At the age of 42, I was a single guy who’d lived in the same apartment for two decades, riding around in a 1984 Land Cruiser wagon with his 6o pound mutt, Burt. I had no ambition to own a house, no intention of having kids, and lived only to make enough money to load up my truck, go hiking in the mountains, surfing in the ocean, ride my mountain bike and take pictures. And serial date women. I was an LA based, Peter Pan who tolerated protracted and ridiculous battles with his land-lady in order to enjoy doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted. I eschewed commitment like a dog avoids a cattle grate. Then I met my soon-to-be wife, Sian. The gig was up three hours into our first date. She moved in shortly thereafter. It was a fiesty, rambunctious sort of union. We created art, hiked in the hills, made movies, and found in eachother both a fiery forge and safe place that tempered and cajoled creative spirits like ours. Most important, Burt loved her too. We got married on a hill over a beach in Mexico surrounded by the most kick-ass group of people I shall ever hope to know and launched blithely into married life.
It was by no means bliss. Almost immediately, we endured a wrenching litany of sick family members and unexpected deaths, only to barely survive the mayhem of my lingering inner child. As man who had lived un-married, alone and unchanged into my 40’s, I was harboring some serious and moldy baggage. But we did survive, dammit. Now, 9 years after our first date, and 4 (give or take) years after our wedding, we welcome Aniko Joan Newsom, into the world, under a roof we own. The house is lovely, but the kid…man, the kid is simply remarkable. Fiery and funny with a life force that’s half sugar and spice and half Bruce Lee. Life, it appears, is all new for this old dog. In some stories, this would be your happy ending, but here, of course, it is just the beginning.
I wasn’t aware how badly I wanted a house until we closed escrow and began inhabiting the space- a simple, 2-bedroom craftsman in the tiny suburb of Eagle Rock on the east side of Los Angeles. My wife and I had both lived in apartments our whole adult lives, and we’d gotten comfortable letting landlords deal with the plumbing. But something came loose the minute the seller accepted our bid. An old version of me was shed and a new, Martha Stewart-like me emerged. My obsession with the place, especially the garden, borders on mental illness. To date, I’ve spent a staggering fortune on various drought-tolerant plants for the yard, studying the mating habits of butterflies, trying to outsmart skunks, installing drip irrigation lines, and composing succulent gardens in tiny pots for the front steps. Prior to homeownership, I thought Pinterest was ludicrous, but post purchase, I am a junkie, “pinning” everything from “Craftsman Light Fixtures” to “Breakfast Nooks” as if the fate of Obama’s foreign policy depends upon it.
And, still, as impressive as my home obsession may be, it pales in comparison to the absolute, indefinable and overwhelming love I feel for my daughter, Aniko. Don’t get me wrong, I assumed I’d love my kid, but the nature of the feeling is…well…”absolute, indefinable and overwhelming”. Let’s call it Batshit-Crazy Love. This Batshit-Crazy Love for your kid is something people used to go on and on about when I was single and it always made me feel the same way the I feel when approached by religious fanatics at my front door. And as a parent you really shouldn’t attempt to explain this love to an unmarried, single friend who’s busily going about on their own trajectory. It’s like insisting on sharing a recent dream or citing your favorite yoga teacher. There’s just something about the eyes.
But, this love has a purpose, in that it keeps us from doing what any otherwise normal ape would do with a screaming baby at 4 am, in a stinking swamp of dirty diapers. In me, this love, colliding with the blank canvas of a new home in the sun-battered, water-starved lap of Southern California, has awakened another me, a Cracken-Like-Me who gives the Martha Stewart Me ballast and fury, a me that must answer the question: What World Am I Making? The world today, if you’re inclined to mine the black hole of the news, is a violent, resource-depleted, climate-shifting, species-destroying footnote-to-be-mourned, a beautiful and unlikely “living planet” that is, like all life, coming to an end, surrounded by a vast and cold infinity. And here in California, it’s also really, really dry. No place, perhaps, for a kid?
Here’s the good news: We are adaptable creatures. Too adaptable, perhaps. The brilliant essay by David Quammen, Planet of Weeds breaks down just how adaptable we truly are. Humans survive in more places than just about any other species on earth. Personally am not interested in a planet devoid of biodiversity. I’m a Nature Boy at heart, and hold fast to the notion of Gaia, earth as a great organism, formed by heat, tectonics, wind and currents, composed of rivers teeming with fish, fields of wildflowers pollinated by butterflies, bees and birds, forests harboring verdant, rising stories of flora and fauna and seas brimming with fisheries, reefs and mystery. Maybe Gaia has run her course, but as a home is space to build one’s vision, and a child is a space in which the future is forged, then it really only makes sense to choose the path of hope and get busy attempting to fit in to the overall planet at this late date.
Home. This is where we thrown down. My wife, my baby and me, in a little house, near a busy street, in a tiny suburb of a giant city, surrounded by a very taxed mediterranean chaparral ecosystem in the bone-dry heart of Southern California. This is where I attempt to plot a trajectory into the 21st Century with the thin, wiry hope that my daughter won’t turn to me at 18 and say, “Dude, what the fuck were you thinking bringing me into this place?!” Because, as the title says, some day, all this will be hers. The least I could do is everything in my power to show her the world is still an astonishing place to be, and we deserve to be here. As the great Bill Bryson said in his monumental achievement, A Short History of Nearly Everything, “we are awfully lucky to be here-and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.”
So, in words, in pictures and in short films, I give you, “Someday All This”. One man’s attempt to make his home a place his daughter can be proud of, or die trying. Failure is to be expected, but surrender is not an option.