By Elie Wiesel
Our copy of Night has been sitting on our nightstand for a long time. Juliette bought it in 2006, shortly after Oprah put it on her book list. I appropriated it a few months later, intending to read it quickly. Somehow, though, I just couldn't bring myself to read such a heavy story--I must have picked it up ten times over the past few years, only to quit after the first page. Last week I finally found myself with literally nothing else left in the house to read, so with an effort of will, I forced myself through it.
It's not that I have a problem with Holocaust stories, exactly. I read The Diary of Anne Frank in school, like everybody, and I went to see Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful in the theater, and was moved by both. I'd even go so far as to say that I feel a certain responsibility to read books like this--the war and the Holocaust weren't so long ago, but they are far enough in the past now that they no longer feel immediate or real to many people. I think it's important that books like Night exist and are read, because what happened to the European Jews under the Nazi regime was a crime the magnitude of which should never be forgotten and must never be repeated.
But, responsibility or no, I just couldn't look forward to the prospect of experiencing such a story. It's just too much to bear, even just reading it. Admitting that makes me feel shallow and self-centered; if I am, then so be it.
Now, having finished the book and had some time to reflect on it, I can say that my fears were borne out--reading Night, with its brutally sparse and honest writing, was a harrowing, deeply disturbing experience, not least because I've been feeling my own mortality more keenly the past few years than I ever did when I was younger. And honestly I can't say what, if anything, I gained from the experience. Am I shocked and horrified, outraged at the ordeal the Jews went through? Of course. But then, I already was. In just the same way, after having read Night, I feel an immense respect and sympathy (if that's the right word) for the survivors of the Holocaust and their families, but I already felt that before I'd even heard of the book.
Nevertheless, I do feel like it was important for me to read this book and I feel I've done something worthwhile by having done so. It's not an experience I care to repeat, but that I had it at all feels meaningful.
Started: 9/7/2010 | Finished: 9/8/2010
What Was, What Will Be
The first time we got The Question was probably shortly after Jason's birth. You know the one I'm talking about: "When are you going to have another baby?" Man, I thought to myself, give me a chance to get used to the first one first. Of course, now that Jason's second birthday has come and gone, it's pretty much open season for The Question, and the associated theories on optimal spacing.
Neither Juliette nor I have made any secret about the fact that we do plan on having more children--at least one, maybe two. And, yes, now that Jason is no longer an infant--or even a toddler, really--we've come to a point where we realistically could start thinking about it again. It's no surprise, then, that people are asking. It's what people do at times like this. Now, you might think that I'd find The Question annoying, and at times I do. Lately, though, I've been feeling more sad than irritated when I think about having more kids.
I mentioned this to Juliette, and she asked "Sad for Jason?" And, yes, that's certainly part of it. Right now, Jason gets nearly all of our love and attention (Cooper gets some, too, of course) but once he has a little brother or sister, he'll have to share us for the first time. He may have a hard time with that or he may not--at different stages he's been both very independent and very needy--but either way it will be a big change for him, and the thought of putting him through that change does make me feel sad for him. Still, he'll also be getting something back from it: a sibling. He may not appreciate it right away, but I know that while both Juliette and I fought with our sibs when we were younger, those relationships have grown to become among the most important in our lives.
So, yes, I am a little sad for Jason, but more than that I'm really sad for myself. Because as much as I can gripe about my job or how little sleep I get, and as frustrated as I can get sometimes with Jason or Juliette (or even Cooper), I'm actually really happy with my life right now. I'm happy with us, just the way we are right now, and having another child would mean that I wouldn't get to have this anymore. I'd have something else, something that I'm sure I would love, and that I would wonder how I could ever have gotten along without. But I wouldn't have this life anymore, and a part of me mourns the idea of that loss.
It's not enough to make me want to change our plans; we will have another child at some point. And, plans or no, change will come sooner or later--nothing in life stays the same. I guess I'm just surprised. I always knew that, at the least, I'd be a little daunted by the prospect of more sleepless nights, but sadness isn't a reaction I expected. Funny how life tends to sneak up on you like that.
P.S. Just in case it's not clear: no, Juliette is not pregnant. Trust me, I wouldn't beat around the bush about news of that magnitude.
Mother and Daughter
Saturday evening we joined our friends at their church's Greek Festival. I've been hearing about Greek Festivals for as long as I've known them, but this was actually the first I'd been to. It reminded me a lot of the Obon festivals I went to as a kid, except, you know, Greek. We all had a pretty good time, and of course the food was great, but I think it'll be even better when the kids are a little older. Who knows, maybe Jason will even learn a little Greek dancing.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR lens, in aperture-priority exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/200 sec, ISO 200. Post processing in Aperture 3: applied Daylight WB preset and pushed recovery to max. Bumped vibrancy a little, then applied a strong curve to bring up the midtones and darken shadows. Lightly dodged over both faces. Lowered the overall saturation a little, further desaturated reds, then brought up the luminance of the reds.
Thoughts for improvement: The only thing that would improve this, in my opinion, is if I had caught it just a half second earlier or later, when the girl was making a happier face. But I like the lighting, especially the rim lighting in their hair, and I also quite like that you can see the dad reflected in the mom's sunglasses.
This Looks Like a Good One
Aside from the whole "seeing family" thing, I was excited to take a trip home last weekend because it would give me the opportunity to take pictures of stuff outside my normal routine. So, of course, I had to go and forget to bring the charger for my camera, which meant that by Sunday I had to use my iPhone if I wanted to take any pictures at all.
As usual for our trips to Big Sur, we ate at the River Inn several times. Jason was entranced by the umbrellas on the lower deck, and kept wanting to see them. Monday morning, his cousin--"Other Jason"--showed him how to throw pebbles into the river, which was hugely exciting for him. Seeing him delight in such a simple little game made me nostalgic for my own small-town youth. We don't have any rivers near our house, but the bright side is that I think Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula will probably become a very special place for Jason as he grows up.
Technical info: Shot with an iPhone 3G. The EXIF data says the aperture was f/2.8, with nothing about shutter speed. Post-processing in Aperture 3: applied the Cloudy WB preset first. Then added edge sharpening and bumped vibrancy (0.2). I added a strong mid-tone curve, then a medium (0.4) burn to the river and background. Desaturated reds a little (-15). Finally, I added some vignetting (intensity 0.6, radius 0.9).
Thoughts for improvement: Tough to get a great technical shot out of an iPhone, but for what it is, I like this one. The main thing when using a cameraphone like this is to try to avoid high-contrast scenes and moving subjects.
The Name of the Wind
By Patrick Rothfuss
About two years ago, I solicited some book recommendations from the forum community here at Sakeriver, and a few people enthusiastically offered The Name of the Wind as a good choice. That was the first I'd ever heard of the book, not surprising since it was author Patrick Rothfuss' first novel. I put it on my list, but held off because it was the first book in an incomplete series and I generally hate having to wait to finish a series. I was burned by Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and in no hurry to repeat the experience.
A year later, I still hadn't gotten around to picking up The Name of the Wind, but it came up again at the forum. Interestingly, one person said that he didn't think people needed to wait on the second book to come out before starting this first installment. "Even if it never comes out," he said, "[The Name of the Wind] is well worth reading." I still put off buying it, though, for another six months, at which point I was flush with Christmas gift cards and in a hurry to buy a whole stack of books.
Nine months after that it was still sitting on my nightstand, a victim of my inabiity to start an unfinished series while I still had any other books in the house left unread. But, finally, last week I picked it up off my nightstand and started in on it. Three days later--including one night staying up until 3 AM reading--I was done.
I wish I hadn't read it.
Not because it was bad, mind you. No, I wish I hadn't read it because it was probably the best new fantasy novel I've read in years, and it absolutely kills me that the second book won't even be out in hardcover until at least March. Possibly even longer--it's already been delayed several times over the past couple of years.
The Name of the Wind is the tale of Kvothe Kingkiller, a legendary adventurer in the world of the story who, at the book's outset, is living as an innkeeper in a small, rural town, having apparently faked his own death some time before. He's eventually tracked down by a famous writer, who convinces Kvothe to tell his life story. Warning the writer that the tale will take three days to tell properly, Kvothe launches into it, beginning with his youth in a family of travelling minstrels. As the story progresses, he tells of his time as an orphaned street urchin in the huge city of Tarbean, finally making his way to the famed University, where he studies to learn, among other things, the power of the name of the wind.
On a certain level, The Name of the Wind isn't anything new when it comes to fantasy. After all, the boy of humble origins who rises to become a giant in the world is a pretty standard genre trope. What makes this book great is how skillfully it's all executed. Kvothe's time at the University is reminiscent of Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea or perhaps Harry Potter at Hogwarts, but feels derivative of neither. And the layers of story within story not only work brilliantly to give us background without heavy exposition and to bring the characters to life, but also gives us a glimpse of an ending before we've even begun. It reminds me of the effect that the beginning of Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude, and I daresay that what Rothfuss has done here rivals a masterpiece like 100 Years, but with the clean, easy language and approachability that genre fiction really does best.
I hate that I have to wait months still for the next book, and probably years for the third. I even hate Rothfuss a little for making me love this book so much. Life will go on, of course, but it's going to be hard to find another book in any genre that won't suffer in comparison to this one.
Started: 9/2/2010 | Finished: 9/5/2010
During the Drive to Big Sur from the San Jose Airport
"It's nice to be called Mommy, don't you think?"
"OK, whatever. Har har. Isn't it nice to have someone call you Daddy?"
"Well, yeah, it's nice, but it's also really weird. And in a lot of ways I kind of think it always will be."
My Latest at Life As A Human: Every Picture Tells a Story
"Every Picture Tells a Story":
Over the past six months or so I’ve been reconnecting with my love of photography. It’s been an exhilarating time, learning different techniques, practicing composition, and shooting, shooting, shooting. In order to develop my own style, one of the things I’ve been doing is to study the work of past and current masters, and what I’ve come to realize is that the images that resonate the most strongly with me are those that tell a story. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you the story of one of my recent photos.
It Goes Like This
One of the belated birthday presents Jason got this past weekend was a whole Potato Head family: a mom, a dad, and two kids. My aunt's friend Linda had a lot of fun showing him the ropes. Jason actually already knows all about Mr. Potato Head, but he was polite enough not to mention it.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125, ISO 400. Post processing in Aperture 3 was relatively light: auto WB adjustment, a little bit of curves, and a light vignette.
Thoughts for improvement: I don't know, I'm pretty happy with it. I like the way Jason is framed by Linda's arm and body, and I think it's a decent capture. What do you think?
Getting to Know Me
I started this blog over eight years ago, but until Jason was born my writing was sporadic at best. There are a lot of reasons that I got serious about writing regularly at that point. I wanted to have a record of this time in my son's life, of course, so that I'd be able to look back later and more easily remember what life was like. It was also right around then that I started thinking about actively pursuing writing as a second career. I've talked about both of those before, I think. What I may not have mentioned, though, is that I also wanted Jason to have a way to know me, know who I am and how I think.
You see, I realized a while back that although I spent my entire young life around my parents, and although I have come to know them as an adult, there's a lot about their lives that I don't know. I know some facts--dates and places of birth, for example, and the names of their high schools. I've even heard a few stories from their youths and young adulthood. But I have only the barest impressions of what their lives were like before I was born. In fact, I can't even really say that I know much about what was going on with them before I graduated from college nine years ago. When I was a child, I wasn't aware enough to see or understand what was going on around me, and when I was a teenager I was, like most teenagers, too self-absorbed to care.
As I finally took steps into real adulthood, I came to know my parents for who they are now. I think I can say that I know who they are and what's going on with them as well as I do anyone who doesn't live in my house. But there are still big gaps from before that I wonder about, and even though I've mentioned this to my mom, I haven't ever really sat down with them and asked them my questions. Somehow, the idea of interviewing my parents, as though I were going to write their biographies, just seems too awkward.
I don't know if Jason will feel the same way. Maybe he'll know me well enough, or maybe he'll never think about it. But I know that I want him to know me, and if he feels the same way, I don't want awkwardness to be an obstacle for him. I missed my chance with my grandfathers, and I find myself wondering about their lives all the time.
I haven't previously done much writing here about my past, so I hope that those of you who read this blog now will bear with me from time to time as I share a few anecdotes. Hopefully the stories will be interesting enough to be worth your while, but if not, please just keep in mind that I'm really writing those for a very small audience, one that won't even be able to read these words for some time to come.
The Wonder of a Child
One of our main reasons for the trip home this past weekend was because some of Juliette's Canadian cousins were coming to visit her parents in Big Sur. Since they were in town, we decided to take the opportunity to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has the distinction of not only being my personal favorite aquarium but also the best place I ever worked.
This photo was taken next to the tide pool exhibit, over which a big artificial wave crashes every couple of minutes. I was lucky enough to have the camera up to my eye just as one hit, and caught not only Jason's reaction to the wave, but also everyone else's reaction to him. Moments like this are just wonderful for me, both as a photographer and as a parent.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/3.5, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 1400. Post-processing in Aperture 3 was fairly simple for this one: I applied the Daylight WB preset, then used a curve to recover the highlights and give a slight bump to midtones and increase contrast. Then I applied a medium-high burn (0.6) to everything but Jason's face.
Thoughts for improvement: There are a lot of technical things wrong with this image. Juliette's mom's face poking in on the left and her cousin's face cut off on the right are both awkward, compositionally, as is the fact that her other cousin's face is blocked by her mom's face. This image also really stretched the limits of my camera, as the relatively high ISO setting (a result of my auto ISO configuration) left a lot of digital noise throughout. And then there's a difference in both lighting and sharpness between Jason's face and Juliette's mom's, which is kind of jarring to look at. So, technically, this is a very imperfect image. In terms of storytelling and capture, though, I think it's right on the money. Sometimes what's important about a picture isn't the technique or even the artistic elements, but rather what story it's telling. I'm sure this would be a better picture if I'd nailed the technique and composition in addition to the storytelling side, but as it is, I'm still pretty happy with it.