Closing Out 2016


The good news is that we put the horror of the Trump campaign and election behind us. With it comes the bad news that the horror of the Trump presidency lies ahead.

You can't tell the players without a program, as they say. ProPublica offers a nifty card deck that lays out the best accountability reporting on the unsavory bunch slated to make up the Trump regime. You can download a pdf to your desktop for easy reference.

Last night the president-elect, displaying once more the emotional maturity of a not particularly mature twelve-year-old, tweeted, "Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!" While we may not know quite what to do, we know that we will continue to resist the Trump regime's agenda to roll back environmental, workplace safety, and financial regulations; to repeal the Affordable Care Act without putting something better in its place; to demonize Muslims and immigrants; to place impediments to voting in front of individuals who are members of groups typically inclined to support their opponents; to undermine public education and unions; to deny climate change and promote the use of fossil fuels, including opening public lands to drilling and fracking; and so on. The list is daunting without getting into Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, or Iran, build-up of the nuclear arsenal, and more and so on.

Enough of dreary politics. Now on to perhaps too much ado about myself, where a personal accounting produces a ledger that is all over the place. The year brought some good reading, highlighted by the discoveries of Elena Ferrante's truly special Neapolitan novels and the Icelandic writer Haldór Laxness, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. The books were accompanied by a handful of fine films, Paolo Sorrentino's Youth and Anne Fontaine's The Innocents foremost among them. Lists of book and film favorites follow at the end of this piece.

The launch of Portable Bohemia in June counts for something. Your oft humbled scribe has managed to post regularly and keep to the schedule of semimonthly newsletters. There is satisfaction to be had in that even when the quality of the content falls short of what is desired. Too much strikes me as pedestrian, lacking in verve, wit, and insight. Often I think too much and not nearly well enough. Nonetheless, I go on.

Another year passed with hardly anything by way of new poems. Perhaps I have said everything there that I have to say. But I am not ready to put down the pen. For better and worse I am unwilling to settle for my meager accomplishment to date. I look to John Keats, "I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired" ("Ode to Psyche"). I go on.

No marathon this year. Even so the running went well for a good portion of the year, twenty-five to thirty miles a week, with weekly long run of ten to twelve miles, until I pulled up lame Thanksgiving morning. After aborted efforts that lasted five and fourteen minutes, respectively, on succeeding weekends, even I could figure out that more extended down time was in order. This morning's run just shy of four miles at an absurdly slow pace even by my standards came off without a hitch. Felt a lot like I had not run in five weeks but otherwise quite good. I am cautiously optimistic and already harboring zany notions of finding a marathon for the fall.

There was no travel to speak. Time away from the office was devoted to the real work of study and trying to write essays and poems, which encompasses cultivating a spirit conducive to these efforts. I got out of town only twice, an overnight trip to Eugene for dinner rendezvous with a dear friend in July and Christmas with Big T and the family in Tulsa. Each was wonderful.

I turn sixty-five in August. From a purely practical and financial perspective, I should probably hang on with the wage work for another year or several. From a mental health and quality of life standpoint, no, no, no. The future, always uncertain, grew more so on November 8. Uneasiness about resources for retirement renders me more timid than ever.

The timidity is outweighed by the prospect of passing my days in pursuit of the intellectual adventure and life's deepest pleasures, dinner, wine, conversation, and companionship with friends, books, film, running, flâneuring, hiking in semiwild places, figuring out what to point the camera at, and the like. If I lived in Tulsa Big T might let me bumble around Tulsa Runner a few hours a week to pick up pocket money. Maybe I can find a similar option in Portland if I remain here or elsewhere if I seek out a less expensive place to live or just decide the spirit might be invigorated by new surroundings.

Ah, I have run on longer than anticipated and not altogether in directions I had in mind when I set out. That is in the nature of the essay:

(n.) 1590s, "trial, attempt, endeavor," also "short, discursive literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from Middle French essai "trial, attempt, essay" (in Old French from 12c.), from Late Latin exagium "a weighing, a weight," from Latin exigere "drive out; require, exact; examine, try, test"...

And on that note, I close with wishes to all for a happy New Year! As we used to say in the '60s, keep the faith, baby.

Memorable Books Read in 2016

  • Elena Ferrante

  • My Brilliant Friend

  • The Story of a New Name

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

  • The Story of the Lost Child

  • Jim Harrison

  • The Big Seven

  • The Ancient Minstrel (3 novellas)

  • Dead Man's Float (poems)

  • Haldor Laxness, Independent People

  • Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

  • The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941–1956

  • Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists

  • Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History

  • Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (I am 193 pages into this one as I write. It is fascinating. The Koch bros, Richard Mellon Scaife, and their allies may be even more greedy, unscrupulous, and generally disreputable than I imagined, which is hard to believe, but there you go. The link is to Bill McKibben's excellent review in The New York Review of Books)

Memorable Films Viewed in 2016

  • Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

  • Last Cab to Darwin (dir. Jeremy Sims)

  • The Innocents (dir. Anne Fontaine)

  • Miles Ahead (dir. Don Cheadle)

  • Hamlet Goes Hollywood (dir. Aki Kaurismaki)

  • A Man Called Ove (dir. Hannes Holm)

  • Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)

  • Fences (dir. Denzel Washington)

#LiteraryampIntellectual #CurrentAffairs #Miscellany

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David Matthews

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