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Volume 4, Issue 85: Cold Stones
"Aren't you the sunny optimist when you want to go to sleep?"
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In February 2016, local Fox television station KAYU in Spokane interviewed, live on their morning show, a woman named Flossie Dickey. The occasion? Dickey’s 110th birthday.
I think about this interview all the time. It’s worth watching in its entirety.
This interview made the rounds of the Internet, going “viral,” as we put it back in February 2016, and it even inspired a “Saturday Night Live” parody. More details came out about Flossie’s life, from her love of whiskey to her joking that she’d “forgotten half her life” to the disturbing little detail that she married her 30-year-old husband, who would live another 50 years, when she was only 15 years old. Flossie would survive another nine months, dying in November 2016, living just long enough to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and Donald Trump elected President of the United States. (Those would make me want to kick it too.) The current oldest person on the planet, by the way, is a Spanish woman named Maria Branyas, who turned 116 back in March and credits her longevity to “staying away from toxic people.” She’s apparently not that good at following her own advice, considering she’s on Twitter,
Flossie Dickey’s interview was widely praised not for any particular wisdom she had to espouse, but instead for her utter lack of interest in acknowledging any of the reporter’s questions—or following any sort of societal niceties whatsoever. The interview’s signature moment comes when the reporter asks Flossie about the party her family is having for her 110th birthday.
Reporter: Later today, Flossie’s family is going to be coming out here to throw you a big birthday party. Are you excited for your party?
Flossie: Not one bit.
The facial expression—or lack thereof—that Flossie gives her is the best part: Flossie is not cracking a joke, or trying to make some sort of cutting point. She is simply answering the question. She’s not being rude. She just doesn’t care and—and this is the most important part—no longer has the energy, the desire or even the obligation to pretend otherwise. She is totally at ease with herself. She just says what she thinks, and does what she wants, freely, without worry about how other people will respond or what they will believe about her. She has reached this point in her life for the most honest possible reason: She is simply too tired to do otherwise.
Life goals, as they say.
I don’t remember when I first started worrying so much about what other people thought about me. Probably middle school—that’s when I’m definitely noticing it happening with my son, and when I think back on it, that’s when I first remember feeling self-conscious about everything. My complexion, my hair, my body, my clothes, my voice, all of it, that was around the first time I became hyper-aware that the way people perceived me not only was different than the way I perceived myself, but also affected the way I perceived myself. (And I’m a boy. I have no idea how girls survive middle school. Or anything, really.) The other morning, my son Wynn declared himself “ready for school!” even though he had not brushed his teeth or combed his hair, even though he still had chocolate milk all over his face, even though he was wearing two different shoes, even though his left arm was covered with doodles he’d drawn on himself at school the day before. That level of comfort with one’s self—the utter lack of interest, or even thought, of what other people would think about him when they saw him like that—is simply incredible, and, sadly, a place he’ll soon grow out of and never return to again. I’m envious of him. But I know he’ll stop, and I know he’ll have to.
I am fortunate enough not to be plagued by anxiety, and despite spending most of my high school life watching Woody Allen movies, I’m not particularly neurotic. But I am self-conscious—about the way I dress, about what people think about me, perhaps most of all about whether or not people like me. Deep down: I know I shouldn’t, but I do care. I do care what people think about me, and I do sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit, worry that I will do something wrong that will have everybody pointing at me and laughing—another middle school remnant. This manifests itself most often in clothes. I know absolutely nothing about clothes: If I had my druthers, everyone on the world would wear the same thing, one big prep school uniform, and that way everyone else would notice what I’m wearing exactly as much as I notice what they are wearing: Not at all. (You could be wearing live salamanders as shoes, and it would require someone pointing them out for me, or maybe one of them biting me, to notice.) There are all sorts of rules for clothes that I don’t understand and don’t care to, but when I (invariably) violate one, I’m nonetheless mortified—more worries about people laughing at me. When I moved to the South, I discovered that people down here are obsessed with no-show socks, to the point that when, at one summer outdoor event, when I wore regular ankle socks, it was pointed out by at least six different people. I have sweated this ever since; you have no idea how much I think about socks now. And it’s not because I care about socks. It’s because I just don’t want anyone to say anything. It’s because I don’t want to get made fun of. It’s because I don’t want to be noticed. I care too much about what other people—people I don’t even know, people I don’t even like—think. It’s very stupid. It’s been going on my entire life. And I’d like it to stop.
And I’m hopeful that getting older will help—embracing my inner Flossie. Because I think that’s the goal for anyone: To live exactly the way they want to, to be as true to themselves as they can, in a way that is not selfish or cruel but instead a movement toward some sort of inner peace. To discover that truest self. To lose all self-consciousness whatsoever.
I find moments where I get close. This week, I was lucky enough to watch the newly restored version of the classic concert film Stop Making Sense, on an IMAX screen in a theater with a fantastic sound system. Stop Making Sense is one of my favorite films of all time, a film I love so much that I toyed with renting out a theater for my 40th birthday and just inviting all my friends to come watch it with me. (Simply going out to a big dinner turned out to be a much better call.) I had never seen the film on the big screen before, and the experience was transcendent: It felt, on several occasions, like my soul had left my body. Great live music can do this too, and euphoric sports fan moments—when David Freese hit that triple in the 2011 World Series, it was as close as I ever felt to becoming one with the universe. These can come from external stimuli, or communal experiences, or simply a quiet, otherwise unexceptional moment with someone you love. It’s a moment when everything lands exactly right.
But I still, even when watching Stop Making Sense, found myself occasionally feeling awkward and out of sorts. After all, what if someone was watching me, as I blissed out during “Once in a Lifetime,” and thought, “look at that dork?” I shouldn’t care. But I do. I once had a nightmare in which someone had taken a video of my face watching a movie—where I involuntarily express my purest emotions—and showed it on television to mock me: It was all the vulnerability of being, at last, totally unselfconscious, out there for the world to gawk at. Even when I’m a part of something I truly, wholeheartedly enjoy, I’m afraid to show it. This certainly has some good old-fashioned Midwestern repression in it, no doubt. But it’s also about still caring about what other people think. It’s about being afraid to truly let go.
That’s what Flossie understood, and what I think is one of the best parts of getting older: All that unnecessary self-consciousness, all that worry, all just fading away. All the parts of you that don’t matter, whittling away, revealing only the truest self—and hopefully one’s most peaceful self. Maybe someday I’ll get to the point when I don’t care about being liked, about what other people think, about how I come across to people, and I’ll just close my eyes, and simply absorb this incredible world—to dance like nobody’s watching, to have to pretend to look forward to parties I don’t want to go to, to nap whenever I decide I want one. It doesn’t seem like a place I’ll get anytime soon. But I do hope I don’t have to make it to 110 to get there.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
The End of Aaron Rodgers, New York. Not afraid to file on deadline!
The Best Players Who Have a Chance to Win Their First World Series This Year, MLB.com. Did this last year and had Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt on there. Not this time!
Keep an Eye Out for Those Twins, MLB.com. Maybe they’ll win an actual playoff game this year!
A Player on Every Contender to Watch, MLB.com. There are only two weeks left.
Grierson & Leitch, no show this week.
Seeing Red, Bernie and I, on request from my son, tried to be more positive.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we recapped Ball State and previewed South Carolina.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Michigan State Suspends Football Coach After Sexual Harassment Investigation Goes Public,” Diana Moskovitz, Defector. This was a terrific explainer of every possible angle of the awful Mel Tucker-Michigan State story as Diana always does so well, but really this piece is just a reminder that Defector turns three years this year and getting stronger every year. I can’t believe you’re not subscribing already.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Crossed That Line,” Ratboys. Thank you to the commenter last week who, after my Bully recommendation, sent me in the direction of Ratboys. So much good music I don’t know about!
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
I liked this picture of my mom and me at an event this week so I am showing it to you.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Go Illini, Go Dawgs.