Friday, January 23, 2009

midwinter here, so a cold spell followed a very cold spell, though these terms are relative, and of course we're in southern illinois, so actually we're just talking windshield-scraping weather, and put-your-hands-in-your-pocket-when-you-walk weather. it actually snowed once, which made me feel better, and feel that any spring we got from now on was ok, since we'd actually had something resembling winter. at work, two hard classes and a very full schedule, very little time to breathe or do pop art or the stuff i like; one is a writing class so there goes writing for a while. but in one, some lab people that i've known for years came out on tuesday and said, obama's about to take the presidency, you've got to see this, so we did. we didn't even have to move to watch the wide-screen television, and the inauguration speech, which i thought was excellent, brought a tear to my eye. and equally inspirational was the music- yitzhak perlman and yoyo ma- playing in the cold. it reminded me of two things; one, that the last television i'd watched, really, was 9/11, though there were some exceptions, and, the only inauguration i'd ever seen was nixon's, back in 1972.

it was also a mid-january, and mid-january in dc is kind of like here- not extreme, but still pretty cold with a bite in it, and a humid, windy kind of cold. i was a protester, bussed down from boston by the sds or some such student organization- and i was against the war, thought nixon was corrupt, kind of like blago, and couldn't figure out why everyone had voted for him anyway. and on top of it, it was a cheap trip to dc which i had never seen. they had pulled school buses all around in a wide circle to protect the actual inauguration and keep people like us away. we had our march out on k street or one of those letters and i remember very little about it, except i remember wondering if it would be bad to be seen and photographed at the head of the line, if it would ruin my career or anything. maybe i should go for incognito, hide a little ways back in the crowd. in the end i kind of forgot about it; i hadn't slept for many hours, due to talking to a young woman stranger on the bus, and pretty soon it caught up with me, and, on the bus back, i pretty much fell right asleep.

the memory of that is sharp, partly because of the similarity of the weather, but also, because there were a million people at obama's, and everyone was allowed in, and it seemed like my own country, nothing to protest. unbelievably enough, all the right things were happening, people even voted for the right guy, no stolen election, no break-ins at the hotel, no slimy campaign manipulations, it was all hope and a new day, and a million people watching. my students didn't have much to say, but agreed that it was indeed history, nothing wrong with setting aside a class and just watching it. but they felt that if anyone had anything to say, it probably should be me, since i was both the teacher and the one american in the room. yet i was dumbfounded; couldn't say a word. i was humbled by history being made in front of me.

back in reality, the day-to-day grind caught up with me, piles of papers, students with lots of issues yet no time to deal with it, and, finally, chinese new year party at a time when i actually could have gotten something done. but, again- it's the new year, time to step back, pause a little, contemplate the year of the ox, for what it's worth, and sure enough, the weather cleared up a little, got a little warmer, gave a hint of spring. spring has sprung, the grass is riz, i began to sing, and noticed that my own familiar religious establishment, a somewhat ramshackle old building waiting to be torn down, was full & crowded with cesl students and chinese food, a serving line, a festive spirit. again, i had no time to linger, had kids to pick up, places to go.

on facebook, a son has started a game of world conquest, a kind of glorified risk, so i've got armies in yakutsk, kamchatka, etc., unless someone has come along in my absence and wiped them out. in addition getting in touch with lots of old friends, people who by their very presence remind me of old times, other parts of my life. another humbling experience, i must say, as it's incredible, living in small-town illinois as i do, yet at the same time connected virtually at will with so many of the people from my past. reach right back, to 1972 and beyond; take some of those memories, those cold days in dc, really my only days in dc- and say, well, someday i'm going to do that town right. and it's not going to be a world-conquest type of thing, i think bush already showed how well that works. it's not going to be adversarial, or nuclear, or aggressive march through the horn of africa. someday i'm just going to look around again and say, this is my country, and i'm proud of it, and it's a good time to be coming home.

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