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Earnestly seeking earnestness 6 min read

Earnestly seeking earnestness

From Mars Perseverance rover triumphs to Rush Limbaugh's passing and Texas's energy woes to Nomadland, here are some interesting takeaways from this past week.

By Cary Littlejohn

This week was a reminder for me on the power of earnestness. It’s an infectious quality. It’s a word you’re likely to hear when you inevitably encounter an initially reluctant viewer of Ted Lasso; as they’re describing their inevitable conversion to true disciple of the show, earnestness is what they’re talking about. (This is just an excuse to celebrate, in a very meta way, earnestly celebrating and loving an earnest show on Twitter with other like-minded souls and the earnest joy I felt when Jason Sudekis himself liked a tweet of mine.)

Speaking of the flaming hellscape known as Twitter, you’ll sometimes encounter truly earnest people, and it stands out for it’s radical-seemingness. I saw a woman who was celebrating getting her 53rd follower on Twitter. She said, “I know that in Twitterworld that is a tiny, tiny amount, but I am delighted. I work with special needs high schoolers, and we always, always celebrate even the smallest increments of progress. So, thank you — today I celebrate 13 new friendships.”

And I joined the (at last glance) 179,000 people to like that tweet and the more than 49,000 thousand who decided to follow her. Why? It’s such a welcome, refreshing approach to social media and life in general. Who wouldn’t want more of that wherever they can find it?

For me this week, I found it in two separate groups of high school students. One group was producing a play, written by a classmate, and it was uplifting to see how seriously they took the endeavor. It showed a maturity beyond their years, and it came across as simply earnestly loving drama and theater and creativity. The other was a group that gathered weekly to play Dungeons and Dragons, a game which I know nothing about save for what I’ve read in preparation for doing a story on them. The sense of community they showed, the joy they clearly felt in just being themselves, exploring these worlds with each other, put in me the same feeling as the tweet celebrating 53 followers. It was pure and innocent and a real treat to be in the presence of such things.

May you be blessed with bits of earnestness, small and large, in your upcoming week.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. It was a big week for NASA, from the heartwarming celebrations in Mission Control when Perseverance Rover touched down after a seven-month trip to the first stills it sent back from the Red Planet’s surface. This clever article from The Atlantic is almost three years old now, but it’s an inventive way to look at the possibility of inhabiting Mars. It’s basically a primer for how CSI: Mars would play out, and interestingly, it bases much of those predictions from examples in Antartica’s harsh climate. (BONUS: If you’re interested in a criminal investigation set in Antartica AND subscribe to HBO Max, you should check out The Head, a well-done six-episode mystery series in the style of Agatha Christie.)

  2. Rush Limbaugh died this week. The less said about him, the better.  But if there needed to be something said about him, Bob Moser in Rolling Stone said about all one needs to know.

  3. The extreme winter weather in Texas created a energy crisis in the state. Texas Monthly helps explain what went wrong with Texas’s power grid, and even for those who were fortunate enough to keep their electricity on during the freezing temperatures saw the ugly side of Texas’s deregulated, stand-alone energy system, as demonstrated by this New York Times article about one man whose lights stayed on during the storm, costing him more than $16,000.

  4. Would in review of the week be complete without commenting on Sen. Ted Cruz’s remarkably bad week as a politician and arguably worse week as simply a human in good-standing? After he was seen running off the Mexico (I know; crazy, right? Seems reckless to lead his family from the chest-thumping greatness of America to a country that, according to former president Trump, is full of “murderers and rapists.”), at some point he realized that didn’t look so good. Never you mind; totally reasonable explanation at the ready: It was his daughters’ fault. They just need to travel internationally and he just needed to be there to drop them off personally (don’t mind that obnoxiously large carry-on bag; he was probably just toting that for one of the ladies in his family, because chivalry is not dead). Oh shoot! His wife’s friends leaked the contents of their group message and it turns out that *checks notes * right, right, the daughters didn’t seem to be in on the planning. Got it. Cool. He came back though, right? Whew. Thank goodness. But, honestly, was he even missed? I mean, Dinesh D’Souza said it: What could he have even done? Anything? No, probably nothing. Oh, that’s right, except AOC, a congresswoman from NEW YORK, and Beto O’Rourke, currently representative of nothing and nowhere, raised over $5 million for those affected by the storm. Wonder how that happened? Could have started with the superhuman feat of picking up the phone.

  5. The print edition of The Atlantic the came last week featured incredibly moving stories of American slavery that were recorded by Federal Writers’ Project workers from 1936 to1938. Over those two years, they recorded interviews with more than 2,300 formerly enslaved people, making it one of the largest archives of its type. Clint Smith, who wrote the article, wrote: 

    While many of these narratives vividly portray the horror of slavery—of families separated, of backs beaten, of bones crushed—embedded within them are stories of enslaved people dancing together on Saturday evenings as respite from their work; of people falling in love, creating pockets of time to see each other when the threat of violence momentarily ceased; of children skipping rocks in a creek or playing hide-and-seek amid towering oak trees, finding moments when the movement of their bodies was not governed by anything other than their own sense of wonder. These small moments—the sort that freedom allows us to take for granted—have stayed with me.

  6. What are magazines good for? “The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” said Steven Lomazow to the New Yorker’s Nathan Heller. It seems fitting that a magazine-obsessed person like myself would turn to a newsletter such as this, which at its core, attempts to be a representative slice of my week on the Internet; it’s come full-circle. I love Heller’s passage near the end of the piece:

    And yet it’s notable that what made magazines appealing in 1720 is the same thing that made them appealing in 1920 and in 2020: a blend of iconoclasm and authority, novelty and continuity, marketability and creativity, social engagement and personal voice.

  7. WIRED’s video series of various types of experts explaining things is often entertaining and informative, but perhaps none more so than from dialect coach Erik Singer on the particularities and eccentricities of human speech patterns. His two newest videos, which include the help of other linguists and scholars, maps out the various dialects of the U.S. Being a transplant to the American West means that my accent, decidedly Southern in its blends of the regional sounds of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, stands out among the locals here. 

  8. A rabbit hole started by the delightful reaction videos of guitar instructor Michael Palmisano. He recently watched a live performance of Brandi Carlile covering Elton John’s Madman Across the Water, and it is so much fun to watch a talented musician geek out over the talents of other musicians. But more  than that, it served as a reminder of just how great that song really is, and I started watching so many live performances of it. I couldn’t stop. Palmisano stops the video of the performance often, for his own purposes, so if you want to just ride that oh-so-fat groove from Carlile’s cover, check here. A lover bluesy jam bands? Try Gov’t Mule’s version of the same song, with Warren Haynes voice and lead guitar doing so much to envy. But really, none of this really matters, because we can just go to the source, the man, the myth, the legend himself, Elton John. Here are two very different performances, one with a full orchestra and one much more stripped down.

  9. Nomadland just made its way to Hulu on Friday, and it is a beautiful film. Haunting, if you’re the type who hates goodbyes, because it seems every time you turn around, there’s Frances McDormand staring off after someone leaving yet again. At times it feels like a documentary, as the New Yorker’s Richard Brody points out in his review; in a weird way, perhaps it is a documentary since many of the people in the film were first portrayed in Jessica Bruder’s book of the same name. They weren’t actors. They were real-life nomads. The film isn’t actually documentary though, and A.O. Scott’s review for the New York Times captures the quiet beauty of the drama quite well.

  10. Bottom of the news is a regrettable pun for this incredibly interesting longread from The Guardian about the allure and dangers of the Brazilian butt lift, which is, statistically speaking, the most dangerous surgery in the world.

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