“Sad Story”

Last week at dinner when it was daughter Eva’s turn to share highlights and lowlights of her day,  she was nearing the finish line and then suddenly stops and goes, “OH I FORGOT. There’s a really sad story.”

“What is it?” I said, in a wide-eyed over-exaggerated childlike way, to mirror her dramatic setup.

Then she unloaded with this crazy story she learned from her kindergarten teacher at school.

“One day, there was a bad guy. And he took a plane, and he CRASHED it into a building. And it died so many people. And even people on the ground were died too, because of the building crashing. It’s really, really sad.” [Eva makes face pouty here.]

Upon realizing what she was telling us, Matt and I looked at each other and he responded by saying something like, “Yes that was really really sad. And those people shouldn’t have died.” (I’m not sure Eva realized this was an actual event that happened until that point, in which her dad brought his personal memory of 9/11 into the conversation and made that connection for her, whether we should have or not.)

Then I go, “The guy who crashed the plane into the building died, too.”

And immediately Eva comes back with, “But he WANTED to die. He flew that plane knowing he was going to die.”

A week later I am still stunned to hear the 9/11 story recounted to me by my five-year-old as a distant story, and not something real that she experienced in her lifetime. And also stunned that she processed all of this and they talked about it at school but I guess you’re not supposed to shelter small people from news … but still, yikes. I keepl turning over this whole scene in my head, and the adorable way she said, “And it died so many people.” Because I don’t even know if she has ever used the verb “kill” before. Sigh.

RIP Philip Roth

“Every day I ask myself the same question: How can this be happening in America? How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination.”

—-Philip Roth, in his novel The Plot Against America, 2004

State of the Women

When I was in the states this month I got the chance to meet with a lot of think tanky folks who have been sources and friends for years. One of the groups, Asia Society Policy Institute, even let me talk to young professionals for an event they do called AsiaX, which is supposed to a series of “less boring” talks. I opted to chat about something I wish I had more time to really delve into here, which is the state of women in South Korea and Japan. These are highly industrialized, future-oriented countries, who are holding themselves back because their women don’t have the full range of options in the economies as men do.

Firemen in Hell

“During the reign of President* Trump, doing this job is like being a fireman in hell. No days off. No weekends free.” -Charles Pierce, on being a journalist right now

Everything’s Fine…

“Ennui today is best described as the impossible act of ignoring the sound of a thousand dolphins screaming, which is what I hear when I log online every morning.”

-Leah Finnegan (I recommend the full letter)

Want To Help Houston? A Few Places To Start

So many swollen bayous right now.

If you, like me, are watching Houston drown from afar and want to help, here are a few places to start:

If you have particular local-based non-profits that you think are worth adding, please let me know in the comments or send me a note.

After the Flood

I lived in Houston the fall of 2001, after Tropical Storm Allison led to destructive flooding that was, at the time, historic. Allison now seems quaint compared to what we’re witnessing happen under Harvey.

What I remember about that time was the Allison recovery consumed so much of the energy in the area. But then, two more breathtaking news events happened: September 11, and not long after, the fall of Enron, which was to Houston what GM is to Detroit. So even though this makes no logical sense, I’m filled with a sense of foreboding about what’s next.

What Does A ‘Crazier’ Fox News Even Mean?

This news, or news or rumors, immediately made me think of Big Red Son*, a non-fiction David Foster Wallace piece about the Adult Video News Awards, which are like the Oscars for porn. Stay with me.

Wallace’s style is heavy with footnotes. (Someone once admitted to me she DIDN’T READ THE FOOTNOTES, which I found shocking because well, they are the best.) Despite reading this essay collection nine years, four cats and three children ago, one of the footnotes in Big Red Son never left me. It was about how porn defined itself by being subversive, and the more acceptable it became, the more depraved it would have to get in order to keep its status.

When I saw the headlines about a possibly “crazier” version of Fox News, my mind jumped right to that old footnote:

“Respectability creates a paradox. The more acceptable in modern culture it becomes, the farther porn will have to go in order to preserve the sense of unacceptability that’s so essential to its appeal. As should be evidence, the industry’s already gone pretty far … it’s not hard to see where porn is eventually going to have to go in order to retain its edge of disrepute.”

I’m pretty worried that since we’re in an age when Nazis are up for debate, where would a “crazier” Fox News even go with its discourse? You know what, don’t answer that question.

*The piece is found in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, a collection I recommend wholeheartedly.

We Live in Public

The ‘We Live in Public’ premiere at SXSW. PC: Frank Gruber

Almost a decade ago, at the SXSW film fest, I saw a documentary about a man ahead of his time called We Live in Public. He rigged cameras all over his house and live-streamed his life with his girlfriend, a prophecy of the privacy-rejecting times to come. The film unsettled me back then, and raised a lot of serious questions about the implications of living under a construct like this. Now his avant garde art experiment is reality, especially in China, where people are making $100,000 a month live streaming their most mundane moments.

One of the primary concerns I have about all of us living in a mediated reality (one in which you are aware of an audience gaze) is how it affects identity formation. That is, during adolescence, when developmental science indicates people are quite literally forming their own identities, establishing who they are as adults who are separate from their parents, today’s adolescents are also forming their public identities (on Instagram or what not) at the same time. These two selves may be completely dissonant, and neither is even fully “formed” yet. What a mindfuck!

The summer between 9th and 10th grade, a group of cheerleaders from my high school decided to pose for a group picture topless except for belts they fastened around their chests. They took the film for developing at Eckerd (you see, children, back in those days we would get our film rolls developed at a 24-hour pharmacy). Another high school student worked at the Eckerd photo corner, saw the shot when reviewing the final photos and scanned it. This was 1998, so the photo was passed around as email attachments, and everyone who was anyone saw this photo, but it eventually stopped being a thing. Can you imagine if this had happened in the age of social media?

Had I paid more attention in philosophy classes, I would probably know this problem is as old as time, and it’s just expressing itself in a different way now. But I do think about it a lot because my daughters are post-millennials, and damn, what a world. Even given the minor professional obligations I have to be “in public,” I’m constantly unsure how much/what to share in public spaces. Suffice to say it will not be anything involving topless belt photos.

The Summer of The Summer Bucket List

Hands down the top conversation topic of the week.

This bucket list, which was allegedly found in an Urban Outfitters dressing room, basically made my week. It’s not only hilarious in its substance but also in its specificity (seven bikinis, two blow jobs, hooking up with Jacob). The other thing that gets me is its wild divergence from adorable innocence (stargaze, pet a giraffe, decorate room) to adult extracurriculars (drugs and sex). And some of it was comic just because it didn’t make sense until the internet figured out what “Go Ape” (a ziplining place) and “Randyland” (a Pittsburgh-area landmark) meant.

The list then led to think pieces and parodies, like the summer bucket list of a 35 year old woman or, what parents should think of the bucket list.

For me and my friends it just made for endless rounds of laughter and discussion at parties. When we were hosting the visiting New Yorker scribe Evan Osnos in Seoul on Friday, friend Jonathan had not HEARD ABOUT THE LIST (where was he all week!?!) and so he subsequently spent several minutes reading it and laughing until his face turned beet red.

At a different party (in a probably-too-cool-for-me vinyl record-themed bar) on Saturday, Friend Alex and I brought it up with a Pennsylvanian (did you know Pennsylvanians insist on referring to their state as P-A, instead of Pennsylvania?) and he was so excited that other people learned about RANDYLAND. True story: today he sent me two business cards he saved from Randyland, which he found in old stuff as he prepares to move back to America on Tuesday.

I know there’s speculation someone planted this list as a joke but due to its specific Pittsburgh-area references and just a gut feeling, I’m gonna say it’s real. And whoever this woman is I hope she is enjoying her anonymous fame. She brought a smile to us all during what feels like ongoing crises in the country and world.