Imagine you go to a buffet, and laid out in front of you are all your favorite foods; and I mean all of them, perfectly prepared just the way you like. For me, that means there’s Reuben sandwiches, and my Mother’s breaded veal, and my Great-Grandmother’s Zucchini Patties, and perfectly-done Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce, and -ooh!- chocolate ice-cream with banana in there somehow; and those girl-scout cookies – what are they called? – oh yeah, “Caramel deLites,” and super fluffy pancakes with sausage where the syrup gets on the sausage a little bit, and… man, on and on; so much good stuff to eat.

Get one plate. Now, what do you do? Most people would take a tiny bit of as much as they could, no matter how disgusting the combination might seem in retrospect. I mean, how could you choose just one thing? And yet, when we think back on the best meals we’ve ever had in our lives, they didn’t require 900 of our favorite foods to be there to be great. We probably only ate one thing, but it was prepared just perfectly, and it was in a great place with great company, and we cherish each of those memories always.

Today’s media landscape – news, art, culture – is that giant buffet. Everything is accessible instantly; all your favorite stuff from every conceivable genre. I read a report recently that users of Spotify weren’t even listening to full songs anymore; they listen for a little bit, and then click over to another “favorite” song. A couple of days ago, I noticed my 3-year-old had the same tendency. He would ask excitedly to hear a particular song, and then about halfway through ask for another. So many great choices… so little time?

I began making him sit through a song fully before moving on. Almost instantly his behavior changed: afterwards he would often ask to listen to the song again instead of moving on; in some cases, he would have bypassed new songs altogether in favor of his usual ones, but when compelled to give it a try and not just click off – when compelled to spend more time with it – he found ones he liked even more.

Not all that long ago I watched a girl in her early 20’s text most of the way through one of the best movies ever made; a movie she hadn’t seen before, but proclaimed she “loved” after the fact. I estimate she saw half of it, and absorbed almost none of it, save the impression that it was really, you know, great. We have attention-deficit issues because we don’t pay attention to anything for more than a second; it robs us of true pleasure, true connection, clarity of thought, and satisfaction with life.

The best meals aren’t had at buffets. What did we expect?

Smorgasbored

The cause of the fall of the Roman empire remains a hotly-contested debate between various competing theories; we will never know the whole truth of what happened. But one thing we do know is that it didn’t happen overnight. It’s not like there was Monday Night Gladiator Games and by Friday everyone had packed up and moved on; it took hundreds of years. For the people living through it, it was a slow, glacially-paced erosion: a few less perks here, a few declining niceties there, punctuated by the occasional dramatic episode, followed by desperate attempts to return things to “normal.”

Normal, however, was constantly being redefined to describe lower and lower standards of living; the people were learning to do with less and less. And as the ominous specter of inevitability loomed, as they felt increasingly less capable of doing anything about it, they worried about increasingly irrelevant minutia. “The empire’s being invaded, the reforms are destroying things, the politicians are more corrupt than ever, the government is dysfunctional and the army is ready to take over any second… but you know what’s really horrible? Claudius the Butcher stopped serving lamb on Thursday so 50 of us are going to go down there and boycott. Around 5pm-ish. Wear a pink wreath to show your support.” ‘Cause what were they going to do? They had no idea; pine for the not-so-recently-departed good-ol’-days, and hope maybe to avoid the coming inevitable; maybe by dying; maybe by finding 1000 gold pieces in the trash. In the meantime, you just know they worried about the latest trends in sandals fashion, while watching their favorite Forum shops go out of business. They reminisced about things their kids would never get to see, and privately seethed about the non-citizens being allowed into the army, who would sooner serve ambitious generals than protect the Republic. Such people were probably ridiculed as doomsday-ers; grumpy old men who just think everything was better “in their day.” But they were right.

Today you can buy tickets to see some of the ruins of Rome – a city in one of the greatest, most powerful, most innovative, most expansive empires in history, and all that’s left of it.

Yep.

Just curious, does anybody know how long a copper statue lasts?

The Fall