Volume 3, Issue 31: Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again)
"We’ll find a way regardless, to make some sense out of this mess."
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I got stuck in traffic yesterday. It was minor, college-town-on-a-Friday-afternoon traffic, but it was still some traffic. It was nothing like the time it once took my parents and I three hours to get over the George Washington Bridge, back when they were visiting in my early days of New York, before I had a steady job or a career or a purpose. I remember my father, who had lived nearly his entire life in a small Illinois town with fewer people than the number of commuters who go across that bridge every hour, gripping the wheel, his face turning red, eyes nervously checking the gas gauge, sweat starting to drip behind his right ear. “I have no goddamned idea why you’d want to live here,” he said, and while I knew that he did in fact have an idea, I understood. Spending three hours trying to cross a river, that moment, sure seemed like an awfully stupid way to spend one’s life.
This traffic was nothing like that. My trip Friday took me about 10 minutes later than it ordinarily would, and I was in no hurry anyway. But it occurred to me, as I sat waiting: I am stuck in traffic. There are enough cars out right now that I am stuck in traffic. It had been many months since my trips out of the house had not felt a little bit like a scavenger exploring a deserted landscape. But now, there were people—in front of me, behind me, next to me. The guy in the Buick has had his turn signal for a quarter of a mile. A group of college students are running along a track surrounding the intramural fields up ahead. A lawn service mows an open lot to my left. The University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band are practicing in a field for the big game on Saturday night. It is amusing to be driving down the road while hearing the ambient sounds of a tuba.
You could make an argument that all this activity was a bad thing, that this is the normalization of life in a pandemic, that all of these people should be isolating in their homes, still. I understand this argument, but, if I’m being entirely frank with you, this feels like a May argument rather than an October one. It is one thing to isolate for two months in order to stem the potential spread of a virus; it is another entirely to do so for seven. People were wearing masks, they were distanced, they were in their cars, they were following the rules. But they were also out, on a beautiful Friday afternoon, doing things.
Life was going on. It was different. It wasn’t normal. But it was going on.
Friday afternoon, as I sat in that car, the President of the United States was being air-lifted to the hospital because he had developed serious complications from a deadly disease, one he has actively downplayed and consistently lied about, one that has roiled every aspect of human life on this planet for nearly a year now. This was happening two days after a Presidential debate which was so difficult to watch that it felt actively masochistic not to turn off the television. This was happening among the backdrop of widespread unemployment, more than a million people dead worldwide, elementary schools being shut down as tens of millions of children fall behind, unprecedented social upheaval, active concerns that the democratic process is being circumvented and even actively assaulted, and countless other terrors pouncing on us throughout this nightmarish year. This was happening as we all just cling on for dear life.
And yet we keep moving anyway. At the beginning of all of this, I had to keep reminding myself that time did not in fact pause when the pandemic began, that it was still passing by at its usual rate, that I and my family and everyone I knew was still getting older in this, that we were still plodding forward. I don’t have that problem anymore. As this has gone on, we’ve had to all make our adjustments, tackle those daily decisions that used to be dull and rote and now may be life-and-death, and figure out how to wade our way through this world that has radically changed in ways it’ll take us years, decades to unravel. We began with nostalgia for what we didn’t appreciate when we had it, transitioned to dreaming of the future time when this is all over and, I’d argue, have begun to sink into the dreary but still resilient reality that this is just what our lives are now … so we might as well try to make the best of it. It takes a serious toll, a daily toll—I loved this Jessica Grose piece about all the self-medicating parents are doing once they get their children to bed; Sames, Ms. Grose, sames—but we all get through it because, shit, what choice do we have?
In my first Medium post, I wrote about asking my father about what it was like to live through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a time of nearly unprecedented tumult. He said, “I was too busy trying to figure out my own life and my own family. I didn’t quite realize what was all happening until it was all over.” I was bewildered when he said that—the world was on fire, man!—but every day of this, it makes a little more sense. For all the craziness of this time, I had not, until Friday, had one of those “holy shit, get to the TV and turn on CNN” emergency moments, like September 11, or a space shuttle disaster. Friday felt like the culmination of many, many storylines, the inevitable conclusion that historians will all probably work backwards from, the place we were probably heading toward all along. It was the day that everything snaps into place. It was a day my kids are going to be asking me about someday.
But, when they ask, I’ll probably give them an answer similar to my father’s. I was just trying to get through day by day. I can’t sit there and stare at history. My son has a distanced, outside birthday party to go to, and I’ve got to get him there. Also, I’m going to see my parents tonight, and I’ve got two columns due tomorrow, and I’ve got to call that guy from the water company back, and that interview has to be transcribed, and do we have enough turkey for the kids’ lunches next week? There is life to be lived. There is constant business to be attended to. There is so much to do.
And I thought about that, sitting in traffic, listening to three little boys in the back seat joke and laugh and horseplay like nothing was the matter, that the President wasn’t going to the hospital, that so many people haven’t suffered and are suffering and are yet to suffer because of such foolishness and recklessness, that democracy isn’t in peril, that the world isn’t on fire. They were just being boys, just being themselves. So many were, I noticed. People jogging. Bands playing. Cars turning left against the arrow. Parents hustling their children from one place to another. Couples holding hands and walking their dog. People living. People moving on.
When you are at your darkest moments, when you are exhausted and collapsing and at your wit’s end, remember that continuing to move forward in the midst of all this, continuing to survive and someday tell your story, is courageous. More than anything else, it is strong. Every day is a struggle. But we keep getting up and doing it, regardless. I looked around and saw people fighting their own battles just to get through it. And you know what? Just by picking themselves up and continuing to move forward, they were winning those battles. So am I, I realized. And, dammit: So are you. Be proud of yourself for however you’re handling this. You deserve it. We all do.
The reason this newsletter was a little late going out today was because I had to write about Bob Gibson this morning. Bob Gibson is my favorite Cardinals player, and honestly maybe the only cool thing about being a Cardinals fan. You can read my tribute to him here.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Will Fear Kill the Movie Theater? Medium. This is sort about movie theaters, but it’s more about fear vs. logic in a pandemic, and how every decision, no matter how rote and boring, that we make now is so weighted down with import.
Bob Gibson, 1935-2020, MLB.com. This is maybe a little bit more writing than I usually do on a Saturday morning.
World Series Urgency Index, MLB.com. Sort of a riff on the old Tortured Fanbase Rankings (which I’ll still do postseason anyway).
LeBron James Is at the Center of Everything, New York. I really did not realize how much of a right-wing boogeyman LeBron James had become.
Everyone You Know Is Scared and Alone, Medium. I took a couple minor ideas from a newsletter a couple of weeks ago and spun them into a piece about loneliness.
A Postseason Unlike Any Other Is Here, MLB.com. I was glad they gave me this little space to riff on how insane this baseball postseason is.
The 50 Best MLB Players in the Postseason, MLB.com. Missing Mike Trout, as always.
Thursday’s MLB Elimination Stress Rankings, MLB.com. It is getting harder to write at 2 a.m. than it used to be.
Eight Wild-Card Games, Ranked, MLB.com. In retrospect … I think I got these rankings right!
Your Wild-Card Series MVPs, MLB.com. If they did that sort of thing.
Surely Wrong MLB Predictions, MLB.com. So my World Series pick went out in two, so that’s nice.
Grierson & Leitch, three new movies, “Kajillionaire,” “Ava” and “Enola Holmes.”
People Still Read Books, with Steven Hyden, discussing his incredibly entertaining new book “This Isn’t Happening: Radiohead’s Kid A and the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, previewing the Auburn game, and recapping the Arkansas game.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“The State of the Union, According to Chuck D,” Craig Jenkins, New York. Craig Jenkins and Steven Hyden are probably my two favorite music writers, and this interview with Public Enemy’s front man is exactly the sort of thing Jenkins does so well. But he’s just a terrific music writer in general: Check out his top 10 albums from last year.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Twenty Favorite Cardinals Players (Though in a Way They Are All Tied For First, Except for Tino Martinez)
I will change this list in my mind about 500 times in the next 15 minutes.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
I think I am answering these faster than you can write them.
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“You and Whose Army?” Radiohead. I know I just had Radiohead a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been listening to them constantly since reading Steven Hyden’s book. And this song definitely is hitting my “songs that get my political juices roiled” vibe that I’m very much leaning into right now. This is a rockier version of this song than you usually get.
I’m having a fun couple of weeks over Zoom. Here’s this week’s venture:
Be safe out there everyone. Have a great weekend.