Friday, April 20, 2007

Toxic Input

There’s a saying we used to use a lot more than we hear now: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Or GIGO, as the IT people among us used to say. I wonder why we don’t hear that anymore. Possibly because so much of what’s around us is garbage that we no longer can tell which is which. Witness my previous blog entry, and its subject matter. I would never in a million years have thought that I would blog about a shock jock, especially one who was given way more than his share of press over the last couple of weeks. But I did. Why? Because the “scandal” was all over the place…because it started to frustrate a lot of us…and because, as usual, I had thought of a few aspects of it that I doubt will get much air time. So I gave it that time. But now, I’m done, God willing, with wasting my time on garbage. Which is what that stuff is. Which is what most of what we see in broadcast media is. Especially the “news.” To be blunt, it doesn’t deserve our time or attention. A long, long time ago, I landed a job as an executive secretary at a PR firm that, if you were in the field in Chicago, would have been one you’d recognize in a heartbeat. I was told this was a great job. A plum job. And it would eventually lead…who knew? Because, as many of us were told in the 80s, PR was one of those “mover and shaker” fields that could “get us ahead.” (Wherever “ahead” was.) I believed all of it. The only problem was, shortly after I got into the field, I discovered what an absolutely ridiculous job it was. How completely meaningless. And most tragic of all, how it chewed people up and spat them out over that meaninglessness, and berated them for not understanding how “important” all this PR stuff was. I mean, we were writing press releases announcing the launching of ships by a company I didn’t even know built ships. No one I knew would remotely care about these ships. No one I knew cared about them then. And because I was a newbie in the PR field and didn’t know the protocol, I must admit, I made a couple of errors which were quickly pounced upon and corrected by my ever-so-helpful coworkers. I didn’t mind the corrections…even if they weren’t done very nicely. They were done with the air of “This poor slob new person doesn’t even understand this much about the business,” a good-natured roll of the eyes, and the like. Well, after I’d had a few of those corrections and had been ribbed about one of them, I just looked up, shook my head and said, “In ten years, no one is going to care about this. So why are we giving ourselves ulcers over it? Can we get real here, please?” To which my coworkers reacted—I’m not kidding here—with horror. And that’s when I knew something was really, really wrong. The bit about the “ulcers” wasn’t an exaggeration, either. The secretary to one of the owners of this firm was on sick leave when I was hired, and returned shortly into my tenure…from hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer. One of my other officemates was a chainsmoker—and those were the days you could smoke in offices. So I got the benefit of that habit, as well. The other one had either just had a divorce or something else disastrous happen in her personal life. Can’t remember precisely, but she was also the one who chewed me out so badly over one minor mistake—one I wouldn’t have made had anyone trained me—that I drank half a bottle of wine that night with my dinner and didn’t even feel it. But I digress. One dark day, I was called into my boss’s office and told that I didn’t seem to “fit” in the field. It was a nice way of her saying that if I didn’t quit, I’d probably be fired. My “attitude,” apparently, was the problem. I didn’t “get” how important this all was. This firm was busy building its reputation on saying “Yes” to anything their clients wanted, no matter how unreasonable. (Actually, what the business was about was account executives saying “Yes,” bragging, getting the glory…and the secretaries doing the actual work involved. But you knew that already, didn’t you?) All of this stuff—stuff we would all forget by two weeks from then, never mind ten years—had to matter so much that I would be willing to sacrifice my time, my ego, my self-esteem, and possibly even my health so “our” firm could be the one that said “Yes.” To which I said, “Uhhh, I don’t think so.” And looked for another job pronto. I’ve tried to avoid meaningless drivel for most of my life. Until lately…when I did a temporary digression into talk radio, into caring about politics, and into stumping hard and long for my candidates, my points of view, and what I perceived as right. But you know what? To do that, you’ve got to deal with a lot of garbage. Which can make you crabby. And cynical. And angry. And even…sick. None of this is good for me as a creative person. So, as irresponsible as it may seem to be, I’m going to have to stop doing it. I’ve already opted out of a couple of e-mail lists I was on. Things that kept up with media bias, conservative politics, etc. I’m a conservative. I’ll always be one. I don’t need media watchdogs or conservative alarmists to make me more so…and I certainly don’t need their pressure on me about all these things that are “important", that I have to do something about right now, by God, or...! Because in the grand scheme of things, politics, media, and all the other stuff we get ourselves so twisted up about…doesn’t matter in the end. We find that out when something legitimately important does happen. A birth. A death. A medical crisis. A great, joyful promotion. Success beyond our wildest dreams. Our outside “worlds” stop for those things…as they should. And if we’re paying attention, we realize sometime in all this messy, human, "real life" stuff that what we’re doing at that moment matters. What happens when we stop the outside world and get off…is what real life is, and what really is important. Not the news. Not the “important” things that fluff up egos and are then forgotten in a quest for the next “plum” piece of attention. Not the things that contribute to some pathetic soul’s 15 minutes. Not the he-said/she-saids, the accusations, the political paranoia, the religious stumping...none of it. And especially not the garbage. With God’s help, I’m going to remember that from now on. Stick my head in the proverbial political/news/media sand and pay attention to what’s right in my hands to do. And let the rest of it be settled, as it will anyway, whether I am in the middle of things or not. I need to invest my energy, not waste it on things I can’t possibly hope to change. That way lies anger, cynicism, and…in a very real sense…sickness. It’s time to toss that aside and go back to health again. That's where I'm going to do my best to stay now. Wanna join me? Janny

1 comment:

Deb said...

Yes, count me in. I look at my husband and my children, my somewhat messy home, my extended family, my friends and my church...these are the things that matter. Not someone's idea of what's newsworthy for this Tuesday or next.

It's not for nothing that they call it "news". The second it's old, they're on to something else, some new horror, some new scandal or celebrity or trivia. They don't talk about what matters. I prefer to get just the news I need (mostly the Weather Channel) and turn the rest off.

Join me?