It was a weekend to examine youth.
Em and I have been watching the Up Series, a continuum of documentaries about 14 British children who turned 7 in 1964. In the first film, they are shown expressing their hopes and dreams for the future, answering a variety of standard questions about the human condition and giving a full range of kids-say-the-darndest-things responses. In subsequent films, their lives are shown to follow or deviate from the prescribed path. While the series was ostensibly made about Britain’s class structure and how opportunities are truly unequal, the films end up being much more about the similarity of people’s lives and, frankly, their simplicity.
Given that Netflix, to which we have recently subscribed, offers most of this series for free and immediate streaming download, Em and I have torn through 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35 in less than a week. Crossing the threshold from 28 to 35 gave pause, as we went from watching people younger than we to older in the span of a scant two hours. And while in many ways this transition was the least overtly noticeable, the aging and especially the confrontation of parental mortality were sobering.
More than anything, the impact of this series has been to further invigorate my excitement about where I am at this particular juncture of my life, knowing it may be the first threshold of those offered in the films that my 7-year-old self would have been proud to see me on. I cannot say enough times how much the pain of crossing 30 is dulled by finally embarking on the steps that I have longed to take since I was very young. Watching these 7-year increments in quick succession is a ruthless reduction of the lives of others and reminds any conscious viewer how much waste and irrelevance compiles into a standard human (especially first-world) life. My nightly writing efforts are my only real antidote, though I am drawing much satisfaction from the debate coaching as well.
Much of the weekend was spent conducting the first-ever Novice Retreat for the Rutgers team. For many hours on Friday and Saturday, we (the Rutgers elders and I) drilled and trained the novii in each speech position and general debate strategy. Friday especially gave me a good taste for what high-school teaching might have been like, as I gave three consecutive 45-minute sessions on how to deliver the first speech for the Opposition. Of course the classes were smaller, everyone wanted to be there, it was three sessions instead of seven, and it was one of my favorite subjects of all-time. But, y’know, close enough.
On Saturday, we were able to conduct practice rounds as well as finish up the training, and I think the novii will be about as prepared for this coming weekend’s novice tournament as any I’ve seen on APDA. With any luck, I’m hoping Rutgers’ drought of reaching the elimination (“break”) rounds will be over by this time next week.
Though the Retreat ran very long on Saturday, costing me the chance to help celebrate Greg‘s birthday, it failed to spill into Sunday. Thus we were able to attend the Weakerthans show in Philadelphia as scheduled, after a brief tour of Fish’s house (Em hadn’t seen it) and a lengthy Mexican meal in an authentic dive. The show was great, perhaps the best aggregate setlist for the interests of myself, Emily, and Fish. (Madeleine was there as well, but is less familiar with these Canadians.) But the crowning moment was that John K. Samson finally delivered on my perennial shouted request for “Sounds Familiar”, the greatest Weakerthans song of all-time. Our acquisition of his handwritten setlist (actually the drummer’s, but I presume it’s John K.’s handwriting) revealed that the request had nothing to do with it and it was planned all along, but I’ll take “Sounds Familiar” any way I can get it.
Samson was sick and has put on a bit of weight, but his shiny resilience and abundant joy at performing was still present. We were about three rows back on the floor of the remarkably small World Cafe Live club and were old enough to have parented some of our surrounding attendees. John K. talked a lot and joked with the crowd about requests and seemed genuinely pleased with how nice most of the crowd was. And played a pretty long set considering his condition. Even more than the average show, this Weakerthans set came across as wearied and humble, but resilient, which seems quite reflective of the overall mood in general. The whole world is sick and tired, but we’re not dead yet. And, with luck, we still have something to say.
Tournament of Hearts
Our Retired Explorer
Relative Surplus Value
One Great City! (John K. Samson solo)
Sounds Familiar (John K. Samson solo)
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Everything Must Go!
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
As promised, we procured an original setlist. Please note that the encore was changed from “Pamphleteer” to the two closing songs listed above. No other changes seem to have been made on the fly…