My 13-year-old granddaughter, Eva, has spent the first three weeks of her summer vacation at the famous arts camp in Interlochen, Michigan. She’s really enjoying her high-level introduction to writing poetry, autobiographical reflections, and fiction.
On this blog, I’ve written about Eva and our relationship several times — most revealingly, I think, in a poem I wrote to her on her 13th birthday.
I’m so proud of this young woman and cherish the conversations we share as we frequently take our exercise in morning walks. We always end up sitting by the Saugatuck River consuming treats from Starbucks.
In any case, Eva is a writer with ambitions to eventually pursue a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing at Princeton (her father’s university) or Wellesley (her mother’s alma mater).
However, at this point, she’s just getting started though the instruction she’s received at Pierrepont School here in Westport, CT has been excellent. It has prepared her well for Interlochen.
During my nearly 14-year conversation with my granddaughter, Eva has evidenced more interest in creative prose rather than poetry. “Poetry’s just not my thing,” she’s told me more than once.
So, you can imagine my surprise when during the first week at Interlochen she waxed enthusiastic about her poetry classes. She shared with me her first sonnet. Its topic was to be some personal experience. Eva chose to write about witnessing the birth of her 4th brother, Sebastian 3 years ago.
Here’s what she wrote:
I saw a new life come into the world
It was a magical experience;
A small red baby with his fingers curled,
His vision blurred and brain delirious.
It made my eyes shine with watery tears
And my body feel a sense of wonder;
His skin is as soft as small rabbit ears,
I whisper to my mom how I love her,
And how proud I am of her good effort.
She smiles at me and says it’s not the first
Also babies always make her head hurt;
But after the baby had bathed and nursed,
And to our fam’ly friends we said farewell
My mom let me name him, Sebastian Nels.
Over the next few days, I’ll share two other pieces Eva has written at Interlochen — one a personal reflection, the other a work of fiction.
In my declining years, I’m leading a charmed life. Here Peggy and I are living in Westport, CT, just down the street from our daughter, Maggie, her husband, Kerry, and five of our grandchildren.
Here’s a picture of our house where we moved just three years ago:
Our grandsons, Oscar (10), Orlando (8), Markandeya (6), and Sebastian (2) usually stay overnight on Fridays and we have breakfast together Saturday mornings. All of them (except little Sebastian) love baseball, so Peggy and I spend a lot of time cheering them on in their Little League games.
About three nights a week, Peggy and I also have dinner at our daughter’s beautiful home. And with the advent of warmer spring nights, we’ve been eating outdoors, where we share not only Maggie’s gourmet meals, but the day’s “roses and thorns,” i.e. all of us taking turns telling about the highpoint and low point of our days.
When my turn comes, my “rose” is often an account of my morning walk with my granddaughter, Eva (12), who is the reigning “Ms. President” of Westport. [That’s right, Eva recently ran (albeit unopposed) for our town’s Ms. President and was elected based on her compelling presentation of a platform promoting planet-saving vegetarianism.]
In any case and for years, Eva has often joined me for my daily four-mile fast walks (which are getting slower all the time). This often happens on weekends, but sometimes we end up walking together to her school about two and a half miles distant. About half-way through our routine, we invariably stop for coffee at Starbucks and spend about 30 minutes just talking there on the shore of the Saugatuck River that runs through Westport’s heart. Our conversations are uniformly wonderful.
We often discuss what we’ve seen and heard lately on “Democracy Now,” Amy Goodman‘s Monday through Friday news program which Eva watches faithfully every day. (I’ve told Eva that if she continues her practice, she’ll end up knowing more about the world than most of her teachers at her Pierrepont School which she absolutely loves.)
Both Eva and I are admirers of Malcolm X. So, we’ve watched and discussed Spike Lee’s film together (along with “Fahrenheit 451,” “Soul,” and “My Octopus Teacher”). We’ve also read Malcolm’s autobiography, and we’ve talked about Les Payne‘s latest biography about our hero, The Dead Are Arising (which I’m sure Eva will read on her own when she gets a bit older). I can imagine her producing some kind of research paper on Malcolm in high school or college. Anyhow, we often talk about X; Eva is intensely interested — as she is about almost everything.
And our conversations are so much fun.
For instance, just this morning, we had maybe our best exchange yet. In her history class at Pierrepont, Eva’s studying the Illiad and Odyssey. While Eva loves the tale, she was mildly complaining that her teacher takes the classic too seriously — i.e. she leads discussions as though Homer’s work were something more than what Eva recognizes as historical fiction.
“You know, Baba,” she confided to me, “I think they’ve misplaced Homer in the history section of our library; it really belongs in the fiction aisle. I mean, all this stuff about Helen of Troy as the cause of the Trojan War doesn’t make sense. How does anyone know that her abduction started the whole thing?”
“That’s a brilliant question,” I said. “You should ask your teacher.
“But you know,” I said, ” that’s probably true of all of the books in your school’s library. I mean they all should probably be classified as fiction. That’s what historians and other authors do; they write accounts that reflect their own biases. And that goes for the Bible too.” (I voiced that last part, because Eva considers herself an atheist, so I wanted to be even-handed about fields of study — she knows I’m especially interested in questions of faith and biblical interpretation.)
“But don’t be too quick to dismiss fiction,” I added. “Fiction is often more revealing of truth than history or scientific theory. It’s like my friend, Guy Patrick, used to observe about the Bible. . . ‘All of it is true,’ he’d say, ‘and some of it even happened.’ Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s novels are true, even though they didn’t happen. You might say the same about the poems of Emily Dickinson.”
And Eva could see all of that. Despite her atheism, she even agreed that the biblical stories of creation might be truer (i.e. more revealing of human meaning) than Darwin’s revolutionary theory. Stifling a theatrical yawn, she said “Darwin might be factually true, but it’s more boring, I agree.”
Can you see what I mean about a charmed life — and about my charming granddaughter?