Emily’s Reflections on 2017 and Wishes for a Happy New Year 2018

As the year 2017 ends and we prepare for the new year, Emily has more profundity to share than me so I’m pleased to give her this guest blog post:

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Image result for happy new year 2018 images

Wow! I can’t believe that 2017 is almost over. The older I get the faster time goes, it seems. While I celebrate two New Years each year I see that there are certainly differences between the two although they certainly overlap in some ways. The Jewish New Year in the Fall is about the spiritual. In other words, what can I examine about myself that is keeping me apart from the divine and to work on those pieces of my life to be a better human being.

The New Year that we will usher in tonight is also important to me. First, it is based on the calendar of which my paycheck is based. You bet I take that seriously. But it is also the New Year that allows me to look at my earthly life of the past year; where I’ve been (both figuratively and literally), look at what I have in life and to feel gratitude for it, and look to the future to those places where I’d like to go (again, both figuratively and literally). Of course, my future is predicated upon my plans aligning with G-d’s plans but looking forward is one wish I always hope to have.

It’s been quite a year! First and most importantly, I was granted one more year of health and well-being. Although I’ve been eating way too much and exercising way too little during the holiday season, I look forward to getting back on track in 2018 and am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Next, I can never truly express the gratitude I have for my family! Ken has been my partner for over 40 years (of which 38+ have been married years). He is a wonderful man in so many years and I look forward to another year to continue our “happily ever after” story together.

Both David and Carrie are the best of children (albeit they are most certainly adults). They are living their own adventures and I love hearing about their lives. I am truly blessed that, as adults, they still want both Ken and me to be part of those lives. I have many other family members (both by blood and chosen) and friends who are wonderful human beings. We may not always agree politically but they are all terrific people and I am so lucky that they are in my life. This past year we made new friends, both when we traveled to Spain and Las Vegas, and here at home in Ann Arbor. They are all great people and I look forward to seeing them again, in what I hope won’t be too far in the future.

I am grateful for having steady employment. I’ve met a lot of terrific people during my experience at the State of Michigan and I’ve learned a lot in 2017. I truly believe that the Children’s Trust Fund where I work plays an important role to strengthen our families so that all children can grow up to their full potential. I’ve been there 9.5 years and I’m always amazed at the fantastic child maltreatment prevention work being accomplished across the state.

On the hobby front, I continued my singing and am honored to perform with the Ann Arbor Comic Opera Guild. Our next play, Apple Blossom, will be coming up in three weeks in Ann Arbor (so, locals, please think about coming and look for the ads). My voice teacher Lynda has a special place in my life and she has helped me to be a better soprano and person.

I live in a great city. It is no mystery why Ann Arbor gets high ratings year after year in a variety of polls. OK, so January and February aren’t the best, but, hey, where is there perfect weather all year round? Michigan in summer is perfection and one of the most beautiful states I’ve seen. To behold the Straits of Mackinac is like seeing one of the world’s greatest wonders. In this lovely city of Ann Arbor I have a nice home and neighbors. On days like these past couple of weeks, in the sub-zero temperature range, I feel intense gratitude for having a warm home, hot showers, electricity for lights and watching Law and Order reruns, and having healthy food on my table.

I look to 2018 with optimism. There will be the usual irritants closer to home and situations around the world that will be upsetting but I truly believe that we will all be OK. To get the new year started, we are sharing the evening with friends who will come over for a celebratory dinner of appetizers, cream sauce-seafood enchiladas and spinach-cheese enchiladas, Mexican rice, frijoles, and chocolate mousse. Oh, there will be lots to drink, too, both leaded and unleaded varieties. We’ll watch the ball drop in Times Square (like so many others do) and I’ll use tomorrow to get psyched up for Tuesday’s return to work.

I know this was a long narrative, but it really comes together to wish you and yours a wonderful and happy New Year celebration, and only good things in your lives in the coming year, 2018! Enjoy!

On Turning 65

I turned 65 today [July 18]. I’m a senior now under probably any definition of the word that has nothing to do with formal schooling. I’ve reached one of life’s major landmarks: I get to expound on life’s meaning because my mature (my assessment), enfeebling (people younger than me’s assessment) mind believes that I have achieved wisdom through experience, and that others who are younger than me will be fascinated by my anecdotes and conclusions.

I’ve learned that life is a journey of transitions and that we have our flows, some positive and some negative. The more you fight a negative flow, the worse it gets. As soon as you accept it, it begins to change toward positive, even though it may take a while before you recognize the difference. Think trying to fall asleep. You can’t do it. But as soon as you stop trying and give in to your sleeplessness, you begin to relax, and you become asleep—a much more comforting image, by the way, than any image that includes the same verb that precedes “out of bed.”

As soon as I learned that lesson, my negatives became less negative and my positives became more positive. And even though at times my life’s flow seemed to descend so low that I had to look up to see down, I always knew that wondrous times were ahead. This is the partial essence, as I interpret it, of zen. It’s what I call “the old zen thing,” and why, humbly, I consider myself a master zen phony. (Hence, in case you were ever curious, Azenphony Press.)

But landmarks, unlike flows, represent dramatic points that push us forward or backward in sudden spurts. Yesterday you were in school; today you graduated. Yesterday you were single; today you were married. Yesterday you had a job; today you got dumped. Yesterday you partied with your best friend; today he died.

Some of these transitions are positive; others are negative. Still others are what you make of them. So yesterday I was younger than 65; today I’m 65. Good or bad?

No mystery on my end. I love it. I love growing old, with all of its perks and despite its perceived disadvantages. I spend more time looking back than when I was younger; when I do I’m reminded that I’ve lived a blessed life. But I also am fully involved in embracing the present and looking forward, with project ideas popping into my mind faster than I can learn the new technology that’s required to carry them to completion.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a great city to be living in while you grow old. First of all, birthdays are filled with treats, no matter what your age, especially from restaurants in the area. This morning, I had a free late breakfast at Denny’s. Tonight, accompanied by Emily and David, I enjoyed a free dinner at Real Seafood Company.

But Ann Arbor offers special perks to us seniors. For the past year, since we became a one-car family, I’ve been a regular rider on Ann Arbor’s incredible bus system, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. As an over-60, I got to ride half price. Today, having reached my 65th year, I have achieved Senior Gold status and get to ride for free. I got my pass yesterday at the AATA office, then returned with Emily, my young bride, so she could get her half-price pass.

But free bus rides aren’t the only perk you get for turning 65 in Ann Arbor. If I want to take a taxi ride anywhere in the city, all I have to do is make a reservation beforehand and I can ride one way for $3 (plus tip unless you’re a social boor). The $15 bus ride to the airport is now available for $6. And, though I haven’t checked it out yet, I’m told that I can take classes at Washtenaw Community College for free. Medical care rivals care anywhere in the world. It’s no wonder Ann Arbor always rates high in “Best City to Retire” surveys.

Retirement is a funny concept, one that probably will forever elude me because it isn’t in my nature and because I was a late bloomer. The outside world, beyond the Jewish suburbs of Cleveland, where I grew up, was overwhelming to me. I embraced it, got lost in it, got found in it, made lots of friends, including more than one who thought I was “the titsest Jew” they’d ever met, dropped out of college for seven years, and spent a major amount of it organizing against the Vietnam War, stoned, and hitchhiking around the country looking for myself and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

By the time I realized what I wanted to be, I had discovered that such definitions may be important in the job market but for personal growth they are self-limiting and I was more interested in personal growth than financial gain. So while hometown friends were working their ways up their respective ladders, I couldn’t get off the ground. But did I cover a lot of ground! Now my friends are retiring and I’m just hitting my professional stride. That’s okay, I learned on the road. We all travel our own highways and create our own paths.

I love what I’m doing now and look forward to every new day. If Emily wasn’t so passionate about our taking vacations every year—bless her heart, I might never even take a day off. It takes a special occasion, and today was one. So, I rewarded myself by taking a half day off from work to celebrate my birthday. After Emily’s workday ended, I took my first free bus ride and she her first half-price ride as we went downtown to visit the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

Emily entered the bus first. Then, much to the surprise of the driver, she took a picture of him together with me, flashing my Senior Gold card. History must be recorded so there is no doubt that it happened.

The first seat on each side of the aisle faces inward, with its back against the side of the bus. The sign above each informs bus patrons that those are intended for seniors and the disabled. We walked past them and sat in the first row of seats intended for average people. A couple was sitting across the aisle from us in one of the old-people seats. They wore AATA “Senior” cards in lanyards around their necks. I commented to them that this was my first free AATA ride. The woman smiled. Her two teeth shined back at me. My friend, dentist Tom Poirier, says, as his business tag line, “Where you only floss the teeth you want to keep.” Clearly, she loved those two teeth. I wondered what she had against the others. I thought, is that how I look to others? I concluded that I looked pretty good. But then, before I could hold back the compulsion to qualify, I added the phrase that will be with me for the rest of my life: “for my age.”

Two young women laughed hard though they had no idea what was happening because they hadn’t heard my words. “My first free bus ride,” I told them. They thought I was pretty funny—for my age.

So what do you get for the guy who has everything?

Emily started asking me what I wanted for a gift as soon as the calendar registered July. I said, “I just want to be with you.” She hates when I say that but the truth is, I have everything I want from the physical world. My dad was like that. He accepted birthday cards but he really didn’t want gifts. He was just happy to have his health, his social activism, and, most of all, to be with his beloved wife and family. I’ve inherited those priorities. I’m fortunate beyond wishes.

He also was practical, a trait I teased him about when he was alive and now mimic. So when Emily persisted, I thought of the gardening I’ve been doing around the yard, and the weeds that keep popping back up as soon as I pull them because we don’t use poisons in our yard, and I declared my choice for a birthday present: “Mulch.”

And that’s what I’m getting. And to be with her. Is life great or what?

If I’d known it would feel so good to turn 65, I would have turned 65 years ago.

Dad and I Drive to Cleveland

I drove into Cleveland yesterday for a family wedding. My plan was to arrive pretty much just in time for the wedding so I put on my dress clothes, which included a shirt and tie that had belonged to Dad. I often wear them at family events as a way to have Dad with me to share those occasions.

At the last minute, I decided I could put on my suit coat and tie at the folks’ and didn’t have to wear them in the car. I hung my coat on the hanger in the hanging bag.

The drive to Cleveland was relaxing and totally stress-free. The heavy snowfall from last week had given way to heavy rains the last few days so the streets were clear of snow and were actually now dry. Traffic was light. I was cruising at between 70 and 90 most of the way, feeling mellow, listening to my spiritual music: George Harrison and the Moody Blues. My speed didn’t even make my car stand out—for most of the way, I was simply going with the flow of traffic.

I assessed my life situation. Carrie was now safely in Ann Arbor after having taken the red-eye flight from Las Vegas; I had picked her up at the airport at 6 a.m. and she was sleeping in her own bed. David is living in Ann Arbor for the first time in a dozen years and is well established in his job in northeast Detroit as an executive sous chef. Emily is in New York for the week vacationing with her all-time best friend. And I was enjoying life, feeling good inside.

Suddenly I remembered, I had forgotten my tie. Or, Dad’s tie. The one with the small figures of tennis players. The figures were a sign of Dad’s love for tennis. He had lettered in high school and college and continued playing tennis every week into old age. I think he finally stopped only when all of his partners had either died or given way to Alzheimer’s disease. I was a fair tennis player myself. I could hold a volley with other fair tennis players. But I never developed the passion for it that Dad enjoyed. I wore the tie to honor Dad’s memory.

But apparently not at this wedding.

I thought I would borrow a tie from Brother Bob in Cleveland. Then a sudden vision caused me to change my mind. For this wedding, I decided I would remain tie-less. It was meant to be: b’shert, as we say in Yiddish. I saw the symbolism, and the symbolism quickly went through its own evolution. At first, I thought, forgetting the tie meant that Dad has let go of his current spiritual plane and moved on to the next one, whatever plane that is. Then, I thought, no, that’s not it. It means I’ve finally accepted my own loss. I added another layer: But he’s with me anyway, no matter what I wear.

I didn’t know for sure what the symbolism was but I felt deeply that it was significant. I surprised myself by laughing out loud, even as I was driving alone. With Dad. I’m pretty sure he laughed, too. We continued on to Cleveland.

Wachsberger’s Theory of Visualization Proves Worthy

Wachsberger’s Theory of Visualization has proven worthy. Emily has been wanting me to cut some tree branches that droop over the driveway so low that they scrape against the roof of the car when we drive in. I said, “It’ll happen. Visualize.”

This morning, Ann Arbor city workers were on our street repairing broken sidewalk squares as I was coming home from a meeting. One said to me, “Would you mind if we cut some of these branches so we can operate our equipment without interference?” I said, “Knock yourself out but don’t tell my wife. I’ll let her think I did it.”

So if you see Emily, don’t tell her what happened. Just remind her to visualize.

Occupy Ann Arbor Teach-In Inspires Participants

With the Occupy movement spreading across the nation and around the world, it would be totally out of character if it missed Ann Arbor. Not to worry. It didn’t. Occupy Ann Arbor is in full swing.

I attended a Teach-In on Wednesday November 9 at the 1st Baptist Church in downtown Ann Arbor. The event was sponsored by Ann Arbor’s Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. A turnout of about sixty concerned activists representing the Vietnam generation and before as well as the Occupy generation, plus generations in between, watched a slideshow provided by the Rebuild the Dream coalition. ICPJ director Chuck Warpehosky provided the commentary while the crowd participated with the high energy that has come to characterize the Occupy movement as it has gained momentum and fought its way onto the front pages of even the most corporate of media.

The theme of the teach-in was, in effect, how did our country get so screwed up. If you are a banker or a corporate mogul or a lobbyist, you would disagree with the whole premise. The country is doing great. Never been better.

I’m not any of them so I agree with the premise. That’s why I attended.

Picture a wall, because those of us in attendance did throughout the presentation. As we go about the business every day of pursuing our dreams, we are hitting a wall, we were reminded. It’s holding us all back. For the first time in American history, we are hearing, the next generation is unlikely to be better off than their parents.

Why is that? Because the rules of the game are made by the people who brought us the wall: Wall Street, along with the big corporations and the legislators in both parties who are owned by the corporations. In 1996, finance became manufacturing’s most powerful business, not production.

We were loaded with statistics throughout the presentation. Here are a few of them:

  • 90% of income goes to the top 10% of Americans.
  • 1% control 40% of the wealth.
  • 50% of the members of Congress are millionaires, compared to 1% of the general population.
  • From 1977 to 2007, income grew 224% for them; it grew 5% for the rest of us.
  • The average pay of the average CEO is 342 times that of the average worker.
  • Corporate lobbyists spend $2 million every hour that Congress is in session.

We are living in one of the most extreme times of inequality in our country’s history and the key lie that we are being fed is that the economy we see is natural; we must have system inequality; we can’t do anything.

We learned about the clash of values between people who make the rules and people who suffer under them:

  • Greed over the common good
  • Next quarter over next generation
  • Justice for some over justice for all

But we were also reminded that this isn’t the first time that the wall seemed too great to topple. We have replaced their values with ours before and instituted rules that benefited people at the bottom: Social Security, the GI Bill, Housing, Medicare, free education, public libraries.

Then in the early seventies, Wall Street started to rebuild the wall. They did this in part by changing the dialogue, with help from politicians and corporate media. Increasingly we came to learn that

  • Rich people know best; trickle-down economics will produce jobs.
  • Eliminating taxes and services, and having less government, will increase our well-being.
  • The foxes should guard the hen house; corporations can regulate themselves.
  • Money = speech; corporations = people.
  • Working together never pays off; you’re on your own; it’s every man for himself.
  • We should blame the victim; if you don’t succeed, it’s your fault—and if you succeed, you did it on your own.
  • Law makers needn’t live by our rules.
  • The demands unions make are crashing the economy.
  • Anything that helps people is socialism.
  • Corporate takeovers are normal.
  • Schools and governments should be run like businesses.
  • The United States is the policeman of the world.
  • If we work hard enough, we can all be in the 1%.
  • You can’t have both a clean environment and a good economy.
  • Alternative fuels can’t produce 100% of our energy needs; therefore, we should ignore them.

Lobbying money influenced politicians to rewrite the rules:

  • Finance rules were gutted.
  • Maintaining the budget became the burden of the 99%.
  • Industries were deregulated.
  • Wages were suppressed.
  • Unions were busted.
  • Jobs were sent overseas.
  • Environmental standards were weakened.
  • Work was taxed; wealth was rewarded.
  • College became more and more a privilege of the rich.

It almost seems too hard to even try to overcome—but that’s what they want us to think. In the same way that no bank is too big to fail, no financial disaster is too big to overcome.

But it takes work—and “woe is me” despair is no help at all.

To begin to tear down the wall, we have to begin by tearing down the divisions among us based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, immigrant status, and all the other reasons why ignorant minds bicker. There is such a thing as an economy that works for everyone but we need to begin changing the dialogue. The Occupy movement has begun the process. We’re reading more about jobs now than we are about “the deficit.” We can’t stop there.

The Rebuild the Dream coalition presented their 10-point plan to get us moving in the right direction:

  1. Invest in infrastructure.
  2. Create clean-energy jobs.
  3. Invest in public education.
  4. Offer Medicare for all.
  5. Make work pay.
  6. Secure Social Security.
  7. Return to fairer tax rates.
  8. End the wars and invest at home.
  9. Tax Wall Street speculation.
  10. Strengthen democracy.

What else can be done? What can you do? Suggestions from the audience:

  • Make it personal—change begins with you.
  • Move your money to credit unions.
  • Take your investments out of toxic corporations.
  • Don’t be silent.
  • Organize.
  • Be a whistle blower.
  • Reduce consumerism.
  • Be critical of the media.
  • Support alternative media.

Some people believe it’s fruitless to vote because politicians are owned by the lobbyists. Others believe that too many people died for the right to vote so voting is necessary if for no other reason than to honor their memory but also because the “lesser of two evils” argument actually can produce an evil that isn’t as bad an another evil. With all the reasons why Obama pisses off progressives, would you rather have had McCain-Palin than Obama-Biden? Also, change is much easier to make on the local level but only if you vote in local elections.

We’ve got our work cut out for us but we just may be moving in the right direction. The recent statewide elections picked up on the positive energy: Ohio voters defeated the anti-union Issue 2. Mississippi voters defeated a “personhood” amendment that would have made a fertilized egg a legal person under the state Constitution (I’m not making this shit up), Maine voters took back the right to register to vote on Election Day, gay and lesbian candidates won big in local elections, an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation won in a landslide in Traverse City, Michigan, and the author of the anti-immigration policy that has prompted boycotts of Arizona lost in a recall election.

This is good. There’s more coming.

J Street to Explain Approach to Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Activism

Calling Ann Arbor-area progressives. What can we do to advocate for peace in the Mideast? J Street has ideas. Come and hear them.

Title: Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine: What Are Effective Strategies?
Date: March 25, 2010
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.
Location: Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church, 1717 Broadway Street

Free and open to the public.

Description:  How can people in the faith communities in our area be most effective in advocating for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine?

Presentation will be given on three different strategies being pursued by various groups within the faith community in Ann Arbor.

  1. Building alliances with Israeli-Palestinian peace groups on the ground
  2. Supporting the J-Street “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” approach of seeking to change the direction of U.S. policy and to broaden the public and policy debate in the U.S. about the Middle East, and
  3. Promoting economic sanctions against Israel

Clare Kinberg will be presenting the “J Street approach” summarized by these words taken from recent J Street actions in response to Vice President Biden’s recent trip to the region:

Israel’s national anthem is HaTikva—“The Hope.”  It speaks of the 2,000-year dream of the Jewish people to be a free people again in their own land.  62 years ago, that dream became a reality.

Today, that dream is slipping through our hands—on our watch.  A minority of ideologues more interested in settlements than in securing a democratic, Jewish homeland are putting the future of Israel at grave and imminent risk.

We support the Obama administration in standing firm against provocative actions on any side intended to undermine efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe such a resolution is essential to American interests and to Israel’s future as a democratic, Jewish homeland.

The administration is already under attack from those here in the U.S. who seek to maintain the status quo. Help us show the Obama administration that there is broad support for a tough but fair approach to ending the conflict.

Check icpj.net, emai gracek@icpj.net, or call (734) 663-1870 for more information.