It get’s dark very early in Roslindale at this time of year and, somehow, especially this particular year. There’s an air of disappointment, disorientation, and an underlying fear of the future that makes the dark seem more suffocating. And what makes life worse is seeing an assault on the 21st Century coming and the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it. Things have got to get better after the turn of the Solstice.
This is the nadir of the year and the light must return. At the very least, the light will allow us to see what we are going and what we have to deal with. It has been very difficult year. The light will be welcomed.
For those of us at 35 Amherst, it has been a year of adjustment and, for Denise, accomplishment.
After six years of work and many classes, Denise received her Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Boston University in May. This conferring concluded weeks of twelve-hour days where she completed literal masterworks in support of her development of a costume craft curriculum. And she looked very cute in her red robe at Commencement.
This year d. also received the Dr. Adrian Tinsley Award for Achievement in the Arts from her alma mater Bridgewater State University for her 30 years of working in the Boston theatre. This recognition was long in coming, but was very much appreciated.
This all happened in the context of big changes about to happen at the Huntington Theater where she has spent the bulk of those years. In November of last year, Boston University announced that they were selling the physical theater in which the Huntington had been producing shows in for the past 33 years and the University was also ending it’s association with the HTC. The sale of the theater was accomplished later in the spring with the buyers being a private group of real estate investors and a final separation between Boston University and the Huntngton to be concluded on June 31st of next year.
With some significant arm twisting, the new owners of the building were “encouraged” to provide the HTC with a lease for the theater proper (adjacent buildings to be torn down and condos will be built) which they did. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the HTC will be responsible for raising money for the very much needed renovation of the theater space and this will cost many millions of dollars. As to exactly this renovation will happen is anyone’s guess. It may take a while to fill up the piggy bank.
For Denise, all these organizational negotiations have been particularly uncomfortable since, for the past 25 years, she has worked for both organizations, teaching in the BU Theater Department at night while working for the HTC as their Chief Crafts Artisan during the day. She expects to be able to continue to do this, but it may take a while for the relations between the two organizations to heal and things to sort themselves out, creating a complex environment for anyone associated with both.
As for me, after two years of not being able to find “work” as the culture currently defines it, I’m still trying to deal with the disorientation of being “retired” and what that means for someone who has worked and supported himself and others since he was 18. After not being able to convince anyone to hire a 65 year old for computer support work for a year and a half, I finally declared myself “retired” on my 66th birthday this past June. Thankfully, two days later, old friend Dr. Rick Wetzler came out of the woodwork to hire me to be a part-time Teaching Assistant at Harvard Extension’s Sustainability Program, partially solving my existential problems. As in many times in my life, I wasn’t particularly seeking this out but it just sort of happened, which is a bit spooky, but I am very thankful to whatever cosmic forces allowed this to happen .
Rick teaches the “Capstone” course for the Master’s Program in Sustainability at Harvard Extension (among other things) and this means that we try to teach our “mid-career” students (out kids have an average age of 34) how to think clearly while doing action-oriented environmental research. Rick has had a long and distinguished career as a teacher and environmental scientist and me, well, I’ve been around and I’ve put many words on paper. We make a good team and I very much enjoy working with the students, who are all bright and want to save the planet in one way or another. Being back at Harvard after ten years is a bit strange, but I did get my old carrel in the Weidner Library back and this covers many qualms I might have.
Health, and the lack of it, has been the second main theme of the year.
Denise, who has been prone to migraine headaches for years, started to get into a headache cycle with a vengeance as she finished the Master’s work in May, with a result of her being debilitated by them every other day throughout the summer. This pretty much ate up her time away from the HTC for the summer season and finally, come fall, they started to back off. Currently, she’s having a headache about once every week to week and a half and is mostly managing to go into prevention mode as they approach - no picnic, but not debilitating like they were this summer. We’re both quite thankful for this.
In the late fall, I received good news on the cancer front - my PSA number is at the “undetectable” level, meaning that there is a very, very small chance of recurrence of my prostate cancer. One more year and I will be officially be pronounced “cured” and I can go on to other more interesting diseases.
Unfortunately, one of those diseases has already shown up. During the summer, I had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. By the fall, I was starting to get tremors in my hands and didn’t have the physical energy that I was used to having. Just old age? Possibly. But I wanted to know if there was something worse going on, so I checked in with the docs. After ruling out Parkinson’s, some blood tests revealed that my thyroid had somehow kicked into overdrive - I had what is called “Graves Disease.” And this was something that was starting to land me on the couch with pretty extreme exhaustion. There have been a bunch of other wonderful symptoms for the past three months as well (muscle cramps, sleepless nights, hot flashes, etc), but the main one was that I always wanted to take a nap. And that’s after getting up from a nap.
The good news here is that after two months of treatment, I’m starting to get my energy level back and my thyroid levels are getting back to normal. I’ve got over a year of treatment left and that means more pills but, heh, I’m an old guy - pills are part of the territory.
One thing that I’ve observed is that the older that you get, the more time and energy has to be put into keeping yourself healthy if you’re to have any chance of staying functional. Though this is a pain in the butt, this seems to be the price for having an extended time to be complaining about how you aren’t what you used to be.
MARSHALL AND NON-MARTIAL ART
D.has started painting again since she took another painting class during the summer. She’s progressed to the level of trying to figure out different materials work as well as what to put on the canvas. I like her stuff. If you haven’t already, you should check out her Facebook page to see what pops up.
In terms of my study of the Japanese sword, I seem to have gotten to the point where, most of the time, I can get the sword back in the scabbard after I draw the blade. So I guess that after 4 years I’m no longer a beginner in the art. Now I’m on that long, long plateau of learning that an art like this demands, and I’m looking forward to years of very, very slow progress. Luckily, my teacher, Sensei Don Laliberty is a very patient man and puts up with my struggles week after week.
As far as my art career, D. has been the (non-martial) artist in the family for this past year. I’ve been either too sick or too busy (yeah, I know - too busy while retired?) to keep up with drawing (something other than the sword). This may change with the new year though as things settle and I have more time being conscious.
This piece of the Annual Report has been rewritten in my head multiple times as we’ve gone through the loony election cycle over the last year. This process has been like trying to get a grip on a fistful of Jello. No norms of political behavior were left untrampled this year and this made it difficult to see where we are going. If what is below seems a bit jumbled, I plead a jumbled situation that I’m analyzing. I sincerely hope that this will not effect my career goal to replace David Brooks at the New York Times.
As Robert Reich has written, the American public is about to be on the receiving end of the Largest Bait and Switch in US History. Somewhat less than twenty-five percent of the American electorate wanted change and they picked Trump to give it to them. They are certainly going to get it (as are the rest of us), though it is probably not going to be the change that they thought they were going to get. No one along the way seemed to remind these folks that, no matter how bad things are for you, not all change is good and they could have been a bit more discerning in their selection of a Change Agent.
Currently we are presented with a struggle for control of the Republican Party (Conservative elites vs. Trumpistas) and a large fight within the Democratic Party, who have their own corporate masters to worry about. Factions of the Repubs will eventually control the government (which one is unclear) and it is also unclear if the Democrats will be able to mount an effective resistance to a standard or wonky Republican repressive agenda. Domestic governmental resistance will undoubtedly come from further down the governmental ladder in some states, cities, and issue-based communities and this will slow down the process of Kansasifcation of the country as a whole. Limiting the damage will be the hallmark of politics on the Left for the next four years as it was during the St. Reagan Administration.
On the Presidential agenda side, things continue to be murky since Trump still has not given specifics about any program that he will install (and if he does, he has no compunction about contradicting himself in the next breath), but now, with the start of the appointments process, things are starting to take shape. Looks like what we will have is Billionaires and Generals - both of which have a propensity to authoritarianism though of different flavors.
Since Billionaires have all that money, they obviously know what’s good for all of us and Trump as loaded his cabinet with them. Here he is cutting out the middlemen of those the political class. With the election of Trump, the Billionaires probably feel that they don’t need these politicians anymore, they will run the country themselves. However the Trump Assumption that if everyone gets a certain amount of money, everything will be okay may be a necessary, but not sufficient state to cure what’s wrong with the country. I doubt if the Billionaire Buddies agree with me, but we will see who is right soon enough.
America’s quest for simple answers to complex problems brought on by corporate America’s 30 year denigration of government through their primary political arm, the Republican Party, and Right Wing talk radio is now bearing fruit. We will see how well the Corporates work together in the federal bureaucracy environment. My guess is that it’s not going to be a happy arrangement.
The Corporates may find that things are not as easily manipulated in the public sector as they are used to in the private. People in the Federal bureaucracy are not so easy to command as those that you control by holding their jobs over their heads like the sword of Damocles. And there are many more factions with more interests involved than they are used to and the all Holy Pursuit of Profit is not the only metric by which you measure success. I expect that many of these people will not last for very long and will be replaced by other economic acolytes. Large-scale turnover at the highest levels will not make for the most calm policy formation environment.
The doctrinaire Cultural Conservatives also seem to be carving out a large slice of the Cabinet and this will create havoc in the country as they will no problem with jamming retrograde policies through the Congress since God is on their side. The Billionaire wing generally won’t care about the cultural aspects of America, only their ability to make more and more money and will not object until it starts of effect the bottom line. This will take a while.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that nothing can probably be done to stop the damage to the country internationally, where Trump will have a free hand approaching delicate negotiations with a sledgehammer. We can only hope to be able to pick up the pieces once he’s gone. Let’s hope that some of these pieces are not whole European countries that have been turned over to the Russians.
So it looks like we are going to have a rough four years as the Repubs battle each other, the Democrats, and us while trying to turn back to the clock to a 1953 that never existed. Resistance to this process is going to be necessary to limit the damage to our environment and our lives. The cultural progress of the Obama era is not going away. Women are not going back into the kitchen, gays are not going back into the closet, and black lives will continue to matter. The world has changed for the better over the past decade, and this part of the genie is not going back in the bottle. That’s at least some good news.
Then there’s The Donald himself. He may think that he can break all the rules, but he will eventually find that there are some rules that have legal backing, not just norms and tradition that he can flout at will. This will not be a happy time for him. He may think that, as President of the United States, he can do whatever he wants as he always has but, I’m afraid, he will learn that he is sadly mistaken. Eventually he will piss off people who have the serious ability to fight back, probably many people, and with his famous thin skin and his whining Twitter account he’s going to be spending more and more time on defense. I doubt that he will like this.
At the very least, Trump will probably eventually lose the support of the people who put him into office, simply because he won’t be able to deliver what he promised them. What happens when all those “poorly educated” people figure out that they’ve been conned and how long does it take for them to wake up to this fact? He will undoubtedly blame everyone else for this fact when it does happen, but this tactic will not also not hold up for long. He will discover that Harry Truman was right - the buck really does stop at his desk. At some point, he will be accountable to his base, the only question is how long it will take. You can’t tap dance forever.
In a larger sense, the plain fact is that you can not hold out against history forever. His constituency may want to go back to a mythical 1950’s that they have imagined, but they will ultimately be unsuccessful. The flow of history will not allow this. The only question is how much damage they will be able to do before they are despondently swept back into a 21st Century that they despise with the rest of us and it is not clear what they will do as a result. What happens when you’re parallel universe deflates?
Can you run or even live in a country based solely on anger? If so, for how long? We seem to be poised to find out. For us who would oppose the Repub agenda, our biggest challenge over the long run may be finding something to be for rather than just so much to be against. Can we avoid the contagion?
My Magic 8 Ball says: Don’t know. Try again later.
It is true that we don’t usually know what’s in store, but we all don’t know even more than usual given the political situation in the country. This can be disconcerting in the extreme. I try to remind myself that it doesn’t make sense to get upset about stuff that hasn’t happened as yet. Not only is it a waste of energy, but it may very well get in the way of an actual effective response. Besides, I have a feeling that there will be enough to be upset about fairly soon.
And so the wheel of the wyrd turns again and the light returns even after this disaster of a year. And, though without a doubt, the wyrd is going to get weird and we are reminded by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson that” When the going get’s weird, the weird turn pro.”
Time to buckle up, boys and girls. I have the feeling that the next couple of years are going to make 2016, as grisly as it was politically, look like a Sunday school picnic.
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Wallace-Spriggs, the goofball cat, also reminds me that there are many times during the day where it is appropriate to take a nap.
And before I close, I would like mention that, besides tough times politically, this was a year where we lost a number of people important to us and this is also the year that we in the martial arts community lost Tom Putnam from the Iaido mat. A kind and gentle person, Tom and I were the senior members of the class. Not that we were particularly skilled in our swordwork, but Tom, who trained hard at an advanced age, was an inspiration to us all. He went unexpectedly and, mercifully for him, quickly. We miss him. I miss him. The mat is and will not be the same without him.
As always, a heartfelt thanks for helping us getting us through yet another Winter Solstice. We couldn’t have done it without you. The light always returns. It is good to remember this at the nadir of the year.