I’m back from our brief vacation. It was wonderful. I did exactly what I said I would. I went four days without watching any television, without listening to the radio, without reading any newspaper, and without “news” of any kind. I walked in the Canadian Rockies and read Volume 1 of the Penguin collection of the W. Somerset Maugham short stories. The weather was great, the mountains were awesome, the food was delicious, it was peaceful and relaxing almost beyond belief.
I love the Maugham short stories. It is true they are “dated,” but the characters and the situations are such they could be just as real today as when he wrote them. He had this marvelous ability to describe characters, place them in perfectly understandable situations, and make their decisions and outcomes perfectly comprehensible. And his stories run the gamut from truly tragic to humorous and insightful. He was said to be by at least one critic to be the greatest writer of short stories of that generation. I believe that is probably true. What I enjoy the most about his stories is that they are just that, stories, written in a fine prose style, no ostentation, no literary pretensions, no completely incomprehensible plots. This volume begins with his classic story, “Rain,” and proceeds through thirty wonderful tales of life in various parts of the world all of which offer wonderful insights into human nature and behavior. One of these stories, “Mr. Know-all,” I think is a perfect example of the genre although it is a perfectly simple story of an encounter between various people on a cruise ship. His story, “Three Fat Women from Antibes” I found hilarious, along with his story of a man’s escape from marriage, “the Escape.” I never tire of Maugham and have enjoyed this paperback collection I first bought in Fiji to the point where they are about to wear out.
But alas, I returned home after my brief experience of nirvana. When I turned on the news this morning, as is my wont, I found I had to turn it off almost immediately. Instantaneously I found myself feeling unclean, as if watching the worst inmates of an asylum arguing over issues so petty and nonsensical as to make you wonder if it was real. I tried several times today to watch the news and each time I found I could not stick with it. How many times must I hear what I already know, the rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer, Obama is the most divisive President of all time, Romney is a vulture capitalist that failed to create jobs, he has a plan but won’t tell anyone what it is, Obama has failed to create jobs, Republicans have a plan that has already failed, and blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I don’t think I can stand another five months of this utter balderdash, this mélange of lies and exaggerations that do nothing whatsoever to address the serious problems that confront us. Until our country gets serious about having a functioning political system there is really no point in even being interested in it.
Cory Booker is right, it is nauseating. The negative focus on the candidates to the virtual exclusion of any serious effort to discuss the issues and come to some agreement about how to solve them means we will never move beyond the current insane babbling on both sides of the political spectrum. Actually, there aren’t two sides of the picture, only variations of the one side. The fascists have won, it is only a question of how much they may allow us to pretend otherwise. In general I believe we will be somewhat better off as individuals under an Obama administration, but the poor will remain poor and the rich, rich, no matter who wins.
Having gone four days without television has reminded me that it is possible to live without it. Indeed, thinking about it leads me to believe those who routinely live with their televisions actually inhabit an entirely different world from the reality that exists in the real world. Life with television consists of nothing but fantasy, a world of sex and violence accompanied by talking animals and cars, singing cookies, bugs with accents, and visions of sugarplums, to say nothing of promises of bigger breasts and penises and all the fiber you can eat. The way to lose weight, we are told, is by eating, or, on the other hand, by not eating and taking pills. If you are healthy enough for sexual activity there is nothing to keep you from doing “it” for up to four hours at a time, but after four hours you should consult your doctor. I am not yet prepared to give up my television entirely, but I am getting closer and closer to doing so. Go for a walk, read a book, consider a rosebud, take a deep breath, meditate, there is life without electronics.
Within my lifetime
the horse became a tractor,
the earth a sewer.