It’s the Winter Solstice here in Boston. And, yes, it’s dark. It’s been dark for a while now. And it looks like it’s going to be dark for a while more. And it’s not just the afternoon setting of the sun that’s the problem. The irrational and the immoral have come to rule the day over the past year here in America and, as a result, for many of us, the night is just a little bit longer than it has been on other Winter Solstices.
The Mad King is both an authoritarian and is narcissist and he’s in league with some of the most politically and personally corrupt individuals that could rule a government. Not only are they just out for themselves, but they think that this is what we all should be as well. In fact, this is the philosophy (if you want to call it that) of the whole ruling political class in Washington these days. It couldn’t come at a worse time.
They are ripping up the federal government (except for the pork barrel laden Department of Defense that doesn’t need the money) and gutting any sort of protections that common people have historically had for the past 80 years. This is done in the name of giving everyone “more freedom.” More freedom to be sick if you’re a child, more freedom to be homeless, more freedom to have your pocket picked by corporations, large and small, with no recourse to these actions.
And this is a problem since, as the old saying goes: “It takes a skilled carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can kick one down.”
The jackasses have been in power now for almost a year and all they know how to do is destroy.
Not that the federal government was a bed of roses before the axes started flailing. There was much wrong with the over-regulated state; it was inefficient, in places it was intrusive, and for the most part, it responded only to myopic short-term problems. But you don’t rip up your coal furnace in the middle of winter without an alternative because it’s been costly and smokey. And the US is in a place where it really needs to function because the United States is in decline.
After running the world for the better part of 75 years, places like the dictatorial China have finally caught up to us and are moving to surpass us in global leadership, and the current political answer to this situation is to pull up the draw-bridges and become Fortress America. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we don’t need anyone else and we couldn’t be more wrong. We are simply giving up on global leadership at a time when the globalization of the world needs to be moved in the direction of democracy. Not to mention that fact that when things start falling apart, that is exactly the time that you need to consolidate your forces.
None of this seems to be in bully’s playbook - just more posturing and insulting as a way to making the US seem bigger than it is as it slowly melts away.
And there’s more damage to come. The 2018 federal budget has not yet been approved and this will probably be the first time that people outside of Washington really feel the sting of large-scale budget cuts. The cuts will be massive and they will be justified on the basis that there is no money. Of course, there is no money due to the fact that the Oligarchs and the corporations were just given $1.5 Trillion dollars in tax cuts. (How much is a trillion dollars? Well, consider the fact that it takes you 32 years to live a billion seconds (including the time that you’re sleeping). A trillion is a thousand billion.)
As I said, things are dark. And if the Democrats can’t get it together to stop the slide later in 2018 so that they can retake at least one house of Congress, things are going to get darker.
These political events of 2017 have, to some degree overshadowed the personal events in our lives this year and have put a dark tinge on what has been a somewhat hard year over all. It has been a difficult year in the Spriggs/Wallace household as well, but for different reasons. Main among them is health.
As for me, different aspects of Old Age seem to be creeping up on me. Damn.
Late last year, I was diagnosed with Graves Disease - a hyper-thyroid condition that made be feel like I was in my 90’s rather than my 60’s. I’ve been treated for this for the past 14 months and things are going well with the medication that I’ve been taking. I’ve got another few months of gulping pills, and then we will see if things stay stable once I’m off treatment. So far, so good.
In the world of more minor (or at least less systemic) stuff, I had a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder (physical therapy did most of the trick until I’m now back to about 90%) and I had a fall in March that aggravated arthritis in my knees (too many years of falling down during Aikido class, I guess) and the rehab there is on-going. From walking with a cane in the spring, I’ve now progressed to the point where there’s minor pain everyday, but I can get around pretty well until my legs get tired. This has probably made me feel older than anything else this year.
In the good news, my Prostate Cancer numbers are good (as in zero) for the second year in a row and if I manage to keep it this way for another year, I can be considered “cured” after the 12 year drama. Good riddance there.
Denise’s old demon of Migraines came back earlier this year (at one point, one every other day) until her neurologist put her on anti-seizure medication that seemed to work. The problem with it was that it gave her a pain in her stomach, so she had a couple of months of playing with the dosage of the medication trying to be the benefit without the “side effect.” of gut pain. She finally worked it out, but she still get’s occasional headaches that are severe enough to be disabling.
As you can see from the laundry list of maladies above, a lot of energy this year has gone into retrieving and maintaining our health.
Besides this major focus, in my “retired state’” I’ve had two part-time jobs: House Husband and Almost Faculty Member at Harvard.
I’ve always hated housework (the result of having too much of it when I was a teenager) but I’m slowly (sloooooowly) coming to terms with keeping the house up while Denise works two jobs, takes in freelance work, and teaches workshops. It’s only fair, even if it’s not one of my favorite activities. I’m overly proud of the fact that I have managed to avoid watching the soaps and, most of the time, the dishes are clean.
The “real job” this year has been continuing with being a Teaching Assistant at Harvard Extension. Dr. Rick Wetzler and I try to teach the students how to do research and put a credible professional face on this research before Harvard kicks them out the door with a Master’s degree. Sometimes this is a challenge. But it is always interesting and I learn a lot in the process of going through student papers.
Denise still works in the Costume Shop of the (BU-less) Huntington Theater Company in the same physical place that it’s been for 33 years. The year consisted of parting the ways between the HTC and the University and eventually finding out that the new owners of the building would be giving a low cost lease to the Huntington for the theater building. (Thanks, Mayor Walsh.) This is a mixed blessing. The building is nearly 100 years old and hasn’t been touched in years. Good news: you have a home; bad news: the place is a wreck. One sees mucho fundraising in the HTC’s future.
Though the Huntington has parted ways with BU, Denise has not. She still teaches millinery and dyeing in the BU Theater Department. Only now she has to go across town to a new (and still unfinished) space in order to do this. The physical separation of work and work has made things logistically more difficult, but she expects that things will calm down once she has a permanent shop from which to teach.
Besides these two jobs, she also did a couple of workshops in Baltimore and Salt Lake City and a killer freelance job for the Pittsburg Light Opera Company (bonnets! bonnets! bonnets!). This all makes me feel very lazy given my householder status. I have not yet been moved to go out and find a job in solidarity however.
Marshall and Non-Martial Arts
Denise somehow finds time to draw and she’s going be a part of a group art show in February (Difficult Women). Not to mention the crochet projects she takes on.
I’m still swinging the katana in Iaido class under the supervision of Sensei Don Laliberty. Since the passing of Tom Putnam (how I miss Tom), I am now the most senior (read: aged) of the students (if not the best or highest ranked), so I just stay in the back and slash away as best I can, trying to not be a danger to myself and others. Sensei is indulgent of my lack of skill and balky knees, for which I am thankful. I seem to have gotten beyond the raw beginner stage (I can get the sword back in the scabbard on a regular basis) and am now firmly in the “correction of detail after detail stage” where it seems I will stay for the rest of my life. As Sensei Paul Keelan used to say, “Only a beginning; no ending.”
I made a major step in my spiritual life this year by becoming a formal student of Roshi Melissa Myozen Blacker, a Soto Zen teacher based in Worcester. After 40 years of sitting mainly by myself, I’ve take the big plunge to develop a relationship with a teacher and a community. This should be interesting. Lots of sitting still with other people sitting still in the future.
Let it be noted that my good friend of 50 years Dave Brennan exited this plane in May of this year. He had had prostate cancer for a number of years and his skein finally ran out. With the help of John DuBois and other friends, he managed to stay at home right up until a couple of days before he died. He was a cantankerous old poetic cuss, but I loved him and I will miss him.
Travel - Norway/Sweden
Given the health issues noted above, Denise and I decided that it would not be a wise thing to put off travel what we wanted to do for later years, so we booked a trip to Norway and Sweden so that we could see our old friends (it had been four and half years since our last visit). It was a whirlwind trip that we just returned from - four cities in ten days including a trip to Tromso (way above the Arctic Circle) to see if we could catch the Northern Lights. We were in luck in many ways. All the old friends are doing well (lots of grandchildren have sprouted since our last trip) and we did get to see the Lights for a couple of hours. (Pictures available) Good, but somewhat tough trip for me due to ice vs mobility issues. The Scandinavian countries are easier to visit in the summer.
In plain English, it doesn’t look good on a political level. Once this Tax fiasco is finally installed, I expect that the Republicans will try to come up with some sort of way of getting those ever so friendly corporations to fund infrastructure improvements (good luck there) and then they will go after entitlements (which have been a major target of Paul Ryan for years). The Mad King will continue the chaos that he’s addicted to and to try to install idiots to the federal bench (the recent ones only have a passing acquaintance with the law) and he will get some of them on. So, we will be stuck with these clown for years even if the administration goes belly up.
But, we know that there are roads back. Many of these roads mainly consist of the way that we treat each other on a daily level - our family, our neighbors, our communities, and our planet. Also, the roads back will depend on how loudly we object to being divided from our democracy. God will be in the details.
Should we lose the way in this process, then we have really fallen into the pit and, this time, there may be no getting out. The stakes are high.
This isn’t some sort of plea for an airy-fairy existence. This is about all of our physical survival and the survival of our humanity until such time that we can restore the balance and allow reason to govern us once again.
As a political observer for the past 50 years, I’ve never personally seen a worse time than this, but as a historian I know that the Gilded Age of the late 19th century was just as bad. The difference between then and now is that there is so much more to smash this time around and our place in the world is very different. And once you give up that spot at the top of hill, it’s very difficult to get it back. If we want democratic values to survive in the world, it’s time to get active.
As I have said, we get through this together or we don’t get through this. I have been an extremely lucky individual over the years in that people have been there to pull me out of bad situations in which I have found myself. I most surely wouldn’t be here otherwise. I write you every year to thank all of you for your support over the years and I mean it. I may be getting old, but my memory does not fail.Yours shouldn’t either.
Let us return to the light as best we can. Happy Solstice!