Leftovers: ‘Clarity from chaos’

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One of my favorite digital newsletters is called On Politics, by Lisa Lerer of The New York Times. With a concise and accessible style, Lerer catches me up daily on national politics.

Beautifully phrased, On Politics promises to deliver “clarity from chaos.” Doesn’t that sound amazing?

While puttering around in the morning, I also listen to a few podcasts, peruse the newspaper, and check Facebook in hopes of getting a glimpse of someone’s new puppy. While no one I know took the puppy jump this week, I’m pleased to share that Passion for Pets, a rescue group in Brunswick, posted a new batch of dogs heading up from southern kill-shelters. It set off my cuteness alarm and was a most welcome feeling. 

Puppies aside, I’m like most people who want to be informed to the best of the media’s ability. Also, like most people, I absorb what I can and then stop before my fight-or-flight survival instincts kick in.

So I may not read about my sister-moms getting gassed in the Other Portland, or teachers resigning because they can’t afford to buy their own face shields, or respond to valid points made by my own friends who lean across the aisle in their civic thinking because after a certain point I start to internalize things I can’t reconcile.

Children going back to school during a full-blown pandemic, COVID-19 test results taking longer than they reasonably should, angst over both my daughters’ student loans, the homelessness in my city – I’m unable to compartmentalize the fear, and a high-alert dread seeps into all areas of my life.

Being bombarded by bad news is not a new concept, but the number of outlets to be blindsided by is growing. Not sure what I mean? Think about social media and Twitter in particular. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you’re not spared from it. Snarky or mean-spirited comments become part of the mainstream news. 

There have been brilliant columns addressing the issue, as well as scientifically driven hard news stories, all saying, in the name of mental health and wellbeing, enough is enough. Tune it out and turn it off. 

Many people can do just that. My BFF has a child starting college this year and I’ve been living the, “should I stay or should I go now” experience with her since we attended a wine dinner in March (shout out to the Porthole in Portland and Terry O’Brien from Nappi Distributors). Dubbed the Last Supper, I remember asking BFF what COVID-19 might mean for college attendance. 

We both fell silent. Even me. 

I still lose sleep for the graduates of 2020. It’s yesterday’s news, but I mourn prom dresses never worn and rites of passage not celebrated. As of this printing, BFF’s son is staying home and will take his first-semester freshman classes online. This may change with the wind. 

My #neverthatkaren is a history buff and information junkie and has reduced her time and emotional investment in the news to a minimum. She constantly scolds me (sometimes not so gently) to do the same; I just can’t ignore an alert on my computer and then wonder why I’m in the bathroom in tears because of yet another rattling event.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the third one in a single day. 

My mother, The Betty, used to call me Miss Need-to-Know. From my earliest days, I would sleuth around eavesdropping on adult conversations. There was a weird comfort in knowing something/anything was going on, and I quickly learned that my conclusion of a projected outcome might not be the reality. Things wouldn’t always pan out the way I wanted them to or thought they should, but it was better than not knowing something at all.

Or so I thought.

These days, I’m not so sure what I know matters as much as what I can do about it. Today, for example, there’s North Korea bragging about bombs; virus stats; the next stimulus proposal; a potential vaccine; the election; Melania Trump’s plans to renovate the Rose Garden, and more. In and of themselves, most of these things are newsworthy. But in the name of self-care, it’s just too much to process in a healthy manner and it’s time to do something about it. 

To start, I’m turning off my alerts and looking for ways to volunteer in a unique and vibrant way. Perhaps I’ll contact the city and see if I can assist with the rose bushes in Deering Oaks Park. 

That, and the folks living among them.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at natalie@portlandphoenix.me.