Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: The Queen's fancy piano, a Christmas carol about being horny for presents, and ranking Starbucks holiday beverages.
David has been to Disneyland so much he knows shortcuts, secret passages, and the best place to watch the fireworks and eat dinner at the same time. However, he has never been to Disney World. I've been to Disney World twice and my memories of it are vivid, random, and completely contextless. I remember the emergency exit in the Haunted Mansion (I'm a God Warrior and left after 97 seconds inside because what Michael Mouse is not going to do is capture my soul in the name of entertoonment!). I remember this one fountain that shot an arc of water over a pond of flamingos at Epcot Center (mostly because I took roughly 45 pictures of it like I'd never seen H20 before). I remember the medical office at Disney World very well (I had an asthma attack! It was all that excitement from the water!) I remember we saw a lizard at our motel on the second visit (no pictures of that. Only flying water for the scrapbooks, please!). I remember Michael Jackson's 4-D movie experience Captain EO because Black History. And I remember a ride called the Carousel of Progress.
And that's about it. David's memories are far-reaching and complete, colored by detail and commentary and history, like every story he shares. Mine are like an out-of-order slide presentation with captions in another language. When we talk about the Disney Universe, what we know and remember very rarely matches up. I call it the Gift of the Magi(c Kingdom). Still, we end up talking about the Disney Nation State a lot because David's mom really likes Disney and goes frequently. I love this about her; I think it's so wonderful to love something and to let yourself enjoy it. As a culture, we undervalue enthusiasm and a commitment to an experience. We take people to task for liking things. When she talks about Disneyland and her trips there and her tips for going and her memories, I'm reminded of how nice it is to be alive, how much joy it can bring, how community and belonging are formed.
So, in the interest of belonging and in the interest of familial bonding, I'm trying to up my game on remembering Disney things. This weekend, the three of us were talking about the Carousel of Tomorrow, a ride David's mom had experienced in Disneyland in the 70s and I'd experienced in Disney World in the 80s. David, however, had never experienced it and as I set about to describe it, I said to myself, "Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down!"
I started animatedly commenting on the ride, a series of scenes featuring the same animatronic family at various decades throughout history. They never age, but their styles of dress and the technology available to them changes with each scene shift. "But the wildest thing about it," I said, "is that theme song!"
And then David, who knows everything and is this person you most want to sit next to at a cocktail party started quoting the song. "There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow/ Shining at the end of every day/ There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow/ And tomorrow's just a dream away." He looked at me and smiled. I looked back at him and furrowed my brow. "What are those words you're saying?" I asked.
The thing that I remember most vividly (even more than the water) is the song that they sing in Carousel of Progress. In each scene, the patriarch of the family ruminates about progress and how lucky they are to live when they live and at the end of each scene they all sing "Now is the time, now is the best time, now is the best time of your life." And even at 8 years old I remember thinking, "This is the darkest thing I've ever encountered."
And it stayed with me for decades. Sometimes I'd find myself humming it and I'd shudder. On one hand, those animatronics live in a state of perpetual satisfaction with their lives and the advancement of the world around them. Good for them! But on the other side is us, watching time make a fool of these robots, sitting in a dark theater while the years pass by and the patriarch declares that This, this is the peak! Why are they so obsessed with declaring the present as the best time of their lives? Don't they know about the audacity of hope? Don't androids dream of their father? (This is a Barack Obama/Philip K. Dick joke that absolutely does not work but I refuse to delete it. Black History!) The animatronics never age; they never change. The world moves on and they remain delightedly futureless. WHY?!
I explained all this to David, wild-eyed, and he told me that he had no idea what I was talking about. The Disneyland version of the ride had a completely different song. The benignly hopeful "There's a great, big beautiful tomorrow" was canon, not "Now is the best time of our lives," which is a Black Mirror episode in verse. I was gobsmacked. I began to wonder if we were living in alternate universes, each dictated by the philosophy of the animatronic white Disney family family. I ran to Google to confirm that I had not just made up a nihilist robot song for fun. Turns out the version I heard does actually exist, though it's not commonly used. Which is not to say that I didn't make up a nihilist robot song, but I didn't make up this nihilist robot song.
I've decided that everything in my life would have been different if I'd heard "There's a great, big beautiful tomorrow" instead. I'm suing Disney World and it's chancellor, Michael Mouse. While I await my check from LegalZoom, however, I'm trying to incorporate this new theme song energy into my animatronic life. At the end of every year, there's the compulsion to take stock of what happened, to declare it a good year or a bad year, and to, in some small way, justify what we did with the present while we had it. That always stresses me out. I always feel like the year is a mixed bag. I went back and re-read some of the things I'd written at the ends of years past and I realized that every year is "pretty hard" but also "good things happened" and I'm starting to think that maybe life is just "pretty hard" but also "good things happen." And that makes it easier to release myself from the insistence on declaring "now" as the best time of my life.
This year, I published 275 pieces on ELLE.com, roughly the same as I did the year before. When I combed through the pieces I thought were really good and the pieces where I thought I'd missed the mark, it turned out that often when my life was in shambles, my writing was the funniest; conversely when I was happy in my personal life, my writing was sometimes less sharp than I wanted. So, which is the time, which is the best time, which is the best time of my life? This year, I also moved to an apartment I love so much more than our last apartment, but I didn't realize how unhappy I'd been in our last apartment until we moved to the new one. Last year, I wrote rhapsodically about the kitchen island and the snack drawer in the fridge and the infinity pool. This year, I couldn't wait to leave. Which was the best time? I wrote a whole ass book this year, also. And, as of last night, finished three first drafts of full-length plays. During the dark days of each project, I said to David "I hate writing and never want to do this again." Of course, I will do it again and I'll love it before and after and probably hate it in the middle. Indeed, I have another first draft due in April and I'm workshopping one of this year's plays in Philadelphia next week and another in Nashville the week after.
I guess I say all this as an excuse not to list the best thing I wrote this year, lol. I get so weird about taking stock of the past because I'm like "What if it was all a fluke and by acknowledging it, I'll break the spell?! What if the best is behind me already and I forgot to sing about it?!!!" I have this meltdown once a week. What a crazy person. Just link to some articles and go, honey. (Okay fine, here's my personal top 5 based on a weird mix of how much I enjoyed writing them, how much other people enjoyed reading them--often not the same thing--how confident I am that I made the right jokes, and queer magic: Andrew Gillum had time today, Trump vs. Philly, Queer Eye and emotional labor, Ranking the I Voted stickers, I tried Rihanna's makeup line.) I'm proud of this year in my robot life, with it's good parts and its best parts and its bad parts and all the rest. And more than proud, I'm grateful. But, I hope that the best time of our lives is yet to come, in the great, big beautiful tomorrow.
This week of the year is always a total grab bag in terms of news. Literally everything stops making sense and I end up writing about the most random things. Like the song "Santa Baby!" And the best holiday Starbucks drinks! And my love for the Obamas! But first: the Queen's piano
Many took issue with a queen, sitting in her palace in her kingdom, having a piano that would prompt Midas to exclaim, "Oh, girl, this is too much." I'm not really sure what people expected this person whose job it is to wear bejeweled crowns and use a sword to knight people and wave in a special manner to do in the interior design department. Like, would you want to watch a holiday message from the Queen with a Casio keyboard chilling in the back like she's a college student vlogging from her childhood bedroom? No, you would not. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
"Santa Baby" does not mince any words. The opening line is "Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree for me." She wants cash and goods, baby! She does not want you to misunderstand her desire, which is for products, honey! She is microinfluencing you, darling! Here is a link and a coupon, beloved! [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
This is Michelle Obama's first year topping the list, which has been dominated by Hillary Clinton for almost two decades. Barack, meanwhile tops his list for the 11th consecutive year. Eleven years! This means Barack Obama was the most America's most admired man throughout his entire presidency (even the rough spots we don't talk about), two years into some other dude's presidency, and even one year before he was inaugurated. I'm not saying we should consider monarchy; I'm just saying democracy is broken and we might as well give the people what they want. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Sure, this innovation is for a good cause. The company wants you to waste less water on washing your expensive draws. I can get behind this, in concept only. Washing and drying use a lot of different resources, are a tax on energy, and put chemicals in our clothes. Not ideal. Also not ideal: just... like... slipping on the same underwear you've had on since last season. I don't even want to wear my own skin for weeks. I barely have the same personality month-to-month, so this seems like a challenge. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Like a boop on the nose from Mrs. Jessica Claus herself, the holiday coffee beverages have once again graced Starbucks locations around the country with their magical presence. It's a time of mystery and wonder that begs the question: Which holiday treat is the most delectable of all? And, also, Mrs. Claus' first name is Jessica?! Let's take the second question first. The answer is yes and I'm as shocked as you are. I always thought her name was Mary. Mary Claus. It tracks. But, to quote Rudolph when asked if he forgave the other reindeers for their bullying, "Nope!" [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
If you're lucky enough to be off of work or working from home this week, you most likely have completely forgotten how buttons work, the meaning of "business casual," and the fact of shoes. (A leather box you put on your feet to make you unhappy and/or taller.) At a certain point, the thought occurs, "Why don't I live like this all the time?" And the answer is: because you don't love yourself enough. But, it's never too late to renew your vows to yourself and break up with non-billowy sleeves. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Random Thing on The Internet
This is a video of the Carousel of Tomorrow with the song I remember!
See you in court, Michael Mouse!