My first grade physical education class gave us the option of sitting out most days. Since I preferred to use that time to escape into other worlds, this was a boon for me. There was another reason I loved sitting on the bleachers during P.E.: there was a young girl who would often volunteer to play with my hair. The sensation this caused in me was like any other. It was comfort and warmth, but it was also a physical tingling that I felt below the surface of my skin. It was the most relaxing thing on Earth.

Assia Wevill was a woman erased for a time, her existence concealed by her final lover, poet Ted Hughes. For decades, he shared very personal things with the world but always wrote Assia out of her own life. More recently, however, Assia’s existence is being retraced again, pieced back together and presented as part of the story of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. After Sylvia died, Assia stepped into Sylvia’s life for a time, like walking into a ghost’s shadow. She cared for Sylvia’s children, lived in her rooms, and finally, six years later, killed herself the exact same way Sylvia committed suicide.

“Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way that I’m supposed to feel.” – Charlie Brown (Charles Shulz)

Just about everyone feels like that at some point, if not about Christmas, then some other big, stressful event bathed in cultural expectations. For 50 years, A Charlie Brown Christmas has reminded us how to be a human during the holidays, and how to appreciate a small, wilted Christmas tree in a sea of artificial glitz.

“Don’t run. Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody dies. Now, come watch TV,” Morty tells his sister Summer, who’s having a bitter teenage meltdown over news that her birth was a mistake. Summer’s going through a world-shattering event, but thanks to Grandpa Rick’s universe-bending, Morty has seen some things that put everything into perspective. What he’s saying is stark, but comforting.

These mannequins from a 1955 nuclear test radiate a creepy allure; a haunting emotional pallor of doom. They were carefully set up in life-sized doll houses for the sole purpose to be destroyed so we could see what happened to them. They’re lifeless, cold stand-ins for our mundane days, our delicate and warm heartbeats. They represent those quiet, safe-but-stifling moments in our homes with family and friends. We may be comfortable, or itching with wanderlust, but we don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. We expect the next moment to continue on much as the last did.

I just discovered Richard Wright’s Black Boy pretty recently. It’s not quite a direct memoir (many of the personal facts and anecdotes are fuzzy and were inserted for narrative effect) as it a vivid impression of what it was like to be a young black man in 1920-30ss America. It makes that time period from that perspective alive and present. Reading an evocative account of another person’s experience closes the distance between you. We can never fully know what’s it… Read more »

Amy Winehouse drank herself to death with vodka while watching videos of herself on Youtube. That fact, a fairly simple and sad demise labeled as a “misadventure” by the British coroner, came out two years after her death. Before the official report was released there was a lot of speculation about what transpired on Amy’s last night on Earth, and which drug, or drugs, was the one that took her away from us. Most of us, her parents included, didn’t want to believe that it was alcohol, the legal, highly marketed toxin most adults imbibe fairly regularly. We wanted it to be a “harder” drug, something more complicated and difficult to procure. Her parents seemed to want to deflect, to deny that it was anything at all, to say Amy had been doing well. Despite their will to believe otherwise, her public appearances shortly before her death seem to point to the fact that Amy was doing worse than ever. Her only drug at the time may have been alcohol via episodic binges, but that’s more than enough. If her parents couldn’t truly see her, how could she expect anyone to?

It’s an insanely hard matter to exist. First, of course, we have to make sure our basic needs are met, which is a chore in itself. The problem with having them met is that it is only briefly satisfying for us. The hunger that’s hard to feed and the rumbling that seems impossible to quiet is the pull of the dread of death and a swallowing ache of loneliness.

This disorienting pain is where Don Hertzfeldt’s films live.

Ken Cosgrove has in his reach the perfect setup for an aspiring author: thanks to his marriage situation, he could take of advantage of all the money and time needed to hammer out his first novel. He only toys with this dream briefly, though, this glimmering life not lived, before going back to tracing the same old circles with his hours, this time fueled by revenge. Is that all there is?