The Sunday Magazine

Michael's essay: Unplugging from modern-day madness

Michael shares his thoughts about the search for escape hatches from what often feels like a dystopian world.
'Forty minutes or an hour of listening to a Bach cantata or a Puccini opera clears the head, the brain, the soul,' writes Michael Enright. (Keith Levit Photography)

When reporters are not being attacked as liars and poltroons with the morals of house-breakers, we are seen as cynical miscreants who hate the world and all its works.

I've rarely found that to be the case, though I did once work with a reporter at The Globe and Mail who, when asked, "And how are you this morning?" would invariably reply, "Worse."

Most journalists I've met or worked with here and in other countries tend to be open, cheerful, sometimes helplessly optimistic.

It is true that often we look at life and events through a glass darkly. And like cops, we sometimes develop an emotional carapace in self-defence. It comes from seeing things ordinary folk are not and should not be exposed to.

All of which is why it was illuminating and at the same time slightly depressing to read a recent column by The Globe and Mail's excellent Western columnist Gary Mason.

In what he later described as the darkest column of his career, Mr. Mason decided that his dream is to unplug from all the social media madness, stop thinking about Trump, Putin and the dire state of the world and retreat into deepest country.

He wrote: "Looking around the world today is depressing. And frightening. And we don't have to gaze much further than our neighbour to the south to feel thoroughly despondent about where we are heading."

Many of us can agree when he writes: "It is all starting to feel like some dark, dystopian nightmare that we see in movies, except this isn't Hollywood."

Anybody with children shares that view. Or parts of it from time to time. We worry about their future, whether they can have careers and not just jobs which could disappear in a breath. All the while, we ask ourselves what kind of crazy world are we leaving them.

Each of us carries around a desert island impulse that we strain to control. We listen to and abide by the tiny voices in our heads that tell us to be realistic, to be reasonable, you're not going anywhere.

For Gary Mason, it's some quiet place in the country, free of all our various addictions to electronic entanglements.

For me it would be a cattle ranch called the Schively, owned by the Bassett family, in the Pryor Mountains of Eastern Montana.

Since that's not going to happen any time soon, Mr. Mason and I suspect thousands of others must look for what novelist Graham Greene called "ways of escape" closer to home and real life.

I've discovered a few simple ways to break free. A combination of substitution and distraction.

One way is the so-called digital Sabbath. You disconnect all electronics for 24 hours from sundown Friday.

It's a bit dislocating in the beginning, but after a while the experience is quite bracing.

Another way is to simply go outside. Things always look better when you go outside. And It's been shown that simply walking among trees in a city park reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol released into the bloodstream.

I'd like to report that I'm deeper into reading but, as with other people, various electronics have reduced my attention span to that of the luna moth.

The best medicine for what ails Mr. Mason and the rest of us is music.

Forty minutes or an hour of listening to a Bach cantata or a Puccini opera clears the head, the brain, the soul. It sets us for any challenge, any nastiness in the ordinary day.

Beethoven or Bechet in place of bedlam. It works.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay.