Years ago, I used to manage a video store and take home the new releases each week so that I could talk about them with customers. Because my parents never properly desensitized me to media, my head’s a little fragile with horror and thriller movies. My skin’s grape-thin.
I remember watching The Others, a psychological thriller with Nicole Kidman. (I know, I know; it’s not even an actual scary movie. Again, think grape-thin skin.) I watched it while home alone and remembered being too jumpy to comfortably sit in the recliner, so I stood up against the wall behind it, and the music was still freaking me out, so I muted the sound. These were my coping mechanisms for watching scary things—blocking the exits and turning on the closed captioning—and closing my eyes during the scary parts.
I’d still get nightmares, of course. I don’t know how I didn’t learn sooner. I remember going to see The Watcher back when Keanu Reeves was still trying to act and coming home to my apartment (I lived alone at the time). I don’t think I slept for a week. I might’ve just spent my days checking behind and under everything to see whether anyone was waiting for me, telephone cord in tow.
I eventually learned to shut it all off, not to look, not to listen. If I didn’t know it was there, then it practically wasn’t.
I regularly have to do a media detox after an election cycle. I’m such the political junkie during peak seasons. Shutting off my outlets, choosing not to read, watch, and listen when I know it will affect me is important, and I try to make sure I’m not over-consuming because that over-consumption comes at a cost to my sleep and my peace of mind.
But I’m hearing more and more often about people just choosing, wholesale, not to pay attention, not to watch, not to listen because of world events that upset them. I’m hearing of people giving up on all news outlets because they’re fed up with the 24/7 system that manufactures drama with its up-to-the-minute coverage and tickertape that runs alongside the screen like an IV line. I’m hearing of people stopping listening because they’re just overwhelmed.
They’re tired. They hate Chris Matthews, or they hate Megyn Kelly. They hate Rachel Maddow, or they hate Bill O’Reilly. They hate these personalities. They hate the poisonous noise of it all.
I understand being fed up with the manufacture of drama. I understand being fed up with the business of left and right talking heads that are more full of ego than information. I understand not wanting to feed the machine that’s creating the drama.
The trouble is that the world is cracking open, and some of us are hanging up “Do Not Disturb” signs because we’ve decided we’ve had enough.
Our relentless attention and addiction to information has created a system where now we think we’ve heard it all, and we cannot be bothered.
We must be bothered. We cannot afford to be unbothered.
Yes, much of it is scary. You have to watch it anyway. It’s your job.
Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton has been doing a series on refugees this week. Here is the project in his words:
For the next several days, I’m going to be sharing stories from refugees who are currently making their way across Europe. Additionally, I’ll be spotlighting some of the people who are attempting to help facilitate their immigration and asylum. Together, these migrants are part of one of the largest population movements in modern history. But their stories are composed of unique and singular tragedies. In the midst of the current ‘migrant crisis,’ there are millions of different reasons for leaving home. And there are millions of different hardships that refugees face as they search for a new home. Since the situation is constantly shifting, I’m still not sure of all my destinations. But over the next ten days or so, I hope to share as many of these stories as I can find.
These refugees’ stories will absolutely break your heart.
I have not read a single one where I haven’t cried at my computer. I’m reading them anyway.
Amelia Bonow’s story, “My Abortion Made Me Happy,” has also kept me awake at night. Bonow’s story founded the #shoutyourabortion movement in an attempt to support Planned Parenthood and remove the shame from abortion procedures.
I’m a feminist who had previously only met people who’d had abortions because of deeply dark circumstances. Reading some of these abortion tweets, both from men and women, has illuminated for me the reality of what abortion actually is to many and what it might mean if we, as Bonow says, talk about this subject as “plainly, proudly, flippantly even.”
The reduction of this matter to a cheerful tweet is deeply unsettling.
It is a heavy thing. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Some of these heartbreaks hit even closer to home.
September 25 marked two years since the DRC issued an exit permit suspension, which no longer allowed fully and legally adopted children to travel home to their families. This means I have friends who have children they’ve adopted that they are separated from because of legal red tape. Here are the words from one friend explaining the dilemma:
The reasons have been varied and today, after two years, no one in our own Department of State, United States Congress, or the President himself, even knows. We are STUCK. We have paid over $21,600 in EXTRA foster fees in these two years so our boys are safe and living in foster care. We have missed birthdays, Christmases, and summer fun. Would you join us in NOT giving up on our boys, and PRAY. We are also doing a social media campaign to bring awareness to the issue, and you can participate by changing your profile pic for the day and tweeting the hashtags. Here’s an official video by Both Ends Burning Campaign that clearly explains what has happened for this two-year anniversary. Enough is enough.
Again, this is heavy…and real.
Actual children are actually waiting in actual countries for their actual parents. If people truly knew the weight of this, how on earth could we go on with our days?
How could we have the same old dumb conversations about Common Core, the football lineup, or pumpkin spice anything? How could we?
Thursday, as I drove my children to school, I saw a taped-off crime scene where, minutes earlier, a deputy had been shot in the back multiple times, one bullet striking him in the head, by a man who’d wielded a concealed weapon who was being served domestic violence injunction papers by the deputy.
Nothing explains this. Nothing.
This isn’t a world I want. This isn’t a world I’m okay with.
I’m okay with it doesn’t always come out in those words. Sometimes it sounds like,
“We have to take care of our own first.”
“At least it’s happening over there and not here.”
“Things could be way worse.”
“I have enough problems already.”
Hear me well.
If wi-fi is on your list of problems, or you’re mad about anything related to Starbucks or Facebook, you can afford to add another couple worries to your list. Trust me.
If you’re thinking about things like “leggings as pants,” you can work in a little social justice.
If you’ve had time to watch and share Jimmy Fallon’s celebrity sing offs or Jimmy Kimmel’s mean tweets, then you have room in your life to advocate for someone with less agency and platform than you.
If you have the fortitude to either whip and/or nae nae, you have the luxury of charity.
You see, you don’t get to stop paying attention. Actual, real things are happening to actual, real people.
I say we stop closing our eyes and hold hands instead.by