(in place of a)...RIPENING SEASONS

a Winter Solstice letter, 2001

Dear Friends...

This is not a Ripening Seasons, just a seasonal letter to stay in touch and let you know 'where I'm at.' I am at wintertime, of course, just as you are -- but maybe a bit more so, as I am deep in the winter of my life. Or maybe not any more than you, for I have heard from enough to know this is a hard winter for many. Maybe it has more to do with the nature of the times, than the season of my life.

At any rate, these are rainy days and dark nights, for me, any way you want to take it. Not the sort I can readily put into a Ripening Seasons framework -- though I've supposed I could and had meant to, until we were well into December. But I can't really find a topical theme for it. And something else is missing, that I'd be hard put to define.

Sure, the theme could easily have centered on the massive turn the country has taken, and maybe I'll get into some of that before this letter is done -- but really, haven't you been plastered enough with it? Would another jaundiced view help?

It is hard for me to tell, any longer, whether my jaundice owes more to public events, or to what has been going on in my personal world. If ever a case could be made for inseparability of the two, I think mine would make the grade. Personal and public matters seem impossibly entwined, in this winter of my travail.

About the other 'missing quality' that deters me from a Ripening Seasons, at this point . . . Whether it always came through, or not, an outgoing and assertive thrust, for life itself, has powered all of my writing, and I am just not feeling it this winter. Right up to and into October -- even after things had begun to sour -- I was wrestling with life in a positive fashion; but then I found myself on a deepening tailspin course that held me like...well, like a dance partner suddenly grappling for balance, and finally taking me down with her!

Really, it has felt like that. And if one considers that Ripening Seasons has been the verbal reconstitution of an ongoing dance, I couldn't make it happen from this ungraceful position on the floor. So you will have to settle for a seasonal letter, and one toned rather darkly, at that.

The year, just about from its opening, was high for me -- several active themes, any one of which would have made for a positive and memorable year . . . the push for a community center to happen alongside our apartment building, the new edition of Innocence Abroad, a projected ocean journey to South America -- Good God, how much could a guy fit on his plate?

But as the year progressed, each of these menu items got hung up in the kitchen, by one crazy means or another. Two of them are still in limbo: the community center, for which we wrestled mightily with my old adversary, the Seattle Housing Authority, and were given until June 1st to come through with a financially adequate plan, but it hasn't yet received a 'go' or 'no' resolution; the book, submitted and paid for on Earthquake Day, Feb 28th, and scheduled (perhaps innocently) for a Fall debut at a local book fair, is not yet in my hands!

The ocean voyage, of course, got scrubbed on May 17th, when Joy was diagnosed with cancer -- putting a whole other agenda into motion. She has come victoriously through it, so the year is not entirely a downer. I guess we both grew, through our respective processes in it, but it was growth -- thank you -- that might more happily have been left out of our lives. Incidental to the loss of my anticipated journey was a return-flight cancellation cost of about $800 -- not entirely legitimate, I might add, but of a sort that I am powerless to fight.

It is only fair to add to that recital that the year brought me a substantial consolation prize. Three giant red volumes now sit on one of my shelves -- the 2002 edition of Who's Who in America -- and midway down the left-most column on page 5276 is my 13-line biography. Not the longest, by any means, but certainly not among the shortest. [Note: I am not going to give my fat ego the additional satisfaction of reprinting it here, but if anyone insists on having a copy of the actual page, it will be sent on receipt of a SASE.]

By midyear, of course, my world was still in an upbeat mode. Except for the uncertainty of Joy's cancer condition, nothing had pulled me down from my high-altitude energy stream. I saw all developments as merely running their expectable summer course. However, they never resolved, by August, as is normal for a year's progression. And then, something entirely unexpected joined the trajectory.

My wife of 30 years ago, I learned, was in a Bay Area nursing home, after a sudden and rapid deterioration. I won't go into the complications of this, but word of it arrived as a complete surprise, for we hadn't been more than six months out of telephone contact, over the past decade -- even though I hadn't seen her in the fifteen years since I departed Berkeley.

An older sister was looking after Viv's immediate needs -- thanks be, for it isn't within my capability to do so. But that has had little to do with the feelings brought on by the situation. The question uppermost, for me, was whether I should go to see her, to offer what comfort I could. Not to mention some sort of closure between us, for it didn't seem like she'd last for long.

In this present world of serial relationships and easy (if not always gentle) partings, it may be hard to understand the kind of attachment that came along with a bonding of the 1940s. We were never able to break it clean, to move on with any satisfying closure -- just possibly because we had been best friends and companions for so long (10 years) before we made the mistake of marrying -- when compatibility issues take on a different hue, and take precedence over things like love and attraction. It became a rocky road for us, and a plague of continual ambivalence for me, personally -- which didn't end with my departure.

It's all water under the bridge, now . . . but the creek flows again, when a development like this comes along. Do I go see her? And how do I cope with the feelings, whether I do or don't?

A journal entry from mid-July tells me that my original reaction was to stay clear of it. I am a coward, when faced with such a certainty of emotional upheaval; I would rather handle sorrow and grief entirely in private. But as it happened, a Bay Area trip was already in prospect for late October, centered around a high school reunion. Maybe it was the shake-up of 9/11, I don't recall, but somewhere along the line, I put a visit with Viv on my week's agenda.

I'd been warned by her sister that I wouldn't easily recognize her, she was so shrunken and wasted. But even the warning did not allay the shock of it. Not only her once familiar features had vanished, but even her ability to communicate in more than a few occasional, often incoherent, words. It was unexpectedly painful for me -- is, even yet, in retrospect, as the recall does not come without an awareness of how sensitive Viv would be to the harshness of such an environment, from which there was now no escape in prospect.

I promised her I'd find a small personal radio with headphones, that might enable her a slight degree of removal from the larger environment, into such gentle music as might be available. I brought it a few days later, and then promised to fly down again, as soon as I could.

I managed a second trip down, about six weeks later -- early this month. An affordable flight just popped up on the computer screen for me: round-trip for $85, including all extra costs -- all the more surprising in that it was routed both ways (between Seattle and Oakland) by way of Los Angeles!

But nothing happens without a reason -- or at least, a meaning that can be drawn from it. On the final flight leg coming home from LA, I was at first disappointed by the near-solid cloud cover that kept me from seeing very much of California from 35,000 feet. But the 'curtain' opened briefly as we flew over Yosemite, and I had a clear view of Glacier Point, where long ago was a rustic old Lodge -- the kind you can't find anymore -- where Viv and I once stayed, in happier (unmarried) times. It was a small coda to the better level of closure that was effected between us, on this second, and very possibly final, visit.

It was too late in a too-active year, for such a large energy outlay -- not so easy anymore, in one's mid-70s -- and I had to attend to a sudden rush of physical ills when I got home. Some had begun before this second flight: a heel spur has developed on my left foot, and the hearing of my left ear seems to be fading out on me. Other problems came with the journey: intestinal stuff, and a rather scary series of tachycardia episodes. One of my eyes is giving me enough trouble now, too, to recommend the use of an eye patch if I am to keep reading with the other.

So it is a narrowing season for me -- almost a surprise, in view of the high energy year coming into it, but it only points up the problematical aspect of a winter in life's own winter. Without taking the time to be precise about it, I think I'm just beyond my life's solstice point -- this may be a 'double Christmas' coming up for me, in that sense, and the combination is weighty enough to override my septide season, which is just on the threshold of a late-life summer. I am anticipating, thereby, another good year ahead of me, though it may not have the springtime potency of the year just past. But I'll not complain. It's probably just as well, and I assume that my physical ills will ameliorate -- for awhile.

All in all, though, I seem on a definite track to more sedentary ways. The aging process is a remorseless conditioner, like it or not -- and while specifics may be different for each of us, the great clock continues to toll, and to take its toll. So don't put off the things you really want to do. Think of that old song: "Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think..."

My own future focus is primarily on writing, and that primarily on memoir material. If Ripening Seasons is to resume, it may very well revolve around memoir. I have no more stomach (as they say) for current events. And I think I want to say a bit about that, before getting this update letter off to you.

As may be true of many of you, I have very mixed feeling about what this country is present-ly doing. Terrorism, which is the unconscionable random targeting of a civilian populace, for political ends, has run rampant for too long, and has earned a cleansing. I'm not the least sorry to see this undertaken; and I recognize it has to be a dirty job, however it is done.

That being said, however, for this country to embark on it with a sense of nobility is some-thing of an obscenity, on the very face of it. We are as deeply implicated in the root structure of terrorism as any of its high-profile practitioners. The very term, "ground zero," so liberally applied to what took place in New York, originally referred to the target point of our own horror attack on a civilian population in Japan, for which we have never registered the least official remorse or contrition.

Our avoidance of such recognition, then as now, has fostered our continuing indulgence in activities directed toward the destabilization of other countries, including many activities that we often call terrorism and war crimes when done by others.

Our handy rationalizations for such things may satisfy the popular American conscience, but they do not allay the hatreds that arise, as a reasonably expectable result, when the lives and sensibilities of others are transgressed. Thus, the harvest we reaped in September. And proximately thus, the futility -- nay, the hypocrisy -- of preaching forbearance and under-standing, cease-fire and negotiation, to hotly contending adversaries such as Palestine and Israel, when we leap, feet first and missiles at the ready, ourselves, on a retaliatory course in response to our own tragedy.

So I am totally unimpressed by all the self-glorification called patriotism, which is only the further evidence of the issues we refuse to deal with, as a nation and as a collective people.

But for me, at my present stage of life and given the concerns I have made my own, over the past three decades, it goes deeper. Part of the reason I broke away from my earlier course in life -- the one that most folks think of as 'leading a responsible life' -- was that being 'responsible' was at long last seen as antithetical to my own well-being. I finally came to see that I had no real influence on what was going on in my world. Yes, I could relocate, I could change jobs, I could buy a fancier car . . . but nothing in that range ever altered the basic set of constraints under which my life was playing out: 40 hours a week (and more), 50 weeks a year, entirely devoted to (pre)occupations of no consequence to my inner world, whatever.

In the most scary but most salutary act of my life, I did a total turnabout from that world. And my life began to have coherence, once more, and to make some sense to me -- even though it was a total negation of what had always seemed responsible, to me.

Well, something has come full circle. I find myself once again in a world that has come to feel oppressive. It's a different kind of oppression this time, though in common with the earlier one it still revolves around a sense of responsibility somehow gone haywire.

Responsibility now stands for for trying to make a difference in the world; standing up for a few ideals that might make the world a better place, or even this small island of it that I occupy. Things like community and goodwill, fairness and sharing -- and non-violence, of course. Things like humility and moderation, like acceptance, and even taking a back seat -- or standing while others sit. A world where neither fear nor greed are motivating influences. A world where what I happen to have is not only all I need, but quite enough of it.

These have been my guidelines for the past thirty years, and they've done well by me -- I've no complaint in that regard. As guidelines, they really work. But as platforms for a soapbox, I think I've had my fill of it.

You see, I thought the world was turning -- even ever so slowly -- in that direction, and I put my shoulder to the wheel, to help it along. I wasn't fazed by the time it took, or the lack of tangible reward for my effort. Virtue, you know, is its own reward. But I did expect to see some observable progress, however small. I mean, the ever-rolling stone of Sisyphus, with its aura of total futility, has never appealed to me as the model for a project, or a life. I need to know I am part of a movement, not a standstill, much less a retreat.

It did seem, for a long while, like it was happening. But the past couple years, I'm afraid, has shattered my optimism. The faux election, the Supreme Court fiasco, the certitude that fully half the electorate (well, 49.99999 percent) were fully satisfied with what eventuated, the obscene haste and totality with which George W (King George II?) began to impose his ideology and the total craven collapse of Legislative resistance to it . . . and then this National Patriotic Prostration, genuflecting to his every Proclamation...

Oh, no, my friends, any thought that we were slowly changing consciousness for the better has gone down the drain. It will stand as the sorriest illusion of my life. A life whose remaining years, be they few or many, are now dedicated to personal satisfaction and little more.

I'm not able to tell you what might change as a result, for I've always included personal satisfaction among my motivators. It doesn't reside in what I might add, but in what I might subtract from the list of motivators, and that will remain to be seen. I do know that the urge to social activism is past history for me. That's a trail of constant disappointment and frustra-tion, leading only to bitterness. I've done my share, and finally want no more of it.

If this turns out to mean the end of Ripening Seasons, then so it will be. But I'm not going to make that prediction, at this point. There are still many things to celebrate, many things in life to write about, beyond the endless obscenities of the political scene. If the country wants to sit still for a corporate sacking, a techno-takeover, a Bush-league dynasty, a final closure on the noble experiment of popular and representative government . . . then let it be so. If I'm still around, you'll find me engaged in some personal indulgence, probably unable to remember what the fuss was all about.

Enjoy yourself...it's later than you think...

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