In the early months of 1999 I began clipping things out of newspapers: headlines, pieces of articles and pictures. At the time I was working as a news monitor. It sounds like an interesting job - most of the jobs I've had sound interesting (that's why I take them after all.)- but really it was brain-numbingly dull. I watched a tape of local news programming and kept notes on what commercials were mentioned at what times.
Hrm. With some perspective I think actually I was a commercial monitor and a hell of a lot closer to my current job than I ever put together just this very second.
Anyhow. So I sat at a computer all day. On the television next to me the news played. Five hours of news. And all day long I would watch the television news and type out short descriptions of each commercial. As you may guess, I did not last very long at this job. It was depressing. News all day, every day. If you subject yourself to that sort of thing for long enough, you begin to lose hope. Everything becomes ugly and mean. This is when I started cutting up the newspapers.
I don't remember having any plan for these clippings when I first started collecting them. I kept them piled together in one of those two-pocket folders - you know the ones in rainbow packs that you used to buy as part of back-to-school supplies. There weren't many of them. Just a few, at the beginning. When I fled from that monitoring job I wound up working as the de facto office manager and receptionist at a non-profit organization. Part of THAT job was to go through the morning papers and cut out any articles mentioning the companies that belonged to our organization.
So there I was, paid to sit at a desk and cut up newspapers. It was strange timing on the universe's part because what had once been just a slight interest became a fixation. All of a sudden I had little bits of newspaper falling out of everywhere. I don't remember when, or where, I got the sketch book that they came to be pasted in but I do remember spending a lot of hours on the floor of my living room cutting and pasting. And there's a date on the bottom of the last page. The day I decided I was done. There was a rush towards the end. I got tired of the labor of it all, so I filled the last pages very quickly just to wash my hands of the whole thing.
I pull it off the bookshelf occasionally and you can't really blame me for wanting to get it as far away from myself as possible once it was done. There is really very little goodness in it at all. It begins with pages of short articles about foreign wars and atrocities. Afghanistan, Guatemala, Cambodia. A New York Times headline reads "Eight Tourists, Including a U.S. Couple, Hacked or Bludgeoned to Death in Uganda." I forget that happened. All of the time, I forget about how that was news for at least a week. It was, it is, horrifying.
One page only has 2 headlines, pasted perpendicular to each other, about racism in the London Police force.
Ha. Here's a good one:
"War leaves Clinton feeling dispirited and boxed in."
Who wrote that? Why did that make it into 16 point font?
2 whole pages of NATO and UN forces in The Balkans. Kosovo. Serbia. "NATO apologizes for bombing residential area." A full page, black and white photo of Kosovar refugees in a camp.
There's very little organization to this whole project. The next few pages are all Chicago violence. Gunfire, children killed, women stabbed, officer slain on duty. 12 hurt by acid on a carousel in Indiana. Someone known as "The Naked Bandit" in Allentown, Pa. James Byrd Jr. A Richard Roeper column about fraudulent news stories and liars in journalism. A section about the release of exonerated death row inmates and abuses within the Chicago legal system.
Total shocker, right?
I have captured Columbine, the wreck of the City of New Orleans. Pages and pages of stories about the war on drugs - because there was no terror for us to fight back then. Christians, Catholics, and ex-Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie was arrested for some dopey, white-collar crime. Gay rights, and the lack thereof.
One of my favorites simply reads "30 years later, and we're still not living like the Jetsons."
(Seriously, where the hell is my fold-up, bubble-topped, flying car already???)
Chicago Sun-Times Friday, July 23, 1999: Front page, full page color memoriam shot of JFK Jr. He was handsome.
The debacle that was Woodstock 1999. (What a bunch of douchebags.) Dana Plato's death by drug overdose. Robert Downey Jr. Sentenced to three years in prison.
And then something completely Monty-Pythonesque: "New Flare-Up in U.S.-European Banana Fight." Or maybe those boys had more fun with Kansas cutting evolution from its science curriculum.
There's a map depicting how many juveniles were executed, or are on death row in each American state.
There are stories about diseases and viruses and cloning and celebrity deaths (RIP Mr. Belvedere). All sorts of stories. Some pages are crowded with overlapping headlines. Some have pages to themselves, or only have a couple of small stories scattered on the clean white sheet. It's an interesting collection. But I am glad I stopped when I did. The date reads August 25, 2001.
I am glad I stopped there because if I hadn't I might never have stopped at all. I might have shelves of sketch books filled with clippings. A catalog. I am glad I got whatever that was out of my system. I think about it now and again. This past week especially. Pedofiles in Congress, rapists attacking Amish girls, consequences of war and politics. I don't know if it is worse, or better or the same and just renewed or if it has sustained itself for all of this time, for all time forever. Maybe I stopped paying attention.
OK, not "maybe." I stopped paying attention soooomewhere around the priest sex scandal. Sure, I relapsed a little with the celebrity "news" and all but I've weaned myself off of that ... Mostly. I signed up for a month of The Tribune to help out some neighborhood kids with a fundraiser. I've been reading the paper on the way to work in the mornings. Now I save the news section for the ride home in the evening. It was too difficult to read about all of the horrible and confusing things going on that early in the morning. I like the funnies. Perhaps a story about different olive oils or a theater review. These are things I can think about at 9am. I save the hard stuff for the ride home. Gotta figure, hard to make a day worse right?
This compulsion, the reasoning is buried somewhere. I feel like part of My Job is to hold onto these things; keep notes. There's a reason, I just don't know what it is yet. But artists, we artists - those of us who are not merely content to sit and watch. Those of us who feel the need to transform our surroundings and realities, those of us who dissect and lead examined lives - at whatever level and with whatever means - we have a job. I think. Someday, all of the things we have been collecting in our brains: the images and stories, words and songs and sounds and numbers. We're meant to put them to some use you know.
And I know I just put some people off of their lunch by using the dreaded "a" word. Get a grip. I'm,like, the least pretentious person you know. It's not like I capitalized it or anything. I'm just saying. There are those people who are content to get up, go to work, go home, go to bed. Repeat. Then there are those of us who need a little more than that. We bear some responsibility, to take this all and make something of it. Perhaps bring some understanding, or at least a perspective. There are so many people out there afraid, or unwilling, to own up to their opinions. Those of us who have developed methods to our madness need to take the madness and make something of it.
If you live in reality you wind up with a lot of crap stuffed in your brain. You have to do something with it.