Category Archives: Kids

The Way We Live Now; or, The Year of Living Autobiographically, Part III

From October 2011 to October 2012, I wrote The Year of Living Autobiographically; four years later, from October 2015 to October 2016, I wrote a kind of sequel, which for the nonce I’ve been calling The Year of Living Ignominiously. (As I wrote here and here, it’s on a back burner.) And right at the moment—eight years after the first project, four years after the second—I’m in the middle of writing what I guess will be the third part of a trilogy.

I’ve been telling my students in the past few weeks—in our last in-person classes, which all ended on Friday 3/13, and in a few test runs I’ve set up with my students using Zoom this past week—to observe the world around them as it changes, and to take notes. Social media can be a good way to stay in touch with friends, and it can be a good conduit for accurate and trustworthy news from reliable sources. But social media, I’ve tried to remind them (this is nothing new, obviously), can also be a firehose of rumors, and it can be a crutch—one that so thoroughly reinforces our performed, public selves, that we forget or neglect our private selves. Take private notes, I’ve said. Keep a diary, a journal, a notebook, James Comey–style contemporaneous notes, whatever you want to call it. Think Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”; think Nora Ephron’s mom’s mantra that “everything is copy.”

Emily and I are trying to do good where and when we can; we’re trying to teach our students, and raise our sons, and be useful citizens if we can—of this town, this state, this nation.

And I’m trying to follow my own advice. In case you’re curious about what the work that might eventually be called something like The Years of Living Autobiographically: Book III is going to look like, here are the 21 entries I’ve written over the past few weeks. I’m following my same absurd self-dare as before: for one year, write one status update per day that’s precisely 420 characters long—no more, no fewer. (See previous posts on this: The Year of Living Autobiographically; Praise; More Praise.)  This time, though, for reasons that I can’t explain other than following instinct (and perhaps borrowing from my friend Jessica Anthony in her brilliant new novel Enter the Aardvark), it’s all in the second person.

Sat 29 Feb 2020
Do you want to see how I know there’s a hole in my dishwashing glove? you asked Emmett. Of course he did. You folded back the cuff, made a seal with your lips, inflated it with your breath. Then you gently squeezed, aimed a wobbly yellow pointer finger at Emmett’s nose. A small hole at the tip; enough to flood them with water, enough to pinpoint air. Toby needed to feel it as well. What a marvelously dad thing to do.

Sun 1 Mar 2020
“Why do we wear a kippah?” asked the rabbi. “Because it’s cool,” one girl said, to the rabbi’s delight. “Because you can,” said Toby. Emmett’s morah: “That’s my favorite answer so far.” “That’s a serious answer,” the rabbi said. “I don’t know if you even know how serious an answer that is.” It’s a reminder to be humble, she said. “I wear it to remind myself to be humble when I’m doing something that I think is holy.”

Mon 2 Mar 2020
An overheard fragment, a student’s phone conversation—”your arteries, your heart, a lot of pressure around your heart, so you can suffer complications from that. But I was on an Internet forum, and a lot of people were saying”—was she talking about COVID-19? Remember Rabbi Bunim: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one write, ‘I am a speck of dust.’ On the other, ‘The world was created for me.'”

Tue 3 Mar 2020
Your hands are dry from frequent washing. It’s tough, in these early days after the shortest month, to twist the knob to advance the date on your watch. A cold rain turned to steam as it hit the walkway by Warner. “Journey of the Magi”: a convert’s midrash on “We Three Kings”? Your students, unversed in Matthew. Rain at sunset; rainbow in the east; a tornado-yellow sky; then hail, gone before you could photograph it.

Wed 4 Mar 2020
Your friend, on leftist rage: “The horse you ride to victory—you don’t keep stabbing it in the eyes.” Later, you asked your students if they were doing okay, or afraid—you meant COVID-19—and one mentioned Biden. What did she mean? Biden has dementia, she said. She learned this on Twitter; it’s an open secret. She’d been proud to cast her first vote for Clinton, even though, your student said, she’s a “lizard person.”

Thu 5 Mar 2020
Your student, a “Bernie bro,” said she had you pegged as a “Warren bro.” Senator Warren, today: “If you say, yeah, there was sexism in this race, everyone says, ‘whiner.’ And if you say, no, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, what planet do you live on.” You want not to cry; you want cookies for dinner; you want to torch the subliminal civilization-scale erasure of the very idea of matriarchal power.

Fri 6 Mar 2020
Last night at the Feve, Emily introduced you to one of her students. He reached out to shake your hand. Wait, you said, let’s practice for Coronavirus. “Do you have it?” he said, his voice a bit panicked. No, no, you said, but we need to practice social distancing, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion to put one’s hands over one’s heart in greeting. He liked this idea; this was what you both did.

Sat 7 Mar 2020
In office hours, a student yawned almost every time you spoke. He also picked his nose. As he got up to leave, he reached out to shake your hand. Wait, you said, let’s practice alternatives. There’s putting your hands over your heart, and then there’s this: you held up the priestly blessing. He didn’t recognize it as Jewish, but Vulcan. “Live long and prosper,” he said, “I like it.” “Live long and prosper,” you said.

Sun 8 Mar 2020
As she introduced the Purim Shpiel, the rabbi encouraged everyone to eschew shaking hands. Later, a fellow Hebrew school dad reached out to shake yours. You proffered an elbow. He bumped it begrudgingly. “You must be from Oberlin,” he said, with a dismissive smile. Meaning, presumably, that taking science seriously requires leftist inculcation. L’esprit de l’escalier still hasn’t arrived. “It’s true, I am,” you said.

Mon 9 Mar 2020
Part of Emmett’s homework: “Explain how the unfair laws described in the introduction of the book had an effect on Thurgood Marshall’s life.” His answer: “He was soper mad at the white peapole ho did not alaw brown pepole to go to thar restrants.” True. Fair enough. COVID-19 is now in Ohio. Three cases, Cuyahoga County. Not yet a red dot on the Johns Hopkins University map. The governor declared a state of emergency.

Tue 10 Mar 2020
Outside your office, a coughing fit, then hawked-up sputum, then quiet. The U.S. has 971 confirmed cases. You sent Emily a Crimson lede: “Harvard Moves Classes Online, Asks Students Not to Return After Spring Break In Response to Coronavirus.” “Holy shit,” she replied. “Crap.” The list of Ivies charting the same course grows: Princeton, Yale, more. Then an emergency confab, and Oberlin, after break, will follow suit.

Wed 11 Mar 2020
Your children’s bus driver says the schools might close. Someone’s been swiping hand sanitizer dispensers from Peters Hall, the building manager said. Probably selling them on the black market, he joked. Word of mouth: hoarding toilet paper; student riots in Dayton; a Facebook group for unsanctioned spring breaks. The cause of your sacroiliac pain, your chiropractor determined, is your unconscious fear of turning 50.

Thu 12 Mar 2020
Cuomo: Broadway ordered dark. DeWine: a three-week “extended spring break” for all Ohio schoolchildren, starting next Tuesday; Oberlin students gone by then too. Tom Hanks infected; baseball delayed; Disneyland closed. One receptionist at your doctor’s office: “We’re gonna have to start making our own toilet paper!” The other receptionist: “Ew.” Driving home, a cheddar-cheese Combos bag, empty, scuttling in the wind.

Fri 13 Mar 2020
You stopped by the Boys & Girls Club, looking for Toby. They’re also shutting down. Our lives are upended, “but I really think it’s the right decision,” you said. “It absolutely is the right decision!” said one of the teachers, wiping down tables. “We gotta stop the spread!” Faculty and staff are pulling together, but in ordinary times, a dean told you, “there’s usually a pervasive hermeneutic of suspicion going on.”

Sat 14 Mar 2020
“I have the sense of being unmoored from responsibility,” Emily said. “It’s like a storm with no storm,” you said. “It’s like waiting for a tornado,” she said. “Exactly,” you said. Emily: “I guess I’ll put on some socks and do some knitting? That sounds like a pretty good plan, right?” It did. Spain joins Italy on lockdown; first case in Lorain County; patient surge “threatens to swamp U.S. hospitals”; at dusk, snow.

Sun 15 Mar 2020
California: all seniors must shelter in place. Ohio: all restaurants closing, except for take-out. Your knuckles now sting when you wash your hands with warm water. Cleaning the natural keys of your loaner Steinway, using a non-bleach disinfecting wipe, is easy, but what about the sharps? “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “Amazing Grace,” up and up, octave by octave. Pope Francis walks the Roman streets alone.

Mon 16 Mar 2020
France on lockdown. DC shuttering. San Francisco: everyone must shelter in place. First case of COVID-19 on the Oberlin campus; an employee in the dining hall, who last went to work on Wednesday. Your department chair: “Everything is radically unmoored right now.” No atheists in foxholes, no libertarians in pandemics. Your sister, on the phone: “Are you hoarding toilet paper and pasta like all other white Americans?”

Tue 17 Mar 2020
Cemetery ramble: Toby in-line skates, Emmett scooter. In the IGA, you sidled toward the granola bars; a woman who’d been a yard from you stole even further away. Was the man behind you at checkout, the one buying a case of ramen, wearing blue scrubs? Italy: “morgues are inundated, coffins pile up.” President Ambar shared a poem: “What if you thought of it/ as the Jews consider the Sabbath—/ the most sacred of times?”

Wed 18 Mar 2020
You parked on Main, but the Feve’s front door had a note: pick up all takeout at the kitchen entrance. You drove around back in the rain. A chalkboard sign pointed the way. You entered, approached the bar. A man was ahead of you, also picking up takeout. He held up his hands to protect his face. “Stay away from me!” he said, then he relaxed. “Just kidding,” he said. “It’s all good,” you said, stepping out of his way.

Thu 19 Mar 2020
“One of the things we can do for each other is extend each other grace,” President Ambar said, closing the remote faculty meeting. “Even as we do this difficult thing. We will all be the better for it.” President Bacow, in an email: “The Talmud says that to save one life is equivalent to saving the entire world”; when we’re through this, “there will be no way to calculate the number of lives your actions have saved.”

Fri 20 Mar 2020
National Guard deployments; U.S. land borders closed to nonessential travel; Italy’s death toll exceeds China’s. These headlines are written by a child mimicking the opening montage of a crap disaster flick. Breakfast: margarine on Triscuits; lunch: Laughing Cow on Cheez-Its. Emily at IGA: “There is no fucking toilet paper, flour, bread, or pasta sauce.” The joy of “Seven Nation Army,” you on piano, Toby on trombone.

A Note on Notes, an Update on Updates, a Work in Progress

—When I feel not totally certain of what the point of having my own website is, I remind myself that it seems kind of useful to have your own bibliography and your own bio in one place (for the odd person out there who might be asking the Google “I loved this story in Fence but what else has Tom Hopkins written? I must know”), and which is worth a few bucks a year to maintain, I think.

—My tag line (up there in the upper left hand corner) is currently “sporadic news and occasional updates,” but it’s really pretty damn sporadic and occasional these days. In part, I guess, because I don’t send out stories all that much anymore—I only have a couple pieces out at the moment—so it’s been a while since I had one of those lovely phone calls or emails from an editor letting me know they want to publish something I wrote.

—On very rare occasions, I tweet; slightly more frequently, I post photos to Instagram [N.B. Links removed; no longer extant].

—The best and most exciting news we’ve got these days is that The Book of Esther is out in paperback as of 8/22. (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/1.)

a box of The Book of Esther by Emily Barton

—Did you see that the novel was in last Sunday’s Paperback Row? (Quoting: “For her novel, Barton imagines a thriving Khazar kingdom in the throes of World War II — crafting a world and a story that are, as our reviewer, Dara Horn, said, ‘as addicting as a Jewish “Game of Thrones.”’”) (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/27.)

—Did you see the “5 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Inspired by Jewish History and Culture” post in Unbound Worlds last Thursday? Or the Begin in Wonder review?

—In other news (and this is also a contributing factor to why I have absolutely no short-story news), I’m writing a novel. The way I described it to Emily was “an autofiction wrapped in a writing dare wrapped in a false document”; in an email to a writer friend and mentor, I wrote this: “one shorthand way to describe it would be Knausgard meets Nabokov, although I should hasten to add 1) I haven’t read Knausgard and 2) that sounds more highfallutin than I think this thing actually is.”

I’m realizing now, though, that it’d be slightly more accurate than Knausgard-meets-Nabokov to call it John Cheever meets Anne Lamott meets Sarah Manguso meets Jenny Offill.

I’m going to try, if I can, to write progress reports on how the novel is going in this space on a regular basis, but I may completely fail to do so. The novel may fail; the reports about the novel may fail. (Again: what’s the point of having your own website? Whatever you want the point to be. The age of blogging may be long gone, but I’m trying to keep the fierce digital individualism of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget as my lodestar here.) We’ll see.

—In other writing news, I also wrote a sequel to The Year of Living Autobiographically, but it may be just too damn dark to share. I think it might be called The Year of Living Ignominiously. It’s definitely on the back burner for now.

—I don’t have anything smart to say about this, but like most people I know, I’m thinking about mortality a lot these days; in my case, one of the specific ways I’ve been thinking about mortality is the fact that one of my childhood friends died suddenly this past January. I knew he wrote, but I discovered at his memorial service that Brian Shea wrote a lot, and published his own work [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. I am full of awe at the same time that I am full of grief.

Here’s a picture of me, age forty-seven, and Toby, age nine. I was nine when I met Brian. This is Toby and me at Brian’s memorial in June.

Toby and me in Maine

Brian also was a frequent contributor to The Good Men Project. I really want his essays there to become a book. I don’t quite know what I can do to make that happen, but for now, I’m leaving this link here, to create one more thread in the universe to his words, and I’m remembering what Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, that we don’t know what the outcome of our actions will be, but we sure as hell know what the outcome of our lack of actions will be. (Timothy Snyder makes much the same point at the end of On Tyranny.)

More soon, I hope. Onward.

LEGOs: an Essay, by Tobias Hopkins, Age Eight

LEGOs are fun. If I got a brand new box of LEGOs, I’d open the box, then I’d open the bags that are inside of it. Then I’d pour out the LEGOs, but I wouldn’t sort them. It’s a little more fun to just look for the LEGOs, to dig through them. If you sort them, then everything would be with other pieces that are the same color, and it would be harder to find them, because they’d blend in.

Then I’d open up the instructions and I’d start building with what it says. It can be kind of hard, because the instructions don’t have any words, they just show you pictures. Sometimes the pictures are more like diagrams. I look at the picture of the LEGO piece I need, and I try to find it. Then I look at the picture of what that step should look like after I put the LEGOs together. Then I put them on the actual structure to do that step.

Sometimes it doesn’t go exactly right and I have to redo it. Sometimes I haven’t done exactly what the directions showed because it’s hard to tell what the directions are showing. I redo it if it’s not correct. It can be frustrating if you get a step wrong, but then it’s really fun once you get it right.

When I do it the right way, that feels good. If you get the directions correct, then you just move on to the next step. It keeps on going like that.

As you keep working on the kit, it gets bigger and bigger. At first it looks like a couple tiny pieces, and then it starts to look like what it’s supposed to look like. It looks better as it grows. When I built a treehouse, I started to be able to put more parts on it that moved in interesting ways. But not all LEGOs can move, and that’s okay.

Each step that you take when you’re building a LEGO set gets more exciting, because each step gets you closer to being able to play with it. And when I finish it, I feel really great about it. I feel proud that I followed the directions and made something that looks good.

A LEGO dragon that I built, after I finished, I took it apart so I could build the same thing again. I left some of the pieces together, like the head, and some pieces I had to put together from scratch, and I put all the parts back together. Some LEGO kits, after you build them, you just play with them.

If there’s anything that moves in a finished LEGO set, you can move that around. If there are humans involved, you can play with the humans by moving them around and having them do different things.

We also have a box of LEGOs that are all different kinds of pieces that can let you build a lot of different kinds of things. It used to have directions for how to build a fire truck, a house with a dog inside of it, and a few other things, but I ripped up those directions one time when I was really frustrated. So now when you use that box of LEGOs, you do things that you want to do, and you can’t use instructions, which also turns out to be kind of fun. I’ve ended up making things like a giant box thing on wheels, a swimming pool, and a couple different kinds of cars.

I like doing both kinds of LEGOs, but I prefer the ones with instructions. Then you get to play with things that have a lot of cool stuff and that actually look like real things.

I hope you enjoyed my story about LEGOs. (If you’d like to learn more about LEGOs, go to Wikipedia. On the LEGO website, you can see many different kits that they make and you can do games and stuff.)

—Tobias Ezekiel Hopkins
Kingston, NY
26 March 2017

A note from the publisher—that is to say, me, Tom, his dad: Toby wrote this essay for a publication class he’s been taking before and after the school day. This story will be included in an anthology that his teachers will be publishing at the end of the school year with CreateSpace; the book will serve as a fundraiser for the school. Once the anthology is published, I’ll add a link to the book’s buy page here.

While Toby did not type the essay, his mother, Emily, served as his transcriptionist, or stenographer. As a writer and writing teacher herself, she made no attempt to “improve” the work during its composition. A few times, she encouraged the author, in Socratic fashion, to prefer the specific to the general. The ultimate choices of words, sentences, and paragraphs are very much the author’s own.

Maple Fest

This past Saturday, the boys and I were some of the earliest arrivals for Maple Fest at the Ashokan Center. This is unusual for us—it’s usually a challenge to get two young boys out the door—but I convinced Toby that if we were there first, we’d get the freshest of the pancakes. In hindsight, I was wrong: being there first meant we did get the first pancakes, but the first pancakes were the ones that had been sitting out on the warmer for a while. Nevertheless, Toby ate two servings of them, after running around the empty music hall.

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Then we made sure to wash all the Ashokan maple syrup off our hands. Although rustic, the Ashokan Center features the joys of Xlerator hand dryers.

the joy of an Xlerator

We listened to Jay Ungar and Molly Mason do their sound check. I hope they didn’t mind.

Then we went for a walk on this beautiful, disturbingly pleasant, early spring day. First, the boys explored ruins on the property.

exploring ruins

Then we walked down a switchback trail to a covered bridge over the Esopus River that dated from the late nineteenth century. It had a great view of the waterfall coming off the mill pond just a little ways upriver.

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Even though it was a strange and mild winter, the Esopus still looked swollen—presumably from runoff, although I think the Ashokan Center is downriver from the Ashokan Reservoir, so presumably the volume of water there is not entirely natural, and controlled by the reservoir’s spillway to some degree (if that’s the right way to describe it).

In any event, it was a perfect opportunity for throwing rocks.

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We got back from the river in time to hear Jay and Molly’s first set. They closed with Jay’s most famous composition, “Ashokan Farewell,” the theme song to Ken Burns’s The Civil War (and one of the reasons for the Ashokan Center’s very existence). I got a little choked up.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

We also got to hear an Ashokan Center environmental educator perform the work of John Burroughs. Unsurprisingly, Toby was more interested in this than Emmett.

Then we hiked out into the woods on the mile-long path to the sugar shack. Along the way, our guides taught us that although hemlock is the name of a genus of flowering plant famous for being poisonous, it’s also the name of genus of evergreens. Eastern Hemlock, they taught us, is delicious and nutritious.

When we got there, they taught us the history of tapping maples. The kids got to help drill a hole in one of the trees.

tapping a maple, one of two

And they got to help hammer a tin tap into the tree as well.

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The strange winter meant that the season was short and early—but the sugar shack was still warm and homey, and it smelled absolutely delicious.

the sugar shack, looking up

Not everyone was as impressed with the place as I was, though.

Toby in the sugar shack

The Rubber Band

Emily and Toby and I wrote a poem. No day is ever perfect, and yesterday had its problems. But: we wrote a poem! (Which is perhaps especially awesome because of this: Emily and I were in the same section of David Layzer’s Space, Time, and Motion class in the fall of 1989, and our section leaders allowed us to cowrite an epic poem for our final paper. Emily and I both lived in Adams House. She would come over to my dorm room in E-11, where we typed it all out on my Macintosh SE. We wrote it in botched heroic couplets. It was about Aristotle, Kant, Alice in Wonderland, Hume, Plato, Darwin, Konrad Lorenz, Reimanian geometry, Milton, Henri Poincaré, Einstein, and Virgil, among other things. It was terrible; it was glorious.)

If you put a word by itself on a line, Toby said, then you draw special attention to that word, and the reader pays special attention to it.

I love the poetry unit! I want to live in the poetry unit always.

The Rubber Band
by Toby, Mommy, and Daddy

streche    streche
Don’t let your brother eat that!
slingg—shot
Stretched wide in an O
FouR  EDGES
An infinite beige   rectangle
HLDS together tie-die   shirts
FIGUR    ATE
Cat’s cradle, a bundle of mail, preserver of bread
a    zero
a mouse bicycle inner tube
a   ginee   pig    guiTAR
The hairband of last resort
A    TITE    BRASLIT
Get enough of them, make a ball
thay    geT    OLD
THAY     get rough
little spaghetti
Ever-changing shape
BRAIDED
Tiny digeridoo
ants use them to power their
PROPELLER PLANES
and     it     SPRINGS     A N D     SPRINGS
A N  D    S    P     R      I        N         G           S

The Rubber Band

YOU ShOULD LOVe

In the middle of the afternoon, a couple hours into our drive to visit our sons’ grandparents in Pennsylvania, we pulled off the highway for a pit stop. Emily went in to pee. “N-e-w-t-o-w-n M-o-b-i-l,” Toby spelled out. It was exit 10 off Interstate 84.

When we lived in Kingston, this was the exit Emily and I always took, going in the opposite direction, to get to our classes in New Haven. The gas station where we’d parked is about half a mile from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Toby saw a sign on the door, green with white lettering: “We Are Sandy Hook,” it read, “We Choose Love.” He noticed that last word. That’s silly, he said. He wondered why they had a sign with the word “love” on the door.

How can a parent possibly explain? This brutal country! The bloody massacre of twenty first-graders, six grownups–I want my sons to remain ignorant of it for as long as possible. It wasn’t even a year ago, and we’re not a bit safer, and Toby, this sweet boy, had to play a game last year in preschool where he and his classmates competed in an everyone-hiding-in-the-closet game, seeing who could be completely quiet the longest.

Because sometimes people forget how important love is, I said. Other people want to remind them about love, so they made that sign.

Later, we stopped again, this time at the Ramapo rest area off Interstate 87. We sat at one of the booths. We ate McNuggets. I got out a scrap of paper, started jotting down notes.

“Can I write something?” Toby asked. Of course, I said. I flipped over our McDonald’s receipt. “I’m gonna write ‘You should love,'” he said. And he did: “YOU ShOULD LOVe,” in big tall letters. I helped him spell “should.”

2013.11.27 You Should Love 1 of 2

“So if we forget to love, we can just look through all the receipts, and look at the backs of them–until we find this one.”

I wrote that all down. He wrote “YOU ShOULD LOVe” again.

2013.11.27 You Should Love 2 of 2.jpg

Have you been thinking about that sign we saw? I asked. Is that why you wanted to write these words? Yes, he said.

Fifteen Thoughts on AWP

1) Emily’s joke: For AWP, we stayed at The Lenox, which is a member of the Saunders Hotel Group. At first, the hotel seemed like a near-future dystopia, with a lot of scary TradeMarked MidCaps (TM). Also, everyone there, like, uptalked? But halfway through our stay this totally surreal thing happened, which, by the time we checked out, via that surreal thing, totally redeemed our faith in humanity.

2) The view out our hotel window.

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3) I thought that Facebook and AWP would be an interesting combination. I had the idea that everyone would use the former as a tool for managing the latter. As in, if you were at the Bloof table, you would write “I’m at the Bloof table,” and then your friend who happened to be over at the Small Demons table would see that, and then wander from Small Demons over to Bloof, and then say hi, which is what’s so great about AWP, saying hi to all these wonderful folks.

But it didn’t seem like anyone was doing that. It seemed like everyone I knew on Facebook who was also at AWP wasn’t writing much of anything on Facebook. Presumably because they were too busy saying hi to other wonderful folks?

Or maybe the appropriate digital tool for what I’m talking about is Twitter?

4) I’m sure some people had all kinds of judgemental thoughts about us wheeling around a boy who’s four and eleven tweflths in a stroller meant for a much younger child. Perhaps they thought we were spoiling him; maybe they thought we fit some preconceived idea of modern parenting that they’ve decided they hate.

But I tell you what, the Micralite Toro is an amazing machine. You can push it with one hand. You can put all your coats on it, instead of checking them for three dollars per coat at the coat check that doesn’t allow you to combine coats. At the convention that doesn’t have child care. Or a play area. Or any comfortable chairs. Did you see everyone lining the long hallways, sitting down, napping on each other, checking their phones, reading, resting in the only place there was to rest? It looked like an airport in a snowstorm. A conference and book fair together mean walking many miles over the course of the day. Which is tiring for people of every age.

I highly recommend the Toro. They should make a grownup version.

Maybe they already do; it’s called the Segway.

And the Husqvarna ear muffs. Next year, we’re starting a fake literary journal and selling branded Husqvarna ear muffs as swag.

5) I miss tabling. I think I’m good at it. I love standing behind a table and talking to people all day. Maybe not every day, but certainly a couple of times a year. I love teaching, but I also hope my work someday means tabling conferences. I hope it doesn’t sound pathetic for someone in his early forties to say such a thing.

6) The woman who was running the TriQuarterly table on Saturday morning was not a nice person.

7) Bloof!

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8) Perhaps I just think I’m good at tabling because at AWP, there are so many people who are incompetent at it. Why go at all, why spend money on a table, if you, the editor, are not going to go yourself? Why send your socially challenged editorial intern? And if you’re the socially challenged editorial intern, why are you hiding? Why not say hi to someone and possible learn something about the world?

9) Sven Birkerts is awesome. First thing in the morning, he’s sitting behind the AGNI table. He’s a major public intellectual and he’s also trying to sell you a damn lit journal. That’s how you do it, man.

10) I’m sad I didn’t get to meet Michael or Jamie in person. I’m glad I got to finally meet Stephen. I’m glad to’ve seen Jed, Bruce, Hannah, Rach, Richard, Jess, Dan, Shanna, Sam, Brendan, John, Rick, Laurel, Laurel.

11) I’m sad we didn’t run into Maud or Alix. Whenever we go on a trip, we set up a few timers on the lights in our house. Our first floor timer, when we’re not traveling, lives tucked into the top shelf of the right-most fiction bookshelf in our living room, next to Babylon and Other Stories and The Missing Person. So when we go on trips, we think about Alix.

12) Fucking Facebook! It’s a flood of so much in medias res. If all we get are updates, which is the same as “and then this next thing happened to Joe,” but we never get the first part, the beginning of the story, the introduction of the plot, the “once upon a time, there was a guy named Joe,” then how are we supposed to follow?

13) Is it a conversational medium, or a broadcast medium? Is it supposed to be the former, but then becomes the latter? It feels like we’re all in a room, all of us talking, none of us listening.

To put it another way: if you and I are “Friends,” and we both write status updates, and I’ve hidden you from appearing in my “News Feed,” and you’re hidden me from appearing in your “News Feed,” then what the fuck are we doing?

Oddly, blogging, which seems like it starts out more as a broadcast medium, has more potential to be a conversational medium. (For old people.)

So right now, I’m writing this; I think there are about two or three people who will read it; I’m curious what those two or three people will have to say, the next time I see them.

14) Once again, I’m so ready to bail on the whole thing. Facebook, I mean, not AWP. I love AWP. I love seeing people. In person. It’s so good.

15) Friendly’s, on the way home.

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The Wind Chime of God

Do you know the book Bagels for Benny (by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Dušan Petričič, Kids Can Press, 2003)? It’s really great. Benny helps out in his grandfather’s bakery; the grandfather tells Benny that his customers shouldn’t really thank him for his bagels, but instead should thank God, since God made the wheat from which they’re made; to thank God, Benny starts taking bagels and secretly putting them in the ark at their synagogue every week, where they promptly disappear (Benny and his grandfather eventually discover that a homeless man has been eating them; it’s the mitzvah of anonymously helping someone get back on his or her feet).

When the grandfather discovers what Benny’s been up to, they have this conversation:

“What are you doing?” Grandpa bellowed.
Benny spun around.
“Grandpa!” he gasped. “I’m thanking God.”
“You’re putting bagels in God’s Holy Ark!” cried Grandpa.
“But he likes the bagels,” insisted Benny. “Every week He eats them all.”
“Oh, Benny!” Grandpa laughed. “God doesn’t need to eat. He doesn’t have a mouth or a stomach. He doesn’t even have a body.”

The last time I read the book to Toby, when we got to this line, Toby said, “God does have a mouth!”

I told Toby (and I’m paraphrasing myself here), “No, he doesn’t—God isn’t a person. God is—well, the idea of God means different things to different people. He’s—”

Toby interrupted me. “He’s a monster,” he said. “He’s a kangaroo. He’s a blanket. He’s a yogurt. He’s a crown.”

I quickly jotted those things down. Then I asked Toby what else God was. “He’s a wind chime,” he said. “He’s a giraffe. He’s a cup of tea.”

All of which, I believe, is—from many, although not all, theological vantage points—entirely correct.

I Know Exactly What He Means

(Week-of-unrelated-quotes catch-up post, five of five.)

A conversation from three weeks ago:

Toby: I’m gonna go to the city.
Tom: What are you going to do there?
Toby: I’m gonna just work.
Tom: What kind of work?
Toby: I’m gonna climb on some work that is in a giant pile.