Will the world implode because I wasn’t watching, or will I implode because I don’t know the world is imploding?
In my house, I’m the tolling bell. If something happened, particularly something bad, I’m the one who keeps my family in the know.
These days, unfortunately, have been a busy time for my morbid services, and too often I find myself saying, “Oy, Moish, you know who died?”
My husband doesn’t want to be kept updated about everything. But the 24-hour news cycle was created with me in mind, the consumer who wants to hear about each minute update, each new analysis, no matter how far-fetched it might be. And in today’s COVID-19 news frenzy, I’m working overtime.
The only time I stop is Shabbos, which is nice, I’ll admit, but the moment Shabbos is out, I’m refreshing my News Feed on Apple, checking The Yeshiva World, and Vos Iz Neias (updates from Israel, maybe). I check Drudge Report, the Atlantic and New York Times, Yahoo News, everything and anything I can get my hands on.
And guess what? It’s not good for me. Not just me, anyone. The constant click to refresh, and read about more tragedy, more guidelines, more speculation — it eats at the nervous system. I can’t sleep these days. I’m in bed, I feel fine, but sleep doesn’t come. And what do I do when I can’t sleep? Flip? Flip through my phone and read more news articles. I often don’t even read the articles; the headlines and subtitles are enough.
This LifeLab is about what happens when I quit the news rat race for a week. Will the world implode because I wasn’t watching, or will I implode because I don’t know the world is imploding?
Basic rules: I can’t access the current news, read news-related articles, or listen to the radio or podcasts, etc. Nor can people tell me the news.
How It Went Down
I woke up the first day and hit my first snag fairly quickly. Coffee is life (at least in the morning it is) and it usually comes along with my browsing the day’s news. Newspapers are old school, but I’m very serious about reading my News Feed cover to cover with my morning brew. And I cover a lot of ground in that time.
Now, what? Was I really going to sit there and just drink my coffee?
You’re waiting for me to say I stopped and smelled the proverbial roses, and mindfulness is enriching, yadda, yadda — nope. I drank my coffee too fast and felt like I was missing something.
I opened my computer to check my emails. The Yahoo homepage has a ton of news there. I peeked at the headlines. Only bad news. Shocker.
The day was rough going. I was a bit unmoored. What was going on beyond my four walls? I can’t go out ⸺ at least I should be able to get a glimpse of a world beyond mine. Practically, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I read news articles in those snatches of free moments mothers have between screaming kids, teleconferences, making lunch and snack and snack and snack, between changing dirty diapers and making more snacks. What was I supposed to do now? Breathe?
Later that night, I saw a picture of Kim Jung-un on my husband’s computer screen and wondered: Is he dead, is he not dead?
“Hey, you can’t look,” my husband said. I averted my gaze, but it was too late, really.
“Hillary is running,” my husband piped up.
“What?” I bellowed. “You can’t tell me, but really? Why does this have to happen this week?”
My husband smiled coyly.
“You’re impossible,” I told him. He just laughed.
I quasi-cheated by looking at headlines that first day, but as the week went on, I weaned myself off of even that. On Day Two I was more prepared for coffee time; I brought a book to the kitchen to read. I have a stash of books from the library — had I known the library was closing I would’ve taken out a lot more. But it was one of those in-out runs where you grab the first thing that catches your eye and you don’t care because you’re coming right back. Except I didn’t.
Surprisingly, though, I still hadn’t read all the books. I was going through them terribly slowly, probably because I’d upped my news consumption (I’m not a regular reader of all the Jewish news sites, and now I was constantly refreshing them, as well as all the other news sites). So there I was, with my book, The Invisible Gorilla. Coffee was good.
After that, though, it was the same thing as the previous day. I had so much extra time. I found myself obsessively refreshing my inbox on my phone. But all that appeared was more junk email from Auto Crit, Haute Look, and guess what? Children’s Place was having a 60% off sale ⸺ again!
So I found myself turning to what everyone else seemed to be doing in quarantine ⸺ baking.
I made challah and Babka. Another day, I made pita for the first time, and another day I made dinner rolls, the kind my mother used to make after a fast. It was so nostalgic and tasted delicious, but I was going to get fat, and fast. I needed another hobby.
A long time ago, probably around six years ago, I vicariously learned how to make costume jewelry. I don’t recall how I got interested, but I took out books from the library, watched a bajillion tutorials on YouTube, but I never touched a round nose pliers or a 20-gauge wire.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had a 60% off-one-item coupon from A. C. Moore (of blessed memory). I bought a set of five pliers with the thought of repairing some of my broken necklaces, and maybe one day making something.
Fast forward again to this past year when A.C. Moore was liquidating. I went there to stock up on crafts, just in case (yes, I’m well prepped in the craft department for this quarantine. Please don’t be too jealous, my kids still kvetch that they’re bored). I bought wire and beads, convincing myself that my boys can make key chains and napkin rings, but not so deep in my subconscious, I knew I was buying it for myself.
And now that day has come. I took out my supplies, watched a few YouTube clips, and started practicing making basic rings and loops.
Over the next few days, I upped my jewelry making. I didn’t have any findings (the closure pieces, toggles, lobster claws, earring wires, etc.), so I looked up how to make them myself and made my first pair of earrings from scratch. I was so proud of myself, even if it was just a dangling yellow bead with a smaller white seed bead under it.
I interrupted my husband’s work and crowed, “Look what I made!” You’d think I designed the Taj Mahal from my tone.
Two days later, when I took out my jewelry-making supplies, my kids crowded around. They wanted a turn, so I went into teacher mode, showing my nine, seven and four-year-old how to use a round nose pliers and chain nose pliers. I thought it would be a five-minute thing and then they’d get bored, but no, it was a two-hour affair, and in the end my son made a bracelet for me. All that saved me from checking the headlines for a while. And more importantly ⸺ another thing to do with the kids! Huzzah!
Another day I taught them to make spirals out of wire. And we have plans to make napkin rings for Shavuos. I’m just waiting for more supplies to arrive. (Amazon is too slow these days, it almost feels like getting AliExpress packages; when it finally arrives, you say, “What, I ordered this? Cool!”)
More on the jewelry front. I made another necklace for my niece, and earrings my mother said she’d take. Then I made another pair of earrings and asked my family chat if there were any takers. There were none, and now I have a growing pile of jewelry that I’ll never wear, so benevolent me (and my husband who despises clutter) is offering to send a piece of jewelry to any brave readers who send me a self-addressed and stamped envelope (mail to Mishpacha, 5809 16th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11204 — they’ll forward it to me).
Yes, I spent a lot of time on the jewelry making. It was my new fix, instead of news. It kept me busy, distracted from the temptation to check what’s happening in the world, and focused on something enjoyable.
Another thing I found myself doing instead of news following was video chatting with siblings. We’d often have group calls at night, but now I found the time to talk to them individually during the day. But even that was potentially fraught. Once, on a group call with my sisters (in which we mostly just kvetch and make grotesque faces at each other to screenshot and laugh at later), my sister put radio host Michael Savage on in the background. I asked her to turn him off, because one, no news, two, I’m not a fan. I think it was more number two than number one, but I blamed number one. She acquiesced.
I also got to read more. I started and finished When Breath Becomes Air. And I was also reading a lot more fluff, non-news articles, like a fashion editor writing about how she learned how to bake for the first time in quarantine — until now she’d used her oven for shoe storage. (Seriously? Cannot compute!)
I also read too many BuzzFeed articles on cheap organizing products that will change my life, and pored over before-and-after pictures of cleaning makeovers (so gross, yet so satisfying). I got into my car to drive to the grocery store, and my hand automatically went to turn on the radio, but I stopped myself. So proud.
It was a boring ride. Good thing it’s only two minutes away. I wanted to listen to my podcasts, but so many of them have turned pandemic related, whether discussing the psychology, mental health, stats, personal experience, and I couldn’t risk the integrity of the experiment. (I know, I sound so official, as if this were a double-blind, controlled study, but I wanted to do this right.)
There was a moment of hilarity at my expense early on. I was chatting with Miriam Milstein about this experiment and she started messing with me, telling me “Trump is getting divorced,” “Biden is dropping out.” I laughed, until later that night my husband turned to me and said, “It’s shreklach. I read Trump might be getting divorced.”
My jaw dropped.
“No way! I thought Miriam Milstein was just joking about that. Is it true? Where? Where did you read this?”
“Fox News,” he said, poker faced.
I floundered a moment. “I can’t believe it,” I said, though part of me thought, maybe it is true, because how else would my husband know about a conversation I had a bit earlier? And then I saw the twinkle in my husband’s eye and the smile tugging at his lips, and I remembered I’d left my computer with the chat open on my kitchen counter, for anyone to see with a passing glance.
“You’re evil!” I said. He just laughed. I laughed too, because c’mon, that was a good one.
Toward the end of the week, my sister-in-law texted me, asking if they’d lifted some restrictions in Passaic. I shrugged and texted back, “No clue.” I went and asked my husband, and he looked up and saw that state parks and farmers’ markets were open with restrictions.
The clock struck midnight on the last day, and I turned to husband. “Guess what I can do?” I said. “Read the news!”
But instead of checking my News Feed, I went to bed. Proud of me?
I know you’re reading this and thinking, this woman is ridiculous. How much time did she spend reading the news that she can suddenly make jewelry, teach her kids to make jewelry, and be sociable?
The truth is, I’m not spending that much time news checking. It’s more that it served as an interrupter, fragmenting my time. Take away that distraction, and I could get a little closer to the elusive state of flow, that intense mental focus.
There’s a comfort in not knowing. There’s nothing I can do about the situation anyway, and knowing too much about it just gives me anxiety. This was the exact reason I quit following politics way back when. I’d get whipped into a frenzy by all the pundits and analysts who said if this bill passed, America as we knew it was over, and if that congressman didn’t clarify his statements, democracy would fall. I’d get indignant and mad and scared, but nothing ever happened, and there wasn’t anything I could even do if it would (please don’t tell me to call my representative).
I quit following politics cold turkey, and suddenly found myself with so much more room to breathe. I still know what’s going on, but I don’t know or care for the back-and-forth hock of it. But I seemed to have replaced that with an overconsumption of news in general, and that comes with its own sort of anxiety I hadn’t realized I’d foisted upon myself.
The news I need to know will come to me, like when a co-teacher posted on the teachers’ chat that New Jersey’s schools will be closed for the rest of the year. And my sister posting that my first cousin who’s two years younger than me was engaged. That was news I needed to hear and care about, and it found its way to me. I didn’t have to seek it out.
I expected my no-news diet to affect my anxiety levels, and maybe it did, because coronavirus isn’t on my mind 24/7 like it was. Following the news sounds more noble than social media, and therefore isn’t a vice or problem. And I don’t think it’s a problem, but looking back on it now, there are other things I’d rather be spending my time on — things I didn’t think I had time for, like creative endeavors, chill time with family. And sleep! I’d been sleeping way better this past week.
But I’ll admit the first night this experiment was over, I was in bed by 12, but binged on my News Feed until 12:45, and my eyes burned. At least this time, I knew I didn’t want to do it again.
As my mother always says, “No news is good news.” I know this isn’t what she meant, but since when can we ever go wrong listening to our mothers’ advice?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 693)
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