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23 November, 2010


I'm not generally a fan of ultimate anything. I distrust claims of superlativity, discounting nearly all as the data insist any reasonable person must. And ultimate in the sense of 'final' means there's nothing left to do but turn out the lights and go home, ultimately a let-down.

Penultimacy is where it's at. Journey not over, but a long trail of memories behind you and the gleam of the promised land lights the horizon. Something savored. Mm-hmm.

Penpenultimacy, before the before, can be a little different. Sometimes this state preplicates penultimacy, sometimes you can draw that feeling out for a long time, basking. Other times it irks, frustratingly far from either an easy retreat or effortless entry. Then there are the times when penpenultimacy plays fore to an especially good penultimacy.

Of course, a significant percentage of the time you know not when something is penpenultimate. Even when there's a formal sequence, the next to the next to to the last thing sits far enough from the end that chaos can intervene: that agenda they handed you at the outset is subject to change without notice. Penpenultimate acts affect ultimate outcomes, though, and a small right move at that stage can make for a more easeful and satisfying conclusion than last act last ditch heroism.

Because any given thing you do may be the penpen-, may be the precursor, may be the action whose reaction slaps you back a couple of moves later, doing good is advised. Penpenultimacy is the loam from which karma grows.

But still, uncertainty. The sequence shifts, or just keeps slipping gears. The penpen reduplicates yet again, and you never move on. I just finished a carving that got stuck in that state for a while. Most of my carvings seem to work like that: I make great progress for a while, subtracting chunks of wood, envisioning an end, but entering a phase where the shavings get smaller, my carving eye becomes oblivious to the obvious next move, my progress toward the final touches meanders. It is a dangerous time, when more than one work has wandered off course, or faltered and fallen into procrastinatory purgatory.

Often enough, though, from those penpenultimate steps and states emerges something that can, with a penultimate nudge, be beautiful, or at least completed.

1 comment:

  1. We realized, that day, on the way home from the museum, that what really mattered wasn't the ultimate, the end. It wasn't even the penultimate. It was the pen-penultimate, where we drove through springtime together, making up internal monolouges, and hilarious songs. It was the part before we got to the museum, before we got to the candy outlet.

    And the candy on sale for the last day before state taxes went up.