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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Jetty on Galveston Island

12/1/00-Fri.-4 A.M. Can't sleep again...Am reminded of the early 70's and the first days of my "Steps" journalizing, this month, 29 years ago. Then, like now, there was a sense of crisis. See "First Steps: I." Somehow, despite all the drama, I got through it. Things even improved. The organism, after all, does not do well with a great deal of stress. So, it naturally seeks, and usually finds, routines that lower the tension level.

Among friends and acquaintances, I am often considered witty. Ironic that the sense of humor does not come to my rescue in dealing with my own personal night terrors. Instead, at such times, all seems in almost deadly earnest. A funny perspective is sorely lacking! Still, as was true in my initial diary days, and nights, of nearly three decades ago, so now, a little light distraction, whether taking a shower, reading a book, watching TV quietly (so as not to awaken Fran), or even doing some relaxing meditation techniques, etc., is all that is needed to get me ready to snooze some more.

My few days of annual leave begins this morning. Although I did not get well caught up before leaving the job yesterday, which is worrisome, I have dealt with this situation many times before. Onerous as the work and playing catch-up are, they shall be done. Once again, I'll focus, each workday, on definitive action on five of the oldest pending cases and, at home, on daily meditation.

I'm off in a few hours for Mom's place, in Woodway, a suburb of Waco. (I'll take a nap while she's busy in town, in the early afternoon.) Am returning Sun.

The interlude has worked again. I'm now quite tired, after a little radio, a cup of hot decaf, some net surfing, plus diary writing, and ready to go back to bed!

12/3/00-Sun.-Am back from Waco. Actually had a really good time, overall! Did a lot of fun things with nieces and nephews and had some nice visiting time with Mom. She, however, was not too happy, after a variety of mishaps, with two gifts she'd gotten for others having been accidentally broken, apparently beyond repair, one the result of a child's carelessness (and the child not adequately supervised by its mother, one of my sister-in-laws, who had promised Mom she'd watch her things while the latter continued shopping---happens!), the other especially distressing as Mom herself dropped it and is wondering if she's beginning to "lose it." Indeed, she's not the woman she used to be, though doing pretty well for aged 78! Perhaps in overcompensation for the weekend's frustrations, during each of the past two evenings she had a stiff drink of whisky. Sigh. This afternoon, she sent an e-mail out to most in the extended family that had repeated errors in one grandchild's name, something I feel sure she would have caught and corrected if not for her loneliness, fears, frustration over various things, and her use of alcohol. She says too that she's begun to worry, naturally enough I suppose, a lot about her health, now that many around her in her social network are succumbing to mental and physical ills.

I did not get a nap today, which is perhaps one reason I am feeling mildly depressed tonight. Another may be that Fran, after I had given her an hour massage tonight (her turn) was not seeming to feel affectionate, as I had been earlier, but, instead, was caught up in a special creative project which, however, was not going too well due to technical glitches, such as that our printer, which we've been nursing along, after it began having problems right as its warranty ran out, Murphy's Law, stopped working completely tonight, just when she needs it to finish up several pages as part of her project, required soon since it involves really nice Christmas gifts both for my mom and her parents. Fran is mildly upset and, as if her discomfiture is contagious, so am I. Nonetheless, we'll likely get the printer difficulties solved well enough in the next few days; and Fran has the complicated endeavor's printing already about 3/4 finished. I'm actually probably at least equally bothered that I must return to work, under something of a cloud, after two more days, though things are seldom as bad as I imagine they might be.

On a bright, personal note, over the weekend, Mom gave us an early Christmas check, this time for $3000! As the stock market continues generally downward, this is most welcome. It will be invested in one of the equity bargains now available.

12/8/00-Fri.-On this day, 59 years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his famous "date which will live in infamy" speech, about the December 7th, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, an event that thrust our nation (of former isolationists), willy-nilly, into the Second World War, with the final result that we emerged from the chaos the globe's supreme power. So, while that date lives truly in infamy, yet far better that we had such a shock, and were roused to the heights of which we were capable by it, than that we had continued to try to bury our heads in our desert sands, about what was going on all around us. Our entrance into World War II was far less traumatic than was the case for any of dozens of other nations.

This has been a busy but not unpleasant week for me. Monday and Tuesday I remained off work. I did a lot of holiday shopping, worked on a tribute to Mary, and generally took things easy, including good meals out, at Jim's and Trudy's, and going to a movie, "Pay It Forward," a not great film, but with a very neat idea, one I'd like to see catch on, though it almost certainly won't, any more than has, on the whole, the Golden Rule. Wednesday, my first day back on the job, was less difficult than I'd feared it would be. Last night, Fran, Matt, and Glenda bought me a birthday dinner and some wine at Bombay Grill, where we had a nice visit for about an hour and a half.

We decided that, intellectually, we wish Gore had conceded early on in the presidential race, but that, after all the Republican tactics to keep a fair count from showing that their candidate was not really the winner of the popular vote in Florida, and thus in the country, including calling sincere public servants all kinds of names, like "thugs" and thieves," solely in a cynical effort to discredit the attempt to have legitimate votes properly counted, emotionally, we all hoped Gore would take the matter just as far as he could, and in the process hopefully expose George W. for the election-stealing fraud he actually is.

We'd tried to have this celebration about six weeks earlier; but could never get it arranged because it was just a busy time for all of us. As it was, our mutual Baltic Buzzards friend, Sam, was not able to join us.

Today was rather productive at the best of all possible workplaces! This evening, while Fran was at a rehearsal, Pepper and I took a walk. I then had a hot bath, worked some on an investment article, listened to National Public Radio coverage of the day's surprising developments in the ongoing "election 2000" ordeal, meditated for awhile, listened to "Film Score Focus," and finally finished proofing, for submission online, my "First Steps," No. XI, the diary entries for the fall of 1972. Probably will be getting to bed in about an hour, at Midnight.

This weekend, I'll be finishing up Christmas shopping and finally getting holiday cards ready to mail. Also, we'll wrap up the several page tribute to Mary, including pictures Fran will insert after scanning them in. This is in recognition of Mary's upcoming fiftieth birthday, at the start of February. Caroline, who had drawn Mary's name for Christmas, in the extended family name exchange, had asked for it to be done early because she wanted to include it in a Christmas gift to Mary, along with submissions from several others. However, it looks as though few care to participate in that. So, I may wind up giving it to her later, myself, as, indeed, I'd already planned to do before hearing from Caroline about the matter.

12/10/00-Sun.-Last week also marked the twentieth anniversary of The Beatles' John Lennon's assassination. His group probably had a more profound musical and cultural effect than any other in the '60s and '70s. Millions came of age listening to their music and being affected by their lifestyle changes during this turbulent period. For them, Lennon's tragic, early death, on 12/8/80, was probably as traumatic as John Kennedy's was for those of us who'd grown up about a decade before them.

Rose today about half past 6 A.M. It's a very busy day for me, including finishing Christmas shopping (already done), getting cards ready to send, purchasing a haircut, receiving a most welcome massage from Fran, out to eat at Trudy's for breakfast (been there, done that, delicious as usual!), etc.

The conservative majority, narrow, 5/4 split-decision of the U. S. Supreme Court late yesterday, staying the recount mandated, of Florida undercounted ballots, by that state's Supreme Court on Friday, almost certainly now, finally, gives the presidential election victory to their fellow conservative, George W. Bush. It is now unlikely the judiciary can escape the charge that it too has been politicized in this most divisive, controversial election in my lifetime. As I had feared earlier, the outcome is almost certainly not going to be good for our nation's democratic institutions. Nor is it likely to give George W. much, if any, mandate or legitimacy for his four years in office. With a 50/50 tie beween our two main parties in the U. S. Senate, our government as a whole appears to have little mandate for accomplishing anything of significance. Meanwhile, the partisan trench warfare, that has been in escalation for almost a decade, now can be expected to continue, with repercussions that seemingly cannot be positive.

12/11/00-Mon.-According to the 17th Century mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, the sole cause of a person's unhappiness is an inability to stay in one's room, or, in some translations, to sit quietly and alone. As I review the ongoing dilemma of American presidential politics in the year 2000, it occurs to me that, from the candidates on down, there may be an important lesson here. Indeed, how much better off we might be if we could simply stay still and by ourselves, rather than engaging in such excessive ambition and dissension!

12/12/00-Tues-Winter weather holds even Texas now in its grip. Many schools, government buildings, and private companies closed early today, as freezing rain began to make driving terribly hazardous throughout the Austin area. Both Fran and I headed back at least an hour sooner than usual. In my case, it took twice as long, however, to get through the traffic gridlock and make it safely home. Similar, but often much worse, conditions prevail from here north.

Perhaps somewhat indicative of Fran's having mild health difficulties and/or great fatigue lately, I awoke from a dream last night in which I was in the arms of Cameron Diaz. "Hey, what are you doing here? I'm married!" I said, surprised. "Don't worry, Phil," she said, "I'm just f---ing with you!" Acquiescing without too much resistance, I stroked her hair and asked if she was still setting it with the "gel" she'd used in "There's Something About Mary." "Oh, yes, when I can," she said, laughing, "but I seem to be out just now. Can you help me with that?" "I'll do what I can," I averred.

12/16/00-Sat.-Fran was very cuddly this morning, just before we got up. We went for a walk with Pepper in her favorite, Target, area of southwest Austin. We had a good time thinking of new ideas for a possible dog site. Fran mailed some packages to her folks and to her sister and her brother-in-law. She also did some work out in the yard. I worked some on our next issue of The Wagnerian Express.

I should note that today is significant as the (hypothetical) birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven. I'm enjoying, throughout the day, pieces of his music being played on the radio. His actual birthday is not known; but it is thought to possibly have been either December 15th or December 16th of 1770. He is felt by many to have been the finest composer the world has ever known!

12/21/00-Thurs.-Though Fran and I enjoyed some pleasant intimacy over the weekend, we are both out of sorts with each other this evening. She has a bad cold (which I may be catching as well), just in time for her holidays from teaching and performing! I have not gotten much sleep over the last couple nights (only partly because of extra sounds coming from my stuffed-up spouse); and major interruptions of otherwise productive time at work keep me from making much headway toward casework goals. Then, the computer is more difficult to use than expected tonight and, though Fran helped with this immensely, this was not before we'd gotten on each other's frayed nerves. Oh well.

Tomorrow I get off the job at Noon. We plan to meet at Bombay Grill for lunch. Hopefully, we'll both be feeling a bit better by then.

It occurs to me, apropos de nada, and to mix languages, that if we could biologically engineer chimps or gorillas to be just a little more intelligent, with a rudimentary language, if only in sign, and some self-reflective traits, plus awareness of their own mortality, then religion, with icons, priests, magical places, wishfully-thinking prayers, awe before the almighty, and the rest of it, would soon follow. Would spirituality under these circumstances be any more or less legitimate than for our species?

Personally, apart from poetry, the closest philosophical and religious approach to my own thinking, as I see things now, is not really a spiritual path as such at all, but simply existentialism.

From our point of view, a brighter note than any above: we've achieved our year-end investments target, despite the downturn in the markets. Yea!

12/23/00-Sat.-It's been a rough week, with cedar fever developing for me and a cold continuing for Fran. Work, as usual, is not going too well, with many interruptions to productivity. I also received a jury summons, which means there will be still more delays in getting much done on the job, this time starting a few days into next month. We'd also expected to be going this morning up to Waco to visit with my mom and others there, staying through Christmas. But yesterday afternoon Fran got an unexpected call from the Austin Symphony. They must have her services as a substitute musician for the performances of "The Nutcracker." She played in two concerts/ballets yesterday and is repeating this today. While it means an extra $300, it was rather disruptive to have this last-minute change. However, our colds or allergic reactions had already made life unpleasant. We can use the extra rest here today. Maybe we'll stay one more night (Mon.) than earlier planned in Waco to make up for the delay.

I've been going through the "MSN Year in Pictures." I love this kind of thing, year-end summaries, century summaries, millennium summaries, etc., in pictures, verbally, round table discussions, collages, or whatever format. In this case, my top choice in the Year 2000 pictures that MSN featured is #10.

In honor of the close of both the 20th Century and the Second Millennium, which actually officially end at Midnight, 12/31/00 (not in 1999), I also enjoy checking out summaries of remarkable people of the century. Among the many candidates, mine today is Antoine de Saint Exupery, the famous author, inventor, pioneer pilot, and philosopher, whose birthday was 100 years ago this year (6/29/1900) and whose works, including The Little Prince and Wind, Sand, and Stars, according to some, are the third most read of all available literature, after The Bible and The Koran. While he may not really be that popular and influential, except in France, his books have been very important. I find them personally among my favorites.

12/25/00-Mon.(Christmas Day) It's been a hectic couple days, but the gains, overall, seem better than the deficits. Fran is "happy and perky," feeling very good about things generally. It probably helps that she is now all but completely over a cold or "cedar fever" allergic reaction that had troubled her for a few days. I'm quite pleased with her upbeat mood, but having some trouble sharing in it. My own allergic reaction descended again, as last winter, into my bronchial tubes and lungs, or at least has also involved them, so that I have both asthma symptoms and a great deal of sinusitis. Bother! But this time I know how to treat it. Last night I stayed in a Waco motel so as not to disturb the relatives we were visiting, at my mom's place for the weekend, with all my coughing, sneezing, etc. It was not one of my more pleasant experiences, there alone, but certainly beat a lot of things. At least I could take my own dear, sweet time in doing everything, just as well, since I felt rather miserable doing anything.

Fran's car was worked on last week. On the trip up to Waco it stalled out completely, something it's never done before. Then, on our way back in pouring rain and heavy traffic, it stalled out twice more and threatened to do so a couple more times. Distressing! We're hoping it's just got a bad batch of fuel.

Am continuing with a reading of Queen Victoria---Born to Succeed by Elizabeth Longford. I really enjoy this work, almost as much as I did The Guns of August. The Queen Victoria book I'm reading, though, is apparently currently out of print. The above link takes you to one by the same author that is only 128 pages long. The comprehensive one I'm currently going through is a Pyramid edition paperback which was published in 1966 and has 635 pages!

12/26/00-Tues.-Slept through the night without any coughing or sneezing fits. Hooray! Only relatively mild residuals of my recent illness remain this morning as I get up about 7:30 A.M. Must make best use today of this final time before returning to work on Wed. We need to take a walk, do some shopping, get several thank you cards ready, etc. Fran will likely also be giving me an hour-long massage (oh boy!). I may do some meditation, etc.

Here in Austin, we have a 100% chance of rain today, 90% of rain or sleet Wed. (oh boy!). Temperatures have dropped considerably since the weekend.

12/27/00-Wed.-Have continued to be under the weather, though the cedar fever and asthma symptoms are lessening. Yesterday also developed significant lower back pain. Feeling rather old just now.

Last night we visited again, finally, our former friends, Harriet and Carl Gold, whom we used to see frequently in the early days of our marriage, but from whom we've drifted apart over the years. They invited us over to enjoy some of their decorations for the holidays. We had a nice time at their place. Carl has a major hobby in Christmas-related collectibles. He has scores of Santas, many of which move and talk. He also has a neat artificial Christmas tree setup, complete with a snowscape, electric train, flying Santa with reindeer, tiny sledders, tobogganists, skiers, and so on, and so forth! The Golds are semi-retired, but both still work some, averaging a few hours a week each.

Yesterday, Jason Robards died, after a prolonged battle with cancer. Through his many movies and television plays, this excellent actor has had a significant influence, which has not left me unaffected. Two of my favorites among his abundant films were: the 1962 movie adaptation of Eugene O'Neil's play, "Long Days Journey into Night;" and the 1977 movie, "Julia."

12/29/00-Fri.-1:00 A.M. Another sleepless night, at least so far, after another miserable day on the barricades at my best of all possible jobs. My inestimable boss, a fatuous, pedantic, tight-assed worthy, always quick with the difficult solutions to easy problems, oblivious of the time constraints on my already crammed schedule, has decided that, to assure my greater "efficiency" in case management, I must now spend more precious time consulting him on the best way of doing things, a fix that is guaranteed to have the opposite of intended effect on my productivity. It is as if, noting that a watch is wound too tightly, my mad-hatter supervisor takes a sledgehammer to it to restore its proper function. My work is behind for clearly predictable reasons, such as having to move from a perfectly good cubicle to satisfy the whims of still higher-up imbeciles while still receiving cases plus additional backup work for absent caseworkers and undergoing time-intensive training repeatedly on new, lengthier procedures we must now institute to accomplish the simplest tasks, plus ice-storm office closure days, illness, holidays, and all the rest of it. Fortunately, his royal obtuseness will be on leave next week, giving me a chance to get some work out! But, tomorrow, while I'm exhausted from yet another insomniac idyll, I shall have to pretend to appreciate his ever more officious interruptions while somehow dealing with all the normally pressing concerns of an oh so needy clientele. I must try, for the tenth time, to ignore my feelings about this latest indignity and finally get some rest!

12/30/00-Sat.-Exhausted last evening. Nonetheless, we stayed up till past midnight, doing this and that.

This is the final weekend of the 2000th year after the birth of a man called Jesus (give or take 4-6 years, depending on which monk one assumes made the mistake in creating the calendars), whom church fathers later deified with the appellation "Christ."

We got up, close to 8 A.M. Errands and a walk with the dog this morning. We entertained ourselves during our perambulation with the question: "What have been the greatest achievements of our species in the time we've arbitrarily called The Second Millennium?"

Ideas and possible correct answers:

  • The doubling or tripling of the average human life span
  • The industrial revolution, as supplemented by modern technology and agriculture
  • Widespread dissemination of education and information
  • Modern medicine
  • Capitalism
  • Representative democracy
  • The relative victory of the scientific outlook over superstition
  • The discovery and exploitation by Europeans of the Western Hemisphere
  • The relative rise in importance of the individual over that of the tyrant or collective
  • The development of moral ethics, backed up by relatively fair and just systems of laws, religions, enforcement, and judiciaries.
  • (For me, personally, the winner, hands down, is: central air heating and cooling, though indoor plumbing is a very close second!)

For each of these, however, much legitimate argument could be made against its being appropriately considered a truly great accomplishment, particularly if one were to include in the debate the unintended consequences. Are things truly improved, in the long-term, as a result of our species' and culture's successful manipulations of the environment, in the short-term? The jury still seems to be out on this. Is the New World really a better place because cultures of the Old World spread their DNA and values across its vast territories? Perhaps not if you are a Native American!

Maybe we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. Perhaps we ought to see the developments of this latest millennium not in terms of progress but simply as evolving phenomena, without judging. Certainly any one particular person in the U.S.A. can say that his or her lot in life is likely better than for the average even well off individual 1000 years ago. Yet we all still must undergo suffering and ultimately death. Now, as before, we must each address existential dilemmas. How we got here, though, may be quite interesting.

At the end of the millennium, one area of human accomplishment certainly worthy of mention has been our endeavors in outer space. If our kind survive, developments in space, which began only a few decades ago, may ultimately prove of truly immense significance. If we do not last, at least they give us much more accurate and entertaining perspective on our own significance in the total scheme of things!

In just this past year another stunningly large success has been completed, one with implications we cannot now even begin to imagine: The Human Genome Project.

We may look at the past millennia in terms of the culture/language which most dominated each of them. Scholars may differ on the earlier of the historical period; but I think it reasonable to say that the most recent millennium has been primarily under the sway of the English. Hence the current global preeminence of their language. The "Americans" are only lately on the scene and, in a sense, prove the point: they were an English colony that made good.

The millennium just before this one, at least in the West, was mainly under the influence of ancient Rome (later helped by the Roman Catholic Church), with its language: Latin.

The millennium that preceded Jesus' birth, I would argue, owed much of its character to the Hellenic city-states, especially Athens, in what is now Greece, with their ancient Greek language.

If we try to go farther back in our analysis, things are more muddled. In that far distant millennium, 1001-2001 BC, evidence indicates there may not have been a single dominant culture, but languages and ways of life were becoming well organized in what are now China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt, in addition to those in the Americas and perhaps also in sub-Saharan Africa.

Still earlier, perhaps a hundred millennia or so in the past, it is speculated that a single family clan may have carried out of Africa the DNA that eventually spread far and wide through the rest of the world. Our species itself may not be much older than this, though hominids in many ways quite similar to ourselves apparently walked the earth one to two million years ago or so, if footprints and fossils can be believed.

And in the next millennium? We now have the means to transform both our geopolitical world and our own very physical being, the fundamental nature of who we are, in short order, if we wish and dare, or as necessity arises. Who shall have dominance in the coming thousand years? And shall creatures such as we still ask such questions 365,200+ days from now? Greater changes may occur for our line in that time than in our previous 100,000 years on this pearly world.

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