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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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How Fast Can You Run is the first novel from poet Harriet Levin Millan. Though a novel, it is based on a real person, Michael Majok Kuch. Kuch became a child refugee, one of the Sudanese Lost Boys, when his village was destroyed during the country’s civil war. But How Fast Can You Run is more than a survival story; it also preserves memories of Kuch’s early village life continuing onto his experiences getting his education in the United States. We spoke to Millan and Kuch about their collaboration on the book at Millan’s office at Drexel University where she teaches. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “How Fast Can You Write”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.
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Presenting today's news
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What do you do when a bizarre combination of birthright and computer convention means that much of the digitized world doesn’t believe in your existence? (Wired)

You can’t choose your death like an item off the lunch menu. But what if you could? Do you know what you would order? (Wilson Quarterly)

Imagine the dialogue of your first memory. Even if you don’t know what exactly was said, chances are you have a strong connection to the language that was spoken. The impression made on you by the words, the accent, and the timbre of the language is one that will likely never go away. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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The difference between the person who has considered suicide and the one who actually commits it is small. You could say the difference is conditional, accidental even. Committing an act of suicide is just the culmination of a journey, a journey of dangerous ideas that, once allowed into the mind, can never be fully shaken off. This does not mean that suicidal thoughts lead inevitably to suicide. The world’s population would be much smaller if that were the case. What it does mean is that a person who has considered suicide lives, thereafter, with a sort of seductive madness. To entertain suicide is to imagine that the most uncontrollable fact of life — other than birth — can be controlled, taken into one’s own hands, wrested from the chaos that dominates all life on Earth. We can’t escape death. But if we are to die, then why not make death… More…

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What if happiness is impossible? What if “men are always discontented because they are always unhappy?” What if, in their hearts, “they feel and they are well aware that they are unhappy, that they suffer, that they do not find enjoyment, and in that they are not wrong?” What if this unhappiness is increased by the fact that men “think they have the right to be happy, to enjoy life, not to suffer, and in that too they would not be wrong, if it were not for the fact that what they expect is, if nothing else, impossible?”

Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi. 2,592 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $75.

Hard thoughts, especially for those of us who live in a country that declared, in one of its founding documents, that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right.

More…

Riding una pajarita

Miguel de Unamuno’s earliest memory was of a bomb landing on the roof of his neighbor’s house during Spain’s final Carlist War. The philosopher and poet was born in conflict. Unamuno was a Spanish patriot and one of its most outspoken critics; a Basque who was also a Spaniard; a child who wanted to be a Catholic saint; a philosopher who was suspicious of philosophy.

Miguel de Unamuno woke one night in 1897, tormented by dreams of falling into nothingness. Just a few months earlier, Unamuno’s infant son Raimundo had contracted meningitis. Raimundo’s illness disabled him physically and mentally. He was not expected to live long. Miguel de Unamuno believed that this tragedy was his fault, divine punishment for turning away from his childhood faith and embracing scientific rationalism. That night in 1897, Unamuno’s wife Concha found her husband sobbing. She held him and called out, “My child!” Years later,… More…

I used to write and read poems often when I was in college, but now I have a demanding job and a family with three kids. I’m just too busy these days, and I fear that poetry has become a thing of my past. How can a regular guy bring more poetry into his life without dedicating hours of scholarship? –James

 

PoetryDaily.com, VerseDaily.com, Poets.org, and probably lots of other sites include a poem each day on their webpage. You can sign up to have poems e-mailed directly to you, and if you find the time between this or that obligation, you could read them. You may not have time to read a poem every day, but two a week is certainly better than no poems at all. Or if your inbox is already too full, you could buy… More…

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There have been Sundays, in bed, in a hotel room, hungover or not, wherein my prospects for getting out of bed seem slim, what with the television right there, and the remote control so near my head. Despite hundreds of channels and the free HBO — generally just showing something directed by Ron Howard over and over and over again — I will stop on Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or some other reprehensible creature in a mega church of some sort. On those Sundays, it’s hard to feel the repulsion I usually have for such views. It’s the perfect hair and the shiny, shiny teeth. These men are always telling me that God has plans for me. “Oh, Joel Osteen,” I say out loud to the television. “Tell me what those plans are.”

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters by… More…

The red: It's not...too much?

Some Republicans have been distressed in recent years to hear that the icon of their party, Abraham Lincoln, may have been playing for the other team. It had been whispered for years that Lincoln was gay, and there is no doubt that some of his behavior would point that way today — most notably, for four years he shared a bed with his friend Joshua Speed. The intense relationship began in 1837, when a 28-year-old Lincoln — then a tall, calloused-hand frontiersman with mournful eyes — turned up at Speed’s general store in Springfield, Illinois, hoping to make it as a lawyer. Lincoln couldn’t afford the bed on sale, so Speed immediately offered to share his own mattress upstairs. From that day on, the pair became passionate and all-but-inseparable friends. When Speed finally did move out of the mattress to be married, Lincoln was shattered, sinking into such a black… More…

Everything, after all, comes to an end...

Just now, after I pressed “quick min” twice, I turned away. That’s too long to stand, watching the countdown. I can’t stomach letting 120 seconds pass while I gaze, mindless, at the clock. Even 30 seconds seem like a stretch. But some days I’m reckless, and I watch the numbers change, marking the seconds remaining until the bell signals that the steaming plate is ready. The seconds pass, forever gone.

 

When I once made what I called “airline eggs,” I watched them cook, a pale yellow with green flecks of dill and parsley, in a flat white bowl. The eggs puffed like a sad soufflé in almost no time at all.

Ten digitally measured seconds go quickly; six such seconds leave no time to think. Sometimes I punch in three 10-second intervals, one right after the other, to… More…