Virtually everyone who has attempted creative writing has probably experienced the phenomenon known as writer’s block. I don’t know if its antithesis has ever been diagnosed or documented, but in mid-January I experienced what I refer to as writer’s overload.
As I sat down to write my next post I heard a story on the news that grabbed my attention. Dutifully, I saved the half-completed piece and focused on the breaking story which I found more interesting than the post on which I had been working. As I began developing that post I took a break for lunch. Returning to my desk, I turned on the news and returned to working on the second piece. Yet another story broke that day which I felt had even more interest than either the one on which I was working or its predecessor. Needless to say I began to tackle that subject. Then, halfway written, I put down that piece and sat back to reflect on what was happening.
I was feeling so overwhelmed by information that I was having difficulty focusing on any of it sufficiently to write something that was either worth writing or worth reading. The same thing happened the next day and the next. I was beginning to feel like a teenager who was experiencing an explosion of acne but who only had enough medication to treat one lone blotch.
I remembered an experience when I was in my late teens and went on a two week religious retreat at a monastic community slightly outside New York City on the banks of the Hudson River. I was going to begin my freshman year in college in the fall and felt that I needed some time to focus and identify my goals and develop a plan of attack. Part of the discipline of the retreat was living in a small cell with only the bare necessities of a bed a desk and a prie dieu – and total silence other than at religious services. I left and felt refreshed after fourteen days and boarded the Greyhound bus to return to the city.
As the bus drove to New York I felt very peaceful yet energized. I read as we sped along and almost before I knew it we were pulling into the terminal. The time had literally flown by. Then the bus driver announced our arrival and opened the door to allow the half full bus of passengers to exit. As I gathered up the small grip which contained my belongings I was suddenly amazed at all the noise inside the terminal. It was overwhelming – almost deafening. And I realized that I heard that noise every one of the days I had spent in NYC in my short seventeen years – but that I was so used to it I had never noticed it. For me and my fellow New Yorkers, noise was normal.
That was in the mid-60’’s. Television consisted of the the three major networks; news was delivered via the morning and evening newspapers; the latest innovation in telecommunications was the introduction off the “Princess phone.” Yet even with those limitations in our ability to send or receive information there was so much noise By today’s norms we were forced to function at a near-primitive information level. Yet, knowing nothing else, we seemed to get along just fine.
The jury may be out on global warming, climate change or climate instability or whatever current incarnation is in vogue. But it is clear that our access to information has exploded in the past half century. I doubt that our ability to process all that information has kept pace. Perhaps that is one contributing reason that one in ten Americans is purported to have some form of mental issue and the reason that the prescriptions for psychiatric medications are being dispensed at record rates.
The posts which I began during the past month had a common theme. Whether it was the abuse of power in New Jersey in closing down the George Washington Bridge; the scandal in New York City of firefighters and police falsely claiming disability and collecting monthly payments; our Secretary of State Kerry proclaiming to the world that environmental change is as urgent a concern as jihadists with shoe bombs and bad intentions; the Syrian government’s failure to comply with their “agreement” to turn over their chemical weapons and our government’s inept policy not only in the middle east but globally as the fires burn in Kiev and the people mob the streets in Venezuela.
President Obama alone provided the substance for several posts in his most current revisions of Obamacare through executive fiat which seem to be occurring weekly. And what is that common theme? It is not in the substance of the event but in the fact that it will soon be replaced and forgotten as some even newer story emerges and captures our attention for the next nano-second. It is in precisely this environment that politicians and poltroons can either get away with bad behavior or just plain ineptitude, knowing that the public’s attention will soon be distracted by someone else’s bad behavior before they are called to account.
Let’s be honest. The mindless mob would much rather hear or see a story about Miley Cyrus than have a conversation about the Madison papers. The vast majority of our public would rather talk about the Super Bowl, well perhaps not the last one, than the implications of a Supreme Court ruling. It’s difficult to be informed unless you perceive a reason to be informed. And most people would rather be entertained by “Jersey Shore” than be concerned with “justice for all” – unless they are themselves the victim of injustice.
No matter where we turn the airwaves are filled with stories of greed, self-absorption, victims and victimizers, heroes found out to have attained their achievements in violation of the rules of fair play and countless stories of those who feel that the laws made for all were beneath them. “What’s in it for me” rules the culture and the country.
There is no doubt that this can continue as long as there is left some marrow to be picked from the bones of the doers, the makers and the taxpayers. The truth of that statement is that it has gone on – perhaps for half a century. But there is always an accounting – no matter how hard those in the media and those in the seats of power try to postpone it. Eventually we will kill the last fatted calf and there will be no offspring to replace it.
Whether that day is tomorrow or decades from now is uncertain. Whether we come to the realization that we have been wanton in our values and our priorities because of an apocalyptic moment or through mass self-examination is also unsure. It is unlikely that the aegis of this enlightenment will be the thousand channels of cable jabberwocky that are beamed at us each moment and without which far too many of us would see no point in living.
But if the media suddenly had a cathartic moment and focused on things of importance rather than fluff and sensationalism, the question remains. How many of the mob would listen – and how many would understand and work for change both personally and in those whom we elect to serve in political office?