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Metaphors Are Terrible. And Necessary.

March 18, 2021

29 of 40

I’ve nothing else — to bring, You know —

So I keep bringing These —

Just as the Night keeps fetching Stars

To our familiar eyes —

Maybe, we shouldn’t mind them —

Unless they didn’t come —

Then — maybe, it would puzzle us

To find our way Home —

Emily Dickinson

This will be an Easter Year. Our lives are like the bulbs ready to emerge. After a long winter there will be a spring.

Grasping at metaphors seems necessary and fully stupid.

We are in a time of trying to understand the time we have yet to experience. One way or another, for a full year. I am sure this happened for five years 75 years ago, when another war ravaged the earth. But that reality is simply gone along with the last plague 100 years ago.

In a week science says I am safe from the plague. We will eat inside a building with friends. A fully familiar experience a year ago, now bizarre. So I think beyond the joys of emergence and listen for changes.

Many more Americans went to church in the 30 years after World War 2 than before in our history. Many more people partied, drank, and went a little crazy for a decade despite Prohibition after the last plague. Then a decade of Depression.

We know things will change, and we know how things have changed before, and we have all those metaphors. But we know nothing. We use the metaphors and similes even the symbols of our past to give us a reference. But firing a president, ending sequestration, having Alexa tell us to eat breakfast will not answer where we are going.

But we are clueless beyond the next day.

While the world changes, the reality of our days is relentless. What we see and hear is there for us only because it was given to us. Despite our efforts at metaphor, or prediction, even understanding, the complexity and random realities of time are what I am left with.

It has been, metaphorically enough, A Year Of Lent. Only we did not casually decide to safely, comfortably, deny ourselves a treat or two for 7 weeks, we changed everything about our social world to survive. In truth there is no metaphor for that, only attempts to deal with it. With inadequate tools, and incomplete knowledge, we just do what makes sense. No plan, no Winning, no goal of an outcome beyond survival.

But survival is, for me, inadequate. And hopeless.

Any hope has faith as its protector. And faith beyond the clear inadequacies of ourselves leads inevitably to God. Survival, a great bourbon, even bacon are great. But they are not enough. I know because they were with me last year, and I know that there is more. I hope, literally, to see beyond the coming changes and have faith.

No metaphors for that.

Word Salad

March 17, 2021

28 of 40

A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.

Emily Dickinson

I write. A lot. I even received two checks for it this week. Rare.

But that is not why I write. Emily Dickinson received a handful of checks (I assume) for the few published works out of over a thousand she wrote. She wrote for expression more than reaction. I do, too.

When you do many things, some are not what you had hoped they would be. I frantically emailed and corrected transposed facts just before publishing a piece Monday. But even when you do your best, some do not like it, are even offended by what you do.

A piece I wrote 6 months ago was intentionally ambiguous. The language was both pointed and vague questioning reactions and motivations in a place of controversy (Brad Pitt’s houses in New Orleans). 40,000 read it, when 5,000 visits is considered a success. But the commentary of some to it was vicious, and in fact, one sentence in the piece was simply bad, so I changed it (it’s the internet).

I was accused of creating “word salad” by some because I used constructions that challenge, and sometimes require, intentionally, rereading. I get it. But when you pay nothing to read it, I am paid nothing to write it, and it is not required for anything but a few minutes of distraction, the price of idiosyncrasy seems fair. (The two pieces that I was paid for this week are crystal clear).

Word Salad is eaten or it could not cause indigestion. A great poet once told me that Emily’s words were “maddening”. Because she read them. As an architect who writes, fitting writing into into these silent mornings and weekends, I have low hopes beyond expression.

But words matter. A lot. They express in their apprehension, but they also reflect in their creation. Like art, buildings, music, even food. .

Word Salad is even more common when fewer words are used. We now live in images, not words. The Memes we love reveal the unnecessary reality of words in our connection, like the ancient cave graffiti that makes 10,000 years vanish.

But words mean something that pictographs and videos do not because words require processing to be understood. Drawing takes an idea and processes it into a rendering of manifestation. Words do the same.

I think after a Year Of Lent, we have seen more images than at any time in human history. I think we have more need to write too. Will we?

This second, a few thousand folk that care, to the point of devotion, are considering the words they use for another free, often idiosyncratic human reality: religion. Like so many shelved activities in sequester, church has lived in a weird screen space. But it still has, for some of us, head space.

For many the Latin Mass was word salad, as was any ancient orthodox tradition of any worship. When the elemental is offered up to the world it can easily become word salad. For me, it is a love of Thomas Cranmer’s 16th century words. Many I know think if it as word salad. Fewer and fewer find meaning there.

God lives in me, so I love church. Church is just us, manifest, so after the plague our changed perspective will be reflected in all our manifestations. Including the buildings we make. In the way we write.

I will continue to toss word salad and serve. Some will eat, most do not even know that it is there. A lot like religion in the Northeast. But like Emily, alone in her room for the majority of her life, we do not always do what we are told to do, even what we “should”, we do what we love.

Love is not lost, despite all the words. Love has a moment in this particular spring of Easter that has nothing to do with words – for everyone, and like the fear of plague time, everyone will simply feel it. And pivot.

But is it good?

March 16, 2021

27 of 40

I see them every day.

Anyone in the design profession is bombarded with images. Proud builders. Proud designers. Proud renderers. Endless posts of pictures of things they are making or have made. It takes little effort to show millions, billions anything.

I find myself judging.

I know zero about the site, the client, the budget, really anything but the image. But I judge it. Others do too. Some images have thousands of “likes” from, well, where? Others drop snarks and ignorances upon things.

Why do we do that?

Outcomes overwhelm us. They are mostly out of our control. A friend’s husband, but two years older than I, may have a circumscribed life span. A “first child” dog passes the same moment when a third human child is revealed. A 91 year old gets his second Covid19 inoculation and dies of the disease, being infected after the first one.

All this week.

We want to control something. And declare it. So the impulse to expose the outcome of our work, the garden, the dinner, a haircut, the painting of a room, or the design becomes vital. It has been a Year of Lent. We have given up human contact to stay alive. So the personal validation of those who care about you is often impossible, so we welcome the stranger to see our efforts.

But why do I, and others, judge (silently)?

Somehow the exposure is a challenge. The pride is a question. It does not matter that someone we do not know is proud of a cat, or a burrito or a house in Portugal. But it matters. It shouldn’t. I ask “Is it good?” of the disembodied because I am loath to hold the mirror to myself.

Distraction in sequestration has triumphed over discernment.

If you cannot know why the door is blue, or the person is fat, or the the clothing does not fit you cannot even offer correction, you can simply enjoy being right. I think being right is at my core, and it is faithless. Right or wrong, God is what made me, not my GPA on any test – or anyone else’s score.

Soon Easter will hit the world – not just the 2000 year old one, but the end of a year of threat. Maybe that will suppress the judgments that flood all the screens we hold before us. Or not.

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

“And I for truth – the two are one;

We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers…

March 15, 2021

26 of 40

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

Birds do not seem to fly at night. But fears do. They are called dreams, or better, night terrors. Hopeless nights are as normal as nightfall or dawn..

The dawn is never sad, it is now filled with screaming birds. The night seems filled with the uncontrollable, the fully obscured. These are not metaphors. The daily rota of dawn-work-dinner-distraction-night-sleep is a basic fact. There is plenty of hope taking flight upon awakening. There is no fear, or boredom, even fatigue. But the mornings start immediately upon whatever dreams are. Every night. Every Dawn.

But some have hopeful dreams. I know they do. Those never happened for me but once. At about 11 I was walking down my driveway to my ride to school, when I realized that the happy family I was thinking about, was, actually, really, a dream I had just upon awakening.

The sadness that came was the same as that at the point of falling asleep. It was a fact that went with sleep that left only when I left to go to college. I guess I “grew out of it.” Actually I moved away from it. Except when I sleep.

So like the birds, my hope awakens every dawn. Even in a Year of Lent. The reality of God in the inscrutability of the great and small things of life lives in hope, but is there in the night, too. Even the night.

“Her Grace is all she has”

March 14, 2021

25 of 40

I do not like movies much.

They are made, mostly, for the 60 second trailers that get our attention. They use formulas, Star Quality, imagery, sex, violence and every other thing humans have wrecked our lives over to get $10 out of our hands.

“Back in the day” “Going to the movies” meant a night out: fun. That worked when young, with kids, and meant less to me as life crashed into hours and events overcame pastimes. Then the Plague killed what was left of the allure of “Going to the movies.” And going to the small screen was, well, like every other thing we looked at.

So a movie to me has less appeal that a two year old replay of an NFL game, or the 32nd viewing of a Law & Order episode. Those cannot disappoint because the expectations are always met. A low bar, but easy to meet, if not exceed.

So when my wife (who Loves movies) suggested a film, I said “No Rom Com and no Dra(h)m Com”. She did the due diligence, confirmed, and I complied.

It was “Land” and it was good. It was just humans. Humans in extreme conditions, so it was worth watching. Beyond just a bit of early clumsiness, it was worth watching because it was just us. Broken, saving, human.

A woman is left with nothing. Her sister begs her not to kill herself. She leaves. To a Montana-like place, to a cabin, tossing her sister’s call, and her phone, in the urban garbage can, as she leaves. So no phone, no car, the food she brought. Basically nothing of a life that was already gone, ripping her apart.

She completely fails at living in isolation to the point of death. To the point of attempted suicide – only the memory of the one she left, who loved her, her sister, ends the attempt. She has no food, heat, hope – a hunter, in passing, notices her presence in her cabin’s chimney smoke, then her absence when that smoke is missing.

In the Hollywood portion of the show, he saves her life, then leaves, comes back, and teaches her to survive. No names. No touching. No “Romantic Tension (!)”. Two humans, one broken, one responding, connect, episodically. They come to know first names. Only.

After 2 years (and scenery for the trailer) (seen on a small TV screen) he gives her his dog as he leaves, “for a while”, she asks “why did you do this?”

“You were in my path.”

He is gone for a while, so she treks the long way to a town to find where he might be. In the last 10 minutes of the film, she finds him. He is dying, in the love of his wife’s family. In a sentence or two, he says that he “used to drink a lot” and his wife and child died “in a car crash”.

One wanted to die. The other killed. One is dying. The other is saved. She admits, finally, that her spouse, and her child, died senselessly, too.

At the end of his life, he says to the woman, whose last name he never knew,

“Thank you. You allowed me to die in a state of Grace.”

At the end, alone with his dog, she uses her friend’s phone to connect with an astonished and loving sister. His last gift.

This works because we are them. We are lost. We are giving. If we were happy, we would not care about being lost, or feel the need to give. But the breaks in us demand Grace. Never saying “God” beyond the Native American death rituals of the family at the point of the man’s death, the realities of life and God are simply there, unsaid. As I feel them, every day.

There is no sense to it. We are loved. There is no sense to it, especially in a Year, or in this case, Two Years of Lent. There is no sense in leaving, saving, dying, living.

But there is Grace.

Her Grace is all she has —

And that, so least displays —

One Art to recognize, must be,

Another Art, to praise.

Emily Dickinson

Will We Miss It?

March 13, 2021

Winter is good — his Hoar Delights

Italic flavor yield—

To Intellects inebriate

With Summer, or the World —

Generic as a Quarry

And hearty — as a Rose —

Invited with Asperity

But welcome when he goes

Emily Dickinson

Things change. The common befuddlement at winter-bound life has been put on steroids by the plague. But things change.

The befuddling knows bookends. We see, now, this Year In Lent had a spring freeze birth that is now replaced, a year later, with a spring thaw.

The pictures of winter popped plants start up, and mingle, seamlessly, with pictures of inoculation cards. We post pics because we cannot touch much.

But winter is not over. The cold upon leaving this morning was as sharp as it was a year ago. We say that we hate this year, but some profess it’s beauty and growth. In themselves. It is like winter recreation: it is miserable outside, so let’s make the most of it.

Will we miss it?

I, honestly, will not. Work has been out of control, partly all the renewed focus on ourselves, as we cannot avoid them, but also the new remote lives of those I work with and for. Those I know have been made fully depressed by the grind of isolation.

Depression is not broken. Depression re-inflates. Broken falls apart. We are not broken, despite the loss and fear.

The only good thing of most things that end is that something new begins. I see babies Who left our lives 25 years ago – but the joy is instant and unreasoned.

In 25 years, what will we remember of this Year In Lent? Will we rose-color it? Will we regale those babies of our heroism in its pall, and our glory in its end? Or, will we, like they did 100 years ago, just go on. Because, really, we, the non-Science Saviors, did nothing .

We did not start those crocuses, either. They go on without us. And that may be the point. Like any animal, like the tiny plague bits that killed so many, we do what we need to to survive.

It is the joy that is different for us. The popped color in the muck or snow. The eyes of a baby. The dawn. We do not make that joy, even cause it, let alone understand it. To me, that is the essence of God.


March 12, 2021

23 of 40

A Route of Evanescence,

With a revolving Wheel –

A Resonance of Emerald

A Rush of Cochineal –

And every Blossom on the Bush

Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –

The Mail from Tunis – probably,

An easy Morning’s Ride –

Emily Dickinson

Everything is so important. Until it isn’t.

Masks! Vaccination..

Voter Suppression! 160,000,000 voted.

Fascism! 160,000,000 voted.

The Royals! Well, not for about 140 years.

Consider the hummingbird. It’s wings move up to 80 times a second. A second. Their heartbeat can be 1,200 beats a minute. A minute.

it took 1,000,000 simulations for Stanford scientists just 6 years ago, to, I guess, figure out the physics of its flight.

Hummingbirds have been around but 3,000,000 years. And, in this time of instant outrage we just accept them. They are. How? We suppress votes, impose fascism and royalty, even end plagues. We did not do this. We may, now, sorta, know what hummingbirds do, but have no idea why, or how they came to do it.

In A Year Of Lent our eyes, hearts and minds are on what we lost, and how we could lose life. Some had no faith in our ability to end this “for at least five years.” But the gifts around us did not leave. They do not. God did not give us a vaccine, whatever was made in us, like the hummingbird, did.

And we do not think to thank much. Except ourselves. We are heroes. We know best. But we did not make us. We did not make us. Or the hummingbird.

But the next outrage is coming, we will defeat it, or at least let it fix our gaze, until that gaze cannot be distracted from the realities we simply ignore.

Going In

March 11, 2021

22 of 40

Sometimes you do the danger.

The dreaded second shot of vaccine is administered in 6 hours. It is a great good thing. And I know there is a danger of making me sick for a while.

But humans are not ants, working as a wave of full coordination in surviving. 25% of us think that Covid19 is a hoax. 25%, of Christians do not believe that the resurrection happened. A tiny percent still believe that no one has ever landed on the moon, either.

But people believe beyond self interest. Or at least survival. Or simply avoiding risk.

Women get pregnant, joyfully so, knowing that the pain and real risk it creates in childbirth. A faith that I can never understand.

People join the police, the military, become firemen – all know they could get fully damaged, even die.

Every other animal has a fight or flight response to immediate danger that they are directly experiencing. They plan for nothing but survival now, not potential danger. We know danger. Why?

Of course, we do what we love. Every person who has played a severe sport: hockey, football, wrestling, knows pain, and injury. Those first practices where pain is present mean a certain number walk away. It hurts too much, it is too dangerous.

I was terrible at it, it hurt, a lot – and I loved it.

Nothing would stop me from getting hurt. If I knew about steroids, that often kill long term, there is no doubt that I would have taken them. I wanted to do what I know could hurt me,

Like today.

No thrill involved, unlike like riding a motorcycle, doing drugs, or a youthful love with a “dangerous” person – there is no joy in getting vaccinated, no achievement, just relief. But before relief there is danger.

Some things, like childbirth and vaccination in a plague, perpetuate life. It is our fight or flight response. No dog wants to get pregnant, or asks for her shots. But dogs know to make places for the birth of their pups. They know how to feed them without Lamaze classes. There is no “What To Expect When You Are Expecting” – they are just getting bigger.

The swirl of rumor and insight surround about 600 million injections. Moderna will Really Hurt the second time. Johnson is less effective. Phizer is easier on your body. All anecdote. I am sure there are differences. That will be revealed in a year or three, after the 600 million doses are stuck into enough of us.

And somehow credit is vied for, I did nothing. Those making the vaccines will make huge sums of money, and should. Presidents and governors do what they do. Like understanding the vaccines that are offered we may, or may not, know credit or blame in a year or three.

Except for us. Beyond judgment, we are a miracle who has no sense of it. We are terrified that the miracle of life will leave us, but absent the moments of birth and death, we are as ignorant of that miracle as our dogs are.

Jesus reveals the miracle to some. He was me, you, but more. And then something happened that could not be forgotten despite all the danger, joy and fight and flighting over the last 2000 years.

To me inscrutable and essential. The embodiment of zero understanding and unjustified grace. For this generation, more and more put aside anything but their lives, their survival. A Year Of Lent may have bent perspectives, but that, too, may take a year or three to understand.

But things happen. We opt to endanger ourselves because we know enough to know that it is necessary. I think that God is necessary in the making of these complexities, but I do not have the faith of a woman deciding to get pregnant, despite the risks.

But I will, selfishly enough, and for the good of all, get fully vaccinated today. No heroes here. No dogs either. Not even ants. The risk of getting hurt allowed me to have a few years of joy playing football, so what’s a day of feeling terrible? Or not.

Advance is Life’s condition

The Grave but a Relay

Supposed to be a terminus

That makes it hated so —

The Tunnel is not lighted

Existence with a wall

Is better we consider

Than not exist at all —

Emily Dickinson

A Safe Prison

March 10, 2021

21 of 40

Last night was spent outdoors, in 42F dining, with heaters. At the mandatory distance were three fellow diners, with multiple bottles of wine. “It is our first night out in a YEAR!” one gushed. “The last year was just great!” was the follow up.

A Prison gets to be a friend —

Between its Ponderous face

And Ours — a Kinsmanship express —

And in its narrow Eyes —

I raised my glass to him. “We just got our last shots!” he happily offered. “Mine is Thursday”, I replied. I did not tell him that for these last 350 days we have eaten, outside, at restaurants, at least 50 times.

We come to look with gratitude

For the appointed Beam

It deal us — stated as our food —

And hungered for — the same —

But we, like he, and you, have been in sequester. In this Year Of Lent. He told me of the domestic tasks he’d endeavored, I noted that I had moved 3,000 pounds of rocks (it actually was 4,000 pounds of gravel, but that seemed a bit braggy.) Despite our willingness to venture out, we, like you, were house bound.

We learn to know the Planks —

That answer to Our feet —

So miserable a sound — at first —

Nor ever now — so sweet —

Our horizons constricted. For the first three months I filled my car’s gas tank once a month, the next three once a week or two, now every week or more. I teach an hour away a week, I do a road trip to sites once a week. But the distant horizon, so far way a year ago, is here.

As plashing in the Pools —

When Memory was a Boy —

But a Demurer Circuit —

A Geometric Joy —

Has it been “Great!”? No. Have we been “Hero’s!”? No. We, mostly, muddled through. We safely had 40 folk come to our home as couplets, outside, 6 feet away, then in our living room, windows open, fireplace raging, 6 feet away. And no one got sick. Not a one.

The Posture of the Key

That interrupt the Day

To Our Endeavor — Not so real

The Check of Liberty —

Including the day trips that do not start or end in my office, I have been there for 350 of these 360 days. When folk trickled in, part-time in the office, the doors have been open (except under 25F) and AC units on to exchange air. Until one broke last week. Heaters are at our feet. My utility bills tripled. No one got sick being there – but one from his sons, and he worked at home that month. As with everyone, nearly, I had no vacation and but two days “off” – Christmas, and another, maybe Thanksgiving. The other days were moving gravel, painting, repairing our home. No, not “Great!” This is not sacrifice, this is doing what needed to be done

As this Phantasm Steel —

Whose features — Day and Night —

Are present to us — as Our Own —

And as escapeless — quite —

It has been a place where noise abated. Age became clearer, beyond ourselves was nearer, the more we were only with ourselves. Isolated anger was deafening on silent screens. Humor was harder. Fear was real.

The narrow Round — the Stint —

The slow exchange of Hope —

For something passiver — Content

Too steep for looking up —

Sleep was harder. Work was harder. Food was better. Talking was more. Life was not harder, or easier, but it was, and is, for a while, different. We soon redeem some life we make, not made for us. But for me, I was never forsaken, never lost, just a bit more in conversation with God. It will be Easter, soon.

Will that change us?

The Liberty we knew

Avoided — like a Dream —

Too wide for any Night but Heaven —

If That — indeed — redeem —

Emily Dickinson

“Earth would have been too much — I see — And Heaven — not enough for me —”

March 9, 2021

20 of 40

I should have been too glad, I see —

Too lifted — for the scant degree

Of Life’s penurious Round —

My little Circuit would have shamed

This new Circumference — have blamed —

The homelier time behind.

I should have been too saved — I see —

Too rescued — Fear too dim to me

That I could spell the Prayer

I knew so perfect — yesterday —

That Scalding One — Sabachthani —

Recited fluent — here —

Earth would have been too much — I see —

And Heaven — not enough for me —

I should have had the Joy

Without the Fear — to justify —

The Palm — without the Calvary —

So Savior — Crucify —

Defeat — whets Victory — they say —

The Reefs — in old Gethsemane —

Endear the Coast — beyond!

‘Tis Beggars — Banquets — can define —

‘Tis Parching — vitalizes Wine —

“Faith” bleats — to understand!

Emily Dickinson

These daily drops started on whim, or inspiration, or something, a year and three weeks ago. Just before the world of my past 64 years ended. A world that virtually everyone alive had ever had.

The drops continue now, till Easter week, because, now the Year In Lent will end, for me. Sure I will mask, and be thoughtful, but, magically, it will be exactly three weeks from my second shot that ends the Year In Lent. At Easter.

My caprice, anointing, whatever, turns out, (like all things) to be common. Many have connected Emily and Lent. Who knew? This poem proves it. Because she wanted the connection, too. If I had read it before the hundreds that I had read before it, I would have not done this. But I did not. I am glad I did not.

My own plodding, confused, flails at understanding have a co-conspirator in Emily. But her desire to know, know, the unknowable is more like mine than I thought. Raging against the night is nothing new. A freshman Shakespeare course is enough to reveal that the profound revelations of a 19 year old are as pathetically myopic as anything else that we think makes us the cutter through the ice of mortality.

I just want those revelations to reveal. But they don’t, God does.

Working pushes you away from everything but the exhaustion that allows understanding. At least for me. And maybe Emily.