While on sabbatical, I’ve stopped listening to the news. I still read the local newspaper (yes, we are subscribers), so I’m not completely out of the loop, but I am intentionally refraining from watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts about politics or current events. It’s not that there is no value in these things, it’s that they are addictive. We are addicted to clicks and information and outrage, and by “we” I mean me too. I convince myself that I need to stay informed about what people in power are doing because if I let down my guard, then they get away with it.
I’ve now gone a week without the news and I’ve noticed a few things. First, I’m generally less anxious because I’m paying attention to things close to me, things I have a direct relationship with instead of things happening on the other side of the country or the world that I have little power to affect.
Secondly, time has slowed down. I’m retraining my brain not to be always looking for the next source of stimulation. Without stimulation, I get kind of bored and I start wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve decided to accept this boredom and lean into it, telling myself, “You don’t need to be anywhere other than here. You don’t need to worry about any other time but now.” When I do that I find I have more time than I need, sometimes to the point of it feeling a bit uncomfortable. I live a lot of my life lamenting that I don’t have enough time, and now I have more than enough time. In fact, I have so much time that I can waste some of it and have plenty left over.
Third, I’ve started singing in the car again. I sang the entire Joshua Tree album on my drive from Santa Cruz to Los Altos today. It was glorious. I had the volume turned way up. Dang, I sounded sooo good. Bono wasn’t bad either. I could hit all the notes, even those high wailing ones at the end of “With or Without You.” When I hit slowed or stopped traffic along Highway 17, it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t in a hurry and I was doing something I enjoyed, I was singing a concert to myself and an imaginary crowd of several thousand. Singing with abandon brought goose bumps to the back of my neck a couple of times, like during that instrumental part on “One Tree Hill” that lasts for about 5 seconds but always makes me think of the soundtrack to an old-school surfing film. I danced in my seat. I played along with Larry Mullen, Jr. on my steering wheel drum set, pounded out Adam Clayton’s bass line on the stick shift, and shredded The Edge’s solos on my seat belt strap. Neighboring drivers might have noticed the spectacle. Some might have shaken their heads, but others might have wished, a ala When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Podcasts can be pretty great. Short news videos on YouTube do a good job of getting your blood boiling. Cable news can make you informed and incensed at the same time. But at what cost? Why have we stopped singing in the car, let alone the kitchen and the shower and the back yard? Singing along to music you love can put you into a completely different mindset. True, belting out Stairway to Heaven isn’t as informative as cable news, but it offers some things that we shouldn’t so easily forget, namely, beauty, excitement, connection, and those glorious goose bumps on the back of your neck that remind you that you are alive.