i let them riot in my mind a few minutes more before the news comes

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I thought I’d just write about some things I’m excited about and have enjoyed the past few months (and what a joy it is to feel excitement again!)

I’ve gotten into reading about exploration. As someone utterly possessed by the need for knowledge and driven by curiosity, I admire the impulse that led countless people to hurl themselves out into the world in the spirit of discovery. The poles are especially interesting to me: the contrast between the unforgiving winds and high seas of the “shrieking sixties” and the laughter and perseverance of the sailors, explorers, and scientists who brave them to see something new is appealing to me — someone who seeks stability but often feels driven by extremes.

In my exploration and nautical phase, I’ve enjoyed Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, Alfred Lansing’s Endurance, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I also highly recommend the Arctic episode of Our Planet, which was so lovely that I found myself desperately googling for somewhere to donate to save the Arctic.

I’ve also been diving into literary fiction, particularly fiction in translation. The post-modern experimentation of Italo Calvino, such as The Cloven Viscount and the science-based fables of Cosmicomics has been a delight. At Night All Blood is Black, a searing, visceral novella about Senegalese troops in WWI that won the International Booker Prize this year has haunted me for weeks now. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, a collection of eleven delicately-connected and disturbing stories, thrilled me with its clockwork precision. I finished Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea in a sitting, bowled over by the obsessive attention to aesthetics displayed.

Film, something of a mystery to me for many years, is rapidly becoming a new interest. I’ve now seen a number of classics, and learned that it’s not that I don’t enjoy movies, it’s that I don’t enjoy poorly-made ones. Watching gorgeous films like Kwaidan, Black Narcissus, and Chinatown has taught me to pay more attention to the symmetry and construction of films and to appreciate the richness of a film as text.

The past few months have been ones of questing, both personally and socially. As we emerge from our Covid-19 seclusion, I feel lucky for every moment I get to spend with others. It’s been months without an episode, one of my longest stretches since I first developed melancholic depression. Since I got the vaccine, I feel much more hopeful and less alone. I only wish that this privilege extended internationally, but the news of several successful vaccines and the promise of massive amounts of doses for the world is heartening.

At first, it felt difficult to speak to people without the mediation of a flickering computer screen, or outside the strictures of social distancing. My tongue felt dusty and unused, too big for my teeth, and I seemed unable to relax my shoulders. My social anxiety, something I have struggled with since lonely days in college forcing myself to read my pre-written observations off of an index card, has returned. After years in DC, I had finally come out of my shell enough to feel, if not comfortable socially, at least free of panic and able to speak without fighting the physical sensation of muteness. Some of this progress was set back in the past year, but I feel better about regaining it: after all, I did it once already. And something tells me that after 16 months of social distancing, we are all feeling a little awkward, a little unsteady, and a little rough around the edges.

The title of this post is a line that struck me from a poem I read recently by Molly Brodak. It seems to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of mornings under Covid.

In the Morning, Before Anything Bad Happens

The sky is open

all the way.

Workers upright on the line

like spokes.

I know there is a river somewhere,

lit, fragrant, golden mist, all that,

whose irrepressible birds

can’t believe their luck this morning

and every morning.

I let them riot

in my mind a few minutes more

before the news comes.

suspended in gaffa

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I’ve blogged before about my struggle with melancholic depression, a type of major depressive disorder characterized by intense feelings of despair, overwhelming feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, and an intensification of symptoms in the morning. It is episodic in nature. It has no specific trigger. For me, it comes without warning, lasts up to a week, and then disappears as suddenly as it had arrived. Some days, when under its dictates, I cannot get out of bed or speak.

I’m fortunate to work flexible hours and to have my depression largely under control: when I’m experiencing an episode, I participate in the obligatory riffs with friends, post as fervently on Instagram as usual, and listen to the same music. I think (hope) that the only difference perceptible to others is that I seem more curt and out of it. When depressed, I find conversations to be like communicating with someone through the end of a very long tunnel. Internally, I am miserable, I tire more easily, and I develop headaches. I don’t go on the long walks I am fond of and I don’t eat much.

A week ago, I got the notification that this domain was about to expire. I considered letting Looking Glass War’s domain lapse. I was embarrassed that I’d vanished so soon after promising a series of analysis, and was angry at my own limitations. Despite the small subscriber list, I was ashamed that I couldn’t produce even a simple blog post on topics I know better than anything.

As uncomfortable and excruciating as I find even alluding to my depression, I articulate all this in the hopes that others may find it helpful to their own experiences. I don’t think a series on Q anon is going to happen – I am going to let myself enjoy writing again: dumb bits I make up about tv and literature and flash fiction pieces based on absurd headlines. As I venture forward into year two of this obscure little blog, I am happy to have this space to do this.

Depression is the depressive’s favorite subject, because it turns you inward. In spite of this, I don’t think I’ll mention it in the future. If you experience a similar disorder, just know that there are lots of us out there and that, although it really doesn’t seem like it, there is a singular intricacy and grace to the world around us. It’s a beautiful, collective work, and we are all interconnected. Your struggle is my struggle, as mine is yours. And even something like admiring the shape of a shadow on the sidewalk is a thing that grounds you in the everyday. We are lucky to experience it.

Some things that I have enjoyed recently (hover for links):

on contradictory impulses

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There’s a sensation that has a very poetic French name, “l’appel du vide,” or “the call of the void.” It describes the feeling that overcomes one sometimes when looking down from a great height – the intrusive urge to leap. Somewhere amongst your millions of firing synapses, a few have managed to overcome their biological imperatives and try to tempt you away.

It has always interested me that in almost every description, essay, or account of depression I have read, no one mentions how narcissistic a disease it is. Depression turns you inward and makes you fall in love with your own suffering. Every indulgence of the despairing impulse rewards the depressive mind and reinforces your perceived sense of nobility. Part of this is a survival tactic: if you can think of your particular malaise as ennobling or productive, it makes it easier to endure until it passes. But why the rest?

One of Emil Cioran’s collections of pessimistic aphorisms, The Trouble With Being Born, goes into this. In it, he talks about how “the only way of enduring one disaster after the next is to love the very idea of disaster: if we succeed, there are no further surprises, we are superior to whatever occurs, we are invincible victims.” Another aphorism reads “everything which borders on torment wakens the psychologist in each of us, as well as the experimenter: we want to see how far we can go in the intolerable.”

In Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky’s narrator, the Underground Man, revels in his feelings of dissatisfaction. The more wounded he is, the more joy he takes in it: “in despair there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one’s position.” Later he claims that “man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact.” He closes by musing on what kind of life is better, “cheap happiness or exalted sufferings?” The feeling of hopelessness becomes a cloistered devotion; suffering and despair are transmuted into the trials of a saint. The worse one feels, the closer one is to perfection.

What is intriguing to me is that impulse to lean into the skid. What makes our muscles tense to leap and our minds feel satisfied with our own disease?

the mailer number

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I have been reading Harlot’s Ghost, a 1,300-page book written by Norman Mailer in 1991 about the career of a fictional CIA agent. The book employs a number of useful framing devices as well as some truly incredibly turns of prose, but more notably, I think it’s the horniest book I’ve ever read.

Whether it’s a lengthy scene about a urination fetish bar or a lingering description of gonorrheal effects on genitalia, it’s safe to say that Mailer’s fixation on sex transcends the impulse to cry “death of the author” and brings us into the realm of le petit mort d’author. This demands a new schema of literary analysis, the prototype of which I will call the Mailer Number.

The Mailer Number is how many pages an author can make it, on average, before venting their freakish id directly into the text. Your average male author, describing a female character before emphasizing whether their breasts are attractive or not operates at about 25-50. Known perverts like Piers Anthony hover around 2-3 for their Mailer Numbers. Mailer himself is around a 20. I look forward to analyzing more works with this lens.

minor suggestions to improve ‘the bachelor’

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I just found out that ABC’s hit game show The Bachelor has had twenty-five seasons. Surely they are running out of ways to make it interesting by now. Just in case, I have helpfully compiled some crossover suggestions to revitalize the show. I’ve never seen an episode but I hope I can be of some use regardless.

A crossover with Kitchen Nightmares (UK for more swears):
In this version of The Bachelor, Gordon Ramsay is there puking dramatically like a mad cat and screaming at the contestants.

A crossover with Survivor:
Everyone votes off one person. Even if the bachelor picks her, he is only one vote among many and may be overruled by a democratic majority.

A crossover with Jeopardy:
Everything the bachelor says has to be in the form of a question.

Fairy tale/folklore rules:
The bachelor assigns a set of seemingly impossible tasks to the contestants: spinning gold from straw, sewing a cambric shirt without seams, emptying the sea with a sieve, &c.

Electoral College rules:
Electoral College rules come into play here. Contestants are weighted according to population of their home states and the weight of the home state’s population MUST be a consideration in the final decisions.

pitchfork reviews of words

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subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change
The promise of this word is fully realized in its playful dance—first the clipped “kup,” then the hissing, reverent tones of “rish” followed by a tender, wistful conclusion, almost a hush for the speaker. The drawing back of the mouth at the end invites the listener to follow. An impressive debut. 9.5/10

unearthly, supernatural
Eldritch comes to us from mystical origins: in Middle English, elfriche meant “fairyland.” Opening with the pressing of the tongue to the back of the front teeth, an aggressive and bold undertaking, it maintains a steady tone throughout the rest of the word before closing with a satisfying snap of the lips on the “ch.” 8/10

a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman
The lip curl that is necessary to form the beginning of harridan augurs the rest of the experience: something harsh and strident. Gliding down into a fitting invocation of the “id,” you approach the end–and not a moment too soon. 7/10

imposingly deep and full
Pulling up the corners of the mouth to launch into this word is like embarking on a journey for places unknown. The anticipation doesn’t let up as sonorous swoops into an “or” deep in the chest before lilting back upwards in hopes of sights unseen with a gentle, sibilant “ous.” The destination means little; the journey is everything. 9/10

a youtuber takes on blood meridian

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Hello, McCarthy fans! We’re back with some breakdowns of Blood Meridian. We’re gonna talk about how Cormac McCarthy used some pretty mind-blowing tricks to make Blood Meridian the exciting read it is.

So first of all, authors put Easter eggs in their stories too! They’re not as easy to spot as in a movie, but when you do find them, it makes the whole book click. They call them “metaphors.” A big “metaphor” in Blood Meridian is the indifference of nature, so keep an eye out for that when reading and it’s pretty rewarding.

Another fun fact about Blood Meridian: You know how Marvel movies have a post-credits scene called a stinger? Sometimes book writers do these, too. They’re called “epilogues.” There’s an “epilogue” at the end of Blood Meridian, so make sure you keep reading past the end!

You know how JJ Abrams always has his lens flares? Cormac McCarthy has those, too, in the “MCU” of his books. Only his version is not using quotation marks. It’s pretty wild and a good indicator that you’re reading a McCarthy.

One more thing, and if you haven’t finished the book, close the window now.

OK, y’all still with me? Spoiler alert: what was UP with that scene in the jakes? Sound off in the comments if you have any ideas.

Thanks for watching. In future vids, we’ll talk about the different combat styles of the Glanton Gang and settle once and for all who would win in a Judge vs Comanche match-up if the Judge had his Howitzer.

introducing qanon studies

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While it’s a shame to interrupt the usual deeply erratic programming of joke posts and internecine griping, there’s something I’ve wanted to chime in about for a while and this space is as apt as any.

I’ve been working as a right-wing watcher for the better part of the past year, which, while not an especially long period of study, means that for better or worse I’ve become intimately familiar with the nuances of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Once a fringe culture that I followed as part of my long-held interest in the reactionary right, QAnon is now something that most Americans have at least heard of thanks to the siege on the Capitol last month (did I ever envision writing this phrase?) I’ve seen a lot of explainers of QAnon and corresponding timelines, datasets, and highlights of what they conspire about when they think only sympathetic ears are listening. However, there seems to be little on the literary, psychological, or even imaginative origins of major points in the conspiracy.

My deepest belief regarding the right wing is that the reactionary right have to be understood to be combated. If we ever hope to deprogram the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fallen down this philosophical rabbit-hole, we have to understand what makes it compelling for its acolytes. In this way, I hope some mild amateur analysis on my tiny blog is at least useful for deciphering the conspiratorial mindset.

I’ve been hesitant to ever write on this topic for risk of amplifying or giving oxygen to a belief with a body count. The number one rule of analyzing live disinformation is that you should never be a factor in continuing the spread. However, QAnon has broken containment. Where it was once isolated, it is now endemic. Residents of Sequim, WA are currently at war with their mayor over it, desperately addressing his radio show with calls for accountability for his boosting of the movement. Teachers are mentioning it in class and instructing students in how to find information about it, a dangerous prospect in the era of online radicalization. Platforms promise to address the burgeoning movement and then fall short, with lethal consequences. The inauguration of President Biden has done little to deter the most fervent believers, which media coverage of disappointed and disillusioned adherents elides. For these reasons, I believe in-depth analysis of QAnon is not only interesting for watchers like myself, but helpful to record contemporaneously.

I’ll probably only write a few posts on this, mostly in the service of articulating things I’ve noticed from months immersed in following the movement. After all, it’s possible that one day soon the fever will break, and the people who have fallen victim to this dangerous and hateful ideology will snap out of it and be able to repair the broken bonds surrounding them. I don’t think it’s likely, but I have hope.

Prospective posts: major themes (doubles, gematria, role of media); the role of prediction and prophecy; the incorporation of Bircher and sovereign citizen ideology into the schema; fellow traveler beliefs (flat earth, COVID-19 misinformation); the role of fandom. Let’s get freaky.

excerpts from Cormac McCarthy’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

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The fluorescent light of the station gleamed on as if the wrath of heaven or maybe god itself driving a beam of light directly into the place from where vision comes creating a low thrum in the back of the head as the eye strained to adjust to its pale and unearthly light and the detectives assembled one by one and were carrion birds drawn to bone palings in the desert sun and the dunh dunh noise called harshly in the wilderness.

Stabler looked at the kid and the kid looked back at Stabler. I aint done nothin the kid said and Stabler laughed in a short sharp bark that said he had a certain lack of faith in the veracity of his statement. I know you done somethin Stabler said and he hit the table with his fist and the metallic sound of flesh hitting the tabletop reverberated throughout the interrogation room like a shotgun blast.

The man with the long music career from a day past said something about how the kid took his drugs which the kid took offense to. I aint no drugger he said and the man laughed and looked at him. I know what all you kids today are about he said and smiled again with the condescension a gun has for its target.

Law and Order: SVU — a best/worst list

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Disclaimer: This is by no means authoritative, and by no means have I watched every episode.


Detective Munch: Munch has been wrongly shut out of later seasons of SVU. Apparently, the actor raised this issue once in 2007, but later said “it’s like yanking the tonsils out of the gift horse if I complain too much.” If I had my druthers, Munch would be in every episode and have a leading role, because he’s one of the only squad members who actually cares about civil liberties and free speech protections. This is notable since the rest of the unit appear to view due process as a funny joke. Munch has been a character on several shows, because procedurals love doing cross-overs and hogs like me watch them every time. His lines often allude to belief in conspiracy theories. I strongly suspect that if you were to speak to Munch in a free-flowing conversation, he would eventually begin to talk about what he thinks really happened on 9/11.

Detective Tutuola: Ice-T is unfairly the subject of most memes about Law and Order: SVU. This is because he’s often given purely expository dialogue, forcing him to explain SVU writers’ fever dreams of what street drugs are like. He’s also given an unfortunate amount of lines trying to acknowledge the racist role of police in America and the role shows like SVU play in creating propaganda for a militarized force little different than the slave patrols they evolved from. This leads to a lot of wooden scenes where he explains things like racism to white detectives. Despite this burden, Fin’s loyalty to his squadmates and the mission is admirable.

Detective Benson: Benson rocks. Benson is just insanely cool. I can forgive many of the sins of SVU when Mariska Hargitay’s perfect eyeliner and hawkish scowl are glaring down some little misogynistic worm as she steamrolls her way through New York’s seediest creeps. I want to be Benson when I’m in my 50s. Hargitay is one of the strongest cast members, as evidenced by the emotionally wrenching scenes where she has to cry about something tragic happening to her adopted son (this happens every other episode).

Sonya Paxton: There are so many ADAs on Law and Order but Paxton was the most fun, playing an extremely cynical and brassy veteran prosecutor. She has a very humanizing struggle with alcoholism, which other characters berate and belittle her for. She gets murdered in Season 12 because SVU can’t handle having good characters for very long. Justice for Sonya, who should have been in every episode along with Munch.

Detective Carisi: I have a soft spot for Carisi because he’s very attractive, but also because he hearkens back to an older era of Law and Order— the Lenny Briscoe days, where most of the appeal was watching a guy in a long coat say something pithy about New York City, and nodding along like you were also a world-weary New York City detective. When Carisi’s lip curls and he says something about blue bloods in the Upper West Side, I feel that, despite having no idea where that is. His role as audience surrogate is “tired New Yorker” and “lapsed Catholic,” something that I suppose appeals to more and more Americans.

ADA Barba: Barba is a great character because he is a man of argument. He cares about the people he is driven to protect, but you see him at his most elated and alive when the SVU crew ask him if he can’t possibly think up some new arg and win the day. Barba wants args and evidence and will take on all sorts of tenuous cases just to try out experimental legal logic.


Detective Stabler: Stabler has a lot of kids and a serious anger problem. I don’t think he should be a police officer, since he has the emotional regulatory control of a particularly dim MMA fighter, or perhaps one of those people who caught dancing hysteria in the Renaissance era. There is no thought that occurs to Stabler that he does not immediately express by either brutalizing a suspect or planting evidence.

Trudi Malko: I recently watched the anti-vax issue episode of SVU, which did an adequate job of dispelling most vaccine myths and explaining contagion, but unfortunately struggled to fully rebut anti-vax arguments because it is anathema in America to acknowledge that some issues of individual liberty (ie, vaccine choice) should obviously be sacrificed for the higher collective good. Malko is the anti-vax mommy blogger who sparks a measles outbreak (which obviously sends Benson’s son to the ICU). In a show full of deranged murderers and unrepentant sex criminals, Malko is one of the most overtly odious characters.

Detective Amaro: Oh my god! I don’t care about Detective Amaro. I feel like every episode we learn about some new child he has abandoned or a new police misconduct case he is involved in. He is one of those people who continually announce that they are tired of all the drama and are taking time to work on themselves, while also clearly operating as some sort of primordial drama elemental. When I see him in an episode, I feel tired and emotionally drained because I know we are in for some bullshit.