Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying.

Laquan MacDonald was seventeen and murdered by a Chicago police officer in cold blood. I watched a video of his murder, along with most of America, right in between reading about how Americans are terrified of letting refugees from war-torn Syria into the country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado yesterday.

I can’t think of anything else to say that hasn’t already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and shitty and unfathomable all of those things are. I can’t. I don’t have the words for that today. So instead, here are fifteen things that you can do to make your world just the tiniest bit less shitty and terrible.



  1. Open your closet. Find one warm piece of clothing that you haven’t worn in awhile. Bring it to a place that will give it away, for free, to someone who needs it.




2. Go to a public park or playground. Sit on a bench. Watch some kids02singset running around playing. Don’t get up and try to engage with them, don’t depress yourself further, don’t go down a sadhole if you want kids but don’t have them, or if your own relationship with your kids/parents isn’t perfect. Just… sit and watch. Turn your brain off for a bit. If your brain has to work, picture the way that kid’s body works: the air filling the lungs and expelling laughter, the tiny heartbeat pulsing and racing, the immense amount of neurons firing to process the information that keeps eyes blinking and ears listening and skin tingling and lungs expanding and contracting.

If you see a parent looking stressed out, give them an encouraging smile, as if to say, “You’re doing a great job.”

floral3. Google a small-business florist near the site of any recent tragedy. Call and explain that you’d like to pay for flowers to be sent to, say, the staff of the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (3480 Centennial Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80907), or to Hope Church (5740 Academy Blvd N, Colorado Springs, CO 80918), where slain police officer Garrett Swasey and his family were members. When you leave a note, don’t make it about you, or your political or religious beliefs. Leave it anonymous, or simply say, “From a stranger who thought you might be sad today.”


4. Think of a song you love, preferably by a non-super-famous musician. Even if you already own it, download it 5again. Think about how that 99 cents is actually telling that musician that their work has value.




65. There are several Dunkin’ Donuts within the general area of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school in Chicago’s South Side where Laquan MacDonald was enrolled. It’s probably a tough week for teachers and students both. Buy an e-gift card. Send the link to the faculty. Tell them a stranger bought them coffee.


6. Leave a copy of your favorite book in a public place. Trust that the right person will find it. 7

757. Locate your nearest animal shelter. You don’t need to adopt a pet, and you don’t need go in and volunteer, although that’s a really nice thing you can do, too. You can just look at the puppies and kittens playing for awhile, or feel what it’s like to hold a tiny, furry, purring creature in your arms for a bit.


88. Here’s a link to Amazon, where you can buy a ten-pack of socks for $9.99. Click the link. When you are asked for your shipping address, find the address of a homeless shelter in your community. If you don’t have a homeless shelter in your community, here’s mine. 


9. Think of the kindest person you personally  know. Then write her/him an email, letting them know that you thought of them and hope they are doing well.

10. Buy an extra box of tampons the next time you’re out shopping. Leave them in the ladies’ room of your workplace for anyone to take. (If you’re a dude and this weirds you out, talk to this fifteen-year-old kid about it).

11. Think about the people that you frequently interact with in your daily life but know very little about: the barista who works at your coffee shop, the janitor in your building, your mailperson. Introduce yourself. Call them by name whenever you see them again.



12. Go to a diner. Order a milkshake. Tip ten dollars.



13. Get a pile of index cards and a sharpie. Write down, “You are Important,” or “Breathe.”  Carry them with you as you go about your day, leaving them in waiting room magazines, on car windshields, in elevators, in bathroom stalls. Keep one for yourself. We all need the reminder sometimes, too.

2414. Dig up an embarrassing photo of yourself from your teenaged years. Post it online. Laugh gently at the person you were, and celebrate the human you are now. If you’re still in the process of living through your teenaged years, take lots of pictures. You’re doing great.



15. Think about the fact that the world can feel like a flaming cesspool of dog shit, over and over and over again. Think about bodies being blown up over insignificant cultural and political differences, think about blood being spilled out of human limbs for reasons that you will never fully understand. Think about everyone in your zip code who is homeless and hungry, cold, terrified, and lonely. Think about global warming, handguns and assault rifles, violence on television, rape statistics, domestic abuse. Think about terrorism, both domestic and abroad. Think about petty cruelty. Think about your childhood schoolyard bully. Think about the times that you won the argument but lost the friendship.

Think about all the times you got busy, and didn’t visit your relatives like you said you would, or didn’t give the dollar in the checkout line because times are rough and who even knows what the March of Dimes is. Think about how you don’t want to think about who grows your food or makes your clothes or pieces your iPhone together, because in the world we inhabit, it’s virtually impossible to exist without making some kind of ethical compromises. Think about how you were a turd in some small, stupid way this week alone, to your partner or sibling or parent, because it was simply easier to be a turd than to be selfless or kind in that moment.

Think about seven billion people out there in the world. Think about the statistical three hundred and eighteen thousand births today, or the one hundred and thirty-three thousand deaths.

Think about how enormously complicated all of this is.

Think about how Mother Theresa accepted funds from corrupt embezzlers, how George Bush is an oil painter, a husband, a father, and a war criminal. Think about Princess Diana’s life’s work of charity and goodwill; remember also that she was depressed, lived through bulimia, self-harmed. Name five celebrities, and then imagine them in the morning, with horse breath and red-rimmed eyes, stumbling to splash water on their face, wiping their ass with toilet paper, just like you and me.

Acknowledge that you’re probably going to just close this browser tab without actually doing any of those things. You’re probably not going to drop your clothes off at a homeless shelter, or donate to a struggling artist, or buy coffee for teachers in Chicago. I get it. I probably won’t, either. You’ve got limited funds and bills to pay and a life to live. I know. I do, too.

Accept that there are tons of incredibly easy ways to make the world a slightly less shitty place for everyone, and that you probably won’t do any of them, or at least not very many of them, and that while it’s not ideal, it doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a human.

Take a deep breath of gratitude for the people out there who actually do make the world a better place. Challenge yourself to be that person, in whatever small way you can manage right now.

Close your browser window. Shut down your laptop, silence your cell phone. Just for a minute, before you go back to Netflix, before you text someone, before you answer more emails or meet friends for drinks or order a pizza or whatever it is that you’re doing tonight: just for a second, take a moment to remember that the world is also pretty fucking magical, and you’re really lucky to be alive in it.

Do what you can.

Oh, and: return the shopping carts in the parking lot that others have abandoned, or mop up the spilled creamer at the Starbucks. It takes like ten extra seconds and it’s not that big of a deal.




Did you like this post? Help me keep writing. 


273 thoughts on “Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying.

  1. Wow. Just, wow. Can’t stop and say more. Have to reblog this NOW. This is perhaps the best blog I’ve ever read. Thanks so much. If we lived in the same town and I knew your address, I’d jump in my car and come meet you now. I hopw you have lots of kids who have lots of kids and they are all just like you…

  2. Pingback: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying. | redsnest

  3. Pingback: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying. | lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

  4. If you don’t have children playing at a playground, please don’t sit and watch them play. That makes the parents super nervous. I support the rest of your list though.

  5. Pingback: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying. | a dog's breakfast

  6. Another valuable charity to donate to: Carrying the future-volunteers gathering baby carriers and going to Syria to show people how to wear their babies. I can’t imagine running for my life with my 10 month old.

  7. Katherine, you know I love your stuff, and this one is extraordinarily good, even for you. I think of how cool it was to meet you in Phoenix and how excited you were to have a fan, and how I’m like twice your age but you’re already doing so much that it shames me. Good for you. I freakin love you. You make me try harder. I’m sorry if this comment is weird.

  8. I don’t even know how to find the words for how tremendous this blog post is. A Marine Corps brother of mine forwarded it to me because (a) he gets me, (b) he sees the value in a list of specific actions like these, and (c) he knows that I am the person who will actually do these things to feel better myself.

    Thank you seems inadequate, but know that it’s sincere.

  9. Pingback: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying. | Ozarks Blue

  10. If more people were able to do number 14, we’d have a lot more secure and proud young and emerging adults in the world.

    My gaunt, hair died black, too cool for this planet 17 year old self is a great illustration of how far I’ve come. Everybody has a similar example.

  11. I spend a lot of time writing about ANGER in a humourous (I hope) way. This is like anger at the world with a positive solution. Like the bit about the 10 dollar tip and the favourite book. Good stuff, good ideas.

  12. “9. Think of the kindest person you personally know. Then write her/him an email, letting them know that you thought of them and hope they are doing well.” >> Not an email, but an online comment to someone I admire; someone with heart, brains, perhaps more bravery than she knows, and certainly kindness. Sometimes I read your posts and wonder if YOU are doing ok with the burden of what you have to say. But I always read them with gratitude, whether I comment on them or not.

  13. I LOVE reading your posts. How to quickly turn a negative into a positive!! Simple acts of kindness, however small, can change someone’s life, literally. Thank you for sharing!! Blessings all around!!

  14. Believe it or not, I’m new to blogging and was blessed to have this post be my very first blog I’ve ever read and all I can say is “AMAZING”!! Thank you, keep it up!!

  15. Katherine–if you are interested in publishing this, I know the editors of the two largest English language publications in Mexico and I would be happy to recommend it to them. You can do the submissions by email. They are the Guadalajara Reporter and the Ojo del Lago. Both are available both in print and online…Judy

  16. Seeing ourselves spiritually as part of each life around us, shared humanity resonates in this lovely list. Thank you, so lovely. We treasure each other; we can care for ourselves.

    Even in a grim world, if not so freshly afflicted or grieved, humor is another gift that recharges us. It renews us to reach out again to other hands. Such a funny thing, how laughter lets in joy and renewal. Thank you again for reminding us we all share more than mutilating losses, we share a power to heal–and be healed.

    “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    –Marybeth L.

  17. Thank you for the compassion and time you took writing about the spiritual connection in our shared humanity; how refreshing that with others lends compassion back to ourselves too. Hands out to others to help–come back–and help our hearts heal too.
    Another gift, if not freshly afflicted or hard grieved, is the magic of humor to lighten, lend strength. A funny thing how laughter leads us out of our brains just when we need. How it can lift us from isolation and how it can warm. Humor helps us see shared experiences in a kinder way-we learn we feel the same way inside, not only in mutilating tragedy but just when we thought no one thought the same way. Non mocking humor can let in joy.
    Each person who reads your list is empowered, or settled, or somehow changed. Here’s one more on THAT list for you.
    “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    Marybeth L.

  18. Pingback: 15 Ways to be a Fucking Human Being | Sure as I'm Breathing No Ceiling

  19. I love this list of proactive ideas. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless when we read all the terrible news. These fifteen things are each a fairly easy way to improve life for those around us as well as ourselves.

    Except #2. Don’t, I beg you, sit and watch strangers’ children for any significant amount of time. That makes parents reaaalllly uneasy.

  20. Brilliant post. My mom and a friend both shared this on Facebook. I love your perspective. I am coming off of a divorce last year and this year I have been overwhelmed by my own life and what is going on in the world. I have struggled to snap out of it. This post is fantastic and a great help. Thank you.

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