Sunday, August 30, 2009
This is difficult for me. We have been seeing each other for some time now and I’ve become quite attached. Lately, however, my feelings for you have begun to change. I find myself becoming tense around you, my shoulders stiffen, my stomach begins to churn, and sometimes I even develop a throbbing in my temples, so I have decided that we need to spend some time apart. I think it is best for both of us.
Please understand that I know and appreciate all you have done for me. If it wasn’t for you I’d never have experienced a smug sense of superiority while watching Jay Leno. Every time he’d flash a picture of John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld or some other politician to a passerby who could not identify them, I laughed at their ignorance. Who wouldn’t know the major political players in their country? Thanks to you I existed above the masses, I was informed. Not only could I identify politicians, I could pronounce Ahmadinejad and I knew the warning signs of anthrax exposure. I learned these things from you.
I remember clearly how it all began, that white Bronco traveling the asphalt arteries of California. I stared into your shimmering face for hours as OJ Simpson tried to evade both justice and presumably his conscience. We bonded at his hearings, through his trial and I feared we’d lose each other when he walked out of jail. What would become of my new found friends Dan Abrams and Greta Van Susteren? Still, even after OJ, we found things to share, hurricanes, amber alerts, presidential impeachments and more. How would I have known the alternate uses of cigars if it weren’t for you CNN? You opened my eyes to so many new ideas.
Together Chris Matthews and I experienced tingling legs. With Larry King I came to know the foibles of Anna Nicole Smith and her entourage and don’t even get me started on Anderson Cooper. Still, things have begun to change between us. I find myself becoming easily irritated with you. I’ve begun to yell openly at the screen, to wish ill on Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. How did this happen? It was Bill O’Reilly who taught me the words ‘pithy’ and ‘opine’. Years ago some of what they said made sense to me but now their pontifications cause me nothing but pain. I am weary now of Al Sharpton and Armstrong Williams and their sometimes, when I look into the faces of my African-American children, their voices echo in my head filling me with fear for my children’s future. Give me Harold Ford, give me Oprah, give me hope.
I suppose the end began during the presidential election when Fox kept ‘accidentally’ writing ‘Osama’ in place of ‘Obama’ or maybe it was the near-merciless skewering of Sarah Palin’s parenting. All I know is that recently, the hours and hours of Michael Jackson coverage, the irate crowds at town hall meetings, the references to ‘real Americans’, and the statistics about Swine flu have my heart racing and my indigestion has become unbearable.
I finally decided to make the break two days ago when I had lunch with a dear friend. She urged me to change the channel, said you’d become manipulative that you’d begun to use fear tactics to keep me coming back. She though that the constant barrage of accusations of racism on both sides, the terror alerts, the demonstrations of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, the seething condescension between political parties had become a cancer of sorts. She said she hated to see me so stressed and because I know she has no hidden agenda, I have decided to take her advice, at least for awhile.
We can still see each other from time to time, I’ll check in on you once or twice a week but gone are our daily rendezvous. I will be taking walks and reading novels. I will be conversing with actual people. I may begin reading newspapers again. I’ve missed the smear of ink over skin, the calmer delivery of facts, the quietude of absorbing the written word. Please don’t worry, there will still be tragedies and milestones for us to share, planes will go down, presidents will deliver addresses, celebrities will die and I will find my way back to you to share those moments, but for now I’m hitting the off button on the remote, leaving you to work your magic on countless others. Still, I hope you know we’ll always have O.J.
As a teacher the year begins weeks before I ever see a student. They begin to creep into my consciousness in August. It begins with bulletin boards usually. I find myself on the patio sipping iced tea or on the hammock reading a book when suddenly the thought of color schemes and clever headers seems to overtake my train of thought. The dreams begin soon after, usually I dream they’ve removed the numbers from the rooms and I am wandering aimlessly down the hall worried because I’m going to be late. I begin to think again about the travels of Odysseus, about what I’d have done in Hamlet’s shoes. I find myself turning toward the fall in much the same way I turned in May toward summer. Why is that?
Why do so many of us turn away from what is happening now and move, at least mentally, into the impending future? I do this in my writing too. When my son was 8 or 9 I wrote poems about him as a teen. I envisioned I am up to my ears in planning. him full of angst and struggling with racial identity long before either of those things crossed his mind. I suppose I thought if I envisioned the future I would be prepared for whatever was coming.
My mother will tell you that worrying is a weakness of mine, that I need to box things up. Every year my parents buy me a calendar about how to handle ‘worst case scenarios’ because they know there is something in me, and I believe many others, that fears being caught off guard. The gift is made partially in jest and partially because they know that I will find comfort in knowing how to wrestle an alligator or survive an avalanche, that for someone who is a natural worrier, escape plans are essential.
Next week, I will meet over one hundred teenagers for the first time face to face but in truth I have been preparing for them for weeks now. I expect the shy girl who seems almost pained to speak, the ‘look at me’ kids whose hands are always in the air, the ‘way-too-cool’ kids who wear indifference like a shield, and all the others who I have tried so hard to prepare for. But like the so many times before, they will not be what I expect. They will be better and worse and different, like all the other things I’ve prepared myself for.