Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The News, Then and Now

My father used to read the daily newspaper each night after work, home from the manufacturing plant, before Ted Koppel came on. Dad read and watched the nightly news at the same time, right before Nightline. He was stalwart in his news consumption, not a literary or frivolous man with time to spare on novels or board games or shows that promised prizes behind Curtain #2. (I never knew which curtain to pick.) I can't remember ever leaning over his shoulder as he read, molded to the crushed velvet rocker, to see what he was learning. I do remember never seeing a newspaper laying around unless it was in his hand. He read them and threw them dutifully away, of course, because recycling was not in vogue. The next day, another Daily Democrat arrived at our door.

I take one weekly as an adult, the Sunday New York Times. They are stacked in various corners of my bedroom. Unread. They deserve my attention. It's the effing NYT. I rationalize that they are neglected because I'm busy making my life into something. Rather, minutia in my life hangs me up. Counters need wiping. Corners need dusting. A dog's eyes beg: "Take me for a walk. I don't fetch." I cringe at what my dad might think at my wasteful, non-news habit. I'm not a hoarder of newsprint, just a hopeful public citizen, whose duty to keep up keeps falling down.

Sometimes my dad would give me, the adolescent, clippings, the ones in ink which mentioned me. I started reading the newspaper in search of my own name. I skipped the parts about Iran and gas lines. What Nixon was up to. Where Israel was. I looked for pictures of myself wearing medals, round and heavy ones around my neck for good public speaking. Good for her, the city fathers must have thought, not that she'll ever make the same wages as a man.

I stack and restack the papers in my room. Pull out sections (the magazine, of course, and Book Review). Reshuffle. Scan. Set aside. Always aside.

If I read from front to back of my Sunday NYT, without fail, on the day it arrives, would I change the world? Experience enlightenment? If I could just sit for the hours it would take to digest world events, could I end global hunger, cause banks to behave, crush the overkill of personality cults?

My newspapers are the child and I am the dead-beat parent. Usually, I give it nothing. I ignore my offspring's world and, nonetheless, occupy it. I am the 99 percent of too-busy-to-give-a-damn. A good person votes and works hard and practices engagement. The world in the newspaper is discontent. Your discontent. His discontent. Their discontent. My discontent. I shall not overcome.


  1. My dad read James Michener late into the night. How, Why? Too many mind-numbing pages: Poland! Texas! But that was the point. He was avoiding his life.

    Reading the NYT (especially the Sunday NYT) strikes me the same way. Mind-numbing. I'm sure I've quoted Thoreau on the newspaper to you before...and desperation...but we should focus on Thoreau's actions here. We denigrate him as an escapist do nothing (well a lot of people of a certain stripe do). But he is possibly the greatest writer we've had. And he was indeed living, and writing, and thinking, and reading, and walking (and NOT getting any real attention but in his hometown). Lessons abound.

    1. A refreshing perspective. I will, for a while longer, harbor my Midwestern guilt. Sigh.

  2. Good point that reading it wouldn't change anything. I often get my news through online petitions different charities/non-profits send me hoping I'll add my name, and I usually do. This is my method: I usually don't want to hear the news unless there's some little thing I can do to try to change it for the better.
    Why do news sources think the only things newsworthy are bad news? News sources are typically very depressing. No good can come of setting my brain up to be depressive. Behavior and stimuli train our brains into reactionary patterns, which can make frequent exposure to news--since it's always bad news--very harmful to our health.
    I read up on things when it's close to time to vote. I never miss an election, I always dutifully vote. But I don't need to be constantly up to date on news to do this. I can do some research for a few weeks before elections and know how to vote. I study news sources when there's a practical purpose to do so.
    This reminds me of something I read recently about American ignorance--perceived and actual. The article mentioned that Americans are often nowhere near as good as Europeans at geography but when you considered countries' histories you'd see Americans never had the same need to be good at geography as Europeans, who had semi-frequently changing borders and colonies abroad.
    When it's useful to my actual life I'll study it, otherwise it's just high class trivia.

    1. Ava, have you seen the experiments, I don't know where, that when a person focuses on or writes a word that is positive, then positive things will happen? HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY JOY Is it working yet?

    2. I MUST try this. We really can decide our own psychology and our own "fate" with it.
      I used to know someone who focused on doom and gloom all the time and guess what, they had a bad life. Big surprise, right?


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