[What follows, with hyperlinks to relevant photo-laden blogposts and Internet websites inserted, is the slightly edited text of the Winter Solstice 2016 newsletter I mailed out earlier this month to some of my friends, acquaintances, and relatives.]
A few days after enjoying my annual year-end holiday celebrations, I’ll be back in Blue Ridge, Georgia, spending the end of the year the same way I spent the beginning of it: socked away in the comfortable cabin that I’ve co-owned with friends for the past eighteen years, enjoying yet another delicious mini-vacation from my domestic chores and routines – and a break from staring at a computer screen. I plan to do a lot of reading, napping and punctuating those two things with a couple of road trips down some rural mountain highways and by-ways that I’ve yet to explore and with some binge-television watching (assuming I can find something on NetFlix worth watching). In addition to finally catching up on treating myself to devouring a short stack of still-unread New Yorkers from 2016, I imagine I’ll be giving some thought to how I might inject a bit of travel-related adventure into the new year.
Speaking of traveling, until I reviewed the notes in my calendar for this past year I hadn’t realized how much of 2016 I spent out of town. I tend to regard myself as somewhat of a home body, but in addition to the half-dozen extended week-ends I enjoyed at the cabin in Blue Ridge:
- In January, I drove to Birmingham for a three-day calligraphy workshop (the first one I’d attended outside the metro-Atlanta area). Later that month, I drove to Macon, Georgia for the memorial service of Joe Hendricks, the former Dean of Students when I attended Mercer University in the late 1960s (and the man who officiated at my wedding in 1969). That same weekend I drove further south to Dublin, Georgia to visit my friend Blanche Farley, who lives there.
- In February, a group of friends traveled to St. George Island, Florida to stay a few days with mutual friends who own a house there.
- In March, I made a trip with several buddies from Gay Spirit Visions (an organization I’ve been involved with for 26 years) to an art museum in Cartersville, Georgia for a one-man art show there featuring the paintings of fellow Visionary Michael Goettee.
- In April, GSV pal Randall and I drove to Athens, Georgia to conduct an oral history interview a GSV elder who lives there.
- In May, I returned to St. George Island to spend a week frolicking with eleven other GSVers who’ve rented a house on the island every year for many years.
- In June, I returned to Dublin, Georgia for the memorial service for the mother of my friend Blanche. At the end of the month, I spent a glorious week at a college campus just outside Asheville attending an international calligraphers’ conference – a first for me, and an exhilarating experience.
- In July, I was back in Asheville again, conducting (again, with Randall) oral histories with two other GSV elders who live in that wonderful town – the only city in the South outside of Atlanta that I’d ever consider moving to.
- In August, my sister Gayle and I spent several days at my brother Michael’s and sister-in-law Inice’s house in eastern Oregon for the wedding of their daughter Erin.
- In September, I boarded a plane for a trip Ireland. I spent the first week there helping six friends pilot a rented boat down the Shannon River, and the second week motoring around the central western coast of that magical island with the same six friends plus three more who joined us, basing ourselves in a rental house located about fifteen miles inland. I ended that trip spending a few days exploring the magical city of Dublin.
- In November at Thanksgiving, I joined my family – including my brother Michael who flew in from Oregon and my aunt and some cousins who flew in from Arkansas – at my sister Gayle’s house in Blairsville, Georgia. There were eighteen of us for dinner!
Otherwise, my year was marked by a set of regularly-recurring activities that I’ve become accustomed to enjoying since retiring from LibraryLand three-and-a-half years ago:
- A third consecutive year of weekly calligraphy classes taught by Sharon Ann Smith at a neighborhood senior center; attendance at the monthly programs sponsored by the local calligraphers’ guild, augmented this year by my attending the week-long conference and three-day workshop already mentioned, plus a day-long workshop in the metro-Atlanta area. For several months, I also took weekly three-hour lessons from Michael Smith, a fellow calligrapher who lives an hour’s drive north of Atlanta.
- A couple of activities – an in-town hike and a bike ride – sponsored by a local group of gay outdoorsmen.
- Practicing tai chi more often at home, in addition to an eighth consecutive year of weekly classes taught by gifted teacher (and neighbor) Harvey Meisner.
- Monthly meetings of a group of local archivists and activists interested in convincing more lesbians, gay men, and transgender individuals to donate their papers, photos, etc. to local archives.
- Monthly meetups with a half-dozen of my GSV pals committed to teaching ourselves more about the Enneagram, a personality-typing scheme I’ve long been intrigued by.
- Continued – rather haphazardly in recent months, I’m sorry to say – my duties as volunteer librarian at the local Quaker meetinghouse.
- Meeting up every few days with my friend and neighbor Charles to play Scrabble, a game we both enjoy and are pretty evenly matched at winning.
- Puttering around in my tiny garden. After successfully re-starting my patio fountain this past spring, I finally tackled the job of giving a much-needed haircut to the creeping fig that covers the front of the house; finished building a second raised bed for planting more vegetables; planted three pineapple sage plants. And I am happy to report that it looks like at least one of the Italian cypresses I planted last year is going to survive this year’s severe drought.
By far the most significant change in my world that emerged this year was becoming more involved in helping my 89-year-old mom cope with her deteriorating health. Having endured three minor strokes in the past several years and a couple of falls this year, mom’s continuing to live alone became increasingly difficult – and dangerous.
Mom finally decided this past September to sell her house. Since then she’s been living with my sister Lori, who lives an hour north of Atlanta.
Moving mom out of the house she’s lived in for 59 years was a challenging ordeal for everyone involved, and of course extremely disruptive to mom’s daily routine. For these last few months of 2016, mom and Lori have been adjusting to their new living arrangements. Marge’s kids have insisted on mom’s hiring a sitter for a few hours each day until she can safely navigate Lori’s house while Lori is away at work. We are hoping that no longer having to shoulder the considerable burdens of house ownership will improve the quality of mom’ s life.
Meanwhile, for someone rapidly – and with considerable astonishment – approaching the age of 70 myself, I continue to enjoy excellent health. I’ve been lucky with the motors scooter this year, I managed to lose some weight from a month-long diet last February that I haven’t totally regained since, and my doctor seems unalarmed by his latest examination. The only temporarily debilitating medical crisis for me in 2016 was a several-weeks-long bout this past summer with a severely wrenched back (precipitated no doubt by my spending too many consecutive hours staring at my computer screen) – a problem finally resolved with an emergency room prescription for a painkiller and seven visits to a local chiropractor.
I hope this annual greeting finds you and your loved ones in good physical and mental health, and may we each find ourselves blessed with the courage, discernment, serenity, and spiritual and material resources we will need to thrive in the coming year – regardless of what our politicians try to get away with or refuse to do on our behalf.
May our artists and writers – including our poets, our satirists, and the few remaining investigative journalists still being employed – continue to inspire the rest of us to “speak truth to power” whenever and wherever necessary. May we embody in our own behavior and demeanor a determination to treat each other with the dignity, kindness, generosity, and access to justice that all sentient beings deserve.
Season’s Greetings to all Earthlings!