Thursday, December 21, 2017

Doubts and Dining Room Tables and Hinges in History

I spent this morning not being able to access the Internet from my home computer.  I'm trying not to feel anxious about that, not to see it as early evidence that we really did need net neutrality after all.

Let me record some thoughts that I don't want to slip away:

--Today we celebrate the life of St. Thomas. It's also the Winter Solstice.  This time of year, the sun is much lower on the southern horizon here in South Florida.  I spend the first part of every work day squinting into my computer screen as the sun streams in the window of my office.  It makes for a different Solstice feeling.

--You may remember St. Thomas by his other moniker:  Doubting Thomas. How appropriate, both for this time of year, for this time in history.  Let me also remember the end of that story:  Thomas doubted, but it wasn't held against him.  He was able to see the evidence that allowed him to believe that death and despair did not have the final word.  May we all be that lucky.

--Later we may remember these days as the anniversary when a massive tax reform bill was passed very quickly.  I've been around enough to know that there's no magic fix.  The tax bill of the 1980's was not kind to me as a grad student who was the first of a set of grad students who had to pay taxes on our tiny graduate stipends, but perhaps it helped me in other ways that I didn't know.  Every time we change taxes, I hear the same cries of how it will destroy the nation and from other lips, how it will lift up the nation.  The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

--I went to an annual cookie exchange of mostly neighborhood folks last night.  What was different this year?  There was some talk of hurricane damage and recovery, as I expected.  I got the name of a contractor from one woman--but she had been remodeling her house before the hurricane.  It sounds like it was a major job:  making one bedroom into 2 bedrooms, moving the kitchen from one end of the house to another.  This was also the first year with arthritis in both my feet.  I spent much of the evening standing, and much of the rest of the night with my big toes throbbing so painfully that I work up. Sigh.  But the cookies were beautiful.  And ibuprofen is effective for times when I overdo it.

--Yesterday, one of my colleagues at work was describing things for the dining room table that she'd bought as Christmas gifts for a friend:  napkins that shimmered because of Swarovski crystals sewn into them.  I asked, "How do you wash them?"  She looked at me as if I was a moron and said, "You don't actually use them."  She went on to describe her own dining room table and the ostrich feathers that were part of the tablescape.  I couldn't resist acting a bit:  I gave a massive sniff and said, "I have nothing but bills on my dining room table."  Actually, it's a lot of hurricane repair paperwork.

--There's part of me that wants to see this interchange as evidence of my outsiderness in the world.  But my poet self charged ahead with an idea for a poem:  3 dining room tables and what they tell us about modern life just before Christmas.

--I read this review of Arthur Herman's 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order , and I was able to get the book from the library.  I've really been enjoying it.  It's an interesting approach, to use the biographies of two key players to explore a year that really is a hinge in human history.  Here's how Herman explains in the introduction:  “In April, Wilson thrust the United States into the greatest war in history up to that time, the First World War. Seven months later, Lenin overthrew a Russian democratic revolution and imposed his own Bolshevik Revolution in its place. Together, these two events changed history in ways that make the world as it existed before 1917 seem strange and alien, and the world afterward very much our world and age, the modern age. It’s an age that’s been shaped as much by what Lenin and Wilson aimed and failed to do as by what they succeeded in doing.’’

--What I was struck by last night, as I was reading and waiting for the ibuprofen to take effect is that Lenin was no young guy in 1917 when he was able to act on his revolutionary ideas most successfully.  And his early years were marked by spectacular failures.  Herman is not kind to the Marxist side of the history he's telling--but that's an interesting point of view too, and unlike the few histories that I've read, which were likely written by leftist sociologists who were much more sympathetic to Communists.

--I have a strange assortment of holiday reading:  that book and Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 (life after global flooding) and Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 (a telling of a life in 4 different ways) and Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History (I loved her earlier books).  If there's time, I may also read Lucia Berlin's collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women and Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.  I think there will be interesting juxtapositions and connections--I am so looking forward to having an extended period with time to read before classes start again Jan. 8.  It's the best Christmas present!

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