Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Never-ending newsiness of the news

I shut it off for a while today. Put my phone down. Went out into the dying garden. Pulled weeds and yanked up old puckery beets and cut some not-yet-dried-up flowers. But now I don't know what to do with the rest of the dying stuff. The blackening Black-eyed-Susans and the crusty coneflowers and sedum and the purply thing that I finally figured out is called aster. 

There's a big push in my online neighborhood gardening group to leave plants where they are in the fall instead of cutting everything back. Wait until spring, is the new best practice, at least in my hippie dippie neighborhood. Something about the birds needing seeds to feed on in winter and decomposing leaves being good for the soil. Also, don't even think about raking the leaves in your yard.   

Although, there is some dispute about that. 

I'll rake if I want to! someone in the group comments.  

Someone else jumps in to admonish them: Fine, go ahead and destroy the monarch butterfly's natural habitat! 

Over in another online group people are arguing about Halloween (give out candy? during a Pandemic? Are you nuts?) about masks, football, hybrid school models, travel, holiday get-togethers-- But that's nothing compared to the heat of the political arguments. 

I read a book a few years ago about a boy who could hear what everyone in his town was thinking, including his dog. All day, every day, he couldn't turn it off, the endless overlapping stream of interior monologues--hopes fears dreams hatreds--

It's brilliant how the author shows this on the page 

The book is called The Knife of Letting Go and the author Patrick Ness said in an interview that he was inspired by the internet. 

It feels like that in my head sometimes. Clatter. Shouting. On particularly bad days, it's my own voice arguing with people I don't know, my mind zinging with outrage about whatever the latest thing is that is outraging. Which is to say, Everything.

I want to turn it off and just Not Know what's going on for a month, a week, a day, an hour. But this feels like a sisyphean task. I mean, isn't it in our DNA to seek out information? Look at those people in the black and white photos, gathered around their radios so they could hear about the war, the impending hurricane, the Hindenburg bursting into flames. 

Of course those people's radios didn't ping them with continual news alerts.   

(Look how happy these people are! 
It's because their giant radio is too big to stick in their back pockets!)

I don't remember what happens in the book. I think the boy meets a girl whose thoughts he can't hear. Just being around her in this new kind of silence, not knowing what she's thinking, is blissful.  

I crave that kind of quiet. 

I finish up in the garden without looking at my phone once. I leave the dying plants where they are. I actually kind of love it. 


  1. YES to shutting out the "noise" so we can hear ourselves think, feel, reflect, WRITE.

    I had not heard that about not raking leaves so that monarch have a habitat. Er, I'm hoping its OK I have moved them to the forest.... And that I move the seed heads of most flowers to the forest, too.

    1. No worries, Shari, re: the monarch. I may have gotten that fact wrong! This is an ongoing discussion on the gardening page and there is a lot of disagreement!

  2. I read somewhere (probably twitter...) that when the Nazis were annexing Austria in the 1930s, the Vienna newspapers started printing multiple issues per day because people were obsessively buying them to keep up with the hourly progress of the occupation.

    It reminds me of this blog post I think I shared with you when it came out:

    "Global narrative collapse events tend to have a very surreal glued-to-screens quality surrounding them. That’s how you know everybody has lost the plot: everybody is tracking the rawest information they have access to, rather than the narrative that most efficiently sustains their reality ... It’s not that we don’t trust narrative sources when we lose the plot. That’s a simpler problem for normal times. It’s that the narrative sources themselves are temporarily at a loss and don’t know what to say. "

    I think sources that bring back a narrative for us are the best things to consume from a mental health perspective (the risk being that the narrative is inaccurate or a ridiculous conspiracy theory).

    In the healthy vein, cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier is bringing back the old monastic term "acedia" to label our current condition:
    The comments are also interesting, about people feeling acedia in the 1980s about the possibility of nuclear war

    1. Thanks for these links, Ben. I did read the first one and remember it! And the other article... yes. It makes me think of two books I've read recently-- Desert Notebooks and But What If We're Wrong? :) There is so much about the future that feels unknowable--in flux, and maybe it's always been this way but somehow, now, the veil is torn off and we can see it plainly. Maybe the good that can ultimately come from all of this is figuring out what really matters and how, in the end, we choose to spend the time here that we have.