Mastery

Drawing of a woman draped in a sheer fabric. Chalk on brown paper by James Whistler.

James McNeill Whistler, the guy who famously painted his mother, went back to the drawing board–literally–to create a masterpiece.

It seems that the already well-accomplished artist felt that his work on the human form was weak. So he went about practicing and perfecting his drawing by spending hours in the studio studying and reworking images on paper. He thought he didn’t do enough work earlier. He crammed on the form of the body and the draping of fabric. He worked in chalk on brown paper or sketched in oil.

I was struck by the exhibit showing a piece of art that never was. (Well, it was, but then it was destroyed. But that’s not my point.) There were many studies, many explorations, many versions of the work. All in preparation for the final canvas, which was itself reworked, painted, scraped and repainted. This went on for ten years, incomplete. His mom thought that “he had tried too hard to make it the perfection of art.”

Ten years working on a singular painting. While this wasn’t his sole effort, it was an ongoing effort. Learning, working, improving, struggling, and doing it more.

This is someone acquiring mastery. It is a process that takes time. It is a process that requires sustained effort. It is a process that accesses multiple aspects of thinking and feeling.

I live in a world of immediacy, of instantaneous transfer of messages, some of which are programmed to disappear immediately. I am surrounded by people anxious to master, but in our anxiety and rush we move past the task that is completed, but far from mastered. We claim to respect and admire craft and virtuosity, yet adopt a DIY mentality, “I can do this.” And then think that we DID attain a high level–but it was just cleverness.

It’s the neighbor’s house that they remodeled seven years ago. They can’t sell it now. The work they did was good. It looked good. They were not proficient in laying floors and hanging cabinets and taping drywall. It was the first time they tiled a bathroom. Their work was more than sufficient. It was fine. But it took them much longer than the practitioners who had apprenticed and studied. It lacked the familiarity, judgement and awareness of the master. They were neophytes. It was their first rodeo. Their work did not stand the test of time.

Also, today I was reading a critique of the White House work on a cancer “moonshot.” Dr. Vinay Prasad, a cancer researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, took the idea to task. After challenging the Ground Hog Day aspects (War on Cancer in the 70s anyone?) and efforts to push drugs out faster, accelerating new therapies and opening clinical trials (none of which are groundbreaking), he identified the deficiency with the moonshot approach. The fundamental problem he sees is that a surge of concentrated effort to cure cancer doesn’t fit medical discovery. Science is a long process of experimentation, applying lessons and connecting dots across disciplines. It takes time. And mastery.

I’m wondering, what I am working on? What am I trying to master? What will I leave that will stand the test of time?

Damn, that museum trip has my mind working.

I’m a Punk

huge and very impressive escalator in Copenhagen.

I went to the Freer Gallery to see the Sōtatsu exhibit today.

Here’s my compressed 411 for you: Some 400 years ago in Japan, this guy, Sōtatsu, was an amazing artist and craftsman. He decorated papers and fans and told stories with ink and paint and foils. He did prints for poetry scrolls and made beautiful panels. He used the medium like nobody else and influenced eastern art. All the credit went to his collaborators and students. He disappeared for centuries.

My point isn’t about his struggles. He did okay for himself. My point is that he was a master. He was able to accomplish masterpieces because he worked on his craft. He was great and memorable for hundreds of years because he worked to learn. He experimented, refined and improved his art.

So here I am tonight, slogging and slurring through post number 30.  I’m writing because I am faux-working at my craft. Really, though, I’m just a punk. I’m writing without the care and effort and path to improvement of Sōtatsu and his disciples. I’m just putting a notch in the gun.  X’ing today on the calendar. Did it. Done!

I still believe that forcing myself to write every day makes me a better writer. At least it makes me faster. But to really be better, I need to focus on making my actual work better. I’ve been publishing and moving on, when I would learn more by going back, editing refining and reflecting, and maybe throwing some away.

This is a raw idea and I promise (myself) that I will return to this tomorrow. I need to get on an escalator to improvement rather than the moving walkway that drives me across the same level.

Thank you Sōtatsu for tweaking this punk.

Inspiration.

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Just Dessert

Let me tell you what it’s like eating through a tube in your nose.

Wait. Backing up a minute.

As the surgeon was telling me about my upcoming procedure, he had my full attention until he got to the part where I would be eating through my nose for a few weeks.

My brain hit the brakes for a hard stop. The doctor said other stuff–I know because I saw his mouth moving–but I don’t remember anything else he said. (Fortunately the Spouse was there to collect the data I missed.) I was stuck on eating dinner through a tube in my nose.

Most interesting was the nonchalance of the surgeon. As if he was telling someone with a new cast to be sure to keep it dry in the shower. Or reminding you not to eat after 11 p.m. the day before the procedure. Or that you could be reimbursed for parking the day of surgery if you got your ticket from the garage stamped by someone at the information desk.

After the surgery, I woke up to hear the surgeon talking to Spouse, telling him that I would probably be out for a while and that I would likely be unable to speak for a few days. I asked why that was, and neither could hold their surprise. Spouse because I was awake, and Dr. that I spoke. Spouse expected the latter.

I had an IV for the morphine, antibiotics and whatever else they were giving me, so we weren’t using the tube right away. And then it was hooked to the IV stand. It would be 30 hours before my nurse briefed me on how to feed myself.

The tube was thinner than I expected and kept in place by two stitches on the side of my nose. It was in my left nostril, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The big deal was ensuring that it went properly into my stomach. I guess the food passed wouldn’t do much good otherwise. Fortunately the surgeon took care of that. It had some length, almost like a long strand of hair weave. It was a hint of when I had long hair–or any hair. I could flip it over my shoulder. The tube, that is.

After I got unhooked from the autofeed, I needed my training. The nurse poured this thick muddy colored liquid into a plastic hospital measuring cup. She pulled out this massive (to me) syringe with a long nozzle that she dipped into the slurry and drew the plunger back to fill it. The syringe screwed into my tube and she slowly pushed the plunger in and the liquid was delivered into my stomach.

It didn’t taste like anything, since going through my nose it bypassed my tongue and tastebuds. It was room temperature, so I couldn’t feel in passing through. I bet if if was hot or cold the change in temperature would register through my throat or in my stomach. The only clue I was left with was the syringe emptying.

It was my turn. It took 3 or 4 syringe fulls to finish the bottle. It was weird, but I slowly emptied the measuring cup. After emptying the tube, I had to “drink” some water to flush it out. I also would use the syringe and tube to take my meds, but in the hospital I was still taking them by IV.

When I was released, I had my supply of Ensure, liquid tylenol and my hospital laboratory kit. I placed it all on this red square melamine holiday plate with a poinsettia design that I got from Target.

Three times a day I pulled the plate off of the server and onto the dining room table. I’d lay out my supplies and completely and absolutely feed myself and take my medicine.  And the surgeon was right. It wasn’t such a big deal. The weirdness wore off and the family began to take it in stride.

I even got outside and took a walk with my alien-like tube hanging off my face freaking out at least one neighbor who was too polite to ask what the hell was going on. He just stood there talking with us. It was kinda sweet because I really didn’t want to talk about it and he gave me a bye. I don’t care if it was a happy accident. I’m still grateful.

I am a super fast healer–no doubt abetted by my slavish adherence to all rules by my health care team. [Others in my life get no such obedience and at least one would like me to occasionally be more compliant.] I was able to go back to mouth feeding after eight days, and damn were those mashed potatoes good. As was the cottage cheese.

Thinking of this on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of my tube-feeding (I know, an odd celebration), my mind started playing Thru The Wire.

I drink a Boost for breakfast, an Ensure for dessert.
Somebody ordered pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp.
That right there could drive a sane man berserk.

I’m all better now. So I ate a steak.
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Fairy Tail

sleeping dog

The dog is such a princess.

An eighty-five pound, 38 inches tall, deer-legged, red, short-haired, long-eared princess.

The past few days have been exhausting in the “doing his business” category. He needs to find just the right spot.

The ground’s been covered in snow, outside of a path in the center of the sidewalk and the plowed strip in the street. Somehow he knows that under those twenty-three inches of snow is sidewalk and not grass. He is obviously very picky about going only on organic matter. He’s like the princess, and the pee.

Sorry, dad joke.

Post 26-2016: Harry Potter Is Dead

Daniel Radcliffe playing ping pong and answering 73 questions

Okay, Harry Potter is not dead, especially in that is a fictional character. The actor that was Harry Potter, though, is a corpse in a new movie at Sundance.

There was some noise made about people walking out because of the noise made by the corpse, whom Daniel Radcliffe (nee Harry Potter) played, made.

So making a long story short (and I did not see the film but the Spouse did), the actor who many of us know as Harry Potter played a slightly animated dead man who performed as a jet ski propelled by his dead man farts and steered by his erection.

Yes. Just what I said.

I am so delighted that Mr. Radcliffe, formerly of Harry Potter fame, stretches his fans (and likely turns away fans) by playing difficult to understand roles. Frankly, he could just pull in the residuals from his childhood fame. He could do a reality TV show. He could go to Harry Potter conventions. But he does not.

Instead he is working on his craft. He is an actor. And he has said he has done poor work  And he challenged himself and audiences working totally exposed on stage.

Now, it seems, he is doing what he wants to do to be a better actor. I think all of us can learn from him–to not sit on your best early work but to challenge ourselves and make fools of ourselves and do good work and not such good work.

I like this reincarnated Harry Potter.

"Reality" Show?

It’s not funny anymore.

It used to be very funny. But not anymore. Not to me, anyway.

Many (including the Doc) were anticipating a glorious return of Tina Fey as the garbled, grammar-impaired former governor of Alaska after Palin’s (at times incoherent) endorsement of a presidential candidate blew up the Internet with flurries of “no she didn’t,” and “what the hell did she say?” and a bunch of snark about her and her family’s fortunes.

And deliver Tina Fey did. Down to the Liberace Vegas cardigan, Tina Fey continues to do a spot-on Palin spoof.

Ha! Ha! How goofy is she. Ha! Ha! What a pair. Ha! Ha! Is this real? Ha! Ha! What are the voters thinking? Ha! Ha! What a joke this entire election process is.

But it’s not funny anymore.

It’s very very serious.  We are so busy having out-of-the-body-politics-experiences, mocking people–candidates and voters alike–we aren’t seeing that we risk the very existence of our democracy.

WHOA, you say. Aren’t you going a little overboard? Maybe this political season is pushing you too much to a docu-drama.

Hear me out.

It’s not like the right to vote is guaranteed. There are plenty of places where people can’t vote. Or places in which people vote in sham elections. Despite high voter-registration rates, too few people vote in U.S. elections. Too few people know how our government works, even folks purportedly defending it. Our 240 year grand experiment in democracy is not a sure thing. And the way our Constitution is structured, it’s up to us to make it so.

It’s not enough to be entertained by politics and our presidential process. That’s not participation, that’s observation. Take this seriously, learn about the issues and the candidates and vote.

Let’s use political satire as a motivation. Okay?

SnowThing 2016

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Here’s my report.

Brought in the cushions and the umbrella. I don’t anticipate coffee on the back porch in the next few days.

Made chili. Took dog out for a walk at 1:30 pm with no sign of snow. Dog did his business and, while not “news,” it was an important happening. For those of you who care, he did country AND western.

Sheltered The Spouse’s rose experiment by taking the broken Ikea picnic bench and turning it upside down to tent the miracle propagation. Cleared the front porch and dumped the butts and hid the hidden pipe beneath the basket. Also, moved the shovels closer to the door. I read those Little House books. I know that a few feet can be insurmountable.

After 3 pm, did my duty and walked the streets. Snow falling. The sidewalks were starting to fill, except for the stretch from Miss Alice’s house and around the corner of the apartment building. Good that the apartment building people are paying homage to Alice. She rocks. Also, it behooves you to not mess with her.

Found myself around the block at my neighborhood watering hole. Partook of local beers and infused whiskey spiked hot cider. I did this to be neighborly. It seemed to be appreciated.

Left as the snow was increasing. Was accompanied by a steadfast young man from the pub who may have served my beverages. Came home to eat the chili noted earlier herein. Snow falling, still. Drinking hot tea. Inside. Maybe 2 1/2″ on the ground. Waiting for the thunder snow.

Believe we’ll be fine.

Snow Drift

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The snow. It’s coming. And it will cover us all with feet of whiteness.

Like my covers.

I don’t want to stir. When I move, I switch from warm to cold.

The Spouse is in the Wasatch Mountains and, I am sure, with his own snow issues. Me? I’m home. In that big bed. With the somewhat ugly sheets.

On top of those percales is a heavy woven cotton blanket. It’s a super neutral beige. If the somewhat ugly sheets were white, the contrast would be pretty. The sheets are somewhat ugly, though.

I used to have duvets to add color to the bedroom. A big bed is such a vista suck, so the topper makes the difference. The last duvet was a rust paisley print that lost it’s charm very quickly. The rust was oxidized–like it took the air out of the room.

Today’s duvet is a pure white with a white ric rac border. Very subtle, and very good with that beige. It’s odd–and awesome–that it makes that neutral cotton blanket a colorful contrast versus a background.

On the foot of the bed is a quilt that my mother-in-law stitched. It’s primary color is a dusty rose and it has some creamy white. It functions perfectly as a foot warmer on top of the comforting fluff of white duvet that hides the feather comforter that lays across the beige tightly knitted blanket on the somewhat ugly sheet.

The house is old and almost drafty. During storms I hear the winds ripping under the roof, making a noise that makes me dig deeper under my pile of linens. In the morning, I dig even deeper.

When it’s cold, the air in the bedroom is cold, too. Shielded by layers of covers, my body heat is cached and reflected back. I wake up underneath the pile of bedding. The tip of my nose is cold. I pull the sheets up and tuck my face in. I move my right hand to stretch, and I feel the cold mattress. I pull my hand back close to me, where it was before, where it warmed up that spot.

I wonder how long until the alarm rings. I don’t turn to see the clock. It would disturb the temperature balance. I slide down the pillow a little, burrowing deeper into the sheets. I open one eye and see that it’s still dark, but on it’s way to light. I pull my knees up, closer to my body. I tilt closer to deep breathing and try to push my creeping to-do list out of my head.

Insanity Switch

Insane button on a TeslaS

The big guy bought one of those Powerball tickets last week. The one with the guaranteed $1.2 billion that someone might win.

Him: When I win I’m going to buy you that Tesla.
Me: That would be GREAT! The one with the Insane button?

He stopped. He looked at me and slowly shook his head side to side.

Him: No. There is nothing about that that is a good idea.
Me: What? I drive good.

Today, during lunch, I stopped by the Tesla dealership. They don’t have the coupe anymore, just the four-door. I hate sedans.

A reporter from Bloomberg walked in and asked me if the falling stock market influenced my decision on buying the car.

I told her, “No.” Then I gave her a fake name for her story.

Insane.

Pressured and Cooked

mmmmm. black beans and rice.

Pulled my hand out of my coat pocket to put the key in the door and get out of the cold.

Dog needed to go out, but I had a plan. Didn’t care that it was late and a long day. Did. Not. Care.

Fact is, the mantra that kept going through my mind–and occasionally out of my mouth–had to do with the few number of fcuks that I was giving today. Very few. As in NO fcuks.

But I had an idea. And it was a good one. First, though, to the dog and his duties. No reason to take off my coat, and scarf, and mittens, and hat, and boots. Hang the key next to the door, release the kraken, I mean dog, and let the business be done. Done! Next.

So let’s feed the beast. He needs to eat, too. And he’s likely hungrier than me.

I’m eyeing that pressure cooker in the pantry as I’m scooping the kibble. It’s next in my sights. It won’t get away. Just have to feed the dog.

The best part about cooking is the physicality; the chopping, the stirring, the crumbling, the spicing, the shaking, the dicing, the washing. The can of tomatoes and two cans of black beans that I open. I love catching the opener on the lip of the can and turning the crank. It’s an amazingly smooth mechanic. I would never use an electric can opener when I can turn a handle and watch the can spin around as the blade penetrates the lid and slices through the metal.

I get the pressure cooker out of the pantry and place it on the stove top. I proudly look at it’s shine since I Bon Ami’d it last time. I love it when it shines. And when it steams.

It’s 8:50 pm and I start. I grabbed the olive oil, but remembered that I have some cheap OO in the pantry. No reason to use the EVOO when I have a just OO. Switch on the gas and put a few swirls of the cheap OO in the pan. I reach in the fridge for the red pepper and gleefully find and grab a celery stalk. This is gonna be great. Chopping the celery and pepper I hold the large onion for last. It seemed a little squishy so I wasn’t looking forward to peeling.

Turned out it was perfectly healthy. In moments it was peeled and chopped. Dumped the cut goods in the pot and turned to the garlic cloves. I smashed them and cut them. I don’t know why the recipe said to mince. They end up flavoring the oil and then dissolve under pressure. I do it the easy way.

I add the bay leaf and measure out the basmati rice–only to realize that I’m about a third short of a full cup. Seriously? I thought there were three bags!?! I guess we ate it. I have some volcano rice, but that takes longer to cook. I’ll just use the remains of that box of short grain abrioro rice. Still a little short? Okay, a few tablespoons of that volcano rice will make a cup.

This entire rice drama took about 35 seconds.

Rice in the pan, stirred and coated then add the thyme and pepper and pour in the water. Okay water and some old cooking sherry. I’m on a roll now emptying the random containers in the pantry and filling up the recycling bin. More flavor and more space. Winning.

Top it off with the can of fire roasted tomatoes, set the top on and up the heat to high. Wait for the steam. It teases me–not sealing tight but still spewing from the regulator. I shake the pot a few times. It seals up, and I lower the heat.

Next it’s chopping up those pimento stuffed olives. I take the last three olives out of a jar that gets tossed in the recycling bin and find a second opened jar in the fridge. Winning again on that shelf space.

It’s been five minutes so the rice is done. I turn off the heat and let the pressure release on its own. Five more minutes and I remove the top and stir in the beans and the olives. Fill a pretty red bowl, add a little hot sauce and sit down to eat at 9:20 pm.

Just in time to catch up with the errant spouse.

A good night.