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The Anti-Blog

I don’t really have anything to say today. I didn’t last week either, so I skipped a week, and I almost never skip weeks, so… you know… I’m here tonight. But I still don’t have anything, really.

What do I have?

I have some free time, having completed the draft of a paper whose deadline I just barely busted. Tuesday night is still “early in the week,” right?

I have some complicated feelings about Independence Day, since I’m grateful to live in a country that allows me to say how disappointed I am in us right now.

Grandma Isla loved dogwood and delicate things.

I have my grandma’s tea cups and her love of quiet, civilized time.

I have a really splendid family, who chose to celebrate our freedom by grilling hotdogs and playing a new board game. My partner got to use his firepit, and the girly made a monster fruit salad.

I have arthritis in my feet. Who knew? So I have some new foods in my diet and am cutting down on others, to do what I can to slow its advance.

I have some fear, but mostly hope for our future as a country and as a planet. I have a well-developed sense of wonder at the beauty of the world and the ingenuity of people who screw it up, but also rally to fix it.  

I have enough stamps that I can pick and choose from a variety of sets and materials and get more use out of them than they’re marketed for. And I have a partner who likes to see me happy, so encourages my hobby rather than complaining that it’s too expensive.

I have “Dirty Little Secret” stuck in my head. It’s my daughter’s fault. It’s on her playlist.

 I have a daughter who plays music while she tidies the kitchen.

I have lots of memories of fireworks and parks and watermelon and parades and my parents from my happy childhood. I have some holes in my heart where people like my parents have taken little bits of me in to the beyond.

I have a stack of academic books to be returned to various libraries, some classes to plan, a letter of recommendation to write, some portfolios to assess, and a fall schedule to tidy up… next week.

And I have a cat walking across my desk, telling me to wrap this up and pet her already.

If you’re still reading, I wish you a wonderful evening, a heart full of hope, and enough of whatever makes you happy.

Lucie is over my non-blog.

The box: In Memoriam

My dad arrived in the mail today.
A box.  I had to sign for him.
The postal carrier was sweet—told me to focus on happy memories—and then handed me the box. The body. My dad’s ashes. How have we come to such a place where the dead are mailed? I received a box of books at the same time. Didn’t have to sign for them. People are more important than presents, but not so important they can’t be boxed and shipped—moved from holding facility to mail truck with no one knowing or caring what’s in the box. That’s my dad. Be gentle with him.
And yet no need. He’s not there. It’s a box. It’s full of ash. I haven’t opened it yet, but I’ve seen other “cremains.” He’ll look like fine sand from an Oregon beach, some bigger bits poking out of the dust. He won’t be wearing his NEVADA suspenders or his dorky little glasses case that hung from his belt loop on a carabiner for as long as I remember him. No teeny agenda book in his breast pocket. No mustache. No glasses. No wedding ring. All those things I collected long ago, too early to appreciate them—they were surrounded with the bitterness of losing him to dementia, but still having to steward his body through the end.
That transition complete now, I am gifted with a box of dad, and a strange freedom to reframe the objects I associate with him, to see them in light of real loss. Now he’s really gone.  Now I can’t even hold his hand or kiss his head or sing him “Stardust” anymore… I could sing to the box.
But he’s not there. He’s not in the box. He’s in my head and in my heart and in some of my movements and some of my words. He’s in my children and he’s in the wind. I felt him at Yellowstone, hiking, when I learned of his death. I took him with me through Yellowstone’s canyons and meadows, looking for wildlife while the light lasted.
He’s in my pictures; that is certain.  He wanted to be a photographer, but the closest thing the University of Alaska offered to a photography degree in 1949 was chemistry. He took some classes, then he followed different passions.  But he took pictures all his life. He once lost his camera on a trip to Canada, and some stranger found and returned it, shipping it from British Columbia to Nevada at his own cost. I have rarely seen dad so happy as when he opened that box. When I bought myself a camera in college and then returned it (I really couldn’t afford it; returning it was a very responsible, adult thing to do), he bought me a camera for my graduation. And a case. And two lenses. And four filters. He was proud that I liked taking pictures too. But it wasn’t my driving passion either, but something to document with, to create, to express how we see or at least acknowledge the appreciation that both of us have for the world.
There are other boxes to go through: boxes of slides, thousands of slides of the pictures he took. Now that he’s gone, I can go through them, and I’ll find him again, in what he found important enough to photograph and how he chose to frame it. I’ll see the world through his eyes, and I’ll have questions for him that no one will be able to answer. But in the questioning, there will be commerce. In the looking, there will be contact. And as with every time we try to see the world through another pair of eyes, there will be love.

Freezing Childhood (with pictures–not Snow Queen-Style)

I was chatting with my friend recently, and she admitted she had over 10,000 pictures of her children.  That is phenomenal, but I suspect not too uncommon today.  I was also chatting on social media about a song by Darius Rucker, “It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” which always makes me sad and a little annoyed that it comments on the phases of childhood like tough times to get through, rather than stages of development and moments we’ll never have again. But in an age where every moment is documented, the passing of these phases seems gentler.
My parents grew up in different circumstances.  My dad was a city kid, the only child of a professional—a bookkeeper (we’d call him an accountant today, I suppose.)  My mom was raised in a series of small towns in Indiana and Ohio, one of seven children.
There are a good number of pictures of my dad, many professionally taken, as a baby, as a young boy, fewer as an adolescent, but then lots when he went off to college and had his own camera. Of my mom, there are fewer–very few formal ones. Lots of kids and few professional photographers make for scarce opportunities. This would have been the 1940s.
A generation before, there are even fewer photos, of course. A generation before that, nothing.  My generation was the one with film.  My dad took lots of pictures of us growing up, and we had slide shows like people watch movies now, as a family, laughing at the funny ones.
Today, though, kids’ lives are hyper-documented.  At last count, I believe we had a bazillion and four pictures of our two kids.  We got a digital camera in 2000, when our first child was a baby.  That changed everything.  My dad tried hard to take good shots because you had to pay to develop every single one. Today, we just shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot.  I actually took 75 pictures of my son in his first Halloween costume.  My husband took some more.  (He was a pea pod, and every one of them was justified.)
But what is the effect of this proliferation of images?  I think we look at childhood differently. It’s true, “it won’t be like this for long,” but we’ll remember it better than ever before.  What must it have been like not to have any photographic evidence of the adorableness of your baby?  On the one hand, it might make one want to slow it down and enjoy it.  On the other hand, it might collapse early childhood in your head to that time when they were cute but not useful, versus the time when they were still young but could start helping out.
We know that the experience of childhood has changed over the centuries—maybe more in the 20th century than ever before. Childhood has been essentially invented in this period—protected with child labor laws, and imagined and cherished in children’s literature, until we have a pretty crystalline idea of a time that should be special and savored. I just wonder if having photographic evidence of those moments isn’t the biggest catalyst for this change.