My 10-year-old daughter is an aspiring Broadway stage actress. It may sound like just a kid’s childhood fantasy, like playing professional sports or being President, but she takes her dream very, very seriously. When she starts a new show she doesn’t just read through the script, she devours it, highlighting her lines, underlining choreography, and watching every YouTube video she can find of people who have performed her role in other productions.
For me, it means spending a lot of nights in the far flung reaches of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex while she rehearses.
My daughter’s current show is a production of Roald Dahl’s “Witches,” and it performs in a theater in Addison. To my knowledge this is the first time I’ve spent and time in Addison, which is a good 40 minutes from my house when there’s no traffic…and in Dallas there is always really bad traffic. Rather than take her to rehearsal and come home, I find somewhere to walk and read. Fortunately, right across from this theater there is a beautiful park – so beautiful that I almost want to keep going to Addison after the show has ended just to walk in this park.
Almost. Let’s not get crazy, the gas and the traffic make it a ridiculous notion.
So last weekend I was walking, listening to a Stephen King audiobook, smiling and nodding at the many other people who were there, many of them with puppies on leashes. One of them, I noticed, was wearing a Joe Biden t-shirt, though as I got closer I realized it actually said “FUCK Joe Biden.” Being the politically astute person I am, I began wondering what on earth he could be upset with President Biden about – enough that he would walk around in public with the work “fuck” on a t-shirt. The man hasn’t even been President for a year, and given the number of overwhelming challenges facing the United States, I’d say he has at least held his own and done significantly better than the previous guy. It even occurred to me to ask the “fucker” when my walk took me full circle back to where he was sitting with his dog.
Then I thought better of it. You see, I would want to engage in a conversation constructively criticizing one policy or another, but the odds are that someone walking around with the word “fuck” on his shirt was probably not prepared for such an exchange. I have no doubt it would have become, for me, a trip into the Twilight Zone, where the previous guy is still President because the election was stolen, where the world is flat, where the moon landing was faked, and where Democrats kidnap small children and drink their blood by the light of the full moon – except for the blood that’s used to make Nancy Pelosi’s shoes.
It’s not easy being a rational adult in America in 2021. I don’t know if it’s ever been especially easy, but in the disinformation age it seems to be getting more challenging by the day.
I recently ran across one of those social media memes that asks poignant questions – not to be mistaken for the ones that ask questions that probably reveal the answers to your online bank account security questions. It asked what the “worst best” invention of the modern era was. I immediately thought “cell phones” to myself because while they are handy, they have become a source of nonstop nuisance as scammers and thieves dominate my “missed calls” listing. One answer I saw was “religion,” and that resonated with me, too. Much of the violence in the history of the world has been the result of one community’s god supposedly telling them to attack some other community. Ultimately, though, I chose to answer “the internet.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love having Google in my pocket to answer any question that ever pops into my head, but then I’m a rational adult. The internet is a powerful tool for learning, but it is also the most lethal weapon in the history of the world. Small groups of conspiracy theorists swell to angry mobs because they can communicate with each other and organize online in ways they never could have before. Charlatans and imposters from all over have found myriad ways to cheat people out of their money and even steal their identities. Marketing has reached new levels of intrusiveness and any product I look up then haunts every webpage I visit for the next few days. Most websites even have annoying auto-play advertisements that start blaring at me each time I load a new page.
So yes, the internet is great, but it also makes rational adulting even more taxing.
Some other random issues that make rational adulting more challenging: daily nutritional needs, the devastating impact of climate change, the gerrymandering of voting districts and outright assault on our electoral process by singularly self-serving Republicans, and the seemingly intentional decline in America’s education system.
I can’t even imagine the challenges my daughter will face as she gets into adolescence and has to navigate the crazy world of teens being put in jail for sexting each other, body image issues that I have read arise from using Instagram, and all of the other peer pressure potholes that will challenge her along the way. There are many days where, mentally, I’m not sure how I can stay on top of my growing responsibilities as far as guiding her through the virtual world, either.
So far, my primary survival technique has been to just jump on her wagon and go along for the ride. As long as she can still lose herself in a role in a play, along the walking paths of theme parks or in the pages of books, her own grappling with the challenges of adulting can be postponed. To a certain extent, it also distracts me from things that I am essentially powerless to change.
PS: Go Astros!