Everything slips away, eventually. We have lost so much in 2020 that it’s hard to begin to comprehend it just yet. We might never get there. From the as-yet nearly two million deaths related to COVID-19 to the related job losses to the very idea of truth in a truthiness-saturated world, we are collectively losing many more things, and they are losing us, at a much faster rate than any of us living have ever experienced.
Something leaving us at precisely the same rate as it always has, however, is time. An unhuman entity forced us into our homes and away from our loved ones for long stretches; for once, it seemed, there was a problem that throwing federal government-level amounts of money wouldn’t fix. Most of us were forced to adapt; some didn’t, and died; others did, and died anyway. Time kept on slipping, in all its finite utility.
Under the circumstances, and with nowhere to go, it was up to us to spend a lot of time with ourselves. Election-year news cycles are Ringling Brothers productions gone awry in normal times, but taking in the news, even in the simple pursuit of attempting to stay anything like informed, was an especially depressing exercise in 2020.
It was already daylight by the time I got home on Sunday. That meant I spent half my weekend sleeping, which I might’ve done anyway thanks to the bonus hour and also because I’ve grown increasingly slothful as my brain prepares for the cold, barely able to reset the clocks that hadn’t already switched automatically. Which is funny, sort of — temperatures were supposed to be in the 70s all week. For most of my life, that wouldn’t have been unusual. I had no excuse other than the one everyone uses: psychic browbeating.
What is “inessential”? Pieces of trivia are, by nature, tidbits and factoids that at best connect two seemingly disparate ideas to each other but, perhaps at their most quintessential, elicit nothing more than a “Huh, didn’t know that” from someone. There’s a reason trivia is (usually) a popular way for bars to kill time and fill people up with Miller Lite on non-sports nights; take that concept, turn the answers into questions, and voila: you’ve got a long-running syndicated game show.
Answer: this television figure, who died on Sunday at 80, hosted the longest-running iteration of Jeopardy! for 36 years. Who is Alex Trebek? Well, to many, he is so much more than the game show with which the rest of us will forever associate him.
The last thing I did before was visit a library. The Friday ahead of a citywide stay-at-home order, I cut out of the office early and ran over to Harold Washington to pick up Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc, a book you would’ve heard me relentlessly shoehorn into conversations at parties for weeks after had there been any to attend. I did this counting on the idea that 1,600+ pages would get me through a good chunk of quarantine while the libraries were closed, but it turns out there’s a lot of negative space in that thing; I read it in six days. To balance it out, I spent April reading — and I promise this is the only time you’ll see me talk about this unprompted — Infinite Jest. It’s fine. Also, the only other people I know who’ve read or own this book are women. Just saying.
But that Tuesday, the last night out I had before was at a brewery. Beer and books, books and beer. Bikes. This is, fundamentally, all I have been for seven months. Maybe longer, depending on who you ask.
It’s no spoiler to tell you a dark sky reserve is exactly what it sounds like. As more and more of us get born and more and more of us die slower, more and more of us generate heat, emit light, pursue both. It’s bad for nature (which you knew and didn’t care about, really), but it’s also bad for us (which maybe you didn’t, fully; just think of the heartbreaking anecdote about LA residents who couldn’t even recognize their own Milky Way). That’s why the International Dark-Sky Association has worked since 1988 to preserve places on the map where light pollution can be minimized and space can be seen with the minimal effort of tucking away a phone, turning off your car, putting out the fire.
Only 48 officially designated International Dark Sky Parks exist right now. One of them is about four hours from where I live, a straight shot north past Milwaukee, past Green Bay, past acres of rolling Wisconsin farmland and out to the tip of Door Co. at Newport State Park, Wisconsin’s only wilderness-designated state park. There’s nothing up there. That’s the point.
Ever meet someone who’s really into a specific kind of furniture? I don’t mean the workaday influencer wannabe with a midcentury modern fetish or your friend who parrots pages from the latest Dwell, I’m talking lifers who while away hours trading Eames tables on eBay or people who can point out the choicest character lines of a Sauder desk drawer from across a crowded room. You know they’re out there somewhere, of course, but until you meet one, it might be difficult to grasp just how far down this (ultimately very practical) rabbit hole it’s possible to go.
I thought I knew tables and chairs pretty well. I’ve sat in plenty of different office chairs and even voted on one as part of a company initiative (my pick did not prevail). I’ve soaked up nuances simply by living with them. But I was wrong. I do not know tables and chairs. Scott does.
At the bottom is us. We tune in, log on, turn up, shout out. More often than not, we log on and turn up and shout out at each other; it’s what we do now, how we come to make our voices known. Sometimes it’s fun, some (very rare) times it’s educational, but mostly it’s just a pressure release valve we unwind to make sense of our senses, to craft the inevitable human flaw of narrative for ourselves, to try and understand why we feel the way we do. It’s hard work, living. But you, me, we all go on doing it anyway, tuning in because sports are a relief from the rest of our embattered lives and because logging on, turning up, shouting out at what we can’t control is, in its own way, a liberation we’re only inching toward. For now.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família
The first architect of the Sagrada Família was a man of diocesan ilk and inspiration, exactly the kind of person you would hope and expect to build something prototypically beautiful and adhesive to the traditions and standards that the Catholic Church, particularly in Spain, would presumably place upon a person. He took the same approach to his projects, calculating and reasonably efficient, that you take to ordering monthly subscription boxes, or homing in on preferred brands of toothpaste. “This works, it addresses a problem, so I like it, and let’s stick with it for now, until and unless a problem arises.”
Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano was no slouch, having aided in the designs, re-designs and restorations of many important buildings in and around his native Catalunya. He took on the project under the advisement of the Associació de Devots de Sant Josep, and when it got to be too much, his adviser Joan Martorell recommended Antoni Gaudí, an exceptionally devout Roman Catholic even by Catholic standards. The latter then spent the final years of his life figuring out what to do with the thing before, well, getting hit by a tram and passing away in 1926.
Wouldn’t it be something if Michael Jordan said what he meant? Not “nice,” almost certainly, but something more than the expected, eyeroll-inducing megalomania his brand and public face have come to represent over the past forty years. He did it all because he wanted it the most; his competitiveness is lost on nearly everyone surrounding him, both teammates and opposition; the extent of his sense of humor exclusively including the very idea that he is Michael Jordan, which makes it impossible for anyone else in history to be Michael Jordan. That’s funny, to him.
If The Last Dance was supposed to prove anything, it was that Jordan’s legacy is as close to unimpeachable as that of any sports figure so far, regardless of his Machiavellian worldview. What it managed to do instead was maybe, possibly make him look worse than anyone else prominently featured. We know he doesn’t care, nor, I guess, should he.