5 small things I’m reading, vol. 1


By “small” I mean “writing on the internet that is relatively brief.” Not “small” as in “less worthwhile than a book by Jonathan Franzen.”

(I would rather have my fingernails ripped out than read another book by Jonathan Franzen.)

(…but that is neither here nor there, really.)

“Traveling While White,” The Baffler

Those who feel #blessed exist in symbiosis with the excluded and denied. The problem with what these women (and scores like them) are putting out is that it presents a warped version of the world and of the freedoms that it offers. The assumption is that tourist travel is a morally unproblematic form of exercising feminist freedoms rather than a racially limited commodity for the wealthiest with no real concern for our burning, flooding, and withering planet.

“Ursula K. Le Guin on Suffering and Getting to the Other Side of Pain,” The Marginalian

In the privacy of his mind, spawned of Le Guin’s own mind, Shevek reflects on the central paradox of suffering: 

If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home… Fulfillment… is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal… It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell… The thing about working with time, instead of against it, …is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.

“The Opposite of Toxic Positivity,” The Atlantic

Refusing to look at life’s darkness and avoiding uncomfortable experiences can be detrimental to mental health. This “toxic positivity” is ultimately a denial of reality. Telling someone to “stay positive” in the middle of a global crisis is missing out on an opportunity for growth, not to mention likely to backfire and only make them feel worse. As the gratitude researcher Robert Emmons of UC Davis writes, “To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.”

“Here Are Ten Facts About International Men’s Day, As I Solemnly Walk into the Ocean,” McSweeney’s

1. International Men’s Day (IMD) takes place every November 19th, so a heavy jacket is best if you plan to celebrate outdoors or—like me—solemnly walk into the ocean.

Bad Trips and Borderlands: Take a Literary Tour of the New American West, LitHub *

Fictional depictions of the Old West have been enjoying a revival lately, in recent novels like Téa Obreht’s Inland (2019) and Anna North’s Outlawed (2021) and in films like The Harder They Fall (2021) and Power of the Dog (2021). But the Southwest has also inspired an abundance of more forward-looking fiction—fiction that revels in the West’s persistent wildness and weirdness, that struggles with the difficult legacy left to this region by a history of colonial exploitation, and that even contemplates the Southwest’s imperiled future in an era of climate emergency.

* Because I am visiting the Southwest soon.