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Hi. Good morning. Hi. Good morning. How are you doing. I'm good. How are you doing. Pretty well.
Do you want me to read the title or just the body of it.
Maybe the title might as well say bye bye family minivan, the family minivan that he said we needed but that I should buy for road trips to visit his son in Los Angeles and his daughter in Santa Barbara, and to take our two boys camping and biking and skiing the family minivan that he encouraged me to purchase just the year before when he knew what he was doing and with whom. And so he knew that we were over doomed, but he was too afraid to say, and for which I later blamed him.
Every time I looked in my driveway, that minivan has been sold.
What is your new car, if I may ask?
Is it Toyota Prius? Toyota Prius?
Oh, I'm happy you found a new car. Yes, yes, I. Well, thank you so, so much. Stay well. Have a great day. Bye bye. I.
Down. Hey, how are you? Pretty good, I hope I have this set up correctly.
Rosie could open my seltzer now and fa la la la la la la la la la la. From The New York Times, I'm merely and I'm Daniel Jones. Sixteen years ago, I started the modern love column. I believe I was in second or third grade then. Oh, my God. But now I to work on the modern love column.
Yeah, on Modern Love.
How did you come up with the name Modern Love? Well, it was part of a process. We had all these different names that we tried, and I remember one of them was truly, madly, deeply. And I would now be called the Truly, Madly, Deeply Ed, which is a really different kind of job title.
But I didn't love Ed, but I thought of the David Bowie song Modern Love in suggesting modern love. And literally, almost any time I see the words modern love, I mean, it's worn off a little bit over the years. But but it's hard for me not to read Modern Love and automatically hear hear that song.
And would you sing it for our listeners?
No, because I don't know the words, but you have the jingle and I get home and I really want you to have it. Yeah.
Yeah. Modern Love walks beside me and I am now. The second line is walks beside me.
Put my faith in God and God and man. That's about as good as I can tell. But there was a great story that spun out of that, that a writer had sent an essay, it didn't really work in the end, but it was about her covering love songs for other random people.
She would send them, you know, a little audio file, playing the ukulele and singing a cover of some song on the ukulele. And that's what the essay was about. And when I rejected it. A week or two passed and I got this email. That I didn't recognize the name or anything and open it up and there was no message, there was just an audio file. I pressed play a little like worried that it was some virus or whatever.
I can't pay the bill, but things don't really change. And it was her playing Bowie's Modern Love on the ukulele.
I tried to I went back and read her essay.
It was like, oh, that's just the sweetest thing. Hmm. And did you ever publish her essay? No, I didn't.
But it kind of broke my heart not to modern books, but somebody gets me to the church and. Today's essay is tracking the demise of my marriage on Google Maps by Maggie Smith. It was published in January twenty nineteen and is read by Orla Cassidy. My husband moved out about six weeks ago, marking the end of our nearly 19 year relationship, but Google Maps hasn't noticed yet. That morning, I had whisked the children away so he and two friends from law school could load his things into a U-Haul and drive to the house he had rented.
We had agreed that he would be the one to move out and we agreed on what he would take the dining room set and painting that had belonged to his late boss, the sideboards we had bought to hold our wedding dishes and the antique armoire, a neighbor in our first apartment complex had left us because it wouldn't fit in his moving truck. I had packed most of my husband's things because he works long hours, I had sifted through our books and CDs, our Christmas ornaments, our coffee mugs, the blender, his the food processor mine, the biscuit cutter, his the muffin tin mine.
The life we had lived. Split between us. I still haven't seen his house, but it's only a few blocks away, I'm not sure what possessed me to Google our address a few weeks ago while on a writing residency in Tucson, far from my home in Ohio. But I did. And there it was, my house on Google Maps. My husband still inside. And still, I think, in love with me. The photo is dated January 2016.
No, it is daylight in the photos. My husband is at work, the blue recycling bins are at the curb full, so I know it's a Monday morning. There is light snow on the ground and my neighbor's magnolia trees are bare. They bloom in the spring in our impossibly beautiful for a few days. And then the blossoms drop and make a mess of both our Orian's. I love them anyway. Even though it's winter, my son's tricycle is on the front porch.
This is what passes as bike storage when you don't have a garage. The snow shovel is probably propped nearby, too. I can't zoom in enough to see the yellow bag of sidewalk salt by the front door, but I know it's there. I know the orange plastic tumbler is nestled inside it, a makeshift scoop. I am probably inside alone, my husband will be home in the evening, I am likely working on my laptop clacking away with my index fingers because I never learned how to type, not properly.
Maybe I'm reheating the cup of coffee. I always let go cold. In the afternoon, once the recycling has been picked up, I'll retrieve the cracked bins from the driveway and haul them back to the side of the house. I'll walk to pick up my daughter from the elementary school, she and I will drive together to fetch my son from daycare. The scene could not be more different from Tucson, where the landscape is red and rocky, another planet with more stars in the sky than I have seen anywhere.
On my laptop screen, I can see the windows of my house, the door, the periwinkle siding and the poor excuse for a flower bed, really just a moat of mulch. I can see the front walk, my husband will come up in his suit and overcoat, it will be around 6:00 p.m., already dark. The children and I might see him through the storm door and my son, only three in January 2016, might yell Daddy and run to greet him.
That cold winter morning, someone from Google drove by and took this photo. Two and a half years later, my marriage became untenable. Do I need to explain why do I need to say here what happened to whom and by whom? It doesn't matter.
In the version of my house that still exists online January 2016, I can't see the pairs of my husband's shoes piled under the dining room table or his tea cups forgotten around the house, brown ringed. But I know they are there. The books he's currently reading so many books at once are stacked by the old recliner. The one in which we rocked our sun countless times. My husband's shampoo is in the shower is razor and shaving cream by the sink, his toothbrush and pillow are still upstairs.
He doesn't begin sleeping on the couch until two summers later. And that version of our house will never be online. The version where we live together, but not together. People. Other people, people like me. Have questions for Google Maps. How do I remove my home image, how do I update the picture of my house? How do I unblurred my house? When I look at my house on Google Maps, I am looking at another life, a blurred life I'm trying to bring into focus.
Most photography is done by car, Irene, but some is done by trekker, tricycle, walking boat, snowmobile and underwater apparatus. I learned that in 2018, Google Japan began offering the street view from a dog's perspective, but in January 2016, we didn't have a dog. We adopted our Boston terrier. At the end of April that year, she had been abused in her hip. Bones and spine jetted out from under her marbled coat. She bit my husband on the hand the day we brought her home, when he tried to pick her up and put her in the car, but then she settled and fell asleep in my lap.
When I look at the photo of my house on that Monday morning, I know I am there alone, no dog curled up snoring beside me, no dog with fur, brindle and white. I can bury my face in and cry. I am inside the house, my husband is still coming home. I have no reason yet to cry for him. I know I shouldn't torture myself, I should close my laptop, make another cup of tea, watch another impossibly orange sunset I should write, which is what I came here to do, but I can't help myself.
I click back through the timeline of previous photos each and iteration of my married life.
I can see November 2015, my car is in the driveway and I am in the house alone or with my three year old son. He is not yet in school, only part time daycare, the Halloween decorations are still up the ground littered with dry brown leaves. The pine tree by the front door is smothered in a cotton spider web. My husband and children stretched across it. That tree died a year later and he crudely cut it down. I can click again and see August 2014.
My car is in the driveway, my son's stroller is parked on the front walk and my toddler and I must be in the house. He's probably napping. Or maybe we are stacking his bright wooden blocks on the playroom carpet. My phone is probably charging on the kitchen counter. Maybe it lights up when my husband texts to tell me if he'll be home for dinner or not to wait. I can see June 2012, my car's in the driveway and the yard is dappled in sunlight and shadow, the neighbor's magnolia trees are full and green, but it's too late for the blossoms.
I am inside alone or with my daughter and pregnant due with a boy in October. After two miscarriages in two years. My husband will come home and empty his pockets on the dining room table, the same table, he'll load into a U-Haul six years later. Every night there is a little pile of him on the table. Business cards, loose, change the engraved money clip I gave him for his birthday. When I look at my house on Google Maps, having now forgotten about the sunset entirely, I see our family home.
I see the house, my children drawing their pictures of home periwinkle, crayon for the siding, brown for the door, black squares with pluses for windows. If I zoom in, I can see the stump of the pine, but I don't see anything that predicts our marriage ending. How do I update the image of home in my own mind? How do I unblurred? Street View is updated every one to three years. I read. It has been nearly three years since Google last photographed our street, which means that someday soon a car will drive by with a camera mounted on its roof to tell me what I already know.
I am alone. Trying to update to unblurred. There will be no man's shoes under the dining room table, no stained teacups. The children may be here or at school or at their father's house that day. In my driveway, there will be one car. Modern Love is sponsored by policy genius. It's Halloween time and policy genius would like to mark the occasion by making something less scary shopping for home and auto insurance with policy genius. It's easy.
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It's nice to get it right. Hi, Maggie. Hi there, how are you? I'm good, how are you? I'm fine. So tell me where you are right now. I am sitting in my daughter's bed. And where are you in these United States?
Oh, well, well, more generally, I am in Bexley, Ohio. OK, you know, I went back to our to our email exchanges back when this was happening. And we had extensive exchanges on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. We yeah.
We spoke on the phone. Yeah. Because I remember you had family in your house and I was hiding in my bedroom and my kids were watching TV. That was.
Why were we doing that?
I mean, I sort of work all the time anyway, but it surprised me that this was such a, you know, raw family piece. This would have been your first Christmas in this new world for you was. Yeah. And it seems like based on how it begins that you began writing it six weeks after the separation, which is soon. You know, I it's funny, I think when the piece came out, it had been six weeks since he moved out, but I wrote it maybe three weeks.
Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. So he moved out in November. I wrote it in December and it was published in January. So, yeah, it was very raw.
You say it's raw, but it's artful. It's approached in an artful way. There's an architecture to the essay that feels like an investigation to me. What are you trying to figure out by looking at your house, is it nostalgia, is it trying to decode something? What were you searching for?
I don't think I was conscious of it at the time, but it felt very similar to me to something else I had done when everything fell apart, which is look at family photos and look at those happy, smiling people and think, were we happy?
Because I think the first thing that you do, I mean, especially if you're sort of blindsided, is you think, OK, so where were the signs? Like where where did things start going off the rails? Was it six months ago? Was it last year? Oh, my God. Was it before we got married? Was it before the children?
What was this a bad idea from the get go? And I think we do kind of retrace our steps in a way, or at least I found myself doing that and trying to find. Like, I was digging and digging and digging and trying to get at the root of whatever it was that would make this unthinkable thing possible. And so I do think it was kind of like an investigation because I was trying to figure out what went wrong and when and how.
And there is no answer. Yeah, and part of what I realized through through writing the essay and through just living through it was not only do I not know what the future looks like for me, I really don't quite understand the past because this has tainted it in a way like this has distorted what came before it. And that's something you can't really get back.
Hmm. So, yeah, I mean, I'm still in the house, I still live here, my car's in the driveway right now. Feels a little less haunted than it did a year ago. I'm steadily replacing furniture and moving art around and taking things down and trying to make it feel like it's just mine. But it's something that I'm always kind of negotiating living here. So several years ago, you wrote a poem called Good Bones that was really meaningful to a lot of people and I think it's meaningful to the essay.
So I was wondering if you could read that for us.
Sure, sure. Good bones. 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 to keep from my children. The world is at least 50 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. So that. That poem is beautiful and devastating. It was published in 2000 as the summer of twenty sixteen.
Yeah, yeah. June of twenty sixteen. Was there an event or a series of events that led you to write this poem?
No, actually I wrote the poem in twenty fifteen and it was just me thinking about parenthood and just all of the anxiety that I had about raising kids in a world where terrible things happen and I want to protect them from that. But I also don't want to lie to them. But when the poem came out the following year, it was published online in a journal called Waxwing, the same week of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And that same week, a British member of parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered.
And so the poem took off because of specific events, but it wasn't inspired by specific events.
Yeah, it really became sort of a viral sensation. What was that experience for you? Had you had your work go viral in that way before, or was this new for you? And how did that feel?
No, this was a completely different level of just readership, frankly. I mean, most of the time when I write a poem, I assume that the people reading it will also be poets.
You know, it's a pretty it's pretty insular. And so to write something and have it go viral, it was so strange because it it was reaching people who weren't, quote unquote poetry people, people who wrote or even really read poems.
I've said before that I think of the poem as sort of a disaster barometer, which is just to say that whenever it's shared a lot, it always means that something bad has happened.
So you're looking around for the for the reason people are surging again. Absolutely. I mean, I remember distinctly being in New York City for a reading at NYU in I think it was May of two thousand seventeen. So almost a year later after the poem was published and I got back to my hotel room that night and my social media mentions were just going crazy, like my Twitter and Instagram. And my first thought, because I've known what this was like for almost a year was what happened.
So I just go to CNN and that night it was the there was the Ariana Grande concert bombing and Manchester. But it's always been this way whenever people share this poem widely, it's because something bad has happened. I have a really complicated relationship with the poem for that.
Well, it's I mean, to me, it's a poem that's an interesting combination of devastatingly sad and traumatic sort of mentions about children being bagged and sunk in a lake. But it's a hopeful poem, I think, and it ends with a mother's hope for her children. And this sense of the the world being a place that has potential and just needs some TLC, I guess. Do you think people turn to it out of hope? I hope so.
I mean, I think it's a hopeful poem. I think it's sort of like, look at this mess, but we can we have the power if not to fix it, we have the power to make it better. And I mean, I have to believe that. I think we all have to believe that. Well, thank you so much, Maggie, for talking to us today. My pleasure. This was great fun. It's not like it's just Modern Love is produced by Kelly Prime and Hans Butoh and edited by Wendy Dorr, music by Dan Powell.
This week's essay was written by Maggie Smith and read by Orla Cassidy. Our tiny love story was written and read by Chiri Robinson. Special thanks to Julia Simon, Nora Keller, Mahima Jalani, Laura Kim, Anthony Wertheim, our new Streamy and Sam Dolnick and Corey CECA and also to Ryan Wagner and Kelly Rogers at Autum.
The executive producer of New York Times audio is Lisa Tobin.
The cover of Modern Love on Ukulele is by Barbara Browning. I'm Dan Jones and I'm really see you next week by.