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issue 13
January 30, 2019

When to Panic

Last night, I was trying to convince my daughter to not freak out about a history test she’d just taken and was convinced she’d bombed. I asked her to bracket her expectations. What’s the best she thought she could have done? What’s the worst?

It turned out, she thought she got an A or B.

A legitimately bad outcome would be somewhere far to the left of her worst expected outcome. Intellectually, she could accept that a B would have zero negative impact on her life. But emotionally, the B frightened her. She was stressing out over it. On a deeper level, I think she wanted to be stressed out over it.

In 2019, “mildly panicked” has become our normal state. It’s unsettling to not be nervous. We worry we must be missing something some threat:

We wake up in the middle of a quiet night, filled with an unnamable dread. We may pick up our phones in the hope that they will deliver a requisite shock of anxiety: we scan the news for alarming stories; we look out for aggressive or problem-laden emails. And, normally, we quickly hit on something to return us to a more familiar panicked mode.

I’m absolutely guilty of it. I catastrophize and imagine arguments. I suspect every unreturned email must mean bad news, even while I let some sit in my inbox just because I’m busy.

During the 2016 election, I took a break from the news. I’d ask my husband to tell me if anything truly awful was happening that I needed to know about. Turns out, my news blackout didn’t really help; I imagined things were worse than they really were.

What has helped me most is to remember that I’m an animal with a fight-or-flight mechanism. I’m programmed to worry because that’s what kept my ancestors from being eaten. So when I’m being stupid and irrational, it’s because I’m the primate who lived.

And as that lucky chimpanzee, the best thing I can do is to focus on the present moment. Is there anything I can do right now to address this looming terror? If so, do it. If not, do something else.

Also, don’t bring your phone into your bedroom.

- - -

Here are some other things I found interesting this week:

All your Bezos belong to us. Kashmir Hill tried to live a week without Amazon – not just for shopping, but for all of the backend digital services it provides. Turns out, that’s nearly impossible. A tremendous amount internet traffic goes through Amazon’s CDNs.

Good nerdery. Steven Pruitt has made nearly 3 million edits on Wikipedia, in addition to writing 35,000 original articles.

It’s not 12-dimensional chess. David Roth reminds us of the obvious: our president has no idea what he’s doing and believes what he says simply because he said it.

Let them eat grass. Dr. Sarah Taber makes the case for why eating animals was crucial for some cultures given their climate.


Come see us in Seattle!

Craig Mazin and I are doing a live Scriptnotes in Seattle next week, with special guest Emily Zulauf. You should come! Tickets are now available.

February 6, 2019 at 7:00 pm
AMC Theater - Pacific Place 11
600 Pine St Suite 400
Seattle WA 98101

Come see me in LA!

I’m going to be answering questions and signing Arlo Finch at the Los Angeles launch. You can buy your copy there, but if you can’t make it, please preorder!

Saturday, February 9 at 12:30 PM
Chevalier’s Books
126 North Larchmont Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90004


Reminder: how do book series hit the best-seller charts? By people pre-ordering book two.

Over the course of the year, X people read book one. If a lot of them pre-order the second book, all of those sales show up the first week, and you have a good chance of reaching the charts.

So it would be amazing if you’d pre-order Lake of the Moon. You can pre-order it at just about any bookstore, including Amazon.

Pre-order on Amazon
Pre-order from Barnes & Noble
Other Bookstores
And that’s what’s interesting this week. As always, you can email me at

Enjoy your Wednesday!


Scripnotes in Seattle 
Wednesday, February 6th at 7pm
AMC Theater - Pacific Place 11
Tickets are now available.

Arlo Finch Reading and Signing 
Saturday, February 9th at 12:30pm
Chevalier's Books on Larchmont (map)


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