As the year gallops to a close it is time once again to take a deep breath and reflect on what I been up to, where it has taken me, and plans, prospects, hopes for bumbling onward into the coming year.
2022. I turned seventy. Another year of books, film, and running brightened beyond measure by a lovely if all too brief Portland visit by Trani and Candace from Tulsa and Dan and Danny from Minneapolis.
The year kicked off tentatively on the running front with short, slow, cautious runs after shutting down entirely November and December 2021 due to ankle and knee woes that disrupted the running for a full year. Nothing serious enough to consult a doctor, heaven forfend, or even a physical therapist. Just rest, rehab exercises, and when I say short runs, I mean 1.5 miles, 2 miles. For slow, think glacial. A milestone, so to speak, came on April 30 when I cracked five for the first time, followed by a second five-miler on May 21. After that I was on my way. Not back to where I was prior to middle of May 2021 but routinely running three days a week, with long runs of at least seven on Saturday and up to nine by October.
Five years as an old retired guy has brought a measure of astonishment when I consider what I was able to accomplish while working forty hours a week. Throughout my life I was fortunate to find honorable employment where I worked with more than a few good and some truly exceptional people. The rub was always the distinction between my real work and what I had to do to generate income. I never made peace with the necessity to sacrifice the best hours of too many days to the office. Failure to escape or evade that necessity was the consequence of a lifetime of poor choices and foolish moves, a deep-seated but sometimes dingbat romanticism, and the vagaries of a fate indifferent to us all. Despite that I wrote poems that I believe are almost pretty good. Some found a small audience in magazines and at poetry readings. In addition to the poems my files contain half a dozen or so failed novels hacked away at intermittently over four decades, which in the end amount to evidence that I put some time and effort into it and that my talent does not lie with fiction. And the blogs. Memo from the Fringes ran from 2005 to 2008, House Red 2010 to 2015. Portable Bohemia kicked off in 2016 and here I am.
Fancying myself a poet, a writer of any fashion, means putting time in at the desk. A solitary affair. I am unsure how to classify blog writings, a mix of of reporting, analysis, critique, literary and film criticism, the occasional bio sketch, all referred to carelessly and interchangeably as articles, essays, pieces. I hacked out thirty-six last year, accompanied by twenty-four newsletters, two a month. Twenty-eight fall under the blog category Politics and Current Affairs; one under Arts, The Surrealist Life of Leonora Carrington; one under Cinema, Northwest Film Center (1971–2022); five Literary/Intellectual; and one Miscellany, last week's holiday greetings.
At year's end I tally up word counts for essays and newsletters. The numbers serve as confirmation that I kept at it. They are silent as to quality, which it goes without saying is never what I wish it to be. The consistency is pleasantly surprising, with better than 90,000 words each of the past five years. Today's effort will nudge the tally for 2022 past 95,000.
The poems do not come as readily or often as they once did. Dating back to the 1970s I was haphazard about keeping submissions in the mail and, later, the internet aether. Since retirement I have been more diligent with submission aspect of the poetry work. Four poems written in 2022 appear in the December issue of Adelaide Literary Magazine. Perhaps they will find a few readers. Many even one or two who will say, wow, these are nice. Who is that guy? I keep at it.
In the muck of politics and current affairs the exemplary work of the January 6 committee was a pleasant surprise. So was the steady drumbeat of convictions related to the attempt to overthrow the government. The midterm elections brought a measure of hope, but the margins were awfully narrow. Constitutional governance and rule of law remain in peril in a deeply divided country.
The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken me more deeply than I would have anticipated. Tales of Ukrainian resistance to barbarism that knows no depth beneath which it will not sink have moved me just as deeply. Thus far President Biden, most of Congress, and Europe on the whole have stood firm even as the usual suspects push back against continued support.
Too much else has happened to get into it all here. By way of example: mass shootings; a seemingly intractable homelessness crisis; ditto the mess with immigration and the border; a troglodyte faction on the Supreme Court out to roll back much of the twentieth century; catastrophic weather events; the return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu with a hardline, far right governing coalition whose extreme religious and ultranationalist agenda includes the declaration that the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel, rejection of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and expansion of West Bank settlements. And much else.
The year's end exercise would not be complete without mention of books and films. What follows is not of list of bestsellers and blockbusters or acclaimed books and films that might be up for awards, Pulitzers, Oscars, and whatnot. Nor is it comprehensive. Just some of the books and films that stood out for me, a taste of my idiosyncratic taste.
Orlando Figes, The Story of Russia (2022)
Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (2017)
Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012)
Mary McCarthy, Intellectual Memoirs: New York 1936–1939 (1992)
Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018)
Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (1972)
Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993)
New mystery writers (new to me, at any rate)
Kate Atkinson (highly recommended): Shrines of Gaiety (2022) and the Jackson Brodie series: Case Histories (2004), One Good Turn (2006), When Will There Be Good News? (2008), Started Early, Took My Dog (2011), and Big Sky (2019)
Susie Steiner: Missing, Presumed (2016), Persons Unknown (2017), and Remain Silent (2020)
Sarah Ward: A Deadly Thaw (2016) and A Patient Fury (2017)
Amanda (2018). Dir. Mikhaël Hers. With Vincent Lacoste.
The Audition (2019). Dir. Ina Weisse. With Nina Hoss.
La Daronne (Mama Weed) (2021). Dir. Jean-Paul Salomé. With Isabelle Huppert.
Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night) (2014). Dir. Dardenne Bros (Jean-Pierre and Luc). With Marion Cotillard.
La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl) (2017). Dir. Dardenne Bros. With Adèle Haenel.
France (2021). Dir. Bruno Dumont. With Léa Seydoux.
Le goût des merveilles (The Sense of Wonder) (2015). Dir. Éric Besnard. With Virginie Efira.
Police (2020). With Virginie Efira.
Victoria (2016). Dir. Justine Triet. With Virginie Efira and Vincent Laoste.
Isabelle Huppert is a longtime favorite and one of the best of our era. Nina Hoss is a generation younger and more than deserving of mention in the same breath with Huppert. Virginie Efira, Vincent Lacoste, and Marion Cotillard are new discoveries I look forward to seeing more of.
I have never been much for New Year's resolutions. My inclination is to think in vague, general terms about what lies ahead. Much of it comes down to living the life as best I can for as long as I can.
In small ways this means starting most days with morning zazen, meditation practice in the Soto Zen tradition of just sitting. To this was added a sequence of qigong exercises known as the eight pieces of silk brocade taken up last winter, usually done mid afternoon on running days, late morning on others. Over time these brief periods of focus on breathing, thinking not-thinking, and the movements of the qigong have become simply what I do, part of whoever it is I am, living the life.
I remain able to run, I still enjoy it, and I look forward to racking up some mileage in 2023. More living the life. There will almost surely come a time when I will be no longer able to run. Still living the life. Maybe I will have the good fortune to step on a rainbow in the midst of a long, satisfying run, maybe twenty or thirty years down the road (thinking more optimistically than is my custom).
A lifelong wanderlust and love of travel took a hit the past three years, first because of covid, then from a growing neuroticism about flying, not fear of flying or concern about covid but rather aversion to all the hassles that go with it. What was once the annual Christmas visit to Tulsa was postponed again this year. That may have been just as well. The visit would have been brief, and there is a good chance I would have been flying Southwest, or trying to. The current plan is to hit Tulsa in the spring with a visit to the Bob Dylan Center, now open to the public, high on the agenda of things of do, followed by a trip to Rochester to visit my cousin Little Lynn and her husband Glenn far enough out in the year to be reasonably assured their winter is behind them. Glenn is a real photographer so maybe I will even have some good photographs to share when I write about the adventure.
I have not been in a movie theater since everything closed down in March 2020 and cut short the annual Portland International Film Festival. I should support theaters that have reopened but have not yet done so, due less to concern about covid than to my lack of interest in the mega-blockbusters that dominate current offerings. Fine films are being made. I have found more than a few to watch online. Portland still boasts an array of fine theaters that feature foreign and lesser known domestic films of quality despite Portland Art Museum's purge of the NW Film Center and with it, apparently, the film festival, about which I intend to devote at least one more rant early next year. In the meantime I hope to bumble into some cherished old haunts, Cinema 21, Academy Theater, Hollywood Theatre, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters, in the near future.
Pursuit of the intellectual adventure is another of those things that is just what I do, who I am. It is time to choose a subject for the spring semester 2023. For fall 2022 I kind of fell into study of Russian history and culture. This was rewarding and worthwhile, but it happened in a rather hit or miss fashion. I hope to go at some topic in a more disciplined manner in the months ahead.
I like to think that Portable Bohemia stands in an honorable tradition of pamphleteers, gadflies and rabble rousers, unleashed on Western Europe around 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg's introduction of printing with movable metal type and the perfection of cheap paper in that same century (Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250–1550). The tradition crossed the Atlantic to colonial North America, where, by way of example, as William Appleman Williams pointed out, "the boulders of New England produced more poets, pamphleteers, and politicians than landed gentry" (The Contours of American History). I think of John Milton, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Paine among those on whose shoulders I stand as I continue to put pen to paper and hammer away at the computer keyboard with hope that something of interest, maybe even thought provoking, will come of sharing my own thoughts and passions. If nothing else maybe I can turn you on to some good books to read and films to watch.
And I continue to court the Muse. Maybe she will on occasion grace me with a poem that catches a glimmer of Keats' shape of beauty that in spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth of noble natures, of the gloomy days, of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways made for our searching, yes, in spite of all, moves away the pall from our dark spirits. It happens. It does. "Swear to God!" as a young girl in one of Kate Atkinson's novels is given to exclaiming upon being questioned about some improbable claim she has made.
I close with the conviction that despite all the screeching blockheads, dingbats, and nimrods around us there are many decent people out there. I like to think that in my best moments I may be one of them. You, dear reader, may be another. Hold that thought. And keep the faith.
Bumbling onward, ha!
Yr obdt svt