At this time last week, we were caught in a winter storm.
It is the time of year for snow and ice; every February we hope that the winter will pass us by, that we will avoid the worst of the storms, but undoubtedly the storms come, and we hunker down indoors and wait for them to pass.
Last week’s winter storm came with dire warnings. My weather app on my phone had a dark red bar running across the top of the screen, warning of untenable driving conditions and significant risks of power outages. First, we were to get some snow, and then the snow would turn into freezing rain, and all of this would be accompanied by high winds. It was not the time to be venturing outside.
As the storm rolled in, I turned forty-one years old.
A few days prior to the storm, we had jumped into preparation mode. We knew power outages were likely, so we stocked up on fire logs for the fireplace, and bought some new LED flashlights to keep around the house. We made sure we had some food on hand so we didn’t have to run to the grocery store. We surveyed our home for blankets and other ways to keep warm. We knew that the power outages wouldn’t last long, so we didn’t worry too much, but we were prepared for what was to come.
Forty-one is a year of preparation. Forty is a year of realization, a year filled with recognition of a life almost-halfway lived and a commemoration of getting so far. It is a year when you come to terms with your adulthood, with who you’ve become.
Forty-one, on the other hand, is less about realization, and more about gaining an understanding of what it means to be entering the middle of your life. It is a year when you stop marvelling at the milestone and instead start thinking about what is yet to be unveiled—and start preparing for what life will look like in the coming years. Forty-one is a year when it makes sense to fret about retirement, to check in on your health, to think about the future that once felt so far away but is now rushing towards you with a pace that you can’t ignore.
The winter storm began the day before my birthday; the snow fell during the day, and the evening saw the start of the freezing rain. I woke up on my birthday to a city that was covered in ice, to a neighborhood that was grappling with what to do now that the storm was slowly subsiding. The power hadn’t gone out, thankfully, but we were glad to have prepared ourselves for the eventuality that it would; we slept more soundly that night knowing that we were ready.
Forty-one is a year of preparation, and I will spend my year ahead preparing, as well—not for a storm, but for the big decisions that come in the back half of a life. Some of the preparations will be for naught in the long run—looking back, many of them may seem esoteric and unnecessary—but I will sleep more soundly knowing that I have spent my year getting ready for things to come.
We celebrated my birthday by eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (my request for my birthday dinner), enjoying delicious cake from our favorite patisserie, and watching the flurries fall on the ice-covered lawns and roads from our front window.
The storm passed, and were were prepared for it. In all other things, there is still so much preparing left to do.
Learn a trade
to sit at desk
There’s an illusion with work that everything you give up now, all the stolen time commuting, working overtime, checking your email and Slack notifications after hours, will somehow earn you freedom and capital in your later years. But the farce of “work hard now, play later” has been exposed for millennials and Gen-Zers; most of us will be working until we die. It’s hard to maintain your ambition in the face of that reality.
Taking a shared interest in the raising of the community’s children is an innately human practice that has all but disappeared from our lives. If tolerating other people’s kids in restaurants so they can learn to be people in the world is the last remaining expression of community-centered child-rearing, then I am solidly in favor of defending it.
You learn to look at your own experience through simplistic representations. You’re constantly zooming out from the substance of your life to examine its appearance. You look down at the moment from a Tweet-shaped box, rather than being inside its suchness. This is resistible, but it’s where the medium wants you to go. There is a cognitive cost to not doing this, that Twitter imposes constantly.
We use lol as a way of downplaying a statement; adding irony, levity, humility, empathy, or commiseration; expressing amusement; or just neutral acknowledgment. No longer simply an internet acronym that’s entered the mainstream, lol is an example of how language evolves over time, adheres to new grammatical rules, and creates community around the people that use it.
Some people, regardless of age, need more salt in their diet, not less; some people need more fat, or caffeine, or dairy, or none at all. And others just need more things in their lives that are delicious—that remind them of the true bounty and delights of being human.
People call Twitter a social media site, but in reality it is a global chatroom. Twitter is optimized for throwaway bullshit. That’s not new. We have always had ways to revel in bullshit, we trafficked in irony and ennui smuggled in fixed-width font. We have always had an outlet for our most mundane thoughts, our passive bemusement at the absurdity of life. Twitter’s innovation was simply making it practical to put it all in one place, by abstracting away the complexity of whose bullshit you would see.
Many quietly accept that nuclear power can be part of the climate solution, and perhaps a necessary part. Because solar and wind power are inherently intermittent, they require other energy sources to even out peaks and dips. Natural gas and coal can do that, but of course the goal is to retire them. Batteries can help but are much too expensive to rely on at present, and mining, manufacturing, and disposing of them entail their own environmental harms. Also, nuclear power is the only efficient way to provide zero-carbon heat for high-temperature industrial processes such as steelmaking, which account for about a fifth of energy consumption.
Computers made certain activities easier, like typing, so they fired a bunch of support staff, because we don’t need typists, we don’t need secretaries. At first, salary expenses went down. But now that the workers who were being supported had to do all this on their own, their productivity went down. So they had to hire more workers to get the same things done, but their salaries were higher than the support staff they fired. My theory is that technology made things just easy enough so we can put more on people’s plates, and we didn’t factor in how much that would pull out of their time. Then the communication revolution, which kicked off 10 years after that, had the issue of all the context shifting, which meant that miraculous advances in computing and mobile-computing technology never moved the needle on nonindustrial productivity.
Sometimes the best way to be close to God is to put your faith into practice, and perhaps that’s why I have felt the pull to get a cat recently. Things may feel out of control, but when you take care of a pet, its life is in your hands. You may not be able to stop all the profound harm in the world, but you can nourish and take care of the life in your home. And, of course, pets are just a joy to have around. They provide you with warmth and love as much as provide them with love and care.
Reservation Dogs, which debuted this fall on FX, was the best show on TV this year. That’s me. It’s strange and beautiful, hard-pivots from farce to tragedy on a dime, proceeds with a pace and confidence and formal derring-do befitting a show that’s been around for a lot longer. It’s lyrical, generous, angry, and extremely funny. It’s precisely the type of surprising show FX produces, navigating the bloated excesses of Peak TV — a phrase coined by FX president John Landgraf — by filling its margins and absences. It isn’t like the other great shows that’ve come before it on the roster: Better Things, Atlanta, What We Do in the Shadows. Except that those shows are also, notably, lyrical, generous, angry, and extremely funny. They’re also all free, mobile, unencumbered. And they’re all a half hour long.
The fundamental problem with American policing is not that the uniform turns people bad. Instead, there’s a self-selection problem. Power attracts corruptible people more generally, and power centers with a history of abusive, militaristic, and racist violence disproportionately attract people who want to abuse minorities, or use lethal force. Those are the exact people who shouldn’t be in uniform, because they see that kind of culture as an attractive profession. But that’s too often who applies. People who should never be in uniform self-select into it.
What do we do with all this poo? For the most part, we try to distance ourselves from it as much as possible. The exact mechanisms of that process depend on where you live. In the Western world, we flush it down the toilet. In the less fortunate places, it’s left to decompose in pit latrines or underneath trees. But no matter the country or the culture, the common thread is that we try to move our ordure as far away from us as we can. We’re universally disgusted by it. It’s excrement. It’s yucky by definition. It’s appalling by sight and smell.
Diners only exist at weird, nowhere times, the three pms and the four ams, and that’s what diner coffee tastes like. It’s true, of course, that you can go to a diner at a normal hour, for a normal reason. But when you order coffee, the specific way in which it tastes bad, as though it were somehow possible to forget one of the ingredients in black coffee, reminds you that it’s not ever actually a normal hour at a diner.
I am transfixed by these photographic sky collages by Alex Hyner:
And a few more:
- How polyester bounced back
- The Oral History of Raccacoonie, the Weirdest Universe in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’
- The contagious visual blandness of Netflix
- How Herpes Became a Sexual Boogeyman
- The Cause of Depression Is Probably Not What You Think
- Faith and Access: The Conflict Inside Catholic Hospitals
- The Radical Woman Behind “Goodnight Moon”
- The Miseducation of Maria Montessori
- A New Drug Switched Off My Appetite. What’s Left?
- The Anxious Style of American Parenting
- How Did 🍆 Become Our Default Sex Symbol?
- They Don’t Make Computer Manuals Like They Used To
- The Last Boeing 747 Leaves the Factory
- An Ode to Kraft Dinner, Food of Troubled Times
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