Evacuate the States!

Everything is terrible everywhere, sure, but our culture is the absolute worst.

Dear Molly,

I'm fucking sick of feeling like a radical in my own country for believing in things that seem like common sense and basic dignity. These things include:

  • People should make enough to pay for the basic things in life for themselves and their families and also have some extra money left over after they pay for all of those things

  • People who work should get sick time and vacation time and the part time loophole is bullshit

  • I shouldn't have to pay $400 a month for increasingly shitty healthcare coverage and increasingly high co-pays

  • The rent I pay every month shouldn't cost the same as a modest vacation to Europe, and someone should regulate that

  • Most people don't need to own a gun, ever, and the only ones who should be able to buy them should have a legitimate purpose for it and the ones they can buy shouldn't fire shots like a mini-machine gun

  • Childcare subsides are good

  • Abortions are medical procedures

  • Corporate profits are a terrible measure of success and has led to an extremely toxic work culture and the ruination of many lives through needless layoffs and benefit reductions

I'm also tired of being bullied into being happy and positive and sucking ass and covering up shit all the time. It turns out there's this other place called England. No, I don't mean the UK. I've been a fan of British television shows for over ten years. I don't mean Monty Python and Downtown Abbey, I mean Nightmare Neighbors and Stacey Dooley and Travel Man and POG's for the Love of Dogs and The Last Leg and other random stuff I stumbled upon and ended up enjoying.

I recently extensively researched English culture and visited England. I don't want to fucking go to Hogwarts or jump into a blue telephone box filled with jars of marmite. I want to not feel like a freak for my political beliefs. I live in a big blue liberal sea in the middle of a flyover country, and occasionally I'll meet someone who shares my beliefs and we often form long lasting, strong friendships. But nothing that would make where I live align more with my beliefs has fucking changed for the last ten years. In fact, it's gotten worse.

I'm not an idiot. No place is perfect and on vacation I don't have to drive or do chores or work. So why do I have this gut feeling that this would be a much better place than America to raise my future children? Could my issues with my home country really be my issues with my parents (for whom I am never good enough, am emotionally neglected, and my political beliefs mocked) in disguise and wanting to move is like individuation?

I know London is expensive as fuck and I have to work through the aforementioned parental issues before tearing up the rooted tree of my life. But goddamn am I on the same wavelength as this culture. They even started banning ads that contain gender stereotypes. And while watching TV online via VPN I saw an advert where a woman said plainly, "I took the morning after pill because I didn't want to have a baby and that's my choice" instead of that vague Plan B a where a woman walks by a baby and then goes to work or something. I also saw an ad in which a bloody pad sings. Am I just a romantic idiot, or is it natural to gravitate towards a culture more in line with your own values?


Marmite Lover

p.s. Holy shit the men in London dress well.

Dear Marmite Lover,

Like most Americans, I don’t know enough about anything to answer anyone’s questions, least of all questions about what it would mean to relocate your angry Marmite-loving microbiome to England. Can you really just pack up and move there? Don’t you need a job first? Can you live anywhere cheaply? What are the options?

I do know exactly what you mean about having to act happy and positive and covering shit up all the time. Straight out of the gate, I want to recommend that you stop doing that socially, at the very least. You can pretend with your family and at your job, of course. Be positive and light over email and via text because it’s just required. It really is. People can’t handle heaviness on their phones. I hate that but it’s true. But in your social life? Tell the truth. Be a Debbie Downer if you must. And write down your bad feelings and your rage more often. Gather complainers to your side. You must have room to bitch with impunity.

One of the things I hate the most about this moment in our culture is that there are very few places we can go and things we can read and enjoy and people we can talk to when we’re in a shitty mood. We have all of this access to the world and to each other, but we’re supposed to dive in with a big HAPPY FACE pasted over our real faces. Fuck that shit. And what could feel worse, when you’re angry and sad, than going online and reading about some trivial idiotic product that’s about to drop or some famous already-rich human who’s about to do something incredible with their boundless energy? The whole world is a sad maze of thinly disguised press releases.

We need Shitty Mood Spas instead, where we can be our dyspeptic selves without shame. We need a toggle we can add to our browsers and social media feeds, that will only bring non-triumphant and petty and funny and bitchy news items our way.

As far as whether or not you’re running away from your problems / issues by moving, I mean, of course you are. But everything you do from age 10 to 40 (in my case!) is an echo of some problem/ issue you haven’t worked through yet. Or it’s an echo of a fantasy you had when you were 5. Or it’s a manifestation of your deep-seated belief that you’ll magically become a new person the second your circumstances change. This is what happens in the movies, and in stories. You paint a new backdrop and the characters change. Chicken Little turns into Joan of Arc. The Little Mermaid becomes Princess Ariel becomes King Princess. PJ O’Rourke becomes PJ Harvey.

So before you pack up your boxes, I suppose you might ask yourself: Do you blame too many of your problems on our culture or on the current mood here or on the current administration? Does social media have a tendency to make each of us exaggerate how much our happiness and our peace of mind is created and destroyed by the matrix? Might we benefit from un-jacking ourselves from this simulation? Or does your blame come from having taken too many classes on Marxism and NeoMarxism? Is Hegel to blame for this? Can we realistically blame Jon Stewart?

Having written a great deal about what makes American culture poisonous in ways that feel insidiously personal and demeaning and disheartening, I want to encourage you to examine your deep-seated beliefs, your common sources of rage and longing, your influences, your fantasies, and your escapist tendencies. OH LOOK I HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL, WHAT A SURPRISE. My latest book, What If This Were Enough?, is a deep dive into the high capitalist nightmare we’re living in, and how we re-ingest the same broken fantasies every day. The paperback version comes out on October 8th, and I’ll be reading it in NYC (10/28), Durham (10/29), LA (11/7), Seattle (11/22). I’m also considering a PJ Harvey tribute event in LA that will not include PJ Harvey herself but WILL mostly consist of me singing all of the songs from Dry (1992) in order, ideally while swilling gin cocktails somewhere in Highland Park.

I mention my book (written under the fake Russian ice skater/ porn star/ roller girl name “Heather Havrilesky”) because you’ll probably like it (as will anyone who reads this Shitty Mood newsletter), but also because I am leaning way into the indignities of late capitalism at this dark moment. Because like you, I have this feeling (shared by many these days) that extreme measures are demanded on all fronts. Extreme measures are required to save the globe, and they’re also required to prevent my children from getting swept away by a monster hurricane. Are we unprepared for future calamities? No doubt. Are you? Probably. Is the answer some light volunteering, Prius ownership, and growing organic veggies in the sweet little garden behind your multimillion-dollar estate in Santa Cruz? If you ask Jonathan Franzen, he might say yes. If you ask me, maybe that’s just a way for one old rich dude to feel OK as the stars fall from the sky. Obviously it won’t be enough. I think he’d agree with me there.

On the other hand, what is enough? Where do we go? Who has good advice right now? What do we do? Are we all migrants from this point forward?

I don’t want to get too panicky. But I also think that walking around saying “It’s really not that bad” is a very good way to usher in a catastrophic ending straight out of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. But I won’t dive too far into this dilemma, since my idiot sister plans to tackle climate change in her column the week of September 20th, in honor of the Global Climate Strike, which we should all participate in, publicize, and encourage, and honor.

My main point is this: We all need a plan for the future. Or as Young Thug puts it, “If I get pulled over, put my coke inside your crack.” Your version of stowing coke in your crack might include eating marmite and fucking well-dressed Londoners in order to create a robust brood of mini Brits, or it might include starting therapy, getting into insanely good shape, and saving every other cent you make for a big move Somewhere Else / Anywhere But Here.

I say do whatever the fuck you like, always. Are you escaping / an escapist? Is this individuation or just horniness? It doesn’t matter either way. Moving to England sounds fun to me. Might as well do it while you can. Why shouldn’t you try it on for size, if you can manage it? At least look into it, for kicks. (Another current mantra of mine: I might never do this but I’ll pretend that I might do it, just for fun. This includes moving somewhere new, living in Italy for a month, dying my hair lavender, cheating on my husband, creating a variety show, building some kind of tiny house somewhere, learning Spanish, hosting a weekly happy hour at my house, etc.)

I just want to recommend that while you’re planning for the future, you also try very hard to live right here, right now. You can do both things at once. One of the prominent lies of our culture is that YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE THING. You have to commit, go all in on one thing, nail yourself to one identity, pursue one calling. That includes the notion that you can only BE one thing, one clearly defined person, and have ONE MOOD and behave CONSISTENTLY. But it also includes living in either the past, the present, or the future. We act like you can’t plan and also savor the moment. We act like you’re either charging forward fearlessly or you’re floundering. But living a balanced life requires doing a little of both: You work hard, you forge ahead, you plan, and you also meander, hesitate, reflect, savor. You stay married and you also daydream about hot Londoners who know how to dress, unlike your idiot husband.

Personally, at this moment, I’m very into juggling several different spinning plates at once. I want to be ambitious and also enormously slack. I want to save and sometimes waste my money. I want to work very very hard and also fuck about.

One spinning plate you always, always, always have to include in the mix is the ability to be where you are and accept the limits therein. Even when you’re angry and you’re living in a shotgun shack, you have to take some time away from your rage at what went wrong, and you have to ask yourself, “How can I make this dirt floor nice? How can I enjoy this day? How can I show some affection for this badly proportioned microbiome I’m married to? How can I savor this fucked up, crushed moment, when it feels like the whole world is squatting on my face?”

Because the inequities of existence on this planet will not lift one day. We will not suddenly have free access to amazing sushi and gorgeous housing and fun vacations worldwide. We will not become Jonathan Franzen. We will not have endless possibilities available to us. There will be floods and famines. There will be people suffering. Everything could get worse than it’s ever been before. We all have to try our best to fight for this world. But we also have to live, motherfucker.

Your parents won’t change, but this world will change around them. Stop thinking about what they think. Step away from the terrors of this moment. Unplug yourself from the rage matrix and grow a fucking flower in some dirt. Draw a picture. Write a song. Turn your inner Chicken Little into a hot chicken sandwich, then eat it. Replace your inner Princess Ariel with an inner King Princess. Spruce up your goddamn shotgun shack.

Your first job is living. Learn to live now, knowing that you can always store your coke inside someone else’s crack later. Enjoy this wretched day however you can.


Should you wait around until your partner is ready for kids? Polly says no. Hold on, you’re still thinking about how you can’t enjoy this wretched day? Yes you can enjoy it. Yes you can, asshole. Ask yourself what it would take to enjoy this day. Do the one thing you can do to enjoy yourself today. Do it now, dummy. Go ahead. It’s fine. You deserve this. Yes. You do.