N O T E S F R O M T H E C A F E F I A S C O
Volume 9, Number 0 - December 2003
ANNUAL REPORT - Winter Solstice 2003
It really feels like the middle of the night these days when the cat jumps on the bed at 6 am so that I'll get up and feed him. And, of course, if just jumping on the bed doesn't produce the desired result, there's always the technique of crawling on top of me --- sometimes sitting on chest and purring while I simultaneously attempt to disentangle myself from my dreams and figure out why I can't breathe.
But if I manage to actually stay up after spooning out the cat food, a little later I get the pleasure of watching the sun come up over the Tobin Bridge during my own breakfast -- dawn while drinking tea, eating Cheerios, and attempting to divine the inner meanings of the Boston Globe while I slowly wake up. I'm still up here on the top of the hill and morning still comes much too early even if it is, at times, quite beautiful - but it's the Winter Solstice and at least part of this cycle is about to start to turn around.
As is my practice and discipline, it is also time to share what is happening here at the top of the hill with you, my friends and supporters. This year it is the 35 anniversary of the meltdown that was the precursor to the new Marshall T. Spriggs of the 60's. Of course, the new Marshall T. Spriggs has slowly given way to the more than slightly worn Marshall T. Spriggs of late middle age by now. This year in particular there's hardly been any letup since February and I'm more than a little tired. The good news is, to my surprise, I seem to be stronger than ever in coping with what passes for my life these days, leading me to ask the philosophical question: is it possible to be strong without having to be constantly tested? Like I said, it's a philosophical question - I don't expect an answer to this one. But if you happen to have one, let me know.
The events of the year really started in late February. At that point, getting up in the morning to feed the cat was complicated by the fact that I couldn't really see all that well. Nor could I breathe all that well. If it was late March or early April, I would have said that these were my usual allergy symptoms for the spring and I would have started popping anti-histamines. But February? As it turned out - yes, February. This was the opening salvo in one of the worst springs I've ever had in Allergyland (and I've had 52). All through March, April, and May, despite eating industrial levels of Allegra, the mornings were full of tears - not due to the fact that I'd become on of those new sensitive males of the new millennium, but simply because of biochemical reactions. Some mornings I had to force my self to walk down the hill to work (an air conditioned space - thank God) even though I couldn't really see where it was I was going. Then there was the lack of breath and the pains in the chest. I didn't like those much either.
Thankfully, by the beginning of the summer things had calmed down enough that I no longer looked like a non-stop viewer of those tear-jerking Movies of the Week. This may have been because I started acupuncture treatments at this point or maybe because the pollen had run it's course. Either way I was grateful to no longer be under constant attack and my attention could again turn to the outside world.
It was by the late spring that my foster father, Michael G. Touloumtzis, had really started to fail. When I was a teenager, Michael and his wife Lydia had not only allowed me to hang around their house as my own family dissolved into thin air, but had actually made me a semi-official member of their family. During my high school years, I spent much more waking hours at their house with their son Michael, my best friend, than I ever did at my own.
Over the 35 years since I left the old home town, we'd been in sporadic contact and they were nice enough to invite me for the Christmas gathering of the clan over the past few years (even if some of the members of the clan didn't really know who that old guy with the white beard over in the corner was). So, there was a definite familial duty to do what I could when the health of the patriarch started to fail and, indeed, I did what I could - walking the tricky line between being a family member and not - trying to say my own goodbyes and deal with my own stuff about losing a father (yet again) and attempting to help others with theirs. I think that we were all somewhat successful. Well, at least we all got though it and we gave Big Mike the send-off that he deserved when he died at the end of June. I don't think that there's much more you can ask for with the death of a parent.
More family stuff came up on vacation this summer when I and the female companion (TFC) drove up to Nova Scotia for the first time for a week in August. According to family legend we had come from the Maritime Province with the movement of Marshall T. Spriggs #1 down from Springhill, NS somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. At least this was the small amount of information that I had managed to squeeze from various members of the family as a kid. It was always difficult to get information about the origins of the family from the relatives. My guess is that no one liked the idea that members of the family were actually at one time immigrants here in the US, so I guess the prevailing theory was that the first ur-Spriggs was dropped in Attleboro by the last glacier 15,000 years ago or something like that. Anyway, nobody wanted to talk about it much and I went to Nova Scotia with a collection of vague stories and not much else.
A long morning in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia in Halifax did yield a record of my grandfather's birth in 1876 in a place called Ellershouse, Nova Scotia as the fourth child of John and Elizabeth Spriggs. We drove though Ellershouse on our trip around the province later in the week -- it consisted of a QuikMart, a Canada Post Office, a railroad station that was no longer used, and no one who had ever heard of anyone named Spriggs - even a 83 year old retired doctor. This place was so small that we found kids playing in the main street as we drove through -- not a lot of traffic. Also during the week, we visited the coal mines of Springhill where grandpa had allegedly worked before moving south and I had the very scary experience of feeling very comfortable with a pick in my hands striking at a seam of coal several hundred feet below the surface of the ground.
The gem of the trip however, was learning the origin of my first name. Marshall is not only a slightly odd name (how many Marshall's do you know?) but also is something of a ponderous title. I like it for all it's oddness and use it in the Harvard context (it's the name on the check after all) instead of the nickname of "Tom" that my family uses, but even with all this fallderall about the name, I never knew the origin of it. That is, until I found my grandfather's birth record and it said that his mother was Elizabeth Marshall Spriggs. Mystery solved after all these years.
Returning to Harvard in the middle of August to ready ourselves for the new school year took the shine off of all the fun that I had in the North. It was decided by higher powers that new technology was to be put in classrooms that I and my unit would have to support but we didn't have the opportunity to look at or test. The results were not pretty. My overdeveloped sense of "doing things right" ran straight into other people's sense of "getting things done." Much time and energy was spent attempting to get things working while simultaneously getting them up to standard without a great deal of success. All in all, pretty ugly and time consuming.
With the tech wars raging into the fall, I decided not to take a class in the fall since I didn't have a chance of being able to concentrate on it. I did take a graduate research seminar in the Harvard Summer School however and did pretty well in it (it helped that I was twice the age of all of the other students I do have to admit). This made me think that it might make sense for me to work toward a Masters degree since the University gives me two courses a semester for virtually nothing. On the down side, I'd have to write another thesis (and it would probably have to be a lot less funky than the one that I did for Tufts 15 years ago) but I would get a degree from Harvard for all the stress and strain. A Masters from Harvard! Me! Too rich to ignore.
As usual, the other learning happens of the visual and the kinesthetic fronts. I continue to draw at least once a week. Over the fall, I fooled around with pastel portraiture and got to the point where you could actually identify that that blotchy thing was a model with a face. I also learned that what my teacher saw for color and what I saw for color were two different things. This winter, it's back to charcoal figure drawing to work on my draftsmanship. Maybe I'll get back to color in the spring.
In the martial arts category, I've continued to take classes in Ba Gua and Tai Chi on the Chinese side and Aikido on the Japanese side. The arts inform one another pretty well since the internal principles are similar and, though I can say without reservation that I'm not particularly talented in any of them, they continue to be interesting. Properly taught, the martial arts are all about that happens with your opponent on the inside rather than the opponents on the outside and therefore are endlessly fascinating.
If you are a subscriber to this Notes list, you've probably gotten the full measure of publishable material for the year, in short - not much. After a long absence, the writing seems to be coming back to me these days, but I still am having a tough time finding the time to get it down -- turning it from that idea that scratches at me from the inside to something that I actually want to show someone else. Just in case anyone from there is listening, what I really need is a MacArthur Grant so that I can quit my job and be neurotic about this full-time.
It is traditional that I include something about The Powers That Be in this annual missive and I wouldn't want to disappoint my family since they all live in Florida and don't hear anything but how wonderful the Republican Party is now that they've freed the slaves and the billionaires and found Jesus, however I will limit myself to one point despite the fact that there are many that one might make.
The hallmark of this administration is their ability to lie constantly and successfully to the American public without paying any significant price for this behavior. Ronald Reagan was the forefather of this political technique, but the current practitioners have refined it to a fault: First, we're going into Iraq because Saddam is a nuclear threat. That turns out to be untrue, so we're going into Iraq because he has Weapons of Mass Destruction. This also turns out to be false, so we did it because Saddam had given support to Osama Bin Laden. Nobody with any sense swallowed this either, so by this time we've already got several armies there and we did it to free the Iraqi people. Finally! Something that sticks (even if it isn't a really great premise for sending 150,000 troops, spending $100 billion, and a thousand American dead - and counting).
So, here we are in the Tar Baby and we got there by a trail of lies that would make any used car salesman green with envy, done by people who continually take moralistic stances telling people how they should be living their lives. I have no idea how these people could be elected again by a sane electorate. (But then they weren't elected the last time were they?)
So, all in all, things are okay here at the top of the hill. At the age of 53, I do find myself wondering at times if all the good work that I did over the past 35 years is the sum total of what I'm going to be able to accomplish in this incarnation or whether I've got more left to do. It's hard to tell if I'm off the path or not, being who I am and doing what I do. I know that the speed on the fast ball is waning, but the current question is whether I can make up for this by sheer technique. I don't know. I do know that I'm increasingly restless as I get older, but I don't know what is the nature of this or if anything will come of it. Ah, late middle age....
I do know that I couldn't have gotten this far without the help of people such as yourself. I could have and probably should have died several times over the years and I've always thought that I the very fact that I was alive conferred a vague kind of responsibility on me to do what I could to reduce suffering in the world. With your support, I will continue to attempt to do this. Again I thank you for enabling me to try.
The sun returns; the cycle turns. Let us put our faith in the great systems that support us. Let us continue to serve life as the sun returns. Thanks, and Happy Solstice.
With Every Best Wish,
"Notes From the Cafe Fiasco" is sort-of-written, sort-of-edited, and sort-of-published whenever the Muses allow. Misconception, writing, and production are supervised by the spirit of the 13 pound fuzzy Perfect Master - Koji Spriggs and his vocal successor Smudge. Unsubscribing is easy. Send a note to me and I will take you off of the list. No problem. If you wish to continue to be receive this excuse for wisdom, do nothing. But remember: not to decide is to decide.
If you should care to share the above contents with others, please include some sort of attribution (my name and e-mail might be nice) so that people know exactly who to blame. Of course, this publication is covered by the Millennium Copyright Act of the US (Hi, Mickey!), the Geneva Convention, and lots of other laws (national, international, and pan-cosmic) that you don't really want to know about. Most of this stuff is copyrighted by me, but the materials that I use from other folks could be copyrighted to them (or at least as much as anything on the Net is copyrighted to anyone).
Marshall T. Spriggs
firstname.lastname@example.org; (617) 666-1571
One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to
practice the Art of Peace.
Heaven is right where you are standing,
and that is the place to train.
- Morihei Ueshiba