Sunday, April 5, 2015

a deviation from routine

For the last week, I had to stop listening to the news.

Every morning, on the way to daycare and then work, and then from work to daycare in the evening, I listen to the local NPR station. I only allow myself to listen to music on the home stretch, from daycare back to the house. And for the past month that local NPR station has been reporting, daily, on (and only on) the following things:
  • A series on living (or not!) with cancer
  • A series on the horrors of sustaining a workplace injury
  • A series on being a Palestinian in Israel
  • Non-stop coverage of the Boston Marathon bomber trial, complete with incredibly graphic testimony from survivors who lost limbs and the father of the eight-year-old boy who died
  • Life in Syria right now
  • Reportage on the Germanwings crash that pretty much consisted of, every five minutes, reminding us that the passengers were screaming in terror as the plane went down
I'm not even kidding about that last one. Listeners were informed about the recovery of the cockpit recorder and the screams on it four times during one half-hour commute for me. 

And so, every day, I felt beaten down by what I was hearing, and the more beaten down I felt the less right I believed I had to that feeling. Because none of these horrible things are happening to me. I would leave work exhausted and discouraged to the bone by our current enormous project, and looking at another night and morning without child help (Berowne was away during the week for work), and feeling a completely normal and justified set of negative and overwhelmed emotions... and then after five minutes in the car I would have heard three horrible stories and started beating myself up about how I'm not allowed to be anything but Pollyanna-bright about my life, because I'm not a Syrian refugee or a victim of a terrorist attack or currently living with cancer. Amazingly, this didn't make me feel any better. And I am going to have to get on a plane again at some point.

So for a week I turned off the news. The last time I went almost a whole day without listening to the news was September 11, 2001. I don't know if anyone who had been watching the news all that day can possibly understand how disorienting it was to only encounter the events at 5:00 in the evening, turning on the news and expecting a routine broadcast. I never want to feel that much like Rip van Winkle again, awakened into a completely different world when I thought that only a few hours had passed. And so I cling to the news cycle as if knowing will somehow protect me, or at least let me share the confusion and worry with others; my experience of 9/11 was frighteningly isolated.

In consequence, it was nerve-wracking to go without the news (and at the best of times it is nerve-wracking for me to have a routine altered). But at the end of the workday, when I reached the car in that dark mood, and turned on my music, it helped. I know that is so obvious as to have readers baffled that I even need to mention it, but, well, the combination of Scottish Calvinist heritage and a history of addiction means that I am unbelievably stern with myself about what I am allowed. Sometimes this is good - it got me sober, after all. But for that very reason it takes on outsized proportions: I think I really believe, deep down, that any self-indulgence is a slippery and rapid slope back to drinking. And that a one-time deviation from a routine, even if it is getting take-out because otherwise I won't eat till nine, or not working out because I have a horrendous cold, or not listening to news stories that make me cry hysterically, falls under the "self-indulgence" category. Geez.

To make a long story short: I didn't listen to the news for a week and it was kind of awesome.

I also binge-watched what's available of the show "Outlander", thinking it was going to be hate-watching because the books for me go beyond hate-reading into a realm of loathing hotter than the sun, but someone who knows what's up got their hands on the show and I can't even lie, I love it. The heroine's smug but tolerable, which makes her eight thousand times more likable than she is in the books, and there's all kinds of scenery and accents and plaids and what is clearly a stunt butt and it's grand. 

Total hedonism around here! Well, I guess I've been reading serious books, though probably not with as much attention as they deserve.

The Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth, by Peter Ackroyd. A little dry, I have to admit. It was mostly about religion, which is of course accurate, but I glazed after a while.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by Charles Blow. A memoir about a very tough Southern black childhood; beautifully written but the story thread jumps around and drifts a bit much. 

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. The Secret History takes place at Hogwarts. That's not a comparison - that's what this book is. I found it compelling at the time of reading, even though I was like, "Hey, I've read this before," but I feel pretty indifferent about picking up the sequels. We'll see. After all, you have to do something with your evenings when there's no Scottish stunt butt available. 


  1. The sequels to the Magicians are... decent, but darker? A bit of Less than Zero meets Narnia.

  2. I really liked the second Magicians book because half of it is narrated by a great female character, but Grossman blows it in the third one because it's still All About Quentin, and I didn't care about him a bit.

  3. I have some very strong negative opinions about the second Magicians book, to the point of refusing to pick up the third.

  4. I have some very strong negative opinions about the second Magicians book, to the point of refusing to pick up the third.