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Luna learns to love music. Humanly Possible. The Orchid Thief. The Stunt Man. Escape from New York.

Luna // Nine Months // On Music

My daughter is learning to love music.

I learned this on a quiet afternoon a few days ago. I had put on an album, muted and low, while I lounged on the couch absorbed in a book. Nearby, Luna busied herself amidst a pile of toys on the living room floor, murmuring contentedly.

Then, "Superstar (Live at Secret Sky)" by AG Cook started playing.

Immediately, Luna stopped what she was doing and sat bolt upright, her attention clearly captured. Before I knew it, she had taken off across the room on her hands and knees, making a beeline for the record console where the music was coming from. She crawled across the rug and around the couch, drawn like a magnet, closer and closer to the source of this new sound. When she arrived at the speaker, she paused and peered through the fabric mesh that concealed it. She seemed utterly transfixed, spellbound by the sound.

I turned the music up.

After a moment, a huge smile spread across her face. She touched the mesh. She bounced a little. Then she raised her little hands and clapped with delight. I recorded it. I've already watched this video dozens of times.

Why did she choose this day to care about music? Did she reach some point in her development where she can now recognize that it isn't just sounds but melody? Was there something special about this song in particular that unlocked her ability to appreciate it?

Later, Kristine put on some merengue as we cleaned the house. Again, Luna halted what she was doing, pushed herself onto two legs, and began bouncing up and down. Now, even if I hum a song, she'll start to dance. The idea of music has been unlocked inside her little brain and body, and she loves it. Her reactions are so pure, and her connection is so instinctual. No one had to teach her to appreciate song or move to it, she simply felt compelled to do so once she heard it. Now music is yet another thing that I get to take pleasure in sharing with Luna in her ever-expanding world.

What I Read

I recently finished two books by two great authors - Susan Orlean and Sarah Bakewell.

Orlean has a talent for diving deep on obscure topics and spinning them into captivating narratives. Her book Rin Tin Tin, on the life and legacy of the first celebrity dog, is one of my all time favorites. Bakewell's work How to Live, which took teachings from Montaigne and transformed them into an engaging handbook for modern living, ignited my appreciation for the essayist and made such an impact on me that I usually have no fewer than three copies scattered around my house.

In Bakewell’s latest book, Humanly Possible, the author traces the resilient history of humanists who have shaped this school of thought over the past several centuries. She distills their key ideas about how to find meaning and purpose, and makes a compelling case for why this worldview has remained so resilient, even in the face of fanaticism and tyranny. A quote she refers back to again and again throughout the course of the book: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am human, and consider nothing human alien to me."

As someone who's designing a physical space right now, I appreciated a section on humanist architecture:

What is humanist architecture, or humanist city planning? It is the sort that does not constantly crush the ability to live a decent, satisfying human life. A humanistic civic designer pays attention to how people use a space and to what makes them comfortable, rather than trying to make a big impression with buildings of gasp-inducing size or a field of stylish obstacles that is frustrating to walk around. For humanistic architects, it is better to start with “the human measure.” Geoffrey Scott, author of the influential 1914 study The Architecture of Humanism, explained this by reminding us of our tendency to talk about buildings in terms of our own bodily experience, saying that they feel top-heavy, or soaring, or well balanced—descriptions derived from our own physical sense of existing in the world. A humanist architect will look for “physical conditions that are related to our own, for movements which are like those we enjoy, for resistances that resemble those that can support us, for a setting where we should be neither lost nor thwarted.”

Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (which was the quasi-basis for the film Adaptation) offers a look into the unusual subculture of rare orchid collecting. Though orchids may seem like unremarkable plants to the average observer (me), Orlean focuses in on the passions that drive certain people to great lengths to obtain them, centering her narrative on one eccentric poacher.

Both authors are masters at zooming in on a specific subject - be it orchids or celebrity dogs or humanism - and using it as a prism through which to better understand ourselves and the world around us. This is the special alchemy of great nonfiction writing - taking something idiosyncratic and transforming it into a mirror in which we recognize ourselves.

What I Watched

Two movies this week.

The Stunt Man centers on a fugitive named Cameron who stumbles onto the set of a World War I epic directed by the megalomaniac Eli Cross, played by the incredible Peter O’Toole. When the film's stunt man dies in an accident, Cameron finds himself conscripted as his replacement. Yet as he gets sucked further into the director’s world, physical danger and existential risk become commonplace. For the director, the ‘picture’ is everything; people are merely props to be toyed with and sacrificed.

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Escape from New York, John Carpenter’s dystopian action film, envisions a near-future (if we can still consider 1997 the future) in which Manhattan has been converted into a maximum security prison after a dramatic rise in crime. Kurt Russell stars as Snake Plissken, an eyepatch-wearing criminal tasked with infiltrating the island and rescuing the President of the United States after Air Force One is hijack and crashed within its borders. Carpenter holds up a mirror to the urban anxieties of the era: fear of crime, loss of law and order, social breakdown, and perhaps worse of all, the suggestion that within society's cracks and neglected margins, a new social order might emerge which possesses its own code.

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In both films, the autonomy of the protagonists is severely compromised. Cameron must navigate the whims of a director who holds his life in his hands. Snake pushes forward coerced by explosives implanted in his neck. In their distinct ways, they question whether true rebellion is possible or if, in the end, we are all confined by the roles and narratives prescribed to us. Are we, like Cameron and Snake, merely navigating a predetermined course set by others? Or is there room to maneuver, to find our own paths even within the constraints imposed upon us?

That's all for now,

From the present moment (and sent on my birthday ) ,

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