What Makes Us Feel Better When We’re Sad?

Everyone has a favourite activity for when they’re mildly depressed. For some, it’s huddling in bed with a comforter pulled up around their ears to shield against this cruel world; for others, it’s donning neon underwear and blasting “Deceptacon” for an impromptu bedroom dancing party.

My own ministrations involve watching old episodes of Freaks and Geeks I’ve already seen at least four times, soothing myself with the familiarity. (If I need a quick hit of joy, it’s straight to Youtube to watch a 47-second clip of Bill Haverchuck stutter “You cut me off mid funk!”) When that’s not working, I go watch videos of Michael Clark. For the unitiated who may not share my interest in post-punk and wacky outfits—Michael Clark is the apotheosis of the two combined. He was the enfant terrible of 1980s contemporary dance and you can watch old videos of him leaping gracefully along to the jagged guitar screeches of The Fall in ass-baring leotards or polka dot face paint. And now that it’s November, I’ll surrender to the sweeping melancholy of the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and let the music seep into my listless limbs.

The point is, no one is immune to getting the mean reds, the SADs, the abject paralyzing fear of continuing to live your own life. No matter what you want to call it we all have our own unique ways of coping with the world when everything turns to shit, and I’ve made it my mission to collect some of the “sadness routines” of some of my favourite people on the Internet and IRL.

So here’s to buying an entire box of Hallowe’en candy for yourself and eating it while watching The Craft. Here’s to buying overpriced essential oils and pouring them in the bath. Here’s to putting your socks in the microwave to warm your feet. And most of all, here’s to allowing ourselves to wallow and assuage our guilt with the knowledge that hopefully soon we’ll feel temporarily a little bit better.

Reviews of Store Catalogs

The J. Peterman Company: Owner’s Manual No. 121 By John Peterman The J. Peterman Company, 74 pp., $0.00

Not long ago, I spent an afternoon in a sparsely populated cafe on the bank of the Seine with an older gentleman, an Ernest Hemingway-type in rolled-up sleeves. His chief claim to fame was that he’d successfully wooed Audrey and Marilyn in the 1960s, but while the glamor of his private life eclipsed his public travails, he’d been busying accomplishing more than his fair share of success in life—or should I say exactly his fair share; when you meet the man it becomes immediately clear that he runs on only a dash of luck generously greased by a certain European charm and personality—and today his résumé includes climbing Mount Everest wearing only a motorcycle jacket and adopting a coterie of displaced polar bears from southern Alaska, which he raised as his own children. We’d been talking for three hours before I realized I wasn’t in a weathered cafe off the Seine at all: I was in a small room in my own home—my bathroom—reading a J. Peterman catalog.

How to Have a Dinner Party

1. Invite people who believe in food. A dinner party will be much more successful if everyone there believes that food really exists. Remember, it just takes one food skeptic to ruin the party. Also, don’t invite anyone who is afraid of food.

2. Ask your guests to prepare questions. Preparing questions in advance will give the dinner party more structure. However, guests should not expect to receive clear, straightforward answers to their questions since food does not communicate in the same way that people communicate. Also, you may want to ask your guests to bring photographs of their own food – it helps to make connections.

3. Create a food-friendly atmosphere. Choose a quiet, dimly-lit room with a round or oval shaped table. Light candles, since food is attracted to heat and light. Begin your dinner party near midnight.

4. Ask your guests if they’re ready to participate in the dinner party. It’s normal for people to giggle nervously, but if anyone looks genuinely afraid, you may want to ask them to leave. Encourage your guests to relax and hold hands. Soft chanting can help.

5. Summon the food.

Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath

It was another muggy summer, the summer I discovered Plath. If I had discovered her legacy later in life, it may have served as a calming revelation, the meat of hindsight. Wonderment not as thorny and beloved.

I discovered Plath through the typical girlhood grapevine: a slumber party. A friend who looked like Stevie Nicks circa Rumors but had suited up in detail-heavy riot girrl gear mentioned Sylvia Plath. She had just finished The Bell Jar. She wanted to know if I had read it. She casually said, like a cowboy flicking a cigarette stub to the side, I think you’d like it.

Bonfire of the Inanities

Courtesy NYPL

The story arrived in November of 1992—more than a year after the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” premiered on MTV’s “120 Minutes.” It was nine months after the Toronto Star asked: “Why is Seattle the rock capital of the world?” It was two months after the St. Petersburg Times told everyone’s grandparents that “the scene is dead.” That’s the moment that the New York Times finally went big on grunge—a trend that reporter Rick Marin called “a musical genre, a fashion statement, a pop phenomenon.”

In “Grunge: A Success Story,” Marin summed it all up:

This generation of greasy Caucasian youths in ripped jeans, untucked flannel and stomping boots spent their formative years watching television, inhaling beer or pot, listening to old Black Sabbath albums and dreaming of the day they would trade in their air guitars for the real thing, so that they, too, could become famous rock-and-roll heroes.

But the real absurdity, Marin suggested, lay in the fact that the entire “trend” of grunge was a fabrication, and he carefully unpacked the ways in which the media had built up the story of a trend.

Self-Care, in Theory and Practice

This column has a singular purpose: to talk to single women about navigating a world where they are their own savior.

I’ve fluctuated between dating a few men after the end of a fairly significant relationship. After sleeping with people who, I learned, were ultimately uninterested in me (and generally incapable of thinking of anything other than themselves) I realized I desperately needed to focus on me. All me. All the time. I had never done that. I was scared, as a lot of women often are, to explore what existed in the great abyss—me. I realized how much I relied on others telling me that I was pretty, so I began to depend, a surfeit amount, on other people’s opinions of myself in general, putting emphasis on their assumptions over mine.

After months of self hate and destruction, I knew I needed to learn how to be better. But self-love was this weird concept. I was aware of what it meant but had never interacted with it; I thought it too audacious a commitment. Then I began reading: Susan Sontag, Eartha Kitt, Ruth Asawa—all of these women who I admired, who had also battled with self-care. One of my favorite writers, Jean Rhys, was a raging alcoholic. I used them as examples to be and not be at the same time. I wanted to tap into whatever greatness I knew existed inside of me so I could be happy with myself. Self-love can mean whatever, to whoever.

The Shopping Games

Do You Have Impostor Syndrome?

Last week, I had a piece published in the New Yorker. Aside from getting my first job and meeting Nora Ephron’s editor (he said I had a “very similar spirit” to her), seeing my name in the New Yorker was, easily, the happiest moment of my life.

But it wasn’t until the second or third draft of this post that I actually wrote all of that—”I had a piece published in the New Yorker“— out; I didn’t “do a thing” or “have something weird happen to me,” as I wrote in previous versions of the sentence. People would ask how it happened, and I’d shrug and say, “I just got very lucky.” Nope!!! I worked hard. I wrote a piece that I’m really proud of, and I should own it. I should be proud of it. I should SAY it. Why was I so hesitant to do that?

A Really Bad Month

Perfume Genius’s Tacoma Sadcore

I once drove Bea Arthur to a radio interview in my Honda Civic, and reveled in the fact that I had her (good) ear for forty-five minutes. She didn’t appreciate it when I asked if she had been part of vaudeville; apparently my years were way off.

I opted out of personally driving the celebrity I was interviewing this time, a musician who some would argue is just as gender-confounding as Ms. Arthur. I selected an UberBlack (that’s their “high-end sedan”) to drive me and Mike Hadreas AKA Perfume Genius, to the Chateau Marmont, the most cliché celebrity interview spot in Los Angeles. Something about placing an unassuming homegrown artist like Hadreas in that absurd environment appealed to me. It didn’t fit Hadreas, but it might one day. Last week, he made his first appearance on Letterman, performing his hit single “Queen,” which Slate named the gay anthem of the year. (I also had him make a Grindr profile, above.)

Hadreas asked if we would see Lana Del Rey at the Chateau; she had just played at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery two nights earlier. I mentioned that Del Rey’s music has been referred to as “Hollywood Sadcore,” which one MTV journalist described as “what you get when you cross a woman who looks like a ’60s Playboy bunny with a song that sounds a little bit like Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Games’ sung through a PJ Harvey/Lykke Li filter…” How might one describe Hadreas? Perhaps what you get when cross a man who looks like a boy who dresses like a female executive with songs that sound like longing, despair, and, most recently, power. That’s Perfume Genius’s Tacoma Sadcore.

You live in Washington State but you chose to record Too Bright in Bristol, England. You also love British musicians like Kate Bush and PJ Harvey. What is it about Britain?

A Plug for the Leek

Pity the poor onion. It is ubiquitous but always in the background, a key but supporting player in nearly every savory dish. It is the bassist of the food world: without onion, food tastes tinny and lacking, but nobody really wants to eat it by alone. This is a mistake, because the onion and all its allium relatives have a flexibility that few other vegetables have: a texture that can be either crisp or luxuriously soft, a flavor that can range from pointedly savory to sugary sweet, and an unusual physical structure that can be molded into whatever shape the cook desires. Of the alliums, my favorite, an underused sandy gem of the vegetable kingdom, is the leek.

Leeks aren’t fantastically popular here, but they should be, because their flavor and texture are like a refined, grown-up version of regular onions. Their individual leaves are thin and delicate, almost like noodles, and they can be used to add onion flavor to dishes that would often simply end up tasting like onion if a typical yellow or red onion was used. That’s why they’re often used with mild primary ingredients like potatoes and eggs; they augment rather than overpower. But they have abilities far beyond the supplemental.

Leeks are ridiculously hardy plants; their season is actually just beginning now, and some say their flavor will actually peak sometime in January, when most other plants, like most New Yorkers, have given up and are just Seamlessing falafel every other night. Leeks also grow in an interesting and very artificial way; though they look like stems, the part we eat is actually a tightly curled bunch of leaves, kind of like brussels sprouts. When they grow, to cope with the garbage winter weather they love so much, the part of the leek exposed to the elements becomes tough and hard and inedible—so farmers have to actually keep topping it with soil, leaving only an inch or two of leaf exposed to the air, in order to maximize the amount of leek that remains underground, pale white and delicious. Interesting, right? Bring that cool fun fact up at your next party.