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What a Difference a Year Makes 9 min read

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year in a new place, plus close calls at airports, Elon Musk, Wirecutter's slide, nearsightedness, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and much more.

By Cary Littlejohn

I’ve now been back in Missouri for an entire year now. It’s truly unbelievable how quickly that time has passed, and the overall whirlwind of what’s transpired during that year is hard to overstate.

It hit me hard yesterday, when I realized that it marked the day from 2022 when Dad and I were traveling back from Wyoming with all of my belongings in tow. I wrote recently of the gratitude I felt for his help, his willingness to drop everything to make the trip with me and work like mad for a few days, and drive a seemingly interminable route in a U-haul. All for me. 

But yesterday was the same kind of sadness that strikes me from time to time when I think about the physical structure that is this house. Sometimes I imbue this place with more significance than it probably deserves. It’s not like Dad picked this place for me or spent much time here, but he was the first person to see the place with me. He was the first to stay here with me, when there was no furniture in it. He was the one who helped get the U-Haul into the front yard, and he was the one who laughed alongside me when a nosy neighbor from down the street wandered by and told us that, while she was OK with it, there was a true busybody somewhere in the neighborhood that might turn us in. (When she left, he said, “What do you think the odds are that she’s the busybody?) Even though it didn’t feel like a destination, it was one of the last places we went together. 

Despite all that’s changed, so much feels the same. Today represents the second Monday of the new semester, where I’ll once again be helping out Missouri School of Journalism magazine students put out its award-winning city magazine Vox. I’ll also continue working with writers across the wider university as a part of its Writing Center. The cyclical nature of academia helped me feel grounded in a time of upheaval. I’m really excited for the new semester with its new students, new stories, new challenges, and hopefully new memories. 

The second half of last year was a fallow season for this newsletter, as I tried to adjust to a new (again) city, new responsibilities, new workflows, the works. Spring was likewise spotty with all of the adjustments after Dad’s sickness and funeral. But I’ve really gotten a lot out of writing this thing, and now that I’ve had a year to get used to my new normal (at least parts of it), I’m glad you’re along for the ride. Thanks for your continued readership.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. A beautiful (and terrifying) piece of interactive journalism, this New York Times story details the rising number of close calls at airports and in the skies due to air traffic controller shortages. I’ve made it a point to share this type of story before. James Fallows weighed in on the Times story as welland is just as much worth your time as the Times story.
  2. When I tell you I stopped what I was doing to read Ronan Farrow’s latest New Yorker piece about none other than the Twitter-ruiner himself, Elon Musk, I mean I stopped. Workday paused until I could read all about how the U.S. government had come to rely on this mercurial and unpredictable tech billionaire for way more than it should. I can’t decide if it made me want to read more about him (via Walter Isaacson’s forthcoming biography) or literally never read about him again, but it’s definitely one of the two.
  3. I could intuit this piece before I even read it. On some level, I knew the truth of what it finds: Wirecutter, the site dedicated to recommending the best of various products, has itself fallen in quality. But what’s interesting about this piece is how The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel traces not just Wirecutter’s path through time but the entire internet’s. It’s almost as if Wirecutter stood no chance in this modern digital media age.
  4. Thought you couldn’t learn anything more about narcissism? Turns out there’s a lot that we don’t understand about it, according to the latest from Scientific American.
  5. As a tragically nearsighted person, I was absolutely rapt reading this story, and quite dismayed if the solution to avoiding the need for corrected lenses was really as simple as it seems to suggest. The World Is Going Blind. Taiwan Offers a Warning, and a Cure | WIRED
  6. Sometimes a story just lines up perfectly for my interests. Actually, “interests” isn’t even the right word. It’s more like “experiences.” In this story from Outside, the protagonists (I would argue they’re our protagonists, at least) traveled from Missouri (of all places) to Wyoming (of all places) to go elk hunting on public land that was closely entangled with private land. Though the men didn’t drive my exact route between Missouri and Wyoming, I felt a kinship with them. Though I’d never spent a single minute of my time in Wyoming hunting elk, I felt connected to their cause, as it became, strangely, a dispute over property law, which, while never my strongest subject in law school, has always interested me.
  7. This long excerpt from Gay Talese’s forthcoming book, published in Airmail (see last week’s newsletter for more on Airmail), is like a behind-the-scenes annotation of one of the greatest magazine stories ever written. How "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" Came to Be
  8. Jill Lepore, usually of The New Yorker, recently published a moving tribute to her father’s library in the New York Review of Books, which she inherited after he passed away. It’s not some massive collection of books that you might assume someone who’s go on to be a history professor at Harvard would grow up with. Instead, it’s a modest collection, each book bought for a college class he attended. The subject matter alone was enough to get me to read the story, with its mention of fathers passing and home libraries, but the way she pulled it together, the way the ending landed, well, let’s just say it is why we read good writers. (Has more to do with teeth than you’d think, but in the most satisfying way possible.)
  9. I really loved Nick Quah’s Search Engine review in Vulture. Search Engine is a new, thoroughly delightful podcast from PJ Vogt, one half of the former Reply All duo before that show fizzled out with a whimper after a scandal (of sorts) that came to light after a particular miniseries it had published. The scandal was enough to kill the show (and it seems, ruin a friendship between the hosts after Vogt left the company), but it wasn’t easy to pin down what exactly he’d done. He’d been critical of and unsupportive of efforts to unionize at the company, Gimlet. That’s really about all we know. Details were scant. But all of this came out while they were working on a show about that very sort of thing—diversity (or the lack thereof) in media companies. If little else was clear, I knew that I missed his voice and podcasting sensibilities. I did miss his voice (literally and conceptually). I missed his camaraderie with his cohost Alex Goldman, which, it seems, I won’t be getting back anytime soon. But Search Engine does give us his voice back, and as Quah said, it’s interesting to watch someone who’s gone through all of that start creating again. I came later than I expected to Search Engine, but listening to it was an absolute delight, so I was happy to see Quah reviewing it and feeling much the same way that I had. It’s one of those shows with a premise so simple, so engaging, so timeless and unending, that anyone hearing it is kicking themselves for saying “Now why didn’t I think of that??” It’s curious and openhearted and, in many ways, much the same vibe as Reply All. It’s missing the dynamic of cohosts, but the unexpected delights, the sure hand at the wheel, is just a sweet reminder of what podcasts can be. For a little taste of the podcast (and to keep with my WIRED recommendation above, check out the episode titled “What’s it like to slowly go blind?”
  10. I came of age roughly alongside the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though they came into the world as their teenage selves, we’re of the same generation (mid-1980s). The original comics came along a few years before I was born, but I was not a comics reader as a kid. I was a show-watcher, and the animated series that defined so much of my childhood (and inspired so much of my toy box) was born in the same year as I, 1987. So it’s a weird but inevitable reality that, in 2023, there would be another film dedicated to them, now essentially 40-year-old intellectual property, because Hollywood has, in fact, run out of ideas. It sounds like I’m going to pan the newest film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, but far from it. The film is a delight. The animation is punk-rockish and fits the material well (they are running around the sewers of NYC, after all). This review from The Washington Post delights in the film as much as I did. More than anything, it reminds me that they’re teenagers. I mean, sure, it’s technically right there in the name. But watch the 1990 live-action film (which I can assure you I’ve watched countless times in my life) and you won’t think of them as teens. Perhaps that’s the risk you run when you put adult actors in physical turtle suits, but I think it’s more than that. The story is serious and brooding, and they seem, in many ways, like world-weary adults. The joy of this latest addition is the teenage awkwardness of it all, a coming-of-age story that grounds them as kids and is full of pop culture references decidedly of the moment in 2023. But my favorite part of the film was the big bad, voiced by Ice Cube, and I could not stop laughing at almost every single line delivery he gave. It just tickled my funny bone, and I’m so happy it exists.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.

Semesters Aren't Just For College Students

Vulture's Must-See Movies of Fall 2023

'Get Rid of Your Books'

Stephen King on A.I.

A Timely Post: How to Feed a Dictator

Skipped the First GOP Debate? Catch Up Here.

Read Charles Pierce on the First GOP Debate

Can ChatGPT Unseat the M.F.A.?

Trump's Mugshot Matters

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

8/21: Top Chef, S11 (3)
8/22: Top Chef, S11 (3); HOMICIDE
8/23: Top Chef, S11 (3); Justified: City Primeval
8/24: Top Chef, S11 (5)
8/26: Only Murders in the Building, S3 (4); ADRIFT; THE BIG SHORT*; THE PALE BLUE EYE*