Like most of the writers I know, I don't sleep well.
This is probably because when you're a writer, your mind never entirely shuts off. When it isn't busy whirring away on your next literary project(s), it is almost certainly seeking material that can inspire it to produce something new. Even when you don't think your mental
roamings are going to build up to anything - even when you sincerely believe, for example, that your aimless wanderings through online news sites are nothing more than the diversions of a sleep-addled mind - on a subconscious level, your brain is always seeking fuel to feed its bottomless hunger for new excuses to employ the written word.
If you're lucky, what you find will be intriguing, entertaining, or even uplifting. If you aren't so fortunate, you'll wind up stumbling across stories like these from the headlines of May 2, 2012:
- A right-wing milita leader with Nazi sympathies and an avowed hatred of illegal immigrants murdered four people outside of Phoenix before turning his gun on himself. One of his victims was a toddler girl.
- In Egypt, eleven people were killed during a clash between protesters supporting an ultraconservative Islamist preacher and a group of unknown attackers. The Muslim Brotherhood and other influential Egyptian political parties have used this as an excuse to boycott meetings with military leaders to draft a constitution, thus furthering that nation's dangerous instability less than a month before a critical presidential election.
- In Oceanside, CA, football star Junior Seau was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A beloved player as well as legendary linebacker, Seau showed no signs of depression, leaving his friends and family mystified as well as distraught. His devastated mother was quoted asking, "Junior, why you never tell me?"
- An engineering student at the University of California San Diego was hospitalized after agents at the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) accidentally left him handcuffed in a cell for five days. After being rounded up in a drug raid, the young man had been cleared of any wrongdoing and was told that he would be shortly taken home. The DEA officials then forgot he was there, leaving him without food or water and forcing him to survive by drinking his own urine.
- At the trial of erstwhile presidential candidate John Edwards, a former staffer testified as to his wife's reaction upon learning that he had been having an affair. The ex-aide recounted how Elizabeth Edwards - then in the midst of a battle against cancer she would ultimately lose - tore at her clothing and exposed her chest while telling her husband, "You don't see me anymore." As this story was being relayed to the court, one of John Edwards's daughters left the room in tears.
Each of those anecdotes could easily be used as the focus for an op-ed piece that would do credit to PolicyMic's reputation for informed and lucid commentary. Middle Eastern politics, racism and xenophobia, violations of civil liberties, political sex scandals, celebrity suicides - these are the ores from which skilled writers can mine great insights or, failing that, pound out crowd pleasing polemics.
Woven together, however, these stories simply remind me that behind every polished editorial, there is real human suffering. It is easy to overlook that these days, residing as we do at a time when slick talking points and :30 second sound bytes trump thoughtful reflection. This is especially true for anyone who regularly writes and/or talks about political and social issues; after a while, even the most sensitive pundits find that their emotional sensoria have been numbed by the deluge of tragedies they constantly hear about and discuss.
While the potential for editorializing may seem clear in the light of day, though, at night the human reality of it all can settle in. Once that happens, all that comes to mind is the great question Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote for Sherlock Holmes:
"What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? That is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever."