Thursday, December 31, 2009


So a decade winds down, and a decade which never really received a name of its own. I leave it to pedants to gargle and choke on their self-stultifying arguments as to whether decades begin in years ending in 0 or 1. I'm more interested in the changes that roll with the passing of the years.

10 years ago I was just six months here, in this big old house on a gravel road far out into deep rural America. Six months since I'd moved here from the city, moved here in search of a better life, in a quadrant of the country where people still had their heads screwed on straight and were relatively removed from the ill cultural winds which even then were blowing, and have only blown more ill and more strongly over these past 10 years. I was six months here, and already well pleased at the new life I had found.

20 years ago I was in graduate school, a perpetual graduate student. And I remember I spent New Year's Eve working on some gargantuan project, writing up my own software, more for entertainment than for any practical purpose. Working on my ancient computer of 20 years ago, DOS, glowing green monitor. And someone was singing "Mississippi Goddam" on the radio as the midnight hour drew near.

30 years ago I was in graduate school, in an earlier and completely unrelated field, and in a different part of the country. Living in a little efficiency apartment, and I don't recall just what I might've been doing as the seventies rolled over into the eighties.

40 years ago I was in junior high, and I remember New Year's Eve was the day our family picked up a dog from the humane shelter, a dog we'd picked out several days previously. She became one of the family, and getting her was without a doubt one of the best things we ever did.

50 years ago I suppose the New Year rolled more or less past me, along with Elvis and President Eisenhower and the rest of the passing scene. After all, I was a preschooler, which in those long-vanished days didn't mean I went to preschool -- there was no such thing! -- it simply meant I was too young to go to school.

So here I sit on the last day of this Nameless Decade, ready for the odometer to roll over into the Teens, or whatever they'll call it. Another ten years further on, and I must confess I'm considerably less sanguine about the long-term prospects of Western civilization than I was 10 years ago. Oh, the West will outlast me, I'm sure; but the handwriting has been there on the wall now for decades, and this past decade it's become clearer and more undeniable than ever. A culture devolves and hardens into a civilization, and then the civilization eventually deconstructs itself in a fit of ennui and self-loathing. Add to that such wild cards as peak oil, a greying population, our smoke-and-mirrors economy, burgeoning debt by the trillions, and the inevitable next 9/11, and I'm just glad to be living in a remote and more self-reliant corner of the country, far off the traveled byways, where with any luck I may be better able to ride out the gathering storm. We are living in interesting times.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Surge of Sleep

Odd. At home I often suffer from insomnia. I mean, I fall asleep easily when I go to bed and I sleep soundly for several hours. But then I wake up in the middle of the night, and it's anybody's guess whether I'll ever get back to sleep again the rest of the night.

Now I'm away on vacation for a few days, and all of a sudden I'm sleeping effortlessly ten hours a night.

Go figure.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So I survived the holiday rush, and am getting away this week, visiting family, unwinding, just generally vegetating. Tired? I don't have words to describe how tired I am.

And so I finish out the waning days of the decade.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Winter Cabin Fantasy

I live in a big old rambling house on a gravel road far out into the countryside. Big. In fact my bedroom is so big that it's not hard to imagine it as an entire cabin from back in pioneer days.

And I find I do sometimes so imagine it, when I'm lying there in bed beneath the covers, beneath a couple of heavy wool blankets on a cold winter night. It's like I'm lying there in bed in an old log cabin, way back in the 1800s. I'm somehow indisposed, lying there covered with blankets.

And over where the chimney runs up through the bedroom on one side, there I imagine that a cast iron wood burning stove is attached to the chimney. A stove, fire burning, giving warmth in this old cabin.

And there's a woman cooking at the stove. And there are two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the cabin. And there's an old lady sitting in a rocking chair over on the far side of the stove. And often there's an old man sitting at the table -- seems he's perhaps a guest or a visitor. And this scene of down home domesticity plays itself out around me, around the edges, as I lie there in bed, fading in and out.

It's all vague and indistinct. I don't know where this cabin is, or what the scene is all about. I have no idea who these other people in the fantasy are. It's just a winter cabin fantasy that comes to me sometimes when I'm lying there beneath the blankets on a cold winter night.

I think more people have fleeting and drifting fantasies like this than you might imagine. But it's the kind of thing we ordinarily don't talk about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Warm Blanket

Sitting here early in the morning -- a cold morning -- sitting here in the wicker rocker in the living room, laptop on my lap, and wrapped up in a warm wool Indian blanket.

There are few pleasures in life to compare with the warmth of a good blanket. Especially a good wool blanket. I fade in and out, websurfing, sipping coffee. A warm blanket. Sitting here before sunrise on a bone chilling December morning, thermometer reads zero. A warm wool blanket. Much recommended.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Plastic Zipper

I've been noticing something odd this winter. Many people I run into are wearing coats with plastic zippers. And not just any plastic zippers, either: coats with big, huge, gigantic plastic zippers, huge plastic teeth as if in parody of real zippers. Huge plastic Fischer Price zippers.

I can't figure it out. I can't imagine buying a coat with a huge plastic zipper. Of all the coats I have, only one (come to think of it) has a plastic zipper, and not a huge zipper, at that; and it's a big bulky pullover deal that I never wear unless it's well below zero and nothing else will do.

But everyone else seems to be going for the big plastic zippers. Usually on coats made of some synthetic material, nylon or GoreTex or polyester or polyester fleece or whatever. Where's the satisfaction in that? Most of the time so far this season I've been sticking with my wool coat, which doesn't even have zippers, but buttons, as if it was still 1914.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I stumbled across some anarchist literature online recently, read through a great deal of it. I must confess, there's something about it that rather appeals to me, the whole notion of be free, take the red pill, throw off the trammels of society, live your life outside of the box, and so forth.

But then I am brought up short by the turgid, ponderously earnest style, the heavy leaden ideology of their anarchist writing, all too reminiscent of the campus Marxists of my youth. One expects to see rough-carved woodblock pictures of workers and peasants, portraits of Bakunin and Kropotkin and other dead bearded Russian revolutionaries... and one will not be disappointed. It's all there, as if the Sixties never left us.

Oh dear. I found those campus types dismaying enough, boring enough, back when I was young and in college. Believe me, I have no desire to experience flashbacks. And this online anarchism is Flashback City.

And it's a pity. Because, as I say, there's something to their anarchist gig that I find not unattractive. I spent my twenties and most of my thirties living an informally anarchical life myself, seldom gainfully employed, living on an ascetic shoestring, out at the margins of society by my own choice, and resisting anything that felt or smelled like The Man, Corporate Career Track, Long-Term Responsibility, or for that matter any mode of life where I would've been required to wear a suit and tie. Even once I finally settled down and took on a responsible job, I resisted anything that felt or smelled like. With the result that here I am today, in my fifties, working at a responsible and fruitful, sometimes hectic but not too onerous job, living in a big old house on a gravel road far out into deep rural America, and still sporting a beard and wearing blue jeans.

I don't doubt that, throughout most of human history, we've saddled ourselves with far more hierarchy, far more authority structures, far more Do As I Say, than is really needed. A little anarchism is good for the soul, and with the advent of chaos theory, it's perhaps no longer quite as theoretically ridiculous and unworkable as it always used to seem to me. But still... I decline to go further than that with any movement that drapes itself in turgid ideology, earnest elephantine Leftist analysis, and rudely carved woodblock artwork of people waving clenched fists in the air.

Monday, December 7, 2009

And Snowflakes Passed Before the Bluff

A few days ago I was driving back from town. Ran into some minor road work (this late in the season?!) and had to stop until the flagger flipped his sign from "stop" to "slow."

For a good minute or more I sat there. Looked up at a high bluff off to one side of the road, a bluff covered with trees. Though now it's all evergreens, or trees empty of leaves. A few birches in the mix, but overall by this time of year a dark background.

And before that background passed a myriad of snowflakes. It was snowing. A myriad of snowflakes, all swirling more or less in the same direction, the same moving pattern, in curling array.

A myriad of snowflakes, a horde, a million-swarm, like the largest and most numerous flock of miniature white birds you ever did see.

So the snowflakes passed before the bluff. I was in awe. Reached down and got my glasses, put them on, and the wondrously manifold and detailed flock of snowflakes, like a million tiny living things, was thrown into even sharper relief before the face of the bluff.

Then the flagger turned his sign to "slow," and I shifted out of park and began to move down the road in the remaining open lane.

Ten thousand migrating snowflakes, and ten thousand times ten thousand! And the snowflakes passed before the bluff. And I was struck speechless.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The New Mellow

This dates me, but I find most young people nowadays more tolerant, more "live and let live," and open to a far more colorful range of interests than most of my peers were at that age.

And I think this "new mellow" has little to do with all the loudly trumpeted and ideologically driven emphasis nowadays on tolerance, diversity, etc., most of which actually serves the interests of intolerance and ideological conformity.

Back when I was young -- let's face it, we're talking 40 years ago here -- there was a narrowness, a rigidity, a sour curdled meanness to so much of the culture, at least as I experienced it as a kid growing up in small-town America. Depart from the norm, let yourself be drawn to any interest that was at all colorful or out of the ordinary... and you would be inundated beneath a tidal wave of white hot scorn, rage, and withering self-righteous indignation. There was a time when Sinclair Lewis's Main Street was very much a reality in small-town America.

But something has changed. Today's young people are by and large light years more "live and let live" than I remember from when I was that age. And it's not an ideologically driven or ideologically linked openness and tolerance; it's genuine, unforced, and quite broadly and impartially dispensed. I must say, I find it a breath of fresh air.