When you mourn your loss of religion, not because you miss the idea of a gendered god or the comfort of having a central text instead of many, but because you now realize its most salient principle: a clear discernment of whom and what to love and how to love them. You go through your day falling in love with the dead leaves as you pull them out from under two layers of vines while trimming the English ivy on your fence, with your children and your friends’ children as they play together and watch Trollhunters and one of them tells you all about The Martian and how it’s an adult movie because the guy on Mars uses the f-word like four times and also the sh-word some too, with various images on social media of people you’ve known when you were both different people but you found each other on Facebook to remind yourselves that you love each other despite the fact that you never ever write on each other’s timelines or communicate in any active way, with all the people you hear about every day who kill themselves or are brutalized by cops or betrayed by a spouse or their own bodies’ unique chemistry. And then at the end of the day you’ve done maybe half of what you set out to do because you spent so much of your time in love with the world, so you write about those loves to record them, to put them into words and to get these words to look back at you, to love you back.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor

MAN #1: “I wish I could read the paper faster. I never get it done by the time we get to the office.”

MAN #2: “My grandfather used be able to read the Times in an hour, and he could summarize everything in it except the Arts section.”

MAN #1: “You’ve told me that story three times already. It doesn’t make me feel any better.”

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you put your kids to bed and your wife is working late, and you sit alone with your laptop and listen to Jens Lekman’s “Black Cab” and the Left Banke’s “I’ve Got Something on My Mind” on repeat just for that simple little keyboard progression that through-lines both, putting them in an endless 38-year loop between 1967 and 2005, for the same reason you listen to Kendrick Lamar’s voice in conversation with a 15-years-gone Tupac at the end of To Pimp a Butterfly, for the same reason you have a separate iTunes playlist for each season: You feel internally the dualistic nature of chord progressions and recorded conversations as both time markers and indicators of infinity, sculpted and expansive, permanent document and fleeting moment. And you think about a conversation you had last week at your friend’s fortieth birthday party with an acquaintance you frequently see at your friend’s parties, an eccentric guitarist a generation older than you who recently subbed in on the Left Banke’s reunion tour and had to mediate squabbles between the original members and remind them the chord progressions to their own songs, and all of a sudden you want to rewatch the Youtube video of Jens Lekman playing “If You Ever Need a Stranger to Sing at Your Wedding” at the wedding of two strangers he travelled across continents to perform for, and then you read yet another article about Kendrick Lamar winning a Pulitzer Prize at 30 years of age and wonder if Wu-Tang’s latest album, locked in a vault in Martin Shkreli’s apartment, will finally be released from captivity now that Shkreli is in prison. And then your wife arrives home and asks what you’ve been doing, why you're not asleep, how long you’ve been sitting there.

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re on the rowing machine at the local YMCA, and see your father looking back from the mirror facing you—the gray on your chin, the receding hairline, the wrinkles around the eyes as you pull the chain-linked baton to your chest, release, and pull again, over and over, looking deeper into your father’s eyes with every pull. You imagine them blue instead of brown—the same cerulean rings enclosing the natural brown that you remember from the first time you met him when you were 15, the tinted contacts making you wonder if this man hugging you in his furniture store was really in fact related to you or if it was all a big joke, but with the passing of every year, every decade, every pull, you find yourself more resembling this man you didn’t even know existed when you were a boy listening to your mother sing Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you hear a saxophone playing Sonny Rollins on the F train, and you look up from the chapter you’re reading on 20th Century music about Glass, Reich, and the cut-and-paste roots of hip-hip and mashup culture, and you see a woman with earbuds on looking down at the iPhone she has cradled in both hands—above her is an ad for an insurance brokerage thinly disguised as an MTA Poetry in Motion sign proclaiming, “We aren’t experts in cheese./Or poetry./We just make it easy/to compare life insurance online.” And you think to yourself that this is what it is to be an American in the shade of the industrial century. But then the saxophonist, a black man in tweed with a newsie cap in his hand, walks by you and you frantically search your pocket for dollar bills to pay him for this moment, and you drop one, pick it up, and put it in his outstretched cap. “Thank you, he says. “No,” you say, conjoined to him in this moment as it closes between you, “Thank you.”

 from  The Rest Is Noise , Alex Ross, p556

from The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross, p556

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AuthorJohn Proctor

I wrote this little vignette last summer in Iceland, and promptly forgot about it. It seems too simple to submit for publication now, eight months later, but I'm kind of fond of it. And makes some perverse sense to share it now, in January - To misquote Mark Twain, I've never met a colder winter than summer in Ísafjörður.

Le Medecin.jpg

So much of our lives exists in the margins outside the frames of our Instagram feeds. Take, for example, a strange little piece of French ephemera tagged to a bakery in Ísafjörður, Iceland on someone’s—for example my own—feed. The framed piece, or rather its digitized presentation, evokes perhaps the Alps in the background and a strange, vaguely disturbing scene in the foreground. Two women seem to have been in some sort of skiing accident. A man is either attending to them or accosting them (the only words of the piece, “Le Médecin,” imply the latter, but the subtleties of their mannerisms hint, to my wife and me at least, at the former, but this could simply be due to the overblown, grotesque representations of mid-Twentieth Century kitsch). And, most notably, a boy in the background in skis, hangs from a tree over either a fence or a ledge and seems to be spying on the other three. They are all smiling—that posed, fakey smile we give when we know our picture is being taken, when we’re conscious of our surveillance.

At least that’s the way my wife and I see it as it looks over both of us eating crepes at a small table in this Icelandic bakery and talking about Brooklyn in the margins of the shot she takes on her iPhone.

“It reminds me,” she says, “of that new coffee shop in North Slope, the one that took over Gorilla Coffee. Did you hear about the sign they posted over their bathroom? This piece just reminded me of it. Apparently the new owners put it up as a joke, but it depicts someone peeping in on the women’s bathroom. I heard about it on the Park Slope Parents listserv.”

“Ah,” I sigh. “I can already guess how that conversation went.”

“Yeah, and the Comments sections on the blogs posting about it. I think the last thing I heard was a dad accusing them of promoting rape culture, and the owners saying people should stop being so sensitive.”

“The ever-present Brooklyn hipster-vs.-parent debate.”

“There aren’t any hipsters left in Park Slope,” my wife says. “I think they might want to at least try to appeal to their customer base.”

“I think some of our fellow Park Slope parents might try easing up on the hypersensitivity.”

“Better to be hypersensitive than insensitive,” she says.

“I disagree,” I say.

“We come from a generation that told us not to take these things—the male gaze, imposition on women’s bodies—seriously,” she replies. “We have two girls I don’t want to subject to that. Or at least I want them to stand up against it when they see it.”

“I want our girls to be able to identify oppression when they see it, and laugh at it,” I say, then add, “That’s power.”

“I just want you to be aware,” my wife says, “that you are speaking from a white male perspective, with the privilege that entails.”

I stop looking at her, fixating on Le Médecin. “I guess I should just stop talking then.” I continue talking. “I wasn’t speaking from privilege. The opposite, actually: I was speaking as someone who has overcome plenty of class-based, systemic adversity, mostly because I learned to laugh at it. That’s what satire is—undermining oppression by laughing at it.”

My wife has stopped talking, but I can’t.

 “You just took my position, which I’ve thought about at length, and made it into a stereotype. You say I’m speaking from a position of privilege, but I think it’s a position of maturity.”

My wife has stopped looking at me. She’s looking out the window, whatever argument she might make tucked away for another time. It’s probably right at this moment that I realize I’m mansplaining. I want to continue with this argument, to see it through to its conclusion, but I see in her icy gaze that I’ve already proven her right.

“Right now,” she says, “I don’t feel safe in your company.”

We sit, both of us looking out the window at the hotel across the street, or the fjord this hamlet is situated within, or the cloud-capped cliffs looming over both sides that block out the sun for two entire months of the winter—both of us shrouded from each other. Her hands are in her lap, one of my legs is crossed over the other, and the French doctor, the women, and the peeping-tom skier gaze over us into the online ether, smiling.

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re getting a coffee on a Monday morning and the barista, on handing it to you, says, “Enjoy,” to which you reply, “You too,” and it’s only while you’re adding cream and sugar that you realize one doesn’t say “You too” when a barista tells one to enjoy one’s coffee. And you wonder, while picking out a wooden stirrer (the broken one—you always go for the broken one), how many people remember you as the guy who said the wrong thing in what was supposed to be a perfectly normal, meaningless conversation. And you wonder how many normal, meaningless conversations are made abnormal but replete with meaning because somebody said the wrong thing at the wrong time.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor

For the past 12 days, I've essayed various aspects of this strange and wonderful season. Here they are, collected in their entirety for your yuletide bewilderment.

Pee Wee Herman asking you not to drink and drive, the Bullet Boys threatening violence on Rudolph, Lou Reed and George Harrison being Lou Reed and George Harrison...

Everyone's got one of these stories. Hopefully.

With special guest appearance by Andrew Carlsen, Todd Schartung, and a gang of skinhead toughs.

What was it with the Fifties and eskimos?

For my friend Liz Blood, in absence of 12 full days of the sacred...

<insert black heart emojis>

On the road again.

You want none of this Santa.

That Santa gets all the girls.

Christy Merrmas and Holly Happy Days!

It's alright. I love you.

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AuthorJohn Proctor