Six Streets Below Harlem
A few days ago my father in law passed away. We knew he was not well, but the news of his death was a terrible shock on all of us. I loved him dearly. He took care of my daughter almost everyday since the age four months or so, until she was two. He is (was) one of her favorite humans. He called her Miciko (pronounced Mitsiko), he liked that it sounded a bit Japanese.
Walking around with him was always a joy. A few things were guaranteed during these moments:
He would made me laugh
He would always teach me something
I would always walk back with an interesting idea
He lived in New York for many years and retained a bit of it in his heart. Besides “Causality” one of our favorite topics of discussion was stories. What makes a good story ? He naturally had read everything. Maybe not quite everything, but everything that was relevant as he would say.
One day I was telling him about one of my failed attempts to wrap up a story. He listened carefully with great attention. We agreed that the magic wand that makes one a brilliant writer had not been invented. He told me though that when it comes to story telling, one should never forget that:
“Every word is written for a reason”
This is true for stories told in books, movies, theatre, etc. One of my passions in life is “guessing” what will happen next, regardless of the context or topic. After this cherished lesson from my father in law, I never watched a movie the same way ever again. Camera lingering in some corner - bam - that was not a random detail was it not ? Obviously it was not. It’s quite fun actually to anticipate where the director is taking you next, or at least trying to, even if truth be told, it is not necessarily fun for the person watching the movie with you.
My father in law also taught a lot of graduate students, I asked him advice once as I was about to start teaching a few hours in parallel of my research. What he shared with me was that his approach to teaching was mainly based on curiosity, he also told me that he had no interest in discussing with those who don’t question things.
I don’t quite recall how this came about, but I told him that I was not getting any compensation for these hours. He paused for a bit and told me that it was not smart of me to work for free. That one should value one’s worth. As simple as his advice was, it took me years to digest it.
“Know the worth of your time”
It’s so simple, yet I (dare I say we) keep forgetting it.
As I am writing these last words, I still don’t know where to put my pain. However, I shall stop here and linger in these memories for a bit longer.