This is first in a series of diaries written by Dialectic members about living IRL in 2024. For those interested in the specific steps and program you can learn more here or sign up for materials and occasional updates here.
I almost missed the text the other day.
My text message feed, the last realm of my digital ecosystem unsullied by spam, has become a polluted mess of unwanted content.
This was my fault, for two reasons:
1) I allowed my actual cell phone number to be auto-entered when signing up for a political contribution, had resulted in a never-ending series of breathless campaign solicitations written in ALL CAPS and BEGGING ME TO SAVE THE REPUBLIC by GIVING JUST $5 to TEAM _______ which I get from seemingly every candidate and their opponent (explain that marketing Venn diagram to me). Attempts to mute/block/whatever on my part are now what comes to mind when I come across the term “Whack a Mole”.
2) I have yet to get rid of the headhunter messages offering gigantic bumps in salary to move to one of the many (many) places that are short on psychiatrists these days. After some rough clinic days it’s nice to feel being wanted/appreciated while imagining a future counter-factual where my cost of living is low and there are lots of trees.
Fortunately, I managed to catch a glimpse of a message while scrolling down, probably because it was neither ALL CAPS nor containing Psychiatrist: Wanted $$$$ in the message line.
The message was from another dad, and had a simple message:
“Polar bear plunge with the boys at L street on January 1?”
This dad, who I recently befriended, had been talking with me about the challenges of raising kids, and boys in particular, in this day and age. When comparing notes about what bucket list items should be included on our unofficial syllabus of shared experiences with our children, we both agreed that IRL experiences that focused on removing kids from their comfort zones was vital to giving them the tool-kit of lived knowledge that we both felt was vital for them.
I was in.
A polar bear plunge, where we would venture into the cold waters of the Boston harbor, seemed like a great way to start the new year.
While my family ended up staying up through midnight, the benefit/cost of living one block from a fireworks-filled waterfront on NYE, we were awake enough and motivated enough (my oldest because his friend was doing it, and my youngest because my oldest was doing it) to get in the car and drive to the meeting place.
As it turned out, this particular event has a long history and was located in the heart of “Southie”, one of the quintessential Boston neighborhoods that I had rarely been to in my almost 20 years of living here.
Getting there required me to follow directions through exits and streets I was wholly unfamiliar with. The drive provided me with a small but meaningful burst of heightened arousal across the senses that I get when I arrive in a new place I am wholly unfamiliar with. As I approached the parking area by the beach, I could see the local residents from Southie, sitting on their row house porches in their heavy sweatshirts and giving me, an obvious outsider, the once over with a wry smile. I imagined them thinking "Another sucker who was jumping in the hah-bah". I loved it.
I was in my element by being out of my element.
Walking to the meeting place, the L Street Tavern, with hundreds of people inside (and outside) while wearing basically pajamas and a bathing suit, was a novel experience in every good sense of the word. Being around others who were all hyped up to do something that, even with my Scandinavian heritage, seems kind of dumb, was so fun and communal even if I probably didn’t have a ton in common with them.
Once the bagpipes (!) started up we all took over L street for a few blocks to the beach and shortly thereafter stripped down to bathing suits and other various water costumes to run in for a quick dip before coming out. My sons were enthralled with the whole experience and in retrospect required almost no negotiation in terms of donuts and other incentive structures my wife and I use, more often than we should.
It was a blast.
It was also a great way for me to start what we at Dialectic are hoping to do this year by ourselves and with others:
living life IRL,
doing new and enjoyable things
including things with people who probably don’t share a lot in common with us
These are some of the first steps towards reconnecting outside of the digital realm and protecting not only own minds but also the social fabric that links us in ways that go beyond what news outlets we read, listen to, or watch.