Time to celebrate February, yes. The one small bit of regularity that this undefinable,indefensible (but indispensable) journalistic indulgence maintains: an all-points Valentine greeting and anniversary marker, generally devoted to what we're all about, where I'm at, and such other annuarial grace as seems appropriate.
But I'm not much in a Valentine mood, this time. It is a year of strange cross-currents and dark whispers for me. Time too swiftly running out, on the closure of a century -- and, indeed, of an entire world, as far as I'm concerned. I feel like the last clinging leaf on a bare-branched tree, about to be -- no, not riven from my tight grasp of it, but swarmed by what will soon enough be (maybe already is) the fresh and new, green and abundant. I know it's coming, simply for the turning of such a significant page in the count. And I shall be but a withered old leaf, looked on as a curiosity. Wizened (which has nothing to do with wisdom) remnant of a vanished era, too filled with old dreams, still, to quietly put them down and take his leave.
This, of course, is the normal payoff of a long life, and preferable, with no quarrel, to the only other alternative. But it isn't every long life that has to cross a century divide at its own most narrowing point. It's arguable, to be sure, just where that "most narrowing point" may be -- at 60, 70, or 80? So let's just say that the turning of a century presents a real hurdle for anyone within that entire range, maybe even down to 55. And several particular features make this century turnover even more challenging than the usual.
I'll get to those in a moment -- I'd first rather dwell awhile on why this is such a moody time for me. It's all interlocked, of course:
I've already touched on the first two of those, so let me give some equal platform to the other three . . .
I'm not overly absorbed with thoughts of death, only with what it may say about the best use of my remaining time. It's important to me that I complete the work I began several years ago on my Web site, that I continue with my writing, that I share what I've experienced in the course of my life with others who may find it useful. However: I have not added materially to the web site over the entire course of the past year, and the only explorative writing I've made time for, in that span, has been six issues of Ripening Seasons and a term paper on Lincoln and American racism. If I do actually live to 84, I've succeeded in blowing about 8% of my available time, with no end in sight for the distractions that have stood in my way. So I'm concerned . . . very concerned. Death looms not as a threat in itself, but as a guillotine that is going to cut off my work before I can feel that it's done.
So what is all the stuff that gets in my way? Well, I have managed to trap myself in two sets of responsibilities, to begin with. Each has its own kind of seductive urgency. The senior housing situation is going through a series of critical stages, and I am regarded as the most indispensable of the tenants working on it (which, of course, is not true . . . but it's seductive). And I've set myself up as a 'Y2K preacher,' on a circuit ride among the 18 senior residence buildings, like some Holy Roller gospel missionary.
Well, it seemed vital at the time I set it up, and now it's all structured and progressional. A microcosmic illustration of how life grabs us and pushes us into commitments that we live to regret . . . but can't escape from. The structured part of it will only occupy me through April, although it remains to be seen how deeply I'm entrapped by it through the rest of the year.
Those things were all in place, well before the year's sprout time came along, so I've had good reason to feel pushed into a muscle-cramping, head-bending mold, ever since winter began. And then, plunging right into this morass, like a bull on the streets of Pamplona, came the most devastating disrupter imaginable: Because the Housing Authority is getting a windfall of $1.6 million for the renovation of this already once-renovated old school building I live in -- which is about three times the amount needed for its roof replacement -- they have decided that the entire sub-flooring was not properly done, the first time around, and needs replacement. Therefore . . . the tenants are to be moved out, along with every stick of their furnishing, for a period of three weeks in midyear!
But, hey, it's not as though I've led a simple, placid life and can't accommodate such stuff. Even with the settling proclivities of advancing age, is this really too much to cope with, for a guy who has practically made a career of dislocation? There has to be something else going on, here.
And indeed there is! Call it the seven-year glitch. For it has managed to disrupt and/or depress my world every 7th year like clockwork -- for as long, at least, as I have tracked such things.
In 1992, coming off a bitter-sweet winter on the isle of Lesbos, so rocky and problematical that I didn't want to included it in Innocence Abroad, I found myself "displaced in Seattle" for the mid-part of that year of return. Call it postpartum from the end of such a glorious adventure . . . call it insecurity from a lack of any residence to come home to . . . assign it as you will -- all I know is that it was depression, full bore, and it was seven years before this one.
In 1985, I was homeless and on the road, and had to scramble for some winter shelter -- which came in the form of live-in caretaking, the first time in fourteen years that this free soul had to suffer an employer, for his keep. And what a job! The totality of live-in work was such a radical shift in my reality, that depression was perfectly understandable. However . . . it occurred right on the 7-year line.
In 1978, I was happily settled in a rent-free situation in one of California's most elegant coastside communities: Carmel . . . when my benefactor suddenly died. Another cost-free situation shortly presented itself, in the mountains overlooking the Napa Valley wine country. But the setting was radically different, and that was my first-ever winter unrelieved by sunlight -- a cold, wet and decidedly depressive experience. Though, of all these seven-year low water marks, that was probably the least memorable.
1971, of course, was the year I made my break from the world of propriety and success (or the striving therefor, at any rate), to become my own person, fettered neither by necktie nor credit card: the primo world-changing experience of my life -- but fraught with such displacement and depression as I could wish for no one. To be sure, there was good reason for that dislocation and depression . . . but nevertheless, it happened exactly 28 years ago!
Before that, I'm not so sure. Recollected circumstance tells me that 1964 and 1957 must have been fairly upbeat years, but I haven't any journal records to confirm or deny it, and memory doesn't hold up so well for that far back. But I've long been aware that living free of a workplace entrainment allows one's real nature to emerge, revealing subtleties of being that were otherwise impossible to see. So I am willing to go on the recent 28-year record, as sufficient in itself.
As to the weak one of the quartet, 1978, I felt very much in retreat at that time, and really supposed that I was going to finish out my days in that mountain hideaway -- certain-ly a depressive attitude, if it wasn't understood as such at the time.
I had hardly begun, in those years, to chart the seasonal pattern in its entire spread, and had no sense of a Septide, or 7-year expression of it. I've only been really alert to this, trying to pin it down by such a run as I am now documenting, since I began to confront the psychological implications of a life moving into its winter range of years -- and I'm still not entirely assured that it is anything more than a "discovery of convenience." But I offer it, here, on the basis of reflective evidence, not wishful thinking.
I watch each day develop, now, with acute focus on how I'm relating to the world around me, and I can report a wide range of depression indicators, as well as the fact that I'm handling it tolerably well -- which I suspect is largely due to a sense that I'm on top of it. But let me run down a few of the significators:
I perhaps exaggerate some of these to make the point, but each one catalogs something that "is not the me" that I know, or prefer to be. Yet, here I am, and I can only hope it won't bring any serious disjuncture into my life. I recall an incident from the last Septide occasion of it, in 1992, that nearly got me thrown in jail! A purely irrational lapse, on my part, that I'd just as soon not go into.
For that matter, there are those who'd argue that my 1985 departure from Berkeley -- done, as it was, because I chose not to do the normal thing and get a job, when a rise in my rent loomed higher than I could afford to pay -- there are those who'd call that irrational, and I've many times wondered about it, myself!
But I think we are far from any real understanding of the irrational side of our being, and of the part it may legitimately play in our reality. We give it no credit, in a positive sense, yet all true creativity springs from it. Inspiration is sourced there, as are dreams, and the world would be a flat, dull place without it. If it doesn't always accord with what is 'proper,' in our social construction, the fault may well be with the rigidities of the latter, not the 'carefreedom' of the former.
There are intimations, in fact, that the irrational is not entirely an element of our own mental process, but that it manifests outside of us as a creative factor in reality development. Even further, that there is some sort of "bridge of necessity" between a personal destiny and what comes up for us to facilitate that destiny, in the outer world (or what we insistently suppose is the outer world).
Consider, for instance, the displacement factor in this 'Septide Winter' of mine: In each one of those four catalogued instances of the cyclic narrowing, I went through a span of actual homelessness, when I was not, or no longer, doing it for travel purposes. Circumstances simply seem to have developed in such a way -- sometimes precipitated by my own earlier actions, but sometimes not -- to all appearances, a rational flow of development. Yet, here I am, now, in my fifth year of stable settlement, about to be rendered "homeless" once more, for a period of three weeks, in midyear. How does it come to happen in this very same narrowing moment of my Septide, fulfilling a regularity that I have no apparent control over?
It is not actually a rational world that we live in, I suspect, but a world that we have insisted upon rationalizing. Or to say it another way, we can't seem to understand the world without fitting its phenomena into some pattern acceptable to the rational side of our minds. And thus, we are continually confronted with anomalies, and always under some pressure to pull and twist them into the established rational structure -- until the stretch becomes too great, and something equivalent to a 'new paradigm' is born. It may not reach the profound depth of what is generally referred to as a new paradigm, but it operates in the same gate-keeping way.
Once this is recognized -- the new rational framework for things -- there is a rush of sudden efflorescence, as many associated phenomena, previously denied recognition, can enter into our reality picture. The trick that our mind actually plays on us is not what is now commonly regarded as a construction of reality, but an insistence that things fit within an acceptably rational structure, before we allow them legitimate standing in our reality.
This has a wide variety of ramifications -- particularly at this time on the world stage, as I will try to show you in a moment -- leading me to believe that we actually are on the threshold of a New Age, though we insistently try to rationalize its intrusion into our comfort zone of prior experience. Bear in mind -- if I am seeing this correctly -- that our resistance is a natural effect, something inherent in the configuration of the rational mind that causes it to reject the irrational, very much as the physical organism rejects an alien implant.
Let me, then, go into a few features of contemporary life, as we approach this millennial turning, that are sufficiently strange to support such a reading.
The obvious place to begin is with the Y2K problem, itself -- the short-sighted error in programming that we are going to collide with in less than eleven months. I have earlier observed that there is a gendered reaction to the problem, an effect that other commentators have picked up, too. Women seem better able to grasp the wholistic and social nature of the threat, than men. Perhaps better able to live with its ambiguity, though I'm only guessing at this. But it is the ambiguity that I momentarily want to focus on.
This problem, though it owes its existence to what is certainly the most rigidly rational science of them all -- computer technology -- cannot be pinned down to specific prediction or evaluation, because it crosses too many territorial boundaries. It runs through hardware and software, it zips along from one sector to another (financial, industrial, marketing, transportation, communication, import/export, etc.) and through all the levels of command and response implied. It crosses the link from business to government, and government to people, the local, to the state, to the world . . . there is not a human-structured barrier that it doesn't cross. It represents, in short, the weaving of today's entire human process, and intrudes on this process at every juncture.
Therefore, it involves everyone. Even the poor third-world inhabitant living in a village hovel, for it will impact on that unlikely soul's relationship to government, to communication facilities, to health resources, to any food or commerce chain beyond the strictly local level. Not that it will interrupt all these things, but that it could interrupt any of them (and will likely interrupt more than a few).
It is this huge question mark, the perverse uncertainty of it all, that profoundly disturbs the too-rational mind trying to deal with it. To the point that many, up to now, have not been able to "let it in." Or if they do, it is only with firm rational limits on the extent of their conjecture. This is the average organizational mentality, confronting the problem only in terms of organizational responsibility. There have been a million quotes, to the effect that, "We're going to be functioning . . . but we can't be sure of the others" -- which is rational and true, but when extended to "...therefore, things will be okay," which is never said, but always implied, and becomes the delicate threshold from which the rational mind, in all of us, claims its shaky security . . . well, I think you can see the nature of the difficulty.
Faced with this absolute inability to find a securely rational 'safe zone,' the mind reels, and retreats to a conjecture of safety. Every observer who has thoughtfully considered the issue acknowledges that the situation we face cannot be known in advance, but each has taken personal refuge in some island of reasonable conjecture, based on nothing more substantial than the limits of their comfort zone. I call it an irrational resolution, made to seem rational by reference to whatever reasoning or authority appears to sustain it. Again, it is the mind's necessity to do so.
Among the many aspects of Y2K uncertain-ty, there is one approaching event, about which a certain degree of rational speculation can legitimately be made, the validity of which will prove itself sometime before -- maybe well before -- the actual arrival of next year. Considering the grave seriousness of it, along with the virtual certainty of it, the irrational feature of this one aspect is that it is being largely ignored, for the pitfall that it promises to become. That is to say, no effective way of dealing with it has surfaced, and no real alarm has yet been raised.
According to the best available projections (and I take this from very recent surveys), anywhere from 37% to 61.5% of the general public are already intent on withdrawing substantial funds from the banks, and one quarter of a particular sample (the 61.5% group) have indicated that their withdrawal will be above 90% of the funds they have on deposit. (Just so you don't pass these off as being the wild-eyed survivalists, only 7.8% professed an intent to head for remote locations.)
The banks, quite simply, could not meet such a demand from the country as a whole -- which means that there will either be bank closures, or some other form of limits on withdrawal imposed. That this will happen within the next ten months, and possibly as soon as midyear, can be considered a virtual certainty. Some effort will undoubtedly be made to stem the tide, but knowing the present temper of the American people, their attitude toward government, and their penchant for "looking out for number one," it holds little promise of any sufficient effect.
All it will take, you know, is one or two bank closures -- even temporary (which is they way it will likely be announced), and the stampede will be underway. That may not happen until the freshly printed cash reserve is gone -- but that reserve ($50 billion) is not sufficient to stem such a flow as the projections suggest.
Now, in itself, this is a difficult thing to contemplate -- once again, the rational mind simply has no acceptable reality framework for it. (If you need proof of this, just remember that those who plan to head for the hills are generally regarded as irrational -- when their evaluation is just as good as anyone else's). But what is far more problematical is that this is only a gateway into an economic landscape of absolutely inconceivable dimensions. So that it is not Y2K, alone, that we are facing, but Y2K (however easy or rough it may turn out to be) in an entirely re-shaped economic world! I don't think I am making this up. Nobody really knows what Y2K will bring on; but a fact-based calculation will show that sixty million American households going after a sizable share of their bank holdings, this year, can tear this country apart.
So then we come to the question of whether it will, or not? It can tear this country apart, but will it? And here is where the matter of a reality shift enters the picture.
We Americans have done a very strange thing with our economic system, over the course of the last half century. It is a system now structured entirely on debt. To "look at the books," we are all up to our eyeballs -- the most debt-ridden society the world has probably ever seen, both public and private. And yet, we manage to sustain the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. True, there are red flags, here and there around the landscape -- but there have been those for a long time, and the seeming contradiction goes on, and grows ever deeper. I have no explanation for this, being a lousy judge of economics in the first place -- but I see what goes on, and I believe in what I see. It's actually real, this "impossible" situation.
So I am going to make a fresh surmise. And I am going to premise it on a reality shift. "The books" do not reflect reality, they reflect our insistence on rational accounting. It's true, as a nation and as individuals we are deeply, steeply in debt -- which we've learned how to sidestep with bankruptcy and credit cards; and not to forget the commercial steamroller's own skills at finding ways to ram ever more consumer goods down our throats. Government cooperates with tax benefits, writeoffs, subsidies, many kinds of grant and welfare programs. It is very clear that we do not want to retreat from this state of affairs, so debt no longer means anything! (Except, of course, to the little people who haven't yet figured it out.)
In other words, the system is still rational (the accounting structure), but the reality is quite irrational. And I think it may be moving toward a flipover point, which could very well be precipitated by a banking collapse.
How would it actually happen? Well, there is a lot of undercurrent going on, in the grassroots Y2K preparation that is slowly gathering steam, as a natural outcome of government's failure to address the social side of the issue. Facing the likelihood of severe social fallout, cooperative ideas and plans are coming to the fore, based on ideals that hark back to the '60s and the long prior tradition of people working to a common purpose -- ideals that surface anew whenever crisis turns up on the American scene. Except that this time, it has a strong regenerative component, as if the twin currents of American alternative culture -- the political and the spiritual -- have finally secured a common ground.
If this spirit grows and we are, indeed, overtaken by fiscal collapse and Y2K chaos, there is enough grassroots potential for an entirely new kind of economy to arise. I wouldn't even begin to speculate on what it might look like, except that it will face up to the illusory notion of debt -- which seems to have fulfilled its transformative function.
I know -- it seems the height of delusional thinking to imagine anything as world-shaking as such a major functional shift in the way we 'do trade' with one another. But I am trying to point out that the shift has already occurred, in its initial phase -- we just fail to recognize it, and adjust our systems accordingly. To do so, after all, would mean things like negative income taxes, "socialized" medicine, and a new way of thinking about the human value of people "in need" instead of conceptually trashing them before they are ever helped. That we don't see these things is merely a failure and limitation of the rational mind tied to a ration-al structure of accounting -- nothing more.
I quite agree, that such a radically new economic structure seems far-fetched, and thus impossible. But if we want a model for the far-fetched and "impossible" coming into reality, just consider the spectacle that has been playing out for us on the Washington stage, this past year and more. We've been so wrapped up in the spectator effect of it, and various kinds of spectator rage, that we tend to ignore the rational/irrational implications involved, and fail to sense what it may thus be telling us, about a radical change coming over the political horizon.
It was in 1972 that the film Deep Throat emerged on the American scene. That was the same year as the Watergate break-in, which resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon, in the first modern instance of impeachment politics. It was also the year before Last Tango in Paris, widely regarded as the film that first brought explicit sex to the popular screen. Deep Throat, while it set theater records, never crossed the line from the 'adult film' category -- and it's worth noting that I had some difficulty obtaining the date of its issue, even from Public Library resources, which bears testimony to the typically fractured condition of our public reality, as regards sexual matters, even 27 years after the turnaround event in question.
In that same 27 years, the unspeakable act that was so classically enshrined in the film, Deep Throat (in its very title!), has made the unimaginable journey from a protectively darkened, admittance-restricted projection room, to the Oval Office of the White House -- the star performer no longer a penitent Linda Lovelace, but a sitting President of the United States. And -- if you'll forgive the expression -- the American public eats it up, while our somewhat humbled President (but only somewhat) goes right on truckin'.
Do you still want to challenge me, then, on any presumption of a "too far-fetched" reality shift, in what I earlier proposed?
If I know my readership, you're more likely surprised at my take on the Impeachment Follies. Well, don't be . . . I'm not finished with it, yet.
We've had such an absolutely classic demonstration, now continuing in the Senate chambers and presided by the country's top judicial savant, of a worn out and spent reality structure in its agonized death struggle, that the amazing feature of it is our continuing focus on the drama, itself, instead of the larger development.
What we are actually witnessing is the final breakdown of the political mystique that surrounds our way of governance. And along with it, the demise of the power structure that forced the issue: the right wing of the Republican party. They all talk, now, about the short political memory of the voting public -- no, this is not going to be forgotten, for it is seared into the American consciousness, which has already rendered its judgement.
I have to say, it's a rare occasion when I am proud of the American public, proud to be a part of it, and the rare moment has arrived. Not precisely because they've maintained this indiscreet and hapless victim of his own libido in office, but because they've massively responded to that self-sanctified assortment of moralizers with . . . "SO WHAT!" They've sorted out the various realities involved, here (and there are several), and taken the human-centered high ground, to bring this country through what I suspect and hope is its last great struggle with the dinosaurs of my own dying generation.
Yes, the President is naked! And he's just like the rest of us. And isn't that, after all, what this country was all about, in the first place?
It is not going to make for an instant return to that down-to-earth time and way, but maybe it will set a fresh course for us, in that direction. Leastwise, it will take us into the new century and millennium, finally unfettered by those who think they stand for God, and know exactly what is in that Supreme Consciousness.
Yes, we're watching -- and all participating in -- a fascinating stage-setting for the newness to come. The politics of our time is getting shaken out, the economics of our time has a washout coming up, and our submergence in technology -- the real religion of our age -- is headed toward its own comeuppance. (I might not miss this old century so much, after all).
So hang on, gang! We are headed for whitewater rafting, of a sort that no true adventurer would want to miss. But for God's sake, make sure you're prepared for the rough water . . . and don't wait until all the lifejackets are gone.
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