Time to dust off the old blog! I decided to start writing again, and in addition to posts about my everyday life, I’m also starting a new blog project, writing about the 45 U.S. presidents. I’ll be doing a post about each one with some little known and interesting facts, as part of a history and social studies project I’m doing with my kids.
Like so many people around the country, we are “self-isolating,” as they call it. Or as introverts like to say, “everyday life.” Our trip to Legoland for spring break has been cancelled, school is now online, and the CDC is advising “social distancing.” I figured this would be the perfect time to dust off the old blog.
Out of sheer coincidence, I picked up Isaac Newton by James Gleick at the library last week, because I love biographies. Turns out Newton left Cambridge University during the Great Plague of London and took shelter in his childhood home in the countryside. Gleick writes,
The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.
It was during this time that Newton made his famous observations of the apple tree, which lead to new theories of gravity.
Although I don’t think anyone will accomplish anything so grand this time around (after all, we still have the endless distraction of the internet), I do think this period will raise some interesting questions about things we take for granted, like the value of traditional face-to-face teaching and meetings (I hope stupid meetings go away forever, ha ha).
I will be spending the next week rethinking my teaching and how to best serve my students online, while also trying to make the best of being stuck at home with two small children who are disappointed that they don’t get to go to Legoland. Like all small children, they are surprisingly resilient and are enjoying lots of time spend playing video games and board games, and the temporary relaxing of my usual junk food rules.
I’ll use this blog to update you on what we’re doing to pass the time. Meanwhile, I hope you all stay safe and well and sane.
Robert Capa lived a remarkable life, and is considered one of the greatest war photographers in history. He was born as Endre Ernő Friedmann, but changed his name for political reasons after escaping Hungary as a teenager. Unfortunately, he chose to settle in Berlin during the rise of Hitler, and shortly after that he fled again to Paris. As a photojournalist, he covered five wars, including the Spanish Civil War and World War II He was the only civilian photographer at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and he was present to document the liberation of Paris. He was also famous for his celebrity photographer of presidents such as Truman and Eisenhower and writers such as Hemingway.
In 1945 he fell in love with Ingrid Bergman and moved with her to California. The affair lasted while he lived in Hollywood, but ended when he departed once again to follow his passion for documenting war. While photographing the Indochina war in Southeast Asia in 1954 (the French precursor to the Vietnam War) he went ahead of the troops to photograph their advance, and in doing so inadvertently stepped on a landmine. He was killed instantly at the age of 40, and his youth belied his vast experience, having lived and seen more than some people twice his age.
We’ve been making costumes for the kids since Oscar’s first Halloween at age eight months. Going through all of these pictures made me realize how fast time has gone by, and also that I need to get my digital photographs organized. This post doesn’t include everything, but I don’t have time to dig through all of my photos. Did I mention I need to get organized?
Oscar recently decided, of his own initiative, that he wanted to learn an instrument. There’s a program at a nearby elementary school that allows him to take the bus over after school and take lessons with the band as part of an after-school program. After giving it some thought, Oscar decided he wanted to learn the clarinet.
He has really embraced it, loves the program and the teacher, and practices diligently every day without complaint. He’s definitely more motivated than I was at that age.
The concert was a big surprise. After attending so many squeaky violin concerts, Darin and I were impressed with the level of playing and how good the young musicians sounded.
The teacher is one of the nicest and most patient and friendly people I have ever met. She has a special appreciation for Oscar, and I love it when people see certain things in my kids that I also love and cherish, because it makes me realize that this adult has taken the time to get to know my son.
Aria also enjoyed the concert, and was surprisingly quiet and well-behaved. She recently lost BOTH front teeth (of course I taught her the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”).
Everyone who writes knows all about that cliche question, “Where do you get your ideas?” Everyone who writes knows that ideas don’t matter. It’s all about the execution of an idea. It’s all about how well the writer can pace a story, can bring a character to life, can make us care.
An idea is like a single seed. That seed has to be planted and watered. It has to receive sunlight and nutrients from the soil. Then, in about one hundred years, it will turn into a tree. But that tree is not your story. After growing and nurturing your tree for a century, you have to chop it down with just your bare hands and an ax, then split it into boards, then sand the boards, then build a house. But that house is not your story. You then have to paint and decorate the house and find some people to live in it. They will be reluctant. You have to coax them. You have to move in with them and and entertain them and make them delicious meals and then listen carefully as they speak. Then you write down everything they say and do, and that becomes your story.
The muse only comes when you feed her, spend time with her, and listen to her. She is elusive and she is easily bored. She will wander off if she doesn’t get enough attention. She will run away in fear if you act desperate or needy around her.
This is why writers are completely crazy. Some of them drink themselves to death. They are all terrible people. Everyone complains about them. But they give us books and stories and movies and plays and television shows and everything that helps us escape from our dreary lives. They spin gold and magic and mayhem and they create beautiful and fanciful worlds and characters we love and characters we love to hate. Writers tells us the truth about what it means to be human and to be deeply flawed in the midst of the poetry that is our lives.
The fun thing about this project is that I keep discovering new things about photography that I never knew before, like the fact that the Germans invented contact lenses and blue jeans, ha ha. Today I was about to delve into the world of photo journalism, one of my favorite topics (a long time ago as a naive high school student I once fantasized about winning a Pulitzer Prize for war photography). Instead, I tumbled down the rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll photography (did you see what I did there? Rabbit hole?).
For twenty-five years, in the late 1800s, at the very beginning of photography as an art form, Lewis Carroll experimented with the wet-collodion process (also known as “wet plate photography”), taking a fascinating series of portraits of his friends, including the photo above of Reginald Southey, a famous English physician. Carroll also took many, many, many portraits of…ahem, children. Particularly young girls. In fact, you could say he had a “thing” for young girls. That’s about as far as I’ll go with that. Thankfully, in all of the pictures the girls are fully dressed, and through all outward appearances they are appropriate photographs (Google them if you like–I’m not going to post them here), BUT, I find them rather unsettling.
Lewis Carroll was a brilliant and interesting man, and his natural light photography is quite stunning and innovative for the time. He was also a talented writer and illustrator (you probably know him as the author of Alice in Wonderland), but I think it would be generous to say that he had an unusual philosophy of life. In other words, the guy was creepy. To celebrate the Halloween season, I will do another post on one of my favorite creepy topics, the Victorian fascination with photographing dead people. So you have THAT to look forward to!
Two years ago was our wedding day. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Our wedding was informal, cozy, and beautiful. It’s fun to marry someone whom you’ve already spent most of your life with, and we have no regrets about waiting so long to make it official. We didn’t marry a promise, a hope, or an idea. We married each other with full understanding and acceptance of who we are and who we’ve become. We are friends, we are parents, we fight, and we are flawed. But in the end, loving someone in the face of all that is the definition of unconditional love.
If you haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month, it’s a wonderful time of year when writers from all over the world come together to write a novel in a month. Or, more accurately, 50,000 words in 30 days. If you’re a writer and you’ve never participated, you should check it out. It’s great fun and an amazing community.
Unfortunately, they spruced up the website and it’s a bit slow and wonky. Frankly, I find it unusable, but I hope things are smoothed out by November 1st and they are just working out the kinks. Regardless, I will be writing a new novel and posting updates here. I’ll also be launching some new site features later in the month. If you haven’t already, be sure to follow this blog for regular updates.
The Germans have invented several things I love, including the printing press, the hamburger, denim jeans, and contact lenses. But my favorite of these is the Leica, a camera I love so much it features prominently in my novel.
Of course, I’ve never owned one.
They were invented to make photography portable and cheap for German mountain climbers. My favorite part about the creation story of the Leica is that the internal name for the product, within the Leica company and in the patent application, is the Rollfilmkamera. That’s right, the ROLLFILMKAMERA. I’m going to start referring to all cameras this way from now on.
Because of the high quality of its lenses and it’s portability and durability, the Leica became the favorite camera of photojournalists, including Robert Capa, a Hungarian born photographer who witnessed the rise of Hitler and became an iconic figure during the Vietnam War. I’ll tell his story in my next post about the the history of photography.