Because we’ve now been writing this blog for a while—this will be, most likely, post no. 1286—you readers might have the sense that Theodore, Nathan and I are, on some level, best buddies. Or at least know each other well IRL. This is what I thought, too. The sad reality, though, is that our lives, and the lives of our families, most often intersect here on the blog, and that to some extent we keep our true selves hidden. I came to this clearly belated conclusion after reading “Change We Can (Almost) Believe In,” Nathan’s latest opus for his former employer, Time Magazine, which just went live online over the weekend.
In the article, Nathan subjects himself to Ashtanga yoga, the personality breaking-down-and-rebuilding Landmark Forum, and a big dollop of Southwest New Age mysticism—all in the hopes of making himself a better man. But why? What was wrong with the old Nathan? Let’s hear it from the better-man himself:
I just turned 35 and have been hounded by enough “is this all there is” thoughts in the past year to constitute a sort of pre-midlife crisis. I love my wife, love my kids. But I’m less thrilled about myself and my default noir outlook on life. Like a lot of guys my age, I feel stalled a long way from happiness.
Nathan, not happy? Say it ain’t so! Around DadWagon HQ, we know him as the guy who out-works (in Spanish, Russian, and occasionally English) and often out-drinks us, and has managed to do it with two kids longer than either Theodore and I have had any kids at all. A noir outlook? Isn’t that what we all strive for, both here on the blog and in New York at large? Isn’t that the only way of coping with the flooded basements, restaurant blowouts and savage inequalities of life? And Nathan wants to change that?
Okay, fine. He begins with the Landmark Forum, whose instructor immediately calls bullshit:
When I stepped to the mike at Landmark, I thought I could start by offering a mild testimonial. Something true but not as intimate or confusing as confessing to losing my temper with a doe-eyed 2-year-old. So I said, blandly, that even as a freelancer, I still felt unable to make enough time for my kids. Smith immediately gutted even that disclosure. There’s no such thing as being torn between work and family, he said. Either someone is with one’s family or not. All I was really doing was using the pretext of immovable scheduling conflicts to gloss over the fact that I, of my free will, was not keeping promises I had made to my children.
Well, yeah, Nathan. You rage at a doe-eyed 2-year-old is what most people would consider normal. Why, just today I was screaming at my own 2-year-old to shut up in the backseat of our damn ZipCar. It happens, and the Landmark dude was right to delve deeper—to go after your guilt. Which makes me wonder: What are you guilty about, Mr. Thornburgh? What dark secrets lurk in your heart?
Most brutally and tragically, Nathan also experiments (and, as far as I can tell, continues to experiment with) that most dangerous of all self-betterment programs, yoga. To be specific, Ashtanga yoga:
There is almost no talking. Everyone works at his or her own pace. The more advanced you are, the more your poses look like Dante’s description of the damnation of fortune tellers: “mute and weeping” bodies with “their faces twisted toward their haunches.” Also: students are allowed to breathe only through the nose. There is no music.
Now, I should probably not say too much about yoga here. Close friends and family members are devoted to the practice (in varying degrees), and I’ve been known to engage in it, usually while traveling, usually as a sop to the desires of other people. I will not say whether I actually enjoyed it. (Okay, I did.) But having done so, I know as well that self-betterment—except in the form of increased flexibility and the ability to check out one’s female co-practitioners without seeming to be checking them out—is not the point. In this country, it’s now just exercise—and a martial one, if Nathan is to be believed.
So, Nathan: You did some exercise, minimized your crimes to a lifestyle coach, and searched for angels in Sedona? Were you really hoping to become a better man, or was this merely a ruse to get Time to accommodate your wacky lifestyle? (In which case, I applaud the effort; such schemes are my stock-in-trade.) But frankly, unless there is some demon inside you who’s making your family life a hellscape, I’m calling bullshit, too. You’re the same Russified, chain-smoking nihilist we’ve known and loved for a while now, and your attempt to convince us otherwise is as manipulative as, oh, I don’t know, a Red Sea yogini dangling newborns like marionettes.
Or, to put it in words your children would understand: We like you just the way you are.