It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.
------------ Kenneth Grahame
Friday, October 29, 2004
I found this in a spiral notebook I was about to chuck into the recycling bin. Mostly it's just page after page of practicing Chinese characters, but I found a couple pages of what was obviously meant to be a blog entry:
It's all white and gray here. Endless white sky, endless gray fronts surging in from the Pacific; dark gray sea laced with white foam. Twisted pines are night-colored against the ghostly blowing sand. There is no horizon, only a place where it's no longer clear whether the darker gray is a quick rain-shower or the mass of Gull Rock. The whales, too, are gray and white. Not migrating, as I had thought. Some grays do migrate past here, in the late Fall and the early Spring; but others stay here year-round, and those are the ones we see. I had wondered how it was that we got so lucky, year after year. Whether we came in early August or late October, the whales were always here.
This is the twenty-ninth year we have come to Otter Rock. It's woven into all the history of our marriage. Martha and I first came here, escaping from the summer of my sister's suicide, finding in each other, rather than the temporary solace of a fleeting infatuation, an unexpected strength and solidity.
The sixth year we came here on our honeymoon, again fleeing violence, the murder of a friend, and the dissolution of our supposed talents into a quicksand of depression. We stayed a single night, and were so wretched, so horrified at bringing all that misery into a place that had been happy for us, that we left the next day. I don't remember where we went, then. Maybe Ashland.
Later on, of course, we brought the children here, and it became the children's vacation. We've never been good at boundaries; we're one of those child-centered families that so many people despise. I used to despise them too, which didn't prevent me from having one. A great blessing that children bring is the acceleration of the process by which we become everything we used to hold in contempt. Some of my childless friends are only now, with the advent of middle age, discovering the horrors of turning into their parents; we were already there fifteen years ago. A long time to wait, to learn the lesson that all contempt is self-contempt, all loathing is self-loathing.
Gray gulls against the white sky, the white whale-spouts against the gray rollers.
This frigid sea holds my death. I watch Tori wading out into the breakers, her skin bright pink. They give people less than twenty minutes to live if they're immersed unprotected in this sea. It sucks the heat out of your body quickly, greedily. I'm not so young now that playing with that appeals to me. I stay on the beach and watch. Dogs and children love to play in the surf. The rest of us love to watch them, but we're content to let our deaths come and fetch us. No wish to seek them out.
I find myself murmuring refuge prayers, and thinking of Bokar Rinpoche, and of Michael and Lekshe. How idly I've spent my days. And in what a narrow little space -- stepping eagerly or doggedly in the footprints of old anxieties and cravings. I miss you all.
Huh. Maybe there's hope for this wretched species after all. Read the Lioness's account of a Lisbon dinner in honor of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, and Braincrayon's account of waiting in line to vote in Texas.
Both of these things made my eyes fill with tears. I've become a pretty soppy guy in my middle age.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I ran out to the grocery store, because -- for reasons I never understood -- Alan's teacher was anxious that Alan's photographs be developed before tomorrow. So I picked up the photos. Scrawled on the back of the envelope was: "Severely underexposed. Check before buying." Oh well. A gallon of milk, too, remember!
Weird pictures. Dark red haze, indistinct figures. They were pictures of school, all right, but that was about as much as I could make out.
Out in the parking lot, I could see the moon, and I realized that what I had thought was a cloud -- an odd cloud -- partly obscuring it was in fact the shadow of the Earth. My shadow. The shadow had almost covered it. Dark red haze, indistinct moon.
I hurried home to let everyone know. "You can see the eclipse! You can see it from right across the street!"
The denizens of our house straggled out, one after another, and gathered on opposite sidewalk. We are a rather shabby bunch. We tend to wear black, and to look like we got lost in the haze of a coffeehouse back in 1972 and have just wandered back out. Even my kids and their friends, who of course were not in coffeehouses, or anywhere else, in 1972.
Martha said "I'll just tell the Smiths," and walked one house over. "Should I tell the Joneses?" asked Alan. It struck him as odd that Martha should tell the Smiths and not tell the Joneses when we were standing smack in front of the Joneses' house. I couldn't even tell if the Smiths were home, but I could see one of the younger Joneses at the computer in the living room. But Alan's sensitive to social nuance, so he wanted to check it out. "Sure," I said. He scurried to their door.
I'm not sure why Martha didn't go to tell the Joneses. We get along well. Our kids used to play together a fair amount, though that's tapered off as they've grown older, and gradually discovered that they are on opposite sides of the great divide.
We're a Blue family, and they're a Red family. A Kerry sign in our yard, Kerry bumper-stickers on both our cars. The haphazard lawn and garden of people who won't use fertiilizer, seldom prune, and don't care much about appearances. An untidy porch littered with toys. Various rescued animals and stray kids tend to gather at our place. Odd people show up. A monk in orange robes, one day. A friend whose car is papered with lesbian slogans, another.
Across the way, the Joneses live in a very different house. A brilliant green lawn, carefully tended. Nothing out of place. On every patriotic holiday, the American flag flies from a bracket by their front door, and is carefully, and I'm sure correctly, taken down at dusk. The only bumper sticker I've ever seen on either of their beautifully kept cars read Billy Graham. Praying for Greater Portland.
They are good people. Considerate neighbors, and terrific parents: their kids are cheerful, polite, and reliable -- great resources for hiring to feed the animals, while we're gone. They recycle conscientiously. They have exchange students of all races and nationalities come to stay, and see to it that they meet the other young people in the neighborhood. They go to a nearby conservative, Baptist church. Devout Christians. One day when their youngest son left after a visit, I found Alan sitting in his room, silent tears coursing down his face. Young Jones had told him that when his mother died, he would never see her again, because we weren't going to heaven.
That was the only time I know of when the divide became explicit. They made it up, and went on playing with each other. I'm quite sure that the Joneses would have been distressed to learn that their youngest had said that. What they think of our prospects for salvation, I don't know, but they take that business about not judging very seriously. And in any case, they are kindly, gentle people, with open generous faces. Nothing like the vengeful authoritarian Baptists of Blue legend.
Tim Jones and one of his sons -- could that tall young man actually be his youngest? -- came out to look. After a bit Tim went inside and came out with a telescope. "The only thing I've ever won," he said apologetically, as though having a telescope on a stand was a little ostentatious. "I entered a raffle at a conference, and got a phone call a week later... I'd forgotten that I'd entered." We talked about the total solar eclipse in the early 1970's, how spooky it had been, how at ten in the morning the world had gone brown and the birds had all fallen silent.
He got the telescope oriented and focused, and we all took turns peering into the eyepiece. It didn't really look much bigger.
The opening lines of Julius Caesar kept just barely escaping me. Sheeted dead gibbering in the streets -- various omens forecasting disaster to the state. Were there eclipses too? I wasn't sure. But an eclipse just a week before this most divisive of elections, an election widely expected to unreliable, maybe rigged -- there was an obvious interpretation to it. None of us made it. A baleful moon. My first thought was that it presaged President Bush's re-election. A depressing thought. But then I thought, that would only be regarded as baleful by half of us. Maybe Kerry will be elected, and this moon is a baleful omen for Tim and his family and the Red half of the country. I had a distinct, unshakeable conviction that the mirror-image of my thoughts, swapping Red for Blue, were in Tim's mind. I opened my mouth to make some jocular remark about half of America at least being certain to see a baleful omen come true. Closed it again without speaking.
The out-of-work programmer who lives a couple houses down from us -- he's been out of high tech work for a couple years now, and has taken to doing odd-jobs, building porches and so forth -- he and his wife pulled up. He's a cheerful soul. Seeing us gathered on the sidewalk with a telescope, he hailed us from across the street: "For a million dollars I'll bring it back!" Tim hollered something bantering back. They're a Blue family too.
It was chilly. We began to straggle back across the street, back to the warm comfortable untidiness of our Blue house. The streetlight dazzled my eyes; as I closed the door I caught one last glimpse of the Joneses, indistinct figures carrying a telescope back into their neat Red house.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
I have been bontafied, so I should get some respect. I'm a Bontasattva now, and I expect to be treated like one. Hah!
(Strutting and preening in my borrowed feathers. An urge to go find Pertelotte.)
But seriously, it's a beautiful poem, and I'm shamelessly delighted.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Because each tiny lattice-work leads to the next. Little fingers of wanting, finding purchase wherever my mind is uneven. They tear my heart apart slowly, like thread-roots tearing concrete. Or again: the fear seeps in like snowmelt. Come nighttime, and the frost, it will freeze and expand and force the strands of flesh apart. Weak, barely perceptible processes, hardly worth resisting, you might think. (Or might pretend?)
Of course, the process happens in reverse as well. Or else we wouldn't be here, would we? The damage mends itself, the torn flesh knits together. A night's sleep or the gleam of a bell work their way in, exactly like that, and transform into a shadow sustenance.
Seven minutes of sitting. A prayer before eating. These things are neither what they purport to be, nor what they appear to be. They are things that work in the cold, dark interior of my heart -- altered, altering.
I have listened too often to sensible people, who live in the sun and talk about the healthiness of water and the joy of growing plants. Why talk to them? I want to talk to the people who come stammering back, dirty and shivering, out of the frozen earth. That's where things change.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Susan asked -- relayed, I guess -- the question, "Which of the five senses do you think is most important?"
I was surprised when I went back to look at it, because I found I had converted the question, in my mind, to "which of the five senses would it distress you most to lose?"
And my first response was, "I am already losing all of them." Which is true.
In the past few years, my sight has deteriorated. First I needed reading glasses for books with small print. And gradually I found that more and more books were written in small print. Now I don't even read the comics without my reading glasses.
When I was in grad school, I was hired briefly by Cleanth Brooks. Does anyone remember who he is, now? He was an ancient gray eminence, back then. He had been one of the New Critics when they were the young lions of Literary Academia, and a generation later every young Deconstructionist pup took potshots at his book "The Well-Wrought Urn," as emblematic of all the stupid old assumptions of standard literary criticism. A beautiful essay, much easier to argue with than their own muddy writing could ever be, because it was so easy to tell what he meant. I feel still that to be clearly wrong is better than to be vaguely right. Clarity and precision were what Brooks loved. They were what he found, pre-eminently, in poetry. If you want to find any one man who turned the tables and convinced the 20th Century world that poetry was more exact, more rigorous, and more conceptually demanding than prose -- a commonplace now, but not one in his youth, when poetry was commonly thought to be decorative, but fuzzy and self-indulgent -- that man would be Cleanth Brooks.
I was hired to be his eyes. He was writing a lecture for some distinguished society, using a typewriter with a huge typeface. He wore enormous glasses, and he peered at these words -- letters as thick as my pinkie -- and couldn't distinguish them. He chafed at having to rely on an ignorant grad student to read his own words. Winced when I mispronounced "Sewanee."
He was still in the ring, but just barely. The written word was being taken away from him, and only the spoken was left. And he could only taste his own words read back, his own beautiful sonorous southern accent replaced by my flat, generic, toneless Western ignorance. I only remember helping him that once. The experience was painful for both of us, I think. I remember walking through a book-lined living-room to the front door, when I was leaving. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on three walls, thousands of books, and not one that he could read.
No. I don't want to lose my sight.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Reading this post made my darkness begin to lift, last night. For months Karrie Higgins of Anti-Freeze has been channeling the spirit of downtown Portland, with all its warmth, intelligence, cheerful loopiness, and earthy populism. If you want to see why Portland is my favorite city in the world, go take a look.
Monday, October 18, 2004
My walking faltered, and I drifted gently to a stop. There must be some way -- I might have thought -- to want something. There must be something.
The clouds were travelling steadily to the northwest. A thick silver cloud-cover, drizzling a steady rain, like a vast sheet of corrugated steel gliding across the sky. The clouds can move. Are they free, or bound? The question, I'm told, makes no sense. I suppose it doesn't. They look free. Except that every ripple in the corrugation is moving the same way, hurrying toward the mouth of the Columbia. The wind made visible. If the wind isn't free, what is?
At the far end of the breezeway, a door opened, and an Indian man came out, gesticulating. He was talking on a cell phone. I started walking again. See? Only the prospect of being thought odd by a stranger is needed, and I'm set in motion again.
Red wet leaves on the pavement. As I left the shelter of the breezeway, the rain tapped lightly on my scalp, barely impeded by my thinning hair. I walked through the parking lot. I couldn't really be a suspicious figure. I was wearing my badge.
The wind blew a spray of rain into my face, onto my forearms. I yearned with love, all the familiar sensations of being in love, except that there was no one at the focus of it. I'd die if I couldn't have... somebody's love. Who was it? I must have been daydreaming about somebody, musn't I? You can't just be lovelorn. You have to pine for someone specific. I think the same people say that, who say you can't ask questions about the freedom of the wind.
Tired of my exile. Tired of my loneliness. Tired of my weariness.
A small mammal under a huge restless sky. Generating warmth, by habit. A blot on an infrared camera, a harbor for mosquitos. My heart beat steadily toward its total. I found myself counting softly, as I often do, when I feel exposed and vulnerable. Following the gentle decrement of my lifetime, the slow running-out of my time. How long should a man's life be? Another question that makes no sense. Long enough to reach his death.
Friday, October 15, 2004
Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bow'd my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
And still the dream and the nightmare roll backwards. Sunburnt and shivering on the floor of the zeppelin's cockpit, a cold night drifting over the Red Sea. So cold at night that we had to throw ballast overboard, and so hot by noon that we had to spill our precious hydrogen. We were higher than Everest's summit. Too high for men. Klaus's eyes bulged. Little capillaries burst into red sunstars in their whites. Von Lettow-Vorbeck would just have to improvise. We turned back.
A dream of Africa. They began a battle, but the gunfire hit a bees nest and the angry bees made everyone run for it, both sides. When Lettow-Vorbeck came back, for weeks the bugs were still crawling out of his feet. And then he dwindled out of life in a little suburban house with trinkets on the mantelpiece. The Lion of Tanzania. An old man with cheap curtains and a carefully fertilized lawn.
You think you have plumbed these depths? You have not even begun.
I moved slowly into the room, and counted the shells on the floor. Only three. Those aren't bad odds. The smell of a house whose windows have not been opened in thirty years. The French windows were completely unglassed. When Louie was drunk, he'd practice throwing his bottles against them, and smashing the panes. I guess he must have got pretty good at it.
We gave Scott the money to go to Portland, to kill his lover. That was his plan. When he came back he told us about it. Ashamed. He'd made him cry, he said. He'd said mean things, and made him cry. "So you didn't kill him?" We said. "Kill him? Did I ever say that? I never said that." And he never would believe that he'd told us that. Probably a good thing, since if he had, it would have made him furious that we sent him off, confident that he wouldn't do it. Scott was one of those guys no one can ever take seriously.
And then to Nicaragua, which was in those days just a bowl of blood. Nothing but blood, red from end to end. People would go into that bowl, slip into the the blood, and -- nothing. Nothing came out.
Does it matter, then? If I am sick of an old passion? No. It doesn't matter for a minute.
When I was sixteen a woman took me into the woods behind Hendricks Butte, and we drank a bottle of wine together. She was married. I had a huge crush on her. But I never came on to her, even then, when we were both intoxicated, and when anyone would have said that was why she took me there. I wonder why not? I came on to everyone, in those days. What did marriage have to do with me, then? And what does marriage have to do with anyone who drinks on the wrong side of Hendricks Butte, anyway? I guess I got shy.
If there's one place I'd go back to, it's that place, in those woods, with that woman. Her name was Terry. I think.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Dispensing with Justice
When Tori was four years old she had a favorite plate. It was a small china plate, with gilt-work around the rim and little pictures on it. I liked it too. Any child's thing that is neither garish nor plastic is a blessing.
We had guests to dinner, four-year-old Devon, a newish friend of Tori's from daycare, and her parents. They all sat at the kitchen table while I finished up dinner. Unthinkingly, I set plates around -- all the same plain plates except for Tori's beautiful one, gleaming with gold. Devon looked at that plate with large eyes, and I knew I had blundered.
"Oh," I said brightly, "Tori, since Devon's our guest, would you like her to have the special plate just for tonight?" There was a faint chance that the pleasure of dispensing benefits, as a lordly host, might appeal to her.
It didn't. Somberly, she shook her head. It was her plate. "Since you get to use it all the time..." I suggested. Devon was beginning to scowl as the injustice of it came home to her. Tori got to eat off that pretty plate all the time, and she couldn't have it even once?
Meanwhile, Tori's head had bowed forward, an all-too-familiar signal of mulish determination, like a stag lowering its antlers. It was her plate. "Maybe we could take turns," I said desperately, "when Devon's here. You could have it one night and she could have it the next." Devon, sensing that she might be rooked out of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to use the pretty plate by getting handed that "next turn" that never materializes, was beginning to look downright dangerous.
"We could flip a coin?" I suggested weakly. This wasn't dignified with a response. I had a fleeting vision of throwing the plate to the floor and smashing it -- a gratifying momentary fantasy. Something plainly had to be done fast, or the evening was going to be a dead loss. I scooped the plate up swiftly. "Well, I'm sorry we couldn't come to an agreement," I said. "I guess nobody gets it tonight." And I stuck it back on the shelf.
It was touch and go, but I got away with it, by hurrying some food quick in front of the girls. Devon's mother came through with some other distraction, and the crisis was averted. Never again would I bring down Tori's special plate when we had company.
It was, I think, a just decision. Which illustrates why I dislike justice. Nobody got to use the plate.
In retrospect I can see that I set up the problem, by casting the situation in terms of ownership and fairness. It's our automatic response to a problem. Whose rights take precedence? What's the fair solution?
But is it a good response? Even in the issue of who gets a dinner plate, these can be terribly complicated problems. How important is the courtesy due to a guest, as opposed to the right to dispose of one's most beloved property? Is turnabout really fair play, when one was given the plate and another was not? Even on this scale -- probably about as simple as such a problem gets -- the answers could be argued interminably. It brings immense complexity to the problem, for the whole history of the plate, and its significance as a gift, become pertinent issues. Suddenly, things that were done two years ago have a critical bearing on tonight's problem. Did Grandma really give the plate to Tori, or to the family? Surely the rights of usage, the fact that Tori has always had prior claim to the plate, is a matter of some importance? How about, on the other hand, the "natural" justice of everybody getting a turn? By that reckoning, Devon was owed about four hundred plate-nights.
At this point any sensible person has to start wondering "am I really on the right track? Can this really be the best method for handling such conflicts? An observant newspaper-reader will also recognize the contours of any number of current conflicts in the world.
At some point, after I'd been a practicing Buddhist for a couple years, I gave up on justice altogether. I don't believe in it any more. I don't believe in its religious and philosophical underpinnings; I don't believe in its emotional good faith, and I don't believe (as a matter of empirical observation) that concocting solutions according to the principles of justice is effective, or even, ultimately, intelligible.
Justice is essentially a theistic concept. It assumes an outside arbiter who can see the situation clearly and assess blame fairly -- God, in a word. And the process of justice is supposed to be the process of human understanding approaching the understanding of God. Since the understanding of God is One, the closer we get to justice, the closer our understandings should converge. So we would expect those who care most about justice, and promote it the most, to be closest to the understanding of God, and therefore to each other's understandings.
In fact we find the opposite. The more passionately people care about justice, the more divergent their assessments of a situation seem to be. Even on a homely dinner-plate level, the project of establishing convergent justice is one I've never seen succeed. Ever. I have never seen two people with varying views of the justice of a situation come to have exactly the same view of it. I have only rarely seen them even move toward each other: usually the movement is in the opposite direction. People come to a modus vivendi when they decide to make concessions even though the other guy is wrong.
So I try live without justice, now. And living without it is an excellent way to understand what it is. My fleeting vision of smashing the plate is what justice really is, in me. It's anger. It's vengeance. It's the desire to make people suffer in proportion as I and mine suffer. The further behind I leave it, the more clearly I can see what it really is. There is nothing good or holy about my desire for justice.
I had the concepts of justice and compassion deeply tangled, so that I was frightened at first at the idea of abandoning justice. Would I no longer care about, say, the Sudanese refugees, if I no longer blamed the so-called militias? Would I become indifferent?
I have not become indifferent. I care more than ever, I think. But I will admit that it troubles me less. I can care about them without that canker gnawing in my stomach, without that red haze obscuring my vision. Part of being able to drop justice, I think, was coming to really believe in my own goodness. I am no longer desperate to vindicate my goodness, or prove it by differentiating myself from other people. I don't have to protect my own compassion by holding anyone in contempt. My compassion -- even mine, even my sickly meager version of the Buddha's compassion -- is deeper and stronger and more permanent than I am. It could lose me -- hopefully it will, someday -- but I could not possibly lose it.
Friday, October 08, 2004
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
And so he sat down on the porch and rested. The silence came back, and curled around him like a cat's tail. For the truth was, he had nowhere to go.
Their stillness answering his cry. But answers, such answers he could get anywhere. That was the answer the girl by the stream gave him, averting her eyes and hurrying away. The answer the sky gave him, at dusk, along with its perfunctory benediction of a sprinkle of rain. The answer his leather wine-bottle gave him, when he turned it upside down, all its other answers exhausted.
In the poem, I ride away, he thought. That's what makes it a fine poem, but it's also what makes it a lie. I have no other business with anybody, if They have no business with me.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
I just need to whine a little, and produce an insubstantial tirade about lack of substance. Feel free to skip this post.
I was horrified when Kerry chose Edwards as his running-mate. It struck me as a typical manifestation of "Quail disease" -- an aged political party desperately trying to prove its virility by getting in bed with an inexperienced sweet young thing. It just makes the party look silly in the morning, when they're saddled with a vapid gum-snapping adolescent who can't converse with their friends.
Some polls say Edwards won the debate, which just makes me feel (if possible) more alienated. I thought he made a very poor showing indeed, and I pray that he never becomes president. Cheney gave him several openings for refuting the "flip-flop" charges, and he failed, miserably, to exploit them. Instead he dribbled out bits of his stump speeches, and basically let every accusation that Cheney levelled at him stand. His own record is not very defensible, admittedly, but Kerry's is reasonably so.
The Bush-Cheney campaign has made great play, of course, with the fact that most Americans don't have a clue how congressional politics work -- that legislative votes are usually bargaining chips, not stands of conscience, and that anyone with a straight-track voting record is probably an ineffectual congressman. (Which is why it's so hard to move from the congress into the presidency; governors have a much better shot at it.) But even so, Edwards could have fought back. Cheney's caricature of Kerry's record would have been easy to take down -- but only by someone who had the particulars in his head. Edwards clearly didn't. Instead he trotted out his own caricature of Cheney's record, and made much of the Halliburton stuff (in precisely the wrong way -- the problem is not that Cheney's lining his personal pockets; the problem is that Cheney's class loyalties are so strong as to be invisible to himself -- he really believes that what's good for Halliburton is good for the nation.)
There were some moments of high comedy, as when Cheney completely missed the moderator's hint that since she was addressing him as Mr Vice President, he might in return call her something other than "Gwen." Certainly the Bush campaign scored no points with African-Americans last night. Cheney appeared startled to learn that there were such creatures still roaming about in White America. (Edwards also stuck to "Gwen," but since he gives the impression of being someone who always calls everyone by their first name, and since he didn't say it every other sentence, it didn't stick out so much.)
I thought that Cheney's grim silence about his disagreement with the President over Gay marriage conferred a sort of dignity on him -- he's given his alliegance, and that's that. I liked it, though I imagine it lost him points with a lot of people.
All in all, it was a rather depressing event. Particularly when the newscasters came on and called it "substantive." Eh? Nasty and mean-spirited, sure. But substantive? I wracked my brains trying to think of what they could mean, but I'm still baffled.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Setting Disraeli* at defiance --
It's come to my attention that I've dropped a couple balls recently.
Some of you already know this about me, but for those who don't -- I actually do the work I get paid for in about two months of the year, comprised of a few eight- or nine-day sprees when I vanish from sight and work feverishly. The rest of the time, the picture Dave painted of me in a recent comment, as loitering in my cubicle surfing the web and commenting on blogs, is embarassingly accurate. I run through some routine work and send a few emails and monitor a bunch of automated processes, and tinker with this and that, but I'm not really focused on the job.
Then something urgent and interesting comes up and for a a week or two my mail goes unanswered and my blog goes unupdated and I skip shaving. (I'd say that I don't answer phone calls, but to tell the truth, I never answer phone calls.) I'm just coming out of one of those periods now, and I'm discovering all sorts of things that I should have done that I didn't. So if I owe you email or some such, it would be wise to remind me of it.
*Who said, "Never apologize; never explain."