Conversation presents this problem: nowhere in the vast literature of science do there exist consistent rules by which to construct it properly, sharing ourselves without boring each other, showing enthusiasm without dominating, touching deep issues but avoiding the uncomfortable. So then conversation, like Christmas letters and like the short years of life we are given, requires improvisation. What we say, we find along the way. With 2007 coming to a close, we say a bit here about all the things we have said this year.
Martha, just two months old, says assertively (in so many words) when she needs to eat or be changed, and when her stomach hurts, which thankfully is rare since Neely gave up dairy (no ice cream!), coffee (makes for some groggy mornings!), and broccoli (this is not such a sacrifice). By now Martha also tells us—with grins and wiggles—when she is happy to be together. Jessie says much more, helped along by a fast-growing vocabulary, telling about food and diapers and sleeping, babies and George, strollers and jumping. Understandably she stomps and cries when she is bored of being inside, or when she wants to watch her favorite movie “Mee-mo” at the exact moment her sister has waked up hungry and wet. Jessie tells Martha things that only sisters understand, with kisses on the cheek or pats on the head (which often get a little overzealous—doucement!).
Neely, for her part, says plenty to keep up with the girls and the rest of us. In the spring she wrote day and night to complete her monolithic Masters thesis, satisfying an ambitious advisor who had more to say about the details of that document than we’d hoped! In the fall she spoke life to Martha, our second daughter born healthy and naturally. I myself have said a few things and listened intently to a great many more on three scientific trips this year, to Les Houches, France; Salt Lake City; and San Francisco. Looking past graduation next year, I talk now with professors offering postdoctoral positions—or even a faculty spot, if I could get it.
The tracking trajectory of our ongoing conversation has also brought us to great fun this year. We had long chats about family history at Litchfield Beach with the Ellefsons and we conversed on New Hampshire hikes with the Kelleys. With the Stephensons we heard priceless stories celebrating Granddaddy’s 85th. At Thanksgiving we chatted through tryptophan and caffeine with the Millars. I myself conversed with God Almighty on alpine peaks around Les Houches, and I write tonight from San Francisco after a week of part-time touring with Neely and Martha. Much of our fun and frolicking we owe to our parents and friends, who make such conversations possible through logistical and psychological support—our deepest thanks you to all!
So here we stand at year’s end once more, impresarios together, improvising our conversations like strange attractors, ad-hoc and elegant, speaking meaning to our world. Springsteen knows: “I want a thousand guitars / I want pounding drums / I want a million different voices speaking in tongues.” This Christmas and through the new year, may your voice in conversation burst forth free and joyful.