How to time travel
A sweet and profound tip from apparent parenting guru Chuck Klosterman.
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A few weeks ago, I was listening to culture critic Chuck Klosterman on the Longform podcast— a joy—talking about his new book The Nineties. I haven’t been moved to read books other than fiction lately (I’m finishing and enjoying Deacon King Kong after an Elizabeth Strout bender) but based on his conversation with Longform host Aaron Lammer, I’ll start The Nineties soon.
I graduated high school at the end of the decade, so it was a particularly formative one for me. I wanted nothing more in middle school than to slow-dance with my crush to Pearl Jam’s “Black,” sat shotgun while my big sister Sara bumped Doggystyle in her first car, and went to prom in a silver A-line ballgown skirt more than a little inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Golden Globes ensemble the same year. I shall never forget visiting Sara in New York City as a high-schooler, during the summer of tight capri pants and Rocket Dogs. I bought a pencil skirt with Koi fish on it.
Koi fish aside, I’m interested in using the time-travel aspect of The Nineties to get a little perspective on where we are today, by going back to a different era I can actually remember. (The Longform conversation about the concept of “selling out” made me excited to dig in.) It’s especially appealing after the Groundhog Day-ish vortex that’s been underway since March 2020—and culturally, some might argue, for much longer. Or at least that’s how it feels.
To that end, I repeatedly return to this now ten year-old Vanity Fair essay by Kurt Andersen which argued in 2012 that although the technological and political shifts since 1992 had been massive (and have continued to be since that piece was published), pop culture—music, fashion, movies—had more or less stagnated during the same 20-year period. He most effectively made his point by pointing out just how much culture had changed during other two-decade chunks.
See: My friends and I dressed up seventies-style for a school dance in 1997 in disco jumpsuits, ruffled tuxedo shirts, big aviators, frosted lipstick, platform shoes. We were unmistakably (obnoxiously?) doing a thing. While it’s easy to imagine my high-schooler neighbor today dressing up with her crew in nineties-style slip dresses, combat boots, and flannels for a school dance, I don’t think they’d look like they were in costumes; they’d just look like they were in fashion.
If you only read one section today
Whether or not that’s the case, please stay with me for the final point and the reason I wanted to write today’s letter at all, which is a sweet and moving thing Chuck Klosterman said on the aforementioned Longform episode that left me crying in my kitchen. It’s sort of profound on a “time isn’t real” level, and also highly effective as a parenting tip—or for improving time spent with loved ones who try your patience, if you have any of those. (Dear family: I don’t!):
Sometimes it's like, you're doing something with your kid and it's not super-fun. Especially when they're little, they're trying to go sleep and they need someone to hold their hand for forever and just kind of be in the room. And you're just sitting there, and it takes a long time and you're thinking about all the things you want to do.
I do imagine in the future, if I had a time machine, this is probably the point I'd want to go back to. I'd want to go back to that time when the relationship between me and my daughter or my son was so kind of deep and profound that we just had to be close to each other for them to feel good, and my ability to be there makes them feel good.
Like: This is a real problem, I really care about, that I can solve. For the most part real problems that are real difficult, there's nothing I can do. I'm helpless. With a kid sometimes you can actually solve that problem. You just need to love them and be there.
So sometimes, if I'm in that situation and I'm bored, I just tell myself, "Actually you moved back in time. You're actually 97 and you're dying, and they gave you access to a time machine, and you came back here. To remember this.”
Reader, I briefly sobbed.
I would only add that this is not only true for kids, but for all friends and fam. Sometimes, as the man said, “you just need to love them and be there.”
Have a good day!
It’s hard to know where to begin with the atrocities in Ukraine, but I did learn about a Culver City-based organization called Kidsave, which helps kids to transition from orphanages and has been doing so in Ukraine since 2016. They’re now using donations to purchase vehicles and fuel to transport people (many of them children) in Ukraine to the borders and say they’ve moved more than 1,000 from combat zones already. It’s where I’ve chosen to donate so far, and feels like a good place to start.