Is there no coming back,
no retreat from this landscape of ire,
this canyon of sorrow

Far beyond the limits of hope,
bordered by despairing walls,
unable to care

Except for our own kind,
our own mind-like echoes,
our mirror selves

Where every difference,
each flower of nuance,
challenges the power

Born of our righteous rage,
grown fat on bias and lies,
clothed in trappings of heaven

Armed with tools of denial,
building myriad barricades,
but never a bridge

To link us,
to lift us,
to exalt

In all that we are?




Running Up That Hill

Book-learning, while useful, can only get you so far on the path toward competence. This is especially true in the arts. To learn a thing, often you simply have to do a thing.

But some learning curves are steeper than others. Some roads to knowledge are pitted with potholes. And along these paths there are always tigers in the bush, lying in wait, ready to ambush the unaware, the over-confident, the ignorant.

As recently mentioned, I am learning how to weave fabric using a rigid heddle loom, turning yarn into cloth. I began by reading books on the topic—primers and how-to manuals mostly—as well as by watching instructional videos. These were invaluable, giving me a sound enough foundation in the what/how/why of the craft, that I felt confident to purchase a loom and try my hand at the techniques I’d been reading about and viewing.

But, in any journey of knowledge, there are some elements that are so basic as to be considered already known. Axioms, truths, assumptions, things everyone knows; except, they’re not things everyone knows. Rather, they are things so basic that, if you know them, you forget that not everyone knows them.

Things like, how to open a hank of yarn.

We all know what a ball of yarn is. It’s not a hard concept to grasp. It’s a ball. Of yarn. You know, the thing cats play with. One of the ends is on the outside and the other is hidden, tucked away at the center of the ball. In the picture, it’s the small grey thing at lower right.

If you wind a ball of yarn but leave the center hollow, you get a cake of yarn. Cakes have one end on the outside, but give you access to the one at the center, too. You can pull from one, the other, or both. There are three of them in the picture.

You also might know what a skein of yarn is. It looks like a big ball of yarn that’s been sort of (technical term) smooshed into a football shape. As expected, it has one yarn end on the outside, but it also (often) has one that comes out from the center, and either one can be used.

Ball, cake, skein, these can be used as is, without issues.

But a hank of yarn? What the hell’s a hank?

Up until this week, I had no clue what a hank was, much less how to handle one. And none of my reading or weaving tutorials mentioned the term. Neither did any of the myriad tip-sheets on yarn have anything to warn me about what I was getting into.

So, when the box of yarn I’d ordered showed up this week—lovely yarn made of merino and cashmere, yarn so soft and light that I can barely feel it with my callused old-man fingers—I opened it up and, rather than the balls, cakes, or skeins I’d expected, I found only twisted, corkscrew spirals of yarn. Hanks. I’d seen them, but never held one before and, as I turned it over in my hands, it was clear that they had no discernible end, no visible access point.

I quickly figured that I was in trouble.

And I was correct. In the picture, the mare’s nest to the left is the trouble I found. It represents the first hank I opened.

It’s a ruin.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that mistakes are teachers. Mistakes can flatten learning curves. Mistakes can fill in the potholes waiting along that road of knowledge. Mistakes can alert you to the tigers.

But you have to let the mistakes do their work. You have to learn from them.

I have several more hanks to uncoil and wind into usable cakes. I am filled with trepidation as I proceed because I’ve proven that I can ruin the yarn; however, I’ve also proven that I can successfully cake-up said yarn, if I pay sufficient attention.

Fingers crossed.


Tell Them

no reason
for silence,
for shrouding
heart-born truths

they are
overwintered seeds,
motes hard-shelled
and inert

aching for
spring’s caress,
the taste
of rainwater

sow truths
in sunlight,
broadcast kindness
on the wind

nothing flowers,
nothing nourishes,
nothing grows
in darkness


Morse Code scarf in wool

As some know, a month or so ago I fell down a deep rabbit hole: I am learning how to weave—weave, as in, to make cloth from yarn or string. With a loom. And shuttles. Seriously old-school, low-tech stuff—and in doing so, I have received an unexpected gift.


I alluded to this new activity—here and here—in recent weeks (albeit obliquely), but in the past weeks it has become a full-on passion. All those books in the TBR pile? Forgotten. Those shows we were going to binge over the long weekend? Not happening. And sorry, but if I owe you a letter, it’s going to be delayed.

Weaving has infiltrated all my waking hours (and some of my sleeping ones, too). Not only has the learning curve been steep and chock-a-block with new words like “sley,” “heddle,” “gamp,” “raddle,” and “sett,” each new thing learned is like a hydra, sprouting new thoughts and questions with each answer. Hues for color palettes swoosh through my head. Wearable-fabric-as-art is now a thing for me. And inspiration strikes All The Time now, shining beams of creativity for pieces well beyond my technical expertise, illuminating ideas that I’m not sure are even possible with the tools I have.

And that’s all before I put warp to peg, weft to shuttle.

Once I get to that point, once I actually sit down and begin the weave, it’s all-involving. I’m so new to this, there is no muscle memory to kick in (a fact to which my upper back will attest), but the repetitive mechanics of working the loom, the rhythm of throwing the shuttle, the ever-present attention to tension and selvedges, these form the base of an activity which, like gardening, engages the motor-function/analytical part of my brain and leaves my creative functions free to “what if?” their way through myriad thoughts and ideas.

Then, as I become familiar with the patterns of motion for a project, as I introduce efficiencies into my movements, the world around me draws inward, and I enter a place of meditative serenity.

So, where does the music come in?

Houndstooth muffler in acrylic

The world is filled with distractions. Sirens, deliveries, hungry housecats, text message pings, K-drama sound effects; these can pop me out of my trance and make me lose track of where I am in a pattern. I could counter these with podcasts or books on tape, but the spoken word is sometimes just as distracting, sending my brain on little wonder-tours based on a thought or idea under discussion.

And that is where music comes in.

I used to listen to music a lot. My iPod (yes, I still have an iPod) has over 18,000 songs on it. That’s over 50 days of music, but ever since 2016 my music consumption rate has dropped off a cliff, replaced instead by various news broadcasts, analyses, and podcasts. In retrospect, this has not been good for my stress level; the world is not a friendly place, and focusing on news has only heightened my awareness of it.

It was, then, a surprise—as well as a surprise that it was a surprise—that when I plugged in my earbuds, put P!nk on shuffle play, and began weaving a Morse Code scarf (pictured, top right), I felt my brain relax and my heart ease as I slipped into the mood of the music. Since then, I’ve been re-exploring my own music collection, from symphonic metal to Tudor chamber music, from solo oud songs from Egypt to fully-synthesized renditions of Richard Rodgers classics.

And it has been like coming home.

I would have continued with this new weaving avocation even if I had not found this wonderful synergistic pairing, each activity feeding and supporting the other. Now, when I begin to imagine a piece to weave and colors to use, I’m also thinking about the soundtrack to go with it. Paul Hindemith? Jethro Tull? Hans Zimmer?

It’s like listening to a tapestry whilst transforming yarn into cloth.

I didn’t need an excuse to listen to music again. But I’m glad I have one.



and when she was gone
    the house lost its voice

no laughter echoed
    no giggles,
    no braying,
    no full-bellied mirth

banter lost its purpose
    no rejoinders,
    no quips,
    no quotes apropos

sounds of life fell silent
    no snores,
    no clatter of dishes,
    no questions shouted from two rooms away

instead, only
    stockinged feet
        on hardwood floors
    hushed whispers
        with the laconic housecat
    the ticking of clocks
        and soundless steeping tea

for when she was gone
    it felt wrong
        to laugh
        to love
        to live

but spring was coming
    her favorite season
        and her roses still wanted
            to bloom

Questioning Authority

It’s been a week. Quite a week.

Last Wednesday, my wife went in for surgery (she’s doing well, thanks), and since then I’ve been on caregiver duty. Thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), I’ve been able to take two weeks off work to provide for her post-op needs, plus to do all the many, many things she normally does around the house. Things got more complicated when the cat came down with a UTI, and I had to rush her to the vet the day after my wife came home from hospital. It all came to (what I hope was) a climax yesterday, when I ran up to the shops for groceries, did a few loads of laundry, made the bed, brewed tea, monitored meds for wife and cat, unclogged a toilet, replaced light bulbs in the kitchen, paid bills (including property tax . . . ouch!), hemmed two of the kitchen towels I wove over the weekend (pictured right), braised lamb shanks (for me), cooked a frozen pizza (for her), and sat with my wife while she watched the finale of His Dark Materials (sloppy, in my view; a major disappointment, in hers).

So it wasn’t a surprise that I was a tad bushed when it came time to hit the sack. My brain, however, had other ideas; it went on a ramble through old memories, including one I hadn’t thought of in a very long time: the first time I argued with a grownup.

When I was eight, my step-mother decided it was high time for me to be given some religious education. My father had always been rather irreligious (though he believed in God). My mother, if anything, had been Episcopalian, which my father characterized as the closest thing to a non-religious religion. After Mom’s death, though, my dad remarried and my step-mother brought Roman Catholicism to the party, and she determined that I’d been living the heathen lifestyle for far too long. I needed to be baptized and to receive First Communion. In order to do this, I needed some remedial education, so she enrolled me in the catechism classes at her church.

I was not a good student, this according to Sister Catherine Michael, and for reasons that shall become evident.

Every winter, my step-mom’s folks came out from Minnesota, fleeing the frigid clime of the Iron Range for the springlike (to them) weather of the SF Bay Area. They stayed with us from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, and the entire season was a minefield—at least in those early years—as I navigated the no-man’s land between life with and without grandparental supervision and guidance.

It was the winter after I began my catechism classes. We were in the back yard, grandfather and I, watching over my infant brothers, and I was complaining of one of the school bullies.

I summed up my opinion thusly: “He can go to Hell, for all I care,”

Grandfather frowned, raised a warning finger. “That’s not a word we say,” he told me. “That’s a swear word, and swearing is a sin.”

I compared this bit of information with some of the “discussions” I’d had with Sister Catherine as we were going over the various spiritual realms. Heaven, Purgatory, Limbo, and yes, Hell. There was a serious disconnect here, somewhere.

I knew about swear words, knew many of the words themselves, in fact. Swear words were the ones Dad said when he smacked his thumb with the hammer or spilled something in the kitchen. They were often (but not always) followed by a muttered, half-hearted apology, and were never used in company. Those were sins. Other, minor epithets like “damn” were allowed when fishing and when grownups came over to visit, but only among grownups. The word “Hell,” though—Grandfather’s decree that uttering it, too, was a sin, well, that just didn’t make sense.

“But . . . it’s a place,” I said. “I just want him to go to a place.”

“It’s a swear word, and swearing is a sin,” he repeated, and in a manner that allowed no further discussion on the topic.

If I’d known the word “arbitrary,” I would have used it. It was a good thing I didn’t.

Grandfather and I had many such a tête-à-tête, ranging in topics from what constitutes sin to the proper way to drive a vehicle through a curve. Most of them ended as this first one did, with me biting my tongue and Grandfather confident that he’d gotten his point across and contributed to my social education.

Just why this anecdote came to mind last night as I was drifting off, I cannot say. Roman Catholicism didn’t “take” with me. Sure, I made it through baptism and First Communion, but it should also be noted that the first class I ever cut was Sister Catherine Michael’s catechism class. And it’s not like the “Hell” discussion was a seminal moment for me; I literally haven’t thought of that conversation in dozens of years. Maybe it was because of the ridiculous “resolution” of His Dark Materials, followed by my wife’s explanation of her utter disgust at the ending of the Narnia books (and her subsequent decree: “If it has a Christ figure, I’m out.”)

Regardless, it gave me a nice chuckle at the end of a long day.

But now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bathroom to clean.



Do not presume that
because a heart is distant
it cannot can be read

Hearts can love or loathe,
be bound or apart, unmoved
by proximity

One can be as dear
unmet, half a world away,
as from down the street

Love can falter on
the doorstep, or reach across
the space between stars

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