Sunday, April 24, 2016

Photographs and Memories (apologies to Jim Croce)

Yesterday I had the great privilege of hanging out with my daughter as she had her Senior pictures taken.

(Included here: ZERO pictures of Daughter, because of Daughter preferences)

We met Amazing Photographer and Splendid Person Elizabeth Jane at a secret undisclosed location and had a superlative time taking nearly 200 photographs of my kid. I took no photos, in much the same way one does not sing along with Placido Domingo.

My (complex/funny/difficult/brilliant/frustrating/beautiful/arrogant/kind) daughter was uncharacteristically patient and game for the entire time. She had been a jerk about the concept of having pictures taken, about preparing for the shoot, about wardrobing and props, and then was a complete DELIGHT during the actual shoot.

I got to be Towel Dad. Daughter posed against surfaces that were dirty/bug-infested/spiderwebby/leafy and sat on seriously questionable perches, all of which I was able to make safely leanable and perchable with the timely application of Towel.

We had so much FUN.

My kid was her best self. I was goofy (so, normal). Amazing Photographer and Splendid Person Elizabeth Jane was quick and kind and creative, funny, and juuuuust concerned enough about Daughter's comfort level to get the shot AND keep everyone very happy.

I had a marvelous morning. I am a happy dad.

*** MORE ABOUT Amazing Photographer and Splendid Person Elizabeth Jane. I have told her more than once that she charges way too little, and it's true every time I say it.

From the time Wife called and booked our appointment, Amazing Photographer and Splendid Person Elizabeth Jane scouted locations that fit the personality and preferences of Daughter; took test pictures in these locations; communicated some different options with us about times of day and locations and where we could find parking; took a bucketload of pictures while keeping Daughter excited and pleased by a process Daughter never really wanted.


This kind, thoughtful lady can be found on the interwebs at the following Amazing Photographer and Splendid Person Elizabeth Jane site:

If you love someone too much to take crappy pictures (such as the ones I take), you can call this lady instead. She'll take pictures of all the humans you love . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tsunamis and Swimsuit Models

Scene: A beautiful Spring morning at the Reddoch House: Our protagonist sits on the sofa, reading yesterday’s news and ignoring at least twelve things that need doing.

In my morning newsfeed browse, my Used-to-be-kind-of-an-award-winning-journalist-self found ONE headline that mentioned Pulitzer Prizes being awarded.  I searched “2016 Pulitzer Prize” because I am a super-duper fan of great writing.

Underneath all the headlines that read "Lin-Manuel Miranda Wins Pulitzer Prize for Hamilton"

is a teeny-tiny mention of outstanding journalist Kathryn Shulz (@kathrynschulz) winning a Pulitzer for THIS ARTICLE:

The Really Big One

An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

READ IT.  Really, go read it right now.

It is a textbook example of a well-researched, well-sourced, engaging article. It is fantastic in every respect.

For those of you who didn’t really read it just now, here is the main takeaway of this Pulitzer Prize-winning article:

“Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.”
I read this piece when it was published, and I think about it every single day as I drive over the Altamont Pass into the San Francisco Bay Area.  This article has influenced what geographic assignments I am willing to accept at work, and my thoughts about my (eventual) retirement plans.

My good-natured capacity to ignore/put off/not think about unpleasant truths has sometimes put a strain on my marriage (sorry, Hon), but THIS has wedged itself into my brainspace with a tenacity that even rivals superheroes and supermodels.

Ninety-five percent of the people I love live in this tsunami zone, and this week's earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador haven't done much to calm my worries.  I love you all, even if I never call or write.

Also, just because the Inevitable Apocalyptic Future gets crowded out of our brains whenever we see a commercial for pizza or Pop Tarts, here is something more immediate:

This is a 2015 NPR story (Many Of Oregon's Coastal Schools, Hospitals And Fire Stations At Tsunami Risk) about how Oregon is having trouble building new hospitals because of building codes preventing new hospitals from being built in a Tsunami Zone.  That fairly well rules out Oregon.  Since they can’t build hospitals in tsunami zones, Oregon is violating laws that mandate having hospitals available for every (so many number) citizens.  Oregon is screwed right now by the earthquake / tsunami combo that hasn’t yet hit us.

Which leaves me sitting in my living room sipping my coffee and petting my dog, having ruined your day if you read the article, and using my human capacity to avoid all the bad things by reading some comic books and searching “best Sports Illustrated Swimsuit pictures”*.
  • *Spoiler Alert: there is a very high flesh-to-swimsuit-fabric ratio here that bears further investigation.
    • Also: do these ladies not realize the TSUNAMI DANGER?!

Also also: The New York Times has the BEST article on this year’s Pulitzer Prize Awards.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Harry Potter and The Exhausted, Frazzled Dad, or: The Kids Who Lived

If you are a parent who knows me in real life, you have likely already heard this come out of my mouth.

“The best thing I have done as a parent is read the Harry Potter series with my kids.”

This could be an oversimplification - meh, so what.

My parents always read a lot.  I grew up surrounded by books, and used more than my fair share of every library.  My kids have grown up the same way.

Books are people.  Books are family members.  Books take a LOT of space in my wee home.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the US in 1998 about the same time my wife evicted our daughter from the womb, which meant we didn’t pay attention to (yet another substandard, throwaway) kids’ fiction book. Besides, our son was four years old. Unless Harry Potter was going to climb aboard Thomas the Tank Engine, Harry Potter was irrelevant to us.  

We didn’t pay attention until the absolute hysteria for the release of the fourth book nearly derailed my wife’s and my anniversary plans in July 2000 (I was involved in some logistics and security surrounding the release of Goblet of Fire, and it was pure insanity).

My son would turn six in October 2000.  I passed bookstores with six-year-olds in block-long lines with their parents, waiting for this book.

The Day Midnight Stood Still for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Even I, dense as my father’s shortbread cookies, took note.

I trekked to the World’s Best Used Bookstore EVER (Gray Wolf Books in Hayward, CA; now out of business because THIS WORLD IS DISAPPOINTINGLY CRAZY) and picked up well-loved copies of the first three books.

I read the first book by myself and knew my weird, brilliant son needed to read it too.

My wife was unsure.  Was he too young?  I lobbied for NO, he was not.  There was a lively debate about whether to read it when he was eleven, the same age as Harry when he receives his letter from Hogwarts, or whether to start NOW NOW NOW NOW!

In an act of fascinating marital and parental compromise we started reading three months later, on his sixth birthday.

We read it together aloud, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  If I was Mad Omnipotent Dictator Of The World, it would be Law that the first time any child read a Harry Potter book, it would be read aloud with a parental figure.

These books are so marvelously descriptive, so full of character and wonder.  The act of reading them aloud forces us to hear (and create for ourselves) the characters voices, to experience the suspense and wonder and cruelty and humor contained within.

My family reads too fast when we read silently.  In our heads, we read fast enough that the alliteration and the newness of the prose get extinguished by the torrent of words and ideas in the next paragraph.

How can we actually understand the wonder, the fear, the frustration of the characters if we speed through in our heads?

Aloud, I would read two pages, my six-year-old son would read one page.  Sometimes my wife would read a page.

One chapter per night.  On the weekends, perhaps TWO chapters per night.  If homework wasn’t done, no reading (that just about killed me).  Two-year-old Little Sister had to be in bed first.  No reading unless both parents were available.  Those were The Rules.  When I had to travel, no reading got done.  THAT was suspense!

Three years after we started Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in October 2000, my son and I picked up our reserved copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the first day it was released.  

By the time Little Sister was old enough to read Sorcerer’s Stone (six years old in 2004, the same age her brother had been), we had a dilemma.  Harry Potter and his friends keep getting older, and acting like older kids, as the series progresses year by year.  By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003, Harry was a sixteen year-old adolescent jerk, and the series was getting thematically darker.  My son had had a natural break - after the third book, he had to wait for each new book to be published.  But my daughter had started later - there were more books on our shelf by that time.

The way was clear: Little Sister could read one book per year.  Each year after her birthday, we began the next book, and it became a whole-family event.  I would read two pages, Little Sister would read a page, Big Brother would read a page or two, sometimes my wife would read a page (other times listening, a brief respite from both kids).

We could not wait.  The entire family was involved, the entire family was entranced.  The suspense was real, and difficult, as our schedules became harder to synchronize as Cub Scouts and Gymnastics and work schedules and clients all conspired to get between us and the next chapter.  The wait from one weekend to the next weekend’s chapters was excruciating.  As the kids got older, the new books had to be literally locked away until we were all together again.  

After reading, and in-between chapters, there were conversations about the characters choices - Why did they do that?  Could they not see how wrong they were?  Conversations about What would YOU have done?  Conversations about how raging hormones destroy your emotional balance and wreck your ability to THINK.  Conversations about when should you break the rules?  When should you involve an adult?  Conversations about when do you NOT trust an adult?  When should you lie?  When should you come clean?

In 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published and all the members of my family were in sync.  We read each chapter together, all of us together at the same time.  We all cried.  This might have been the first time my kids have seen me cry.  It’s rare, and I tend to do it in private.  I can be a hard man, and occasionally emotionally blunted.

Last night, before watching Spy (Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law) as a family full of grown folks, I dragged out of hiding the Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, with paintings by Jim Kay.

My family didn’t know it was in the house.  I don’t know that anyone else in my family knew it existed.

We put our movie on hold and instead read the first chapter of the book.  I read two pages, my twenty-one year-old son read two pages, my (sometimes-snooty seventeen year-old) daughter read two pages; my wife listened, smiling).  It was magical all over again.

This will be my family's third copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The first was well-used, and disintegrated.  The second is the leather-bound edition on the right, whose spine has separated from use.  The new book is on the left.  It, too, will soon be floppy . . .
This is my Book Review part of the page, where I rave about this version because it’s filled with actual magic.

This edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first version of Harry Potter that contains illustrations that look and feel like the characters and settings and situations are described by JK Rowling.  They are beautiful and exultant and weird and funny and sometimes a little scary, exactly as described in the prose.  These illustrations are moody and revelatory, and make each new page turn a joyful surprise.

This is not to knock the original illustrations by Mary GrandPre; they serve well as an icon at the beginning of each chapter, showing us a symbolized snapshot of something we can expect to experience in the coming pages.

The Jim Kay illustrated edition, though, is an emotional accompaniment to the prose on each page.  Every single page (whether or not they feature a painting) is textured, spotted with paint drippings, or otherwise reminding you this is a work of art and a work of love.  There are more than one hundred illustrations, and there is no single page that features only text on a stark white page.  It is impossible to read this book by yourself and still feel alone.

This book feels alive.  

It can set your family back about $24 . . .  

This is the Harry Potter part of our home library, which spans five rooms of the house.  Don't be deceived by the slipcovers of the last four books; underneath, the books have been very well loved.