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Perfect Little Death

Repose, for now

Repose, for now

Yesterday was perfect. I saw him, or her, while reviewing the graffiti longstanding on our communal fence. Two planks are gone, making the long gaps of missing teeth in a double-barrier against weeds and freeway. At first there was just wood and some kid’s bubbly spraypaint letters, dust and scum on the concrete foundation. I looked right at him or her and didn’t see the shape. The mind sees what it expects to see.

Thunderstorms flashed and boomed to the east yesterday night, but only castoff drops tantalized the city. The day was not hot but not cool either, sultry with the trapped tropic damp Hawaii was done with. By afternoon radar showed a swirling yellow and orange rain comma lumbering up from the south; the sky was the smeary haze that lives at the ocean, the sun the brightest blot in shapeless decks of grey. Today is trash day, and yesterday I took it upon myself to trim some bushes and dispense, with vigor and prejudice, a blackberry vine establishing itself on the retaining wall. A real fucker, like all blackberries, though not yet terrible. The vine folded up easily as I crushed it into a wad. I sprayed the stems still in the ground with glyphosphate: it’s blackberry, and it was only three squirts. I filled the neighbors’ undersized compost bins (we are all cheap urbanites with the smallest bins) and lugged them to the street, satisfied. I hate yardwork and it was done, so I walked the grounds, looking for more modest triumphs. I thought about finally cleaning up this graffiti and saw her, or him.

Yesterday I froze but jumped inside my still skin. He, or she, was perfect: the coat clean and soft even to look at, the paws poised as if to grip a pen, the line of the mouth as drawn as my cat’s mouth. The eye was mostly closed but open enough to see the black eye, jewel-clear. I thought he, or she, was napping. Many seconds passed before I realized it was dead.

I didn’t take a picture then. Yesterday it had not rained and he, or she, was perfect there, so strangely composed. He, or she, was beyond fluster. Entropy had not yet taken notice. He, or she, was a perfect mouse in every way other than not being alive. Honest: I thought it was asleep. Taking a picture would have woken it up.

August in Washington is free of rain, more dry than Phoenix, on average. Last night’s rain was something out of autumn going into winter: the steady but not drenching patter that chuckles in gutters and makes tires hiss. Months of it make locals crave the sun, but months of sun get tiresome. I was glad for it, even just plain rain with no lightshow. No lightshow is better for the fires out east.

The mouse held on through the evening. I thought about what it would do to him, or her: drenching the perfect coat, making the body sodden. Maybe it would hasten smell and dissolution, but that was clinical thought high up in the cerebral stratosphere. Mostly I thought child thoughts about the poor mouse getting wet in the rain.

Ego endures. Conservative gasbags on the shouting channels rail against the estate tax with statements like When I die, I want my money to go to my children, not the government. We all do this, not just conservatives, but conservatives are least amenable to having it pointed out that when they die, they are dead. There is no I in death. By definition, the thing that wants and needs no longer exists; they can have no wants. But the ego continues to be the star of its own movie, projecting itself into a future where it does not exist, and we pronounce such non sequiturs all the time. We can’t help it. We can’t understand what it means to not exist.

Life is hard outside. Feral cats are said to live five years or less, if they’re lucky. My cat, who lives inside with good food and unappreciated veterinary care, will probably live to be fifteen or so. To be four and a bird is to be a very durable bird. Outside there is disease, cold, hot, hunger, predators, and your own species, who often as not are competitors and assholes. Mice, says Wikipedia, only live for a year. Their problem is predation. Might as well be assholes.

This morning I get up refreshed, determined to get to work, to be productive. I wrote 90 minutes on the book yesterday and surely, despite fatigue and medicine’s icky feeling, I can do another hour or so. I can finish washing the windows, take pleasure in the garbage truck picking up that fucker blackberry. But the first thing I think of is the little mouse, and whether he, or she, got wet.

There is no he or she. I am firm with myself as I get the camera. Outside is grey and heavy with rain’s passage, air thick and not quite cool. Everything seems washed, unbrittled. The dry grass now has give against my feet.

The mouse is there, the it of it. It is drenched, the coat no longer perfect down but sodden and rough to look at, like discarded carpet. For the first time, I notice the separated leg. It is still. The eye is still barely open. It still holds some illusion of being asleep.

On the Fourth of July, I happened to look down at the neighbor’s garage. Fireworks lit and boomed everywhere, deafening and brilliant, and a dark spot darted from one edge of the neighbor’s garage door to the other. It paused there, ran a little more to the front door, then ran back. It was a mouse. Why was it out now? What could it be looking for? Poor little thing probably scared out of its mind, my girlfriend said.

Is this that mouse? No, ego again: was this that mouse? It escaped that terror to find the jaws or beak of another one, one that snapped a leg off and then lost interest. There are no other wounds. Maybe it was scared to death.

I take the picture. Should I bury it? It is an it, now. Does it matter to project human dignity upon it? It isn’t human and never was. It is a fellow creature, though, another mammal on the bus, and we are all on the bus together.

Trucks rumble on the freeway, planes fly overhead. Mammals have been around millions of years longer than either. Trucks and planes will disappear before mammals.

In Ray Bradbury’s “Frost and Fire”, people came to Mercury eons ago, marooned there by a crash. An undamaged rocket lies an hour away, but an hour is too short to reach it during the tiny interval between deadly day and night. Radiation has reduced human lifespan to eight days. I remember this story, one of the first I read: I still have the browning paperback of R is for Rocket. Sped up by radiation, people flitted their lives like vibrating strings during their eight days. The main character, taunted by the other rocket, dedicates himself to finding a way to it. I remember the rush I felt, sitting in bed in elementary school by the bedside lamp, as he scrambles the last yards, grabs the airlock, and falls inside as dawn breaks. Time lurches down a hundred gears, and protected by the rocket his life stretches out. Out the window he can see his marooned race buzzing about their caves in streaks and blurs. He has made it. He cannot go back. The rocket takes him away forever.

I leave it on the cement, in the open. Something will eat it in the way of things. I go back inside to my shelter of vaccinations and antibiotics, cleanliness and nutrition, electricity and science. With luck, these things will outlast me, so I can beat jungle’s odds and ask the jungle questions it can’t answer. Outside things will look in but live too fast to understand.

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Catch and Release

Last money

Last money

June 27th, 2014 was my last day on the job. I could have kept on, but a break so natural and effortless is something I am at last ready to receive. The newest manager in the ever-changing succession was surprised when I politely declined another year in the off-white hive, its promise of excitement and doing something important. We can only buy so much safety, and in a year the same desperate rush will still be there, the coming quarter’s rush all forgotten. There is always a new emergency when there is never enough. Money is useful, to be sure, but I have a pile big enough. A key idea we forget–or never learn–is enough. 

For weeks, the end comes slowly: my initial hour of heebie-jeebies at telling the manager that thanks for the offer, but I’d rather let my contract expire, successive hours of anxious repeats when the contracting company emails their incredulity and I somehow maintain my position. Then there are just hiccups in the slipstream as the weekends pass, the knowledge that paychecks will stop, that my squirreling behavior of the past eighteen months will shift to a new phase. Writing remains productive. The book’s first draft is less of a mess and getting straighter all the time.

Then the end comes all at once, as it should.

Summer dawn

Summer dawn

This is dawn on June 27th, 2014. Light comes before 5 a.m. at 47º36″, and light this clear this early wakes everything, even things that have spent all night awake, like cats. I get up, wash my face, take my vitamins and latest round of pills to at last defeat the Lyme (or at least put it back to sleep), make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my bike messenger bag and walk outside to the clear sky invisible to the freeway noise: the body all habit but the mind aware in a new way. Years past when leaving a job or school my mind would be grave, or boiling, or stunned: this is the end and what comes next? Now I am fine with it just being the end right now.

Last morning ride

Last morning ride

The bus is unremarkable. I have ridden it sparingly since carpooling, choosing free time over a free ride. It bothers me a little, both as a cheap person and knowing yet another car out on commute time isn’t helping anything I care about. But an extra 45 to 60 minutes free time a day is yet another tradeoff: possibly selfish, but ultimately I can only live for myself. (I spent a lot on therapist copays to learn that, but you can have it free.) It feels good to ride and watch the city work through itself, circulating and alive.

Arriving at the second bus stop to catch the third and final leg, the Microsoft shuttle driver smiles at me. Hey, haven’t seen you much. She knows work, the lines in her face say, but she smiles and drives the big van, not the small van she had before. Yeah, one trip where I have six people and they give me this big thing. I tell her it’s my last trip, at least for a while. You don’t seem upset about it! She’s right.

Ghost way

Ghost way

Work looks like this. Some warrens and cul de sacs are populated: another crop of interns–some flaunting wild and sexually ambiguous getup, others straight from Midwestern Bible college–sit alone before their screens, their office space secured by very temporary sheets of paper taped to doors. Occasionally an employee or another vendor will appear in the custom of corporate departure: a box full of papers or a small houseplant held with bent elbows above the waist. There are few of these. The place is quiet, the project shut down last week. We are just here to wind down the fiscal year.

Idea factory

Idea factory

Weekday waking hours the last eighteen months have been in this physical space: two meeting rooms combined with a movable wall retracted, spare and loud and first, over time becoming crammed and louder. Had a fire or earthquake happened I doubt everyone would have been able to escape, so I’m hopeful to run out the last few hours without that irony requiring my appreciation. People are even-spirited: the announcement was last week and anyone with attachments has had time to process any turmoil. Most of today is contractors lugging vendor-owned monitors down the stairs. Fulltimers plug away at their interminable PowerPoints or are absent.

Square view

Square view

In the end, there is little to show for eighteen months: a demo application, if you have the right version of Windows and a touch screen; files of drawings; an app (yes, that word) for displaying icons in various colors; an app intended to facilitate brainstorming. This last was of great importance the past month. Now finished, it is unmentioned. Its ultimate purpose was as an offering to impress some wise wizard somewhere in the vast hive. Maybe it did. I suspect it engendered an elaborate conversation full of tangents and wide-eyed insights that might be valuable to someone somewhere, sometime. In the end it will end up like nearly everything created in any idea factory: shelved on a server nobody knows about, lost to the outside when the last person who knows the password is let go. Microsoft spends a lot of money to conquer new worlds. But is in such a hurry to get to the future everyone else made, it doesn’t keep track of all the worlds it tried to invent, and all the closets it put them in.

I feel little connection and no loss. I am grateful to have had the job during a very difficult time, but that desperation faded last fall. After that, I was only in it for the money. Am I happy? I am not panicked, fearful, or shamed. I feel hopeful and just fine. I need to do something different now.

At 11:30 the beer and pizza comes, and with it the Big Boss. At least, the biggest we have. Full of an eight-year-old’s energy, he has zip-zinged the project and its tribe for the past two or three years to end up junked in the ditch, but he holds no grudges. He relates the old days and the new days, how excited he was and how proud he is. He pulled every lever and tried every trick, but in the end The Big Answer came down from on high: The Big No. The company only made $14.46 billion the previous quarter, down from a record of over $25 billion the previous quarter. In response, vendors let go company-wide and projects trimmed. But then, Microsoft has always acted like the old heiress living in a rented room, living off church handouts to keep from running the hot plate. One can only laugh.

Emptied and empty

Emptied and empty

Things break up. I wander the halls and take pictures, free of both remorse and expectation. A friend calls quickly to wish me well in the transition. I am touched by this thoughtfulness, and that of everyone I know. Everyone is supportive. You don’t have any kids, the friend with three told me last year. You can do whatever you want. Texts come in through the day: Time for adventure! I look out the windows at the parking lots, the office buildings, the entire suburban consumerist industrial project. It will go away some day, but not tomorrow. When Microsoft cuts off the free soda, we will all know it is the beginning of The End.

Squirrels and shiny things

Squirrels and shiny things

I am useful and honorable, updating some tablet computers that don’t belong to the group before handing them back to someone whose also on his last day. He smiles through his beard, hands full of tablets: well, seeya! I fill canvas bags with my vendor’s equipment and haul it to my girlfriend’s car. I remove my plant in homage to Steve Martin’s The Jerk: I’m gonna take this plant, and this keyboard, and this book, and this…. For the first time, I have a real conversation with a woman who sits behind me. She has worked in TV and shares stories of being a colorist. I feel stupid I never talked to her before the last day.

The Big Boss is in his office, all smiles and no desperation. This place, I mean, jeez. He turns on a demon’s voice. Thank you for your years of devoted service. Now go tell all the people you have told are doing great work their project is cancelled. When you’re done with that, tell these young children there is no Santa. We laugh about it. Why not? That’s the power we have.

When school let out for the summer, there was rush, release, a massive catharsis that thundered in every inch of air shouted out every throat. By college the release had become a quieter putting down in the hour before heading off to work. Today the end is like a line on a map: not there at all, only in the minds that agree it exists. I say goodbye to the people that are left, have a longer talk with the oldest fulltimer still there. He seems the most incredulous that the end is real. Well. Well. Good luck to you. He shakes my hand.

On the other side of the door, I am on the other side of the door.

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 is the last carpool day. Traffic is rough and The Lane, even though it stops midway across the lake, saves its many creeping minutes. Sun streams in westward brilliant, the city’s neat houses set dull in the hillside, the sky behind them bright.

The woman I have been carpooling with is older, a teacher of anthropology working at the college near my office building. She has suffered many losses these past few months: her mother, her oldest mentor, another friend. Now she is losing her ride and conversation with somebody who appreciates a hippie-generation anthropologist. She is thankful a ridematch website and chance have brought us together. So am I. She is someone who appreciates leaving the rat race because she remembers when people called it that and had dreams of leaving it.

 

She gives me the envelope you see at the top. She keeps tabs of her rides and insists on paying for them. This is the last of that. The note is more. It says grateful things.

I am grateful for having a place to go when I needed one, and someone to talk to in the morning, in the rain.

Big dawn

Big dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Deal Vibrant

The standard stock photo of business

The standard stock photo of business. The future is graphs!

As insults go, one from junk email should incite small reaction. It was standard marketing puff I hadn’t asked for. Well I know such emails come from managerial delusions of grandeur, someone in a tie or uncomfortable heels whose starry eyes are too enamored with the products and services they are responsible for pushing to realize nobody will care about another email pimping for them, not even the people paid to write them. But this one is so insipid it begs the question: were the people paid to write and design this one paid?

“Important Tax Tips and Information from TaxAudit.com” came to me last Monday (May 12). From the supposed desk of Mark Olander, CEO, this competent but undistinguished memo features personal finance articles that are an odd mix of bland and “how to get rich at a respectable, legal clip”. A slip of the finger opening instead of deleting, I scanned the opening paragraphs with their alluring read more links: selling a house, rental properties and taxes, blah. Chance had me scroll one tick more, to this:

Is Retirement Even Possible for Gen-Xers? Do I Even Want to Retire?

For many of us, saving enough to retire may not be possible. But before we toss our hands in the air, let’s look at this problem in an entirely different way. What about working longer? Maybe loving what we do? Staying vibrant in mind and body for as long as possible. Read more

Morning is quiet under fluorescent light, the tea cooling, sun in the windows, and in that moment of held breath I experience a riot. Shock, of course, but politely contained, like a dowager served cold tea. A writer’s slump at the last sentence that isn’t a sentence. And then the hot flush of insult. I feel like last fall when someone tried to break into my house: violated to the point of dispensing physical harm.

No Gen-X-er would write such tripe. Your lead graf contains an incomplete sentence. Who the fuck are you, puff email writer?

For no reason that is good in the literal sense, I click through. The essay (I know the fashion is to call such thing “blog posts”, but my indignation forces me to hold this writing to a higher standard) is 600 words of loose and gushing prose that holds a theme as well as one expects from a middling freshman English paper. Author Eric Linden, The Wily Tax Blogger, has a “varied” background, “ranging from the rock and roll business to high technology. He loves tax law, prunes, and swimming laps in the San Francisco bay.”

Armed only with this knowledge, perhaps your Old Man Grumpus impressions are similar to mine:

  • These qualifications (to be generous and call them such) sound appropriate for fast food, “hospitality”, or, to paraphrase Mike Myers’ character Wayne, a wide variety of nametag and hairnet jobs.
  • Someone with a love of tax law would surely put a ring on it with a degree from an accredited college. Wouldn’t such a person proudly name this institution before a love of prunes?
  • “Rock and roll business” is a rich mine of unseemly implications. No musician I know refers to their craft as a “business”, and loathe dealing with money as an evil. Does the swimming help you play whatever it is you play better? Or, to select another likely stereotype, make you more wily at stepping on others?
  • Are you proud of this bio? It would embarrass the thirteen-year-old me. It’s an insult to no-good kids.

Thus needlessly incensed, I read through Linden’s prose. Key gems [sic]:

  • I mean, I am a frugal individual right? Heck, I have never even had a car payment. I drink Folgers! Well, okay, I do occasionally have a $2 Starbucks espresso but dang it that is rare! I can retire and live these Golden Years too, right?
  • For many, saving nearly $3 million is a stretch, if not outright impossible. This is not to say it cannot be done, but unless something drastically changes, many of us may never be able to retire.
  • But before you toss your hands in the air with despair, let us look at this problem in an entirely different way. What about working longer?

In the piece, Eric uses dang twice.

The essay’s key message is: if you were born between approximately 1965 and 1985–the height of the West’s consumption and material wealth, and the greatest period of wealth in all of human history–you have walked into the party in its waking up wearing a lampshade phase, and you, dear Generation Xer, get to clean up, go to work forever, and pay everything off.

This doesn’t disturb me. It’s self-evident. Humanity exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity some time ago, or will soon, or will this century (depending on your mood and the assumptions behind your reference. I leave this research as an exercise for the reader.) Most of the money in the Too-Big-To-Fail banks is not even paper, just numbers on a hard drive your ostensibly democratic government handed to them over your overwhelming objection. The planet’s human population is over 7 billion, with about 216,000 humans born every day. There has never been enough to go around, and I don’t see how this can get any better with fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and the near-total domination of big business capitalism.

Retirement is a very modern idea, one I believe is an historical aberration restricted to the big industrial economies of late. (This isn’t my idea, though one I can’t find a good reference for.) Never before the Twentieth Century, and FDR’s New Deal in America and the socialist reforms in postwar Europe, have so many people been able to live for so long, in such health, with such material security from their own savings plus socialized pensions (which Social Security was not really intended to be, but ended up becoming). Everyone alive has grandparents that were able to live their final years with dignity and some leisure due to these changes that would have been unthinkable as recently as, say, 1920. A paper I read twenty years ago in college claimed Social Security was the greatest anti-poverty program for the elderly in human history, and I think that’s more or less right.

But you can’t spend what you don’t have, something the financial wizards and tech nerds do not understand, or are in denial about. All the debt from all those pointless wars, the bank bailouts, and who knows what else stares out of the accounting books–both the public ones and all the secret insider ones. That the richest rich pay less than everyone else doesn’t help. Are people worried, indifferent, angry, helpless? Are they those things toward the right things? It’s hard to know, especially if you have the TV on.

I turned 44 this year. I hope to be one of those that exceed 100, as Eric notes half of us Xers are expected to. Piling up enough money to reach an arbitrary age and then never work again doesn’t seem realistic. I’ve done several different things already and expect to do more. The world is changing and the consumerist model won’t last anyway–it can’t, if we want a habitable planet. Good work which offers real value and sustains something larger than the individual is good, and not just because it keeps you busy. We all need meaning.

Wily Eric infuriates me for his lack of meaning. It is projection to assume he is an early-twenties know-nothing who scrabbles together food money with little writing jobs and “rock-and-roll business” and doesn’t know what couch he’s crashing on tonight, and I risk becoming a grumpy old man by imagining him so. But his juvenile style and tone show a lack of serious thought.

Dear Eric, have you considered why people will not be able to retire at 65? Could it be because their jobs pay too little for them to save anything? Or that they may be lost to the system because they’ve been out of work so long they gave up looking? Maybe they got seriously sick–a sure road to financial ruin in America.

Eric counsels staying vibrant and loving what you do. How vibrant are those over 70 you know? My 86-year-old grandmother worked as a waitress up to the day she died, and she was as vibrant as she was lucky. Septuagenarians may be sprightly, but can they keep carrying mail, or switch to that as a career? Doctors are seen as cerebral, but most are on their feet all day. Even vibrant 70+ folks beg the question: what of the aged’s mental competence? The culture is full of jokes about the old not being able to drive or operate their phones. Shall we consign them to work too? At what?

In the most literal sense, Eric doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and this is why his offhand suggestion to “do what you love, forever” enrages me. You write about working for forty years and then finally hanging up your computer mouse. If you think that’s work, you don’t know what work is.

Back in rock and roll’s heyday, when the Boomers were your age, the most serious breach of the social contract was to sell out. I understand that’s changed, but do me and my elders a favor. When you sell out, be tasteful and do it in private.

Eric, I hope you got paid for that gem. In money, I mean. Stay vibrant!

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Michael Glawogger Has Died

Michael Glawogger, the

Michael Glawogger, the “Austrian cowboy”

The Austrian documentary film director Michael Glawogger died on April 22, 2014, a result of misdiagnosed malaria on a film shoot in Liberia. He was only 54.

The news came to me only this week. In some places, news does not travel fast, and this is a comfort to me. It allows time for the news to breathe, a gift of suspension we had when we wrote letters and when people had dignity in waiting.

Workingman’s Death is his 2005 documentary about hard labor, the kind of work we in the West prefer to believe banished to history books and now exists only as cinematic simulation. I saw it a few years ago at the Northwest Film Forum, the poster image in that week’s email of coming attractions some mix of color and shape and promise of unmodified truth I knew I had to see it, even on a school night.

I wrote about this night and the film’s sheer beauty and horror remains fixed but not frozen, its nebula spreading outward, coloring men behind counters, filling in shadows under the women manning construction barricades. Seattle has a serious fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. This would be a fortune to the people Glawogger filmed in Workingman’s Death.

I appreciate the film even more now. Unlike most films that nowadays declare themselves documentaries, Workingman’s Death has no message and no opinion. There is no narrator. The film crew goes into the same dangerous and inhuman environments as its subjects and the cameras roll. Glawogger is never seen. He knew to get out of the way of the color of the sulfur plumes, the gulping pause of tons of ship steel falling to a beach, the Bosch-cum-Kubrick horrorshow of a meatmarket-slaughterhouse, all the filth blooming color. Seeing this movie at 42 was like seeing Koyaanisqatsi at 13: a journey while sitting still, the view of a thing that could never fit in words streaming at rest in absolute time.

Glawogger was there that night at the Film Forum. Tall, bigger than befit lanky, scruffy but combed, his face the big, Teutonic block of someone who had made choices and not looked back, he took questions after the showing. His voice was soft and buttered with an accent: not harsh at all. He thought about his answers. He smacked around some twentysomethings who tried way too hard with their questions, something about whether he was exploiting the workers he filmed. Older people smiled and laughed. I rolled my eyes, because I might have asked similar questions that I now saw as naive. He wore cowboy boots. I liked him. In the lobby he was swarmed with people, and I decided I had nothing worthwhile to say to him. How many times can you hear I really enjoyed your movie, it showed me things I hadn’t seen in a way I hadn’t seen them before it gets boring? Now I guess the answer is: probably never enough. Making anything significant is hard.

Glawogger is not a big film name, at least in America. In a memorial essay by NWFF’s Adam Sekuler, Glawogger is described as a European film festival habitue, and “having a cunning way of cutting to the heart of everything.” Seattle U film students describing their epic ideas for their five-minute documentary piece, Glawogger said: “Do you know how short five minutes is?”

Here are the last two sentences of Sekuler’s memoriam: “He was only 54. Do you know how short fifty-four years are?”

ORF.at has an account of Glawogger’s death. My German isn’t good enough make significant sense of it, but Google’s translation is fitting: ethereal with the living body dream:

One day after the announcement of the sudden death of the malaria filmmaker Michael Glawogger were widow announced details for disease course…. Thus ill Glawogger last Friday in Harper, Liberia. The reanimation by the verge landed Austrian medical team remained without success. RETRIEVAL IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE

The poetry is chance from a dumb machine, but still beautiful, like something Glawogger would find. It is filmic beauty but with nothing to see.

Carpe diem has been thrown at me multiple times the past two weeks. I feel punchy, not quite glum, overtired; other days carried on a great current and held in a warm wind. The crawling glass tentacles of fear are gone, but so is some of the drive. Steady dedication is becoming a working substitute.

Those of us with careful lives have a lifetime of risk-aversion to overcome: save your money, get good grades, wear a sweater. Trouble is always around the corner. Your Uncle Eddie was fit as a fiddle, and then he didn’t put the lid back on the peanut butter, and two weeks later he was dead. So what do you think would happen if you didn’t have money coming in? 

Needs and wants have become confused. We are rich enough, at least with the kind of rich that people mean. We can allow ourselves to turn the color up and let things happen without comment on what they are.

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelGlawogger

http://www.glawogger.com/news_en.php

 

 

 

 

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Why I’m Not Around So Much

The path moves itself

The path moves itself

My postings here have fallen off. Not a great loss, given my tiny audience, though I appreciate my tiny audience is not in it for the cat pictures. Does it matter? Nothing matters. Everything matters.

I’ve been working on a book. It’s a mountain from the past that still hangs out there, but the climb is any other marathon: the finish only imagined until afterwards. But I’m getting better at it. I’ve written more of it, in a more sophisticated way, than I ever have before.

I’d avoided the book for decades, having judged myself incapable of expressing it with the competence and grace I wanted. Jobless after Thanksgiving 2009 I’d at last started adult work on it, churning out thousands of words of character studies, outlines, treatments: a mountain of work a mountainous book deserved. I didn’t get to writing the manuscript until March 2010, and by then I’d exhausted myself. I got a job and gave up in a different way.

2013 was different. I started fresh, focused on simplicity. My outline was three pages instead of 90. I made a schedule of long-term goals, since I had been drifting so long. I’d have a draft finished before Thanksgiving 2013. I felt, if not excited, buoyed to a new level.

This time a year ago I was drowning in an anxious depression. The job, new in January, nixed my money worries but took all my time and energy, the school performance anxiety I’ve never quite vanquished transferred to the job. I worked evenings, woke up mornings, pounded out doughy, uninspired words that took too long. The opening was hackneyed (how many characters have startled from a dream?). It was March and I was hardly more than a chapter in. I worked harder, taking up the weekends. I spent so much time in front of a keyboard my shoulder still acts up. April had me back to antidepressants (don’t be fooled by the initial mania), and things only went down from there.

2014 is different. I don’t remember when, but after getting things straightened out by fall I finally took a friend’s advice: even just fifteen minutes every day is great progress, if you really take the fifteen minutes. So the first chapter–which I threw out and rewrote, and has morphed and grown in notes and in my head since–is complete for now. The second, a similar mess, the third, better. My parents visit, the holidays, work keeps going. I’m not winning any races, but I’m deep into the seventh chapter, the first in the second act. Thirty, forty-five, sometimes a couple hours a day; with productivity independent of the time spent. Frank Herbert, who wrote the Dune novels, observed that six months later he could see no difference between what he thought at the time of writing was good or bad. I’m trusting Frank and all the others. Nobody has confidence in this, and that’s fine. 

2014 is different. I have friends that I maintain. I keep up improv classes and harbor dreams of what that could mean. The book is coming together–slower than I’d like, but a daily stone to the pile. I don’t feel hunkered down in my little house, my only anchors to sanity the cat and voices on the phone. I am not like a friend’s brother, now deceased, rejected from work, rejecting of family, on his last dime and (in my friend’s frank words) with no chicks to bang. I don’t feel thrilled and released and terrified as when I was first divorced. Splashdown is complete and the capsule is still. But because I am still, I can move.

If, since Hawaii, I have been yelling at you, I apologize. It wasn’t my intention, even if that is what I needed. Many things have come together and stuck in the right way, and I suspect the friend who suggested I start this blog knew that would happen. Thanks for that.

I still observe things, still think into the dark. I go for walks and look up with wonder instead of the dread I have been so used to. I do my thirty or forty-five or hundred and twenty minutes, and then that’s the day, and I do something else, or nothing. I’m sleeping okay. The job won’t last forever. I’ll keep you informed.

Don’t push the river. It flows by itself. 

- Barry Stevens

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Words I Would Rather Never, Ever Hear Again

THE LIST OF WORDS:

  • entrepreneur
  • innovation (and innovate)
  • branding
  • learnings
  • gift (and the equally odious “gifting”)
  • ping
  • The Market
  • onboarding
  • resource, when used to mean “a person.” “We need a new accounting resource.”
  • resourceing, or the process of acquiring resources. “We’re resourcing some new accountants.”
  • organization, often shortened to “org” as a means for corporations to refer to themselves and their internal fiefdoms.
  • technology, in the overused software sense of any program, device, technique or method its proponents believe to be sufficiently complex and radical that it deserves coronation as a “technology,” instead of just another copy or variation of some longstanding thing. For instance, “Our new map technology provides robust haptic foldability.” (In other words, it’s a paper map.)
  • reporting. There are two senses here, one for data processing and another for what journalism has devolved to. In the first sense, reporting is the process of delivering reports, which are by definition tedious, opaque, and offer meticulous data about a process or status that is either too small to be relevant or too large to have meaning as charts and graphs: “We’ll need more resources to finish the TPS reporting on time.” The second sense can be seen twenty-four hours a day on cable television.

I am a writer. I know many other writers, and many others who write for a living or for pleasure who are writers in all but name. We treasure words, wrestle with them, hate them, luxuriate in their curve when fit together just so. Writing provides the most horrible sort of play: a game that is never quite good enough but you can never walk away from.

Words mean things. I’m not the nihilist Frank Zappa was when he shouted “they’re just words” to Robert Novak, but words must have some degree of fixed meaning to make comprehensible communication. Why didn’t I know what those third grade Texas kids were talking about when they asked to borrow a “payin”? Because my Ontario-trained auditory processing couldn’t figure out if they wanted a pen or a pin. Confronted with a pop test the answer was obvious, but I felt the need to make a point: these words sound different because they signify different things. (That doesn’t work with homonyms, homographs and homophones, of course, but that’s English for you.) The slop in meaning allows for poetry, but the slop flows through a solid center.

Words listed above break the rules. They have become tools of those who want their true motives hidden, or–even more bizarre and dangerous–desire to erase any sense of art or humanity.

Cubedwellers will recognize all as corporate language, and everyone will recognize some as the undying patter oozing from every mass media orifice.  These words have been designed to be numbing. They deny basic humanity and elevate the rigid authority of those who buy and sell. I don’t think this is going too far. What’s the difference between a resource and a slave?

I am tired of these words, of this list, of the blank-eyed quarterly statements that generate them. I have resisted them small-scale, refusing to ping but instead contacting or reaching out to. When referred to as a resource, I correct or ignore the speaker or writer, shifting the word used to person. (It doesn’t stick, and I can feel the weird looks through email, but I’m not afraid of this modest sabotage.)

Now I’m turning my back on these words. They are empty shells, obfuscating with their Potemkin village show of fullness and plenty. There is no there there so why be cramped by empty space? The Market can stay rich with its innovative paper fluff. Value is solid, whether it’s held in the hand or on the tongue, and I cast out these derivative collateralized words.

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Snow

Falling

Falling

Winter has been tame here, polar vortexes directed toward flyover country and parts east. I make no moral observation but in quiet moments allow myself reminiscence without return. It’s new and not bad.

After a week of bright sun and polar lows in the teens, some snow comes on the warm tail of cold’s departure. Enough to make Saturday night glow in the sodium light and clear out the streets, enough to cause delight without panic. Even a week of teens doesn’t have the ground cold enough to make the stuff stick, only pile up and give us the puffy silence and glow through the windows.

Street

Street

Adults who have no love of snow are not trustworthy. I allow no exceptions or addendums: their inner child is lost, or beaten down. Snow is the most approachable and banal sort of magic, but magic it is. Touch it, smell it, taste it–all its textures and qualities calling out to first grade science class. Snow is not mysterious at all. That’s why kids like it so much.

Home of snow

Home of snow

Snow does not last. This night of its pink and bluewhite shining is the only night we’ll get. The snow falls but only for now, just like when you were a kid, just like always. Even where it is common I hold it is a gift. Pull a blanket around you, look out the window, and listen. Snow falls but does not fail.

 

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