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12 activities to quell your nerves in these dark times

Here are some sources of guaranteed sunshine.

From left: Michael Kidd, Gene Kelly, and Dan Dailey dance with garbage can lids in "It's Always Fair Weather."
From left: Michael Kidd, Gene Kelly, and Dan Dailey dance with garbage can lids in "It's Always Fair Weather."Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Are you having trouble getting any work done this week? Friend, you are not alone. Ever since the storming of the US Capitol building, I’ve been a jingle-jangle of civic nerves, trying to quell the pit in my stomach by refreshing Twitter and a roster of news sites for the latest on Trump’s final days. How on earth did it come to this? And what can I or you or any one person do about it?

Well, you can vote, which most of us already did in November. You can raise holy hell with your elected representatives by urging them to bring to justice all players in a violent attempted overthrow of our government, fomented by the president himself.


And you can try to chill out by finding a happy place — one of your own specific islands of joy — and sitting there for a moment. Just a moment. The outrage and anxiety won’t be going away, nor should they. But this is a marathon we’re in, not a sprint, and self-care is crucial. What are the books, songs, shows, movies, performances that give you pleasure? Turn to them for respite and a reminder of what makes the world better, not worse. And then come back to the world we’re actually in and think of ways to improve it.

Here’s my list, and feel free to crib. Better yet, make your own.

Jason Sudeikis in “Ted Lasso."
Jason Sudeikis in “Ted Lasso."Apple TV Plus via AP

“Ted Lasso” on AppleTV+ I’m a late convert to this 10-episode series about a relentlessly upbeat American (Jason Sudeikis) brought in to coach a dismal British soccer team, but, honestly, the timing couldn’t be better. The show’s faith in human beings — its acknowledgment of the many ways people screw up while remaining worthy of mercy — is a reminder of what compassion looks like in a time notably short on it. Funny as hell, too.


Peter Falk in "Columbo."
Peter Falk in "Columbo."NBC

“Columbo” episodes on Amazon Watching the late Peter Falk shamble through a crime scene or chat up a murder suspect is a joyous master class in timing and misdirection. And the guest stars that turn up in the original 1971 to 1978 NBC series are a Valhalla of Hollywood pop culture. Janet Leigh! Dick Van Dyke! Faye Dunaway! Ray Milland! Myrna Loy! Why Mickey Rooney never did one of these is a mystery in itself. Maybe he was off getting married.

Fresh tomatillos.
Fresh tomatillos.snyfer - stock.adobe.com

Chicken pozole verde I’ve raised my home cooking game in a big way throughout the pandemic — funny how the zen of food prep simultaneously makes the world go away and connects you to it more closely — and this classic Mexican shredded chicken dish has become one of our go-to comfort foods. I never had it growing up, so I don’t know why the smell of hominy makes me think of childhood, but there you are. The recipe I use can be found at www.isabeleats.com/wprm_print/8659. Pro tip: fresh tomatillos.

From left: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, pictured in 1973.
From left: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, pictured in 1973.Evening Standard/Getty Images

A playlist of the best, most nostalgic pop songs from your middle school years I devoted a column to this a while back — on trying to capture what it felt like in song to be age 14 — and because I’m old, that playlist included America’s “A Horse With No Name,” a lot of solo Beatles, and two cuts from “Led Zeppelin III.” The point is: Make your own list, curate it with care, and find a corner in which to weep quietly for your lost innocence.


Jonathan Winters.
Jonathan Winters.AP

Classic comedy albums: Bob Newhart as Abe Lincoln’s press agent, Jonathan Winters on UFOs and his stints in a mental institution, George Carlin on the 7 words you can’t say on TV, Nichols and May as a mother and son to make Freud shriek — it’s all out there on Spotify and YouTube, and better than TikTok, dammit. Now get off my lawn.

Bob Newhart's LP "The Button Down Mind Strikes Back."
Bob Newhart's LP "The Button Down Mind Strikes Back."

“A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) Actually, my favorite turn-off-your-brain-for-two-hours-and-laugh movie is “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972), but I’ve written about it too often in this space so I’ll go with a top-tier second choice. John Cleese as a reluctant romantic lead, a hot and in-charge Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline winning an Oscar as the stupidest man on Earth. What’s not to like?

“It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955) Gene Kelly tap-dancing on roller skates. Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd tap-dancing with garbage can lids on their feet. Cyd Charisse showing her mastery of boxing trivia before being serenaded by a gym full of pugs. What. Is. Not. To. Like.

Bird photos on the web You can choose puppies or possums or whatever phylum flips the dopamine switch in your brain. I follow a lot of amateur bird photographers on social media, and let me tell you, this year’s action in New York’s Central Park — which, if you’re a bird flying through the tri-state area, is where you’re going to end up anyway — has been sublime. My favorite photographer, a woman named Gloria who goes by mizzou159 on Instagram, has a long lens, a great eye, and a knack for being there when the peregrine falcon takes off like an SST.


Ella Fitzgerald performing in Paris in 1960.
Ella Fitzgerald performing in Paris in 1960.Herman Leonard/Eagle Rock Films

Anything sung by Ella Fitzgerald But especially the Nelson Riddle arrangement of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” which belongs on any list of Western Civilization’s Top 10 Accomplishments.

The Adventures of TintinBecause I can get lost in Hergé’s globe-hopping story lines, always different and always the same, for hours at a shot, and because the cleanness of his drawing style is so soothing in a messy, messy world.

Thomas Lux in 2014.
Thomas Lux in 2014. Jennifer Holley Lux

The poetry of Thomas Lux Lux (1946-2017) often managed to be profoundly funny and just plain profound at the same time. own

Wife Hits Moose” is the famous one, but “A Little Tooth,” about being the father of daughters, wrecks me every time I read it.

M.F.K. Fisher writing about peas “. . . the thing that really mattered, that piped the high, unforgettable tune of perfection, was the peas, which came from their hot pot onto our thick china plates in a cloud, a kind of miasma, of everything that anyone could ever want from them, even in a dream. . . . [My idea of heaven], that night and this night, too, is fresh green garden peas, picked and shelled by my friends, to the sound of a cowbell.”


Go and make your own list, friend. And see you on the other side of all this.

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.