Suicide: Dark Goddess of a Youthful Cult?

I learned yesterday that one of my favorite students had committed suicide.  As far as I knew, she had continued on from her Bachelor’s to a graduate program.  I don’t think she managed to be admitted into the university of first choice, but she had settled into a program that would prepare her to be a professional editor.  She seemed to “have it together”.  While I was aware that she suffered from severe insomnia and was on medication, I had supposed that the problem had been brought under control.  She had a boyfriend of whom she spoke with much warmth, so I wouldn’t have imagined her to be agonizingly lonely and isolated.  She was not unattractive, though the average male these days would likely have been drawn neither by her looks at first glance nor by her quiet, retiring manner.

The person who broke the news to me explained that the girl was bipolar, as if that accounted for everything.  My informant was almost in tears, and I’m certainly not criticizing her individually; but I’m a little vexed when someone hands down the bipolar diagnosis as being sufficient reason for tragedies like this.  We can resist, we can fight—all of us can.  A genetic or hormonal predisposition to gloom means only that some have to fight harder than others.

I couldn’t help but recall, as well, that our victim had been enrolled in that class about which I’ve written so many times—the one whose members (well, three or four of them) howled at me when I once remarked, “I guess the homework assignments drove them to suicide,” in an effort to wave away my irritation at certain frequently absent students.  I have always made clear (including when the incident happened) that I was NOT joking about suicide, but rather about the lack of commitment in this group; and I have since stressed, upon reflection, that I view the manner in which my remarks were received by the loud few as willful, wanton belligerence.  If I say, “I’m out of ammunition,” am I showing insensitivity to the school children slaughtered at Parkland?  If I say, “I’m kind of spacey today,” does someone whose sibling died of a drug overdose have a grievance against me?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I was indeed joking about suicide.  Why shouldn’t I, or why shouldn’t anyone?  Why should the word “suicide” only be whispered, and always with fear and awe, as if she were some ancient goddess from the dark side like Hecate or the Erinyes?  Why should not Suicide be scorned and derided like the opportunistic, cowardly assassin that she is?  At the end of The Haunting—original version, directed by Robert Wise—Richard Johnson’s character subdues a murderous poltergeist by openly, mockingly laughing at her.  Why should not Suicide be shown the same degree of respect… which is to say, none at all?

When I was suicidal in my mid-twenties (as I, too, enjoyed the delights of graduate school), I fought my way out of the haunted house by observing to myself how melodramatic I was being, and how stupid and cowardly an exit by way of The Pit would be.  I can hear one of my detractors from two years ago right now: “Well, that’s fine for you—but it doesn’t mean that other people feel that way.”  No… and your style of “sensitivity” doesn’t mean, either, that you’ve shown more mercy or saved more lives than I have by refusing to venerate the dark goddess.  What if you have actually contributed to the problem by inducing those around you to bow before spirits from hell?  Are you so sure that you haven’t?

Personally, I am convinced that such “sensitivity” is somewhat implicated in the suicide epidemic.  Suicide has become an Event, perhaps the Ultimate Event (in a society that has no other use for the metaphysical or the supernatural).  It is the dramatic exit always accessible to people whose lives otherwise have no drama and attract no notice.  I’m not suggesting that the friend we lost last week was such a one: if her insomnia had returned, that alone may have driven her over the edge (or that and the useless medications so freely and heavily prescribed by “professionals”).  Yet even under such horrible torment, perhaps she would have held out if the shame of suicide were still prominently etched in everyone’s soul.  Feeling shame before certain acts is healthy.  It can protect us from catastrophe.  Now that we’ve decided that shame is “judgmental” and “lacks compassion”, our brothers and sisters have a diminished power of resistance which makes them easy prey for the spiritual parasites gnawing the human psyche.

But that doesn’t really matter, of course: the only thing that really matters is for you, generation of hair-trigger outrage, to make clear to the world—and yourselves—that you are morally superior beings.  Gee, what great friends you must all make! What comfort the despairing must find in you!

Rest in peace, S.B.


The Unarmed Teacher: A Notion Where Insult Competes With Insanity

The objections I’m hearing to the prospect of classroom teachers and professors carrying a concealed weapon all appear to me to cluster somewhere between the ludicrous and the insulting, with substantial overlap into the insane.

I am assuming for the purposes of this post that the sources of objection are sincere.  That’s a careless assumption, in many specific cases.  Whether you want to believe it or not, the endgame for political insiders who stake out the “gun-free campus” position is usually the confiscation of all privately owned firearms.  No one seems to recall a speech that candidate Obama gave in summer of ’08 wherein he voiced a yearning for a national police force.  Leftist ideologies often let their admiration for Castro and Ché come spilling out, and sometimes even show their love of Mao.  A police state where mere ownership of a purse-sized revolver can get you ten years in the Re-education Camp… that’s what makes them salivate.  Then, of course, they will be able to construct their human ant farm without any reactionary troglodytes mounting a resistance.

But let’s put those Men Who Would Be God—those Hitler hearts wrapped in a Stalin hide—to one side.  Let’s stipulate that certain well-meaning people really do cringe at the notion of teachers bearing arms.  What are their objections?

That people who abhor guns would be forced to carry them.  Perfectly idiotic.  Nobody has proposed that teachers be forced into arming themselves.  Nobody ever would so propose, with the exception of a malign spirit who wanted to churn up protests with false premises.  We’re imagining here that the position’s opponents speak in good faith.

That teachers would accidentally shoot innocent bystanders or themselves due to ineptitude.  Obviously, anyone who carries a gun should be trained in its use.  We don’t let people drive cars without training, either.  But say, in an extravagant scenario, that some panicking school marm starting squeezing off rounds wildly at the rafters: this in itself would be a distraction and a deterrent to the assailant.  Might a bystander be hit by mistake?  Well, that’s true even if Green Berets are charging the shooter.  Should we let him fire at his ease just because return-fire runs the risk of going astray?

That teachers would become premier targets if the assailant knew some of them to be armed.    Oh, no—we teachers certainly don’t want that!  Let the bastard shoot some of our kids before he turns to us: maybe help will arrive in the meantime!

That teachers will create a frightening atmosphere for students if they’re packing.  Again, no one has suggested that educators have a Glock holstered beside their cell phone in some kind of tool belt, and no one who wasn’t trying to pull the debate off track would ever make such an inane suggestion.  Yet the serious proponents of this objection (and, incredibly, there seem to be many) apparently believe that an armed teacher would have a different look in his eye, or that fear of their teacher’s possibly being armed would make students quail at their desks.  Great point.  Let’s leave the darlings undefended, instead, and not even whisper the word “gun”.  If we stop our ears, shut our eyes, and loudly repeat “nah-nah-nah” incessantly, then everything is sure to be fine.

That teachers will in fact develop a more threatening attitude if the power of life and death hides somewhere on their person.  Insanity and offensiveness meet here in equal measure.  God Almighty!  If this is what you think of your child’s teachers, how can you allow toxic chemicals in chemistry class?  Why do you allow a coach to drive the team bus?  Do you suppose that teachers stand back and bet on the winner when two students are fighting in the hallway?  And if this is your estimate of human nature, why in heaven’s name do you want to surrender all such deadly force into the hands of elite government entities whose members’ heads are already swollen to the bursting point with power?

I hear nobody proposing my own objection: that weapons are very hard to conceal except under a trouser leg, and that some roughneck punk could easily learn to spot the bulge and disarm the math teacher bent over another student’s desk—all just on a stupid lark.  I’d like to see weapons issued that would not fire unless they read the legal owner’s palm print on their handle.  An alternative, someday, might be to have the corridors roved by a robot that would deploy immobilizing force upon detecting an elevated heat signature and powder traces—or maybe similar technology built into the ceilings like the sprinkler system.

Even so futuristic a solution, however, would have multiple vulnerabilities.  (What defense do you have in parking lots and on playgrounds?  What if a police officer is detected while returning fire?)  I have to believe that the ultimate sincere objection to an armed educational staff is a neurotic, denying fear of harsh realities—the ostrich’s proverbial head-in-the-sand reaction.  It is painful to see so many adults in positions of authority exhibiting such childish (and, frankly, craven) behavior.  Even if their persistent denials were not costing us children’s lives, they would still inspire a sickened response in the pit of any sane, responsible adult’s stomach.  Blunt paralysis in the face of danger is deeply discouraging.

The Spirit and the Flesh: Adversarial Allies

If a man asks you for food, take him to a sandwich shop and sit with him to eat.  Don’t give him a wad of bills or a card to draw infinitely upon the food bank.  You do not serve the man in him with such charity—you stifle his humanity by making your sacrifice at the altar of the Stomach.  You proclaim that the end of life is to stay alive.  You heard the word “hungry”, but you did not hear the man who said he was hungry.

If a man tells you that his child is sick and needs medicine, take him and his child to a doctor, and buy what medicine is needed.  But do not give the man’s family endless draws upon your account to buy whatever medicine they may need at any time in the future.  Charity without a setting or boundaries is an unlimited worship of the god Health; and in serving that god, you declare that life is about nothing but health, always health.  If the child is cured for no other reason than to stay cured, then he might as well grow on a stem in a garden, like a vegetable.

And if a man comes to you saying that he is so tired of life that he yearns to end it, do not give him a free pass to an amusement park or introduce him to a wild leaf that sends the bored mind into ecstasy.  The god of Escape can keep bodies alive as well as food and medicine sometimes—but what lives is only a body.  Try your best, rather, to show the man what weariness of life teaches about life: that it ends in nothing if one sets one’s goals within its boundaries.

Charity is not about feeding the hungry, but about removing hunger as an obstacle to a higher mission.  Sickness is another obstacle—and the purpose of life is not to avoid being sick, any more than it is to avoid boredom.

We always teeter on the brink of getting this wrong, because lavishing people with food or medicine or amusement is a deed, a measurable behavior… but the spirit has no measure.  The spirit is a negative presence, we might say.  We cannot bestow it as we would a sandwich of a Z-pack.  We can only remove obstacles to it.  Saving a person from death only gives him the opportunity to live; we cannot know if he will use his opportunity well.  Refusing to fuel a lie only gives the truth an opportunity to prevail; we cannot know if that truth will bring most people to insight or despair.

Health, happiness, prosperity… they all end when life ends.  And if life ends tomorrow, then it might as well end today—at least if it is to hold nothing for us but animal satisfactions won from a body that declines to torture us.  But for a person who has found purpose in life, even bodily tortures—sickness, tedium, poverty—are a small price to pay if they are a means of the spirit’s reaching its end.  A father will live on one meal a day to feed his child.  An artist will take the money that might have kept wood in his fireplace if it will buy paint and canvas.

What kind of person are we producing in our world today—a plump vegetable immobilized in a garden, or a visionary who happily suffers privation for the sake of a higher end?  I think we all know.



Reason Not the Need: In Praise of Vagueness

One more time, I’m going to cheat a little by pasting into this space part of an intro I wrote over the weekend for a section of my collected poems.  The introductions are getting almost as long as the stuff they’re supposed to explain!

That my introduction to this final section is proving far and away the most difficult to write may, to a cynic, indict the essential fraud of all history: the more distant a sequence of events becomes, the tidier its description grows. An alternative explanation may be that, since this period ends only because it cannot extend beyond the present moment, it has the most artificial and arbitrary of endings—not a true terminus imposed by real change; and yet another perspective might be that I’m becoming more confused as I get older.

For my money, the last explanation is the most valid. I seem to have lived much of my life in reverse, so a curious failure to find the tranquility of acquired wisdom in my silver years fits the puzzle perfectly. If I was more gloomy as a young man, I also dwelt deeper in the isolation of a very concentrated and (I will admit now) comforting gloom. Now that I have found ways to push back against the world somewhat, I feel less exiled and nullified—but I also see the challenges to civilized life growing much more complex (largely because we who face them appear to be growing more simple-minded). I am less disposed now, as well, to withdraw into that old self-imposed exile and more inclined to get impatient or disgusted. I expect to see more effort made—effort to understand, to reevaluate, to prepare for necessary action, to act at the ripe moment—since I myself was able to grind a not-so-bad life out of very unpromising circumstances; yet what I observe, instead, is an escalating flight to “plug-in drugs” and “virtual reality” as well as to the more conventional hallucinogens and “artificial paradises” (in Baudelaire’s phrase) so popular in my youth.

I have a good head-start on being an angry old man. I am not a Luddite; yet I am deeply distressed, not so much that young people don’t know what a Luddite is (I didn’t, either, at their age)—but that they don’t care to find out, will recur to some handheld “device” if forced to find out, and will have forgotten what they found out five minutes later. Hell, the device is still there! “Why don’t you get your own, if you have a question, and leave me alone?”

The profits that the private sector harvests from such high-tech addiction have finally and fully merged with the manipulative designs of the public sector upon e-voters of the future, their I-Brains and I-Tastes determined by the paternalistically “helpful” software of I-nfo and E-ntertainment. Nobody seems to care; everybody seems to be happy. Corporations have more money, politicians have more power, and citizen voter-drones have more leisurely escapism (all the way to the slaughterhouse). I’m sounding now like some Sixties radical—the type whose self-serving antinomian protests I deplored as a young man and even referenced in some of my first poems. Have I again clumsily shifted gears into reverse: am I becoming more “liberal” in my old age, contrary to the cliché? Or has the true basis of liberalitas—the insistence on individual liberty—that was caricatured in Sixties hedonism become the critical issue of our onward-and-upward, “accept digital centralization or die” version of progress?

Within such anguish, George Shirley was born. Under this pseudonym, I composed many of my final poems for Praesidium. The name was drawn from the South Carolinian branch of our family tree. I imagined in George a polite but mildly jaundice-eyed country gentleman who, as a matter of strict principle, hated to offend—but who found a broader body of reverend principles impelling him to mount a resistance against the annihilation of liberal (read “freely speaking and thinking”) society. The lover of the soil and the gentle things she produced had a tincture of the rebel in him, and he wasn’t above sneaking the mare from his weathered barn for a night raid on the depot. As my poetically encrypted attacks under this guise grew more and more narrowly indexed to political trends, in fact, I became more and more puzzled and uneasy. One late edition of the journal quasi-apologized, “If George Shirley’s poetry continues to become more political, it can only be because politics continues to intrude upon our private lives.”

I’m not sure that the prominent appearance of natural images in the midst of so much diatribe is an accident or an oddity. I have always felt a vital need of nature, just as I need oxygen and water. Yet for George (and for me through George), nature isn’t identical with oxygen and water: one doesn’t protest the escalating mechanization of the times, that is, because one’s all-important health may stand in jeopardy. The motive there is not negligible… but the real benefit of nature to life that doesn’t perish (i.e., that doesn’t need oxygen and water) is its purposelessness. The woodpecker I hear outside my window just now could drop dead this instant without disrupting the smooth operation of the cosmos. In that regard, he is like art—like my poetry, I hope: he is marginal, an outlier. As we strive ever more vigorously and effectively to make everything around us contribute to an identified goal or objective (and in what other endeavor do we show any vigor and efficiency at all?), we draw ever closer to fusion with robots. Many of us consciously hail this impending union as Nirvana rather than a marriage made in Hell: that’s how dumb we’ve already become. A few of us “cling to green” (since we’ve destroyed the open-endedness of art, reducing it to an evolutionary history of the oppressed) because something in us persists in crying out for an exit, a window on airy infinity… but our political handlers are quick to exploit that longing. We must vote for them, they warn, if the moon isn’t to fall; and we must contribute more of our squalid salary to their newly formed, state-of-the-art Bureau of Lunar Salvation.

My cousin George fully comprehends what crap this all is. Hence the more he turns his wry smile upon our “saviors”, the more he turns away from any hope offered by this world and heeds the woodpecker. And the woodpecker’s message? I think it’s this: “Live not in life but through life. Seek in everything that you are at the moment—in every circumstance that defines your current parameters—a voice transcending specific need or use. Always seek in what you see more than what’s visible just now.”


How Does a True Conservative Stay Out of Holes?

If I have to read or listen to one more commentary about Trump’s coprologism for corrupt, impoverished Third World nations, I’m going to eject something malodorous from the other end of my digestive tract.

I’ll say this much, though, about the so-called conservative contempt for living close to nature: it isn’t conservative at all, and it has made my own alliance with the political Right very unstable at times.  Face it.  There’s a very vocal strain in “conservatism” that wants to burn energy and build highways the way any normal person would relish describing in front of a snowflake how he killed a squirrel.  (Squirrels eat baby birds, by the way, dearie: that’s why mockingbirds hate them.)  In other words, certain self-styled conservatives are reactive.  They say and do things because they know the other side will be ticked off.  Rush Limbaugh leaps to mind.  How many times has he discussed smoking his cigars, turning on all the lights in his mansion, and driving about in a gas-guzzler just for the joy of making his political adversaries change their diapers?

Now, I don’t know if the president made the specific comment attributed to him or not.  I know, however, that many who have sprung to his defense leave me feeling a little skittish with their implied judgment that life without cell phones and Netflix must be hell on earth.  The ancient Stoics viewed a man as free and true to his natural purpose to the extent that he could eliminate his ties to material needs and assert the superiority of his will.  I have always deeply admired that perspective.  To my mind, it comes very close to describing the essence of manliness (a word which literally translates the Latin virtus).  That’s one reason, by the way, why I have never found it very masculine for men to go chasing addictively after women: that is, if they can’t control themselves, then they deserve to be considered something more on the level of a dog pulled on an invisible leash behind any pooch in heat who wanders through the neighborhood.

Part of the independent life is being able to supply most or all of your needs for food, shelter, and defense.  There was a time when certain parts of what we call the Third World were very good at such self-sufficiency.  True, most of those places have since been transformed into hellholes; but they have been so courtesy of the USSR, the PRC, and—yes—sometimes the USA piping sophisticated weapons into the region and enabling (unintentionally or otherwise) tinpot dictators to subjugate their populace.  I am NOT willing to brand such spots the anal sphincters of the globe just because farmers have to use their hoes manually and don’t have iPhones in their pockets.

Any real conservative, on the contrary, would be very concerned about the inroads that frivolous high-tech is making into the lives of our children.  When a teenager plunges into deep depression and withdrawal syndrome just because he or she is deprived of Internet for a week, then we should not be proud of the new kind of dependency we have permitted to corrupt a once-independent citizenry, even if it “creates jobs”.  If said teenager were truly using the device to become better informed about the world, then a case might almost be made for the addiction… but remember where this ramble of mine started: in a news cycle that hasn’t for a week been able to let go of one badboy comment uttered in a supposedly private conference.  Meanwhile, China is sentencing a blogger to twenty years in prison and water has been incontrovertibly discovered on Mars—but who has time for that?

We don’t need more jobs: we need more nut-bearing trees, more hands that can turn sun and rain into potatoes, more minds that understand how to get an egg from the chicken to the table: that would be a conservative’s view.  But no, let’s all just keep piling into our own urban hellholes.  That’s the approach, by the way, which is drawing all the Third Worlders here—and the loss of traditional skills and social structures in their own homelands is what’s driving them to emigrate.


Women and “Objectification”: Is the Object Moving Up or Down?

The young actress who played Ben Hur’s sister always made something melt inside me.  She was also Jimmy Stewart’s leading lady in the gritty western, The Man From Laramie.  Her name was Cathy O’Donnell… or, I should say, her real name was Ann Steely: probably also Irish, but post-war Hollywood didn’t like to leave any ambiguity in the subliminal messaging of its noms d’écran.  (Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Tony Curtis… Felicia Farr, and of course Marilyn… you knew they were all slated for stardom with their fake soubriquets, even if they didn’t necessarily get there.)  Born in Alabama, of all places, and educated in Oklahoma (of all places), O’Donnell had a suspiciously brief career, perhaps being overtaken early by symptoms of the cancer that would allow her a mere forty-six years on earth.  She left no children.  Her husband, director Robert Wyler, was twenty-three years her senior.  Nine months later, he also died of cancer.  By 2018 standards, I suppose we must conclude that the co-director of The Children’s Hour was a child-molester.

But then, by 2018 standards, I am also strictly forbidden to melt at the sight of this innocent girl-next-door, with her incredibly poignant brown eyes and simple smile.  I’m “objectifying” her: I’m forcing her to represent to me virtues like gentleness, shyness, compassion, sincerity, and—yes, most toxic of all—an innocent naïveté.  I’m not being fair to Cathy as subject.  The real Cathy (i.e., Ann) may have been a guzzling, swearing, rip-roaring party animal who stuffed one male conquest after another in her Tinseltown curio cabinet.  How crass of me to shut her off from these possibilities, simply on the basis of an angelic face!  (And I believe she once played a character named Angel.)

Yet men do such things, I’m convinced, because we must.  No, it isn’t strictly fair—but it’s also not something we can resist.  The female face for us is invincibly evocative of abstract character traits.  The Greeks and Romans even designated most abstract qualities with nouns of the feminine gender.  Women show men how high the bar is set, where the boundaries lie.  Men are loners: women are social beings.  Men cannot bear children: women have visceral bonds of several kinds with their offspring.  Men live closer to the abyss of isolation and nullity.  Women are their beacon, their oasis, their green island—their portal of readmission back into the family of humanity.  That’s way marriages are public occasions: they signal to the community that a man has found his way in from the cold limbo of wandering rogues and outcasts to become a husband, a father, and a neighbor.

Again, I realize that everything I’ve just written is hopelessly outdated.  I realize, even, that words such as these win one permanent exile today from elite circles in academe, government, and haute culture.  I accept that.  In fact, I’m trying to put distance between myself and all such places as fast as I can.  But like a Parthian horseman firing arrows over his shoulder, I would leave these few words of advice behind me for the Never Objectify Us crowd.

First of all, the “putting on a pedestal” objectification of which I wrote above is really the very opposite of what feminists complain about now; and yet, the crude objectification of today is what feminists invited after thoroughly denouncing every visible trace of the chivalrous instinct.  Men of yesteryear elevated the female to a semi-divine status—and again, I hasten to acknowledge that this doesn’t create the basis of sound, lasting relationships in many cases.  Ariosto’s unhappy knight Orlando goes mad when forced to recognize that his plaster saint Angelica isn’t remotely an angel (far less so, I’ll bet, than Cathy O’Donnell).  But the response of the Sixties feminist to suffocation within sainthood was to demand for women the freedom to behave like the lowest kind of male: to have one affair after another, to be liberated of any inconvenient consequences (such as pregnancy), and to construct a life around such egotistical goals as career advancement. By the way, what words do we use for a male who puts his career before everything and everyone?

Once the new message was broadly transmitted, Mesdames, why did you expect men not to adjust their leaps to a ground-level bar?  Why be surprised that they now viewed you as tasty morsels on the dessert tray?  Hadn’t you just been conditioning yourselves to view them the same way?  The “object” to which you reduced yourselves was only made more graphic and less mistakable as cleavages lowered, denim molded buttocks like shrink-wrap, and female language became ever more coarse and aggressive.

Now you don’t like so much what “liberation” has wrought.  You want men to recover a bit of chivalry—just a tad, enough to keep their hands off and their tongues (along with other body parts) inwardly secured.  But you’ve let the genie out of the bottle, and he’s not eager to resume residence in its narrow confines.

What you need to understand and accept is that human beings always invite snap judgments from other human beings based on appearance and deportment.  These judgments can be modified, but they will never be suppressed: they’re part of having a functional brain.  A Middle Eastern man in flowing garb makes airline passengers feel uneasy at first glance.  A shaggy fellow in soiled rags makes the pace of passers-by accelerate on a sidewalk.  A woman in a pink vagina-hat isn’t likely to be asked on a date by a young man hoping to settle down and start a family.

And, yes, of all these stereotypes, the ones attaching to females are the most ineradicable in males.  I’m betting that women have similar stereotypes that they apply to males, as well… but they’re probably not as severe and embedded.  That’s one thing we males love about women: they’re more forgiving and less rigidly categorical than we are!  You of the new female phalanx, however, have indeed become very like us.  There’s no slack in your assessments.  You have it all figured out in an instant—and then the problem shifts to everyone else for not meeting your standards.  How very male of you, in the least pleasant sense!

When I see one of our day’s “hot chicks” posing for some feeding frenzy of paparazzi at a garish Tinseltown gala, her epidermis caked in reflective make-up, her gaze glassy and without character, and her artificially enhanced bust challenging lenses to stay in focus, I sometimes think of faces like Cathy O’Donnell’s… and then I realize what immense losses the culture wars have inflicted upon us.


A New Life Matters Infinitely More Than a New Year

Yeah, yeah—another new year.  Another old year packed in moth balls.  Ring in the new!  Bells and whistles, toasts and firecrackers… idiotic resolutions and mawkish nostalgia.

Actually, 2017 was unique for me.  Bought some land to start a farm and contracted to have a house built.  Got my son successfully out of college—and without debt.  Found that my complex publishing ambitions could be easily accomplished, in large part, through Amazon—and am about to bring out my sixth book as the final day of December wears on.  Acquired a Twitter account, as well as my first faithful follower (everyone tells me it’s a “must” for publicity).

Also extraordinary amounts of misery and hardship.  Still fighting through a severely strained tendon in my knee, and had close run-ins with several afflictions that I was able to treat homeopathically.  Watched my son go through three jobs once he decided to give up baseball—the result, mostly, of being lied to during interviews.  (Some things never change.)  Continue to do battle with various investment firms to get my retirement in order and wrest control of my accounts from stifling bureaucracy—and to think that this is the private sector!

The Center for Literate Values will officially die this evening at midnight.  Amazing how many people want me to keep parts of it up and running on a fixed income—people who aren’t volunteering a dime of their own money.  Some things never change.

A fall semester safely in the books that trespassed on my academic freedom (thanks to electronic technology) more presumptuously than I’ve ever seen, and with every sign of continuing.  But I’ll be gone after one more round of this.  I taught my classes my way as ’17 wound down, and I’ll begin ’18 the same way.  Go ahead and fire me—make my year.

All in all, 2017 was one of the most productive twelve-month cycles I’ve ever lived through—and also one of the most traumatic and draining.  I haven’t described the half of it.  What I really need is for it to go away now.  The Year Eighteen gets me out of my professional prison to think and write freely as long as my time on earth continues.  It will bring me to a place where green vegetables other than cactus grow.  I’ll have a home where my son may come to visit over Christmas and not be counting the days till he can escape the deadest terrain north of Hell.

And maybe I won’t feel that chasmic gap in my life when he leaves—that abyss just after Christmas.  Maybe I won’t have to ask myself all the old questions any more, the ones I’ve pondered since he left home for college five years ago.  “Why does this tear your heart out?  You don’t want him to stay here, do you?  What would he do in Tyler, Texas?  Compete with other realtors for a small share of a small market, trying to make enough loot that the snooty locals deign to notice him—that their daughters deign to go out with him—and probably turning into a drunkard under the shadow of all the Baptist churches?  No, we want him out of here.  That’s what we’ve worked for all these years.  You don’t want him a child again—and you don’t want to be the bigger fool you were yourself twenty years ago, when you were trying to raise him.  Isn’t it your own life as it has come to be, though, that makes you weep as he leaves?  Not so much because he isn’t in it day to day, but because bringing up a child no longer distracts you from what you actually do. Isn’t it that you can no longer avoid seeing what’s right in front of you? Isn’t it the nullity that remains after that fresh gust of youth withdraws—the awareness of having sold out for almost nothing to a profession that itself sells out everything you believe in by double the amount each year?  The bitterness… the nothingness… isn’t that what you can’t face?”

Well, I won’t need to face it any more in a few short months. I will proudly be able to say, to my son or anyone else, “This is my home.  Welcome.  This is my food I grow, the forest I walk daily.  These are my thoughts about the world.  You are welcome to any of it you want.”

A new calendar is just another piece of paper.  But a new life… now that’s something to toast, if only with myself in silence.