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Taking Stock at Year's End 2018

Updated: Jan 1, 2019

The first full calendar year of retirement is in the books. The real work goes on as I try to keep faith with the dream of being a poet I had when I was nineteen, a way of putting it that I borrow from Jim Harrison.

The days and weeks fly by. It seems I keep busy. Here is some raw data for 2018:

  • Portable Bohemia Blog word count: north of 113,000 words

  • New poems: 27 (some works in progress, all subject to revision)

  • Submission and publication: poems submitted to 26 magazines; 2 magazines published total of 6 poems; 1 poem accepted in 3rd magazine but not yet published; many rejections; 7 submissions outstanding

  • Reading: 102 books plus selections from 5 others

  • Film (viewed in theater): 55

  • Running: 831 miles

  • Political activity: Indivisible Oregon volunteer and Resist Trump Tuesday photographer/participant beginning May, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch letter-writing campaigns, numerous emails fired off to congressional representatives, participant in 4 demonstrations, all peaceful

I don't want to make too much of this. The notion that human activities can be reduced to data and metrics is among the follies of the age, endemic in the corporate sphere and creeping insidiously over into the existential realm. Subjective experience and judgment always come into play in deciding what counts as data and metrics, how the data is to be evaluated, and what inferences or conclusions are to be drawn from it. It is always complicated.

What the data tells me is that I have gone at the work with a measure of discipline. The blog entries could make up a fair-sized book. There are some new poems, too few, all minor, all subject to revision, but some. I submitted poems for publication in a more systematic and sustained fashion than ever in the past. While many of the books on the reading list are crime novels that can be read with half my brain tied behind my back, a fair number are more substantive.

The running data calls for some explanation. I logged 679 miles through end of July and anticipated picking up my mileage in the months for the remainder of the year. A touch of plantar fasciitis laid waste to those good intentions. After six weeks of down time I ran only another 152 miles from late September to end of December. By way of context, my brother, Trani, who ran his seventh Boston Marathon in April and the California International Marathon in Sacramento earlier this month, logged over 1,500 miles for the year. And he had the usual minor injuries along the way. That's some running.

None of this says anything about quality. It may all be dreck. John Berryman said you never know if it is good. Of course, Berryman was an alcoholic and depressive who committed suicide by jumping off a Minneapolis bridge onto the frozen Mississippi River. His poems, especially Dreamsongs, exhibit an off-brand humor that would raise the hackles of our commissars of political correctness if he were around today. Ah, but I digress.

I have to wonder if I would not have more to show for it if I had any real talent, publication in prestigious magazines, a few books, one of those MacArthur Genius Grants. There is a small audience for my poems and reason to suspect there might be a slightly broader one out there in the great wide world if only I knew how to reach it. Alas, there is not an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I do believe that I have over the years written a few poems that are almost pretty good. I could be wrong.

Looking ahead to 2019. When I retired from the wage work in August 2017, I set up a curriculum for the fall term to ensure I did not completely fritter away my newfound freedom. The Greeks were the subject of study that fall as I read, or reread as the case may be, Homer's Iliad, Sophocles (Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus), Aristotle's Politics, finished in Spring 2019, and assorted reference works. The grim reality of the Trump regime set in with the Spring 2018 term. I turned to Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, the French Resistance during World War II, the not always admirable role of French intellectuals in the postwar era, and Raymond Aron's analysis of the 1968 student revolution in France, in all of which I found parallels to inform my own thinking as I try to come to terms with our dismal present. For the fall I took up American history with revisionist historian William Appleman Williams' The Contours of American History (1961) and the Federalist papers (still working on that), a bio of Marx and excerpts from his writings (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology: Part I, Manifesto of the Communist Party, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, et al.), a book about the Paris Commune, and selections on Marxism from Eric Hobsbawm and on socialism from Michael Harrington.

While all this was worthwhile and I feel I gained from it, I locked myself into the prescribed course of study too rigidly, which is kind of what I tend to do. I also got too hung up on some blog essays (Tom Nichols and the death of expertise, the conservative culture of grievance and victimization, Jordan Peterson, etc.), putting an inordinate amount of time and thought into them that might have been better devoted to other projects.

For the coming year I hope to put more into reading and writing poems and study of literature more broadly but more as it comes, not so much with an established curriculum. My other hope is to make the blog more interesting, amusing, and maybe even informative. We will see how that goes.

It should go without saying that I will also continue political activity. As the Greek poet Alexandros Panagoulis put it, "Politics is a duty, poetry is a need."

Keep the faith.

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