Today, Propaganda has released his debut collection of essays and poetry, Terraform, and we highly recommend it to you. For one thing, what a cool concept to guide a collection like this—terraform is a verb, often used in the context of science fiction, which refers to the process of transforming a planet to make it habitable and hospitable to human life. In his book, Propaganda essentially asks, If we already speculate in our fiction about “terraforming” Mars, what’s stopping us from terraforming Earth itself, a place whose habitability is threatened every day?
A worthy question indeed, and one which yields endlessly witty and fascinating musings for the length of Terraform. To celebrate release day, we’re featuring an excerpt from Terraform, taken from a section entitled “Better Stories Make Better People.”
Better Stories Make Better People
Deep sighs. Breathe, Prop. “What is you cryin for?”! Lord, why did you give me daughters?!
This is my self-talk. Being a girl dad has its privileges. I find myself in conversations, saying sentences, and being made privy to information that never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I’d be a part of. Some of what I’ve learned I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, others have undoubtedly made me a better man, better person. I don’t always see these moments as gifts though. So buckle up, my daughter is about to show me how better stories make better people. I need you to feel what I felt tho, so I gotta set the scene.
It’s summertime in Los Angeles in the Almaganda home. Where bedtimes and screen time are just a suggestion, and we never really change out of our beach clothes. Tomorrow, however, we have a trip planned. I can’t remember what the destination was but I knew bedtime must be enforced. You might think that once you leave the toddler stage that getting your child to go to bed would become easier. I’m here to report that that is not the case. Alma and I have gone to great lengths to figure out how to get our teen to finally go to sleep. One rule is the phone charging station: we don’t have phone chargers in our room, they are in the living room, and we except to see all phones plugged in at a certain time in the living room.
On this particular night, it’s about 11:30 p.m. and it’s time to go enforce this rule. In full dad regalia, shirtless, shoeless, holding the leftover ice from a cocktail, I approach my daughter’s room. In full teen girl regalia and all its splendor, messy bun, short shorts, sports bra, my child responds “Okay” and walks to plug in her precious iPhone. I noticed something in the way she said “okay.” It’s that type of way that sounds like she is holding back something. I see a river of tears flowing from her eyes as she attempts to not make eye contact with me.
Here’s something you need to know about me—I’ve always believed tears were the final expression of emotions, what comes when you’ve reached your capacity to handle the moment. It’s the ultimate expression of your wits’ end. I don’t know where I got that belief from. Maybe it has to do with the playground policing boys do as we figure out our masculinity. If you are crying that means something is serious. You don’t cry if it’s not that bad.
I often believe that tears are used as a tool of manipulation. I’m currently unlearning that so bear with me. If my daughter or wife is crying—especially over something that, in my assessment, isn’t even that serious—I feel like they’re forcing me to stop. If we are in a discussion and I’m trying to make a point but my wife is breaking into tears, then that means I’ve gone too far and I’ve hurt her. Which gets me riled up because she is crying, which means I have to stop talking. Again, I don’t know where I got that from. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that everyone has this scale in their head of how to demonstrate their level of culpability with emotions.
Watching my daughter in this moment, tears in her eyes, it might be hard to appreciate the vast conflicting emotions that come over a father. A high percentage of your mind has deep concern for your child’s well-being. The protector in you kicks in and you want to destroy whatever caused her suffering. There’s a smaller percentage of you that has to try to remember that you can’t just be a hammer. Sometimes you gotta be a consoler, so you think to yourself What would Mom do? And it’s not so much that Mom knows how to do this by virtue of her nature, my wife is from the streets. It’s not at all her nature to be nurturing. She has just as much “suck it up” energy in her vibe as I do in mine. But since my daughter sees my wife as the sole provider of emotional support, she has a lot of practice in just rubbing backs and self-love mantras. I’m exhausted just describing it. Then there’s the largest percentage of you that draws from a deep well of what might be a toxic masculine version of how to deal with pain. The truest feeling I have as a dad at this moment is inconvenienced. It’s terrible but it’s true. No father of the year awards for me if the criteria includes my thought life, too. I’m thinking about how this two-minute trip to her room is now about to be an hour-and-a-half process of me suppressing my irritation and becoming a better human. No part of me is excited about growing right now. I just want to go to bed. Why. is. this. girl. always. crying?! What is it now?! Some friend didn’t text you back?! Some boy made fun of your forehead?! Tuffin up! Thicken your skin! WHY do I have to have only girls?! I know, I’m terrible.
Thankfully, my higher self responded.
“Baby, are you good? Can I help in any way?”
She says no and runs to Mom!
Cool! I’m off the hook!
Just kidding. I’m actually bummed that my kid doesn’t find me safe for her emotions. . . . I’ll go make another cocktail.
Forty-five minutes later my daughter and wife exit the bedroom. They both explain to me what the tears were about. Y’all ready?
Stranger Things season 3.
The Netflix series.
The week before we had binged season three. I’m not going to spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but the final episode just absolutely broke my daughter. “For real, Stranger Things? The TV show? That we watched two weeks ago?” This one thing has got me trippin’—we watched it two weeks ago. Why is she crying about it tonight?
“You are at your complete emotional end, over fictional characters?!” This is my inside voice, thank the Lord.
“Oh, that’s it? Baby, it’s not real. It’s just a show. Stop crying, go to bed! Problem solved.” Is what I wanted to say.
What she taught me is that she wasn’t crying over imaginary characters. She was crying over the truth. Here’s what I know about good storytelling—the truth it’s communicating is greater than the words it’s being carried by. Here’s another example: you can ask yourself, Is the Bible true or is it communicating truth? I don’t know which hill you want to die on but I think dying on one of those hills is missing the point. Is Genesis 1 about how the earth was made? All ’bout putting the atoms together to form the universe? I doubt it because remember, the universe was already completed at the beginning of Genesis 1. Go read it again. Or is Genesis 1 communicating something greater than the facts of the story? Is it saying that all things have purpose, beauty, identity, and function? All things have order and design? All things display a goodness far beyond our imagination? I don’t know, you tell me.
My daughter is crying over the deep feelings of human connection like friendship and love, bonds that are so much greater than blood ties. That going through things together and finding the bravery to be a different person than you were in the beginning is something worth celebrating. That mourning the loss of someone who’s important to you without being able to say how you truly feel about that person is deeply devastating. I’m proud of my daughter. She saw more than a multimillion-dollar series; she saw the greater truth, the greater beauty, which is so much more beautiful, which is so much more true. A higher story than the Upside Down could ever be. She’s telling a way better story than I was. She merged the better collective story with the better individual story and that made her a better person whose empathy will help build a more livable world.
Looks like I learned something new after all. I think I’ll make another cocktail.
Excerpted from TERRAFORM by Propaganda, reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2021.