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On remembering (and getting a root canal). Some Remarks. Butcher's Crossing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Luna // 11 Months // On Remembering

As I settled into the dentist's chair, a sense of unease washed over me. It had been far too long since my last visit, a fact made glaringly obvious by the dull ache in my jaw and the sharp twinge of pain whenever I bit down. I had been putting off the dentist for months, telling myself I'd schedule an appointment when things settled down, but as any new parent can attest, there's always something else on the horizon.

That constant cycle of ‘something else’ led to a skipped cleaning here, a canceled checkup there - small lapses, but they add up. So here I was, getting a root canal.

Immobilized and reclined in the chair, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the clinical environment, my mind couldn't help but drift back to the hospital room where Luna entered this world almost one year ago. It's nearly impossible to reconcile that tiny, helpless newborn with the fearless, personality-packed toddler she is becoming - scrambling across rooms, filling the air with squeals of laughter, and developing her own unique sense of humor.

As I did my best to distract myself from the procedure happening inside my open mouth, I found myself tracing back through the incredible developmental leaps Luna has made over the course of the year. The first few months already feel like a distant, hazy memory; that version of Luna who existed primarily to sleep, eat, and cry is difficult to recall with any clarity. After that, I more clearly remember the time I began to see real depth and recognition in her eyes as she started to track objects and movements around her. I can picture her so vividly, sitting beside the window in her rocker, watching the leaves dance in the breeze outside. The rocker is now in storage, uninteresting to a baby that’s always on the move.

As I continued thinking through the year, the leaps came faster and more pronounced. The first time she rolled over, an adorable array of indecipherable babbles followed rapidly by her first "dada" and "mama." Her attempts to stand, and then the way she would wiggle and dance whenever music played. So many of these milestones seemed to arrive all at once in just a few short months, it’s hard to remember exactly when they happened. Was she babbling in October, when we went to Guatemala? Was she standing during Christmas?

If it’s hard for me to remember one month ago, it makes me wonder what it’s like from Luna’s perspective. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her to experience the world anew with each developmental leap, her brain working overtime to map and make sense of a constant stream of input, to formulate increasingly sophisticated ways of engaging with and responding to her environment. As I sat in the dentist’s chair I thought about how I was witnessing one tiny piece of the vast evolutionary code that makes us human booting up in real-time, millions of years of finely-tuned survival instincts and algorithms sparking to life inside my daughter.

When the dentist finally finished and sent me on my way, I stepped out into the bright sunlight feeling dazed. Pulling out my phone to check the time, I was greeted by my lock screen photo: Luna at 8 months old, so different from the little person she's become now at nearly a year. The discomfort and inconvenience of the root canal felt insignificant. The pain, the challenges, all the little sacrifices of this first year of parenthood, they all telescoped down to mere blips when measured against the immense, life-altering joy and awe of nurturing a brand new human life into being. Later, I called the dentist’s office to schedule an appointment to receive a crown and then a cleaning in six months time. As I mark my calendar, I'm reminded that it's not just a date with my dentist. It's a marker of time, a reminder of how quickly life moves forward, and a promise to myself to savor every moment with my daughter, to be present and grateful for each and every day.

What I Read

I recently picked up two books by authors I deeply admire, but had markedly different reactions to each.

Some Remarks, an anthology of Neal Stephenson's essays and interviews from across his long career, proved to be a bit of a letdown. While there are glimmers of insight into the celebrated author's creative process and enduring obsessions, too much of the material felt lightweight or haphazardly thrown together. Kicking things off with a piece about the perils of sitting at desks is an odd choice to say the least.

This doesn’t change the fact that Stephenson is one of the defining writers of our time whose best novels fizz with big ideas about technology, history, and human progress. It’s just that little of that brilliance comes across here. Readers new to Stephenson would be better off starting with one of his novels; for long-time fans, this is likely to be a curiosity at best.

In Butcher's Crossing, John Edward Williams serves up a gripping Western about a jaded Harvard dropout seeking something "authentic" on the 1870s frontier. Falling in with a band of buffalo hunters captained by the charismatic but singular-minded Miller, they set out to find an untouched herd sequestered in the Colorado wilds.

Williams' terse, muscular prose is impeccably matched to the story and its inhabitants. His other novel, Stoner, an all-time personal favorite, charts the outwardly unremarkable life of an English professor in much more muted tones. What unites these two very different books is prose capable of conveying both the blood and muck of a buffalo slaughter and the quiet desperation of a man caught in midlife struggles. Both novels refuse the consolations of easy resolution; their power lies in their unblinking gaze into the human experience in all its messy, painful, and sometimes beautiful complexity

What I Watched

During my year of movies, I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes and liked it just fine. This week, I carved out time for the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Set ten years later, the film finds Caesar presiding over a growing simian civilization thriving in Muir Woods while a group human survivors emerge from a deadly pandemic's wreckage in nearby San Francisco.

The resonance of the film stems from its thoughtful exploration of the tenuous bonds between both societies. Caesar, having gained wisdom and experience since we last saw him, strives to maintain peace and guide his community of intelligent apes. However, the scars of past human cruelty still run deep, embodied most fiercely in Caesar's lieutenant Koba.

As the two factions warily broker an uneasy truce, it portrays both as capable of reason and emotion, kindness and violence. When the truce inevitably unravels, it feels tragically unavoidable - the result of understandable fear, mistrust, and simple failures to communicate.

While the movie succumbs to some of the usual pitfalls of the summer blockbuster (a few too many explosive set-pieces and sometimes plodding pacing issues) it manages to balance spectacle with a thoughtful allegory about the challenges of building and maintaining peace in the face of distrust and tribalism.

Now I have to watch the final film in the trilogy.

That's all for now,

From the present moment,

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