There used to be a commercial on television and radio for A.M./P.M. MiniMart where, touting the incredible number of choices they had to eat and drink and spend your money on, ended with a scratchy voiced man saying, “A.M./P.M. MiniMart: Too much good stuff!” They said it like it was a good thing.
The classic Chinese ancient text, the “Tao te Ching,” says something similar. “Hunting and racing madden the mind.” That is to say, too much good stuff can mess you up.
I often find the glut of information exhausting.
I get daily internet posts to the New York Times with the news of the day. I have other daily posts from Geopolitical Futures, the Atlantic Monthly, the Smithsonian, dispatches from Authors Publish and Manuscript Academy, from Book Marketing Tools. And that’s just a partial list.
I get weekly hardcopy issues of the New Yorker, of bi-monthly issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction, a monthly copy of the National Geographic, and the weekly copy of, yep, you guessed it: The Week.
Not to mention the emails with attachments from friends, from my brother, from my wife. Then there are the bombardments from Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn.
And forget about the fiction I am interested in, the stories I want to read.
It’s true: There’s way too much good stuff.
And I feel like a hoarder. Each and every one of the above-named have the tidbit of info that’s indispensible, enlightening, revealing and enriching. I need it all.
I learned a long time ago that the five senses we possess — touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste — not only allow us access to five glorious dimensions of our world. They also filter out an onslaught of informational input that is bouncing around out there. And thank God for that! I can barely keep up with what the five senses show me. As a matter of fact, most of it becomes a background mural of data that becomes a backdrop of sounds not really heard, things not really seen, so on and so forth. The ambient data of everyday life forms a rich loam, like elevator muzak.
Perhaps a house cleaning is in order. I need to reduce the amount of information I feel obligated to review and focus on. But what to get rid of? The way mass media and the internet are geared up, reading an article can become an all day chore. Look up a subject you’re interested on Wikipedia, something you want to know something about, and imbedded within that article there are countless links that will take you to new isles of relevant and needed ancillary information, I mean, if you really want to be complete and well-informed.
And if you’re reading this blog? Well, there’s that.
What’s a reader to do?
What? You say you want to live a bit of life, too? Go on a hike, walk the beach, visit friends, go to a concert, see a movie, do a bit of grocery shopping, visit Mom, get ready for Easter and Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and Christmas, your brother and sister’s birthdays, nieces and nephew’s too, but first that lecture at the university you want to hear, a trip to the moon, a week on Saturn, a spin in the Multiverse? Shoot! There’s not enough time to even make a pit-stop to the corner MiniMart.
Sorry, no can do. Just the way it is. Everything we want, or want to do, have price tags.
For 34 years, the writer and editor Gardner Dozois published yearly anthologies, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction.” Each volume had an awfully long but absorbing introduction, a compendium where Dozois broke down the current state of the art, and — man! — could the man read! He was comprehensive and complete, insightful and well-versed, at the very top of his game. Five years after his death, no other anthologist comes even remotely close. Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, as well as Jonathan Strahan, bravely try, but compared to Dozois, well, it’s no cigar.
I’m boggled at what must have been the amount of absorption this life of reading and interiority must have taken. What is the toll of such a life? A lot of sitting around, no doubt. This once relatively thin man ballooned up in weight. He had a quintuple bypass operation in 2007, then in 2018 he had to return for a new surgery that he did not survive.
Most professions have their own complications, I imagine. (I’ve read about them.) Doctors, lawyers and dentists yearly make the top 10 list of suicides. Everything exacts a cost. As a lawyer, I can personally attest to the stresses and havoc that the juridical life can cause. Drinking, frayed nerves, an adrenaline level that’s hard to control, a sense of futility that repetition and constant exposure to the disgruntlements and feuds of people.
Hunting and racing can madden the mind.
Even hunting for the elusive beauties and epiphanies can be time-intensive. I mean, it depends on how serious you are, right?
Perhaps my fatigue makes me a little fatidic and negative. That’s what sleep is for, no? Sleep, dream and meditation, bucolic walks in the hills, wading in a stream watching the undulating bright fish, the gambit of some white rice between meal courses to cleanse the palate.
There’s no way around it. You have to pick and choose. You can’t make love to every person who tickles your fancy, you can only eat one meal at a time, you can only read one book at a time. And occasionally you need to pull back and just watch things and let the world go by without you.
I remember my old friend Mack. We were at a party and in one corner the conversation ran towards the old bad-mouthing-television-and-praising-reading-books screed. He interrupted angrily, caustically telling us that television was just another resource, another form of capital for us to spend stupidly or wisely. And, he reminded us, both were forms of vicarious existence anyway. There was also direct, first-hand experience to revel in. Not all of third-hand vicarious experiences were equal. Hell, not all first-hand experiences were salutary either.
Don’t forget that, he said. It’s hard to think straight sometimes. Hunt and racing do madden the mind.