Kyla Houbolt, “Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day”

In “Decline and Fall,” Evelyn Waugh throws his protagonist into prison. He then reports the protagonist became happier in prison because he did not have to worry about the news every single day. Worrying about the news occurs as it is nothing but a constant stream of story-like things. Once the stream is broken, one need not return to it.

I used to think this was somewhat wise; now I completely disagree with it. I don’t think the best reading of Houbolt’s “it would be best to avoid [“The News”] if you possibly can” depends on anything like Waugh’s sentiment. Our mass media acts in the service of entrenched interests and can be outright dehumanizing. This is not the same as saying people are in thrall to a narrative for which they need frequent updates. One must avoid media that, in some cases, willingly becomes fascist propaganda. That some people are a bit addicted to news in general does not hold the same import.

Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day (from the poet's Twitter)
Kyla Houbolt

1. There is still air and you should breathe some frequently.
2. However there is something called “The News” that it would be best to avoid if you possibly can.
3. If you wear a flag around your neck, everyone will know who you are.*
4. Around noon local time there will be sandwiches and something called “lunch”.
5. Your name. 

*You actually need to know more than five things.


When I first saw Houbolt’s list, I immediately thought “Yeah, I’m not actually sure how I start my day. Or how I would explain to someone else how to start the day.”

I guess I start with a lot of dread. There’s always something that could go wrong, and more than likely I’ll be the cause. Sleep is a relief because I don’t have to face those possibilities. I’d be better off, though, getting more air. As the poem says: “There is still air and you should breathe some frequently.”

There is still air. Movement helps one take in air. If I did more, maybe I would confront a great fear despite not being entirely conscious of it.



A few complications. There are the things which surround our heads and our necks. “There is something called “The News” that it would be best to avoid;” “if you wear a flag around your neck, everyone will know who you are.”

There are ways I shouldn’t start my day. Trouble is, they have to do with how we understand the world and ourselves.

If you wear a flag around your neck. I remember when I was into the news because I thought I could be informed. If I were informed, I could lead. I never believed that only reading an article or two was enough, but that was because I was 12.

At 12, it’s hard not to have a flag around your neck. Right is a marker of identity; without it, you’re just a hopeless little kid.

There’s no way I could have avoided being consumed by the news. Or the flag. Moral development is just that: development. It has to occur in stages. Some of those stages are scaffolding which must fall away.

Except it can’t. Society is thought to run on simpler concepts. Winners and losers, legal and illegal, good and evil, deserving and unmerited. 

It’s possible to be more successful by thinking less. By refusing to consider or see.


I wanted to write on this poem because it got me wondering how exactly I start my day. What if someone were an alien, wondering what we earth-denizens do with our time? Would I be able to say anything sufficient?

I imagine nothing I say would convince. I’d talk about teaching, and the alien would ask what exactly results from the classroom. Or I’d talk about responding to art and philosophy. I’d be questioned about the value of messages in a bottle.

Getting lunch and using my name—yeah, I can see these as things I could possibly explain. “I need food or my body will fail.” Surely an alien must understand that. “I have a name and the recognition helps me get from others what I need.” The alien asks questions and gets answers because they are recognized. I give that recognition. That too must persuade.

It’s true “you actually need to know more than five things.” But starting a day well and knowledge in general are more connected than one would think. Lunch isn’t a bad thought. Finding one’s name useful is pretty good too. These things are better described by the word foundational as opposed to humble. With them, dangerous commands upon our attention may be sidestepped.

1 Comment

  1. Wry things like that make me smile! Poem for an immigrant. Hardly funny.

    Trauma, can that be bullet-pointed?

Leave a Reply to David Elliott Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.