Since the election, I have been despondent. Maybe depressed is the right word, I don’t know. And I realize that Trump voters could say, “Oh boo hoo, get over it,” and that’s fine, but I think what I’m asking here is not really partisan and maybe applies to everyone. The thing is, I’m normally what I would call a voracious news consumer: I read the newspaper every day; I read magazine articles; I listen to news radio. I’ve never had much patience for people who say, “Oh, I don’t read the news, it’s too depressing.” I’ve always felt everyone should make an effort to at least be aware of what’s going on in the world — no matter how bad it might seem — otherwise, how will we ever change anything for the better?
But lately, this is me: For two weeks or so after the election, I couldn’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio. It would just disgust me as soon as I did. Now I’ve swung back the other way. I’m devouring every article I can, spending stupid amounts of time reading and listening to all sorts of news, but it’s not really helping. I feel more depressed, in general, not less, and I don’t feel empowered by it. I think it’s making me less productive in other areas of my life, too. Last night at dinner, my wife suggested I stop reading the newspaper, maybe just read more in-depth magazines every now and then, but just take a break. I’m sure she’s right, but I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out how to balance my desire for information and wanting to stay active politically with the knowledge that all this information is likely making me less active and less productive and more discouraged. Any advice?
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Dear News Consumer,
I really respect people who have the stomach to stay on top of the news. I’m definitely a voracious reader, and I can overdose on news. The experience could be characterized as an angst hangover.
I think it all depends on what you do with your angst hangover. How will you mine your angst hangover? Will you pull diamonds out of it? Will you create works of art out of the information you’ve absorbed? Will inspired social action arise from all this turmoil you’re putting yourself through?
Or will you abstain from over-indulgence in the news, and give yourself angst withdrawal instead?
Which is more painful? Which one would make you happier? Which one would make your wife happier?
I’ve taken news-breaks before, and I’ve found that word-of-mouth is surprisingly reliable. Most news subjects can be summarized in a series of brief questions, usually only three at the most. During one news-fast I was taking, my boyfriend at the time chided me for being “irresponsible and uninformed.” I told him to quiz me on news stories, and it turns out I knew the answer to every question he posed. You will hear most angles of most news stories simply by being an involved and thoughtful member of your community. I found that it’s not always necessary to even talk to strangers to get this kind of news. You’ll just hear it.
Certainly, this technique doesn’t apply in very complicated situations. But if you want to know about something ongoing and very complex, you can always talk to friends who are involved. My Syrian-American buddy and another friend who runs a charity to support Syrian refugees help me understand what’s happening in that terrifying quagmire. There are so many plus sides to this approach: You don’t have to plough through a bunch of poorly written or chatty articles looking for the answers to those three questions you have about the subject, and making room for peace in your life gives you the wherewithal to respond meaningfully to current events.
Give it a try and see how you like it.
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Over the span of her career, Jolie Holland has knotted together a century of American song in jazz, blues, folk, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. A founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, Holland has released a half-dozen critically lauded albums of her own material over the last 12 years. She recently rejoined forces with Samantha Parton — her former Be Good Tanyas bandmate — for a new duo project simply called Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton. Holland currently resides in Los Angeles.