Downside: No one under 40 listens to anything you say.
Upside: You therefore can pretty much say anything you like.
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
Some children's stories are not children's stories. (****)
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall: A Novel
Tough sledding to get through, but brilliant in spots.
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)
If Hunter Thompson was a foodie. (*****)
Elizabeth Moon: Command Decision (Vatta's War, Book 4)
Good basic space opera (***)
Orson Scott Card: Ender in Exile
Boring in spots, but sprinkled with diamonds of writing. (***)
Timothy Ferriss: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Tim's a little crazy, but there's lots to chew on here in the area of questioning your basic assumptions. Good for that if nothing else. (****)
James Ishmael Ford: Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen
Middle section reminds me of Genesis (begat, begat, begat) but the best up-to-date (2001) explanation of how all those Zennies got here. (****)
Soko Morinaga: Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
Delightful book about a Zen master's progression. (*****)
Linda Greenlaw: The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey
Nuts and bolts of swordfishing from the world's only female captain. More fish than polemic. (***)
Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Best book on interior of writing I've read in quite some time. Great advice for we the writing afflicted. (*****)
Got the mail yesterday and opened a nondescript envelope from MIT. It was a check for $98,000 (the roll-over from my pension headed to my IRA). But you know, this sort of thing doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it should.
I don't get to see the sun come up very often these days - even on those days that Harry the Cat gets me up in what seems to be the middle of the night to feed him his breakfast. This is one of the benefits of not having a steady job and one of the ones that I've enjoyed the most. But I do get to experience the sunset coming much too early and the night coming to stay until I finally go to sleep deep in it's depths. And though I enjoy the quiet of the dark, I have to say that I am looking forward to the sun cycling back from the Solstice that we have on our doorstep. It's mid-winter and it's time to look forward to light and back to what has happened in the Spriggs/Wallace household over this past year.
There's no two ways about it: it's been a weird year.
First, there hasn't been much in the way of work for yours truly - at least any of the get-a-regular paycheck variety - since being kicked in the teeth by my upwardly mobile supervisor at MIT over a year ago. I wasn't the only victim - over half of my former colleagues have left or have been replaced in the "IT Transformation" that has been happening over there on the river this year. This fact and other evidence has led me to the conclusion that it wasn't just me that was the problem. Somehow I and most of my co-workers were in the way of the new bright future of IT at the Institute and therefore Madam Defarge decided that I and others had to be dumped over the side. Such is life in the big city – go corporate or go home.
Normally, this would mean that I would have to go right out and find another job. I have good credentials since I’ve been doing it for 20 years. But I am being forced into the conclusion, after of year of resumes going to some sort of HR blackhole, that the world doesn't seem to want a 65 year old desktop support person. It's a young person's game and I have probably gotten too old to be hired in the field where I have carved out a living for the past 20 years. So, it seems that it is again time to reinvent myself - a task that I have never looked forward to and one that I am only now, after somewhat recovering from the faceplant of being fired, am only slowly coming to grips with. What do I want to be when I grow up? That damned question again? I haven't had a good answer since I was 10 and I wanted to be an astronaut.
In the meantime, I do freelance work that I stumble upon, I'm spending down savings that I stockpiled for just such an emergency, and I wait for June when I can file for full Social Security and re-establish a positive cashflow as a pensioner. As always, Denise continues to work too much (working, teaching, thesis, freelance) and this holds up more than her end of the operation, so we're okay. I now only mumble about money periodically instead of constantly.
While my worklife has become somewhat of a blackhole, Denise's worklife has become overwhelming, as well as a living example of a "don't know" state of mind. In November, out of nowhere, Boston University, which had been in partnership with the professional Huntington Theater Company (HTC) for which D has worked for over 25 years, decided that the physical theater, that BU owned and the HTC worked, had become a much too valuable piece of real estate not to cash in on and they were going to sell it to the highest bidder. (They put it on the market the day of the announcement, actually.) They had already rejected an initial offer from the Huntington for a mere $25 million and, while they threw the HTC a bone by saying that they would not sell to anyone who would evict the Huntington before June 2017, sell they would. Given the current real estate situation in Boston, a significantly large plot across from Symphony Hall would bring in many dollars that would help them expand their empire.
So, what happens to the HTC? Maybe they could find more money to offer BU? Maybe find another college or university to be associated with? Pass the hat for contributions at Fanueil Hall? No one knows. Or, if anyone does know, they ain't sayin'. But it does look like if the HTC doesn't come up with mucho cash before some developer does, it may turn into a traveling company, if it exists at all.
All of this tends to make the current staff of the Huntington (including Denise) a tad anxious. Not to mention the difficult position that it puts someone like Denise in, who works full-time for the HTC yet has taught for the Theater Department of BU for over 20 years. Of course, like most of the teaching faculty at BU, she's an adjunct, a member of the new academic proletariat, so we could never live on just her teaching alone at this point.
All in all, worklife (or the lack of one) has been difficult for both of us this year. If I was looking forward to happy retirement in Florida, living on a golf course somewhere, and drinking beer with the boys of the bowling league, then it doesn't look like this is about to happen. Luckily, I wasn't looking forward to this.
Weight/Heart/Diabetes - In the absence of control of a significant part of my life (see above), I decided that one of the things that I could control is the number of calories that I put into my face everyday. I had been teetering on the edge of clinical obesity and the ill health that comes with it for a number of years and it was time to pay attention to what was looking like a health disaster in the making. This evaluation was later confirmed by a visit to the new health care professionals (I moved to D's health insurance after leaving MIT) who looked at my glucose numbers and EKG. Diagnosis: clinical diabetes and a heart problem associated with long periods of high blood pressure. Seems like my job was killing me.
Not good. Treatment: lose more weight and put even more emphasis on a proper diet. And so I put the hammer down on what I had been starting to do already. A medical visit a month ago showed that, after losing 29 pounds over the past year, I was back in the normal range for diabetes and my heart function had improved so much that it was better than it was 5 years ago. Now the problem is keeping the weight off, which is a new and slightly different problem.
Cancer - Five years out and the numbers just keep getting better. I won't be considered to be out of the woods for another 2 years, but so far, so good. Cancer has left me gifts that keep on giving, but I’m still alive.
D - Denise started the year working on recovering from a shoulder that she broke in October of 2013 falling on a wet sidewalk. This went well (after 6 weeks of being out of commission) since she was quite disciplined about doing her physical therapy and now she's back to full strength.
With the success of the shoulder, she decided that it was time for her to deal with the meniscus in her left knee that had been bothering her since she tripped over Harry the Cat two years ago. The fact that she was waking up a night with pain in her knee helped move the decision along. So at the beginning of the month, she had the knee cleaned out. She was on the couch for a few days (mainly trying to recover from the effects of the anesthesia) and now she's walking around without pain (and doing PT exercises three times a day).
So, we're all better off in the health department than we were last year at this time. The only recurring problem is that Harry the Cat has developed a fondness for eating plastic that then makes him throw up. We're trying education, but I don't think he's listening.
Iaido - I continue to study Japanese Sword drawing with my indulgent Sensei Don Laliberty every week. I've been on the mat for three years now and I've gotten to the point where I can get the sword back in the scabbard most of the time, so I guess that I would no longer be considered a beginner. Now I'm on the long plateau toward not being a danger to myself and others. Another 20 or so years and I might get good.
Drawing/Painting - I haven't been doing much in the way of visual art this year. There have been drop-in life drawing opportunities, but I'm so rusty that I really don't like what I produce. So, I guess the message is that I either have to really focus if I'm going to do this or I shouldn't bother.
Writing - You're looking at it. The Annual Report is the longest and most complicated thing that I do every year. Yes, I still consider myself a writer, but I'm one that doesn't produce much. I wish it were easier, but for the last 50 years that I've been doing it most every day, it just hasn't been. I don't expect this to change.
Every year I give my take on the current political situation. I could fill quite a few Annual Reports with what's been going on in the Presidential race this year, but I'll try to boil it down for my Solstice audience.
Republicans: There was an interesting study that came out of Princeton this week about global life expectancy. The good news is that almost everyone on the planet is getting healthier and life expectancy is going up, with one exception: White Americans in the their 40's and 50's. They seem to be killing themselves with suicide, drugs, and alcohol and, as a result, the life expectancy of the whole cohort is going down.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are your Trump and Cruz voters. We've been talking about the disappearing middle-class in America for quite some time now. We all know the figures - no raise in middle-class pay for the past 35 years, cost of living going off the charts, 45 million people in poverty (mainly white, by the way), all the growth in a sputtering economy being directly sucked up by the 1 percent on top. But the figures have real ramifications - personally and politically - and we're just at the beginning of seeing people be so alienated from a political system that has done nothing for them that they will run into the arms of anyone who promises them simple solutions to the complex problems of their lives and their country. Can't find a job for a couple of years? There's always drinking to ease the pain or going to the Ted Cruz rally where he'll tell you that he'll fix it all if you just vote for him. And, as if there isn't enough to be afraid of, where you're wondering how to avoid foreclosure on your house, pay for your kids college, or where the next meal is coming from, these people are more than willing to jack up your fears to get you to vote for them. Trump and Cruz are the current beneficiaries of this strategy of playing to the Desperate, but there isn't one person running for President as a Republican that isn't using the same political tactics. It's tried and true. Let's remember that demagogue is a Greek word and they knew all about them from times BC.
Desperation cuts across all political lines and is the new factor in American politics, just like it was in the 1930's in Germany.
Democrats: We all know where Hillary is at. She continues the tradition of Clinton corporatism (all you have to know is that she once was on the board of Walmart) and she (like Bill) will probably not be a great President. But she's also probably not going to get us into another war if she can help it since she's not on the "recover past glory" meme that all of the Republicans are. I can't say that I'm excited about her becoming President, (first woman or not) but at least I probably won't have to leave the country.
Sanders speaks the truth of what's actually happening and is mostly supported by those who are not invested in the lies of the past - youth. This, however, is his problem - the truth usually sucks. And there is the assumption that you should actually do something about it once your know it which can be a turn off. After many years of research, I have found that people in general, and Americans in particular, not only have little appetite for the truth and they have a nasty habit of killing the messenger. Despite this, Bernie has already had a salutary effect on the campaign by making Hillary deal with at least some of the truth, the question that I have is whether he will continue to be a positive influence after Hillary (most likely) wins the nomination.
Speaking of not dealing with the truth, how about this ecological one: throw enough crap somewhere and bad things happen? This principle includes the atmosphere, by the way. And despite the people who refuse to believe the above basic principle, there now seems that the truth is starting to bubble up to the people who make policy. This is good news, even if what they agree to do is much less than what is required to save the planet, parts of the human race, and a large part of the planetary flora and fauna. Many of those with short-term interests still will attempt to block us from long-term survival for their short-term gain. This will not change despite the mounting evidence of floods, tornados, massive snowstorms, and drought. But maybe it will change enough for us who like the planet the way that it is to keep the really bad stuff from happening. Maybe. We'll see.
The veil between this world and the next seems thinner this time of year for me. Added to the ghostly visitations this year is my old Aikido teacher Paul Keelan who succumbed to a many year battle with Alzheimer’s in March. For over 20 years, his was the steady hand of my ongoing practice to find out more about myself and others - the real heart of the martial arts - and I miss him and others that have helped me along the way that I can no longer see, but deeply feel, this time of year. I've been a foster kid since this date in 1964, when a phone call told me that my mother had passed on and nothing would ever be the same again. And it hasn't been. I thank all those that have helped me through. It is a sad fact of life that the older that you get, the more people you lose. This is the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.
It is at this time of year, when the sun is at it's nadir, that many of these people who have kept me alive all these years come back to me. And, of course, there are many still with me who have done the same. I thank you all. I am particularly grateful to all of you and I want you to understand that I hold all of you in my heart everyday, not just on the Solstice. Everyday I seek to justify your faith in me.
I'm finding that the aches and pains of getting old are real and seem to be cumulative. I have a bad knee and a cranky back. I have more Solstices’ behind me than before. But that doesn't dim the wonder of the turn of the year. We all have challenges, but hope, like the light returns. We all have each other and remembering this at the darkest time of the year is what the season is all about. We move forward into the light.
Thank you all. I remain your not so obedient servant.
Marshall T. Spriggs
As you know, Paul Keelan has made the transition to teaching Aikido (and life) on another plane. All of us will miss him until we catch up with him at the new dojo. However, though he has gone, there is still a couple of housekeeping matters left to deal with:
1) Memorial - His daughter Laine has had his body cremated and he currently sits in the house that they both shared over the past couple of years in northern New Hampshire. Since he had no friends in the area (except for some people in the local diner that he, of course, managed to charm even while not being able to talk), Laine decided that a full wake/funeral didn’t make much sense. All of his friends and family are in the Boston area, so it would seem to make more sense to have some sort of memorial here. Laine and I agree that the fall is probably the best time to do this.
At this point, what shape such a memorial would take is very much up in the air. If anyone would like to help us define and organize such an event, please let me know and we can start to move toward something that is worthy of his legacy.
2) Money - Joji Sawa told me that it is a Japanese tradition to send money to the bereaved family on the death of a member of the family. This would especially be appropriate now as a personal memorial to Paul. Lanie was not able to work during the winter into the spring since Paul needed 24 hour care and, as a result, she is flat broke - they were living on Paul’s pension checks and now those have disappeared as well. People have been very generous over the past months in keeping the both of them going. Now I would ask that you continue to be so for a short period while Lanie gets her feet under her. She’s got a rough transition to go through (and she has to find a job as well) anything that you could spare would be very much appreciated by both of us.
3) Me - Last (and least) there’s me. People have been quite sweet expressing their concern for me over this final stage of Paul’s illness and I very much appreciate it. I’m really okay. I don’t like death much, but at my age you do grow somewhat used to it, even the death of someone who was as important to me as Paul.
I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed the role that I’ve had in Paul’s illness for the past few years, but it had to be done and I knew that I could do it and, most of all, that he deserved the effort. Oddly enough, I haven’t “practiced" Aikido in over five years (bad back) but nothing in the previous 25 has made my feel prouder and closer to the community than the response that all of you have made to Paul's illness. I knew when I first walked into the dojo in 1981 that there was something special there and it’s good, after all these years, to have that feeling validated by the concern and the generosity of all of you during the past five years.
There really is an “Aikido Community” and we take care of our own. You have no idea how good this makes me feel.
If you have any questions about all of this, please let me know. I will keep you informed about Memorial preparations as they develop during the summer.
Thanks for your love and support.
I assume that the sun still comes up over Sacred Heart Church on the hill over looking Roslindale Village these days. At least, I think that it does. Part of recent changes is that I’m no longer on the commuter rail platform to see it rise. I tend to stay in bed more these days and this is part of the cycle of change that we have experienced this year. Where we expected large changes over the next couple of years, as usual, the Universe did not comply with our schedule. There’s been a lot to deal with this year going into next.
The biggest changes of the year for the two of us have been in the area of health. While my recovery from Prostate Cancer seems to be good and steady. PSA levels continue to slowly decline and there’s no sign of recurrence), Denise has had a tough year on the physical plane.
Denise tripped over the cat right after we got him late last year and tweaked her knee. After the knee getting better and then worse, she finally went to the doctor early in the year and found that she had torn the meniscus in her left knee. She had done it in a manner that it couldn’t be fixed by surgery. In other words, she has to learn to live with it (and do a lot of physical therapy).
Her knee was just starting to feel better when, in October, she was walking on a rain slicked sidewalk and her feet went out from underneath her. Trying to protect her balky knee, she twisted to her right side, umbrella in hand, and went down on her right side In the process, she ended up breaking her upper arm into her right shoulder which is her dominant side. As breaks go, it wasn’t a bad one, but it did put her on the couch for over a month and out of work for 2 months (she has a physical job). She’s now back at work, but still doing PT every day and probably won’t be back to 100% for months.
While Denise is slowly getting back into working after being out for a while, I”m getting used to being without a regular job for the first time in a number of years.
What’s clear is that my employment was “terminated” by the IS&T Department at MIT. Why I was fired, is not so clear.
After being encouraged to apply for a promotion to a Level III tech (I was a Level II tech) and after going through 5 hours of interviews, I came back from vacation rested and rejuvenated and found that not only did I not get the promotion, my competence as a Level II tech was being questioned (though not by my immediate supervisor). It seems that my tech skills were not considered to be up to date (though no one could tell me exactly what I lacked) and worst of all, I was told that I didn’t didn’t play well with others in IT (besides the fact that it was pretty impossible for me to do so due to the way that my work was scheduled). When I complained that there were structural problems since I was in the field all the time and not in meetings, I was told that “all the other techs have to do this, you have to do it too.”
Then I was put on a 4 month “Performance Improvement Plan” (PIP) with regular “check-ins” to see how I was doing. The Plan included writing down everything that I did to interface with the rest of IS&T, areas of tech that I had to learn (which I suggested), and keeping the number of “incident tickets” that documented what I did every day up to sufficient numbers. And for 4 months, I knocked the Plan out of the park. But whenever I had “check-in” meetings, what I did that was positive was discounted as something that was expected from a Level II tech, while I was warned that though I was doing well, I needed to keep this up after the PIP had ended. Obviously, the check-ins had to do with what I was with identifying what I was doing wrong and without something wrong to point to I was going to be warned about things that might go wrong in the future.
At the end of the PIP, I expected that we would sign the happy paper and I would go back to work, but it didn’t turn out that way. At the final PIP meeting, I was informed that one of my new clients didn’t think that I was doing such a spiffy job (even though this was a new client who I was just getting to know and who had expressed no dissatisfaction directly to me). This meant that the PIP was going to be extended another 6 weeks. During this period, another new client found me to be “condescending" and "difficult to work with.” (I’ve been called many things over the past 60 years, but it’s been a very long time since anyone has called me “condescending.”) Again, the client expressed no dissatisfaction to me directly. The coup de gras was when the Head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences that I supported expressed his problems with the IT department in an email. I guess that I was the whole IT department, because this meant that there was a “pattern” and I was shown the door.
Though no one seems to have investigated the claims or expectations of my new clients beyond their initial complaints, (my one old client - a research unit dealing with climate where I spent half of my time was very happy with me, but not consulted in this whole process), they claimed that they were “forced to let me go” because no one seemed to like me. When I proposed that they move me to half-time and assign me to the client who loved me, I was told that this was impossible for administrative reasons. So, it seems that MIT, the harbinger of the flexible future, couldn’t change a full-time job into a half-time job.
Does this all sound like a setup to you?
At any rate, my blood pressure is now down around where it should be and I’m starting to look for other work. Should you know of any appropriate for a old condescending computer tech, please let me know.
Before the rough fall, it was a good summer, capped by a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to see our friends Bernie and Frances and the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Frances and Bernie are field biologists and were kind enough to be our personal guides to the Yellowstone ecosystem. It was an intense and wonderful four days in the park. We saw pretty much everything there was to see: Bison, Elk, Deer, Wolves, Badgers, Bear and more types of wild flowers than we could shake a stick at. Of course, there were also geysers and hot springs and mudpots. We even, during breakfast on the day we left, got to see a Mama Moose with two babies 20 feet away out Bernie and Frances’ backyard plate glass window.
The other major travel for the year was a trip to New York in September for the People’s Climate March. We went down on the bus and met 400,000 like-minded people in a fantastically diverse display of concern about where we’re driving the planet. The most heartening part of the whole thing was the level of organization that was 1) superb, and 2) done mainly by people in their 20’s. For those of us who have been at this environmental stuff for a while, it was great to see that the youngsters are even better at organization than we ever were. While the survival of the species is far from assured, it’s good to have a reason to hope.
Denise’s freelance business has been steady and growing this year. She has been working for more touring and Broadway productions this year (including having a hat show up in the front on the New Yorker) and is working with more and more high level designers and getting to do more design in the process.
I have continued to swing the katana twice a week under the tutelage of Don Laliberty and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not obviously dangerous to myself and others. This is progress. Iaido is not something that someone usually takes up in one’s sixties, but I figure that I’ve got maybe another 20 years to work on my technique since the masters of the art all seem to be in their 80’s.
This Report would not be complete without my views on the current state of the country. My sister, for one, would be very disappointed at the lack, so here it goes:
After the disaster of the mid-term elections, it seems that Obama has finally come to realize that the current political reality is that the involvement of Congress in anything that he wants to do will go nowhere. So, he might as well just go ahead and do what he can do within the limits of his Executive Authority. He has little to lose - the Tea Party is not going to hate him any more than they already do and they still run the the Republican party in the House - and if what he does may be undone by a future Republican President, then at least he’s able to put his policies into effect for a while before they get there.
If this is the case, then we’re probably going to see Barak move to the Left than the more centrist position that he’s taken over the past 6 years. Yes, Tea Partiers, he’s actually been a centrist and not the heir to Lenin that Fox News would have you believe that he is. You can expect to be even more upset with Washington as you have to try to actually implement policy (doing things is more difficult than just stamping your foot and shouting, “No.") and you can expect to have a President that is going to do what he thinks is right without consulting you.
Then we have the Presidential horse race for the next two years. Hillary is going to be tough to beat on the Democratic side since she’s spent the last year locking up all the sources of money that she can get her hands on (something that Elizabeth Warren seems to understand) and, Jeb Bush is probably sufficiently crazed to satisfy the Crackpot Right enough to get the nomination for the Forward Into the Past Party. Looks like another Clinton V. Bush contest in 2016 at this point. Can’t we find new people for out of control billionaires to fund?
Don’t know. Don’t know even more than I usually don’t know.
It is the undiscovered country as Bill Shakepeare said. We’re suddenly not on the schedule that we planned. But it is what makes life interesting isn’t it?
This is my 20th version of this Annual Report and there have been lots of up and downs during this period. I started writing when I had just come back to the US from Norway, pretty much broke and unemployed. I now find myself almost but not quite in the same position, but the ride in the interim has lead through Harvard, Boston University, MIT, single life, and married life. Through several martial arts, learning to draw, sitting on my butt for hours at a time trying to get the drunken monkey of a mind to calm down. I’ve lost what seems like many people along the way, but I’ve never lost the circular sense of the year’s progress or my gratitude for being allowed to get as far as I have.
The light returns (even if I’m not there to see it every morning) and my gratitude to you all never fails.
Thank you! I bow with palms together.
I expected that today would be a strange day. After all, it was the first day in 6 years that I didn''t have to worry about computers other than my own crashing.
So, I slept relatively late, did some things around the house and then took off for MIT. I had set up a lunch with a colleague who works on the campus last week and I had stuff to tend to that was left undone when I was unceremoniously defenestrated last week. After lunch there were people to talk to (you probably won''t be seeing me around much), banking to be done at the credit union, blood to be given at Medical to finish up a set of tests before I enter the Great American Health Care maze, and minor shopping at the Coop. By 4pm, I had run out of errands to do, so I left and went home. Nobody cared.
Not being the perkiest of people in the morning, I've developed a well-worn routine to getting myself up and out of the house in the morning. This assures that I'm fed and I have clothes on my back before I join the rest of the happy commuters headed into Boston. Part of the routine is eating my breakfast while checking email and looking around on-line for any things that might come out to bite me when I arrive at work.
Yesterday morning I had a browser up and was starting to type something into the addressbar when Firefox gave me a selection of possibles as it does, and the top of the list was the obituary of Lydia Touloumtzis, my foster mom. Late winter brings thoughts of Lydia for some reason - maybe because she was even more of a Yankee than I and she would have urged us on through the end of the New England winter and told us to stop whining. Lydia was always full of good advice.
So, in a moment of rememberance, I clicked on the obit links and there she was, smiling back at me from her 20's. And then I saw the fact that she died two years ago today. More than a little spooky.
It doesn't seem like she's been gone for two years. Her presence certainly hasn't been dimmed by this amount of time. Maybe she was just checking in via Facebook?
It was a long and warm fall this year here in the Hub of the Universe. It almost seemed at times like winter was not going to come. But, of course, it did - really just over the past two weeks. The first major snowstorm coming just in time for the Winter Solstice. So, as I look across Roslindale Village and over toward Mattapan while I wait for the commuter train that takes me to MIT, I mainly see shades of white. The sun is up, but won't be for long. By the time I leave the buildings that I work in for home in the afternoon, the sun is long gone. It's somehow happened quickly this year, but it is clear that we are at the end of the sun cycle and the year. It is time to look around and see what happened this year.
The first thing that everyone who hasn't seen me for a while asks me is how I'm feeling. I'm happy to report that besides that though I seem to be getting older than dirt, I'm just fine. Coming up on three years after cancer surgery and, so far, there is no sign of it coming back. I've still got a couple of years to go before they pronounce me officially "Out-of-the-Woods", but so far, so good. I've even lost a little weight this year (too damn little, but that's another story).
Denise is enjoying, at 52, the fun that comes with being a "mature woman." Things don't heal quite as quickly as they once did, suddenly the room can become uncomfortably warm, an you have to balance the effect of medications for minor illnesses so that the side effects don't turn into major illnesses are all part of the on-going hormonal shift thing. Nothing unusual here (even if it is annoying at times) - just part of the day to day the juggle of keeping going.
In fact, this year seems to be a time where we're worried about other people's health more than our own. We've got one senior suffering from Alzheimers, one friend dealing with brain cancer, and another diagnosed with my personal favorite, prostate cancer. People are getting parts replaced, people are dying, and people are hopefully recovering. All of this seem to be a larger part of life of late.
On the upside, we finally got to fit our honeymoon into our busy schedules this summer with a two and a half week trip to Sweden, Norway, and London. Denise had never been to any of these places and I hadn't been there in over 15 years, so the trip was all new for her and somewhat new for me. It was a good trip, but no one could mistake it for relaxing.
After a quick stop in Iceland (not a place to hang when it's midnight and raining), we landed in Stockholm at 6am on June 5th with the usual amount of jet lag (bad) and tried to find our way to where we were staying via public transportation. Unfortunately, the signs were in Swedish making this easier said than done. But we got there and spent the next three days trying to figure out which of the bizillion islands that make up Stockholm we were on.
Denise got to reconnect with an old friend that she hadn't seen since high school. Hakan and his wife Kinna made us a beautiful lunch, introduced us to their boys and Hakan then gave us a guided tour of Uppsala, which is not far away from where they live. Uppsala is one of the oldest university towns in Europe and it was great to spend part of a day in the middle ages while meeting new/old friends.
From Stockholm we took the train to Oslo, Norway and then to my old stomping grounds of Fredrikstad. We spent a week in Norway alternating between catching up with two different groups of old friends (Egil and Sissel and Jorun and Per Erik) and, in the middle, taking a trip across the country from Oslo cross-country to Bergen via glaciers, fjords, trains, taxis, buses, cars, and ferries. The feel of Norway has changed a good deal since I lived there 20 years ago - it seems more materialistic, diverse, rich, and more a part of Europe than I remember. Ah, but it's still one of the most beautiful places I've ever been - that has not changed.
It was tough to leave Norway, but London was calling (as the Clash once said) and we packed everything we could into the three days that we were there. As fast as we went, London went faster. London wasn't laid back the last time that I was there, but someone seems to have turned the speed dial all the way up to eleven while I wasn't looking. Somewhere around the second day, I realized that what the city had become was New York with an overlay of Boston. We did our best to just stay with it.
We managed to make the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Covent Garden, Westminster Cathedral, a play in the West End, a fabric store, and (of course) a couple of pubs. I think that I'm still digesting parts of the trip.
You can take a look at where we went by going to D's photo stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dwallacespriggs/
On the family front there were some significant entrances and exits this year:
Exit: BB King Wallace - the Queen of Amherst Street - had her body fail her after 17.5 years in the early spring. She was a beautiful cat and a worthy heir to the lineage of Koji and Smudge, her predecessors. She was a calm presence in a sometimes not calm environment and she brought a certain emotional depth to the household. We miss her.
Entrance: Harry - By fall we were feeling that it would be good to have a fuzz ball in the house again. Harry found us by way of a group of women who monitor feral cats in the South End. He obviously was not feral (he liked people too much) and wouldn't have survived for long on the street, so we took him in to foster him and then he immediately took over our house. He's a young cat (probably about two) and he's got a lot more energy than his parents. He's also very stubborn and he and his Dad are having some issues about knocking things off of the coffee table. Stay tuned to see who wins (but don't put money on the fuzz ball).
Final Exit: Bill and Patsy Wallace - Hard to believe that we've been without D's dad for a couple of years now and her mom for more than seven. We still miss them. It's amazing how many times Bill comes up during a week. This July we did his and her final internment in a veteran's cemetery on the Cape. It's a beautiful place. I hope that they enjoy it there (when Bill's not jiggling my elbow with a ghostly joke that is - he's still good at that).
MIT - After five years at MIT, work has finally become just work. Not an adventure. Not a method of personal expression. Just work. And that's okay. And it better be.
Huntington Theater Company - The fall season started early for D as she spent the month of May in Chicago working at the Goodman Theater on a production of The Jungle Book. I fumbled around on my own for a month trying to figure out what exactly I did before we moved in together. By the fall, the Jungle Book had come to Boston and was such a big hit that it ran an extended run at the HTC. What this meant for D was fixing broken monkey tails for most of the fall.
While we were in Sweden, the Huntington was awarded a Tony for the best Regional Theater in the US. D didn't get to go to the party, but she did get to have her picture taken with "her" Tony.
ARTS (Martial and Marshall)
Iaido - As I reported last year, after 5 years of behaving myself, I've gone back to studying the martial arts, in particular a Japanese weapons art called Iaido (the art of drawing the sword, cutting, and returning the sword to the scabbard). After more than a year of being really dangerous to myself and others, I've finally gotten to the point where most of the time I can get the sword back in the scabbard at the end of the exercise. This is because of the fine instruction that I receive from Don Laliberty. I figure that I may have some of this elementary stuff down in another ten years or so. At 63 I may have to reconsider taking up arts that take 30 years to get good at.
Drawing - I had a chance to chance to brush up on the Latin that I didn't take in high school by taking an "Anatomy for Artists" course this fall. I learned that the knee bone is actually connected to the leg bone and that there are a hell of a lot more bones in the human body than I was drawing heretofore. Good class, if not actually "art." Some day I might even be able to draw a hand that doesn't look like a club.
My sister would be disappointed if I didn't lambaste some political people during this Annual Report. So, here we go, Nan.
At this point in the history of the Republic, the Tea Party Right has actually achieved it's goal of eliminating much of the federal government. It's still there, but it just doesn't do much anymore. And the Republican's plan is for it to do even less. The strategy is to go after programs like the Food Stamp program.
In Tea Party World, people get to starve so that people who haven't missed a meal in the past decade can then lecture them about how they are freer for not having government assistance. This is their version of freedom. Especially for those hungry little kids who are undoubtedly feeling freer calorically. The Tea Party argues that voluntarism will fill the gap once the government goes away. The Food Stamp program was just cut $5 billion. Did you notice a great number of Republicans at your door asking for money for the hungry lately?
So, they break the government and then use the fact that the government doesn't then work as an argument for why people shouldn't support it. Of course it doesn't work; they just broke it. These are great tactics for promoting the interests of the super-monied with the about 20% of the American populace is just stupid enough to buy the argument. It also builds on the feeling that middle class people have that the government doesn't work for them (which has much more to do with the fact that all the wealth from "increased productivity" (read: they're working harder) is not going to them. The Right has convinced them (by constant repetition) that the reason for this is that all the wealth going to the poor, but it's really going to the super-rich - the people that the Right really work for.
Of course, not all the problems have been on the Right. Barak (being a managerial type) has tried to "manage" the country for the past 5 years. Unfortunately, he's attempting to manage people who are not on the same planet as he is (and don't want to be) and so, they are not easily managed (delusional people almost never are). So his approach didn't work. He's now trying to change his tune but I don't think that he's going to get much of anywhere. He's going to manage himself into oblivion. The Democratic Party as a whole? Useless (with notable exceptions like Warren and Lahey). At best, they keep very bad Republican stuff from happening.
As you can see, I don't think that the political situation is going to get much better very soon. The economy will recover weakly (there's not much middle class left to buy the goods that a decent economy would put out) and the Republicans will content themselves for the next thee years with trying to continually repeal Obamacare and in deciding who's pure and crazy enough to be their candidate for President. The media (into the usual horserace approach to reporting), will show us another crop of yahoos who will embarrass themselves and us as they run for President and will also avoid real issues like poverty and climate change.
I suppose we can hope that the Republican Party will self-destruct like the Whigs did in the 1850's. See, there's always hope.
It's the end of the solar year - a time to reflect on the challenges and blessings that we have received over this period of time. For twenty years now I have taken this opportunity to assess and communicate with you my dear supporters and friends and this never gets old. Life is continually surprising (in good and bad ways) and I can deal with it by the knowledge that the you folks are there if I need you. You have been there for the past twenty years now and the forty-three before that. I can only hope to be as kind to you as you have been to me. Thank you.
The sun returns. Slowly, but surely. May the coming year for you be as that sun - slowly returning to the summer of light. A round process on the round ball that we all share.