Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Putting a Price on Time

Often in this blog I write about the smallest events, sometimes in Connecticut, where we go to decompress from the thrill and headache that is New York City. In the Big Apple, time is money. Everyone’s butt is on fire to get somewhere, to be somebody.

I have been recently thinking how the television media in particular distorts careful thinking, whether it’s on Obama or the financial crisis or the burgeoning deficits. Pithy, three- or four-second comments replace complex thought and analysis. ‘We must entertain at all costs’ seems to be the mantra. Outlandish comments are entertaining. Quick put-downs are entertaining. Outrage, genuine or fake, is entertaining. Whether any of it is true is beside the point. Capture those eyeballs, keep them riveted on you, and you will win this game.

I have also been pondering the decline of literary books, the rise of publishers as cogs of conglomerates, the domination of celebrity books in publishing, the sad decline of reading as a serious pastime for many Americans. There are small enclaves of literary publishers and serious readers, and those enclaves will continue to exist. But I think there is little doubt that literature is not central to American culture. Movies are the ticket. Television is the nightly companion for the lonely and not-so-lonely.

It is a world I have shunned with more recent effort in part because I do not like how my ‘openness’ to this world affected me. It did not improve my thinking, but instead circumscribed it to self-satisfied, meaningless reactions. It did not encourage self-analysis and self-improvement that would be long-lasting, but abandoned me at spectacles.

I have turned off the TV, except for the occasional news. I have switched radio stations to those with minimal, or no commercials. I have ended subscriptions to idiotic magazines. On the Internet, I have stopped reading the trash to waste time, and focused on acquiring the information I specifically need, or sending the necessary email.

I feel I must create this island in me, to preserve and explore a truer self, to achieve something beyond the effluvium that is popular culture. Do others feel the same way? Have others taken up this internal call to avoid the awful noise that surrounds us?

In Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, I can focus outside the mainstream, in the quiet of the trees, to read, to work on planting strawberries, to ride a bicycle for dozens of miles without seeing a soul on the country roads. Thoreau had the right idea in Concord: you can find yourself if you spend some time away from the city and the crowd.

Yet I do not live in isolation. I am not a Luddite. I focus on talking to my kids and Laura. I read good books. I exchange often lengthy e-mails with many fascinating people across the world. I am writing and editing stories. But I do not dive into this world anymore as if it all equally mattered. I know most of it doesn’t matter at all, and is just like the traffic outside, a nuisance. I have stopped rubber-necking. Even in New York City, after a ferocious thunderstorm, there is a quiet near midnight that lets you work and imagine.