Rendered Fat Content


John Singer Sargent:
The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy (1907)

" … not merely as mythical rugged individuals."

The typical Fambly tree tells much less than half a Fambly's story, for family constitutes only part of anyone's usual Cohort. We're unavoidably rooted in Fambly, but most of us choose to stray from the founding fold into different country. We marry out of the Fambly, or most of my forebears did. We also often work far away, seeing even our closest blood relations perhaps only on holidays, a scant few days each year, if that. We usually most distantly relate with those to whom we're most closely related, once intimate but later almost strangers. We retain those traits and characteristics native to our Fambly. After all, we did learn the fundamentals together. We probably retain speech and behavior patterns we learned before we became aware of learning anything, our relations appearing in common quirks and similar phrasings.

We spend most of our time on this Earth with Cohorts: work buddies, acquaintances, friends, and neighbors.

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José Guadalupe Posada:
Devils in the Graveyard (n.d., circa 1871-1913)

" … not yet wholly history …"

I have visited few of my ancestor’s final resting places, though The Muse and I have tried to visit all we could over the years. We found traces of my earliest immigrant forebears in a well-weathered gravestone for my first Pilgrim great-grandmother preserved in a wall in Guilford, Connecticut. I found a fourth great-grandfather, Major George Currin's stone, in the town cemetery in Galax, Virginia, the one carved by his sons before they left for Oregon. I found Silvanus Seward, another fourth great-grandfather's stone, overgrown in an almost abandoned upstate New York cemetery. I never met any of these revered ancestors personally, though. In my life, I’ve met only the most recent tier of ancestors, most of them just before they became ancestors when they were still grand and great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I've even lived long enough now where I've known some contemporaries and their offspring who left before me, none of them ancients yet; I think of each of these as the DearlyDeparted.

Those who lived centuries ago might spark my imagination and even garner heartfelt admiration, but I never actually knew them, so my affection feels distant.

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Gari Melchers: Marriage (1893)

" … we attemded a banquet."

Every present moment inexorably slips into some past, but not every past qualifies as history or aspires to. I might best describe much of everyday experience as maintenance, not in any way a similar substance to what might inexorably become history. Births, deaths, and marriages seem destined to become history, while the memory of Tuesday's supper doesn't seem likely to make it to the end of that week. Every moment might ultimately reek of significance. What wouldn't we give to have a portrait of a typical Tuesday supper from the Middle Ages? Events must have seemed as disposable and unimportant to our ancestors then as our odd Tuesdays seem to us now. That said, though, we occasionally engage in making FreshHistory, moments that seem likely to become posthumously noteworthy, worth remembering, and entered into the permanent record.

For The Muse and I and close Fambly, one of those events occurred yesterday with the marriage of our dear GrandOtter.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 5/16/2024

Honoré Victorin Daumier:
Sir… Sir… Siiiirrrr… Christ, it’s annoying to have a colic
when the supervisor is supervising,”
plate 13 from Professeurs Et Moutards

Some Statement of Gratitude

I carefully tot up the page views each of my postings receives through the week to create what I call my TotList. This one-page weekly writing summary serves as my analytics since the analytics others provide don’t work for me. I understand that my analytics would seem primitive to anyone in the actual business of analyzing web traffic, but my writing’s nobody’s business but mine, and I don’t care about making money posting it. I seek some confirmation that you, my audience, have been out there. Unlike many of my much more famous royal ancestors, I don’t seek fealty from my readers, and I’m proud for my writing to serve as no more than a mild, if regular, distraction from more troubling issues. I count views because I care that someone’s there, that these stories end up somewhere. Some weeks, like this last week, my stories produce far fewer hits than my other doings. One photo of a plate of oyster shells might receive twice the number of views as the best of that week’s stories, as if that mattered. What matters for me here must be the engagement. That’s what gets me up and writing even when I can’t quite decide what to write about. That’s what encourages me to produce these Weekly Writing Summaries, even though they’re by far the most difficult posting I produce each week. I delight in framing each writing week, however difficult, in some statement of gratitude. Thank you for following along.

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Various Unnamed European Artists (19th century),
compiled by Queen Adelaide of England:
Queen Adelaide’s Album (1823–1837)

" … something quite the opposite of an encyclopedic rendering."

The arc of history seems to trend toward the ever simpler. What starts as complexity resolves into simpler forms through extended iteration until it might almost seem routine. We eliminate apparent meaningless effort to focus activity toward producing results, dropping ceremony in favor of what we firmly believe to be ever greater efficiencies. Left to its own devices, genealogy would probably eventually smother itself with ever-greater detail, for every life has always been lived at one-inch-equals-one-inch scale, so every representation can be found to be wanting: another clever exposition, another sidebar comparison, another history lesson to better outline the then present context. The genealogist never rests. He's always looking for additional angles. Without care, any Fambly's history might mature to become precious, even self-conscious, when it probably should have remained in some much simpler forms.

Engineers use the term FeepingCreaturism to label this tendency for something to become ever more complex in development.

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Mary Cassatt: The map (1889)

" … anybody interested in this Fambly's history will have to rediscover it for themselves …"

In the end, or nearing the end, I carry too many stories. Each seems especially important, even magical, for they represent discoveries. They were once lost, and now they're found, but in finding them, I overwhelmed my ability to retain them. What I initially complained about as clutter, I might have merely transformed into another form of clutter, open tabs rather than dog-eared loose-leaf notebooks, or open tabs and loose-leaf notebooks with fresh pieces of paper slipped in between the pages. I might have made the archive worse. This might represent the curse. We firmly believe that only we will make this world coherent before discovering that the best we mustered was a different form of the same old incoherent mess.

Maps hold some hope.

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Mary Cassatt: Under the Lamp (c. 1882)

" … this series remains UnderConstruction and strenuously avoiding completion."

This series remains under construction. It might appear that I'm getting closer to finishing this series of stories with each installment, but each piece might be better considered preliminary. I've not yet decided where this series will end, for instance, so each fresh chapter probes in the hope of discovering where and how to finish it. Each story might stand on its own, but I intend that they be connected. I know my fifth-grade teacher also insisted that I should outline a work before beginning to avoid precisely this unsettling eventuality, except that I was never able to successfully know all I would have needed to know to outline anything before I started writing. The act of writing finds the way, not the other way around.

Consequently, I'm challenged to learn many things on the fly.

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Wilbur Henry Siebert: "Underground" routes to Canada: showing the lines of travel of fugitive slaves (1898)

"Until then, I will be fueling renewed frustration."

"Trees" have become the traditional means for visually displaying a Fambly's history. They show the simple head-to-foot association of one generation to another as if each successive offspring stood on their parents' shoulders. These do not show geographical dispersion, but they aren't intended to. To display migratory paths, I must omit some information. Parent/child associations compete with physical locations to complicate any representation. Using layers, colors, and other graphic associations, I might produce a visualization too complicated for interpretation, so I must be extremely patient with myself.

One thread of my paternal grandmother's history involves the Bond into the Bounds line.

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Miniature of
Edward the Martyr
in a royal genealogy of the 14th century.

" … the terribly fortunate ones, the benefactors of almost endless Transpositioning."

A Fambly history might best be recognized as a permanent record of that Fambly's Transpositioning, for given broad enough horizons, it will encompass pretty much every possible human condition. Royalty will counterbalance laity, saints stand alongside sinners, and heroes hang with cowards. Deciding what the Fambly story means might well prove daunting, even impossible, because it might and could mean anything, everything, and nothing definitive at all. That history might not intend to mean very much of anything, anyway, but to demonstrate how everything tends to reduce to nothing and nothing to somehow represent anything at all. When I can see through the personalities and dates and shift my focus toward perceiving what none of the stories explicitly states, I might approach a better and higher purpose for telling those stories.

As I concluded a few episodes ago, history represents the most substantial possible evidence that we were each born equal.

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Ethelred the Unready, circa 968-1016. Illuminated manuscript,
The Chronicle of Abindon, c.1220.
MS Cott. Claude B.VI folio 87, verso, The British Library.
Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6639643

"I can't quite wrap my arms around the title Emperor THE Chuck."

Among the many, many distractions those of us with royal distinctions in our family history must contend, the presence of singularities ranks as one of the highest. It's one thing to have an Uncle Bob and quite another to possess an Uncle THE Bob. I've found innumerable instances throughout the records of someone like my long-lost something great-grandfather Ethelred THE Unready. Who could ask for a sorrier moniker? Ethelred was, predictably, a son of King Edgar THE Peaceful and survived the assassination of his older half-brother, King Edward THE Martyr, to take the English throne at twelve, thereby the unready designation. The unready designation was a play on words. "His epithet comes from the Old English word unræd meaning "poorly advised"; it is a pun on his name, which means "well advised" [

He lived a suitably noteworthy life, as any half-decent monarch might, though the Danes deposed him after a particularly egregious and unnecessary attempt to slaughter every Dane in England.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 5/09/2024

Benoît-Louis Prévost: Art of Writing, from Encyclopédie (1760)

Stand For Their Ambiguous Selves

I find it fascinating how failing to figure out what this life’s all about might prove to be what this life’s all about. Any notion that any of us might reach any authoritative conclusion seems lame in actual execution. Our questions might best exist unanswered, their purpose never actually being resolution but a representation of the inherent unanswerability of many of our questions. Go ahead and open up your Fambly history to public scrutiny. No amount of second-guessing will very likely resolve very much of anything. The significant questions might properly remain unanswerable. We rile. We stir the soup not to improve the flavor but to keep some of it from sticking and scorching on the bottom of the vessel. After all of this effort to tell these stories, I’m left believing that these stories probably always stood up for themselves. I’m no judge. I’m no master reinterpreter. I must have no idea what any of these stories ever meant. They have to stand up for themselves, indifferent to whatever you or I conclude. My purpose might have never been to conclude for my forebears. They might get to stand for their ultimately ambiguous selves. Just like us.

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Fulk II of Anjou

Coat of arms of Hercule (François) of Valois, Duke of Anjou
By Carlodangio - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

"I'm a dabbler …"

Though my heritage identifies me as a direct descendant of the kings of France, Spain, England, Italy, and what would one day become Germany, I do not feel very much like royal material. This condition might speak back to my high school years when my guidance counselor declared me not college material, a welcomed designation at the time, for it freed me up from concern about getting good grades or paying for college. I considered the declaration a Get Out Of Jail Free card in my early real-life Monopoly playing. Likewise, I can't see myself concerning myself with all the relationships necessary to maintain a halfway decent duchy, let alone a full-blown kingdom. It doesn't surprise me that royalty fought each other so continually and aggressively, for each seemed to be playing extended games of Suicide Chess, an unimaginably complex undertaking sure only to leave every player paranoid.

One of my lesser forebears, a full-blown Duke of Anjou, Fulk II, The Good, was known for his skill at negotiating strategic marriages.

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By Graoully - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Vitrail représentant saint Arnould, chapelle Sainte-Glossinde
Stained glass representing Saint Arnould, Sainte-Glossinde chapel
(One of my 43rd Great-grandfathers)

"I could have been named after another forebear …"

I am blessed with a surname that sounds like a punchline from a Marx Brothers movie to most people. I believe that many immediately discount me due to my name's inherent joke quality. I admit to even discounting myself sometimes in the past. Why, oh why, couldn't I have been blessed with an innocuous name instead? Something even people with a lisp could comfortably pronounce? Something with more than one meager vowel?

Well, as sorry as my surname might seem, my super secret middle name seems exponentially more humiliating.

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Detail from the
Chronica sancti Pantaleonis:
Hedwig of Saxony - One of my 31st Great-Grandmothers
(12th century)

" … and sometimes even saints."

I have been delighted to discover that many of my Great-Grandmothers were famous or notorious enough to warrant getting their picture taken during their time. Before cameras, sketches were photos, and so were pottery, paintings, and sundry engravings. Almost every female in my Fambly tree between 500AD and the fifteenth century left some graven image ranging from pottery chard to Eleanor Crosses. None of these images were very likely true to their subject. I suspect that most were idealized and iconic, likely attempting to represent a most prominent attribute, be that an unusually large nose or blond hair, such that anyone who'd heard their legend might readily feel as though they recognize the image. Yes, most of these women also have some legend attached to them.

I think it is tragic that history continues primarily from a patrilineal perspective.

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Master of the Codex Manesse:
Codex Manesse, fol. 292v,
"The Schoolmaster of Esslingen"
Der Schulmeister von Eßlingen)
(between 1305 and 1340)

" … reliably vanquishing dragons since before St. George."

How has the study and exposition of my Fambly's history changed me? It's probably too early in the transformation process to meaningfully begin to describe how I might have changed. I'll admit to feeling as though I'm changing without suggesting that I might know just how I will eventually be changed. I carry a strong sense of before and of since, of my understanding of my world having significantly shifted as a result of my recent discoveries. I plan to continue my studies to delve deeper into the histories that had previously escaped relevance. Suddenly, I'm curious about the late Middle Ages now that I have names, dates, and even some detailed personality sketches with which to personally relate. History's no longer just dates but personal causes and effects, real consequences, a present source of vanity, pride, and perhaps even more profound understanding. I seem to have acquired a greater stake in relating to the past.

I imagine future generations teaching their children this essential context, such that they might be able, as I have noticed myself suddenly able, to name my forebears in reverse sequence.

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Grain Elevator, Condon, Oregon

" … the gods of geneology will decide."

It's probably always been the case that none of us really control our fate. With my family's history all spread out, I can see what eventually came about. I cannot imagine very many outcomes resulting from consciously deliberate choice. Sure, we each make decisions, mostly modest and a few monumental, but none seem to reasonably sum to produce any fate. Insignificant increments might conspire to finally sum up to something that might have been aspired to but couldn't really have been. Historians might ascribe to some specific decision whatever outcome ultimately resulted, but this world works more insidiously than that. Contrary to popular mythology, not one of us was ever really self-made. We were probably more crafted by ten thousand hands, most of which never imagined they were leaving a fingerprint or any sort of mark. We might manifest by less obvious means, and we likely create our explanatory stories to satisfy something other than reality. In reality, stuff happens, and however we come to pass rightfully remains mysterious.

That said, my father, Robert Clancy Schmaltz, an unwitting thirty-sixth great-grandson of Charlemagne, decided to move to Condon, Oregon, to help his dad.

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Evolution of sickle and flail, 33-horse team harvester,
cutting, threshing, and sacking wheat, Walla Walla, Washington. (1902)
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection,
Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs,
New York Public Library

"I visit her every Memorial Day."

The Gods decided, as The Gods always decide such things, in mysterious ways. After my mother's grandparents met as neighbors and then as step-siblings after each lost a parent and their surviving parent married their neighbor, they married and settled down on what appears to have been the neighboring ranches south of Condon, Oregon. They came of age in dryland wheat country, so they raised dry-land wheat, an incredibly labor-intensive effort. During harvest, scores of seasonal workers arrived to frantically work for a month or so before returning to from wherever they came or moving on to the next crop. Wheat harvest would melt into apple harvest, and the crews would disappear into the Yakima, Walla Walla, or Hood River Valleys to take advantage. In the days before the railroad came and before the co-ops built grain elevators, wheat was harvested into burlap bags, each holding three bushels and weighing about 180 pounds. The bags would fill on the harvester, and a worker would quickly whip-stitch them closed before slipping them off for later gathering.

My maternal grandfather, Elza (pronounced El-Zee) Franklin Wallace, worked this sort of wheat harvest, as did my grandmother, Ruby Kenaston, since she grew up on that ranch.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 5/02/2024

Appleton's complete letter writer..., [Frontispiece & title page] (1854)

With Nothing Remaining To Impart
I face a dilemma going further forward into these Fambly Stories. I’ve almost accomplished what I imagined I might have achieved when I started this effort, but I’ve only used half the time I’d allocated. Working a theme until the season ends has long been my practice. Into this twenty-eighth iteration, I’ve been faithful to this pattern. It has become a defining element of my work and has been unquestioned until now. I’m not quite finished, but I can see that it shouldn’t take too awfully many more stories to bring all the disparate threads together. My original vision will be satisfied once my parents meet and marry. Now, I’m wondering what I should include that I could not foresee before I found myself immersed in producing these stories. What might have been the deeper hidden purpose behind this whole exercise? How have these stories informed my perspective? What have I learned, and what have I lost? I guess I will continue writing this series until its popsicle stops giving flavor and turns into a clear icicle with nothing remaining to impart.

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Ben Shahn: Untitled [Greenwich Village, New York City] (1935)

" … the reason I had a chance to be alive."

My father's brother Dan was born three and a half months after his parents were married in 1921. They were married far away enough from Mt. Angel to ensure that none of the locals would witness the scandal, his mom having recently been the local pharmacist's wife. They lived that first year or more in St. Helens, a town sufficiently distant that nobody who knew anything would likely bump into them. They returned with, as I mentioned earlier, a remarkably mature infant. My father, Robert Clancy Schmaltz, arrived shortly after that. The couple settled into a tiny house—"a cottage small near a waterfall"—in nearby Scotts Mills, a few miles out of Mt. Angel, but distant enough to avoid daily scandal. My grandfather Nick assumed responsibility for Schmaltz & Sons’ deliveries on that side of the county. The kids, Dan and Bob, settled into school and small-town life. Their parents divorced sometime after 1930. Their mom, Cassie, had been carrying on with Ed, a mechanic whose shop was just down the alley from their place. This separation injected fresh chaos into everyone's lives.

My dad and Dan began spending more time with their grandparents, even attending the Catholic school near their place.

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Schmaltz & Sons Warehouse, Mt Angel, Oregon (circa 1910-15)
Mt Angel Historical Society

"There's only a plaque there now …"

Nick and Elizabeth Schmaltz had relocated from Devil's Lake, North Dakota, to Mt. Angel, Oregon, by August of 1909 when their youngest daughter, Lucy, was born. Fifteen years after emigrating from Ukraine, Nick had arrived in his Eden at the End of the Oregon Trail, a small city tucked into the northern edge of Marion County, Oregon. We no longer have cities like Mt. Angel in pre-WWI Oregon. Today, we classify Mt. Angel as a small town with few services. Then, it featured every service any city required. One could hop on a train connecting you to Salem or Portland. It featured a hotel with a ballroom. A pharmacy. A hardware store and, most prominently, Nick Schmaltz & Sons farm supply.

Further, Nick built a fine two-story home, the finest in town, across the square from the church. He served as a board member overseeing construction while no doubt supplying building materials properly discounted for ecclesiastical purposes.

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Lorenzo James Hatch: Locomotive (19th-20th century)

" … that success would ultimately cost him plenty."

As in every previous generation, arrival in a NewWorld involved stepping backward in time. The Schmaltzes and Welks had left behind their mature development in Ukraine, trading generations of successful adaptation for generations of even more of the same, starting from about where their displaced great-grandparents had begun when arriving on the undeveloped Steppe from Alsace a century before. Just before the turn of The American Century, North Dakota was closer to where it had been a century earlier than where it would end up a century later. The railroad had yet to cross half the state. Indeed, they arrived just as The Dakota Territory was admitted to the union as North and South Dakota. There were no paved roads in either state then. Settlers were still building sod houses, there being little available lumber or stone to create anything more substantial.

A government survey completed in the 1860s, when The Dakota Territory was first established, concluded that the area might productively host a dozen ranches, given the extreme weather and short growing season, and that most of those ranches might raise cattle rather than crops.

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Kolonie Selz. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853

"The city ceased to exist after it was evacuated during the Nazi retreat in 1944."

My fifth great-grandfather, Joseph (Josef) Schmaltz, was born on January 11, 1780, in Kapsweyer, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. He would die eighty years later in Kuchurhan, Odesa, Ukraine. My fourth great-grandfather, George Wilhelm Schmaltz, and his twin brother Heinrich "Henry," were born in 1804 in Germany. The family emigrated to Ukraine later that year, settling in a new town, Selz, in the Kutschurgan Valley, where the Kutschurgan River flows into the Djnester estuary, about forty miles from the district center, Odesa. This place was sandy river bottom land that melded into black prairie soil further from the river. They initially constructed rough brush huts, later building a substantial town complete with a large cathedral, a park, and extensive orchards.

Being German, much material has been passed down through the generations.

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Giovanni Battista Nini: Catherine II (1771)

"Edens tend to come exclusively in their most primitive form."

By the end of The Seven Years' War, the surviving inhabitants of Germany were rightfully exhausted. Once again, squabbling between the crowned heads had devastated their lives. My Alsatian ancestors, still recovering from the Thirty Years' War and The Black Death's devastation, faced yet another displacement. Other German duchies had it worse. Catherine II, the former Prussian princess who'd married into the role of Empress of Russia before displacing her hapless husband once his heir was born, desired to bring Russia up to European economic standards so that she might continue financing her wars of acquisition. Russia remained a nation of serfs, still clinging to the Middle Ages, where a few wealthy landowners held the bulk of the labor captive. There was no entrepreneurial or independent farmer class; there were just serfs and sharecroppers who were successfully enjoined from demonstrating initiative on their own or even on the country's behalf. Catherine had recently won vast tracts of land from wars with Turkey and needed settlers to populate this largely uncultivated country. She proposed a deal she hoped might jump-start the languishing Russian economy to compete with Europe and the rest of the world while bringing that idle land into production.

In 1763, she issued a manifesto offering some rights and privileges to incoming foreign settlers.

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Sarah Ann Wilson: Album Quilt (1854)

"My Fambly would attempt to bring their history forward with them and largely succeed …"

Alsace, situated along the Rhine between France and Germany, historically never considered itself a country. Like its neighbors to the east, it considered itself more of a duchy. It never had its own king. The Romans occupied the parts west of the Rhine but perhaps wisely left the other shore to the tribes and hoards, of which there were several in succession. It fell under the protection of the Carolingian dynasties, peaking with Charlemagne, whose sons bickered among themselves, dividing up the formerly united property. After that began the centuries under the Holy Roman Empire, where Alsace, being a border country, was traded back and forth among emerging countries. The Thirty Years' War brought Swedish troops, who tried to enforce Protestantism within its borders, and this seemed to work for Strasburg but failed in the countryside. Its residents looked to the Hohenstaufen emperors like Frederick I for protection and remained staunchly Roman Catholic.

As The Black Death ravaged the region in the mid-seventeenth century, age-old jealousies and hatreds eroded civil order.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 4/25/2024

Giorgio Sommer: Plaster Cast of Body, Pompeii (1880)

Resonance Of The Many Contexts
I've learned much about myself and my world in the almost seven years since I began writing a new series each quarter. Fambly will be my twenty-eighth series, my twenty-eighth book-length work since I started Another Summer on the 2017 Solstice. As I've mentioned here innumerable times, my original intention was to chronicle some sense of my manner of living because I always seemed to encounter unanswerable manner of living questions when thinking about my ancestors. They didn't leave very much of a clue about how they lived. I sometimes fear that I've left far too much information, for my descriptions sometimes seem, even to me, scaled a little too close to one inch equals one inch, more detail than could ever prove useful. Still, I figure whoever's interested might just as well have too much as too little information. I didn't start this experiment to starve my future genealogists. Those few scraps of writing in my forebear’s own hand featuring their unique phrasing and misspellings are genuine golden treasures. As I have been reassembling the stories of my forebears, I treasure the contexts I discover more than any other part of their stories. Fambly's much more than accomplishments and dates, but the resonance of the many contexts through which we've passed.

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Honoré Daumier:
Karikatuur van een ruiter die achterstevoren rijdt
Caricature of a rider riding backwards (1856)

" … they were engaged in a diaspora away from their Eden …"

Everyone goes through a phase where they find their family an embarrassment. This often occurs during the teen years, when separation seems necessary to affect individuation. We gain the superpower capable of rendering siblings invisible lest we be associated with individuals so unlike us. One genuinely feels they were probably inadvertently switched at birth with some family that already had a color TV. Chores became beyond boring. I seemed to lose respect for myself. If Only became a near-constant refrain as I grieved over my sorry fate. I realized far too late just how fortunate I had been to have been born then, in precisely the right place at exactly the right time. I'd honestly never suspected. I never knew.

It might be true that we're all born into unfathomable ignorance.

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Jean-Paul Laurens:
C'étaient de ces figures étranges qui avaient parcouru la Gaule au temps d'Attila et de Chlodowig
They were one of these strange figures who had traveled Gaul in the time of Attila and Chlodowig (1887)

" … some vestigial memory created forty-seven or eight generations ago …"

My Fambly tree starts petering out around my 47th and 48th great-grandparents. That any record of them still exists amounts to either a significant miracle or a minor research error, though the record had withstood some scrutiny. Contrary to what I'd always heard, the end of the Roman Empire was not some cataclysmic fall. As with all enormous bureaucratic institutions, the end was prolonged and featured unexpected bedfellows. In my notion of that history, ravening hoards tore down walls and took no prisoners. In the real world, even the conquerors understood that vanquishing an army would win much less than half of any battle. The population would need to be governed, and not merely by military dictators, for commerce and trade would continue to be an essential part of any post-status quo arrangement.

My 47th Great-Grandfather seems to have been just such a character, a political operator capable of working across aisles and collaborating with once-sworn enemies to accomplish mutually beneficial ends.

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Students of Raphael: Coronation of Charlemagne (1514-15)

"I had better consider myself worthy of all that bother."

His cat awakened the Thirty-Seventh Great-Grandson. He'd taken the day before off to nurse a painful muscle spasm and wasn't quite ready to face the day. The cat insisted. I can confidently report that this cat has our Great-Grandson wrapped around his paws. The Grandson cannot deny him anything, regardless of how shoddily that cat might choose to treat him. He might annoyingly yowl, but the Grandson never loses his ardor for that animal.

Unlike his Thirty-Seventh Great-Grandfather, our Great-Grandson was never instilled via coronation.

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Frans Stamkart: Salome (1910 - 1915)

"This world won't allow what couldn't ever come about."

A point comes when I can no longer comprehend the context within which I find myself dabbling, for I can no more than dabble in the incomprehensible British peerage system. My forebears did not lose all their standing when they were forbidden the right of ascension. They entered the netherworld of dukes, earls, and sirs alien to the American all-men-created-equal creed. Infinitesimal differences seemed to yield enormous shifts. Even seven or eight generations after JohnOfGaunt's era, his X-times great-grandaughters remained in The Peerage, and marriage to them elevated their husband's standing. Through successive marriages, the bloodline migrated to Ireland, where generations of husbands and sons participated in the subjugation of Irish natives.

The British colonized everything they could.

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William Godwin:
Edward I. Edward II. Edward III. Richard II (1815)

"We're certainly directly related to almost everybody."

How does the progeny of a King and Queen of England manage to lose their rights of association? It was always easy to lose the right of ascension. That required no more than the good fortune not to be the first-born male. The rights of association proved tricker, though, for they depended upon custom and political positioning. Stay in good graces with the crown, and you and your offspring might hang around the household for centuries. Somehow fall out of favor, and you and yours will disappear, sometimes into formal exile and other times more permanently. There seems to have been little permanent sentimentality between members of the upper reaches of royal society. Anybody—and I do mean anybody—could be excommunicated on any premise on the whim of a king, queen, or even senior advisor. Not even offspring were necessarily excepted.

Rejected ones could try again by attempting to marry themself off to some handy neighboring monarch.

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Print: Edward III, King of England and France (1817)

"I might just as well consider myself not even distantly related."

My twenty-first great-grandmother was twelve or thirteen when she married the love of her life, himself only fifteen at the time, and future king of England, on November 1, 1254. Eleanor of Castile qualified as genuine royalty with an ancestry dating back centuries, from before the beginning of the Dark Ages to around 500 AD, starting with a Prefect of Gaul and disappearing into doubtless royal parentage before. Since then, her forebears had fulfilled roles as varied as manager of an early Frankish Duke's household to kingships in what would later be Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal. If anything, my Fambly's history speaks to the absolute absurdity of generational wealth. Edward and Eleanor were perhaps the wealthiest monarchs in British history. A few offspring by mistresses and great-grandchildren don't receive any split of King great-Grandpa's pot. A few patricides engender hard feelings, especially within the immediate family.

Eleanor bore Edward III's first child at thirteen while still on her honeymoon.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 4/18/2024

Jacques-Philippe Caresme:
Priest Making an Offering Accompanied by Nymphs and Satyrs
(18th century)

They Become More Real
I’m starting to believe that history might mostly be about patterns. Individual stories and actions might matter most when reduced to patterns. One instance might prove entertaining, but a half-dozen similar stories spread over centuries might better inform. I’ve been stumbling into possible crossovers, where one great-grandfather ended up in the same place and time as another and where every damned family that followed that trail ended up with almost the same story. These revelations shift my attention away from accomplishments toward responses. It might be that The Cumberland Valley, for instance, provided a context that tended to tease out the same behaviors from a variety of different people, that it might not have mattered what historical place your family hailed from or what religion they practiced, but that they fell under the subtle influence of a place they happened to share. I wasn’t there, but their stories sound more than accidentally similar. They almost seem like they were pulled from a book of valid plot lines or merely works of fiction. They become more real once they start showing their similarities.

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Jules F. Jacquemart: Mementos of a Trip (1862)

" … they insist we were all created equal."

Every forebear contributed their share of what eventually became me. My mother and father provided equal amounts of each of themselves as their parents did before them. Likewise, their grandparents did their part, too, and their parents before them. Over succeeding generations, a single generation's contribution gets diluted, but the formula holds. My twentieth great-grandmother contributed just as much as my twentieth great-grandfather. Yet, I tend to follow the family name backward rather than engage in many SideTrips to see what my umpteenth great-grandmother's family might have provided. Not every SideTrip goes anywhere, for only the elites ever inherit much of a family tree. It takes notoriety to guarantee that anybody remembers anybody, that, or a string of very conscientious and fortunate grandmothers. This kind maintain records in bibles and never loses their homes to fires. It's a wonder many records survive at all.

I felt curious about my second great-grandmother, Elizabeth Lovelady, who died in childbirth along the Applegate extension of the Oregon Trail on November 13, 1845, leaving my great-grandfather John Bird Bounds an orphan at twelve.

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

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

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

"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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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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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

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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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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Jacob van Meurs: View of Nieuw Amsterdam.
Novum Amsterodamum

" … 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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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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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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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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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 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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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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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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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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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

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

“ … 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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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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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



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

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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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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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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Hi Red Center, Designed by George Maciunas:
Bundle of Events (1965)

"Ask more, and I quickly become a bore."

I despise questionnaires, so it seems ironic or perhaps somehow justified that I find myself designing … a questionnaire. I swear this universe works precisely like this: whatever I despise, I eventually find myself involved with. I would be wise to be more careful with my despising, but my initial reactions seem less choices than visceral responses, not terribly volitional. However this happens, it happens. I prefer to think that my underlying dislike of questionnaires will enable me to produce a superior one, for I will probably avoid most questionnaires’ more annoying aspects. I will not, for instance, insist that any of my questions be answered, for if 'no response' isn't valid, neither could any other be. Forced choices aren't choices but forces. I'll also keep mine simple. The worst questionnaires ask many questions. The best ask few.

I intend to ask only ThreeQuestions.

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Hi Red Center: Canned Mystery (c. 1964)

"Once I've adequately flattened my forehead …"

I accepted the assignment about a month ago without understanding how I might fulfill it. The person requesting my help asked for something I couldn't deliver and, frankly, didn't believe was needed. This, of course, is the typical and perfectly normal role for any effort's sponsor to fulfill: The Clueless Leader. For the subsequent month, I've been the clueless responder, so this Mystery has been perfectly cast with cluelessness all the way down. Mysteries must be like this at first. They're only made more profound by immediately presuming solutions upon them. Some process seems necessary to resolve such Mysteries, which might resolve the differences between what the sponsor certainly doesn't know and what the inevitably lame responder doesn't know yet.

I fret.

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Jean Veber: Goya’s Return to his Homeland (1899)

" … remnants of ever more distant pasts …"

The first few days after a Toodle ends prove challenging. There's the relief of surviving another excursion combined with the convincing illusion that I've returned. Neither notion will prove true over the ensuing days. Little differences will combine to produce larger disconnections. The confusion will eventually fade into background noise, and my life will continue, though never quite as convincingly as before leaving. I begrudgingly suggest that this might be due to a small yet significant fact: that none of us ever return from these excursions. How could we? Were we not changed by the experience? Was our home held in isolated suspension during our absence? Neither could be true, so why, I finally wonder, did I ever imagine that I might reasonably return from an excursion away? It might be—and it seems much more plausible—that I NeverReturn.

The challenge comes from my conviction that I might somehow reasonably return.

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Edward Calvert: The Return Home (1830)

" … just as if anybody's future could ever be foreseeable."

The return comes as almost a surprise. We had grown so accustomed to being on the move that the prospect of staying still made no immediate sense. We had adapted as if moving had become the natural state and stasis the foreign one. I didn't even try to imagine myself back home, for only momentum made sense. I had become perfectly in tune with the rhythms of the road, the leisurely pace, comfortably passing slower-moving vehicles, being passed myself. The few deranged drivers, inevitably those exceeding the speed limit, continued to drive me crazy but only in the usual ways, none seeming all that creative. The habit the speeders have of blocking the smooth passing of those obeying the speed limit seems the most telling. Scientists insist that those who exceed the speed limit inhibit the flow of the whole road, thereby slowing it. Seen in this way, the speeders rob everyone of some of their potential, a supremely self-centered act. Perhaps they need to set themselves above their fellows in their minds. That trick may even work if one possesses a tiny one.

The final leg of our Toodle covers such familiar territory that few sights seem noteworthy along the way.

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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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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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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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 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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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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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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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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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/22/2024

Charles E. Burchfield: March Sunlight (1926-1933)

I Hope To Never Fully Recover
The cost of travel these days seems to be the illness one experiences after an excursion. If we could just stay put, I imagine we might live forever, but we’re nosy by nature, and so feel we must go adventuring. While sightseeing, invisible forces stalk us. We should understand this by now, especially after That Damned Pandemic ravaged us. Those of us able to keep our heads down and huddle experienced significantly fewer ravages than those who weren’t. Travel now seems to broaden as well as flatten, the quality of these experiences filtered through the usual negative externalities. The day we decide just to stay safe might be the day we finally accept ambiance as our native state. If we weren’t supposed to change, we’d be more solid and much less fluid. If we weren’t supposed to get ill, we might never have to learn or unlearn anything we’d come to hold sacred, and none of us might ever experience the sublime sensation of getting Better or Well Again. I hope to never fully recover from this writing week’s realizations, even though I end the week two stories short. Thank you for following along!

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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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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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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

" … 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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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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