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The Story Pool – That’s News to Me

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Maple Creek

That was some Friday night, yesiree. The last time I stayed out til 2a.m. was last April, when I had family and friends visiting. We stayed up late one night playing a ‘card’ game called “The Art of Conversation.” You pull a card and have to answer one of three questions along the lines of: “Do you have a favourite photograph of yourself?”,  “Which personal quality do you think you lack?’,  or “What’s your biggest worry?” After you answer a question, everyone else has to answer the same question.
“That’s it?” you might say. But I was amazed at how much I learned about my own sister, and vice versa. Who has time to tell each other about our lives anymore? Especially when there are so many devices claiming top priority and all our free time. The urgency with which ‘breaking news’ leaps into our living rooms or back pockets, alerting us of the latest death or mean-spirited gesture or oily bit of slander out of the mouth of a dubiously-appointed celebrity or political narcissist throws us ‘off our game.’ Our own unique and humble life paths somehow get blocked by the time-suck of pointless harangues, imminent threats and constant alerts.
To work in the media industry is to be exposed, on a daily basis to a disproportionate amount of bullies and bozos. Trying to set the ‘news’ agenda or scramble to keep up with someone else’s, based on bullies and bozos, would curdle anyone’s milk of human kindness. Not to mention, as was in my case, over-tax one’s adrenals. After a while, overexposure to heartless, disturbing, creepy, self-serving, insane behaviours performed by supposed adults ceases to shock you. You brag about it, as if you are made of sturdier stuff: “Oh that shocks you? Not me, whad’ya expect from people?”
I don’t mean to say that my particular gig at CBC radio involved dealing primarily with celebrities and politicians or celebrity-politicians. In fact, as a writer-broadcaster I was one of the lucky ones. I was free to look at stories with enduring content. Stories that lasted over time were not bound by trends and mock-urgency, stories ‘with legs.’  On the other hand, stories that involved someone behaving irresponsibly were considered ‘sexy’. Once an executive producer asked me to work on a story about  teen prostitution. Without a hint of irony she referred to it as a ‘sexy’ story. Plane crashes, affairs, suicides of ‘important’ people are all sexy stories (suicides of native teens are depressing and definitely  ‘sexy’).
I worked in the field, but eventually I would have to return to the news room to file. Over our desks were television sets. The gorier, more salacious or perverse the ‘breaking news’ image, the longer it looped, for hours, even days, in your face. But, of course, the loop is everywhere now: restaurants, bars,  terminals,  gyms, even our bedrooms.
I don’t think we should live in a world without news, I’d just like to be exposed to some actual news every once in a while. And I want to be the one who decides what I’ll look at, not be ‘flashed’ by the obsessive, 24-7 machine everywhere I turn my gaze. The addictive quality of the repeated image of the officer shooting the young man, the woman screaming over her bloodied child, the car racing down the highway until it careens out of control has, for me, all the intensity of “just one more.” One more drink, toke, orgasm, slice of pie. It should finally satiate, but it never does.
During Katrina I had my TV on all night and day, I was glued to it and wouldn’t even go for my walks, despite how restless I’d become. I need to do something about this, I kept saying to myself. Surely the news should leave us informed and able to make decisions about our world and how we can live more effectively as citizens? But I never felt, after a week of red-eyed staring at the tube, like I learned anything! I saw movie stars in boats and bloated bodies and heard prepared press releases and conflicting reports of mayhem and madness. But I was left hanging every night, like some kind of drooling fool at a peep show!
Everything of substance I may have gleaned from Katrina came to me through brilliant books written by gifted nonfiction authors who were willing to hang around for longer than a news cycle, who stayed near the people they met and listened for hours and chose not to live in air-conditioned four star hotels cut-off from the survivors. Or from Bill Moyers website, or tomdispatch.com or some of the various sites on worldnews.org. It was on Tomdispatch that I had my suspicions confirmed that outrageous behaviour makes big money for the news corporations. In an article called “Obsession, Addiction, and the News” he quotes a CBS CEO as saying: “The Trump campaign may not be good for America, but it’s good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in and this is fun. It’s going to be a very good year for us so bring it on Donald!”
Last month, for a week Tom Engelhardt, of Tomdispatch, decided he’d keep track of the top story that flashed over head as he worked out in the gym. The week’s top headlines ended like this: Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Ted Cruz. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Hilary Clinton. Donald Trump. In terms of headline grabbing, Trump has already won the election. It’s depressing to even type his name that many times and rob my column space of a few dozen characters. Especially when real news headlines should include, as Englehardt suggests, headlines that address: the crumbling of America’s roads and bridges, the growing gaps between the haves and have nots, the numbers of citizens acquiring assault weapons and toddlers holding handguns, events unfolding in Asia and Africa where most of the world’s population lives, crazy weather ruining crops and lives.
Which brings me to last Friday night. I spent most of my day at a writer’s workshop led by PWSS poet-in-residence Roger Mitchell. After a fulfilling afternoon of writing I decided I’d wander over to the baseball field where Sports Day was winding down. I was curious to see ow many people were playing because the annual event draws folks from villages all over, even from the metropolis of Swift Current. On my way over a storm hit. It was like a dump truck parked in front of me and emptied its load of water, just like that, the way it can do around here. I ducked into the arena where a big ham supper was underway. For ten bucks I got a plate loaded with succulent roast ham, homemade coleslaw and a pea-rice-itchiban noodle salad, popular in these parts. I sat down at a table of a couple of generations of families, all out for Sports Day.
After super Ervin asks if I want to learn how to play horseshoes.
Ok, let’s go into the arena and I’ll show you how it’s done, then we can sign up for the tournament.
Woah! Tournament? I don’t know how much of a partner I’ll be.
He waves off my protests and signs us up and we wait for our turn, watching the younger folks – a mix of locals, ranch hands, Grasslands tourist office summer students, and young researchers from Calgary and Toronto zoos – kicking it new style to music provided by a dj from the high school.
Kathy Grant heads over to our table. Ervin hopes aloud we don’t have to compete against her because she’s brutal. “You play hockey with her be prepared for an elbow in the jaw. She takes no prisoners. Any sport she plays, she wins.”
“I know. She taught me curling. She’s a natural alright. Mind you, she is a Trottier!”
Sister of Brian Trottier, she’s also a kick-ass bass player. Her band is called Navaho and plays at all the weddings around here.
By the time we start playing it’s way past my bedtime. But who knew horseshoes could be so fun? And, thanks to Ervin, we win three in a row and make it to the semi-finals.
By one in the morning the music is still playing, the dogs still are still chasing each other, the young are louder, and the rest of us are ready to call it a night. Then someone buys another round. And conversation returns to weather.
I ask people for their best lightning stories. Cal tells about two cows and their calves being hit and sent flying with only their hooves left fused to the scorched ground. I’m warned about not staying outside if the hair on my arms sticks up, because that means, even if it’s clear skies, lightning can strike you down, and even if you’re not the tallest object, you just have to be the nearest. That’s news to me.

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