I've been suffering from an uptick of anxiety lately, not overwhelming or crippling, mostly low-grade, and I know it's low-grade, because when its medium grade or higher I can feel it in my chest when I wake-up in the morning. A constricting, like a fist opening and closing. So, that's not happening, which is nice. However, I have been sleeping more in general, trying to anyway, it's not something I'm great at. And it's not I have problems sleeping or falling asleep, I just tend not to go to bed and I like to get up early. I'm sharing this, because the last couple of Saturdays I've let myself sleep-in and have awoken both mornings to anxiety dreams. Last week I couldn't find my family and this week I dreamt that the world was going to end on April 5th. Luckily I woke-up on April 6th, the world was in place, crisis averted. I've never worried much about the world ending. I'm not even sure the state of the world causes me much anxiety. Anger, certainly, confusion, definitely, sadness, endlessly, but not anxiety, that's more about friends and family, making things work. But there it was, end of the world shit. Thing is, I didn't have to dig all too deeply to understand where it came from. I had recently read the story "Testaments" from Donald Quist's twisty, when not surreal, when not sad, when not dabbling in the supernatural short story collection For Other Ghosts, and in it a mother and daughter, the former a believer, the latter, along for the ride, go to an end of the world gathering in California. The story hit me hard, as family stories do, though maybe not as hard as the beautifully wrenching "They Would Be Waiting," the story that kicks-off the collection, a father son story, a trip to the father's homeland, what goes well, and does not, and it is lovely and devastating and created to crush me.
Similarly, I've been reading Not Everyone Is Special by the Josh Denslow, more short stories, more devestation, particularly "Proximity," also a father son joint, though really a mother son thing, and quite affecting. Both authors deal in a kind of anxiety, fairly family-centric, though not only that, universe, with Quist sliding into magic realism at times, while other times merely dancing adjacent to it, but always, never getting too far away from dislocation, a key theme in his wonderous essay collection Harbors. People get lost in Quist's work, separated from family, country and self. There is always a feeling of sadness as well, looming, or lurking, but laying there somewhere, just below, and above the surface. I know Donald Quist, which is not intended as a need for disclosure, as much as to acknowledge, that he carries some of these qualities around with him, while also being utterly charming and engaging. And that's the thing with sadness and anxiety, they don't need to be off-putting, no more than parents we can't bring ourselves to understand. I suppose I'm writing this, because so often people say, with the state of the world, or my brain, I can't read about the things that are already hanging over me thoughout the day. I need to escape into humor and romance and positivity. I understand the inclination, but not the execution of it. We read because we need to read, because our brains and souls require it. I choose to read what comes to me and try never run from any of what comes with it. Take Not Everyone Is Special then. I don't know Josh Denslow, just people who do, people who want me to read him, and that's enough for me. He too treads in anxiety, already established, as well as sadness, see "Moustrap" or "Extra Ticket," both beautiful, both sad, one with a better outcome than the other. Denslow veers towards the absurd as well though, and the speculative, leanings that make for a wholly engaging bit of world-building in stories as disparate as "Too Late For a Lot of Things" and its warring Santa's Town employees, "Punch," and its alternative world of punch vouchers and Central Office staff, both violent in different ways. And then there is title story and its focus on a world not unlike ours, where the question lingers on and on, am I special, and how do I even begin to figure that out? I don't know. I do know that none of this is going to relieve my current state of anxiety, or make me go to bed, I have real work to do there. But reading is still a pleasure despite my current mood and that of the world, every word must be consumed and even if I don't always know how the books I read will change my life, I remain a true believer in their power to do so.