Volume 3, Issue 24: Please Be Patient With Me

"I should warn you when I'm not well. I can tell."

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Last weekend, a film—it’s like a television show but longer, people used to watch them in groups at an agreed-upon meeting spot, it was a whole thing—called She Dies Tomorrow was released on streaming services. (You can rent it for five bucks right here.) The film, written and directed by Amy Seimetz, a longtime independent filmmaker and actress, has a surreal, irresistible hook. A woman wakes up one morning and, for no apparent reason, is absolutely certain that she is going to die the next day. She tells her friend this, and later that day, her friend realizes she is going to die the next day. The friend tells her brother and his wife that she’s going to die the next day, and then they’re certain they’re going to die the next day. And on it goes. One might almost call it a virus that’s transmittable through the air.

The reason all this happens isn’t important, and all told, its eerie parallels to Our Current Predicament are more trivial than particularly revelatory. (A current crutch of critical analysis is to say, “this film/show/song seems to predict this pandemic moment.” It doesn’t. They didn’t know this was coming. You’re bringing that to this, not them.) But the reason I’m fascinated by the film is not the affliction itself. It’s how people react to it. How do people respond when they learn they are going to die tomorrow?

This is an age-old question: If you had one last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would you do? The brilliance of Seimetz’s film is that most people’s answer is: Not much. A man goes to see his dying, unresponsive father. One woman decides to finally break up with her boyfriend. Another woman just goes back to the office. A couple makes tea and watches the sunrise. What’s interesting about each person’s reaction to the news is that they don’t make any sort of dramatic gesture, confessing their love to the one that got away, or running naked through the street, or jumping out of a plane. They just become more themselves. All the invisible suits of social niceties they wear all the time simply fall away. They become who they truly are.

The mind is focused. None of the bullshit matters anymore. Why bother with the bullshit?

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I was on the phone with a friend the other day, talking about, well, what do you think we were talking about, when it came up that she had not spoken to the maid of honor at her own wedding since the pandemic begun. Not a single check-in, not a group text, not a lone how-ya-holdin’-up. This friend has been married for a long time, so it’s not like this friendship was at its peak in February and suddenly imploded, but it still struck her as a remarkable fact. It wasn’t like she made a conscious decision not to reach out, or that she was angry with her or anything. It hadn’t even occurred for her to do so, a fact she seemed to look at like a found object, an artifact in a museum, a simple observable truth. Reaching out to her just wasn’t something she cared to do, wasn’t something she felt important to do. I asked her if she felt bad about this. “Well, she hasn’t reached out to me either,” she said.

Part of getting older is fading away from many of your friends who were once the center of your world. You move away, you have kids, you change professions, your values and priorities change. I used to find this sad, but I don’t anymore. It happens. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way it works. I still care about my old friends, and miss them, and some of them have emerged as larger parts of my life as others have receded, but it is perfectly natural. Nobody stays the Rat Pack forever. You do the best you can, but inevitably, life grows too chaotic to make room for everyone.

I have definitely seen this process speed up during the pandemic, to essentially everyone I know, both old friends and new. A natural sorting has happened, and it goes beyond longtime friendships. There has been a focusing of the collective mind. In this period of high anxiety and stress, much of our weirdness that we’ve tried to suppress has burbled to the surface; it requires too much energy to hide who we are anymore. Only five months into this thing, and it feels like we’re learning a lot about people we’ve known for a long time. Those little personality eccentricities that were mostly noticed on the periphery before have been foregrounded. Whenever I see a video of someone freaking out in a grocery store, or someone goes on some sort of lunatic social media rant, or someone flips off somebody else from their car, I try to remember that no one is at their best right now, that this is a time of extreme upheaval, uncertainty and disorder. But I also think that maybe people are just shedding the conventions of every day social life, and the way we are expected to conduct ourselves in that world, in a way that seems to augur a larger change down the line. I’m not sure how we come all the way back from this.

Here’s an example. Everybody has that person in their extended social circle, whether it’s a circle of friends, family or parents with children in the same age group, who is in charge. They have not been elected or chosen for this position: It is entirely, relentlessly self-appointed. They make all the plans, they push everyone to do what they want them to, and they strong-arm or actively guilt-trip those with less will or less free time into doing their bidding, whether it’s going to parties they don’t to go to, organizing playdates with kids who don’t like each other or constructing activities that no one wants to do but them while still trying to make you feel terrible for not appreciating all the work they put into all of this. These people exist in nearly every social group, and if I’m being honest, I’ve probably been this person in a couple of them.

But no one gives a shit about this person now. Who has time for this bullshit? There is no oxygen for these people in 2020, no patience for this particular brand of passive-aggressive self-aggrandizement. Everyone is just paddling as fast as they can to keep their heads above water. All those dumb social mores we felt obliged to adhere to … they have no meaning now. I’m just trying to keep the lights on, you know? Your household is your own problem, and I wish you luck with it. I’m gotta make sure mine stays alive. What happens to the complex structure of a social institution when no one pays attention to it anymore? What happens when no one has the bandwidth to deal with any of that?

Then again: That’s how I’m handling this, and that doesn’t mean I’m right either. I’ve naturally turned inward during this time, taking care of mine and myself and making sure I don’t fall down any rabbit holes otherwise. That’s a perfectly natural thing for someone who has worked at home for 15 years, and makes his own schedule, and doesn’t like to be tied down to any one institution, but that doesn’t make it “normal” or somehow more justified than the way anyone else is handling their own matters. And it is a little different than I usually act: I’m usually more social and outgoing and public. But that is not my natural state: My natural state is locked in a house typing all day. That’s actually the point: Everyone is becoming more like themselves and less like a public persona they’ve crafted for themselves. And I wonder if a lot of people are realizing they liked their associates’ public personas a little better than the real deal.

I hear people say, “wow, so-and-so has really changed since all this started,” and I wonder if that’s what’s really going on. Everyone is trying to keep their heads on straight, to balance the emotional toll of what’s happening, the financial upheaval, the panic that arises when you realize the world as you knew it, and the future you had planned for accordingly, may be completely different, forever. Jobs are going away, kids aren’t in school, a virus may kill your loved ones, there’s no college football, they’re trying to get rid of the mail, it’s all blowing up all over the place, and it never stops, it may never end, it’s still all so fucking strange, how is it still all so fucking strange? Now I’m supposed to put on makeup and get all prepared to play by all the same social rules I used to? In the midst of all this?

All the invisible suits of social niceties we wear all the time simply fall away. We are becoming who we really are. All our guards are down.

But. This is a reason not to judge, but to forgive. To have empathy. To remember that every time you see someone, they’re going through one of the hardest periods of their lives, like you are. They’re just trying to make it through too. It’s so hard.

Eventually, this will all be over, and we’ll have a new normal, whatever that ends up being, and we’ll drape all the little social nets around ourselves again. But for now? Now we’re just pedaling as fast as we can. All that we can’t carry gets left behind. No one’s at their best right now. So let’s all try to give each other a damned break.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. If College Football Doesn’t Come Back This Year, It Has Some of Its Most Diehard Fans (and Also Trump) To Blame, New York. The number of people who cover college football who emailed me privately to tell me that this was exactly right but they didn’t want to say so publicly because they didn’t want to get yelled at by their readers … well it was a lot.

  2. An Interview With the Boys of Boys State, GQ. This is an excellent documentary, and you should see it—currently free on Apple TV—before you read this piece. Then you should read this piece.

  3. The Seven Worst Ways to Lose a Baseball Game, MLB.com. This was a fun lark of a piece. I love doing stuff like this one.

  4. Playoff Matchups If the Season Ended Today, MLB.com. This is a new weekly feature that I am already obsessing over. Go Orioles! Go Tigers!

  5. College Football: How We Got Here, NBC News. The NBC pieces always get painted a little bit more politically than how I initially intended them, but I don’t mind, promotion has never been my bag, maybe it works.

  6. Maybe It Turns Out the Cubs Dynasty Wasn’t Over After All, MLB.com. Dammit, it’s TRUE.

  7. This Week in Genre History: Alien vs. Predator, SYFY Wire. I’ve never understood why it isn’t obvious that Alien would win this every day and twice on Sunday.

  8. The Thirty: An Early MVP Candidate For Every Team, MLB.com. Coming up with one for the Cardinals here was not easy.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, the aforementioned and excellent “She Dies Tomorrow,” as well as “An American Pickle” and “La Llorona.”

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week. But we should maybe look into having one soon!

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Trump Pandemic,” William Saletan, Slate. I know people are exhausted of stories like this, and I understand. But to see it all put out so plainly like this, with every fact and statement backed up, is overwhelming. It is impossible to read this with anything resembling an open mind and be anything other than horrified.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Active Baseball Stadiums I Have Been To

  1. Oracle Park, San Francisco

  2. Wrigley Field, Chicago

  3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh

  4. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

  5. Fenway Park, Boston

  6. Coors Field, Colorado

  7. Camden Yards, Baltimore

  8. Citi Field, New York

  9. Petco Park, San Diego

  10. T-Mobile Park, Seattle

  11. Busch Stadium, St. Louis

  12. Target Field, Minnesota

  13. Truist Park, Atlanta

  14. Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City

  15. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago

  16. Miller Park, Milwaukee

  17. Angel Stadium, Anaheim

  18. Citizens Park Park, Philadelphia

  19. Yankee Stadium, New York

  20. Minute Maid Park, Houston

  21. Progressive Field, Cleveland

  22. Chase Field, Arizona

  23. Comerica Park, Detroit

  24. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland

  25. Sahlen Field, Buffalo

  26. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay

  27. Nationals Park, Washington

  28. Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati

  29. Marlins Park, Miami

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

My one night a week sitting down to respond to these remains a highlight of my week.

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Pick Me Up,” Dinosaur Jr. I’m in another one of my Dinosaur Jr. phases. Nothing sounds more like the ‘90s to me, even the songs they’ve done in the last five years. This is not a bad thing.

I am not saying these children need to get themselves back to school at some point. But I am also saying that.

Also, as I send this, the St. Louis Cardinals are about to play their first baseball game in nearly three weeks. I will be watching it with two William Bryan Leitches.

I am very lucky, and I will not forget it.

Be safe, all.

Best,
Will