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Valentine’s Day Help Desk with Kristin Dombek

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, the n+1 podcast presents a special live session of The Help Desk with n+1 advice columnist Kristin Dombek. Listen as Kristin answers real submitted questions from readers about love, communication, and relationships. Read her previous columns for The Help Desk here and submit questions for future columns at askkristin@nplusonemag.com.

Remarks by Elizabeth Schambelan

On accepting the 2019 n+1 Writer’s Fellowship

All authoritarian regimes try to suppress thought, and n+1’s publishing genealogy places it within an anti-authoritarian tradition. This genealogy includes magazines that are for the general reader, but that dare to posit a general reader who wants to be challenged, who has political commitments but is not looking for ideological marching orders, who is seeking new forms and new ideas, who wants to see received wisdom skeptically scrutinized, not soothingly affirmed—and anyone who regularly reads n+1’s “Intellectual Situation” essays can attest that there is very little soothing affirmation to be found there. If, as Benedict Anderson suggested, newspapers can create nations, then certainly magazines can shape a public sphere. It is so, so important to support magazines and media that help sustain the kind of public sphere in which in which totalitarian assaults on language, fact, and thought can be resisted.

Announcing Issue 27

Deep End arrives next week! Read the annotated table of contents and subscribe. Get 20% off with discount code DEEPEND.

Writing by George Blaustein, Aziz Rana, Thomas Bolt, Beatriz Bracher, Caleb Crain, Joshua Cohen, Kristin Dombek, Sam Frank, Victoria Lomasko, A. S. Hamrah, and Naomi Fry.

Episode 28: The Selfishness of Others

Does your brother entertain you with witty anecdotes? Does he tell you stories about his day? Does he ask you questions about your own life? Is he contributing anything to this ride situation at all? Or is he sort of sitting there, like some kind of prince who expects to be driven around?

Letters

Watching the courageous and inexhaustible crowds in Tahrir Square, Malcolm Harris must have felt the thrill of divine revelation. This had to be the long-awaited sign. Surely here at last was the messianic “multitude” for which so many readers of Hardt and Negri have searched in vain on all terrestrial maps.

Issue 10 Sold Out

For the first time, we’ve sold out of our current issue, Issue 10. All subscriptions will now start with Issue 11, coming out in March, and the few copies of Issue 10 that we have are now only available at the cost of a rare back issue. We think it’s worth it. But you may still be able to find the issue on sale for the ordinary price at a local bookstore.

The Age of Insolvency

On Tama Janowitz

Janowitz’s preoccupation is with portraying the encounter between an uncertain, struggling protagonist and the chaotic, hostile world around her, which can only result in a downward spiral. As she writes early on in Scream, “Try as I might, for me, other human beings are a blend of pit vipers, chimpanzees, and ants, a virtually indistinguishable mass of killer shit-pickers, sniffing their fingers and raping.” In Janowitz’s memoir and in her fiction, the suffering modern subject who must persist in such an apocalypto-Darwinian landscape is almost always a woman. This is not a coincidence.

Rhode Warriors, Care Crises

Letters from Issue 27

Namara Smith’s “The Women’s Party” argues that Bernie Sanders “sometimes seemed to speak to a phantom of the old white male industrial working class rather than to the black, brown, and female service workers who make up the majority of the working class today.” But his extraordinary success with women under 35 and his staunch, even militant support from the National Nurses United — a majority black and brown union of mostly women — speaks to just how much he did reach the modern working class.

All That Counts Is Getting to a Normal World

The New York Film Festival, 2016

Jackie was not on the festival press-screening schedule, but I managed to see it one night at the Fox building on Sixth Avenue. As I left, passing giant posters of Bill O’Reilly and Brit Hume in the halls, the last presidential debate was about to start, the one in which Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton, a former first lady like Jackie, a “nasty woman.” No doubt he will see that moment re-created in a film someday. Midtown was quiet as the screens in the Fox windows and the ticker on the building showed pre-debate Trump news, delivering his crude messages onto empty sidewalks. Larraín’s film wants us to believe that maybe there really was an American Camelot once upon a time. The blue and red glow from the Fox News building made Jackie’s conclusion mournful, and in comparison not tacky at all.

Ward’s Fool

A memo on the ruins

By the time the twentieth century was yielding to the twenty-first, the worry had been replaced by one strangely analogous: Was a rational agent ever really free to choose a course of action that failed to maximize his economic self-interest? It was to politics that people generally went for an answer, in those years. The philosophers were, as I say, then preoccupied by the problem of the hypothetically powerful computer.

I Didn’t Talk

The calm and muddy river of the satisfied

She needed information about the period, about the education system, the details of daily life in public schools and prison. She said she’d already read my books. I think she was studying pedagogy or anthropology, I didn’t quite catch it. She didn’t know that I’d been a prisoner, had participated in the movement. I didn’t participate, I said. But Teresa made a pouty face, like I was being difficult or modest.

The Last Last Summer

Donald Trump and the fall of Atlantic City

All along the Boardwalk, the sun-bleached, tattered banners read do ac — the city’s latest marketing catchphrase. The Boardwalk was a scrum of such imperatives, with Trumps on every side issuing edicts and diktats, offering bargains. Trumps in toupees and with their guts hanging over their change belts, out on Steel Pier, out on Central Pier, trying to get me to try the ring toss, though the rubber rings always bounce off the rubber bottles, or to try the beanbag pitch, though the lily pads they’re supposed to land on are kept wet and slippery with a shammy. Try Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, which contains no saltwater. Step right up and I’ll guess your weight, or at least I’ll make your wallet lighter. What American literature taught me — what Melville taught me in The Confidence-Man, what Poe taught me in “Diddling,” that imagination or fantasy can be a form a greed, even a uniquely American form — the shills and carny barkers taught me first, at $2 a lesson: I would never win that stuffed elephant.

Don't Be Scared, Homie

“My sternum hurt for, like, almost two years“

There are of course many dedicated MMA news sites, and ESPN has ramped up coverage, but the best discourse takes place elsewhere. Half of what I’ve learned has been from podcasts like Heavy Hands and Fights Gone By and pseudonymous YouTube analysts and a Twitter user handled @GrabakaHitman, who’s devoted his life to GIFing every last fight anywhere anytime. Exemplary tweet: “Can someone find a Fuji TV One stream so I can watch a Russian hand-2-hand combat expert fight a Mongolian wrestler on a moat at 4am? Thanks.”

Old Ship

What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

You asked for philosophy and I am bringing it, late-night dorm-basement style. But I’m not just splitting hairs. This variety in our actual experience suggests — I think — that Camus got the question wrong, or that the question itself is the problem. The only important philosophical question isn’t why we each, individually, might choose to live. It’s how to live with each other, given that the facts of our lives are contingent on the facts of others’.

Inversion of Marcia

People keep offering me tongues

My sister grabbed a sheet, tripped on it, ran out of the room naked. I stepped back, mouth open. Marcia’s bare feet pounded down the hall. A door slammed.

Alicia was naked, too, but she didn’t move. “It’s OK,” she said slowly. “It’s all right.”

I closed my mouth. (Why was I the one blushing?)

Alicia kept giving me the same steady look, but I could hear her breathe. “OK? It’s no big deal. We were playing around.”

Decolonizing Obama

What happened to the third-world left?

We may be witnessing the completion of a political cycle, one that brings us back to the left dilemma of forty years ago: how to create a truly transformative majority, at once cross-racial and class conscious? This majority will need to be built at a moment when the right is as ideologically and institutionally unconstrained as at any point in the postwar era. How we answer will speak to the legacy not of Obama, but of the freedom movements that emerged in his wake.

The Obama Speeches

Drones need no Churchills and deserve no Lincolns.

In the narrative world of an Obama speech, the protagonist of every story is in some sense a generation, and the climax of every story is a moment. For Bush, time was always running out, like Jack Bauer’s clock in 24. The decision point was that instant when one billiard ball hits the next, and God willing, your aim was true. But in the greatest Obama speeches, because of their eloquence and ceremonial grandeur, time itself slows.

No President

There is every reason to expect the worst

On Tuesday night, some of us are in the living room, watching the returns, rapt, as we would be anyway. A few more are in the kitchen, cutting the flag cake into smaller pieces, making bad electoral-college jokes, or wondering whether flag eating will also be banned under Trump alongside flag burning and national-anthem protests. The friend who baked the cake nearly severed a finger in the process and wound up in the hospital. What’s an American flag without a little blood baked in?

In Tbilisi

”It’s forbidden to be sad in Georgia.”

Most of Günel’s reports deal with women’s rights in the South Caucasus.

“The lives of Azerbaijani women living in Tbilisi are different from those of Georgian women,” she said. “Azerbaijani girls are taken out of school by their families in the ninth grade and married off at the age of 14. If Azerbaijani girls resist, it’s suicide. Our child’s nanny became a grandmother at 32. Talk to her.”

Their nanny, Renka, agreed to pose for a portrait and talked a little bit about herself.

She was married at 13 and had a daughter when she was 14.

Emptiness

Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves.

The narcissist is, according to the internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves. They take what they think are the biggest, most impressive parts of other selves, and devise a hologram of self that seems superpowered.

Both Ways

Advice from the Help Desk

I used to have a recurring nightmare about a wedding. I walk onto a vast green lawn and see rows of wooden white folding chairs. Suited men clump and scatter across the lawn, and women in taffeta and silk circle up and laugh softly. There are half a dozen bridesmaids in pink dresses puffed by tulle. There are flowers woven cinematically into a fucking white wicker archway.

Bank-robbin' in Brooklyn

Imagine this paragraph being twenty years long.

Since the age of 12 I have worked forty-five different jobs. I counted for you. No, I am not 300 years old, Bank-robbin’; I worked most of these two or three at a time, like a real patriot, since none of them paid enough to live on. What I will have to say to you, by the end of this, is that anyone who has found a way to transform anger into purpose and even some measure of peace about work has learned to reckon with two contradictory truths.

The Help Desk

For those in distress

It’s a little bit exciting, the abandon of sitting there anyway and all the nervousness and desire that entails, but I still don’t know why I am outside, and why I can’t move inside. What am I waiting for? And why do I want it so badly? Will I ever be able to go inside or will my desire determine everything?

Waiting on Long Island

I do not know what you’re waiting for, or why you want it so badly. But what is inside that is so important?

I am thinking about things, over and over, but I can’t really explain what I am thinking about, and I’m not doing anything useful. It’s a little bit exciting, the abandon of sitting there anyway and all the nervousness and desire that entails, but I still don’t know why I am outside, and why I can’t move inside. What am I waiting for? And why do I want it so badly? Will I ever be able to go inside or will my desire determine everything?

Bartender Ears

It’s cool to try harder now, but what you choose to try harder at matters, and you should always also not give a fuck.

Before we can determine why, though, we have to define what “trying harder” really is. The phrase “try harder” first came to my attention when I was writing an essay for this very magazine. Next to a paragraph that was foundering on the rocks of my typically confused mind, Mark Greif, rather than engaging in any substantial way with the content of that paragraph or giving me any guidance at all about how I might improve it, instead wrote in the margin next to the paragraph in blue ink, “try harder.”

Bamboozled

You dared to create a different kind of world, and then the real one, it must seem, crashed down, as it does.

How can we be expected to keep loving again if whenever we manage to become generous and naked and pimpled or fat or skinny and drunk and orgasmic enough to really enter the world of another and invite them into ours, and make a new world in the process, one or the other of us will eventually inevitably make that new world feel entirely like a fake? No more breakups, I say. No more.

How to Quit

Outside, people are climbing up the steep slope of the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, on foot or skateboard or bicycle. Only a few look at the building, and even fewer try to glimpse inside. I am in here, watching the bridge and chain-smoking.

Surprising Sweetness

Inside the theater it felt like a church service or a rock show. When the recorded voice told us to turn off our cell phones because The Book of Mormon would begin in one minute, the audience cheered wildly. This was my first musical on Broadway—a fact I’d concealed from the editors of n+1 when persuading them to assign me this review—but I sensed it wasn’t usually like this. The Arab Spring was bogging down in the bloody summer. We were bombing Tripoli. Radiation was leaking from Fukushima. The woman behind me sighed a long, settling-in sigh, and then said, “I just want to see something funny.” And that’s exactly what was about to happen to her.

Notes on a News Cycle

At first the question was whether he was a lone wolf or a Tea Party operative, or at least influenced by the Tea Party, or perhaps just by our culture of hate, the vitriolic rhetoric of our culture of hate, for which either the former vice presidential candidate-turned-reality-television-star or people on “both sides” are to blame.

The Two Cultures of Life

On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder walked into the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita and killed George Tiller, the abortion doctor, who was passing out bulletins for the morning service. Roeder put a .22-caliber pistol to Dr. Tiller’s forehead, shot him point-blank, stood beside him until he collapsed, and then ran. In the days following the murder, we were told just enough about the killer to imagine him as a familiar kind of American character. He had been caught in the ’90s with the makings of a bomb.