Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
Last night I was looking up rental cabins with no internet service in hopes of taking myself on a writing retreat where I didn’t check Twitter every 6 to 12 minutes. Technically I can write things whilst checking Twitter every 6 to 12 minutes. I mean that’s how my first two books got written: write a sentence, reward myself by tweeting nonsense about Sister Act II, watch a couple of Instagram stories, decide that I’m too tired to be creative anymore, go to bed. But I wondered if there was a better way. Shakespeare managed to write King Lear without ever having seen Sister Act II so in theory it can be done. I thought I’d take myself on an unplugged retreat. Or, rather, a Lauryn Hill: Unplugged retreat. “The internet is really getting in the way of my productivity,” I thought. Then I thought, “I should tweet that!” Then I went to bed. Anyway, I did the search for an escape from technological connection and not 10 minutes later our house wifi went out. Fios was like, “I HEARD YOU WERE PLOTTING ON ME! If you’re coming for the king, you better not miss!” I mean, point taken.
The wifi is still out so I’m typing this on Microsoft Word (?!) and I guess I’ll go to a FedEx Kinko’s, print it and mail it to you. I don’t know. What’s your address? Who is in charge of the Post Office these days? Is it still the Hamburglar? I am adrift!
Every time the internet goes out, I think “Well, this is it.” What “this” and “it” are remain to be seen. The other night the recycling truck came by at 2 am (which is their normal time—the suburbs are an absolute nightmare and we need to talk about it), but in my half-sleep state I just thought a truck full of Trumpian rapscallions was backing up the driveway and I literally said “Well, this is it.” And then I rolled over and went back to sleep. Constant vigilance! I was delighted to wake up still on Earth and to find our recycling bin sitting upside-down in the middle of traffic as usual. The American Dream!
I have this joke with David about how I don’t want to survive the apocalypse (well, I think it’s funny; him, not so much). I always say, “The minute the internet goes, I’m gone. See you in Heaven, buddy. I’ll have scones in the oven of our mansion made of gold.” So, he keeps looking at me askance now that we are in a no-fi house. I’m like, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got to mail all these newsletters!”
Since we have very spotty cell service as well, it’s turned into the 1800s technologically in this house. I had to churn my own butter this morning. There’s nothing wrong with the fridge but I just like to commit to a bit. Nevertheless (here’s my seamless transition) it’s a new day in America. And I while I do mean that in some ways, I’m certainly not over here like “Zipidee doo da, we’re all brunching again!” (I actually saw a series of tweets this week that stated essentially that. The whole account, it seemed, was dedicated to the idea that now that Biden is president “we can go back to brunch,” an actual quote. The account was literally called something like “Back2Bunch074547512”. Talk about committing to a bit. I just don’t know; it’s still mighty pandemmy outside. Where are we supposed to go to brunch, in a tent in a parking lot? I don’t see it. There’s a lot of work to do. [I’m not lobbing a critique at actual brunch. Rather, the whole conceit that with the right president all our problems are solved. If you’ve figured out a way to go to actual brunch safely, I’m not judging. I’ve decided to withhold all of my judgements until my Supreme Court nomination goes through. I don’t judge for free!])
Regardless of what it means vis-à-vis breakfast carbs and foods that preach unity between the breakfast and lunch divide, I watched the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris with a cautious optimism that I haven’t felt in, quite literally, years. Because, like I wrote in last week's post, it’s not a cure-all, but it is the beginning of potential and that feels so different from what I’ve been feeling. Potential is the opposite of “Well, this is it.” It’s like “Well! This is it!” Would I have liked Lady Gaga’s giant golden peace dove to turn into a vaccine canon that would automatically yeet a big ole batch of mRNA into my arm? Absolutely. That did not happen but I did get some inspiring words from Amanda Gorman, the swearing in of our first woman, first Black, and first Asian-American VP, and Jennifer Lopez screlting “Let’s get loud!” in the middle of a patriotic folk song, and all three of those things changed me at a ribonucleic level.
I will never in all my life get over JLo giving us an Americana mashup and then sliding in a hit from On the 6 like she was doing a Grammy career retrospective with a confusing concept. She was like “Woody Guthrie, baby, it’s time to lip-sync for your life!” Can you imagine being the coordinator of the inauggie and having JLo’s people send over the musical arrangement with a Post-It that reads “She’s going to throw a little stank on it at the end. XOXO”?
Did I understand the choice? I cannot in good conscience say I did. Do I judge the choice? Again, I am not judging for free so if you want my opinion, call your Senator and tell them to rush my confirmation. What I loved, however, about JLo and Gaga and, later, Katy Perry giving us full-blown celebrity grand malarkey in a quite tense political setting is that it was, at least to me, a joyful infusion of bedlam in a space where, for so long, all the bedlam has been so joyless. I don’t feel like it’s an indicator of an old world returning—that can’t be the objective—but I took it as a reminder that some of the better, weirder, let’s get louder things of the old world might carry over into the new world that I hope we’re making.
For the first couple of years that I was writing my ELLE.com column, one of the things I enjoyed the most was watching live events—the Oscars, the Grammys, the Super Bowl Half-time show, and sometimes even political events—and refreshing the Getty Images page to find photographs of the strangest, the silliest, or, in the case of Michelle Obama at all times, the most badass moment on which to build my column.
This is, after all, how the column got started: I saw a photo of President Obama walking down a red carpet, posted a deranged Facebook status about it, and caught the attention of an editor. A lot has changed since then. The way I think about politicians has changed, the way I understand memeification and narrative has changed, and my feelings about our political leaders’ relationships to their own celebrity has changed, to name just a few. But I found myself refreshing Getty again on Wednesday, pulling photos not for ELLE this time but for the newsletter out of a burst of exuberance, a reconnection with a part of myself that I miss. I realized that it’s been at least a year since I’ve done that, first because there just haven’t been live public events in nearly a year, and secondly because even before that the tone and tenor of reality had gotten so dark, so bleak, so relentless that even moments of celebrity jiggery-pokery didn’t break through.
(Pictured: an exorcism?)
Now, I’m not over here writing West Wing fan fiction about the present. This is reality and The West Wing was fantasy. (Just like The Crown is. *wink*). But I’m choosing to read the events of this week, especially in the context of the events of the previous two Wednesdays in America, as a flickering light on a dormant device. A signal incoming. A possible connection to some part of us that has been lost.
Beige Suit Incoming
I say all that (and mean it) but it took literally 2 hours after the inauguration for some members of the press to revert back to the Obama-era non-troversies. Biden was still walking around DC waving and the New York Times was publishing a piece talking about how his Peloton made him less of an “everyman” (he’s a two-time Vice President; he’s not exactly Joe the Plumber) and tsk-tsk-ing about his Rolex (instead of a more frugal Timex). I absolutely cannot engage with this (he said, engaging). But what do these people have against a gainfully employed senior in a dual-income household owning a Peloton? What do they want him to do, join Planet Fitness? We’ll be midway into Amanda Gorman’s second term before the federal government will be able to wrestle Planet Fitness’s customer service into cancelling the account. Not good financial management, methinks!
And on the topic of financial management: this wristwatch business. How you gonna be mad that he has a nice watch to tell the current time when the last president governed like it was still 1945. Make it make sense!
Of course, this is how it goes. Joe Biden could trade away a cow for beans like Jack in Into the Woods and the Republicans would be like “Oh, look at Mr. Moneybags with an entire cow.” Please don’t make me defend a rich man’s right to accessorize. It’s bad for my health. This is truly the living end!
And finally. What in the sam-hill is going on with Ben Affleck?
I simply do not and cannot follow the exploits of Mr. Affleck, but yet I cannot seem to escape him. All during the summer and into the fall I saw a barrage of paparazzi photos of him and Ana de Armas going on walks while drinking that good ole Boston punch: Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Now he and Ana have broken up (WHY IS THIS INFORMATION IN MY BRAIN?) and someone was photographed taking a life-size cutout of Ana out of Ben’s house and putting it in the trash, which is objectively hilarious and messy. I’m bringing the cutout to the Red Table.
Now Ben is back to being photographed on his own with coffee and those pictures have lately been snapped at his front gate. Believe me when I tell you I do not care about this at all except that in every single picture he is STRUGGLING with the task. This series from Saturday is what pushed me over the edge. Wet packages. Straw in mouth (literally the most useless thing one could do in this situation). This is clownery. And I mean that in the formal sense, not as an insult. I can only explain this packages and Dunkies dance as a clown act. Ben is over here giving you “Mr. Bean Did Some Late Night Shopping.” This is a production of One Batman, Two Guv’nors. MAKE TWO TRIPS, BEN AFFLECK. MY GOD.
There’s a lot of new subscribers (hello!) so I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that I have two books for sale (I wrote them while tweeting!) One is a memoir-in-essays that Lin-Manuel Miranda called “laugh-out-loud, David Sedaris-level funny”. And the other is a lively biography of Rep. Maxine Waters, which Dr. Ibram X. Kendi called “a beautiful celebration of Waters’s great vision, wisdom, and heart.” You can get both anywhere books are sold (especially your local independent bookseller) and also here at Bookshop.org
Random Thing on the Internet
I used to love Strong Bad emails on the site Homestar Runner so much. It was such a beautiful and innocent and, most importantly, completely absurd time in internet history. I could not ever explain their appeal. But I’ve found that whenever I mention them to people who were in their teens and 20s when the emails were popular, there’s an instant connection. I feel like Homestar and the comic strip Achewood built an entire wing of my brain. Anyway, here’s a playlist of emails that I watched when I was supposed to be tweeting instead of writing.
She’s going to throw a little stank on it at the end. XOXO,