Tag: 2020 January Group Writing

Winter of Our Discontent and the Balm of Color and Light


I recognized the effects of color one winter when I bought a bag of lemons, before they were priced out of my league. I had them in a bowl in the kitchen, and I noticed that I was drawn to keep looking over at them. The little shock of glossy yellow was comforting. I got a similar effect from a heap of limes and tomatoes I purchased for salsa, chili, and spaghetti ingredients. My groceries were doing double duty as medicine for the soul.

I observed something else during the drab, frozen days when darkness closed in before five and a bleary dawn held off until almost nine the next morning. Movies I watched piecemeal on the treadmill were a real mood lifter. Even a few minutes of absorption in a drama not my own made a difference. Of course watching movies was a far more sophisticated solution than buying a bag of fruit. But viewing life in faraway places; where the sun always shone, a gentle breeze ruffled lovely dresses, green lawns stretched alluringly, ladies took walks in rose gardens, and characters conferred under trees where the light through the foliage made fretted patterns in the grass had healing properties that made me glad for the technology that provided luxurious escape.

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I had not got the whole picture when I first saw and heard President Trump’s speech following the symbolic Iranian missile strike, after the back to back killings of the Kuds Force terrorist group and unconventional war campaigns general Qasem Soleimani (Qassem Suleimani, Qassim Soleimani), and a senior Hezbollah commander (an Iraqi proxy). This picture […]

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High Plains Blizzard: Discontent on a Montana Highway


Move across the Great Plains in November and you are chancing sudden, serious winter weather. My parents did this twice in the 1970s with four young children. As we recall, the family dog was flown instead of sharing in the road trip both times. This was before hotels and motels catered to people with animals.

November 1977 found the Brown family convoying west from Fort Knox, KY, to Fort Lewis, WA. Dad had been reassigned from an Army hospital, commanded by a colonel, to an Army medical center, commanded by a one-star brigadier general. This was very good, as it meant he was moving into position to be promoted, as a clinician rather than administrator, from lieutenant colonel to colonel. What was not so good was the weather.

Our two-vehicle convoy’s make-up had been driven by family size and the oil crisis. When we had driven east, we rolled in Detroit steel. Then the oil crisis hit, and it was time to consider new vehicles. Dad got himself a Mercedes 240D. “D” is for diesel, the superior fuel economy and fuel price per mile choice at the time. Mom wanted something other than a station wagon around 1975, so she got Bessie the Bus, a VW with a bus shift lever linked to the four-on-the-floor transmission by a long wire. The engine was around 65-70 bhp.

Unselfing, Marys and Marthas: Winter of Discontent, or Mind of Winter?


“One must have a mind of winter… And have been cold a long time… not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind,” the January wind. So says Wallace Stevens in his poem, The Snow Man. Misery and discontent aren’t identical, but a series of small miseries — unrelated to wintry weather — means February snuck up on me this year, almost as if January never happened, so misery must do for my “winter of discontent”. To “the listener, who listens in the snow,” hearing the sound of the wind, the poem promises if he becomes “nothing himself” he’ll “behold[] / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” People “cold a long time” can go numb, of course, and numbness is a kind of “nothing” obliterating misery. But numbness seems insufficient for a “mind of winter”.

For our own survival, we see winter’s cold as hostile. Our success as biological beings depends on our sensing discomfort, in order to mitigate risk before it’s too late. Concern for our own comfort is a form of self-regard that isn’t optional, if we care to live. Nonetheless, necessary self-regard is still self-regard. A mind of winter leaves self-regard behind. And so, it sees wintry beauty — the snowy, frozen world lit with “the distant glitter / Of the January sun” — simply because it is there to see, irrespective of what it might mean to the self. Winter in itself isn’t hostile, just indifferent: self-regard makes the indifference seem hostile. A mind of winter is “unselfed”.

The Discontented Alphabet in Winter


History and the English Alphabet

When George Washington was a lad, he learned his alphabet, all twenty-seven letters. Back in the Eighteenth Century, the English alphabet still had twenty-seven letters. The alphabet didn’t end with Z, but with &. When reciting the alphabet, they would use a Latin phrase at the end, “Y, Z, and, per se, And.” According to some sources, this is how we got the word “Ampersand” was through millions of young kids running together “and, per se, And” while reciting their alphabet as fast as possible to get it over with.

When English was first written, though, it had twenty-four letters, not including several we know today, such as J or V or W. Because English was not Latin, when the English language was transliterated to the Latin alphabet, there were several sounds not represented, and as such, those founders of written English as we know it modified letters to represent sounds or they borrowed from the former alphabet that had represented English, the Futhorc system of runes. Thus English had letters that other languages did not. That caused problems several hundred years later. When the idea of movable-type printing first flowered in Europe, most of the printing was done in what we now call Germany by German people. English manuscripts would be sent off to Germany to be printed, and the German printers would have this sort of conversation:

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We need a few more members to join in the monthly theme. We have a number of days still open, and you really don’t want me filling them with seasonal disco music, just to start. The January 2020 Group Writing Theme is “Winter of Our Discontent.” Share your tale of winter, discontent, content, or maybe […]

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January 1977: George Lucas in Winter


Christmas 1976 rolled over into New Year’s Day and the Bicentennial year was over. A Democrat was about to take over the White House, always a happy event in Hollywood. As January began, the town went back to work, crafting 1977’s most hotly anticipated hits: A Bridge Too Far, with Sean Connery, Robert Redford, and Ryan O’Neal; a new James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me; The Deep, from the author of Jaws; and a pair of highly touted dramas celebrating the viewpoints of women, Julia and The Turning Point. Woody Allen and Burt Reynolds also had movies on the way.

Everybody was poised to get rich or richer during the upcoming summer gold rush. But 20th Century Fox started the new year with a costly hangover. They’d spent two years backing a dubious novelty, the American Graffiti guy’s quirky tribute to the forgotten world of Flash Gordon serials, rumored to be something about a gorilla who flies a spaceship and a mystical force called “The Power.” From the screening rooms, word was filtering out: Star Wars was likely to be a loser—dull, confusing and corny, despite a couple of great special effects shots. The rough version was a mess and an unbreakable release date, May 25, was breathing down their necks. Thank God, Lucas stepped up and took charge of fixing it.

Winter and Summer Songs


As we variously huddle in, dig out, or get on with the new year, here are a few popular music tunes from the late 20th Century, the start of a soundtrack. I invite your contributions in the comments. Or offer up a few tunes of your own, in the same genre or other genres! There are plenty of days left in our monthly theme “Winter of our Discontent,” so feel free to express yourself! Let’s start in 1966:

In 1968, “Sometimes in Winter” was a melancholy, reflective tale:

The Blizzard of ‘78


It was the most catastrophic storm to hit Massachusetts in over 200 years. And I was caught smack-dab in the middle of it.

To provide a little background, my husband and I moved to MA in 1977. I grew up in California, so although I could visit snow in the mountains, I’d never lived in a snowy locale.

On this particular day, February 5, 1978, I headed to work down Route 9 from Framingham, the sun shining, expecting a routine day at the savings bank I worked at in Chestnut Hill. Except for a couple of turns early in my journey, it was a straight shot to work. That would be a great benefit to me on my drive home.

Winter of Discontent Prolonged for Dictators?


The pattern of precision strikes this past year against ISIS leaders, the IRGC Quds Force commander, and one or more senior proxy militia commanders not only has put the Khomeinist regime on notice but also serves as a useful object lesson to Little Rocket Man, Kim III. Notice that the promised “Christmas surprise” never arrived through the full 12 days of Christmas. Whatever Kim’s calculations, the American military just reminded him, and everyone else, that there is nowhere the eagle’s talons can’t strike.

Chris Wallace asked Secretary Pompeo if impeachment trial talk was weakening the president’s hand in foreign policy. Pompeo’ deadpan answer: “You should ask Soleimani.” Kim has enjoyed a family tradition of acting the mad dog and getting thrown nice meaty bones time after time. Suddenly he has an opponent who gets showmanship and high-pressure negotiations. And the man just had a senior official in the old axis of evil snuffed out, an official all had believed untouchable; off-limits as the game was being played.

If Kim is ever to get past the winter of his discontent, it is now less likely to be with the artificial sunshine of an open hydrogen bomb test, at least so long as Donald J. Trump is president of these United States.

Ave Atque Vale, Thou Bleak Midwinter of My Discontent!


As most of you know, I’m British. And as such, I generally try to keep a pretty stiff upper lip about things. Not to whine unduly. And when I do whine, I try to whine at the person or people who are at the root of my dissatisfaction or unhappiness, or in the case of “things” that unsettle me, at the person or people who can actually do something about them. Thus my recent encounter with Highmark Insurance, who abruptly cancelled Mr. She’s Medicare Advantage plan because of “your failure to pay your bill for several months.” Big mistake. By the time I’d finished “whining” at them, I’d gotten matters corrected, his coverage reinstated and backdated, and an abject and fulsome apology from the Assistant to the CEO. The next day, I cancelled Mr. She’s Highmark Insurance, and signed him up with UPMC. A petty revenge, perhaps, but sweet nonetheless.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I’m not very good at passive-aggression, as (for better or worse) my behavior generally tends towards the denominator, rather than the numerator, of the fractional representation of the whole number that is my life. Passive-aggression, has just never been my style. Usually, if you’ve ticked me off, or (in my estimation) treated me poorly, you’ll hear about it from me directly. Doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to, though. If there’s a real point of contention at the center of our disagreement, hopefully we can sort it out between ourselves, without outside meddling. Hopefully. Because I was brought up to believe that’s how it’s done.

Today, though, I’m going to dispense with that habit of a lifetime. I’m going to engage in a bit of pointless whining, and expatiate on something that neither you, nor I, nor even that saucy little minx Greta Thunberg, can do anything about in real terms. I know that nothing will come of it. I know it will appear on this web page, and then just drift off into the ether like the unparliamentary expostulations of that great boiler-stoker, Ralphie’s dad. I know I won’t get an acknowledgement, let alone an apology from the Great Perpetrator of my misery. And I don’t care. I just want to get this off my chest, once and for all.

Winter Turning to Summer of Discontent?


There is a useful fiction that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” but that has always been only a fiction. So, we should not be surprised that politics drive divergent responses to the death of a terrorist mastermind, an actual general, with a real uniform, in the “terror war.” At the same time, we should be cautioned by the contrast between the opening lines of Richard III and the end. It was not just a rapid change of political weather, but also of the seasons, as winter turned to summer only to turn back to winter for the house of York.

Remember that the line after “now is the winter of our discontent” is “made glorious summer by this sun of York.” At the time, the Duke of Lancaster and the supporters of his house, might have said, “now is the summer of our repose made gloomy winter by this storm from York.” So it has always been with political power. “Can’t we all get along?” Not when there are even the smallest stakes (see Henry Kissinger’s (?) snark about academic internal politics).

It is astonishing, in a way, that no one had previously seriously sought to kill the leader of the best resourced, best trained, best led transnational terrorist network in the world. What apparently stopped both Bush the Second and Obama, to say nothing of Netanyahu, was the uniform. More precisely, the uniform of a sovereign state, the Islamic Republic of Iran. As the House of Saud sought to extend its global reach through building mosques with Wahhabist imams around the world, so the Khomeinist regime in Iran sought to extend its influence and interests through paramilitary and outright terrorist organizations. The man in charge would naturally be a general, Major General Qassem Suleimani.

Now Is the Play of Our Discontent


When one thinks of great Russian literature, one does not associate it with the time period of Stalin. Venezuela probably has great literature in its history, but I doubt much of it is written today by some crony of Maduro. But such is the oddness of the English language and the English people that the greatest flowering of English literature happened during the time of an illegitimate, usurping dynasty that had its thumb squarely upon the people and the arts created, a dynasty that resorted to execution more than any since.

Some say Shakespeare was a genius for his accomplishments. But how much more of a genius was he that he accomplished all that he did in an oppressive atmosphere that saw many locked up or executed for offending the Tudor monarch? A play like Romeo and Juliet might not have been too dangerous. Classical comedies and tragedies were not too dangerous, especially when set in places like Italy. The Taming of the Shrew? Two Gentlemen of Verona? But Shakespeare delved into another realm altogether: the history play. With histories from far off in time, indeed, apocryphal histories, such as King Lear and Macbeth, danger was not so apparent, yet Shakespeare came closer in time, right up to the time of his monarch. And in the writing of these nearer histories, Shakespeare prostituted himself, becoming the propagandist of the Tudor Dynasty, or did he?

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