“‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.
I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”
Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he’ll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.
The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers.”
You know that thing where people write their past selves a letter? Sometimes I think about doing that, and it would be sassy and start off with something like “You think things are going to get less complicated, girly? Well, think again!” Except it would have to end there because Present Me has no real wisdom to impart to Past Me, except maybe try to be nicer, because apparently I am an asshole.
This blog itself, the whole T&G machine, is sort of a reverse of that idea. Letters from Past Me to Present Me or Future Descendants. Cautionary tales and moments of great hubris caught in pixels and immortalized for my child to one day peruse, mortified. Or maybe, worse yet, he will just find it all boring. I can’t even imagine what life’s electronic cookie crumbs will be like by the time he is old enough to dig up dirt on his ol’ Ma. It’s possible that his entire conscience will be so awash in extraneous data that clicking through my midtwenties confessionals will just constitute one more obligatory TL;DR. Or maybe by then it will be old hat for children to have to pick through their parents’ digital detritus to get to the good stuff. Just something you do. I can’t even fathom.
But, Past Me and Future Me — if I can have your attention for just a second. Let’s just do this real quick. Remember this moment. For no other reason than because of its ordinariness and extraordinariness, spooning here together like sleepy, fat cats. This moment when you are sitting on the couch in your little green nightgown that is ill fitting and should not be worn outside (but has frequently been today because you lack shame). You are in need of a shower and you’ve just spent the last three days convalescing thanks to some mystery bug that took you down fast — sore throat, sneezing, aches, fatigue, coughing, and — the kicker — a very low brain tide. You’ve just now begun to feel like yourself again, which is to say you are all over the place in thought and action. You just hand-washed three shirts and cleaned the filthy HVAC intake vent by hand, and you’re breathing gingerly and sipping warm coffee while the young boy naps upstairs and the older boy naps in the bedroom and you entertain this urge to write something down. It’s warm outside and earlier when you went out to hang up those hand-washed shirts, the concrete burned the bottoms of your feet but you liked it, a little bit. Over the past two days, you have just received news of several babies of people close to you being born and several whose impending arrivals were announced, and your heart swells with pride and happiness and then churns with some form of diluted envy (because the thought of a little newborn head in your hands twists up your insides with longing, because you are your ovaries, you monkey). You don’t know if you will ever have another child. You don’t even know how to begin thinking about it, really. Money is tight and all you want to is take your own baby, who is so bright and so happy, to see the ocean. But this isn’t the year. You are not sure if there will ever be a year because you cannot seem to dig out. You are worried. You coast along on a transcontinental railroad of worry and it’s making you grey. Or maybe your DNA is doing that. Or maybe it’s just your age because you’re no spring chicken right now. This is thirty-two. Thirty-two is the age your mother was when you were seven. When you look at pictures of your mother when you were seven, you are jealous. That lady was a fox! You are getting off track. The point is, this moment is ordinary in every way. And in every way it’s not.
Because it is your life, and you only get the one.
Some people get drunk with power. The neurotic get drunk with worry. That first little shot of doubt sets the spiral in motion and it builds on every subsequent swig of what if. It happens fast. The worry burns in the veins; you can feel it seeping and spreading. Before you realize what’s happened, you’ve gone from fine to woozy in mere minutes. The worry-drunk mind, stumbling and paranoid, will have entire mental hotel suites trashed and emotional televisions thrown out windows in the span of a half hour while waiting on something as stupid as a text message reply.
She can be cold and she can make you sweat one hell of an existential sweat, but she will come through at the right time with the right hook to keep you turning the page.
They call it a wardrobe because every day you just have to get in there and do battle.
In my bourgeoning adulthood, one thing I have come to appreciate is the authoritative click of a good heel. It doesn’t have to be a tall one. Just a strong one.
On a Saturday morning in the middle of October, you will sit on your porch and let your coffee warm itself in the sun. Your child will be nearby, toddling around in a shirt and a diaper, peeking through the shrubs to watch the traffic — constant, hurried, loud. The cat will be somewhere around you, eating spider webs and green things, relishing his momentary freedom. You’ll be planning your day, trying to plot out showers and travel times and parking spots and meals and naps. You’ll look at your child’s head full of hair and wonder how the spinning globe we’re riding on got us all to this one moment in time, and you’ll sip your coffee again, its warmth extended for a little while by the sun’s efforts.
There is a spider just outside the front window. She is suspended on a single thread, bisecting it between the points where it is attached to the pane. She’s halfway between her origin and her destination, dangling and swaying back and forth in the breeze. She’s dead. Kicked ye olde bucket while making a go at another web: her first, seventh, dozenth, hundreth — who really even knows but her. There is just the one thread she is suspended from, the beginnings of her new sticky hammock. So she had just gotten started.
She was setting up a new shop, spinning spinning spinning, driven by instinct. Something happened and she gave out, I guess. Seven of her little legs are curled up beneath her while one — the one she used to guide herself down the thread — sticks out behind her. A crooked little aerial ballet pose for the ages.
This is going to sound like bad poetry because I am not sure how best to articulate it. But I’ll try.
Once in a while, the mind takes hold of something and slows down everything around it — the clock ticking, the Earth’s revolutions, the breaths coming from your own nostrils — as if to crystallize and distill and separate out the destination, faint pinprick as it may be, from the rest of the ordinary ebbs and flows of life.
I wonder if the brain worked this way before movies or if this is something my brain has begun to do because of movies. It is theatrical in nature and dramatic at heart and it perplexes me, the ways in which the organism functioned before the ways in which we function now. What if I would have been better in and at another time?
This life springs people and circumstances into your orbit you must evaluate and categorize carefully should they prove useful or harmful or worth more time than you initially thought. Or less.
It is the waiting to find out which shelf to put you on that I have little patience for. My brain fancies itself a label-maker, one of those crude punch-letter contraptions, and it is constantly wanting to slap an explanatory strip on everything, and then a new one on top, and then an updated one on that, and so on. All that time spent thinking about shelving does strange things to one’s perception of reality and possibility.
I’m not a great judge of character but I am goddamned sincere.
One of the best things about life is not knowing what’s around the corner. One of the worst things about life is not knowing who’s around the corner.