I’ve been escaping ‘reality’ as much as I can recently, partly as a way of protecting myself and my own reality, and therefore as a kind of health issue.
It would be irresponsible of course, or perhaps madness to ignore and disbelieve that is going on around you in the world, along with all the collective responsibility we have to others to maintain the reality of a shared society.
Then again, given our accepting and adhering to our basic and most important social responsibilities we still have choices that we can make about e.g. what kind of media we want in our minds, in our eyes and ears shaping and determining our day and our reality.
And the word ‘choice’ is, I learned from a friend this week, crucial here as different media – it now seems clear to me – offer different qualities and kinds of choice.
e.g. I like listening to an Indie music radio channel, because it fills me with hope that millions of young artists are out there every day and night continuing the rich legacy of dedicating a life to making transgressive, innovative, ironic and just fantastic new music.
However, I hate the fact that it is interrupted by a radio news bulletin every hour, intervening, like a patriarch, to make sure we don’t care carried away with the alternative worlds all these DJs, all these bands and their songs and their fans are creating.
I have a choice to jump up whenever the news comes on and switch off my radio for a few minutes, but somehow that still spoils the sense of pleasure and escape I get from listening.
And so, it might be preferable to choose the music I want to hear from my CD and vinyl record and cassette collections, but these of course will never be as up-to-date as the new music the radio DJs provide.
(Somewhere in my memory I believe I once encountered the idea of a TV set that gave an option of editing out commercials, but that seems too good to be true, and something I would happily adapt to the news problem outlined above.)
When the world is in a frightening crisis, it seems to me that the basic facts are all we really need to know, up-to-date, clearly articulated and true facts, once or twice a day perhaps. But of course, our news channels are worldwide, 24-7, all competing for attention, or anxious to fill the whole day with ‘news’, and especially, if possible the ‘breaking’ variety.
On top of this we now also have billions of layers of social media input as we all bark, and echo and share and respond to the above.
In the midst of all this is little old me, and little old you, also needing our own time and space and reality and identity which together constitutes our health. It seems to me that the healthiest decisions I have made in the past week were to choose media – such as CDs from my collection or books chosen from my bookshelves – that made me feel I was in control of my environment and that I could choose what goes into my ears, my eyes, my mind, my reality, at my time and at my pace.
As a result, amid all the turmoil, fear and disruption we are all going through right now, I also managed to experience some beautiful moments, like the moments I had reading a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami.
I’ve had the collection for several years and when I opened it I noticed that the edges of the pages were starting to ‘fox’ (as they say in the book world). I hadn’t read it because I had dipped into the author’s work before and, though I understood its relevance to me, I just wasn’t sure if I really liked it. But all books – I’m sure you have noticed – need their moment, and this week the moment came for me and this Murakami collection.
I should point out that I found some of his writing a little conservative and sexist in its treament of women, and so it may not be aging well in our world of rapidly changing values. But if I forgive the author that aspect of his work I have to thank him for transporting me to a light, bright world where comfortable people’s rather ordinary lives are interrupted and expanded by unexpected disruptions of, or additions to their reality.
Murakami knows that one, shared and objective reality is not enough for us, neither for art nor for life. There is always more and less than we know, always other than we know, and we must maintain the personal space in which to nurture, protect, evolve and maintain our own reality – whatever is happening in the big wide world – as a key aspect of our health and well-being.
Furthermore, what might seem a solipsistic, narcissistic, irresponsible or selfish insistence on maintaining our own reality, and feeding it carefully with well-chosen media, also means that we can make ourselves healthy and happy enough to be able to support and help others through their own difficulties, and with maintaining their own realities.