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?

 

 

The Internet Makes Me Feel Sad, Part 2

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Some writer-type people are very vocal about their depression. Some are vocal about their sexual orientation, their childhood traumas, their totally misunderstood penchant for offering small children a lift in their nice, clean, white van. This is all part of this thing writers attempt to do called “connecting,” which, yawn, whatever, but there is one issue of mine that I want to be perfectly honest about because I don’t see many people talking about it: my reactions to the internet.

I wrote about this same issue a year ago, and not much has changed–except I like checking my email now, because every now and then someone says, “I would like to send you my Rwandan inheritance via money order!” and I’m like “Okay, here’s all the info you’ll need!” In this way I have become very, very rich.

Speaking of wealth, I have wanted to be a freelance writer for a long time, and things are finally happening. I got a paid writing job. A PAID WRITING JOB: rarer than a unicorn, rarer than a female director in Hollywood, rarer than finding quality saffron at the dollar store. As a hippie archetype in a lazy film full of one-dimensional background characters might say, “Cool, dude! I’m wearing a tie-dye shirt…Woodstock!”

My once-dark summer has turned into a pretty good time. I write articles in the morning, I write fiction in the afternoon (TOTALLY JOKING, I NAP), I waitress at night. I had a near-brush with a serial killer that I need to tell you all about, and I got to hang out with my little sister for like a week. “Far out, man,” says the hippie in the corner. “Why is everything you say so exhaustingly cliche?” we respond, but the hippie is silent inside his cloud of pot.

Unfortunately, doing online-type things has caused me to morph into a human-shaped mass of buzzing anxiety covered in a thin, easily-bruisable layer of skin.

The internet makes me sad. I can’t deal with the mediocrity of the internet, I can’t deal with the disposability of writing on the internet, I can’t deal with the thought that I might be adding to the worthless noise, but I need to be online to do the type of writing I want to do (quasi-journalistic, quasi-creative shortform writing that was designed for people like me: narcissists who can’t maintain an argument. OMG THAT WAS THE MEANEST THING I’VE EVER SAID ABOUT MYSELF, I’M LIKE EMINEM IN 8 MILE).

Let me be simultaneously more specific and more melodramatic. For the past few days, I have had intense physiological reactions to the thought of going online. My stomach has literally been in knots. YES, LITERALLY. IT’S A RARE DISEASE THAT ONLY I HAVE. I started crying in front of my sweet boyfriend yesterday evening as I attempted to do anxiety-relieving accupressure on my own arm. If that’s not the saddest thing you’ve ever heard, you must read the news.

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I think that flowers are the opposite of the internet. The feeling I get when I’m filching black-eyed Susans from a community garden, ransacking my neighbor’s lilacs after midnight, or snipping mint leaves from my grandmother’s herb patch to make the best chimichurri this side of the Panama Canal is an incredibly centered, grounded, relaxed, inspired peace. It’s the feeling of participating in a physical world as present, tangible organism.

…#biologymajor

The internet is none of those things. It’s not physical, it’s not dependent on time or place, it appeals to three senses at most (sight, sound, and touch, and that’s stretching it). Sure, it’s possible to be genuine–even genius–on the internet, but it’s all technically intangible, and to me, intangibility is a close cousin to the unreal, and though I’ll always be the kind of girl who flirts with spirits, I like my unreality in very specific forms: fiction, nighttime walks, and the best parties. Online, phrases and intentions are stripped of their weight and subtlety because of how easy they are to create and how devoid they are of dimension. Everyone is engaging through a screen, both literally and figuratively, and the whole thing has a frantic but non-vital hum. I find it hard to sustain a concentrated thought on the internet but very easy to contribute meaningless content. And now that I get paid for writing content, the temptation to be throwaway, quick, and depthlessly catchy is greater than ever. I try to hold myself to some sort of standard with the following formula: say something interesting, analyze it beyond the superficial, and conclude something new. But then…Buzzfeed exists. And I know this sounds dramatic, but I feel the effect of the whole thing in my body. My spine knots. My heart speeds up.

This afternoon, I went on a walk with my boyfriend and picked a huge tangle of wildflowers and after a minute of silence, I told him I understood why so many older writers have gardens. Believe me, I know the internet isn’t going anywhere and I wouldn’t want it to–I don’t think. I like being able to stay in touch with my childhood best friends on Facebook. I love some of the writing freedoms it provides and I like being able to work at my own open window (and not someone else’s) because I have a computer and an internet connection. But I am trying to figure out how to live without being hateful and anxious and scattered. And I know that I’m going to need a garden.