According to The Economist, brain scans have now confirmed what everybody always knew: males are hard-wired for monomania, an exaggerated preoccupation with single things. Perhaps it is an act of monomania on my part to set out to encompass an entire year in a single theme, one unifying idea, one ringing song. But every grand movement begins with a small melody, a rhythm from which to bootstrap ourselves into counterpoint, community, and emergence. At best it aspires to be a hierophany, that singular instant when the sacred breaks through the commonplace, if only in the faintest of music. Just a breath, just a moment, a shiver and a few goosebumps, a fleeting harmony that if remembered might bring joy thereafter.
If our family's year was a grand movement, it contained yet another change of key. In June we relocated from Cambridge, MA to Rochester, NY, moving again for a job, but this time to stay awhile. We have settled into a beautiful 1910 house with stained glass and American chestnut trim, situated among sidewalks, parks, cafes, and great neighbors. Martha and Jessie are in first and second grade, having finished a year of Portuguese immersion (with fabulous teachers) and now studying Spanish. Martha loves games (Uno, Four-in-a-Row, Battleship) and learned to read as if a switch were thrown, suddenly rattling off all sixty-odd pages of Green Eggs and Ham. Jessie sews often, stitching doll clothes and Christmas presents, and keeps her very own room immaculately organized. Both girls enjoyed an after-school cooking class in the fall and look forward to Girl Scouts every week. This year they were excited to upgrade to bikes with gears, and lately they have spent long hours digging snow forts in the front yard.
As 2013 began, Neely met two women with a vision of mobilizing mothers around the issue of climate change. The rest will go down in history: Mothers Out Front is growing steady and gaining momentum, supported by an ever-larger cohort of mothers, not least of all Neely. She has run house parties, organized teams, coached other organizers, served on the leadership team, helped set organizational strategy, and volunteered for a host of smaller tasks. Meanwhile she's halfway through a Masters in accounting from the University of Rochester. She even found time to go backpacking with some colleagues and me in August — and lived to tell the tale.
In July I joined the faculty of mechanical engineering at the University of Rochester. The many demands on the time of a new professor combine with Neely's full-time volunteering and full-time enrollment to make a hectic, sometimes sleep-deprived year. But my colleagues are great, my students are excellent, and I enjoy the work. The other day a website security question asked for my dream job, and I knew right away, with a shudder: professor. At the U of R I'll continue the battery studies I started last year, study ocean mixing (building on more prior work), and probably conjure a few new research topics by the time I write the next Christmas card.
This year we have been happy to host both Kelleys and Ellefsons at our new (roomier!) place in Rochester, plus many visitors to our small Cambridge apartment. We traveled to Dallas for Caine and Emily's wedding, and I took two quick trips to Alabama, once driving a truckload of furniture back to our new old house (thanks Tingham!). Jessie and Martha also spent five weeks soaking up warmth and sunshine down South — thanks for that go to their grandparents, who hosted. Sadly we lost our greyhound Nina to bone cancer this fall. Young Abigail (18 months) joined us soon thereafter, and is keeping old Blaze (6 years) on his long, thin toes.
So the musical themes of our lives play on, and we do our best to find the melody and sing along, to live the mad joy of life in our own key. And legend has it, when the mythical hero Finn McCool was asked which music is best of all, he knew: “My dear companions, boon to my heart, always remember, it is the Sound of What Happens, that alone is the finest music in all the world.” This Christmas we wish you harmony and bliss in the Sound of What Happens.