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.

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