So many ways to invoke the past. "Once upon a time" is supposed to be the sweetest.
My son repeats sentences with a sing-song quality when it feels good to him. Perhaps naively, I see this as a sign of musicality and become proud. His song-sentences are usually rote phrases, and only occasionally nonsense, but upon lengthy repetition, of course, the meaning is rendered absurd and brought down to a molecular sound with no meaning. These days he repeats:
Once upon a time.
He elongates “time” in a swooping rise.
Once upon a tiiiIIIIIMME!
I find his reciting of a fairy tale invocation depressing.
I am depressed about thinking about all of the pasts—the good and the bad—and the ironic glee with which my son mocks the phraseology of nostalgia, is itself an ironic act of comical timing.
How much could a three year old possibly know about what happened once upon a time? With inevitable self-awareness, with age, he is surely going to regret these songs. He will realize how little he will have had to look forward to, or reflect fondly upon in hindsight. I hope he never develops hindsight. I hope we get to march only forward and only in one direction and only with each other, because we are on a tightrope suspended high in the alps of the information age. The rope has very little integrity.
I noticed at the early onset of the pandemic that a lot of the TV I was watching featured dead children, and it made me feel bad knowing it was a narrative trend and that I couldn’t help myself from watching these shows. It took me a moment to realize that the death of children represented our collective fear of lost futures, for that is what dead children symbolize.
As a parent, the fear of losing your young can be a surreal fantasy. I make myself imagine it once in a while, as if in atonement for also experiencing unbridled pleasure.
It’s a trauma response to seeing dead children.
Now in the growing middle of a long tail in the pandemic, the onus of this fantasy falls on young adults. Brutalized adolescents symbolize something very different from dead children. They’re going to survive, but at what cost?
I’ve been in rotating debates around the show Euphoria—on the one hand, teens love it because finally, someone gets that their lives are much more complicated and mature than adults can comprehend. Also, drugs and a killer soundtrack, and sex. On the other hand I am an adult, and am scared and sad for all of the kids.
Let’s all agree to stop watching TV. Let’s make songs of rote phrases. Let’s agree not to look down. I will follow your lead, and you will follow mine, with always just enough slack to pretend we have any choice but to cross the valley. Each completed step we take will be the beginning of a new fairy tale.