What news today?

The beginning of the year and the newspapers are at it already. The headlines read: ‘Retail splurges put heat on rates.’ So now again we must panic. The news sensationalises. If the retail sector had been slow over Christmas, the headlines would read something like, ‘Confidence low as retail takes a nose dive.’

Panic. We must all panic. Every day we become overwrought that doom and gloom is just around the corner. The newspapers feed on misadventure, despair, and anxiety or on the occasional report of treacly sweet goodness: ‘Child rescues baby sister from house fire’.

Years ago when I joined a class on non-fiction writing where the emphasis was on techniques of journalism, I found the simplicity of it all ‘under-whelming’. The philosophy held we must report the salient features of an event first and run down the peripheral details point by point in an ever decreasing spiral of significance so that it mattered not whether the first sentence alone were published. Only the first and maybe second sentences mattered. They provided the bald facts. Thereafter all details became mere embellishments and the editor would use his/her discretion as to whether they remained in the published report.

This discretion it seemed was based on competing news reports. The value of news was rated for its sensational qualities and also on the pressure to advertise. If someone paid more for their advertisement of course it would be given pride of place against the news of the day, which did not pay in itself. The news however was intended as a money spinner in that it was reported in such a way as to draw in readers, and more readers encouraged more advertisers. Those who bought advertising space wanted as many of their advertisements read and acted upon, so the news itself became a saleable commodity. I imagine all of this still applies today, even perhaps more so.

Generally, I read only the front page every morning first thing after I have picked up the plastic covered newspaper from the driveway and brought it inside. I unwrap it from its Gladwrap as I walk down the corridor, that is when I can. Sometimes the Gladwrap refuses to unstick and I must take to it with a knife. It is a morning ritual akin to the business of making that first cup of tea or coffee. It is the business of waking up.

Once, not so many years ago, I read the newspaper in a cursory sort of way. I peeled the pages one from the other and scanned each article. Some I read through from beginning to end, most I only skimmed.

I have never been a newspaper reader, except on weekends when I like to pore over The Age and The Australian’s Review of books. Here I find something of interest. My husband on the other hand, even as he might complain about the thin quality of newspaper reporting, will read the newspaper from beginning to end every day.

‘What news today?’ I might ask and sometimes he will oblige me with an answer. Other times he will tell me that if I want to know I should read it for myself. My husband hates to have his brain ‘picked over’. Fair enough, I say. Lazy people like me who cannot be bothered trawling through the so-called news of the day might look for shortcuts, and ask their partners for a summary, but should they be so indulged?

Our children tend to read the news on line, as does my husband, more and more. This is particularly useful for updates on events as they happen. Even I have taken to reading the news on line. This time last year when the bushfire season had begun, I focused on the areas in Healesville, in Badger and Chum Creeks where my husband’s family live.

The selfishness of my newspaper reading is obvious. I will always read if it pertains to me and mine. But I cannot abide the sensationalising of news, particularly on such massive events as the economy, which is not simply driven by local events but by global events. More often than not it feels completely outside of my control. I am not a frugal person.

I am one of the wastrels. I should be more careful, but I cannot be bothered to get into penny-pinching and miserliness. Life is too short, I tell myself, to worry too long about the debt we will be left with in our old age. As long as we can work and earn enough money on which to survive, we will survive.

It is a blinkered view I know, but if I allowed myself to worry about all the things I could worry about daily, I doubt that I could go on. I doubt that I could allow myself to spend the few precious hours I use each weekend on my reading and writing. I doubt that I could allow myself to celebrate my children’s birthdays. I doubt that I could allow myself to enjoy good food and wine. I doubt that I could have allowed myself my recent trip to the Writers House for a week of reading, walking, writing and writerly conversation. I doubt that I could allow myself to tend to all the things in this house that currently need repair.

The list goes on. The list is endless. And finally to my list of all the things I would not do were I to allow myself to indulge in thoughts of not wasting a thing in this life, of not indulging myself in any excesses, and instead worrying about all the things that are wrong, I doubt that I would be able to blog as I do.

Blogging swallows time. It is almost purely self indulgent and although I can claim that I learn many things on line through other people’s blogs and that I have met many wonderful and fascinating people in this virtual world, which has its underpinnings in the real world – most of the bloggers with whom I communicate are real, however well concealed their identities – I cannot claim that the activity of blogging is essential to survival. Though it does assist the quality of my internal life, I am not sure it helps much else.

I have talked myself into the hole of non-existence when I allow myself to speculate like this. After a while it gets me nowhere and so I must stop before I persecute myself further. My guts begin to ache, the well of anxiety in my hips – that’s where I feel it most – rises to the base of my stomach and eventually reaches my mid sternum, by which time I must take a deep breath and change topics.

21 thoughts on “What news today?”

  1. I feel the same way about the news. And I love that you feel things in your hips.
    I only read the obituaries and the arts sections (online). The obituaries I read because I don't want to miss any of my friend's parents funerals. I was so touched by the people who showed up at my Dad's funeral that I know how much it means to be supported in this way. And the arts, including book reviews is the section that brings me to life. Reminds me of events to attend and stimulates me when I see what other people are dreaming up.
    The blogging thing has really helped me to write and think more regularly. My eyes and heart have really been opened up by the things you write.

  2. I am ashamed to say that I never read everything in the newspaper. I start doing the Sudoku puzzle and the cryptogram if there is one. Then I read the headlines, but never the sports pages.
    I don't worry about what might happen in the future, because it will never be what you expect it to be. Today is what counts! The sun shines and I must do some vacuum-cleaning and watch "Doctors"on BBC I. And having coffee, when I feel like drinking it!
    Thanks for your visit, Elisabeth! Have a great weekend!

  3. The stars are wasting themselves, burning out.

    Newspapers–the poet Phil Levine said they litter the subway floor. So quickly discarded. But I read them, and so did he.

  4. How essential blogging is must surely depend on what else there is out there contributing to one’s essence. I have very little contact with the real world anymore and as long as I continue to be the way I am I can’t see that changing. It is not self-indulgence, it is self-sustainment. I need to know that my life is purposeful. Making my wife cups of coffee and playing with the bird isn’t enough but it is important that I care for both of them. When I see a new post from you I go, “Oh, good, something to think about!” and I do, I think carefully about what you’ve written and take my time in replying because I know that you hope /want/expect/need to know you’ve been heard.

    You know Maslow as well as I do, probably better, so you know there is a hierarchy of needs. Human contact (literal or virtual) is important. In your case blogging only supplements your need; in my case it’s a significant component. In reading and responding to someone else I have an opportunity, if only in a small way, to enhance their lives. A simple example is Kass’s recent post which she deleted before most people had a chance to read it. It got caught in my RSS feedreader and so I did get that opportunity and could e-mail her and encourage her to repost it. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Not simply exchanging information, although that’s good too and intellectual stimulation is also one of my needs. Of course nothing is as altruistic as that sounds. By being selfless I also feed the self.

    As for newspapers I never read one. The last time I bought one was about thirty years ago. I tried reading a Sunday paper. It took me all week to get through it, most of it didn’t interest me and so I stopped. Only since I’ve been off have I even watched the news on the tele. I’ve never had much interest in the outside world. When we turn it on these days my usual opening line is, “Well, let’s see if the world’s ended today.” But fifteen minutes of news is enough for me each day. I’ve no desire to have any more than the bullet points.

  5. Dear Elisabeth, I am very glad you enjoyed my poem.
    Panic: great post starting on that. Media feed on panic, how true. And in this way, subtly, media often fill us with tension and potential violence, they have always been doing that. I remember my most mythical encounter ( only in a book !) in the 80's, Don Juan Matus saying to his disciple Carlos Castaneda: "You are full of violence, useless violence and fear, you fool!"

  6. I only take The Times and The Guardian – they are not, on the whole, sensationalist. But I do wonder sometimes whether life would be any different if we never read a paper or listened to the news.
    For example, have younoticed how swine flu seems to have disappeared off the radar now that the really bad weather has arrived.

  7. I'm glad that you portion a part of your "life" time to blogging.

    I still prefer the physicality of the newspaper over the online version, not minding one bit the smear of the black ink on my nose when I nap under it on weekends.

    As valuable as it's become in my own daily life, online information delivery is contingent on the right key words being assigned, searched, and retrieved. As a pulp native instead of a digital native, my eye is more attracted to printed photos, design expressions, type size, and what's "above the fold" — although a machine "thinking" on your behalf can offer some of this. Digital may leave my nose for news unspotted, but perhaps my time a bit more wasted as I jump from linked URL to URL. Might pilates work for informational avoirdupois?

  8. My day is all messed up if it doesn't start with coffee and the newspaper. I say I read the newspaper daily, but by read, I mean glance at the pictures, read a couple of local stories, and the sale ads. By then I'm awake enough to tackle the crossword puzzle.

    Wouldn't it be nice if someone started a good news only station or paper.

  9. Thanks, Kass. I started to read obituaries when I was in my forties and my children complained I was ghoulish.

    I only read them spasmodically now but you're right it is a helpful thing to do. The only trouble here is that of the two primary newspapers, the one that publishes the majority of notices is the 'rag' newspaper of the lowest common denominator, the Herald Sun, which we never buy. Somehow fewer people put their notices in the Age, which is fast reaching the same lowest common denominator standard of the Herald Sun, hence my abandonment of newspapers.

    I trust that people will let me know in good enough time of the death of someone whose funeral I should attend. This of course is not always possible and sometimes funeral are held so close to the death, there's no time anyhow.

    Thanks Reader will. When I was young and still living with my parents, I read only the comics. I can remember my father remonstrating with me for my ignorance in not reading the newspaper. I wasn't interested then either, even less so then.

    The local world seemed such a horrible place and full of men in suits spruiking political views. Besides there was trouble enough at home. I could not stretch my mind further afield.

    Mim. Good for you. I understand and admire those with the strength and courage enough to read the newspapers however quickly, they then, the newspapers that it go on to become litter on the subway floor.

    In the nonfiction class, I allude to in this post, I remember the lecturer talking about the degree to which the writing we were learning is writing that has the shortest shelf life of all. It is intended to be read and then trashed. I did not like the idea then, I still don't.

    Why bother writing something meaningful if the purpose is purely to pass on some brief information, as if in conversation and then trash it. Might as well have a megaphone in the sky reporting the news. No, I prefer writing that is to be preserved. Though of course not all writing deserves to be and we'd have such a terrible stockpile problem if every word written were able to be preserved.

  10. Jim. The feeling is reciprocated. I love your posts and comments. Whenever they appear I know we will be in for a treat, something thoughtful,and beautifully written, something to reverberate from for some time to come.

    That said I agree with you on Maslow's heirarchy of needs and I recognize that your need for blogging although similar to mine is also different.

    You were one of the bloggers who helped me most get into blogging sometime around the middle of last year with your generous and thoughtful responses and your sensitivity to my struggle, not only my struggle I might add.

    I noticed your recent encouragement for Kass's post which ou mention here as well. In fact Kass's post about the degree to which some folks self promote comes to mind here, too.

    There is something about our need for recognition, our need for an affirming response that comes alive in blogging and gives it oomph, for me at least, and it seems for you too.

    The newspapers promote images of ideals and extremes. I think they squash people's enthusiasm for life. They are not interactive; they do not invite a response.

    Though not everyone wants to have comments on their blogs. There are some who prefer to travel incognito or who prefer to put out posts without allowing comments in return.

    It seems strange to me. It reminds me of the funeral I went to during the week where a large group of us, a couple of hundred people – most people who knew the woman who had died fairly well in some capacity or other – gathered in the crematorium chapel for a series of eulogies about her life.

    The coffin was elevated on a dais in front as you see at most cremations but when it came to the end of the eulogies, when I fully expected to see the coffin pass through into the fire, it did not happen. Instead we were asked to join the family at a local park for a celebration of our friend's life.

    I have no problem with the wake but I felt cheated at this funeral. They told us then that it was to be a private cremation.

    I should be able to understand people's wishes to do this in private but I have trouble with it. I have trouble because I think the disposal of the body at a funeral whether at sea, through cremation or burial is an intrinsic part of the event. It is the hard part of the funeral and one that all those who want to celebrate the life of a person who has died should be entitled to participate in, if they want.

    Good grief. This comment on your comment has become a rant. I'm going to have to chop this section in two. I have too much to say, but you get my drift, I hope.

    I'm having a conversation with you Jim and all those others online who care to read and eavesdrop as it were and it's such a pleasure, as long as it's received with good will.

  11. Elisabeth, I'm learning to react more quickly to your posts – not thinking them to death before I comment. ;~}

    First comment regards news about the economy. I'm tired of reading that it's taken an upward turn and THEN reading that reports of recovery are overstated. Which are we to believe? Or is it all designed to keep us off-kilter?

    My age is showing and I'm becoming crabby – news about Tiger Woods and The Gosselins is not news to me. I only needed to know that Michael Jackson had died and no more. No film of his sobbing child at a public memorial service.

    And here is one woman's "yeah" vote for the importance of blogging to some sorts of us. I know it is making my life fuller, both through my writing and reading the blogs of others.

    By the way, just to ring in on the one question: I don't buy newspapers because I am troubled by all the trees we kill. I keep up by glancing online frequently and reading only what I want to read and only as much of it as I want. While I want to keep abreast of real news, I don't need to know everything there is to know in all the world.

  12. Dear Davide, thank you for your wonderful quote from Carlos Castaneda which bears some repeating: "You are full of violence, useless violence and fear, you fool!"
    The business of inciting panic brings me to your comment, weaver. i agree, where has all the talk of swine flu gone now that the terrible winter weather is something over which to agonise. Last winter here in Australia there was such a storm brewed up over swine flu and it is sad that some people lost their lives, but they could not bring themselves once to suggest that the swine flu had been over exaggerated that it was not so different from ordinary flu etc. I know there is a place for caution but the business of doom and gloom in the media is of epidemic proportions, pardon the puns.

    Beth, like you I prefer hard copy when it comes to books and the like – as they say you can't comfortably take a computer, a lap top or whatever 'machine' to bed with you – but in the last few years I have become more adept at reading on line.

    I usually turn into hard copy the things that matter to me, because again as you suggest, I too read more attentively off the page. Still I suppose there is a place for both.

    Thanks for joining the discussion.

    TFE, Thanks too for your wonderful quote from Paul Durcan. I suppose it sums up what I have said nicely: I will buy the newspapers, litter the streets with them, and would not be without them for a minute, but I love to complain about their content.

    Isn't that typical?

    And finally, here in this line of my response to your responses, Jane, you sound like my husband, who could not bear to start the day without reading his newspaper and you also sound like me. When I read the newspaper, which as I said earlier is hardly ever, I skim through it.

    I look at the headlines and the pictures. I look for things that might be of interest and huff away at all the things that annoy me.

  13. hello elisabeth, i let my newspaper subscriptions fade away a year ago. instead i read a very small amount of news online. i'm interested in reading about thinking more than i am about events. what thinkers are thinking is of real interest to me. blogging – well it allows me to articulate a feature of myself – perhaps more than one feature but especially one feature of myself. i feel no compulsion to "reveal all" and make my blog an open diary. rather i choose to bring a quality of goodness to the world through the means that a blog offers. i have many other means available to address other areas of my life and to use those areas to bring goodness into the world. i am very appreciative of your writing here. so thanks!!! steven

  14. Thanks, Limes. I just read your comment now after I had responded to everyone else's and although it's time I moved from my desk and dressed for the day, I'll respond to you quickly, as you have suggested you will do, too.

    We can't always respond quickly though. My husband is forever telling me that things can wait, especially phone calls, emails and now I suppose blogs, but I like to get onto things straight away otherwise they will gnaw away at me, and like you I will think them 'to death', or worse still I might even forget to attend to that which I once considered important.

    You're right about the trees. The excess paper that gets used in all the hard copy. I also agree with you, too: we do not – and what's more we cannot -'know' everything. We must be selective.

    I know I am, but still I hate to miss out on things that matter to me, and that seems to be such a lot these days.

    It's one of the reasons I've suggested elsewhere on someone else's blog wish list for the new year: I wish I had time to live two lives. There is simply not enough time for all the things I like and need to do.

    Blogging is such a trap in this regard, because there are so many wonderful blogs out there, many of which I have not yet encountered, nor could I manage such an encounter. None of us could.

    The world is dense with fascinating people, as much as there might be some we'd prefer to avoid.

    In the blog world we tend to show our better sides, so that many of us come across as being wonderful as companions. We might not be so in real life where more is on display.

    Ahh me I could go on, but I mustn't. Thanks for your forebearance.

  15. Hi Steven, I'm tuckered out with responding but I cannot leave off now until I thank you.

    Yours sounds a balanced and thoughtful response to the business of blogging. I'm glad too that you see it as a way of doing good.

    I'm afraid my motivation might be more selfish in that regard. Of course, I don't want to do bad or harm and I despise those comments which you see from time to time in which someone seems to be wanting to insult someone else gratuitously. To me that's not on.

    To me respect for others is profound and essential, especially on line, where words can so easily be misread.

    That said, I blog to write and I write to be read. I also blog to read and to hear about other people's perspectives on the world in which they live.

    I blog to learn about writing, literature, of all sorts especially poetry and prose whether fiction or non fiction, and also to see artists at work – the painters, the textile workers, the sculptors, the photographers.

    I like to watch cooks at work and gardeners and mothers and fathers at work with their children. Any form of creativity – and there are many – appeals to me.

    And most of all I blog to be in touch with the inner workings of my own mind and that of others.

    It seems to me many others blog from similar motives. There must be something in this business that has so many people communicating this way.

    But even as I type these words here, I wonder to myself as I have wondered before, why all the defensiveness, if indeed that is what it is?

    Why do I/we need to be forever justifying the urge to blog?

    It's a question to which I've yet to find an answer.

  16. I am with Jim here. I too am not out in the real world much and I don't read newspapers because having been in the news in the past I know how misleading and wrong they usually are.

    I have found that my small network of people and online sites provide me with what I need to know (like the bear down the block last summer) and what I don't need to know (Little Timmy rescued from the well in Alabama or if it bleeds it leads) falls off my radar.

    My son however is a journalism major and reads 10 newspapers a day page to page and sometimes to irk me he reports like the best of them.

    Also I think the smell of the paper or the ink used in newspapers makes me feel sick and has always since I was a child.

    Also I love the Sunday New York Times the way I love a ridiculous party hat, but it's too expensive for me so I read it at the library when I can.

    Hi. I came here from Angela's blog, I think.


  17. Pleased to meet you, Radish King. You have piqued my curiosity with your comment about once having been in the news. Perhaps you'd like to keep it there, a point of curiosity and no more.

    How terrible that the newspaper ink makes you sick. I must say the smell of wet newspapers gets to me.

    One of my daughters is into media and journalism too but she is not so keen on the restrictions. She wants to write as she writes and not be hampered by hidden agendas.

    Ah, the hidden agendas. How can we avoid them? It's okay I suppose when it's your own agenda but when it's someone else's, that's a different matter.

    Thanks, as they say, for dropping by. I look forward to meeting you again.

  18. This is why I skip the news quite often – or get my news from the BBC or NPR – because when news organizations compete for viewers/readership, they start sensationalizing. And I'm done with that kind of drama.

  19. I had some wonderful teachers at university who believed that academic work could and should be creative. All sorts of notions were considered, particularly movement – travelling and writing are similar. There’s a necessary linear nature to the finished written product (words move across the page, etc), but there’s nothing linear about the thinking process as we begin to form ideas. And it’s the fear of losing that original “something” that causes us to panic.

    My teachers said that you have the exploratory moment (the travelling part) when you are writing into whiteness, then comes the road building, signposting – and that’s a very different journey. We were encouraged to go for a walk or do nothing in particular when we were stuck with our writing, and to not fight anything that might be troubling us – to concentrate on the thought that is causing you angst (to demolish the resistance is how I saw this). And they were right.

    Some time ago, I attended a guest lecture by Drusilla Modjeska. I remembered this tonight possibly because I’d been considering throwing out my old lecture notes – thank goodness I didn’t. In my notes I found: “Writing comes out of loss and writing is about retrieval and putting this into shape”. Also a quote from Jung: “…trust the unconscious and not know better”. Undoubtedly, notions you know.

    Hope these words help. Breathe in, breathe out, go for a walk, maybe have a swim, then come back to the keyboard feeling clearer and lighter (the doubting voices sitting on your shoulder will have slipped away, no longer able to invade your white space), and the story will find its way to the surface. (and the odd thing is I wrote these notes and then looked for some linearity and thought “good grief what a lot of waffle!”)

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