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McCallum: Cold Turkey

If I say I’ve gone cold turkey, you might assume I’m talking about Thanksgiving leftovers. But no: going cold turkey was all about putting myself on a media diet right after the presidential election. When I told friends, they looked at my skinny frame and rolled their eyes in disbelief, assuming I was trying to lose weight. But I was embracing my new Election Fall-Out Blackout Diet and I cut out watching television news entirely.

I have to say it was easy to go cold turkey since it was a matter of self-preservation. My candidate got trounced, so the term president elect coming from the TV spiked my blood pressure and sent me down the rabbit hole of thinking unkind thoughts, so it was a healthy choice for me to grab the remote and hit the Off button.

With radio as my main source of news, I screened what I listened to during the first week. I switched to the classical music station and at times just invited silence into the house and sat with it. On commutes to work I let audiobooks pull me into their stories instead of tuning in for the latest headlines, like the news junkie I’d been. A friend avoided broadcast media entirely and played old jazz records on his ancient turntable for solace. It was a media cleanse and it felt good.

But the sweep and pull of broadcast news is strong. By week two I’d shifted from Blackout to Brownout, allowing snippets of radio news to filter in while I made morning coffee. I selectively let it back in the car to ride to work with me, cherry picking and nibbling at the news instead of fully ingesting everything on the air waves. Tentatively, I began to re-engage because, as the saying goes, if you want to be a film critic you’ve got to watch the film. And being an informed citizen is a social responsibility - like voting.

I count myself lucky to live in a state with responsible media that connects me to a world that, even in times of uncertainty, I want to be a part of. So while the drama of the never-ending news cycle can wear us down - even when consuming it consciously - right now, finding a way to tune in, not out, seems to matter.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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