Monthly Archives: May 2018

“Recess” and “Good Bones”, or selling the world to my children

There’s more beauty in this world than you can guess

Recently, with the help of someone on Micro.blog and Apple Music, I have turned my family on to the music of Justin Roberts. His band plays children’s music in a power pop style. His music is really catchy, and his lyrics are wry, funny, very kid-friendly (my daughter sings them all the time), and sometimes also play to the parents on emotional level as well.

My favorite Justin Roberts song, by far, is “Recess”. Like the best power pop songs, this song has more hooks and ideas in it than most albums do. The lyrics are cleverly and consistently written from the point of view of a bored kid stuck in a classroom, waiting for the recess bell to ring:

Can’t you hear the blacktop callin’?
Classroom clock is stuck or stallin’
There is nothing that will pass the test
Unless it’s recess

In the second and third pre-chorus endings, the lyrics expand out beyond the tedium of the elementary school classroom to the wonder of the outside world:

One more dotted I
One more crossed T
Then we’ll be runnin’ free
There is more beauty in this world than you can guess

That last line resonates powerfully with me. Seeing the beauty in this world is something children do naturally. I think we forget how to, as we get older, and our knowledge of history and current events expands, and our experience of life evolves from dreaming of what our lives might be to actually living them day-to-day. Our dreams get smaller and more finite as time passes. As we get older still, we relearn to see the beauty, in a different way—with a wonder that is tinged with sadness. As an adult, I see that the splendor and joy of the world is counterbalanced by its disappointments and horrors.

The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children

The line “There is more beauty in this world than you can guess” always makes me think of the contrasting sentiment expressed in the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith:

Good Bones
BY MAGGIE SMITH

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This is a profoundly powerful poem that I read in college and have never forgotten. As an adult and a parent, I return to it often. It has always made me feel, in some way, like a teenager who concludes, upon first entering the adult world, that I have been sold a bill of goods: nothing is as nice or easy or fair as my parents and mentors (and, let’s face it, TV and movies) told me it would be. This poem distills all the disappointment and disillusionment that experience and maturity bring into seventeen simple and somewhat humorous lines. I love how it ends on a note that is somehow both cynical and hopeful: “You could make this place beautiful.”

Selling the world to my children

It’s my job, as a parent, to sell the world to my children. I want to tell them the good—now, while they are young—and the bad—later, when they are older. In both times, now and later, I have to remember that Justin Roberts and Maggie Smith are both right about the world. It contains all the beauty that has any meaning. It also contains all the horrors that have ever befell anyone. The most important thing I have to teach my children is that they can make it better—they just have to try, even after the veil of childhood innocence has fallen, and they see the world for what it really is.

The calm before the WWDC storm

WWDC is in a little more than two weeks. As a hobbyist developer, I don’t go to big, expensive conferences 3,000 miles from my home. But I do eagerly await it each year. Last year I was so excited about it that I went as far as calling it “nerd Christmas”. This year, though, I’m not looking forward to the keynote, the new APIs, the betas, and so on.

There have been no substantive leaks about what will be announced, and no one’s predictions so far have been that compelling. That’s in stark contrast to last year, when I practically knew what iOS 11 would bring to the iPad, based on rumors and speculation. This year, the most exciting leak we got is that a cross-platform macOS/iOS development framework will not be announced this year.

As a user and a fan, I basically want Apple to announce a rebuilding year. iOS 12 should be a maintenance release. They can make their software faster and more stable. They can make Siri a lot better. They can fix bugs. Other than that, I don’t want a radical UI overhauls of any of their operating systems (as if the latter would ever happen). On the hardware side, I’d love to see them refresh the MacBook Pro and iPhone SE sometime this year, but my expectations for an announcement at WWDC are very low.

As a developer, I don’t really want to worry about having to support new frameworks or features. Just upgrading from one iOS framework to the next one can sometimes take days of work before all the kinks are worked out. Even upgrading Xcode to a new major version is, as a Swift developer at least, a little scary. New versions of Xcode have not been stable or bug-free for me since Xcode 8 was released. The recently released Xcode 9.3.1 has been working really well for me, though, and I’m loath to give it up anytime soon. I’d love WWDC to be about Apple fixing the numerous, relatively minor, UIKit bugs that I’ve had to work around, but past history leads me to believe that iOS 12 will just have another set of odd bugs to work around.