I am such a mess of contradictions that I sometimes wonder at how I've managed to put together a coherent life. Ritual has never appealed to me. And I specifically reject the kind called a funeral - I have incurred family enmity by refusing to attend my brother's. But closure I recognize, as not only valid for ritual, but deeply in demand of it.
Why not my brother's, then? Because grief, in my view, is a private experience, not public -- where we are as much involved in others' grief as our own, and where our own is compromised by the necessary interaction with others. Yet, the closure of a time, an era, is a passage that calls for a writing -- which calls, certainly, for a sharing. Go figure, as they say. This is me, in the flowering of contradiction.
And here we are, at a closure of major and compound dimensions. I am, quite frankly, at a loss of how to approach it. This is late - and I know, now, it will be lacking my accustomed inclusion of personal messages, for the second issue in a row - because it is my third full start on the venture, the others written halfway to completion! Don't ever suppose that writing, even for one with half a lifetime of practice, is an easy go. Not when something to be written demands respect. The problem, here, is that it's difficult to grasp, at a personal level. I find myself drifting, each time, into polemic -- the territory of the mind, not the heart.
Some of you out there, I know, think it not much of an occasion. Either for technical reason (the real millennium being next year, not this), or cynical (it's just another day, that we've created myths around). But I don't feel that way, on either count. Every boundary line is a creation of consciousness - this much is indisputable - but we do establish them, and they do provide frameworks of meaning for us, without which we'd be lost in a sea of quite unrelated developments. And as to whether it's this year or next, I think the significance of this year's turning is heightened by the twinned elements of the Y2K hassle and the excitingly remarkable circumstance of beginning our annular notation with the number 2. The symbolic significance is overwhelming.
But I am going to declare, for us, a year-long transitional observance! Such a major turning as this is simply far too magnificent to be handled in the instant or overnight of a single, brief celebration. The entire world should take a year's holiday from its bickering and money-grabbing . . . maybe they'd see some light they never saw before! Maybe they'd get a chance to think about what is really happening to this old planet.
That grand old Bible that is looked upon as . . . well, as "The Bible," by a goodly portion of the world's people - fought over, sworn by, killed for, and hailed as God's very own word, by people at each other's throats and pocketbooks - declares, in its very opening pages, the establishment of a "time out" from the work of world creation (which we are all involved in, if you think about it), for the very good reason that it's the only way of not forgetting what it's all about. So there is certainly precedent for a time-boundary observance by a time-out
It makes, of this approaching moment, a departure point, not an arrival. It gives us a consecrated year, in which to make that awesome transition - for nothing is ever discovered except in the vacuum created by what has been left behind. And we must actively work, with and within this vacuum, in order for that to happen.
So I shall devote no words, at all, in this issue, to what might lie ahead but concern myself only and totally with what has gone before, what is largely already dead, but for the lingering influence we are challenged to deal with, over the course of the approaching year. I'll take each of these concurrent boundary lines in turn, and together with my personal reflections, consider the legacy they leave us with -- to begin a process that will hopefully lead from closure to regeneration.
Yes, good riddance! You've torn me from my moorings, shattered my peace of mind, and all but made my age 72 a havoc. But I have survived you, by God! -- and am probably the stronger for it.
But it's not strength being proclaimed, in this moment of reflection - rather, a wish to come to terms with you. I'll remember you, as my years roll on, and remember you well! Probably with a patina of remorse, that you should have sped by so quickly (there's that old inconsistency, again - "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?"). I mean, there were too many things I just didn't have time for, this year.
A year plagued with intensities, right from the start, both personal and on the wider social scene. A double-dip pair of major concerns in my own world: I trapped myself in a Paul Revere notion of giving my fellow tenants some sense of what Y2K was all about, at the same time as the run-up to a residence upheaval was pushing me up the wall; while on the national scene, there were all those concerns revolving around the banalities of a president's sex life!
No script-writer could have possibly invented the reality that was ours, for the first few months of this year. We thought our minds had been boggled earlier in the decade, when a sex scandal erupted over the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice, but that would hardly qualify as an opening act, for the great Clinton Follies! What to make of it all, as it fades back into the historical fabric?
Well, I am tired of being shocked by sex scandals. For thirty years, now, we've been coming out of the 'Victorian closet,' as far as our sex life is concerned, and I am frankly welling to admit, by now - make a public declaration of it! - that I have a penis, and it sometimes (with increasing rarity, unfortunately) gets aroused -- and if it can happen to me, I am neither amazed nor particularly concerned that it happens to the man in the White House. I'd think him rather odd if it didn't! So what's the Big Deal? Fidelity, you say. Fine, it's their issue to deal with. The only problem I could see was the pack of blood-thirsty Congress-people, whose vicarious and unrequited lust side-tracked them from the work they were supposed to be doing, into the wild goose chase they gave us.
But I need to say more of the year as a personal adventure, than a matter of press releases. I want to get back to where I live - both figuratively and literally.
First, I worried about the whole tenancy of this program, and then got it down to just this building I'm in, and I soon found myself in the midst of an old factionalism here . . . and then everything seemed to explode into the building renovation. I was in the hands of a giant, using me as a ping-pong ball. Maybe it was all because this is an especially bad year in my cycle of seven - or it contributed to that - but, whatever, I've been pretty bummed out, over my involvement at any level with fellow tenants.
The difficulty is that there are good people here, and they continually want my support, and I am able to help them in certain ways . . . so it doesn't really end. But in the relatively peaceful aftermath of my year's upheaval, the contrast has really brought home to me how stressful it has all been. Thankfully, I've felt myself, in recent weeks, pulling clear of it, and I look forward to better prospects.
My best activity-related satisfactions came in the development of a very promising neighborhood preparedness group, in the several immediate blocks along our street -- so that I've gotten to know and interact with some really upbeat people, instead of the worn out and downside souls (not all, but most) that I live among. That, and the internet list of about 30 old and new contacts with whom I regularly share what is uppermost, along the ever-shifting Y2K frontier.
I had intended to participate in the WTO thing, but watching it on TV proved quite enough -- I think my activist days are done with; I'd much rather put my waning energies out in less draining and more satisfying directions. Heaven knows, I have enough activities and projects on the back burner, to fill however long a lifespan is left to me. So the year just past has felt transitional, in that respect - the proper capping of a transitional decade, next up for consideration.
This is a loss to be grieved. You were one of the last of my supply, I'm sure. Maybe even the last full one I shall have known. And you've been fairly good to me -- hey, you picked me up on a rejuvenating college bounce, and took me through the greatest adventure of my entire life, in that free-roaming year and a half across the seas. The world hasn't afforded me much more excitement than that, in my entire span of decades.
On the minus side was a rather difficult return and settling-back-in process, and losing a few illusions about old friends. Oh, yes, and being advised, in no hesitant terms, that public recognition as an author was not - and presumably never in my lifetime - to be mine. Not surprising, given the choices I've made, and I guess I can live with it.
But, gee, what a bountiful decade you ultimately proved to be -- bringing Joy into my life, along with the fulfillment, at long last, of a university degree - with a lot of side-glories attendant, the actual publication of a book (even if I had to do it on my own), with such artwork as still astounds me! And the providential cornucopia of such security - residential, medical, and economic - as I never thought I'd see again. You replenished my many-times vanishing library of books and records, and put me onto the world wide web - a magical access, the like of which was only a dream when first we met, ten years ago.
But your scorecard in the outer world is a little more problematical -- which serves to point up how the life one leads need not reflect the social norm - resources having little to do with it.
I see not much that I'd call a blessing, in the world at large, and none of it without a regrettable dilution. For example, here comes that fabulous World Wide Web, but hardly a year of it goes by, before marketing marches in, with the inevitable flood of gross advertising. What a pitiable shame! It harks back to what happened with other media, over the course of the century. But it was so uncalled for, in this development, in that the electronic propagation of information is 'cheap enough' that no subsidy was necessary - user patronage could have covered it.
But commerce just barged in on it, as it has invaded and taken over everything else . . . even, in this past decade, some of the formerly sacrosanct things like public radio and TV. (Speaking in whispers, here, so as not to jinx it)...that's why I treasure the continuing presence of libraries and universities - vestiges of a world where commerce was once the second-class citizen, not us sup-posed beneficiaries. But people sit still for it. I am amazed at how sheepishly they sit still for it! For all the good that TV provides, I'll not have one in my quarters, because I won't sit still for that mind-warpage. The BBC - after midnight, here - is my broadcaster of choice, because the British still have some decent sense, in their makeup, of where things belong.
Yes, old Decade, you've taken us a further step down the road toward an ultimate Marketocracy, wherein there won't even be the illusion of voting or representative government. (This is what the WTO was all about, if you were wondering.) I said I wouldn't talk about the future, on this occasion, so I won't belabor it -- but that's where the great pliancy of our media besotted citizenry is taking us. As we dull ourselves out, dumb ourselves down, to the steady drumroll of buy-messages, we not only permit but force its continuance, so long as competition is in the saddle. Only when we recognize advertising as a method of mind-control, and claim, as a people, the right to place limits on it, will we begin to reclaim the world that was once ours.
Hand in hand with that trend has been the continuance of a get-rich-quick motif in American life. It has risen almost to a frenzy, in the last few years, as it's become apparent that the web is a brand new frontier, in a land that thought it was done with frontiers a hundred years ago. As of old, nobody is barred from this gold rush, and as the swiftest and cleverest stake their claims, the rest buy into it with investments - dollar-signs a-glimmering on every fresh tech horizon.
Well, they can be my guest! I couldn't care less, except as it impacts the world in which I try to wend my quiet way. I've been 'wealthy' for a number of years, now, since learning how little I really need, to get along on, and how much a share of that can be had by 'working the system.' Plus a little of what is generally referred to as luck - but which is only a sufficient understanding of how things work.
But to those on a course of economic adventurism, I wish you well. Just send me a few lucky bucks when you make your first million -- which, by the way, will only buy you a couple of homes, today, if you're careful not to be too extravagant about them. Of course, if you can make a first million, you can make a second and a third, so don't let the inflation discourage you.
And finally, old Decade, a small nod of not-very-bewildered recognition that the so-called conservative element still drives politics in this country, just as when you came in - which fits nicely with all of the above. Way back in August of '95, in R/S #8, I ventured a prediction that conservatism would hang in for the full course of the decade, and it certainly has.
This is the Biggie, as far as I'm concerned . . . the one with most meat on its bones.
Hi, old Century! We've had a rough partnership, now - you and I - for almost three-quarters of the way you've come. I say 'rough,' because I've done my best to ignore what you've been doing to me, for the past few decades. I went against the grain; plus the fact that I don't age very gracefully. Kind of ironic, when I recall how I pushed on you, to get me older, quicker, when I was a kid; and how I wasted so much of the mid-life time you gave me.
I guess I had a hard time getting a fix on what it was all about. I shouldn't blame you for all of that, but the kinds of stuff you kept foisting on me didn't help much -- relocations every year of my childhood, a school system that never introduced me to the real basics . . . the inner stuff, you know. Sure, they're not supposed to mix church and state . . . well, they mix capitalist ideology and state, which is just as bad: setting me up as job fodder, before I knew what was going on. I was raised to believe in a system that exploits us like nobody's business -- for the benefit of every big business, which could as well be called the Holy Corporate Church!
I got sent to Hebrew School, for my actual religious upbringing. And what a farce that was! They clapped a yarmulke on my head, and tried to teach me how to read the language - as if that was going to give me a better handle on the world. Then came the day of my bar mitzvah, and I was subjected to the ultimate insult, for a budding free spirit, of not being permitted to deliver my own 'arrival' speech - I had to read one prepared by the Rabbi!
Well, I didn't know who I was, yet, but I sure as hell had begun to know who I wasn't!
I had no guidance that amounted to much, in those formative years. An attentive mother, sure, but no mentor of any sort who could broaden my outlook from the social constraints of a Jewish-family world and its clannish exlusivity. Growing up, there was nothing better to set my sights on than an ordinary working-class life - except, thank God, for what my incessant curiosity and adventurous instincts could stir up. And believe me, they did! But I was an outsider within my culture, from as far back as I can recall.
Going to college - San Francisco State - became the focal point of my life, in the late 1940s. And I met a girl, there, who provided everything I had missed, in the prior two decades. To this day, I consider Viv to have been a very special kind of person - far ahead of most, in the way she saw life, and the people around her. Able to perceive and bring out my potential as no one ever had. But challenging to me, too, in more down to earth ways. She brought emotionality into my world, in doses, and of variant kinds, that I couldn't always handle.
The third decade of my life somehow never got into gear - sort of like being always ready to travel, with no place to go. Viv and I hung out with each other for ten long years, before we finally got married - but it proved to be the wrong time, maybe the wrong thing for us, entirely. Accidents and major illness kept it from ever really getting off the ground . . . and we, ourselves, could never agree on where it should be going. By the time of our mid-30s, it began to look like life had passed us by.
I took another stab at college, possibly hoping to regenerate the spark, but it was like trying to get back into an old dream after once awakening. From then on, I was just looking for ways to break out of the marriage, for it was accentuating my dilemma, not resolving it.
For a brief time, magic seemed to strike, when I found my way into the world of computer programming. A hopeful fresh start on dreams that had fallen by the wayside. I was good at it, and found myself, for the first time, occupationally fulfilled by it. Which made it all the more crushing when this, itself, proved an insurmountable stumbling block, in the course of our marriage. It wouldn't provide the way of life that Viv wanted, which had more to do with country cottages than techno-futures.
So, old Century, you proved yourself my nemesis, after all! By putting me astraddle two entirely different eras, you broke my life in two halves, and wasted me the one or the other, depending on which outlook I choose to see it from. For I would not argue against Viv's perspective, today -- but by the time I discovered it just as strong in me, I realized also that I'd have to walk my own road, because there was too much awareness, with it, of never wanting to compromise myself again.
That resolve held, for a very long time, and still in some ways does. I was entirely out of the wage-world for 14 years . . . had no sufficient reason, for 16 years, to get back into computers . . . and for all of these 28 years since that day I walked, I've been free of the automobile yoke. But I've always kept my options open. Rigidity is not the hallmark of either self-hood or freedom, and at every step along the way I've found it useful to take a fresh look at what best serves me.
The top year, in my book, was 1969, when I first glimpsed a possible fusion between my own yearnings and the promise of a still vibrant counter-culture. That was two years before my ultimate break, but it's the moment I recognize as my actual rebirth; so the present reflective occasion also marks a 30th anniversary for me. I salvaged three good decades, almost wholly my own, from the seven provided me, which seems, in these times of indentured servitude to the gods of the marketplace, a fairly significant gain.
My personal take on the century, while it seems unique to me - and in detail most probably is - is also, I suspect, a kind of index to something of much greater scope. In the larger scheme of things, I was just one small fish among many millions, compelled to run with a river of time that took us through assaultive change. And while it's true that every generation must adapt to change, there are certain elements in what has come down, during this century, that give it a quantum distinction from what has been the norm for change in times past - and our century remembrance will not be complete without making some notation of this.
Change follows innovation -- it cannot be helped, for people respond to innovation like the level of water, everywhere along the line, responds to the opening of a spigot anywhere in the system. But when innovation, itself, becomes the plaything not of inventive or creative inspiration, but of deliberate manipulation, for an economic advantage, then we have embarked on something that can no longer simply be called the normal process of change. It is now a force-fed process, and this is what industry has learned to control and manipulate, in our century, to a degree and measure that people have never before had to cope with.
As yet, there are no built-in restraints on this. All of us have, in the course of this century, become as a caged bunch of mice in a testing lab, being stimulated by carefully placed electrical prods in certain so-called "pleasure centers" of the brain, to see how energetically, and for how long (before complete exhaustion), they will continue to 'play the game' of stimulus and reaction.
We are seeing an increasing degree of social breakdown as our century draws to a close, and it is not at all unreasonable to posit a relationship, here -- the critical link being that the urge to have, and to buy, ultimately reaches a saturation point, and its energy must turn elsewhere if the stimulus and provocation does not let up. As it stands, now, the only release valve we have is to escape the system. Few are willing or able to do this, so the internal pressure of forced innovation is a growing threat to societal stability. And it becomes a factor in any tension-releasing disturbance that may occur - such as the approaching Y2K thing.
There are trends, however, of a millennial nature, that provide a broader setting for the phenomenon just described . . .
With you, old Millennium, I have not much personal sense of connection -- which is ridiculous, in a way, because every element of my heritage is owed to you. Yet, a preposterous single digit takes the spotlight! And a onetime dream called the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Funny how much stock we all put in that, just a few years ago; and now, it brands me as some kind of social troglodyte, just to bring it up.
Well, you're the troglodyte, old Millennium. A lumbering, festering old thing that took half your span to pull us out of the Dark Ages. And then it got worse. On the cusp of that moment, a continent on this side of the globe was invaded, and a long process of territorial usurpation begun, seldom ever acknowledged as such until the last few decades of your reign. But there is hope for us, in the fact that we now can acknowledge it - though so much cultural devastation is still going on, around this war-weary planet, that I'm hardly about to give your Age of Pisces the credit for it.
It would be foolish to attempt any full survey, in this brief space, of what you facilitated, but if the present moment is to be understood, there are three elements that might be highlighted. Nationhood is the first. Vying with religion - and the earlier dominance of Rome, in both respects - the rise of state power was the preliminary to colonial subjugation and the race for world empire -- a motif on its way out, as we close this gate behind us. But one for which we've all paid a terrible price: in endless wars, with ancestral hatreds engendered over their course, that may take another century or more to stabilize, and free ourselves of.
The second, is Science, which has subtly become the Faith of a largely sacrilegious time. In itself, this might not be so bad, except that its 'priesthood' is for sale to the highest bidder (which was only partially true of the older religions), so that the idea of a value-free science is quite beyond attainment - though never beyond proclamation. The highest bidder has most usually been a military establishment (see above paragraph), though with increasing frequency it is becoming a corporate entity (see next paragraph). In a marvelous recent turn of events - which could only herald the imminent arrival of a New Age - science is being rocked from its 'holier than thou' fulcrum by a series of challenges that will likely reduce it to the mystique-free instrument of exploration that it originally was.
The third, is the rise of Commerce & Industry, originally for the perfectly good cause of a general human welfare - but lately manipulated for its power and wealth potential, in an upstart and quite successful challenge to the earlier dominance of both church and state.
As we exit your time of domain, old Millennium, an unholy merger of National and Corp-orate power, with heavy inroads to the popular press, has very nearly deprived us - the 'common man' - of the protection that each once offered, against the depredations of the other. Thus, it is a harrowing time for genuine human rights in this country. So my toast to you is:
Well rid of THEE, old Millennium, for I cannot imagine that anything less than your complete removal could serve the moment's immense needs.
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