I spend less time writing for myself these days and more time chasing a busy baby away from my books and the compost bin and the internet router. I know this stage in our lives is fleeting, though, so I’m doing my best to stay present to it and to remember these wise words:
“Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades; and it is terrible, but not very terrible.”
I loved a recent issue of Mason Currey’s Subtle Manuevers newsletter introducing the artist couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. The German photographers spent decades making photos of industrial architecture across America and other countries. When asked what is different about their photography because they make it together, Hilla replied:
“Traveling together is simply more pleasant. … When you are traveling together you can exchange ideas and it feels less bleak when you are in some god-forsaken place—like when we spent weeks traveling through the American Midwest. The nights in shabby hotels are more comfortable when you are with somebody.”
It made me reflect on how much more enjoyable it has been to endure the early months of parenthood because I have Ryan by my side. My version of Hilla’s explanation might go something like this: “When you are raising a child together you can exchange ideas and it feels less bleak when you are in some god-forsaken developmental phase—like when we spent weeks comforting a teething baby.”
As Bernd says, everything is easier to handle as we help each other.
My grandpa died on June 18 at age 94, and my family asked me to write the eulogy for his funeral. It feels impossible to sum up all of a person’s character quirks and interests and contradictions in a five-minute speech, because it is impossible, but my attempt gave me both a boost of energy and comfort.
To remember a person, and to share their essence with those who loved and were loved by them, you have to dig into the details and the big character traits. When I think of who my grandpa was and how he lived, I think of how he shared with others what he loved. I wrote about some of these things in the eulogy:
Walt loved having green beans on the table at dinner, especially if they were beans he had grown — and you can imagine he never let his kids forget that. He loved skiing, dancing at parties, spending time at his beach house in Neskowin, watching The Lawrence Welk Show, and drinking a cold Budweiser. He loved his classic cars and the 1937 Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he bought as a young man and later restored with his brother Ralph. After he retired (although he would rarely admit that he’d actually stopped farming), he liked to walk with Kathy or drive the Gator around the home farm, watch Judge Judy in his recliner, and have “just a sliver” of dessert at family birthday parties.
My grandpa gave his the family the gift of letting us see him loving what he loved, and sharing those things with others is the best way I could remember him.