staying on topic

I started reading Pattern Recognition last Thursday evening and finished reading Zero History, the last novel in the Blue Ant trilogy, on Monday afternoon. I didn’t really have the time to give to reading three novels so quickly, but it seemed I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking of a passage early in Pattern Recognition, about Cayce’s devotion to the footage, short clips of film posted anonymously to the Internet:

Anything other than the footage is Off Topic. The world, really. News. Off Topic.

Cayce is grieving the unexplained vanishing of her father in Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001, so it is understandable that she would like to render the world and its news off topic. I, too, frequently turn away from the news, which these days overwhelms me with anguish about matters I can do so little to address. But I also sometimes find myself using the news, particularly as it unfolds on the Internet, to dissociate from the world around me—the people I am with, and the work that requires my attention.

Whether I’m lost in a book or on the Internet, in the end the escape from my immediate cares is neither pleasurable nor consoling. This sort of reading is not embodied, but body-denying: I’m hunched over, uncomfortable, thirsty but not getting myself a cup of water to drink, and tired but not going to bed. And it feeds rather than alleviates the anxiety that often seizes me, sometimes keeping me up at bedtime, and sometimes waking me early in the morning.

The fear that will not let me rest is that I am becoming untethered from reality. Time is passing, and I am drifting, losing sight of the bills that must be paid, the poems that must get written.