This has been a harrowing week in the news world, which means - in the world at all. More specifically, in the local world; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just been cranking out the stories about horrible things happening to people around town and around the world.
The confluence of so many horrifying things is disconcerting but can, probably, be attributed somehow to the fact that we are deep in the winter doldrums. So far, the Pittsburgh region has gotten 40 inches of snow in February alone - and there are still ten days to go before this shortest, most brutal, month comes to a close.
A friend of mine speculated, several weeks ago, that there's a kind of global malaise; she was referring to the fact that nearly all of her own friends and acquaintances were experiencing depression of varying degrees, and that a series of very unfortunate events seemed to be underway for just about everyone. Interestingly, she suggested that an underlying trigger or exacerbating factor was the earthquake in Haiti, and the horror and helplessness most of us in the western world were feeling as a result of the earthquake's consequences.
It's an interesting idea, though I don't know how much credence I give it. But in a weirdly Dickensian way, I like to see patterns and interconnectedness everywhere; of course, in a Pynchonesque way, I also like to point out the absolutely illusory nature of those patterns and interconnections (for a more recent and perhaps obvious literary example of this, see Frank Portman's King Dork).
It does sometimes feel like the external world is mirroring the internal, or - and this is more likely - acting as a catalyst for the internal.
Some of the horror stories from the news this week, just to recap:
Six people near Pittsburgh are arrested for torturing and murdering a young woman with a mental/developmental disability. Torture included painting the woman's face with nail polish, making her consume spices and urine, and beating her with various household items.
A few days later, I read that these six people have their initial hearing delayed because they are all quarantined at the jail with lice.
A man in New Jersey broke into his ex's house and stole their 7-month-old baby from its grandmother. The ex was at that moment at court getting a restraining order. The man then threw the baby off a bridge into the river.
A middle-aged couple in Penn Hills was found dead, evidently of a murder-suicide. They have a 17-year-old kid.
A cop in Pittsburgh fatally shot a robbery suspect
Some more cops in Pittsburgh beat a teenager who was carrying a "suspicious item" (it was a violin, I think).
A man in Pittsburgh died last week because of the gross incompetence of the emergency services during the snow; he and his girlfriend made at least 10 calls to 911, but the ambulances failed to reach him because of snow. At one point, they were a few blocks away but unable to drive closer; though he was unable to walk, the man was told by the EMTs that if he wanted the ambulance ride, he'd have to walk the few blocks to the intersection.
There were several shootings in North Braddock in the last 24 hours.
A nutjob flew his small plane into an IRS building in Texas, causing fire, havoc and injury but - as far as I can tell now - no deaths except his own.
A driver near Pittsburgh hit and injured a man and killed a dog (a foster/rescue dog), and kept on driving.
There are more, I'm sure, once you look beyond the local and occasional national stories - there are consistently shudderingly awful stories from Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Iraq. And then there are all the places we rarely hear much about: Angola, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo.
It's been a brutal week, though, around Pittsburgh. And the fact that, when I try to look out into the rest of the country and the world for more news, I only find more dismal, horrific stories, is enough to make me want to retreat into a cave in the woods for eternity.
I wonder how most people cope with the news? A crowd of people turned away, but I just have to look. But what happens to the crowd that turns away? Do they register the news stories? Are they desensitized, beyond the routine cluckings of "how awful" or "I don't know what the world is coming to?"
But all the negative emotional energy these stories must generate has to go someplace. Doesn't it?