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Monday, December 31, 2001

Every year on the last day, I try to record my impressions of the year, both personally and in the context of history. I thought I'd been doing this in my paper journal since I started writing it, but looking back, the first entry of this type I found was from just eleven years ago.

From December 31, 1990 (when Eric was 14 and David was 9, and apparently I stayed with them while their parents went out, which was probably at least half my idea):

Eric and I rang in the new year together tonight. I picked David up off the floor and put him in bed at 11:45 (he knew he almost made it). John and Suzanne left for the restaurant at 9:00 and got home about 1:45 (Eric was still up).

This year just ending was one of worldwide disappointment over lost hopes, after the eighties ended on such a high note. We have the threat of war in the Middle East and possible recession at home. Personally, the best I can say for 1990 was that we made it through — me, the family, the company.

Ten years from now, what will be the biggest event of 1990? Probably the beginning of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Other possibilities: the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, or the reunification of Germany. It was an uneventful year for movies — the most popular were Ghost, Pretty Woman and Home Alone, while the most prestigious were Dances With Wolves, The Godfather Part III, and GoodFellas. It was an unfulfilling year in music — the biggest story was the controversy over censorship of obscene rap lyrics (personally I find the misogyny more offensive than the obscenity). And it was an undistinguished year in television, with the singular exception of Ken Burns' magnificent documentary, "The Civil War."

Yeah, that's the kind of drivel I spewed at the end of the year, year after year. Ten years ago, on December 31, 1991, I went absolutely berserk with excess verbiage:

The pundits (whoever they are) seem to be saying that the big story of 1991 is the Gulf War, but while that might have been the most compelling visual of the year, the event with the greatest long-term effect on the world picture is undoubtedly the dissolution of the Soviet Union. From the failed coup in August to the resignation of Gorbachev on Christmas Day, we have seen the creation of fifteen new independent countries, all of them for the most part free and democratic. (The possible exception here is Georgia, which is still in the midst of a bloody power struggle. And any of the republics has the potential, as food supplies continue to run short, to revert to repression and dictatorship.)

The war may have been the big TV story, but there were other riveting stories from real life played out in front of our eyes. The Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, with the focus on Professor Anita Hill's claims of sexual harassment by the nominee, kept the nation mesmerized for days, and the Palm Beach rape trial of William Kennedy Smith turned into a media circus, with full-time coverage. Although Smith was acquitted and Thomas was confirmed, the issues of date rape and sexual harassment, and the evolving relationship between the sexes in modern America, became a more openly discussed topic everywhere in the country.

Focus also shifted in the AIDS debate this year, with the retirement of Magic Johnson from basketball after being diagnosed with the HIV virus. Magic's press conference started a ripple of fear in the straight community that has led to increased HIV testing and greater acceptance and respect for AIDS patients (rightly or wrongly, many chose to condemn the liberated lifestyle that may have led Magic to contract the virus, while others resented the fact that it took a high profile athlete, protesting his heterosexuality, to effect this change in attitude).

Personally, this was not a great year for me overall, but it had some great moments. My financial position has never been worse, but so far I am able to hold onto what I have. (This does not include the things I have that break down that I can't afford to replace or repair.) But I had a golden week with the boys in October, a wonderful time for the week we played "Shirley Tourist" with Sherry in November, and the best Christmas I can remember ever. I could live on these memories for a long time, I think, which is fortunate, since I will probably have to do so.

Today I left work at noon, and tonight I stayed with the boys while John and Suzanne went to the restaurant. (John was a big hit with his wooden tie.) We watched the video countdown on MTV and the standup marathon on Comedy Central. Eric stayed up until almost 1:00, but David fell asleep on the couch at 10:30, and I woke him up and put him to bed at 11:00. He thought he would make it this year, but he started to fade out as soon as he stopped moving. John and Suzanne got home a little after 2:00.

Wow! I really wanted to remember. (And apparently I also wanted to write an almanac or an encyclopedia entry.) I think I'll save the 1992 entry for next year's "ten years after," but I managed to mention Bill Clinton and Rodney King. I'll bet you can't wait to read it, in another 365 days. Stay tuned.

tree leaning against porch

The tree got this far, until the weather clears enough for me to cut it into sizes that will fit in the yard waste container.

I've made three tries so far at recapping 2001, but every time I either overemphasize September 11, or trivialize it. How can you exaggerate the impact of one of the most horrific episodes in history? That happens when you forget that while September 11 was the most memorable and important day for many, many people, others were more directly affected by other events and circumstances. The Palestinians and Israelis, along with the Indians and Pakistanis, have other problems to focus on. There are still sick and starving people around the world with more immediate concerns. Even now, a lot of Australia seems to be on fire.

On September 11, I wrote my impressions of that horrific, life-altering day (as did everyone else, of course). I wrote about it, directly or indirectly, every day for the next two and a half weeks, and many times throughout the rest of the year. What broke the cycle? A cooking disaster.

What else did I write about this year? Birds, mostly. And rain (snow in February), gardening, dieting, TiVo and the Little League World Series. Baseball, politics, work and family. Sleep deprivation came up every so often, and I managed to get some mileage out of my sigmoidoscopy. I killed a rat with a shovel. Rolling blackouts, anthrax, and The Wind Done Gone. George Harrison, Harry Potter and John Ashcroft. The Seattle earthquake in February, the California school shootings in March, and the execution of Timothy McVeigh in June. Mom had eye surgery. My Uncle Tommy died.

Whew! I'm ready to turn the page. I'm happy to be looking forward again, even though so many of the problems that plagued us in 2001 will continue into the new year. Even though it's just a tick of time, maybe this one time we can find a new perspective in the change of the calendar. If we get a little distance from the worst of last year, maybe we can take a fresh look at ourselves and our world as the new year takes on its own character. One thing we know for sure is that whatever challenges are ahead will seem less overwhelming, in the light of those we've already faced.

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Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Another Auld Lang Syne

Two years ago: Turn-of-the-Century Blues

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