Recommended Readings for Unstable Times

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There are usually two ways people respond when I shriek, “THE WORLD IS OBVIOUSLY ENDING, RIGHT?” Some people (my beloved, my close friends) are like “yeah” and then we shiver together over a glass of wine. Others chirp “things are great!” and we stare at each other without saying anything more. If I had any philosopher friends, I like to imagine that they would gaze deep into my soul with their limpid, color-shifting eyes and soothe me with ambiguous wisdom. But alas, I have no philosopher friends. This is a wind age, a wolf age, before the world goes headlong.

But friends, I take some cold comfort in the fact that things have literally never been stable (except maybe in ancient Greece and/or ancient Egypt and/or the ancient Abbasid Caliphate, before the libraries were destroyed??). If, like me, you are quivering on the edge of becoming a full-fledged conspiracy theorist, here’s what you should be reading and why.

The book of Habakkuk: For hallucinatory non-answers to why the world is so violent. Habakkuk was the most mysterious of all the prophets, and (I think) the only one to openly question God:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion: For the amazing way she captures a feeling of generational dread and grapples with the idea that “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold“:

At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values. They are children who have moved around a lot, San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.

“Explica Algunas Cosas” by Pablo Neruda: Depending on your career, this piece is either a) a heartbreaking explanation of how art sometimes falls silent in the face of violence or b) a guilt-trip for artists who aren’t explicitly political. The ending is like a punch to the face:

…from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

A Google search of the term “folie à deux”: to understand the dark side of love and the fragility of a person’s identity as a Single Self:

Depending on whether the delusions are shared among two, three, four, five and even twelve people, it is called as folie à deux, folie à trios, folie à quatre, folie à cinq, and folie à douze.

Your own childhood journals: To remind yourself that “priorities” are malleable and relative, even the priorities that, today, you consider defining pillars of You Yourself.

“Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot: Because of the dance that is love/pain/God/the world:

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.

[Credit goes to Charlie for discovering this one]: The poem Völuspá: Because it is about the end of a mysterious world:

Do you still seek to know? And what?

 

 

Today the Sky is Gray: A Compendium of Scientific Theories

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1. It is a direct reflection of Freud’s “melancholia,” from which I am currently suffering, and the grayness is actually emanating from me as I sit here, staring out the Megabus window, driving farther and farther away from a land where coffee is made with care and buses run down literally every street, although they do smell terrible (both the buses and the streets), but then again Chicago in the winter is not New York in the summer, odor-wise, not even in the same ballpark, so I rescind that last complaint.

2. All across the globe, fish are dying. Instead of reflecting the blue ocean, the sky is now forced to reflect the gray, scaly underbellies of dead fish as they float silently on the surfaces of rivers and ponds across America, reeking slightly, glimmering moistly. This is because of global warming and/or Obama’s presidency.

3. By referring to Borges as my soulmate, I have created some sort of space-time continuum rupture and, in a totally Borgesian turn of events, I am slowly becoming Borges–and losing my sight.

4. The entire globe is on fire and what I take to be “clouds” is actually “smoke.” Signifier/signified/what is reality/what is meaning/etc.

5. Someone has colored the sky gray with a crayon. Probably Mary Poppins. Did anyone actually read the book Mary Poppins? That biddy has some serious superpowers and sticks the stars onto the sky with glue. She is way creepier than in the Disney movie.

6. The heavens have grown so bored with everyone’s petty Tweeting that they refuse to be a color anymore. Or maybe it’s not Twitter that’s the problem, maybe the universe is still mad at Anne Hathaway for refusing to embrace her total smugness and instead pretending (note that I didn’t say acting) to be surprised at her Oscar win.

7. The lead singer of Counting Crows finally got that gray guitar and played.

8. The gray, leafless trees and the gray, foggy, slowly-descending sky are in some sort of agreement, possibly whispering to each other behind all of our backs. Trees know, okay? Trees know. If you’ve read Tolkien you know this; if not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9. Zombie apocalypse.

10. Someone is holding a large piece of fabric over this Megabus with cornfields, farmhouses, and very realistic semi-trucks painted on it in order to deceive me into thinking the day is cloudy. This seems the most plausible explanation, but WHY? I will muse on the motivations behind this horrible  simulacrum while looking for small tears in the fabric.

Enemy of the State

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I might be famous one day, if not for my “quirky” prose than for bursting into flames while being tasered by the police because I was huffing gasoline. And if I’m not famous for bursting into flames, I’ll definitely be famous by sheer proximity, because I attach myself like a leech to people who seem destined for fame.

(Example: Johnny Depp once gave my flute teacher’s friend his number. 3 degrees from an Oscar nomination, baby!)

When that day comes, I am terrified of one thing and one thing only. No, not the compromising pictures of me crawling out of my USAIN BOLT SUIT. Olympic medalist in the haus! (That’s a little multicultural humor for you there.) Not the top-secret documents in which it is revealed that I am Quentin Tarantino’s ghost writer. Nay, not even the incriminating email in which I FORGET TO USE THE OXFORD COMMA.

(I’ll give you all a chance to reach for the smelling salts after that scandal-bomb.)

No no no no no. I am terrified of my true self being revealed through texts with a certain “Notorious M.E.C.” Who is saving my texts, you ask? Why, Facebook and/or the Devil, of course. This begs the question: are they one and the same? I’m not sure, but I’m positive that everything we do is being recorded for an evil, relentless, unsympathetic posterity.

(This attitude, my friends, is called a “conspiracy theory.” And it’s okay to have them. Everybody does.)

My text messages reveal me to be an extremely reactive, judgmental, neurotic capslock abuser with the vocabulary of a sailor PhD and the humor of a shining star of comedic genius and the paranoia of a serial killer and also someone who has really long eyelashes. (Notice how I made the serial killer a man. That’s called sexism. Women can be serial killers, too!)

Here’s a sample interaction between toridotgov and M.E.C:

toridotgov: WHY ARE WE WIZENED WITH GRIEF, HARDENED WITH RAGE, AND MUD-SPLATTERED WITH MEDIOCRITY???

M.E.C.: I have no IDEA why the horror of the world is constantly making us suffer. WE SHOULD BE LAUDED LEFT AND RIGHT.

I mean, that’s cute and hilarious and we’re clearly both in MFA programs given all that alliteration, BUT WE ALSO COME ACROSS AS DELUSIONAL POWER-HUNGRY MANIACS. Though we are delusional power-hungry maniacs, so at least our texts represent our truest selves. It’s good to be honest. It’s good to be real. Just be cool, everyone. Be cool.

image by Beth Hoeckel

The Internet Makes Me Feel Sad

This post was kind of embarrassing to write and makes me sound like a total loser, so you can’t judge me, okay? Who are we kidding, you’ll judge me. IT’S WHAT WE HUMANS DO.

Every time I go online, I am overwhelmed with a constant, low-grade social anxiety. This anxiety stays with me for a while, even after I shut off my computer. I don’t like it. It’s not fun to feel that way. And the fact that this anxiety is so internet-specific, guaranteed to hit me the minute I open Facebook, worries me.

It worries me because I wouldn’t normally describe myself as a nervous, insecure person, but the internet turns me into a serious basket case. In real life, I am oft compared to Fabio (flowing locks, inexplicable allure, bronzed muscular thighs), but hunched over a computer, I turn into Edward Scissorhands-meets-Igor (stay with me here). I don’t understand why. I think there’s something deeply troublesome about the internet. It stresses me out, it ruins my mood, it makes me feel irrationally worried, it gives me this pervasive nameless fear. And I don’t get it, because there are pictures of baby animals on the internet and everyone is constantly uploading more within seconds of their birth. Why, then, do I feel sad and worried, instead of overwhelmed with a motherly mammalian love?

 Email: The thought of checking my email upsets me. For whatever irrational reason, I always expect to find something terrible in my inbox. Someone will be angry with me. Someone will have an irritating assignment that they want me to complete TODAY. Someone will tell me No. Someone will send a passive-aggressive response. WHY DO I FEEL THIS WAY?! I’m not a divorce lawyer or the CEO of BP. Who am I so afraid of? And yet I dread the sight of Gmail.

McSweeney’s: Apparently hates me. #whatever #overu2

 Facebook: holy shit. I think we’ve all experienced just how unutterably disturbing Facebook can be, and yet none of us can pinpoint why it’s so creepy. I’ve read articles that say Facebook ruins our moods because we see how happy and perfect everyone’s (falsified) lives look, and so we feel jealous. I don’t think that’s it, at least not for me. Unless you just had lunch with Marquez, I don’t usually look at your baby shower pix and think DEAR LORD WHEN WILL IT BE MY TURN?! Facebook makes me feel something much more pitiful and embarrassing—I feel insecure. I feel left out. I feel like Facebook is this buzzing world of people who are—what?! Actively ignoring me? Talking to everyone else but me? Reading NYT articles that I haven’t read yet?!? Please understand what I’m saying here: these feelings are DEEPLY IRRATIONAL. I’ll be the first to admit that. But they are also DEEPLY REAL. I feel them, I feel them vividly, every time I go online I feel them. I feel them physically. Something about the internet upsets something in my psyche, and I want to get away from it.

But what is it? I don’t know! Is the sense that the internet is one massive hive mind and we’re the only ones who are left out? Is it the glossy pictures? Does the strange back-lighting of the screen trigger something weirdly neurological? Is it information overload? Is it a general sense of instability—knowing that all your photos and emails and documents could be deleted and/or hacked? Is the internet a terrifying country with a million little rulers and we people, accustomed to monarchy and dividing lines, can’t deal with its fluid boundaries? Can a scientist please chime in? Maybe it’s a vague combination of everything. All I know is that it makes me anxious—and working under a vague, purposeless anxiety is not a good way to live. (Though to be fair, I do love looking up gruesome drug-related complications on Wikipedia, and without the internet, I’d have to actually melt heroin in a spoon to know what it smells like.)

 The only reason I’m saying this here (ON THE INTERNET, hey all-knowing Internet) is that maybe you feel that way, too, and haven’t been able to put a name to the feeling, and I just wanted to go first, so I can look like the awkward social loser, and not you. Yr welcome my friend. I know I’m sort of acting like a grandpa/conspiracy theorist. But it creeps me out, this cryptic worry, this low-grade fear. Maybe THIS is the mystery at the center of 2666, the nameless dread that Bolaño will never share with us. The internet. That’s the evil. That’s what’s killing the girls in Santa Teresa. Okay, sorry, this entire post was just an excuse to remind you all that I’ve read 2666. REMEMBER HOW I READ 2666!!!??!!! And guess what, friends? The internet didn’t teach me how to read. The internet didn’t give me impeccable literary taste. The internet only gave me directions to the bookstore. And once I got to the bookstore, I had to find the book myself. It wasn’t hard to find because it’s so big. I turned right at the Iliad and left at Infinite Jest and there it was. AND I READ THE WHOLE THING, MOM!!!!

Declassifying the Creeper Elderly

Samuel Beckett: bleak, tragicomic, postmodernist playwright and novelist; sworn enemy of the Creeper Elderly; arguably a Creeper Elderly himself.

Working Definition: The Creeper Elderly conducts his or her illicit affairs under a halo of soft, white curls, an adorably stooped back, and a tendency to cup one wizened hand around his or her hearing aid and chirp, “Excuse me, dear?” Creeper Elderly should not be confused with members of the Beloved Grandparents genus, although a Creeper Elderly may appropriate certain characteristics of a Beloved Grandparent in order to win your heart or guilt you into paying attention to their stories.

Manic Tendencies: Should the Creeper Elderly get ahold of a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or–God forbid–an iPhone with texting capabilities, expect to receive updates from the Creeper Elderly far more often than you would from your friends. Continue reading →