The Help Desk: For the love of all that's holy, give me some good news

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I keep wanting to write and ask you for your take on the latest political scandal, but every day it's a new one (or four), and then no matter what happens is blamed on the people I vote for by people who have agendas that serve their pocketbooks. I guess I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything, and need a recentering. Got any good poems or art or, sorry book review website people, music that pulls you out of a deep years-long depressive funk?

Desperate, Madrona

Dear Desperate,

First of all, you are not alone. Second, you have come to the right place. As an unlicensed therapist who keeps irregular office hours on a Metro bus, I have a few thoughts on misery – the potent combination of helplessness and hopelessness – and its antidote, hope. Some of my therapies are unconventional but that is because I am not owned by Big Pharma or constrained by the chains of science.

First, I recommend you go to the mall and befriend a baby. People like to chitter "children are our future" but they also make great therapy pets and in my experience, most mall mothers are willing to trade a few minutes of supervised baby time for a 20oz Orange Julius. Once you have your therapy baby on your lap, begin a game I like to call "Kisses for Breakfast," wherein you look deep into its baby eyes and ask it if it would like kisses for breakfast. (Don't wait for it to answer – babies cannot give consent, which is part of what makes them ideal therapy pets.) Proceed to give it lots of little kisses all over its soft baby cheeks. Then repeat. For fifteen minutes, you will forget how fucked the world is and the baby will likely enjoy itself until it realizes it would like something other than kisses for breakfast.

If human babies repulse you, that is okay. Therapy spiders are also a viable option and – lucky for you! – fall is the ideal time to harvest them. Therapy spiders are great for travel, as they are quiet, compact, and you do not need to register them with your host airline. I rarely leave the house without a pocketful anymore – when I encounter someone in public who is in desperate need of therapy, I can reach into my pocket and throw a spider at them.

As for books, I know I've mentioned Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark in this column but I'll do it again. Solnit makes a measured case for what can be gained when you embrace hope over helplessness. I also recommend reading (or re-reading) Shel Silverstein – especially his poetry and the book The Giving Tree. If you haven't read Silverstein as an adult, his intelligence, humor, and the unexpected emotional complexity of his stories will delight you.

I also recommend that you reevaluate your relationship with the media you consume. This article about the toxic effects of news didn't convince me abstain from reading it each day but it did make me more aware of what I was consuming and how I was processing it. In addition, you might want to start your day by reading the New York Times's good news briefings.