Once we get past 75, the best measures of who we are might be which books populate the shelves, which New Yorker cartoons are displayed on the refrigerator (or lovingly tucked away in manila folders), what music we hum in the shower, and which single malt Scotch we favor. We seem to spend more mental cycles on what happens next than formerly. And of course print is ever smaller and folk do mumble so...
My ambivalence about Class Reports (and about Harvard in general) is undiminished after all these years. While I enjoy the exercise of writing submissions, and I read the thing cover-to-cover when it arrives, I marvel at how few of my classmates I knew then, and how little my life's trajectory seems like what they report. We are a cohort, to be sure (Born During the War), but disparity seems our prime commonality.
Every five years (at least since our 40th) I've made web pages to augment my brief print submissions to the Class Report, but I've had no indication that anybody has noticed. Does that matter? Well, no. I write those pages mostly for the discoveries I make as I try to piece together a coherent summary of my doings and interests. The blog (oook.info/blog/) likewise: sure, I'd like to have readers and interlocutors, but I'm not inclined to beat the bushes for them. And as for the Facebook and Twitter, faugh!
I was quite surprised to find myself attending the 50th, and finding that I enjoyed the conversations I had with classmates, mostly people I met for the first time, and probably will never encounter again. My freshman roommates are long dead, and Jan Broek '64 is the only Harvard person I see with any regularity (and of course my spouse Elizabeth Root Blackmer '65, who turns up every morning as she has done for 55 years...).
The backstory information I generated for the 50th covers those years pretty well, and since 2015 the main things to add are a few pointers to specific photographic activities: Full-Frontal Spiritual Manifestations and Pop-Up Photography Show, July 2019 and a link to the just-completed eleventh Blurb book Elevenses, and the even more just-completed WYGIWYS (that's What You Get Is What You See, and is subtitled Exploring Morphic Resonance in Rock, Wood and Water).
Both of us participated in an online photography workshop with Andy Ilachinski, and the material I put together for it makes a good summary of the directions of my photographic life.
In addition to the Blurb books, I've been exploring the possibilities of animated video as a distribution medium for my photographs. A series of Home Kitchen Cafe videos is a beginning of what may blossom into another creative florescence, and several other tranches of my photo archives may soon find their way into that medium. I'm planning a video presentation of photographs as part of my contribution to our joint show in July [it was postponed to late September, and is available in perpetuity:Imagining]
In other activities, after the 2016 election Betsy decided to do something non-partisan, un-controversial, and indubitably good for the world: she started picking up roadside trash. I joined the effort after a week or so, and we've been at it ever since, now covering more than 20 miles of road on our peninsula. We affect bright vests and grabber sticks, are out scouring the verge several days a week (sometimes 10 miles, mostly more like 5), and donate the deposit cans and bottles (5 cents, 15 if the bottle is large) to the town's recycling center. We've become quite notorious, and people wave and stop to thank us, and summer tourists wonder if somebody is paying us to do the work (I tell them that I prize my amateur status). In two years of counting, we're well past 85,000 cigarette butts (consider for a moment the mentality that counts cigarette butts...), and well beyond the inclination to blame. It feels good to be doing it, and I claim that I can eat whatever I like because of the exercise.
Since Covid-19 keeps us at home, I've been doing blog posts on the trove of 'word books' (from dictionaries to linguistics, lots of variety) on my shelves. The series begins with a March 21st post and has continued more or less daily.
And I read a lot, all sorts of stuff. Books, blogs, pretty selective periodicals (Baffler, NYRB, LRB, Literary Review, New Yorker... you know...). Lifetime habit, that and building new bookshelves... Among the books I'm planning to re-read, in search of insight into OUR lives and times, are George W.S. Trow's Within the Context of No Context and My Pilgrim's Progress. I wish I'd known him, back in the day. I wish I'd known a lot of you...
(the author in 1951)
(the author in 2020 --photos by Kate Blackmer)