I know someone who can turn the most insignificant happy-thought into the most stroke-worthy bitch-session. If I say, “Hey check out the size of this Big Gulp of iced tea from 7-11. Eighty-nine cents.” I hear, “I HATE 7-11. What a dirty waste of people’s time going there. It is pathetic those places exist and they are filled with GMO food that is killing everyone anyway, AND you’re better off making icedtea at homeornot even having it becausethetea candehydrateyouandyoulljustendupneedingwaterandblahblahblah hmmmmmmmpukepuke….” And on it goes. What is the value in that? Where is the benefit in being around that?
Maybe I’m simply around too many people. By that I should say I am around too many people aware I’m around. When I travel, the crowds don’t bother me because then I’m no one, just another face on the street. But in my life here in the hallways of the college or other places where someone mistakes an innocent comment as an invitation to yet-again-bitch, everyone seems to have something to say to me. And more often lately it is negative.
The concept “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” which I grew up with, is gone. On the news, in the classroom, and even in seemingly innocent conversations about a frigging Big Gulp. Please.
So I’m on a mission to dial back the news to a need-to-know-only basis. Even—especially—the news on the television and internet and radio. It is essential to be well informed, but it is equally essential to be able to separate the news from the noise. My stress level has adjusted up during the last four months to some higher level of anxiety not at all compensated for by valuable information. Material gathered should be worth the anguish to obtain it. But that simply isn’t the case any longer. Now it is just static which causes stress, which doesn’t benefit me at all.
Excuse me while I step aside. It won’t bother anybody if I simply duck away for awhile. I can no longer handle the endless stream of garbage reported in media. Don’t pay any mind to me if I move out of the way while the convoy of criticism and manipulation passes . I’ll just sit and watch the water and wildlife do their thing, the perpetual movement of the tide. In fact, my health, my energy, and my stress level are all improved by the absence of the nightly news, which I once revered. And I’m better off without the one on one conversations with way too many negative people. I am more likely to live longer, less likely to have a negative disposition, and infinitely more likely to relax by turning away from the those discussions. No contest.
When I’m at the river and the sun is just changing tones behind clouds in the west, it doesn’t make a bit of difference who the president is, what the commentators had to say, which tweets came from which attention-deficit minds, and what happens next. My phone alert from the NY Times Breaking News doesn’t really catch my attention anymore, and I am far less interested in who said what than I am in keeping my blood pressure in double digits and my heart rate closer to my age than my golf score.
When the eagle glides from the tree tops, and the osprey teach their young to fly, and the clouds at dusk separate colors in prism-like perfection, it is hard to remember what the complaining was all about anyway. We carry our baggage way longer than we ever need to, if we ever really needed to at all. And the answers we seek in day to day life won’t be unearthed during some pointless pursuit of fair and balanced. Even if I listened more intently to all the facts and expert opinions and came to the correct conclusions agreed upon by Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, what then? So I might know the truth about A and the lies told by B and the injustice we see served to those in need. Again, what then?
I think my students would be better served if instead of watching presidential debates and finding the fallacies, we all spent some time in soup kitchens and the cancer ward at a children’s hospital and then came back and discussed respect and morality and fair and balanced. Maybe we could spend a class talking about the good there is.
When I returned from Spain I was on a mission to “simplify” my life. It didn’t take long on the Camino to discover how little I needed; how superfluous most concerns really turned out to be. As a professor of critical thinking courses I found it necessary, pre-trip, to discuss current events and breaking news. But afterwards I found philosophical discussions as relevant as any subject covered by some mass-com major graduate reporting from The Hill. I told my students that any fool can gather and argue immigration or trade; but it took real thought to discuss the “matter” of things, the bend of time. Which works better for you? I asked. “Ted Cruz said that we need to make decisions based upon faith” or “St Bernard said, “We need to learn to make excuses for other people.” One is a proclamation of how he intends to govern; the other is an edict of how we should live our lives. This lead to discussions of driving and working, and we talked about getting along with relatives and partners. People like tangible applications. Those conversations spilled from the class to the hallway. That’s how it should be.
But time got away from me and Trump was elected and news became Reality Television and Reality Television became scripted and civil rights I thought were fought for when I was four were again issues and I just want to run away.
So I am.
When all I hear is the call of an osprey or the way the waves lap at the edge of the land, I could be in so many other places and so many other times. It is innocent, even ignorant some might say. And in a world where even a lesser-able phone than the primitive one I own can keep me up to date on news, attacks, rumors, memes, messages, appointments, and more, I’m turning off my data.
We live in the age of information, the age of blame, the age of instantaneous and simultaneous where the comment you posted ten minutes ago is now ancient news five screens in the past. It is the age of convenience and the age of emotion and the age of attention-getting-self-indulgent-everyone’s opinion matters and is valid and is equal and should be heard. And that’s just not true, it is wrong, it is defeatist, and it is destructive.
So I’m done jumping through hoops and trying to walk across coals in the classroom or other more personal conversations. I’ve finally “come ‘round right” and am simplifying my life. My theory is this: I will be healthier, happier, more efficient, more useful and focused, and infinitely more at peace.
I love the way the water feels cool on the soles of my feet on a hot afternoon, or how the salt water gets on my lips and seems to stay there all day, even after I shower. It is as if the movement of the waves exactly coincides with the movement of my blood, and that rhythm somehow settles my soul.
And it really was this simple: I just decided to. I’m going to sip my iced tea and let the river run by for awhile.