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Strong Words from JC

Blog 4/11: Strong Words from JC

Some of my many correspondents have asked me: just where are you right now, physically and in your life situation? The short c.v. posted on this website (“About James Cahill”) ends with the information that my wife Hsingyuan Tsao and I have separated and are in the process of divorcing, that I am much reduced in general health and mobility, and that I am planning to move permanently back to Berkeley (from Vancouver, where Hsingyuan teaches at the University of British Columbia). All these are still true, but need some amplification.

Our divorce still hasn’t gone through, for reasons too complex to give here, and not entirely clear even to myself. And I am indeed “in the process of” moving back to Berkeley, my real home, where I still have a daughter Sarah with granddaughter Miranda and son-in-law John Sanborn, as well as a house of my own and lots of old friends, colleagues, and former students. But the planned permanent move is indefinitely postponed, and I am, so to speak, suspended in midair between Vancouver and Berkeley—living in houses in both places, flying back & forth every few months.

How do I feel about moving back to the U.S., after quite a few years in Canada? Very ambivalent, to put it mildly. The political situation there appalls me—with my memories of the New Deal and the Great Society, I never dreamed, even in nightmares, that I would live to see a time when one of the major political parties has as its platform: rob the poor to make the rich richer, and is powerful enough to put much of that into practice. In a country where Big Money and Big Business pretty much get whatever they want, because they can buy congressmen who will enact their desires and prevent reforms that go against them. Supported by a totally politicized Supreme Court that has lifted all restraints on huge political contributions (going against principles we thought pretty much everybody believed in) and that enabled this whole mess by handing the 2000 election to the man who had the fewer votes, George W. Bush.  I tell my boys: what we are witnessing is a total abrogation of the old Social Contract, by which the better-off give up some of what they have to enable the less-well-off to live decent lives. What has replaced it is what (if I remember the phrase right) was called: I’ve Got Mine, Now Buzz Off, Chum. That, along with an unacknowledged but very real racism, expressed in their stand on immigration and in their opposition to everything Obama is for, make up the real platform and agenda of the Tea-Party types and others of the Far Right.

But, you might object, you are moving back to Berkeley; surely you will be among like-minded people there? True enough, and that mitigates the sense of disaster a bit, at least until I read the NYTimes again or watch the news broadcasts on TV. Berkeley, always and still that bastion of ineffectual resistance to the wrongheaded directions taken by most of the rest of the country, is still a better place to live than most other places I know.

So, you may ask, what is your situation in Berkeley? I have, as I say, a house there, and can still drive to get around when I take or ship my car down. I have recently had two very good house-sitter/helpers, both advanced grad students in Chinese art history from elsewhere ((Princeton and Columbia) spending some time in Berkeley. But I still need a longtime person or couple to do this, ideally an advanced degree-seeker in Chinese studies who has the time to help me but can also enjoy the proximity to the U.C. campus (easy walking distance) with its libraries and other facilities, and also my own library and presence. An ideal situation for someone in this situation who wants to live in Berkeley with housing and meals provided, in exchange for some work. Should be able to drive. Any applicants: write me ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) or my daughter Sarah, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , telling us your qualifications and plans.

So, JC, if Canada is that much better, why move back? It’s true, I have found much to admire and be comfortable with during my years here. But here, too, some things are going wrong around me. This house, which we bought to live in with our twin boys Julian and Benedict, we chose partly because it is convenient to UBC where Hsingyuan teaches, but partly also because it was in a friendly neighborhood of modest-size houses occupied by real families that tended to know each other and send their children to the nearby school—Southlands Elementary, where our boys went for a year before they transferred to the (very good but very expensive) St. George’s School. We liked the people at Southlands, but they were so badly underfunded that they were always short of books, classes were too large, etc. As for the neighborhood: the unoccupied house on one side of ours was torn down, and more recently the house on the other side, occupied by friendly neighbors with young sons who helped with mowing our lawn and otherwise to make small money, has also been torn down—both to be replaced by what are called here Monster Houses—huge boxes rising up close to us to block our view, covering every square foot permitted on the land (and probably more, by special permission). And now the house behind us, across the alley, where friendly people lived who used to phone us to say that we had left our garage door open etc., has also been torn down, and another Monster is going up. Who occupies these? People from faraway places, people who are very rich, having made their money in ways you don’t want to think about, buying the houses not to live in now but as refuges against the time when they are in danger of receiving their just deserts in their home countries (I write this, not out of first-hand knowledge about my neighbors—please don’t sue me for libel--but after reading articles about who is moving to Vancouver today, and why.) Vancouver has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most livable cities anywhere. It still is that, but it is changing. . .

Against these negative factors, of course, must be weighed my pleasure over the great reception that our video-lecture project, A Pure and Remote View, is already getting; a major reason why I continue to live in Vancouver is that I can work here with my chief collaborator, Rand Chatterjee, with the great assistance of my invaluable research assistant Barry Magrill. Having these two as regular visitors and helpers is a major reason for my wanting to continue spending most of my time here, so long as I am physically able to move back & forth between here and Berkeley. And I have a few other friends and supporters here, notably Hu Shoufang and Randy Moore, the couple living nearby who have generously taken on responsibility for seeing to my continued well-being, and the collector-dealer Les Wright; and I can enjoy the occasional (not frequent enough) visits of my boys Ben and Julian; these make up for a lot else.

So, there you have it. More than you really wanted to know about the present situation of JC. So much for now; I will write another like this whenever any great change takes place.


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