Saturday, June 23, 2012

Not reading the news

Despite having been a news reporter, I rarely read the news. My biggest excuse is that I usually look at the newspaper while I'm eating, so it's easier to read items that are on one page—advice columnists, funnies, tabloid weekly sections—than news articles that start somewhere and continue elsewhere, requiring constant rearrangements of paper. While reading "Dear Amy," I can sip my tea and eat my toast without worrying about getting newspaper ink on my food, or papers scattered all over the table.

But the bigger reason is that I don't know how to respond to bad news. After reading about citizens murdered in Syria I feel sad and angry. After repeated readings, I start to feel helpless; I don't know what to do with that information.

I can't seem to keep all the daily and ongoing acts of evil in my mind at once. I'd rather read about choosing hellebores varieties for the garden (in the weekly Home section), or how two recently married people met and courted (in the Sunday Style section). I can do something positive with that  information—the couple might work its way into my fiction, the hellebores might work its way into my garden. But that picture of a stricken child, whose parent was just shot—what am I supposed to do with that? Simply file it away in my mind? My brain is not an unfeeling hard drive.

All I really need to know about evil and horror is a photograph I saw years ago of a German soldier about to shoot a mother and child. The mother is futilely trying to use her body to shield her child. The viewer knows the pair died seconds after the picture was taken. I know that such cruelty has happened since then millions of times over, in small and big ways, but there is essentially nothing worse than what happened in that moment.

I want to be an informed citizen, but if I read the news all the time I would probably reach a state of despondency. I'm not sure I would leave my bed or, at least, my house and garden. I might reach for chocolate, romance novels and Hallmark Channel movies for comfort. So I glance at the front page, on my way to other, happier sections. While I'm reading about new movies, I'm aware that those stricken faces are still there on the other pages even if I'm not looking directly at them.

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