Another week ends aretha franklin, robot lovers, instagram repetitions, submarine parents, forever 37, and forgiving spouses mockingbird

1. This weekender would have been done so much sooner had I not gotten completely entranced by Aretha Franklin YouTube videos, which I’ll smatter throughout this post. While the Queen of Soul has a litany of songs you have heard for decades, there are so many live performances (and so many stories) (and so many diva throwdowns) that will stop your breathing. The woman was, apparently, a true believer, and a force to be reckoned with if you threatened her reign.

The full version of the song on the 1972 album recording is more than 10 minutes long. And for more than 10 minutes, she takes you through a roller-coaster of human emotion. She makes you cry, she makes you smile, she makes you want to jump up and holler at her, as she hollers at God.


In moments when it sounds as though the spirit has fully taken over, she’s somehow vocally more in control of every note than she typically is. She’s not just hitting runs, she’s picking notes out of thin air and attacking them with the precision of a sniper. The room’s call-and-response is at the album’s height during this song, emotional and spiritual kindling to the fire that is her instrument.

For as long as I can remember hearing these songs—the album, a lifelong soundtrack to growing up around the black Baptist church—there’s been a moment, on each song, that Aretha does something that makes me believe in God. More than any sermon, any text, or any life moment, it’s Aretha that keeps me a believer, in something. On Amazing Grace, the belief that Aretha exudes about her God is all the convincing I need that she’s right. And it’s not any specific word or phrase she says; it’s that she feels so much—it makes you want to go through it with her, and feel that, too.

Over the years, it was her voice on this album that provided a light. That assurance you need in your life, that things will eventually be OK. When people in my life passed away, the first thing I would do is turn on Amazing Grace. When dark moments of depression would take over, the light feeling extinguished, the first thing I’d do is turn on Amazing Grace. And when I’d come out on the other side, I’d go back to Aretha and turn it back on. Aretha and I, we were a team.

2. The Sherry Turkle Ticker , back with more wisdom. In her most recent op-ed in the NY Times , the MIT prophetess argues that the one thing that artificial intelligence cannot simulate, and will never be able to simulate, is intimacy and empathy. Robots and posthumanism articulate, instead, a progression of human destiny purely based on the optimization of the brain (to the detriment of the heart).

My colleagues make assumptions about the future of being human with which I am not comfortable. First, that it is our human nature to want to evolve toward being more than human and, ultimately, immortal. The steps to get there are small. We will want to cure brain diseases. And from there, we will want to have superior brains. And from there, we will want our brains to live forever. I am an outsider to these cheerful pronouncements, which are not so much a conversation about human values as a technological ideology about what posthuman values should be.

Ironically, to deny the need for death is to deny the humanness of having real conversations about it. Technologists presented us with artificial intelligence, and in the end it made us look differently, and more critically, at the kind of intelligence that only people have. It is an intelligence that is tempered with knowledge of our bodies, of our place in families and history. Now, science goes a step further and presents us with artificial intimacy, yet another form of A.I. Again, this is an intimacy that does not make room for human empathy or what human beings in their bodies experience as the fear of death, loneliness, illness, pain. We diminish as the seeming empathy of the machine increases. It is technology forcing us to forget what we know about life.

4. We haven’t checked in with Heather Havrilesky in a while, but it’s about time we did. This week, Polly intervenes for a couple stuck in a cycle of maddening scorekeeping. “Lost Mama” writes about the years-long record of imagined and unimagined slights against one another, the all-permeating sense of passive aggression, and the increasing worry about what this conflict is doing their children, and wonders whether it’s time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. Polly responds with a message about the nature of blame (and the necessity of forgiveness) in relationships like theirs. She opens by saying, “You and your husband are playing for opposing teams…At times when you needed to join the same team and balance out each other’s bad ideas and bad impulses, you steadfastly refused to do so.” But then she makes the real kicker of an insight: there can be no end to the scorekeeping, no hope for reconciliation, until both parties are willing to look in the mirror and speak honestly about themselves.

The first step, ironically, is to make a commitment to each other while also making a commitment to the truth. Being committed to another person means training your heart to accept whatever you see, even when it makes you a little bored or angry or disgusted. Being committed to the truth means entering into a space where your true selves are honored and embraced, even when they’re weak or absurd or selfish. You build with the materials you have, even when they seem worthless. You say, “This is what’s true,” without judgment. Feelings are allowed, even when they kick up equal and opposite feelings. “Your sadness makes me angry, and I don’t know why,” is something that you might end up saying to your spouse, when you’re really living inside this kind of space. The emotions that make you the most reprehensible are not used against you. You are accepted as a human animal with many, many flaws.

…that’s your path forward. You were together for years, but you were never really together. You looked at each other, but you didn’t see each other. You talked, but it was only to prove each other wrong. You didn’t want to surrender to reality, you wanted to be superior within the safe castle of your intellectual exercises and your wishful thinking. There is another way.