Episode Thirty Eight: Challenge / Response (3)

by danhon

Previously, on this newsletter:

Robin Sloan challenged me to write three consecutive newsletter episodes that had nothing to do with technology or the culture/economy thereof. Flatteringly, he compared it to “one of those runs in X-Men comics where Professor X is in a coma or something, so someone else has to lead the team for a while, and it was always interesting to see what happened ;-)”

This is the third, and final, response to his three-part challenge.


I don’t know what time it is. A midwife has just woken me up, and there are the kind of machines that go beep, beeping. They must feel incredibly self-actualised at the moment. There’s a bustle of activity in the room. For a second, one of those interminably long, unbearable seconds, it feels like something terrible has happened.

Something terrible has not happened. Not yet.

Cassandra, our midwife, explains to me that our baby’s heart rate has dipped. The epidural and rest that my wife has had hasn’t helped, and the doctors have decided that it is time for our baby to come out. We are going to be having a caesarean.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan was for us to have a natural birth, because births are natural things. The plan was for us to have gone through weeks of hypnotherapy classes together, on the recommendation of friends. The plan was for us to be at the birth center, in the Fern room, the one with the fireplace, and for this to be an easy experience, not a hard one, not one with fluorescent lights, not with people wearing scrubs, not with prepping for surgery, not with me being asked to wear a mask, not like this.

Not like this.

And then there’s the bed and the wheeling and someone hands me scrubs and a mask and the anesthetist and the drape goes up and people are talking and I’m holding my wife’s hand and I’m so, so tired and I know this isn’t what she wanted and I’m terrified and Cassandra is taking photos and then I hear:

a cry.

And I swear to god, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.

And he’s so big and there’s hair on his head and he’s absolutely fine and everyone’s smiling, I think, but they can’t be because I shouldn’t be able to see their mouths because they’re wearing masks and someone says in response to his weight that of course that explains everything about how difficult he was coming out and they do tests and everything



I’m a dad.


I am in London, in John Lewis, the department store on Oxford Street and I miss my son so badly. On this work trip, and every work trip since his birth, I have become a parody of the Apple Facetime advert, I can’t get enough of seeing him, whether he’s sleeping or awake.

It is a cliche, but I did not know I could love something this much.

I mean, we have a cat, a really awesome cat: his name is Wandsworth because he was a stray who was found in Hackney but we lived in Wandsworth at the time, and I’d always wanted two kittens, one called Elephant and one called Castle, but Wandsworth is just such a good name for a cat. He is a big, fluffy tuxedo cat who scratches everything and is not a lap cat.

I love him.

Wandsworth was my first human-scale pet, gerbils don’t count.

Wandsworth went missing once, for about five days. My wife and I would arrive home from work together, walk up to our front door and then stop. Because we didn’t want to open the front door, because there was a chance that he wasn’t home. We would literally stand there.

Then, I didn’t know I could love something that much, that stupid ball of black and white fur that scratched things and pissed on things but would jump up onto furniture in our bedroom and cast cat-shaped shadows onto the walls so we could watch Cat TV.

But this.

This: I find myself in John Lewis, in the department store on Oxford Street, in the infant department, staring at baby clothes and toys and I want to buy all of them. Every single one. Because I’m not at home with him, and I am the guilty dad, even though I know at this age, he doesn’t even know I’m gone. At this age, his entire world is his mother and her breast.

But I buy all the toys anyway.

And some socks with monsters on them.


I quip, on Twitter, that the best keynote at South By Southwest this year was in our front room, where our son’s toys are, when he gave a talk about Things That Fit Inside Other Things.

Right now, he is putting things inside other things. It doesn’t matter that they don’t fit but there’s something so fantastic about his mind at work. You read books about how children are basically empirical scientists, testing suppositions (although some suppositions about the world could do with less thorough testing, for example: repeatedly throwing things out of a) the crib, b) the bath, c) the high chair).

Things That Fit Inside Other Things, though: I mean, imagine what it was like when you played Portal for the first time and your brain suddenly adapted to Portal physics and you realised what you could do. Imagine grasping, for the first time, the concepts of solidity and exclusion of volume and partitioned spaces. It blows my mind.

It blows my mind to watch this tiny human, barely a year old, figuring out the world and doing it with so much enjoyment.

I mean, I wish I could have as much fun pulling all of the tissues out of a tissue box and then figuring out what I could put inside it, taking those things out, then putting them back in again.

The most fun I get to have during the day is being needlessly facetious during meetings.

There’s a wonderful xkcd comic[1] about people discovering things for the first time and that’s what my son feels like.

Right now, pouring water over his hands when I’m giving him his bath is The Most Interesting Thing Ever, and fine, I might be speaking from some sort of biologically kidnapped state of mind but fuck me if watching him observe The Most Interesting Thing Ever is simultaneously The Most Interesting Thing Ever for me.

He isn’t even able to express the interior state of his mind yet – at least, he does so only rudimentarily through the sign language he’s picked up – and after playing with a friend’s two year old this weekend, I’m so looking forward to him talking.

[1] https://xkcd.com/1053/


I am so, so tired.

Tired and simultaneously energised, of course.

Energised when I see the smile, or receive an iMessage of a video of him doing, well, anything.

Tired: the Entire Rest Of The Time.

Our house looks like some giant hand, or, more accurately, two small ones followed by four regular adult sized ones has picked everything up, moved it about three feet to the left, shaken it a bit, and then thrown it to the floor.

Laundry is an intriguing concept for which we’re grateful for and are increasingly perplexed as to how anyone actually completes the entire laundry cycle, which as we’re perpetually reminded by The Pile In That Room, comprises the latter two stages of folding and putting away, both of which feel like they’re some sort of herculean effort at the moment.

And by herculean, I mean: please, could Hercules be resurrected from fiction in some way and be employed to pick things up, fold things and put them away in our house. That would be great, thanks.

We have attempted to explain to friends that our schedule is somewhat fluid and by fluid I mean: we do whatever we can at random times during the day depending on whether the baby is awake, asleep, hitting something, pooping, peeing, eating something, not eating something, “reading” a book or if we are trapped under him, which happens surprisingly often and generally ends badly.

Rotating someone around their vertical axis using your arms is tiring, but the giggling you get from an upside-down baby means I finally understand how laughter is more powerful than screams in the Monsters, Inc. universe.

My left arm is very strong now, and it is also tired. My right arm is pretty good at playing Threes now, while my left arm is holding about twenty one pounds.

I am tired partly because we co-sleep and I get woken up periodically during the night by a tiny foot in my ribs. Or face. Or neck. Anywhere, really. Or it could be a small sweaty head. The general idea is this: I get woken up during the night.

When wife and baby are away, it’s suddenly possible to do things around the house like: put things away. It’s a heady rush of excitement, I tell you.

I am swaying during meetings, still, not entirely because I am tired, but because, more often than not, things go well when I’m swaying, so hey: why not just sway all the time, just to be sure. Can’t hurt, right? It’s probably a bit like being agnostic.

I am tired because leaving the house has become a stupendous exercise, one that could probably be immeasurably improved by at the very least a checklist, or the aforementioned Hercules making sure we have everything. I probably have scope to be a lot more tired in the future, though, because son does not have his own checklist he wishes us to follow.

I await that tiredness excitedly.

I am so tired of being tired that I’m seriously entertaining the practicality of deploying In The Night Garden *on myself* in the evening.

I have never, ever, loved being tired this much.

Okay, so that’s it! I’ve discharged Robin Sloan’s challenge and I eagerly await his grading of what feels a bit like some sort of school assignment. In the meantime, a whole bunch of thoughts have been noodling away in my head, so the remainder of this week’s newsletter episodes stand fairly good chances of including reckonings about Netflix recommendation algorithms, Apple’s post-digital-hub digital hub strategy, why it doesn’t do us any good to talk about “creativity” when it’s patently obvious we’re talking past each other, and in all likelihood something will happen where I will be inclined to rail against the Californian Ideology, again, because, well, they just ask for it.

Happy Monday, I hope you spotted the swaying parents in your meetings today.