The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Tune Out

On his commute home from the train station, Reiner listens to the 6 o’clock news. When we sit down to our meal, he shares the stories, usually indignant and full of contempt for what he’s heard. He needs to vent, to spew and sputter and verbally pound the kitchen table. I understand his mood. The news industry deserves our scorn if not for reporting calamities and upset, certainly for the fact that some headlines are deemed newsworthy in the first place.

I’m torn. Part of me understands his need to give voice to his emotions. Hell, not part of me, ALL of me gets that. But I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to be a sounding board on the receiving end of a vehement discourse about all that’s wrong with the world. Especially if it’s the same story day after day. Sometimes, I can distance myself from the emotion. Other times, though, I need to reach out and gently (or not, as the case may be) request that we talk about something else. Please. Not at the dinner table.

Several years ago, I asked a social worker friend, how she coped with the stories she heard in her practice. One of her strategies was to limit her exposure to violence in the media as best she could. “I hear enough horror stories during the day. I don’t need to entertain myself with suspense or drama or thrilling chase scenes. Once your brain registers a grisly scene, you cannot un-see it, and I believe we pay an emotional price for that.”

It made a lot of sense to me, and I’ve done my best to follow suit. I have disconnected the radio and the TV at home. We do not subscribe to newspapers. I have kept my promise to stay away from internet news sites, but of course, I cannot avoid the headline news shared by my friends online and off.

Which makes me realize that the guru was right.

In the late 1980’s I spent a week at a yoga retreat where the guru’s policy stated: no newspapers or magazines, no radio, no TV. During the orientation sessions, leaders answered questions about the news blackout.

“But what if something terrible happens… a calamity of some kind, and everyone out there is upset while in here, we blithely carry on, ignorant of the news?”

1986 Challenger Explosion

1986 Challenger Explosion

“If you need to know, you will be made aware,” was the guru’s answer. “We are connected with the communities nearby. When the Challenger blew up, we heard an hour after it happened. A delivery man told the kitchen staff.”

It makes sense. Think about it. How much of the news that you read on any given day is “new”? How much of it impacts you directly and is vital to how you live your life? More importantly, consider how the news stories or online “content” causes you harm, makes you afraid, anxious, or worried? How often do you feel angry, then impotent, then despairing? That cannot be good, can it?

Gertrude Stein said, “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Her statement is in response to the question “What do you think about the atomic bomb?”

I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn’t any more than in everybody’s secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it’s the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not, not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting.

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.

Gertrude Stein, Reflection on the Atomic Bomb1946

That last line is key. We listen to the horrifying events so much that we forget to focus on the natural beauty around us. We don’t focus on the food in front of us. Our tirades spoil our supper.

Speaking of which, I should get this published. Reiner will be home soon and I need to make dinner.

Huh. Just had another thought. Perhaps I should invoke another of the guru’s policies:

Meals are eaten in silence.

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52 replies

  1. I just commented elsewhere that I can’t remember the last time I watched the local or national news. I rely on the internet to get to what I need to know and in doses I can handle. Some days that is more than others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was going to say, “I can’t remember either,” but then gave my answer some thought… just about every restaurant or fast food chain has a monitor tuned to the news. The dentist’s office has a TV blaring in the waiting room, too. So the last time I watched local news was last week.

      I suppose I’m grateful for my introverted nature. Those TV channels with the ticker tape running along the bottom and split screen to show multiple stories at once, with close captioning displayed on top of the entire works… WAY TMI and my brain instantly shuts down in self preservation. It is literally all just noise to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Amen. I feel exactly the same way.

    Like

  3. I have the same complaint. We never hear about the good stuff, heartwarming, evidence that live is good stuff. Only the annoying.
    I have a pet peeve about the media. I think the news outlets are fear mongers. We’ve had arguments about it.

    On occasion I’ve had to invoke a ban on certain topics – like when George Bush was President.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a news junky but it’s my husband who can’t let go of his negative reaction to what he hears. I feel that it’s important to be aware of what’s going on (at least enough to vote intelligently) but I also want to maintain my general positive outlook on life. Life is short and there’s too much beauty in the world to dwell on the negative.

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    • Ah yes, to vote intelligently. Politics is the one topic that I do try to pay attention to. Which is not easy, given the bafflegab and mudslinging and biased reporting…

      …or non-reporting.

      For example, it was just revealed this past weekend that Canada signed a trade deal with China, and from what I read, it was done without debate in parliament or in public. Is the trade deal a good thing? Well, based on what I read yesterday, no. What do I know about trade deals? Not a whole lot.
      Should I find out more? Probably. What can I expect to find? At least two polar opposite opinions, and a half-dozen that land somewhere along the line between “It’s a good thing” and “It’s the worst thing that could happen.”

      It boggles my mind.

      So, let’s watch a sunset or take a walk in the woods and focus our attention on the beauty. It’s my landing spot when I end up overwhelmed.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m with you, Maggie. I’m not terribly proud of being ignorant of “world events” as filtered by the news industry but I know I’m calmer for it. And nowadays if/when you want to dig deeper into a story the information is easily to hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You hit on a point, about not feeling proud. I recall being treated with scorn and contempt for not having an opinion, not being “in the know.” At the time, I felt it was justified. I did not read the news then because I was not interested. Now that I am inclined to want to make sense of things, I do not read the news because I cannot trust it.

      As you say, if/when you dig deeper into a story, there will be plenty of information out there. The trick is knowing if the material is comprehensive, accurate, trustworthy, unbiased…

      So, I get frustrated and I shut down and tune out. And I feel better for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That was tough seeing the Challenger white puff trail into my Reader. You are so right – not only can we not absorb it all emotionally, we cannot fix it all. News is no longer news; it’s tabloid tv, and there are no reprters, only opinion spewers and sensation promoters.

    A couple years ago there was a ‘reporter’ who claimed their job is to ‘make’ news.

    I do read a smattering of current events and op-eds, but I take weeklong breaks every once in awhile and that is a good balance. I slways ask what the messenger has to gain by what he’s saying. Hub is not a “news junkie” nor does he need to sound off, so I don’t share your dinner dilemma – what about agreeing on two specific nights for current events or some kind of physical object on the table that indicates “not tonight, dear, I have a headache” which, of course serves double duty as a message 😍💥🙀

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    • Oh, dear, I’m sorry Sammy if I stirred up some difficult emotions.

      Interesting point you make – about asking “what’s to be gained.” It brings to mind a saying, that I believe is attributed to someone in ancient Rome: “If you want to know the truth, look to see who gains financially. Where is the money?”

      As for our dinner conversations, yes, I may need to use your strategy! 😉

      Like

  7. I feel a need to know what’s going on around us. Someone said, “Know the enemy,” but I do stay away from it for the most part. Hubby doesn’t. There’s a value in that. I can always ask him if I’m confused. There is too much negative put in our lives by the media—too much violence, and sometimes I think they either make it up or exaggerate. Think I’ll go outside and enjoy the flowers in our courtyard.

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    • Hi Pam – yes, I must admit that I’m grateful for the time my husband devotes to taking in and interpreting the news and sharing his understanding of it. But, as you say, there needs to be some balance and courtyard flowers are good at providing that!

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  8. You know, Maggie, this is such an interesting subject you bring up. My parents, both in their 80’s, had their lives dramatically impacted by war and watch the news incessantly as a result. Incessantly, because the are afraid of what might happen next and want to be prepared. The news just adds to their fear and there is such a lack of perspective. I get that they have a visceral fear of what world events can do to their lives because it’s happened to them before, but I urge them to disconnect from so much bad news. It’s one thing to read about world events in the daily paper, another entirely to sit transfixed in front of the television.As they say in the news biz, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Barbara – my folks, if they had lived would be in their 90’s. They watched the 6 and 11 o’clock news (national followed by local) every night, without fail. It’s that mesmerization that concerns me, too.

      I was going to include that line “if it bleeds, it leads…” and it leads us by the nose, too, in my estimation.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think you should have Reiner help you make dinner: MASH those potatoes, Reiner! Tear into that lettuce for salad! Snap those little beans in half! Let him get his frustrations out before you sit down to eat. I listen to NPR on the way to/from work. I think I hear the same damn thing both ways. I cannot live without my morning newspaper but it ticks me off totally to have someone at work feel the need to tell me something ‘big’ that is happening in the world that they just read on the Internet.. I like my news in small doses. Besides, I’ll read about it in the paper the next morning. That’s how ‘big’ it was for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good post, Maggie ! – our friend the Wandering Iris posted yesterday (Sydney time)
    and if you could persuade Reiner … :-\

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  11. For years, when my anxiety was at its height, and my husband was deployed, I didn’t watch the news at all. I got on very well, but at some point there was a tomato poisoning incident and a spinach poisoning incident, and people made fun of me for not knowing, since it was “all over the news.”
    I think your guru was wise, which may be redundant, but until I wanted to buy tomatoes or spinach, or until my husband said he was changing locations, I truly didn’t need to know, and I certainly didn’t miss stories of shaken babies and house fires.
    I still don’t watch the news, but I’m on Twitter and I watch the pundits, sooo…I don’t miss anything big.
    We yell a lot about politics over here. Reiner is welcome to join us for dinner 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a tomato thing? A spinach thing? Huh, missed that one. Good.

      You know, when hubby gets on a tear, and I challenge him on it, “Why are you getting so worked up?” he says he’s doing it for sport. He likes the exercise, so to speak.

      Urgh. Take up boxing or something!

      Thanks for the dinner invitation!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Gertrude Stein lived in a world she invented. A rather insular one. Some people were interested in the atomic bomb because of the physics involved (I am). Still, I understand her and sympathize/agree in a way. I sincerely could not care less about September 11, 2001. Having seen terrorist attacks (via the media but not US media) happening all over the world for DECADES (there was that whole terrorist thing called the Vietnamese Conflict) I just thought we were lucky not to have been hit before. I also tend to believe it was an inside job — and it has certainly been useful in effectively brainwashing the American people through fear-mongering and consumerism. You see, I’m not sure that what we get every day IS truly INFORMATION.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I completely agree Maggie. Up until recently (and even then it wasn’t by my choice) I hadn’t watched the TV in over seven years. I won’t buy papers and refuse to read news sites-nothing good is ever reported and it’s saddening and soul destroying xx

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  14. I refuse to watch TV or cinema depicting violence. I want my entertainment to offset the depressing news that bombards us daily. Hell, I want to laugh a bit. It’s good therapy. Bring on the Marx Brothers.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Yes, yes, no, yes, I’m not sure.

    The good, bad, and ugly of the Rainer nightly core-dump:

    the good:

    He loves you. You love him. He may need this. He may view it as part of The Contract. You may have been attracted to him partly for the same quality…

    the bad:

    …that now, due to subject matter and duration of same, feels burdensome.

    the ugly:

    something’s gotta change, or plates are gonna fly.

    Betting your kitchen has a timer. What if you two set it? Rainer gets to unload for, say, 30 minutes. Too much? 25.

    When it dings, he must then add one more item from the news: A POSITIVE piece of news! That should be good for both of you.

    What do you think, Maggie?

    (re: news: I stick to online and skip the repetitive grim go-nowhere news. NPR, Slate, Mother Jones, a skim of The Guardian and NYT, The Week, and, to see what conservative thinking is, the CA Conservative Political Review. But, for the IMPORTANT news–the news inquiring minds want to know–Buzzfeed–of course!)

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  16. I relate to this post so much. Chris is a news fiend and I put my head in the sand. I can’t turn the TV on during the day and I don’t have radio either. Chris now has earphones… But he does feel I need to be brought up to date…. I try to show interest…. In all of that but in reality, I can live quite happily without!

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  17. I’m right with you, Maggie. I’m the great tuner outer. The end. I do not wish to be in a constant state of anxiety over things of which I have no control. I think we need to be aware of what is going on around us, but not bludgeoned with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I absolutely love that there are so many of us agreeing with you. I love that you are stating what I so absolutely hold on to. Recently retired (from social work in a county jail), I have spent the last six months attempting to knit the pieces of my broken soul back together. It IS coming along, but I will wreak havoc and mayhem on those who attempt to “disturb my inner peace and harmony”. My soul is doing well, but my physical health lags behind in healing. We cannot subsist on violence, evil, political hatred and all sorts of evil and expect to thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome Celia, and thanks so much for reading and commenting. It is heartening to learn that we are among kindred, yes? I understand, I think, your line “I will wreak havoc and mayhem on those who attempt to “disturb my inner peace and harmony”. I defend mine, too, like a lioness defends her cubs. Take no prisoners! Rawr!

      Sorry to hear that you have physical challenges. I hope there is a full and speedy return to health on all levels for you.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Interesting post. I too struggle with the negativity that almost inevitably comes with keeping up with the news, and yet tuning it out has a higher cost than I’m willing to pay: Losing track of what’s happening in the world. Because it affects me, even if I don’t watch it developing. I’ve been trying to cultivate detachment. I’m wouldn’t say I’ve won the battle, but I’m getting better at it.

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  20. I watched a helpful, interesting DVD this year that really explained how twisted the news is now, how calculated. I think it’s difficult for those of us who grew up trusting the news – the papers, the TV newscasters – to learn to be more skeptical and realize the degree to which mainstream news is currently bought and paid for. I am working hard to limit all the negative crud coming into my head and life; having someone close at hand bringing it in is difficult.

    Those was a great post and terrific comments. I did a post on the topic too.

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    • Thanks for commenting and sharing the links to the documentary and to your post. I urge future readers to check them out.

      This is really quite eerie to have this post reactivated. Soon after I wrote Tune Out last September, I had to enforce some house rules with my husband. Limit the negative talk at dinner time. If you must talk about something nasty, you have to talk about something good, too. No negative talk at bed time. Let’s face it: tirades about the state of the nation don’t exactly qualify as “pillow talk” if you get my meaning.

      To his credit, he understood, agreed, and stopped his nightly discourse. Slowly, though, over the months, he’s begun to slip. Last night, I lost patience when after I shared some stuff about what I was doing today, inviting a conversation, he raged on about the stock market.

      “Whoa! I don’t want to talk about that!” He was put out. “What? Now I can’t talk about the stock market either?” But he apologized and fell silent.

      A work in progress.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. I’m not married and as I read your post, I wondered what I’d do. When other people want to tell me things I don’t want to hear, I might say “I’m not interested in that” or try to lead them to another topic or slowly sidle away. But an intimate person is another matter! What you describe makes your husband sound as if he’s addicted to either the bad news or the telling of it; agreeing to quit, doing ok for awhile, & sliding back in could describe any number of habits/behaviors (I hope you don’t find my analysis too presuming). And yes, I totally get it – bad news and the ails of the stock market do not sexy talk make!

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        • No worries. I appreciate your views.
          Here’s my theory: Hubby prides himself on logic – Spock was his childhood hero. Anything that cannot be explained in black and white terms mystify him, make him feel uncomfortable. So, when the stock market does something wonky that is not easy to explain (which is EVERY DAY) he tries to make sense of it. Why? Because he has investments. He also has an anxious nature. Not a great combination, I agree!

          Liked by 1 person

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