I’m turning 47 next week.

In lockdown.


Last year, I went to the hot springs at Ojo Caliente, as they let NM residents in for free on your birthday.

But the resort partially burned down in #2020, and even if it hadn’t, sharing collective pools with strangers is about the last thing I’d want to do right now.

image courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

This year, I’m guessing I’ll spend the day with my wife and children, as I have the last 350.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Over the years, I’ve taken amazing birthday trips to the beach in SoCal, or on a bender in Amsterdam. Celebrating via travel was fun, when possible.

Not in #2021, though.

While my freedom of movement has been restricted during the pandemic, (like all of us,) I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a person, in properly deep ways, and my love and connection to my wife and kids is far beyond what it was when we were hopping around the country in 2019.

(Quick update: after bottoming out on the day of the Capitol insurrection, my marriage, and my wife’s health, are both better than they’ve been in years. Thanks again to all the people who expressed concern in early January.)

Where was I?

Some time during my mid-40’s, I realized my relationship with my parents and brother, which had dominated my thoughts since I was young, was far less important than the one with my wife and children.

Perhaps it’s commonplace, but I understood being a husband and father, and how I handled those roles, would matter more to the rest of my life than how I lived as a son and a brother. (Probably 4 years of therapy had something to do with it.)

Still, I meet so many people my age, or older, who think constantly about how they get along with their parents and siblings. Their self-worth is all wrapped up in their family of origin.

Rather than the one they’ve created as adults.

To be clear, I’m not throwing my folks and brother under the bus. They certainly mean well.

I’m more interested in explaining that as I grow older, (and hopefully wiser,) I realize how I raise my kids and support my wife will determine my karma, and how I’m judged by whatever large forces are out there, making the planets move and the tides rise and fall.

(Is that the most mid-life-sentiment I’ve ever written?)

I’m not waxing philosophical today because I’m that much closer to 50.

Not at all.

Rather, I just finished looking at, and reading, “Everything Else in the Universe: A Father-Son Road Trip,” a self-published book sent in late-last-summer by Har-Prakash and Gurudayal Khalsa.

The book is both very-well-titled, and also a tad misleading, because it’s actually a chronicle of two road trips, which included other members of the Khalsa family. (As Canadian Sikhs exploring America during the early part of the Trump era, you’ve got to give them props for having cojones, that’s for sure.)

This is one of those books I love to see come in the mail, because it is so different from the high-end art books I often review.

It’s a testament to the variety of our audience, and the breadth of what photography means, that something this personal, and open-hearted, will show up in the mail, wrapped to the teeth, with a typed letter in lieu of a press release.

I try to treat each submission in context, and rarely open a package I can’t review, but with this book, I’m not going to be critical on the same level as I might with something from MACK or Damiani.

It’s not really meant as a commercial production.

So I could quibble, and say that there are maybe too many photos, but really, what’s the point?

We get to see this merry band of wanderers, clearly in love with each other, as they bounce around in their camper van, or sleep in tents in the Utah desert.

There are text interludes, to break up the monotony, including an anecdote about a fellow camper who slit her wrists, which reminds Har-Prakash of the time he was summoned to India to pick up Gurudayal, who was having a mental health episode.

I’ve been to so many of the places in the book, like Arches, the California Central Coast, San Francisco, and Point Reyes National Sea Shore. (My parents came out to SF for my birthday, around 2000, and we booked a B&B in Point Reyes, only for it to rain the entire weekend, which raised the stress level to 10.)

This is a sweet, lovely book, and while some of the landscape photos are little touristy for my taste, they’re also countered by well-framed images of photos of dead soldiers inside a Walmart, or a relaxed museum patron lounging in a window box at SFMOMA.

It goes without saying that trips like this, and all the random human encounters described within, (including an emphasis on the kindness of strangers,) can’t happen in our current pandemic lifestyle.

So for one of my birthday wishes, (if I get more than one,) I’m hoping that we all have a safer, healthier, more normal world, before I turn 48.

I hope I can take my kids on the road some time this year, and hug them tightly when they crawl into their hotel beds at night. (No camping for me, thanks.)

To purchase “Everything Else in the Universe” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

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