Cure for the Common Cold: Unplug from the News

Cross-post from Medium

I have a hacking cough, runny nose, slight fever, and a feeling of mental slow motion, as if I am thinking under water. Keep your distance — I am probably contagious.

It’s a big disappointment, because I had to cancel a trip to Seattle this morning for a visioning session hosted by the Western States Arts Federation. WESTAF is an innovative, tech-savvy arts organization that I served as a board member years ago. I called the executive director last night, and he agreed it didn’t sound smart for me to transport my virus 3,000 miles to the gathering.

So here I sit at my desk in bathrobe and slippers, drinking tea with honey, planning my first nap of the day. “Drink liquids and get lots of rest,” I have already been told this morning by three different people. To this I add two more cures: unplug from the news and read slowly.

It’s nearly 11 a.m., and I have not checked Twitter or Facebook, read The Washington Post or The New York Times. I have not even asked Alexa for my news highlights in the kitchen. I know nothing, and I plan to keep it that way.

At 3 a.m. during one of my six times awake and restless last night, I read for an hour on my Kindle Oasis in a leather chair in my study. The usually busy Cambridge street was empty. I love reading in the middle of the night. I read more slowly then, like a meditation or admiration for a sunrise in Maine. Last night I checked in with each of the five books in my Kindle’s “Currently Reading” collection, some of which have been languishing for months without a read.

One in particular, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World by Naomi S. Baron, contained a chapter titled “Slow reading.” I learned from Baron that there is a movement to promote slow reading. And there are plenty of authors who have written on the topic, including one of my favorites, Sven Birkerts, whose American Scholar essay she quoted for this:

“…the reader who reads without directed concentration, who skims, or even just steps hurriedly across the surface, is missing much of the real point of the work; he is gobbling his foie gras.”

I plan to be a slow reader today, unplugged from news of the campaign. I will stroll through books on my Kindle and caress my two-volume collection of W.S. Merwin’s poetry. Yes, I prefer digital reading, whether I am in full health or ill. But I do not deny the pleasure of the page, thumbing my way at random to a poem titled “The Piper” which concludes with these two stanzas:

It has taken me till now

to be able to say

even this

it has taken me this long

to know what I cannot say

where it begins

like the names of the hungry


I am here


be ready to teach me

I am almost ready to learn

Just so. It’s a good day to have a bad cold.

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