One For The Books

I posted a picture of my grandson on Instagram yesterday, and a friend made a comment about us moving to Texas to be close to him. It’s on my mind a lot. In a perfect world, kids would have big families and be able to wander over to a relative’s house when their parents got too much. I’d love to be the grandpa down the street, who wouldn’t?

The answer, though, is always: He won’t stay this age.

If we were retired and looking for a new place, it’s a different story, but we’re not. This is childhood, it won’t last forever, and we do the best we can. It has to be enough. He’s already intolerant of grandpa kisses, and in school all day.

That’s the thing about being grandpa. I’ve been down this road before, and I paid attention. The kids grow up. Take your moments and wallow in them.

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I can make a case that I’ve spent half of this summer preparing to travel, traveling, and recovering from travel. It was a blast, although I could have used a head’s up on the recovery part. I probably wouldn’t have listened, being a little deluded occasionally when it comes to my age and stamina.

I’m not that old, and my stamina is actually pretty good. I spent the weeks before Scotland upping my daily exercise, trying to stretch my legs out over five miles or so every day, and I had no trouble except for the occasional misstep on the occasional castle step.

Back home, though, we both sort of collapsed, and understood that we were taking off soon for a week in Texas. We ate and slept, interspersed with eating and sleeping. I vaguely remember some lawn work that I regretted. I recall taking a little ibuprofen on a regular basis for quite a few days.

The other weird side effects of all this travel seem to be easing up. Whatever spurred my appetite—increased exercise, medication, finding food on the road instead of inside the fridge—has tapered off, but the scale still reads 10 pounds higher. This is a good thing, although I don’t trust it. The scale is like a friend who tells you the literal truth without any context, and context is king.

All is well. I probably need a haircut.

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Our Arizona reunion took over a year of planning, but that was fairly simple. Let’s back it up to five days before we left home—call it July 20. We got home last night around 10:30pm, so that’s 71 days of being other-directed, at least in the sense that our focus was elsewhere. It feels like a positive thing, even with some stress and exhaustion.

What have I learned? It’s unclear at this point; I don’t think I have any useful advice or enlightened thinking to share. Lots of people travel. I wrote a column from San Antonio about Scotland (again), just trying to find the trivia that was cluttering up my skull, mostly jokes. Food and accents, etc.

As I wrote, I don’t want to be the guy who takes one trip and dines out on that for years. We had a thorough, immersive two weeks in Scotland but two weeks is nothing. What do I know? Scots like snack foods, apparently, and skinny jeans. Everyone was nice.

I felt as though I should have some comments about traveling around Europe with women, up to seven at times, but I’ve got nothing. No funny cultural stories, no battle of the sexes, no interesting differences and similarities. I spent some time waiting outside of restrooms, maybe.

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I want to say something about photography. It’s all a jumble and unorganized in my mind, as always.

I was fascinated by photography when I was a kid; for a while, I had a darkroom in our house, although I never landed an enlarger so I could only shoot and develop contact sheets. Eventually I moved on to other hobbies, understanding that my interest wasn’t going to develop (sorry!) into something more.

I bought my first digital camera over 20 years ago, a Casio that took such low-resolution photos that a contact sheet was really as good as they ever looked. Eventually I got a better one, then an entry-level Nikon DSLR, and then my phone just got better.

Filters are easy but I got tired of them, and so I landed on four quick fixes that I applied to every photo—contrast, saturation, highlights, and temperature. That’s enough for me, and while I got some great photos I understand that this isn’t my thing.

But my phone is a magic camera now, and lately I’ve been playing with computational photography.

In a regular SLR camera, opening the aperture widely, allowing more light, will focus on the subject and blur the background (called bokeh). You can fake this with photo software with mixed results, the point being to use depth of field to accentuate whatever you want to accentuate.

The two lenses in my iPhone 8 Plus can mimic this effect to some degree, and it works perfectly sometimes and sometimes not so much.

Enter computational photography apps. Using the increased processors of these devices, I can up my game and still retain my amateur status.

The second and fourth photos above are video stills that were processed on my phone. All photos have been resized to small resolution.

There are hundreds of moments from this summer, a summer for the books, and it feels like finally I got photos right. I have no instincts for framing, for lighting, for the dozens of things that good photographers know and practice. And in this age of photography, mine are as forgettable as everyone else’s.

But they remind me, more now than ever. Maybe because I’ve never had a summer like this. Maybe because of technology. Maybe because I knew they’d be important, and I shot them with posterity in mind.

Doesn’t matter. I’ve got them, and I look at them all the time. Because time is what we’re talking about.

Chuck SigarsComment