Backing Off

Charles M. Blow wrote the following in the New York Times after the 50-day mark of the Trump presidency: “There is no new Trump.

There is only the same old Trump: Dangerous and unpredictable, gauche and greedy, temperamentally unsuited and emotionally unsound.” Enough said. It is time to change the subject. I am making myself crazy, and that can be a contagious condition.

A funny thing happened last weekend. I had talked to Meredith and our kids (Kids? Ages 28 to 24) about putting together a family meeting to talk about my anger excesses during and after my two bouts of cancer. I had written about that in the Times in 2002.

“My head was down, and I was not seeing the people around me. I had assumed that the children would rejoice in my presence. They shrank in horror. My fangs were bared, and they were sharp.

Do your homework, turn off the music! I snarled. ‘Clean up that mess! Don’t leave it for your mother and me.

The kids had unloaded on me in that Cases column in the Science Times. On Sunday, Meredith and I sat with Ben and Lily, who were in town for a short visit. We got Gabe on a speakerphone, calling in from Seattle.   Our conversation was friendly, frank and forgiving. This was fifteen years later, and perspective took over. The conversation was for my new book. It brought back old memories, and our talk stayed with me.

Today, we are trapped in the moment in our national conversation about our lives. We are getting knocked around by high emotion. Those of us living with serious sickness must process our own frustrations. We operate on overload. That is not as healthy way to live. I am trying to disengage from politics. Trump is not going to change and I assume, neither are we. I cannot stop caring, but I do not have to bathe in my contempt. Now I am content with the newspaper in the morning. The television is off. Soon my sanity may return.





25 Responses to Backing Off

  1. Andrew April 12, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    Good luck with that. Let us know if it works. Significantly reducing consumption of news and commentary to regain sanity and emotional equilibrium sounds like trying to quit smoking (as I’ve been told by those who struggled to do so.) I keep thinking it’s a good idea as I listen to Rachel Madow on the tube while reading Dan Rather online with the latest copies of The Atlantic and The Nation setting under Matt Taibbi’s book on the table next to me. Cold turkey is frightening. Maybe I can start by just looking at the cartoons in the latest New Yorker?

    • Richard Cohen April 12, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      Well I am going to disengage. Then I will empty the ocean with a juice glass and flap my arms and fly to the islands.


      • Yvonne April 13, 2017 at 11:23 pm #

        Exactly! Fantasy goals LOL

  2. Pat Harper April 12, 2017 at 6:25 am #

    I disagree with this, Richard. The fiery incentive to stay on top of events reminds me of the mid-70s and unfolding, slow-motion “Watergate”. This rapt attention is, in my mind, a good thing if only as a distraction from what we deal with in this disease. Having that energy is a positive if, and only if, one uses it as motivation to fight that with which we disagree. Increases the blood flow, gives a focus, reminds us that we do make a difference. We’re not just victims of some inexorable tide, spending our days merely noting and documenting an inevitable downward spiral. No! We are here. Now. We are needed. This is a net positive, in my opinion. You, my virtual friend, have been in the vanguard of that mindset for…well, forever. We need folks who have a rational mindset, who remember that it wasn’t always this way and can be better, to be involved, to speak out. Folks like you. All respect and (of course) deference to your personal needs and desires, but please consider that as well. I’m reminded of the line in the film, “Cool Hand Luke”…”Get mad at ‘dem damn eggs!”

    • Richard Cohen April 12, 2017 at 8:33 am #

      I think we have a failure to communicate going here. My fault. I am not going to disengage. If I am lucky, I will succeed in pulling back just a little. I was in the Watergate Hearings for ABC News every day. I loved it. I was 25 and thrived on the collective anxiety. I do think there is more at stake for the many now. You could not find anyone who admitted voting for Nixon in 1972. I wonder if that will hold true with Trump.


  3. Jan April 12, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    No time to comment however be aware there’s a very interesting health care section in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled, “Squaring Off.”

  4. Riley Jason April 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    I would like to back off, to disengage, head off to a retreat and not be confronted with the daily onslaught. I am disheartened. I worry about the issue that directly affects me: Healthcare, Medicare especially. But I am horrified by the redistribution of money, the rending asunder of important human programs, not only for me, but for everyone. I am always touched by your including your family in the discussion. It’s astonishing that your kids are in their twenties. “I’m getting older, too…”
    Glad you’re still here.

    • Richard Cohen April 13, 2017 at 10:28 am #

      Hey, Riley-

      Little kids get bigger and better.

      Stay strong.


  5. Jan April 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    Personally I think there can be merit in pulling back from certain forms of technology for a while to regain doable perspective, efficacy.

    Not to fully or permanently disengage, but to get a better grip on perspective and our aim on to make some impact in this crazy world.

  6. Dale April 13, 2017 at 12:57 am #

    Outside…. Forest. Ocean. A clear night sky wondering what lies beyond. Nature gives us one of the most effective paths to disengagement. And perspective.

    • Richard Cohen April 13, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      So does weed.


      • Yvonne April 13, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

        Isn’t weed nature? 🙂

      • Dale April 13, 2017 at 11:58 pm #

        Legal here now in MA. But no town has the guts to cash in on it yet at least on the cape. Probably easier to get at the schools. Did you know it’s illegal to take any on the ferry or plane to the islands? There’s no dispensaries on either MV or Nantucket so theoretically they have to leave it in America. Under federal law illegal to transport marijuana by boat or plane. Even medicinal. Go figure.

  7. Pat Harper April 13, 2017 at 6:34 am #

    Excellent. I am well aware of your pedigree and credentials, especially as concerns the Watergate time. I, too was greedily absorbing any scrap of information and you couldn’t pry me away from the televised hearings. Don’t know what you think of Hunter Thompson’s political writing (I’m a big fan), but when he chose to take his own life with President George W. Bush’s time in office not yet over, I felt a bit of betrayal mixed with the great sense of loss. I know, he, too was allowed his own personal life, but I felt that to have chosen that, at that time, was a betrayal. We needed him to continue his commentary and, by shining a light on it, to help contain that with which we disagreed. I felt somewhat the same when I read your post about stepping back. Very glad to learn that I over-read. We need folks to rail against the wrongs. You’re one of them. Can’t spare you. Damn few of us left… Be well, Richard. Keep on keeping on my virtual friend.

    • Richard Cohen April 13, 2017 at 10:36 am #

      Fear and Loathing in the Voting Booth. HST is missed. Time off to tune out is a temporary fix, but it is important. Refreshment, not resignation.


  8. Yvonne April 13, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

    This whole circus, oops, I mean election, has caused many an ardent political junkie to pull back. The flaws in the process have been magnified so disappointment turns to disgust for many of us. We will recover but it will take time to believe that to be true with the current administration. So while we wait, we bitch.

  9. Christopher April 15, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

    It’s nearly impossible to disengage when it’s part of your DNA to be engaged.

    This reminds me of when I had to learn to take a back seat to others more able-bodied because my tenacity was just causing me to suffer more. I can still pay attention, but the help facilitates a better way to navigate the obstacles. Definitely no one would say you don’t care, Richard. But maybe you could have faith that the rest of us are working to navigate the boat we’re all in through those huge obstacles. We don’t mind… really.

    Here’s an example:

    • Richard Cohen April 26, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

      You are right, and I am stuck with my DNA.


  10. Dale April 21, 2017 at 12:06 am #

    Hey Richard, my oldest is going to Tufts in the fall for grad school. Went to Jumbo Day today for admitted students, discovered Meredith went there too! What a campus, the hills are beautiful but I might need to find a turbo for the wheelchair. The buildings were really attentive to being handicapped accessible.

    • Richard Cohen April 26, 2017 at 4:13 pm #

      Meredith hated Tufts. Never understood that one. Great school. I went to grad school at Columbia. I tell Meredith if she had worked harder at Tufts, she might have found a graduate program that would accept her. She never laughs at that.


  11. Louisa April 21, 2017 at 8:27 am #

    Congratulations, Dale. Great school.

    • Dale April 26, 2017 at 12:33 am #

      Thanks, she’s really looking forward to it. Funny I never realized the connection to PT Barnum therein the elephant mascot. It was fun seeing Meredith’s name among the famous alumni. Josh Gates too, the Expedition Unknown guy. Such a happy soul, once we’re all cured I plan on tagging along with him on one of his adventures.

  12. Dale April 25, 2017 at 12:32 am #

    Thanks, she’s excited about it. Now to find housing…. 🙂

  13. Christopher April 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    If you are interested in MS research news, below is a link to an article on new information about the cause of MS. It’s important in a number of ways, but foremost is that MS is more complex than previously thought and may not be a purely autoimmune condition.

  14. Rita May 4, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    Thanksfor that article Christopher.