All Creatures Great and Small

What I think I’m doing here: Passing along my enthusiasm for the recent TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small and feeling some feelings.

When I was little my mom would read me stories from the series of illustrated books James Herriot wrote for children. Memories of Blossom the runaway cow or Gyp the silent sheepdog are symbolic shortcuts back to the safe harbors of bedtime stories. My mom passed away a number of years ago, shortly after I graduated from college, but when I had children of my own I bought used copies of Only One Woof and The Market Square Dog and Blossom Comes Home, hopefully creating new memories, new harbors. To be an adult is to live a life where “everything has to be parried” says Knausgaard in Spring. If you’re lucky, like I was, you have opportunities as a child to simply accept and take in, and part of what I took in were stories of a vet at work in the Yorkshire Dales.

So, I am the sort of person primed for what the recent television adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small has to offer – a certain nostalgia for a place I’ve never been, long tracking shots of rolling green fields, the comfort of knowing that James will always do the honorable thing (always), and the web of family and community that Skeldale House promises (a safe harbor for its characters, and for its readers/viewers). Even if it was absolutely terrible, I would probably tune in – my adult defenses are no good here (so fair warning for what follows). But, I’m pleased to say it is actually quite good – strong performances, excellent production values, good writing – it works.

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Cool Internet Stuff (Gessen on fatherhood, Niemann on learning the piano, and more)

What I think I’m doing here: time for a links post.

  • Artist/illustrator Christoph Niemann describes trying to learn classical piano during the pandemic (“I know I will never produce anything at the level of a talented 8-year old on YouTube”). His Instagram is one of my favorite feeds. I have not learned the piano in the past year, but I did pick up the guitar with more discipline than I have in many years and found some of the same benefits (note: not too much discipline – basically I’m just happy to have some calluses again).

Still there was something in sports that I had not found anywhere else. The summer that Raffi was born, I was trying to finish a draft of my second novel, worrying about money and trying to manage my literary career, such as it was. But I was also on two excellent beer-league hockey teams. Each team was headed for the playoffs. The email messages celebrating our victories flew back and forth. I wanted Raffi to have this too — this life outside his life, this group of friends dedicated to a common cause. In short, of all the things that I felt I could give my son, the one I most wanted to give him was sports.

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Light Years

While delivering a glazed eye stare to my phone one evening, questioning my various life choices, and chewing over my worries about the future, I stumbled across a video from last year, of the day my son learned how to ride a bike.* It’s me, running behind him, calling out encouragement as his initial wobbles turn into confident pedaling. The National’s Easy to Find was released around the same time and I distinctly remember mentally soundtracking my jog down the sidewalk to Berninger’s melancholy “and I would always be light years, light years away from you” as my son gained speed and started to pull away. This is the sort of sappy thing that happens to you when you become a father.

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Some Favorites from my Year in Books (Toddler Edition)

If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not sure if I read anything this past year with as much intensity and care as my toddler son read the rotating stack of books we got from the library every couple of weeks. Reading to my son is one of the great pleasures of parenting – even when it’s the same book over, and over, and over again. Below are a few (the list could be much longer) of the books we both enjoyed over the course of the year (my list of grown-up favorites is here) Also, it should be mentioned that anything including Thomas the Tankengine is basically Tolstoy according to my son, and he registers a strong protest at the absence of the friendly blue engine’s oeuvre from this list.

  • Owl Babies (popular on nights when mom was at work)

owl-babies

 

My triumphant return

And now, my triumphant return to blogging with a deep analysis of Kant’s Critique of Pu…. hahaha, just kidding, the new baby has destroyed my brain (and soaked up all available time in her vortex of loveliness and helpless need). In the meantime, here is Coleridge putting his late nights with a new baby to good use (one of my favorite poems):

Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,

And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,

My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould

Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

 

Getting ready for an arrival … or a departure?

From Anthony Doerr’s (enjoyable) memoir, Four Seasons in Rome:
Having a baby is like bringing a noisy, inarticulate foreigner into your house and trying to guess what he likes to eat.
Later in the book, Doerr reverses the metaphor:
Maybe being a new parent is like moving to a foreign country. There is a Before and an After, an Old Life and a New Life. Sometimes we wonder who we were before. Sometimes we wonder who we are now. Sometimes our feet get tired. Sometimes we find ourselves reaching for our guidebooks.
We have made this trip before (the baby we are waiting for is #2), but it has been a while since we’ve had our passports stamped, and I find myself dusting off the guidebook in hopes of reminding myself of the terrain. Sleep schedules? Feedings? The landscape all looks different anyway, with a toddler on the scene. Like preparations for any big move, there are many details to iron out, rising anticipation, and a growing sense of bewilderment in the face of all we don’t know.

Dad Fiction – Charles Yu’s “Fable”

But what kind of story could the man tell? The man wasn’t a good enough storyteller. He’d had a kind of allegorical thing going for him once, but he’d lost the trail. No map, no legend. He no longer knew what stood for what.

He looked around. He was in the darkest part of the forest. He didn’t know this area. The cottage, the clearing in the woods, it was all so small, and so far from everything. The sounds coming from the trees were frightening. The man realized now what he had done. He had tried to ignore the story.

From Charles Yu’s short story in the New Yorker, Fable, which I thought was a nice mix of irony and emotion. It risks sentimentality, but for me at least, as a sometimes anxious dad, trying to keep my life together with the rented cottage and whatnot (and a little blacksmithing on the side), trying to figure out where I’m at in my story (aren’t we all?), I found it moving. Yu’s discussion of the story, if you like that sort of thing, is here.

Oh the Places You Will Go (in 2016, as the parent of a toddler)

In response to the NY Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2016 (which … [glances at bank balance] ha, hahahahaha … ha), I offer the following list of 27 places to go, for parents of young children:

  1. The public library.
  2. The park.
  3. That weird rest-stop bathroom beside the highway because the baby had beans for lunch and oh good grief, we got leakage, this is not a drill, I repeat, not a drill, just pull over, yes, right here, how is it even possi-.
  4. The park again.
  5. The zoo.
  6. Costco. (A father: “Look at the deal on these wipes! Seriously! That’s like, .37 cents less per wipe compared to Target! I just did the calculation on my phone! Should we be recording this moment for posterity? High fives for everybody!”).
  7. Anywhere that gets you out of the house after it’s been raining for five days straight. Anywhere. Even Costco.
  8. The park again.
  9. The bookstore.
  10. The office. So you can, you know, pay for diapers (why did no one ever tell you how much diapers cost?).
  11. The museum.
  12. The park. Again.
  13. That place that offers free food for kids on Tuesday nights.
  14. Bed. Because children don’t care what day of the week it is, breakfast is always served at 7am sharp.
  15. The pool.
  16. Vacation. (From work, not from your children. There is no vacation from your children).
  17. The construction site, to say goodnight (or an old house in Paris, covered with vines).
  18. The farmer’s market.
  19. The sidewalk. You can collect leaves you find and point at cool cars that go by (with or without children).
  20. The Island of Sodor.
  21. The coffee shop (drive thru).
  22. The backyard, by yourself, to stare into space and worry about how you will pay for a new set of tires.
  23. One of those terrible, germ-infested ball pits.
  24. The doctor.
  25. The park. Because it really is great. I mean: Swings. Slides. Benches.
  26. The biggest puddle you can find.
  27. Deep within yourself, in case you need a reminder that yes, you will survive, and yes, you’re going to miss all of this someday.