I’m on the phone with a well-known agricultural economist discussing his definition of macro economics when the conversation goes south. Or not south, actually, just sideways and backwards and forwards across 50 years and a dozen geopolitical entities and the Euro crisis and Russian’s involvement with Ukraine and the yen versus the dollar and the Great Depression and market shares and economic trends and drastic, sweeping demographic transformations that will turn the beef industry inside out, and while I can almost keep up with the guy he occasionally pauses his breathless diatribe to ask if I’m still with him, if I understand what he’s telling me, and apologizing, too, for such a roundabout answer but then the answer is both complex and arcane and involves not just Kansas ranchers but the immensity of global markets and financial systems and food biases and a verifiable host of other factors that influence the answer, and please bear with him as he brings the conversation to an enlightening denouement.
“Okay,” I say, and he’s off again, certain of his facts and the bewildering connections linking them like a vast and incomprehensible spider web, and uncertain about my grasp of worldwide events both past and current—for which I cannot blame him, the average person being fairly incognizant of the great forces at play—when he pauses to ask if Im conscious of the recent financial debacle in Ireland.
“You bet,” I lied, and on we go.
Surprisingly, after 15 minutes of of meandering, the economist wraps it all together into a tidy package that makes perfect sense. I’m impressed. I’m also not entirely certain that I care.
This has nothing to do with him. The man’s limitless overview of world markets was nothing short of genius, and his ultimate explanation was such that anyone could understand. That’s an impressive accomplishment.
My problem is that my interest in news and world events has faded. What was once a gradual shift toward inspirational or educational resources over news updates has now become a rout. It’s not that I believe news has lost its value, only that news has lost its pertinence in my life. Whether or not I delve into the European crisis to determine how it affects me in a tiny prairie town in northeastern Kansas is immaterial to what will or will not transpire in the coming days, months or years. Ditto for the majority of other headline-inducing reports. As a businessman I stay informed about tax changes and new regulations and policies that have direct bearing on my business, but other than that I pretty much steer clear of anything involving news updates.
Needless to say, as a reporter I felt deeply divided over the change. I couldn't readily admit it to my friends and relatives, but kept it secret, hidden, as if it were a loss of faith, which in many ways it was. I had believed in the news, had valued the unbiased collection and dissemination of factual news stories, and had, as others had, become increasingly disturbed at the mainstream media’s erosion of ethics and the celebritization of content. Reading about the newest nonsensical measure proposed by Kansas legislature or the hearing the latest libelous political ads didn’t enlightenment me so much as make my blood boil.
It finally dawned on me that an informed citizen was a continually agitated citizen. And I didn’t want agitation—I wanted inspiration. I wanted creativity and art and music and culture and the beauty of the natural world. Having entered my sixth decade, it was time to distance myself from anything that did not make me a better photographer, a better husband, a better neighbor, a better man. The world can and will go on without me.
For the most part, the few friends I mentioned this to felt that I was neglecting my duty as a free-thinking individual who would eventually be called upon to vote for crucial political positions and legislation. And I can see their point. Though I assured them that I would do the research and vote accordingly when the time came, I’m not sure they believed me.
One day not long ago a friend dropped by, and we sat on the porch sipping beer while sweat trickled down our faces and mosquitoes buzzed in our ears. He was the husband of a newspaper-owner and one of the most educated people I’ve ever met—in other words, not the most ideal person to admit my declining interest in news gathering—and yet out of the blue he said that a friend of his had decided that the news media had reached an unsustainable level of toxicity, and henceforth he would eschew anything and everything that did not built him up. “Sometimes,” his friend said, “you just have to live your life.”
For a moment I sat there in stunned silence, oddly encouraged by the validity of the statement. Sometimes enlightenment needs no backstory, no roundabout elucidation. In a complex, convoluted world, sometimes truth is the least complicated thing of all.
“Your friend is a wise man,” I said.
His smile was infectious. “Which is why I no longer care, either,” he said.
“Do tell,” I said, and he did.
Enjoyed this essay, Tom. Also, it's good to read your words again as well as looking at the beautiful images you create!
Thanks, Carol, I appreciate it. Writing for me has become somewhat haphazard. Finding the time necessary to sit down and concentrate on a column is increasingly difficult as the majority of my work now involves photography. I still love to write and keep a daily (more or less) diary, but columns have been relegated to my endangered species list.
I'm glad this one saw the light of day. It's good to know I'm not the only one who increasingly is bored, impatient, or amused by what passes for "news" in this world. Once I realized it all had become like the soap operas of the 1950s and 1960s, where you could skip a month, tune in, and find yourself at the very same point in the plot -- well, that's when the television left the house.
The simple truth is that I'm 68 years old. I have maybe twenty years left. Give or take, that comes out to 7,300 days, and the question is: how will I spend them. As Annie Dillard so rightly puts it, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life." And I don't intend to spend mine in thrall to spinmeisters, power-mad politicians and idiots.
Oh, I could go on. But I won't, except to say that I do hope your writing doesn't cease entirely, because it's captivating, and true. I still remember the excitement I felt when I read that essay about the march of the cell phone towers across the land.
Of course, you have your span of years, too, and the right to spend them as you choose. Whatever you choose is good enough for me.
Linda, I'm glad to hear that you're a kindred soul. Some of my friends are already arguing/bickering/fighting over potential presidential candidates, and a goodly number of folks I talk to here in conservative Kansas still prefer to believe that Obama is a Muslim terrorist, the concept of climate change a subversive act unproven by science and, for that matter, science is suspect and to be discounted whenever possible. Me? I don't care what they think. I don't care what my liberal friends think. I care about good writing that makes me a better person, good photography that will stand the test of time and create lasting memories for both friends and strangers, good sunsets and late summer nights redolent with the thrum of crickets and tree frogs, and the love of a good woman. Everything else is nonessential.
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