Recommended Readings for Unstable Times


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


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.

The PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan

Tired of subsisting on lettuce leaves, of swaddling yourself in Spanx like a human sausage? Try the PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan, the only FDA-approved way to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in a few short weeks. The PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan works with your body, not against it, by harnessing your skyrocketing levels of Seratonin: The All-Natural Meth (c) and using those rapid-firing neurotransmitters to melt away pounds and sculpt you into the Adonis or Artemis that you were meant to be. Of course it works. Why, did you hear something?

While we certainly can’t give away all our secrets (and in fact, we’ll be carrying our secrets to our graves and you’ll have to pry them out of our frozen fingers because we’re not vulnerable fools), see below for four FREE ways to lose weight: the PARANOID!!! way (c).

At work!!! Boss always takes the elevator, right? Dear Lord, what would happen you took the elevator–together? She’d see right through your “happy, hardworking employee” façade to the hollow, vapid, ghost of an individual that lurks inside, ravaged by self-doubt. It’s too terrible to think about but you’re going to think about it anyway: the awkward elevator conversation, the sudden unemployment, dying in front of your TV, your body slowly nibbled away by your cat. Sprint down the stairs with the sweat of true fear springing from your brow. Bonus!!! Scratching rapidly at your arms while sprinting can result in losing up to 3 pounds of unnecessary skin cells!

At McDonalds!!! What’s the one thing on this godforsaken menu that’s NOT made with rat meat? Definitely not the fillet of fish. Perhaps a salad? Oh no, the girl behind the counter is so skinny, she’ll think you’re ordering a salad because you want to be just like her. She’ll think you’re stalking her and soon you’ll know everything about her and wear her face like a mask. Why did you wear the black blazer today? Nothing says “I love you so much I want to cut all your skin off” like black, black, oh, this terrible black blazer that cinches you like a straitjacket. Order a cup of water and sip it slowly. Bonus!!! When in a public place, spin frequently on your heel, keeping those glutes engaged, to see if there’s anyone creeping up behind you.

On a date!!! Don’t look at her mouth don’t look at her eyes don’t look at her hands don’t look at her wedding ring don’t look at her boobs don’t look at the steak knife don’t look at the candle uh-oh that flame is flickering really close to her wrist, her wrist that looks as delicate as the bones inside a baby chicken, stop looking at her wrist don’t think about the candle is the flame actually touching her skin why isn’t she saying anything? Don’t think about the candle. Did you know rapid eye movement burns a shocking 300 calories an hour? Bonus!!! If she tries to leave early (and why wouldn’t she, you sick unworthy freak?), you’ll have to chase her out of the restaurant, pleading, “Come back! Why won’t anyone love me?” That’s an extra 100-200 calories right there.

On the sidewalk!!! Everyone looks so ordinary. EVERYONE LOOKS SO ORDINARY. Why is it so goddamn hard to spot them? If only they had some sort of identifying factor, like a tattoo or a colorful fez. Why are there so many people here, and why are they all looking at you? Clutch your neck and  sprint down the closest dark alleyway. When you feel that telltale burn in your thighs, it’s probably cancer. Ignore it, jump into the river, swim out to sea, grab onto a dolphin, and wash up a forsaken island, gasping, dehydrated, starving, bronzed, and ten pounds lighter. Bonus!!! The island’s jungle is full of caloric fruits, but you won’t want to go exploring once you realize how the light glints off the jungle leaves like hundreds upon thousands of unfriendly eyes.

Not the right exercise plan for you? Try the Commuter’s Workout.