1. This week, let’s start with the afterlife of Conan O’Brien. After a 4-month hiatus, Team Coco revives, now completely made over: shorter episodes, a more informal set-up — also more embracing of the life cycle of late-night. With 25+ years under the belt, Conan talks to The New York Times about his inevitably approaching retirement/career-death. He says it actually happened years ago, recalling the time he lost “The Tonight Show” (2010); after that, he set off essentially posthumously and, it sounds like, with greater freedom from the bondages of aspiration and justification.

I’m never going to have a better farewell show than I did on “The Tonight Show.” I loved that show and so I feel, in a weird way, I had my farewell show. I did it. I died, and talked to my grandfather and saw the light and was called back. This concept that I must be the king of late night, I don’t even know what that means anymore. […]

At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute…[and i]n this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, who’s Conan? This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended…

I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.

It seems Conan isn’t coming to terms with death so much as death of ego/performancism — in any case, the honesty is refreshing and provoking. I for one am excited to see how this next iteration plays out. Have heard only good things about his new podcast…

2. Of the many names given to ‘this present age,’ two of the more illustrative ones might be the “Age of Information” and the “Age of Resentment.” Just how those two descriptors correlate is examined in David Brooks’ recent op-ed, “The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture.” He gets at two main things; one, the harm of holding someone accountable for their actions by airing their dirty laundry online. Brooks calls this vigilante justice, and naive to boot. By casting people as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, villains or victims, the complexity of the individual is disregarded. The second thing, though, is that conflict often comes from friction between two hurt parties. It’s not aggressor v. victim so much as victim v. victim. Brooks argues that in any case, cruelty begets cruelty.

…zealotry is often fueled by people working out their psychological wounds. You see that when denunciation is done through social media, you can destroy people without even knowing them. There’s no personal connection that allows apology and forgiveness.

You also see how once you adopt a binary tribal mentality — us/them, punk/non-punk, victim/abuser — you’ve immediately depersonalized everything. You’ve reduced complex human beings to simple good versus evil. You’ve eliminated any sense of proportion.

…cycles of abuse get passed down, one to another. It shows what it’s like to live amid a terrifying call-out culture, a vengeful game of moral one-upsmanship in which social annihilation can come any second.

Perhaps in certain situations turning the other cheek is simply too difficult — that doesn’t mean it’s not the thing to do. Amidst all of this over-information and resentment, I’m becoming ever grateful for scripture like the following: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa 43 NRSV). Yes, delete history please.

3. You might envision this next link basically as an AA meeting with a bunch of rockstars. From GQ, it’s a collection of interviews by Chris Heath which will be insightful for many and fascinating for all — featuring Steven Tyler, Ben Harper, Jason Isbell, Joe Walsh and others; I especially appreciated remarks from Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and from one of my current musical faves Julien Baker.

Anastasio: …I had to go to jail a couple of times. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me…

My entire perspective shifted 180 degrees. Everything I thought was bad was good, basically. I think I was so disgusted with myself, so disgusted with what I had become, that I was willing to give up, and that was kind of the key. Even when the guy arrested me, I remember thanking him. While my head was on the cop car. It was so much shame involved. So what I did was I just did whatever everybody told me. My mind-set at the time was “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do whatever you tell me, as long as I don’t have to feel this way again.” […]

Of course these tales are powerful and increasingly, I think, romanticized by the culture; really, it’s the recovery that counts. Particularly for our purposes (as this website is occasionally thought of as “weak on sanctification”), the question of whether anyone can actually get better, or change, is pressing.

Anastasio: I was addicted to opiates, just like so many people are in this country now. And if I’m going to talk about sobriety, I just want to add that there is a solution. It isn’t hopeless. And the solution is just asking for help. Which I did, and it came.

From Julien Baker, this next note is especially moving. She draws the line directly back to church:

Baker: I think that faith and sobriety coincided for me because of how I saw the principles of faith performed; the people who were around in my life when I was at my very worst were not manipulating me with guilt, or throwing punitive scripture at me, they were showing me gentleness, patience, and mercy that I hadn’t really done anything to deserve, at least in my mind.… Connection to a community is a deep human need, one that I think becomes even more important when in recovery. People find that in a lot of ways, in AA or support groups or music scenes or friend groups. To me, I think of all of these as what Christianity would call the body: people with different strengths and weaknesses that shoulder each other’s burdens and give a little of themselves in service to one another so that they can reap the shared benefit and comfort.

4. All right, I admit, this one got me! I did not expect it to! Beware! Sticky business with Hell: Vinson Cunningham for The New Yorker discusses the long, complicated history of the dreaded Lake of Fire — things get personal real quick. He tells of what happens to a pastor whose interpretation of the Bible led him “to conclude nobody will be damned”:

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises that in his death and, later, in his exaltation, he will “draw all men unto me”—everybody, from the most perfect to the absolute worst, their rapes, massacres, and enslavements notwithstanding. The sacrifice on the Cross was redemption enough for the entire world.

The minister was looking for a response, and it arrived quickly. The angriest interlocutors debated him, paragraph for sulfurous paragraph, studded with scriptural reference, for days on end… Soon, he’d left their church and started one of his own, where he proclaimed his lenient gospel, pouring out pity and anger for those Christians whose so-called God was a petty torturer, until his little congregation petered out. Assured salvation couldn’t keep people in pews, it turned out. 

Apparently people love Hell. Cunningham probes, “What modern believer wouldn’t want to cast off this old, sadistic barrier to faith in a loving God? … Surely the loss of Hell—even the idea of such a loss—should come as a bit of a relief.” I’m not so eager to hash out for sure whether or not Hell exists, but…I feel like the hope of a lack of a hell should be, erm, hopeful. But we love judgment — I love judgment; Cunningham, too. While he “admires” Universalists, he remains skeptical of what it would mean to give up the Bad Place altogether:

There’s a cruel paradox at work: the more secular our representations of Hell become, the more the poor and rejected and otherwise undesirable tend to populate it… Karma within the confines of a life span sounds great but looks false: so often, the wicked seem to be doing just fine. For all the barbarism of Hell as it is traditionally taught—its ludicrous time frame, its unfair and somewhat bigoted admissions policy—at least some of the right people turn up in it. What recourse is there, real or just hoped for, without it?

When these types of questions arise (as they do), I’m often reminded of what theologian-chef Robert Farrar Capon says on the matter. Often accused of preaching universalism, he danced around the matter with seeming delight, writing about it playfully and knowing his theologizing wouldn’t change the reality of whatever is. Here’s a snippet:

If you think kindheartedness and love are the same thing, you’ve never been in love. Because if you have, you know that the possible heaven of the beloved’s assent to your love comes wrapped inseparably with the possible hell of her refusal. Her response, whatever it will be, is always a staggering mystery, and you invite it only with fear and trembling…All you do therefore, if you take the possibility of hell out of your view of the universe, is posit a God so interested in playing it safe that he becomes unrecognized as a lover […] a God, in short, who doesn’t give a damn.

Capon does not assent exactly to the pitful of eternal fire — but you’ll have to read The Youngest Day to get the full picture — which, I will now take the opportunity to divulge, we are re-releasing in a new edition Spring 2019! It will be our FINAL Capon re-release: the famed wordsmith’s reflections on Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven, as corresponding to the four seasons. Look out world!

5. Next up, a funny from McSweeney’s: “6 Ways to Repress Bitter Feelings About Your Friend’s Mildly Successful Music Career.” Here’s lucky Number 4:

4. Instantly resolve years of inner turmoil by just calming down

Try meditation. You’ve been suffering from debilitating insecurity for decades, but you should try turning it all around by simply not thinking about your problems. Lucy just sent you a picture from the cool photoshoot her band did, and they’re all posing casually around a pile of bricks at the dump. Who the fuck does she think she is? But it’s fine. You’re right where you’re supposed to be — you have an OK job, and even health insurance! So continue to take absolutely no risks, just keep getting on that hamster wheel every day, working on stupid spreadsheets in your goddamn cubicle.

6. R.I.P. sick notes: File this one into our sadly bulging archives labeled ‘cult of productivity’, i.e. the pressure to prove oneself in everyday life. When the flu strikes, rather than tucking in and sleeping it off (or slurping soup and watching TV Land), workers now stay out-of-office and answer emails from bed or the doctor’s office. Sick days, it seems, are no reason for production to halt! For some, this feels like increased flexibility; for others, it’s just work-life up to its usual no-good quest to invade personal space:

Working from home may sound relaxing, but the “working” part of that phrase underscores the expectations that accompany it: being available to check and respond to email, hop on a conference call and generally be productive, even if you feel lousy. […]

Some workers may be afraid to take a true sick day and seem dispensable to their employers. As Ms. Warchol said, “Will it be seen as a sign of a lack of loyalty or tenacity?” And freelancers who lack job security especially may also have such concerns.

For anyone feeling particularly spoken to by this, I can’t commend enough DZ’s recent post “Are You Burned Out?”

Strays:

  • For those who love the Neighborhood: the Ministry of Mr. Rogers
  • Why Gillette’s New Ad Campaign Doesn’t Work (hint: It’s the law yaw!)
  • An enjoyable reflection by Steve Edwards for LitHub re: what it’s like to peruse a bookstore at different life stages.
  • In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m very much digging the new Sharon Van Etten. From Vulture: “The title of the album, Remind Me Tomorrow, refers to the infernal daily prompt your phone issues to install system updates. It signals a yielding to the unpredictable turns that life and art can take, and a career mapped along a more patient trajectory.”