N O T E S F R O M T H E C A F E F I A S C O
Volume 10, Number 0 - December 2004
ANNUAL REPORT - Winter Solstice 2004
Smudge the Fuzzy Cat was much better about jumping on the bed in the morning before the change back to Standard Time in late October. Previously, he would demand to be fed on the stroke of 6 am when the clock radio snapped on, but since October he's gotten the idea that whenever he wakes up is the time that Dad is fair game. And since everything is dark, no matter if it is 4:30 or 6:00 am at this time of year, he has no clue to go by except his internal clock.
But it is that time of year. The Winter Solstice has come around again on the Great Wheel (Year 36 in this particular cycle for me) and things turn dark early in the evening and stay dark longer in the morning making things even more internal than usual, even for us internal characters. It is the Winter Solstice and as I've done for the past ten years now, it is time to attempt to make sense out of this bubbling, buzzing batch of confusion that I have been incarnated into and report the findings to you.
The General State of the Spriggs
The General State of this Spriggs is pretty good, though it has been a rough year in some regards. With the death of some significant senior figures in my life over the past couple of years comes the increasing weight of the fact that I will be turning 55 in the coming year. Middle age is slowly starting to wane and the inevitable question is up ahead waiting for me: Did I do everything that I could have done, consistent with my responsibilities toward myself, my family, and the planet? Did I piss away the incarnation? For the "first half" of the game, I'm feeling pretty good, but here post-halftime things are not so clear. Thankfully, the final resolution of the question is some time away (at least I hope that it is) and I've still got some time to mull this over. However, I don't think that the question is going to go away.
Events of the Year
As alluded to above, many of the significant events of the year have to do with death of some type. In April, my Aikido teacher of 23 years died in his sleep while in Toronto to teach a seminar in a dojo in which I once practiced. Mitsunari Kanai was not only someone who was an extremely accomplished martial artist, but a type of beacon and anchor for many of us. He taught me to me to trust the techniques that he taught more than my muscular power, to look inward for the technique and not outward, and to look forward, not back. I'm sure that he had many other lessons to teach if only I had been able to progress far enough to understand them.
Bessie Touloumtzis, the sister of my foster father, died this past year. Bessie and I were not what you would call close but she considered me part of the family and for this I have always been grateful. She went quietly after a long series of illnesses with people who loved her around her. We all should be so accomplished as to have generated this amount of love to have it come back to us on the way out.
This year was the 20th anniversary of the death of Dan Brennan, former roommate and tribal brother. After all this time, I still miss him and that laugh of his.
And this was the first time in 3 years that he's been gone that I got up the courage to go to the golf tournament in the honor of my old friend Bill Irving that was held as a benefit for the school where he once taught. Bill's spirit wasn't there at the tournament, but it was very much still in the little house that he and his wife built nearby in western Connecticut. I last saw him in this house, where he died, and it had taken me all this time to summon the juju that I needed to go back again. It was a hard thing to do, somewhat like losing him again, but I'm glad that I did it. It was the next step in the reclamation of his spirit.
Like death and taxes, there will always be a Harvard. At least Harvard thinks so. Not being content to run the world by way of running the United States, the University is prepping to eliminate the middleman and recast itself at the undergraduate level to better serve the emerging global ruling class. This seems to involve the systematic jettisoning much of what made the place livable for people like me and turning the University into something closer to IBM. Three years ago, President Larry Summers came in with a mandate to clean the place up and he has not wasted a minute in making it the very image of the modern major general .. er .. research university. He started at the top of the pyramid and the "reform" effort is about to hit the programmatic level where people like me live. As you can imagine, this news has not tickled me Crimson.
Universities are run by people who have dedicated years of their lives to developing specialties in things like Egyptian hieroglyphics and then decide that it would be fun to run very large, very complex, organizations. Sometimes this actually works. Sometimes it drives people like me, who are tasked with making things work in this context, more than a little nuts. It certainly is sometimes interesting explaining to people like this how things like computers actually work. Of course, now that everyone has a computer, people don't really care how they work, they just complain a lot when they don't, which is all the time. And this makes life interesting for people like me.
The Social Life
Slowly but surely, I can see myself turning into the archetypal fussy old bachelor who lives in his little apartment with his books and his cat. I do seem to spend a great deal of time these days by myself talking to the cat, trying to convince myself that I'm not by myself and not just talking to the cat. This is a bit worrisome. Fortunately, the cat only occasionally talks back and doesn't spend a lot of time upbraiding me for what I am not, except, of course, when I'm not feeding him quickly enough, and he's even then he's relatively forgiving if I come up with the goods. Is it a sure sign of being a fussy old bachelor when you start to prefer your pets to most people?
My struggle with the arts (martial, visual, academic, and literary) continues. I've moved into a new stage with Aikido as my foundation of basic techniques is available to me (most of the time) and I now have the ability to play with variations of technique as the opportunities present themselves. This is fun and makes me feel like I can actually be creative in the art that I've spent so long studying. My Ba Gua and Tai Chi practices have been put on the back burner for the moment while I concentrate on reading tons of History books in pursuit of a MA from the World Greatest University. They come back next year after I get a handle on certain period of World History.
The visual arts progress. The draftsmanship is getting better and the next major hump is color. I haven't quite figured out how to do this yet, but I guess that's the work in the next year.
Writing? I'm trying to be more disciplined. Expect more words in the new year. Some of them may be intelligible.
Of course, arguably the most important event of the year was the re-election of George W. Bush as a genuine Master of the Universe. The best summation of the election could be found on the front page of the Onion newspaper right after the election: "Poor Half of Nation Elects President for Rich Half." It was not a pretty sight to see the Democrats bumble their way though the campaign as John Kerry took polls about what he should feel while Karl Rove and Darth Cheney successfully worked on convincing most of the Midwest and South that there was a terrorist behind every bush.
My biggest disappointment was not in the candidates, but in the alleged citizenry of the United States - they treated the whole exercise like they were voting for Homecoming King. Folks, you may not like government, but that doesn't mean that if you ignore it it's going to go away. Somehow, a significant percentage of The People disconnected from the fact that there were some pretty serious issues in the balance. But one of the small problems with democracy is that people get the government that they deserve. Obviously, we don't deserve a very good one. If a lot of people weren't going to die as a result, this would be funny.
On Not Connecting the Dots
Speaking of not connecting the dots, one of the most important examples this year has to be climate change. While Bush and the boys somehow think that the free enterprise system is going to straighten everything out, a consensus of scientists all over the world has determined that climate change is indeed coming (or, in fact, is here) and it's now only a matter of how bad it going to be. While George makes brave Texas statements like "we will adapt" when asked what he's doing about the change, Florida gets hit by four hurricanes in one season. Is anyone connecting the dots on this? Is anyone in MSNBC Talking Head Land talking about the report last month that says that the Arctic is not only melting, but it is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet or are they discussing the critical issue of whether we can play Christmas music in shopping malls? Is anyone talking about investing in wonderful oceanfront property in Lexington? I don't see it. What's it going to take to make these people wake up? Something that will make them have to "adapt"?
The Future - At Least My Future
Not wanting to be left in the cyberdust, yours truly has done the domain thing (http://www.mtspriggs.com) and opened up a weblog for your dining and dancing pleasure. It's been a while figuring out what goes on the site and what goes in the journal and what goes in these missives, but I think that I've got it straight now. There will be a certain amount of overlap, but I'm reserving the email list for things that are a little more thought out (as much as any of this writing is thought out) and the blog will mainly contain more off-the-cuff material and NCF archives. At least that's the plan for the moment. I reserve the right to continue to figure out what I'm doing.
So, I'm okay. I'm aging and uncomfortable, but that's okay. I'd like to think that this means that I'm alive and paying attention. It is the time of year when the ancients lit fires in order to bring back the light, even though they knew that it was the bottom of the cycle. We in the United States have no such assurances, but let us try to create as much light as possible anyway. As I type this, from here at the top of the hill I can see a yellow-orange winter sun slowly rising over the City of Boston. Let us take solace in the fact that this event happens day after day and that the great cycles still support us. The light returns. Let us attempt to spread it between and among ourselves and others over the coming year.
Smudge and I wish you a happy and healthy Winter Solstice season and much love and thank you for your support that has gotten us this far.
The Light Returns. Let us put our trust in this fact and spread it as far as it will go.
"Notes From the Cafe Fiasco" is written, edited, and electronically published whenever the Muses allow and demand. Misconception, writing, and production are supervised by the spirit of the 13-pound fuzzy Perfect Master - Koji Spriggs and his vocal successor Smudge. Unsubscribing is easy. Send a note to me and I will take you off of the list. No problem. If you wish to continue to receive this poor excuse for wisdom, do nothing. But remember: not to decide is to decide.
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Marshall T. Spriggs
email@example.com; (617) 666-1571
One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to
practice the Art of Peace.
Heaven is right where you are standing,
and that is the place to train.
- Morihei Ueshiba