whose news? clean it up

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The last few days I’ve reached a new level of frustration with what is often called “news”. I pretty much only watch Al Jazeera English and a smattering of Swedish news these days. AJE is the only straight news sans fluff, sans glorifying ‘celebrities’ and that covers all of the world’s parts (not just western concerns). Swedish news – well – it’s local, so I kind of want to know about that stuff.

But online I follow loads of news, tech, music/entertainment, development, marketing/SEO/PR/comms blogs and sites… and I swear that the only thing that seems to appear across disciplines is the most asinine stuff that is not news and about which we should not care. I don’t even want to give it the time to write about it now except that it seems important in the sense that we are to blame for our own fake news dilemma. We begged for more bullshit, and we got it. So today when every media outlet put out ‘headline news’ about the “quiet” relationship forged by musician Grimes and tech ‘mogul’ Elon Musk, I started to get angry. I am silently screaming, “Who cares, who cares, who cares?!” It’s not news; no one should care… and it’s not quiet if it is the headline on every news, tech, music/entertainment and PR blog or site in existence.

For two days, I have seen too many articles about Donald Glover and his (Childish Gambino’s)  “This is America” single and video. Don’t get me wrong. I love Donald Glover. Yes, Glover is beyond talented; “This is America” is brutal and beautiful all at once. I’ve seen the backlash pieces (i.e. don’t make or expect Glover to be the anti-Kanye). But is this newsworthy? (Arguably this is more newsworthy than the aforementioned bit about celeb personal lives… or about royals having babies and getting hitched and BBC stopping EVERYTHING to report on such truly insignificant trifles; they would have done this anyway but it’s also a convenient way to ignore covering the shambolic state of Brexit.)

Why is this kind of frippery what we care about instead of real things? This is what our sweet tooth begs for, and the 24/7 news (infotainment) cycle, competition in channels and platforms, our inability and lack of desire to understand or grapple with complexity, the sad state of journalism today, too many other things distracting us – why not?

We gluttons of talent we don’t have, money we will never make, and elusive, ephemeral ‘fame’ prioritize these shallow displays over anything that actually matters. We think it’s normal to pay actors and athletes millions of dollars – we don’t even bat an eye at this insanity. We think events like the Met Gala last night, another thing that was plastered all over the headlines, are important. But I don’t even know what the hell the Met Gala is – and not one of these headlines told me. In fact, all they could highlight was what these ‘special people’ in attendance were wearing.

Meanwhile… I can’t even begin to recount what we ignore in order to find out what designer some personality du jour is wearing or breaking news on celebrity dating. Who has the attention span any more anyway?

Renewable energies

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“He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.” –A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

Going through life … evaluating all along, sometimes it takes many years to come face to face with the realities of the things you have done, the people you have hurt, the people you have left behind, the people who left you behind, the unfinished friendships, the unspoken words. Looking backwards there are so many missteps, misdeeds that cannot be taken back or redone. Yet, how we choose to live each day now – and how we choose to treat others – can perhaps be a form of renewal. We can generate a field of human renewable energy through our actions. (Never mind my telling someone that a hard-on is also a renewable energy.)

Yes, we can focus our full attention on the person in front of us. No devices, no distractions and no treating them more generally as though they are generic distractions from our otherwise busy and all-consuming lives. I try very hard to practice this, not always successfully. But it sucks to be a distraction to someone. On both sides of that equation: both in being the distraction, feeling that we are taking them away from something and in being the distracted, that feeling that we are just using someone else to pass the time or escape whatever is happening in our life. The worst part is: we are all so distracted on a regular basis that we don’t even realize we are doing this.

We each have our own version of these distractions. People we call when we’re bored, for example. People we meet because there is some lull between activities or significant events. We often cannot discern who our own distractions are unless they are actively making demands of us, acting in their capacity as the distraction who is bothering us, not when we seek them out to pass our otherwise unfilled time.

Life, though, is one of the few things that cannot be renewed. Yes, we can renew our hard-ons. We can renew our commitments to treating everyone we engage with with courtesy and compassion. We can renew our sense of humanity. We can be spontaneous. And, most of all, we can keep renewing love and enjoy how it multiplies. I keep writing about jealousy and possessiveness. How bitter people become when they try to tether and limit love, closing themselves and those closest to them off from the possibilities they each have. Opening up to these possibilities is one of the most renewable energies of all.

To deal with the times: Don’t go numb

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“How inured to that do I want to get?”
“Just enough.” (from this week’s episode of Madam Secretary)

The problem we face, beyond the immediate stripping of democratic tradition and human rights, and all the diversionary fires set to distract us, is our own boredom, our own fatigue, our own journey toward being inured to what is happening: “It isn’t so bad.”

Almost everyone knows that the intensity of any feeling cannot be sustained: anger, passion, love. Perhaps especially the attention span. We have neither the attention span for sustained fighting, even if we have our own lifelong cause, nor the attention span to maintain laser-like focus on one thing while all the distractions explode all around us. And that’s what is counted on – at least with the way things are going in the politics and government section of society. Isn’t that kind of everything, though? Society and our place in it? We know what happens if we bury our heads in the sand: nothing good.

Where is the line between burying our heads/distracting ourselves/avoiding reality and allowing ourselves some diversion to regain our strength and focus, to learn and prepare for everything the world is throwing at us? Something that keeps us from burning out?

I had a conversation the other day that made me think of the concept of ‘burning out’. It was about learning languages, actually, and how I took on languages as though it were a PAC-MAN game. Keep gorging. Gobble gobble gobble. Naturally I burned out on the whole idea of being a student.

J: When I was 22, I wanted to play frisbee and kiss girls.
Me: I loved learning languages much more when I was young. Now I would prefer kissing girls and running through the forest.
J: Well – a true Renaissance woman would be able to do all of those things. Concomitantly.
Me: I burned myself out on studiousness.

I had, back then, and even throughout my 20s, believed that I would always be a student. (Yes, we are always students throughout our lives – learning never ends unless we are willfully ignorant and closed off. Here I refer to living as a formal student, enrolled in a study program.) It became so much a part of who I was that it stopped having much meaning. And this, too, is a symptom of the aforementioned malaise/”issue fatigue”: even when you are not only passionate about a cause, but your life or livelihood depends on it (healthcare activists, equality/civil rights activists, etc.), you still get so beaten up and worn down that the fight, too, can start to feel meaningless.

Once I was burned out on applying myself to studies, I focused on other things and purposely tried to numb myself with overdoses of work and TV. I stopped reading because I wanted to sidestep meaning and feeling. Incidentally, a lot of formal education feels like it is designed to sidestep meaning, feeling and independent thought, which is why we also need committed education activists who prioritize the fostering of creative and independent thinking. (“Poetry is important for the teaching of writing and reading.”)

This numbness is the most dangerous thing. We must in these times find the path that lets us balance the pain and frustration against the will to fight and hope for something better (that we may never see).

…As a side note, at least not every interaction with television is empty; in a recent episode of Call the Midwife, we experienced real beauty with a taste of Federico Garcia Lorca.

And in Madam Secretary, a most apt Kierkegaard quote:
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”

It’s True
-Federico Garcia Lorca
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!
For love of you, the air, it hurts,
and my heart,
and my hat, they hurt me.
Who would buy it from me,
this ribbon I am holding,
and this sadness of cotton,
white, for making handkerchiefs with?
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!

Es verdad
¡Ay que trabajo me cuesta
quererte como te quiero!
Por tu amor me duele el aire,
el corazón
y el sombrero.
¿Quien me compraria a mi,
este cintillo que tengo
y esta tristeza de hilo
blanco, para hacer panuelos?
¡Ay que trabajo me cuesta
quererte como te quiero!

Photo (c) 2013 Justin Elliott