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Nighty-Nightvale

My kids have been getting into Welcome to Nightvale. “Getting into” means “listening to an episode in the car if they remember they like it,” but also “making a sincere parody podcast called Nighty-Nightvale that in many respects is better than the original.”

The original is a news broadcast from a suburban Anywhere city that is also a staging area for existential dread and apocalyptic visions. Beneath or behind or within every banal symbol of bourgeois complacency (the bake sale, the Boy Scouts, the dog park) is evidence of a sinister shadowland (a glowing cloud, a line of silent hooded figures, a bloody ritual). A recent (recent to me, meaning like from 2012) “word from our sponsor” spent two minutes describing a hallucinatory spiral into an underwater nightmare, leading to the tag: “Welcome . . . to Red Lobster.”

The announcer sounds like a D-list actor playing a mildly zombified C-list actor playing a 1940’s radio newsreader. His tone is stilted and portentous. My kids can do an excellent imitation of him. They deepen their voice and do a little suburban/sinister mashup: “Bananas . . . do not love you.” “The morning sun . . . is a beautiful lie.”

For example (and this is the best example), J. once said, in that deep, stilted, portentous voice, “Everything inside you . . . eventually comes out.”

The man I am

Our public elementary and middle schools are full of hard-working, good-hearted people, none of whom teach languages other than English.

Yet at some point in his education, J. encountered a teacher who was brought in to teach Spanish for a few months. He remembers a few numbers, a few months of the year, and one sentence, which he sometimes says to me, regardless of what I may have said to him: “Hola, mi rosa padre.” Hello, my pink father.

I am fifty, and I work at a communications firm, and I like to play basketball, and I support restorative justice, and so on. But if I am one thing in this world, I am a pink father.

The end of disruption

I was staying at a sassy little hotel chain called Tru. It’s a Hilton spinoff. It’s got a pool table and board games in the lobby! It’s got hand-written messages about local activities on whiteboards facing the elevators! The walls are painted mint and teal and other fizzy colors, and the floors are made of something that looks like recycled plastic wood, if that’s a thing.

The attendant at the desk was wearing a bright round Tru nametag that said “Hey there!” and her name. She also wore a Tru fleece vest, on the back of which was the message: “Disrupt with a smile.”

Let us pause to honor, with pleasure, the passing of the meaning of all forms of the word “disrupt.”

Why haven’t I written?

Because blogging is dead.

Because the WordPress blogging interface changed and I’m old and don’t want to deal with it.

Because I don’t know what to say.

Because The Thing That Is Happening In Front Of Us is so distracting, so depressing, so consuming, that to write about anything else feels like a declaration of ignorance.

Because to write about The Thing That Is Happening would be personally indulgent and professionally inappropriate. Unlike the many, many times I’ve written about my hilarious children.

Because everyone is already writing about The Thing That Is Happening, and everyone has said the same things a thousand times, and no one needs me to say those things one more time in a corner of the interwebs that no one visits anyway.

Because I am trying to live a more mindful life, OK? And the constant demand for new blog material is breaking my back, all right? I’m not a content machine! What happened to silence? What happened to reflection? What happened to walking aimlessly? (There is no demand for new blog material.)

In the middle of World War II, E.B. White would write in the New Yorker about his domestic life: his sheep, his daily routines, the sun coming up, etc. When I first encountered those essaylets, I thought the disjunction between global catastrophe and quotidian observation was grotesque. But you could make the case (someone has, in some distant blog) that his apolitical writing was a political statement. He was writing on behalf of timeless life, the life that outlasts war or social upheaval or cultural chaos.

But I’m not making that case. I don’t know what the hell to do, I really don’t.

But “I don’t know what the hell to do” is a luxury. You do what you do. You ask yourself if you can do more. You ask yourself if you can do something different. Not-knowing is a luxury–but it’s also a beginning.

13th doctor positivity

My kids are watching the new season of Dr. Who. It’s not my thing (lasers! time travel! futuristic “wit”), but I watched an episode at my kids’ behest. And I love, love, love the new doctor. Who is a woman. Which is a first for the show. (There have been 12 doctors, all male, before her.) (Because, um, they’re all incarnations of the same person.) (Don’t ask me!)

What I love most about her is her spirit. She’s indomitable. But not in a grim, humorless way. In a brisk, giddy, deliriously curious way. She encounters a robot army (or whatever), and her response isn’t a clenched one-liner. Her response is: This is interesting! Let’s figure this out! My son calls it “13th doctor positivity.” And for at least one day this week, he went to school–which he’s usually depressed about–with that spirit . . . and it worked! He had a good day!

The next day was meh. But, you know: That’s interesting! We’ll figure it out. Good on you, doctor.

Superlatives

The yearbook staff at my daughter’s middle school sent around a survey asking students to nominate superlatives.

Her responses to a few categories:

Best Dressed
Style is subjective.

Most Popular
I refuse to contribute to the toxicity of popularity. In my opinion it only lowers self-esteem and makes school less fun.

Most Competitive
and
Loudest
This question is negative and whoever won would feel bad and thus I refuse to answer.

Most Likely To Be on a Reality TV Show
I don’t watch reality TV shows.

Most Likely To Be a Model
The modeling industry is toxic and I refuse to judge my classmates’ “hotness.”

I love that girl.

The wide, wide world of sports

Three items:

1. The winner of this year’s Indy 500 is named Will Power. That’s pretty much a mic drop right there. But I guess you could also throw in a line about what if his middle name was To. Maybe it’s best just to linger on his actual name, now that I think of it.

2. Under the current administration, everything feels like a metaphor for the administration. Or, if not a metaphor, then everything somehow has a certain . . . resonance. If I’m reading about the nature of autocracy under Nicholas II (administrative chaos, chronic infighting and backstabbing, everyone trying to anticipate the whims of the Tsar), I’m thinking, “Hmm–this sounds so . . . familiar.” Or if (here comes the sports reference) I’m listening to an ESPN podcast about the founder of Bikram yoga, Bikram Choudhury–a self-mythologizing charlatan who created a cult of personality, abused his power in dozens of ways, and reveled in Vegas-style displays of wealth–it feels rather pointed. Oh, and it just so happens that Bikram is prone to rambling, hours-long monologues about his genius, his fame, his enemies, whatever–in other words, he’s a guy whose character, whose humanity, whose feeling for the lives of others has been burned away, leaving only the white flame of pure ego. So, you know: make of that what you will!

3. Another example of item 2: the Stanley Cup–the championship series of the country’s whitest sport–will be played between teams from D.C. and Vegas. Which is perfect, since we’re living in a moment when D.C. has become Vegas. See how this works?

A name for the nameless feeling

I was listening to an interview with a guy called James Williams on a podcast called Talking Politics. Williams writes about technology and culture, and he coined a term for a feeling I’ve felt for the longest time but haven’t found a name for: the feeling of being constantly more stupid than the technology you depend on.

He calls it “the treadmill of incompetence.” You buy a piece of technology, and before you’ve learned how to operate it, before you understand exactly what it’s capable of doing, it gets updated; so you buy the update, and now you’re two steps behind; and then it’s updated again, or perhaps there’s an entirely new device that obviates the need for the device you’ve been updating, so you buy the new device, and you don’t totally understand how to operate it, and then an update is released, and there you are on the treadmill again.

Your technology affirms your incompetence, again and again, day after day. Williams has worked in tech, and he says that tech engineers aren’t malicious people–and yet they’re working in an industry that is in some perverse way engaged in a project of mass bewilderment. Which is different than a project of mass wonder.

Where you’ll find me

I’m reading a biography of Coleridge, not because I love Coleridge’s poetry (it feels antiquated to me–because, you know, it is!–but I think I mean it feels antique) but because the biographer is Richard Holmes, the most marvelous companion you could want if you were wanting to conduct a psycho-socio-literary autopsy of a writer.

Anyway. The point is that Coleridge once frequented a tavern called The Salutation & Cat. The Salutation & Cat! I would like to live at a tavern called The Salutation & Cat. (And indeed it takes lodgers.) I’m reading a book filled with striking insights about everything I care about, but what I will most remember from this experience, I’m sure, is that there was once a tavern called The Salutation & Cat.

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