June and then some

I’ve had “write roe v wade blog post” in my notebook for the past few, what, days or weeks at this point, and I just haven’t found a spare moment to get it done. Partly that’s because we’re four weeks into little Louisa Shea Sandy’s life and she is quite a handful (more on that in a moment). Partly, too, that’s because I’m routinely distracted by more engaging, more immediate, more joy-propelling topics. Maybe that sounds self-centered, and I suppose it is. But writing about the U.S. Supreme Court’s enactment of theocratic and fascist goals is… not my favorite idea in the world right now. I’ve been writing about the American turn toward this movement for the past five years or so. A lot of what I’ve written about has come to pass. I don’t think that makes me much of a seer. It’s just so painfully obvious that this country is sliding in one damnable direction.

At any rate, Jia Tolentino has that angle covered well.

What I figured I might do is take a page from Andrew Samtoy’s notes and write a “June” post. (It’s “July” now, but so be it.) Plenty of wonderful events took place last month, and this simple frame is just the thing I need to get a few thoughts down on paper.

First things first: Louisa was born at 12:20 a.m. ET on June 5. She’s now about five weeks old and having a grand old time. Our days are mostly structured around her gentle approach to life, her nascent yearnings, her attempts at understanding what, precisely, the hell is going on here. “Where am I?” she asks with her eyes before giving up a subtle, perhaps involuntary smile and acceding the point. She’s right where she’s supposed to be, and aren’t we all?

What is life like with Lou? She moves between the waking world and the dreaming world with ease. Thankfully, she’s sleeping much better than we could have hoped. We’re getting a good eight hours of sleep most nights, typically split into two segments by a 3 a.m. wake-up. And we’re all sleeping in the living room together still, kind of camped out on couches around the basinet, giving each night a fun, communal feeling. That phase will probably come to an end soon, and we’ll move Lou into the crib, and already I can sense that parenthood is as much about endings as it is about beginnings.

I felt for a long time like my life was leading up to this (first to college, then to my career, then to marriage, then, finally, to this experience of being a parent, all while knowing that there’s no such thing as a plateau in life). Now that I’m here, each moment and each day feels amorphous. We move from one interaction to the next, like waves on the surface of the sea. In that way, everything I feel and know and see and touch is beginning and ending at once. There is no way to capture the present moment. You are the present moment. A child somehow knows this, I think, although I also believe that part of a parent’s job is to then teach that lesson back to their child (after their child has first taught it to the parent).

Just now, we had her on the colorful alphabet mat for “tummy time,” and she gave it her all: lifting herself off the little rainbow pillow as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” played overhead, building her neck muscles and taking stock of the living room (and the overbearing hounds roaming around her). It’s astounding to watch her do something that she hasn’t done before, to see her smile in new ways or react to something in her line of sight. These are the early days, and the engagement level is overall pretty low, but it’s exciting beyond belief. She is making herself up as she goes. Even just the feeling that there’s another human living in our home is a depth of awareness that’s startling in its novelty and meaning. I find it rejuvenating just to look over her, or to come up from a few hours of work and hold her.

In other news, I read three books in June, and then went on to finish two more in early July. It’s been a good run of books lately, as I find time in between spells with Little Lou (or, thanks to the convenience of a dust-collecting Kindle, while I’m holding her) to plow through a few chapters. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford.

On Writing by Stephen King.

Independence Day by Richard Ford, the second Frank Bascombe novel that follows The Sportswriter, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Naturally, as of this morning, I’m about 50 pages into The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford, the third book in that series. There’s a fourth Bascombe book, and a fifth one in progress, allegedly, and I kind of enjoy getting caught up in this multi-generational series.

I could see how an avid reader might leap at comparisons to John Updike’s Rabbit series, although Ford is quick to point out in interviews that his wide-lens profile view of America is written in first-person, but nonetheless I see this as a distinct masterpiece in its own class entirely. And it’s fucking terrific writing! This first book covers the question of “dreaminess” and “living within one’s own self.” I’m sure I’ve read other books that navigate such matters, but nothing so clear as this one.

Independence Day covers what Bascombe calls the “Existence Period” of his life, a phase defined by a willed acceptance of life’s curveballs. At a certain point in life (and, here, Bascombe is in his mid-40s, though it could arrive at anytime), the younger man’s dreaminess no longer holds any meaningful value. It is no longer helpful to wish for what-life-might-be or for what life might seem like. We have good days and bad days, and they hold about equal weight in the long run. One must exist actively through them, come what may. In doing so, life transforms the individual completely. The individual gives himself entirely over to the hazards of life. Consider this, in Bascombe’s telling, the divorced man’s Stoicism. After everything else has come to an end, what else is there to do but live?

As a happily married man with a one-month-old daughter, Bascombe isn’t super relatable, per se. But the way he sees the world meshes quite well with how I’ve looked at my past, present and future, to say nothing of everyone else out there. Bascombe is a good, somewhat unreliable narrator (though he’s at least upfront about it), with a knack for cultural critique and sardonic observations about the human condition. To anyone wiling away the summer in need of good fiction, I recommend Ford’s stuff.

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