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