December 9, 2008

Why Do I Keep Reading All the Bad News?

Because I'm crazy? Because gathering information is my way of convincing myself that I have some little bit of control over all the bad-news events spinning in the world around me?

So, laid-off workers are occupying that window-and-door factory in Chicago, embodying the "despair" of the nation and giving us a rallying point around our grim economy, according to an Associated Press report I just read in today's Contra Costa Times. Meanwhile, 200,000 jobs will be lost on nearly all state infrastructure projects if California lawmakers don't resolve the state's $11.2 billion budget shortfall. What else? There was that fire in Pleasanton that badly hurt that 40-year-old mom and destroyed her home. Contra Costa Costa might have to lay off 203 workers, many of them social workers who deal with child and elder abuse. As the Times reports, these $18.5 million in cuts would come in the wake of three high-profile cases involving the long-term abuse of two teens and Saturday's savage killing of an 87-year-old Antioch woman, allegedly by her 51-year-old transient nephew.

Why do I read these things, and why do I think anyone else would want to read them either? I don't know about anyone else, but perhaps loading myself up with information, even depressing information, is my way of dealing with the bad things that are happening around me.

Actually, I used to be in a job where I talked to relatives of homicide victims. Talk about people dealing with horrific circumstances. I found that some of these survivors had this insatiable need for information, details, even very unpleasant details, about what happened to their loved ones. They needed that information to create a narrative, a story, an explanation, an answer to the why that this terrible thing happened to their loved one and to them. Having this story and this answer to why was their coping and of grieving and of moving on.

Actually, this theme of gathering information to make sense of seemingly senseless and traumatic events came up in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, her excellent 2005 book about coping with the sudden death of her husband and the sudden life-threatening illness of her only child (her daughter who died after the book was published). It's been a while since I read the book, but Didion, journalist and writer that she is, chronicles her investigations into the causes of heart attacks, from which her husband and fellow writer, John Gregory Dunne, died, and into the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of the illness that struck her daughter.

So, I get up first thing in the morning, comb through the paper, read all the bad news, and get myself depressed and not in the mood to go exercise--which would lift my spirits. Then again, in a twisted way I don't quite understand, being informed and in this somber frame of mind actually, kind of, sort of, makes me feel better. Well, yes and no.

It's an insane world. My therapist would advise me to fold up the paper, turn off the computer, and go out and take that jog in the brisk fall morning air. Maybe, I will, but sometimes I don't always take his advice.


Anonymous said...

TMI.. Take a step back and enjoy family friends and life. There are hundreds of millions of poeple in this country. The news covers all or just about all of the bad things going on with all of those people. It's a very small percentage of the population who fill up our papers and TV news.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for the note. I'm feeling better later today. I took my son to basketball practice (I guess I'm Basketball Mom now? Not Soccer Mom?) He's been shy about shooting, but he made a basket and was so happy. Then he told me a funny story about a kid in his class you did an inept job trying to prank phone call him. We watched a favorite TV show together. He put me in such a much better mood.