1790)


… tend to default to their Bastard setting unless questioned …"


Publishing exercises what's called copyright, the right to copy. According to common law, copyright belongs to the creator of a work, though that ownership can and often is bargained away in exchange for Publishing. For example, one common precondition to achieve publication involves the creator agreeing to assign their copyright ownership to the work over to the publisher. This transaction has become so widespread now that it's rarely questioned, though other agreements remain possible. For example, some publishers satisfy themselves with First Print Rights, accepting that the author rightfully owns their work in perpetuity but that they might share the work more broadly without making an orphan out of it.

Copyright, in practice, seems a civilizing convention.

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UnwieldyMachine

unwieldymachine
Rube Goldberg:
Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931)

Soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past toucan (E). Toucan jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and ignites lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M), allowing pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.

"We're none of us terribly efficient."


My decades of experience with Systems Thinking leaves me incapable of not thinking of Publishing as just another sort of machine, though it seems at best an UnwieldlyMachine. Some devices, though complicated, seem relatively simple. Not so Publishing. I suspect it acquires its apparent unwieldiness from the human effort embedded within it, for Publishing's never accomplished by the mere flick of a switch. Some pieces have been long automated to various degrees. I'm thinking of Gutenberg and his bible printing machines, but even those required excessive amounts of tedious human effort to produce their product. They represented a quantum leap beyond hand-producing illustrated manuscripts, but they remained tedious as, indeed, has the overall Publishing "system" to this day.

Its necessary mindfulness helps render it Unwieldy, for mindfulness takes time when the whole purpose of systems seems focused upon trimming time from production.

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SelfReliance

selfreliance
Edvard Munch: Self-Portrait in Moonlight (1904–06)


" … a lesson which I never expect to stop learning."


However steeped in frontier tradition the concept might be, SelfReliance seems worthless when Publishing. While writing might be fairly characterized as a solo endeavor, Publishing's inescapably plural. It features altogether too many moving parts and picky pieces for any individual to master. It takes a village, and all that, to publish.

Still, the writer blanches through acceptance of this humbling fact.

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ShelfDiscipline

shelfdiscipline
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [boy playing with action figures on shelf] (c. 1950)


" … groaning in the background."


The manuscript shelves in my office hold printed, unfinished manuscripts. It serves as one of the stages in my never-ending seeming copyediting queue. Since I find copyediting disquieting, I rarely visit those shelves, so they also serve as an essentially infinite queue. I cannot imagine ever arriving at the end of that pile. It grows by one fresh member every quarter, and I'm several quarters behind. How many? I cannot tell for certain, for I only managed to start a list when I began writing this Publishing series. I've not yet finished it.

I seem to lack a specific sort of discipline; the ShelfDiscipline required to conquer my copyediting queue.

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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 looked very much like them but which later took on other lives. Writers perform this trick, too, for they also inescapably produce self-portraits. I might argue that anything 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 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 than 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 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 blesséd 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, and actions 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, and I feel grateful for achieving any momentum and calling 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 actual 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 hometown 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 relatively 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 provides.

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 because it requires a community's effort, an early shift for the aspiring-to-publish writer must include the HelpAsk. This act does not resemble asking for help, for our publisher nee writer can't yet form proper requests. He does not know what the difficulty might 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 capabilities 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 by 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 closely 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. Yesterday, I began a fresh series and stumbled rather badly 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 I must have previously understood backward. I might acknowledge that properly engaged in dialogue often produces this result, which is no conclusive result at all other than to suspect a previous backward understanding. Understanding grew but also created less certainty, an apparent paradox that everyone might notice seems perfectly congruent with their own experience. As a general rule, we do not 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 eventually prove to have been pure fantasy.

Nevertheless, it might still positively contribute to some sense of Success, even if it proves to be less than anticipated.

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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 often imagine my Successes as assets, like coins stored in a bank, except I know there’s no bank there. I remember high points, but I must admit that I do not reside near them. Instead, 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 tangible possessions, I understand that they are not and never were. Instead, they exist as memories, which seem tricky characters sometimes capable of appearing 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 I did not intend 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 success’s opposite. I believe that the least of us can reliably chase away Success, and often without even thinking very hard, probably usually without thinking at all. One element seems to undermine Success wherever and whenever it occurs, and that element seems to be Grudgement. Carrying a grudge naturally chases most of the positive energy out of the vehicle and renders the driver its slave. Holding 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 an evident Success when seen through the long-ish shadow of additional experience. Events that seemed apparent Successes in the moment they occurred can erode themselves into even more apparent 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 later.

I'm sure that we all have our stories of catastrophes narrowly averted by what, at 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, unfortunate. 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 aptly named in that they seem boring. Given a choice between sitting quietly in some corner and solving a puzzle, I'll choose 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 positive and negative arcs on the same 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 denotes some emotional range, from minor to great, and therefore might qualify for assessment as absolute values rather than as opposites. Yes, sadness differs in content while similar in strength. A ten on either pole might then be considered roughly equal in scope, though opposite in emotional texture.

I bring up this admittedly arcane point for a potentially practical 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 specific 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, 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 holds 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 outside the boundaries of propriety. I didn't seek an advanced degree before practicing my professions but 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 my two and a half typing fingers as prima facie evidence, along with my bestseller and the second dozen manuscripts I will have finished by this Summer's solstice. I garden, but not according to anyone's rules, not even my own, since I seem to continue making up my practice as I go along. I'm always learning but never learnéd. Forever the hacker.

One way to most reliably fail seems to me to be to hold oneself 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 price and 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? 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 it 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 unexpected places and that I almost always proved capable of Success, however impossible it had earlier seemed. I suspect a lesson lurking to be discovered in there, but I hope it's not an obvious one. I despise finding out 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. 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 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 offering otherwise unnecessary complications. These complications might always be necessary, little dedication tests left expressly for my challenge, for if I cannot get myself Starting, I'll never propel myself into any Success.

I search for a handhold, someplace 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 inquiry seems to follow a predictable trajectory. It begins by making some clear distinctions and 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 almost completely fallen apart such that the beginning arguments might 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, which is 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 most extraordinary 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 damnably difficult. Over many years, scientists have devised counter-intuitive methods for better bulletproofing 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 made by the typical layperson, even one armed with connection to The Internets, because the layperson 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, most of the time, it's nobody but me. This assertion makes sense since nobody but I 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 judgments, so they make lousy Judges, anyway. The ever-feared Court Of Public Opinion might render the occasional decision, too, but only the upwardly mobile ever really care to seek their opinion. Bosses, spouses, and police forces each seem inattentive compared to my primary Judges: me, myself, and I.

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

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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 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 I can find no time to 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. As a result, they were traumatized and paranoid adults, easy prey for the day’s propaganda. They saluted the flag or else. They devoutly opposed everything Communist. They voted the straight Republican ticket because Eisenhower embodied the victory over evil in this world. They tried and gratefully failed to instill their worldview 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 might. They could be counted as present but without distinction. They showed up without showing.

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 be considered complete without at least mentioning the HasBeen. The HasBeen might have once held high office, but no longer. His legend's much more potent than his presence. He once was but is no longer. In government service, a protocol 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 whether it's appropriate to refer to an ex-Data Analyst II's most elevated position when acknowledging them or if the less noteworthy titles defer to Mr. or Ms. However, 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 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 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 like some onerous forces owned them, invisible yet 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. Instead, we would be told to stick to the given job. Eventually, we might discover the more profound 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, 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 specialized 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 feeling, 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, believe myself unique—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 significant situations, just minor ones, making them even more insidious in most ways. I’m often stymied by some innocuous door handle or, even more often, by 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 such things only very rarely stymie her. 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 dishwashing 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 genuinely 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 genuinely eternal, yet two short seasons later, those once heroes have become a gang of bums again, spoken of derisively by the delicatessen counterman. 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 doesn't feel worth it that day. Success can be a terrible taskmaster, demanding much mor