The Dilemma: should I pick up the paperback of Rutherford’s The Forest that I started a a while ago? I’d placed the bookmark at the end of a chapter and put the book down just as the narrative was plunging me into a Georgian England setting. Or would I rather start another Terry Pratchett “Discworld” adventure, a wild ride into his magical realm of absurdities? Either choice would take me away from today’s news, importuning me from every media source. Should I feel badly about wanting to escape from those calamitous stories?
Earlier in the month, during my usual morning workout, I glanced up at a t.v. monitor just as closed captions scrolled across images of scattered bodies after yet another massacre. A commercial for fast food cut in just as I finished reading the caption. The ad’s message clearly was, “Forget the bad news. Feel better fast by buying a burger, oozing with cheese and bacon and waiting for you in a shiny bun; and don’t forget your coffee and six or seven different doughnuts to go.”
The message was clear: yes, the news is horrifying but you need only buy a burger or a frosted pink doughnut to escape the world’s miseries and enter a more comforting zone of easy, warm treats that reassure your cortisol-filled gut. The urge to accept distraction and shut out the onslaught of global and local horrors is strong, but I can’t resist paying attention and high anxiety sets in. Nevertheless, by choosing to continue reading The Forest or “Discworld” nonsense, I escape into historical or fantastical fiction, imagined in a way to reassure me people always experience terrible times, but we know our own terrible times are worse because we inhabit them.
Certainly, the time I spend reading will be less harmful to my metabolism than a half dozen doughnuts; but escaping that way from the woes of Planet Earth does not excuse me from responding to crises reported in the media. The temporary relief I experience, however, gives me time to reflect and renew my commitment to be more generous and compassionate in the face of global road rage.
But sometimes, just sometimes, as science fiction becomes science reality, I wish all those murderous, hate-filled folk responsible for so much grief would volunteer to man the Great Silver Cylinder destined to bring Earth’s first colonists to Mars. There, they could work out their anger and resentment or die for lack of cooperation. There, they might gain a new perspective on Planet Earth, rethink their plans, re-do their agendas, and eventually regret that they ever meant to harm their planet and their fellow living things. Sounds like a good story waiting to be written.