Even though they changed the dates for Day Light Savings Time this year, BB, the Queen of 35 Amherst Street, still seems to get me or Denise up in the pitch dark so that we can feed her. She may be an old cat (15 years) and impossible to find once she does get us up (black cat), but she knows that it's morning (or close enough for her) so we should get up and do something about this fact.
By the time that I manage to get to the commuter rail to wait with others in the windchill to see if the train is going to come, I can see the sun coming up over the hill and the spire of Sacred Heart Church over toward Mattapan — not quite the view that I used to have from the top of Spring Hill, but impressive in it's own way. A fireball rising in the cold. And by the time that I leave work at the Institute at the end of the day, it's dark again. It's Solstice time.
Of course, today, the Winter Solstice, marks the depth of this process that will take us through the long winter of January, Februrary and March only to finally deliver us to the usual wet and slightly warmer New England spring. So, today starts the process. It is the pivot point in the long cyclic renewal process and for me time to look back before I go forward into the year. And so, for the 16th time in as many years, I report to you here in the depth of the dark about the changes that the year has brought so that I can attempt to figure out what exactly happened:
The biggest and saddest change during the year was the passing of my friend, spiritual guide, and roommate for so many years: Smudgy the Cat. (https://mtspriggs.typepad.com/ncf/2010/03/smudge-spriggs-19922010.html) Looking over my journal for 2009 going into 2010, I'm reminded of just how sick a little guy he was last year at this time. The vet tried to tell me that maybe it was getting to the time to let him go, but I had a very hard time with the idea of living without him. So we both soldiered on through the fall and most of the winter. Denise made him a bed on top of a radiator and behind the couch in the living room and he took up residence there for five months - his head popping up when he heard something interesting and coming down occasionally from his perch for food and water and then going back up to go to sleep.
But he was running out of steam. By early March, he had gotten so bad that he couldn't move much and his breathing was forced and ragged. So, it was time for Dad to make the decision that was one of the toughest that he ever had to make. It was time to let him go for his own sake. Smudge was himself until the end — after not moving a muscle for 24 hours in my bed, he woke me up on his last morning by pushily poking me in the back with his paw — he was up and hungry and why wasn't I up to feed him?
I learned a lot from him over the years that we had together and he was great to talk to (and gave great advice for someone who didn't talk). And he especially had a wonderful spirit. And he made the little apartment that we shared for 10 years into a home. Not bad for an 8 pound ball of fuzz. I still miss him l lot. (https://mtspriggs.typepad.com/ncf/2010/04/missing-smudgy.html). Good night, sweet prince ...
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Last year at this time, I was just getting used to living back across the river in Boston with Denise after the bachelorism period of the previous 15 years. I am proud to report that I am starting to get to emptying the boxes that were moving into my room on the third floor, so the "settling in" process is still active and continuing. And It's only taken a year for me to get to this point.
Roslindale Village, where we live, is indeed a sort of urban village — a small commercial area where people come to know a lot of the other people of the neighborhood. The fish monger that we go to actually has a spiral notebook where they keep "tabs" for people that are regular customers - shades of the 1950's. Geographically, it's sort of wedged in between minority Mattapan and suburban West Roxbury and you get the feeling that it might slide off one way or the other, but it never does seem to do that. It's an interesting place to live — not without it's problems, but diverse and alive.
After a year as the CIO of the place, our new uber-boss is still trying to run the MIT IT department like it's an insurance company (from whence she came). She's smart, got a good heart, and she tries hard. And she was left a really brutal mess to deal with. But she's also drunk the corporate Koolaid and she doesn't really understand that attempting to move everyone to large centralized systems may not be in the best interests of her (and us) retaining our jobs. Or maybe she does understand and she just doesn't care. Or maybe she's under orders to do this and therefore it automatically becomes a virtue. Anyway, it seems to be a happening thing at the Institute.
MIT may produce all sorts of corporate spinoffs, but the main feature of the place is that it is able to attract brilliant faculty is that it leaves them alone to do what they want to do. Eccentricity is a big a part of the MIT culture and it is a the polar opposite of the standardization culture of most large corporations. Corporate IT works well because people don't have choices about what they can do with their machines - conformity makes for efficiency. The one thing that MIT doesn't have is much conformity to almost anything and therefore not much efficiency either. This tends to drive the bean-counters who increasingly run the place crazy.
So, as one of the persons who works directly with faculty and other clients, and whose job it is to explain IT's new corporate reasoning to powerful people who are dead-set against this sort of concept, this should prove to be a most interesting year.
I turned 60 this year and I am now officially "old" (at least my the standards that I grew up with during the Jurrasic) though, unfortunately, not old enough to retire (boo, hiss). To some degree, finally being this old is a relief. I've been "old" for a long time (an involuntary process, but a real one nonetheless) and now the body is finally catching up with the persona. I do notice that my contemporaries seem to be really getting old while I am, of course, remaining my radiant self - old, but not too old. I intend to milk this stage for all that it is worth for as long as I can. Then I'm going to start hitting people with my cane to get what I want.
The only major travel that we did this year was a trip to Washington and Baltimore for my birthday. Denise had noticed that there was a one-man show about Bucky Fuller's work happening in DC just before my birthday and she gave me the trip to see it. We also spent a fun afternoon in the new Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian which was a very impressive and quite beautiful.
I had also noted somewhere along the way that I always wanted to see a ball game in Camden Yards in Baltimore and never had, so we hit a Orioles/Red Sox game on the way back. Lots of fun, even in the rain and even with a mouthy woman directly in back of us who wouldn't shut up about how all the men in her life were inadequate in one way or another. I was a guest in Maryland, so I restrained myself from turning around and pointing out to her that this was a ball game and not Oprah, but I'm sorry that I didn't. (I still haven't gotten this cranky "getting old" thing right yet, but I'm working on it.)
Barak seems a little pissed off lately that no one seems to appreciate the fact that he saved the economy that Bush and the boys had dumped into the bin by his "Free Market" (money for the rich, crumbs for everyone else) policies. Can't say that I blame him. He pulls the system back from the brink and all he gets is crap for his trouble. And some people are so unappreciative that they want to go back to the policies that put us all in the soup to begin with. So much for American logic. As Churchill once said, "Americans always do the right thing, after they've tried everything else first."
Ever notice how the Tea Party people always want to go back to Time X when things were perfect? Back to when everyone lived in a snug little houses with white picket fences and Billy and Suzy went to a neighborhood school just down the street while Dad came home every evening to smoke his pipe and read the paper before the whole family had a delicious meal that Mom had cooked on her high tech Radar Range? Remember that? Well, if you do, then you're really quite delusional because this picture of the United States was post-WWII propaganda and never really existed.
These people want to pull us all back to a fictional version of the past. Beaver Cleaver was made up, guys. The 50's were not nirvana. They included McCarthyism, children hiding under their desks (in case of nuclear attack by the Russians), men dealing with "battle fatigue" from the war, and the lynching of uppity blacks in the South. This is not a good decade from which to measure ourselves or our dreams.
And you don't navigate a rapidly moving vehicle by having your eyes planted continually in the rear view mirror. Get your head out of the post-World War II American dream fiction and get a grip on reality. We're not the only power in the world anymore, things are moving quickly — maybe faster than you want or like — but we have to try to keep up because the alternative is disasterous, and giving money to people who already have more than they know what to do with is not going to make the world a better place for the other 98% of us.
Going back to a 1950's that never existed is not going to solve our problems nor will contorting the Constitution to try to get there. Get a grip.
Not much to report here for the year. I attempted to take a painting class during the summer, but didn't have the focus that I needed and only managed to produce a half-done portrait of Denise that still needs a lot of work. Martial Arts? A fair amount of looking, not much doing. Maybe this will change after cancer recovery, if I can rehab the back. Writing has been sparse and any minimal creativity seems to have been soaked up in the Thesis Process. Oh, yes, the Thesis ...
The History Thesis at Harvard is almost done. I know; I know. I've been saying this for a long, long while now, but now it actually seems to be true. I've handed in the 100 page draft (26,000 words and the longest thing that I've ever written) to my Thesis Director last week who will, I hope, give me a passing grade or he at least decide that I have to make more edits and prolong the agony. Either way, the process is coming to an end and just in time. I can't see anything that's on the page anymore. I've gone over it so many times now that I only see what I intend to put on the page and not what's really there. I need a very long break from it. The best break would be to declare it finished and revisit it in a few years to see if it's worth anything.
And finally we come to what will probably prove to be the The Big Event of next year. On January 21st, 2011, I become radioactive.
Over the course of the year, I have continued to wrestle with the cancer in my prostate (everyone needs a hobby) and, toward the end of the year, I determined that it was finally getting the upper hand and something had to be done with it before it killed me. After three and a half years of stubbornly wanting to do nothing, this was a change. So, the relevant question then was, as always, "What do I do now?"
I had consciously ignored any data relevant to the treatment question, since any energy in this direction could only be a waste of time and I was better off spending my time trying to figure out how not to get treated. Not only that, but anything that I researched was bound to be old hat by the time that I finally got to the place where I needed to know what was best. Sort of Just-in-Time healthcare decisions. Well, after seeing a rising PSA count and an MRI showing a mysterious "bulge" in the gland, I determined that it was time.
So in November and December I systematically went through all the treatment options that were available to me. Ignoring it was out — I'd seen Prostate Cancer kill my friend Bill and it wasn't pretty. Treatments were divided into surgery, and two different forms of radiation. Oddly enough, at 60 years old, I've never been in a hospital for a stay in my entire life and the idea of a difficult surgery doesn't really appeal to me, even if in some circles it's considered the preferred way of dealing with my condition. In the radiation category, we have external beam (which takes 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 7 weeks — better known as a part-time job) and then there's placement of radioactive seeds in the prostate (brachytherapy). The recent stats for brachy show it to be almost as good as surgery in terms of recurrence and the dreaded "side effects" that you're sure to get — urinary incontinence and impotence (or ED if you're watching those Cialis commercials).
So radioactive seeds it is. The doc says that the procedure takes about 20 minutes (they'll put me out for an hour or so to set me up and do it) and then I get to limp home the very same day if everything goes well. The part where I become one with the bathroom starts a couple of weeks after this and continues until it slowly stops sometime in the undetermined future.
So, It looks like I get to have lots of one-on-one time with the plumbing this winter before I come back to work. We'll see how it goes.
So, that's the way it is (as Uncle Walter used to say). At least, that's the way that it seems from here down in the valley looking for the sun to come back. As always, I am extremely grateful to all of you who have supported me in this adventure over so many years. The trip hasn't gotten any less interesting or, at times, any less weird, but that's what's made it enjoyable. And I couldn't have gotten this far without you. Thank you. Thank you, all.
As of today, the sun returns. We all start to move up toward the renewal together. Let us be hopeful and help each other along the way as we return to the light.