Last Friday, it was only when I was driving down the highway to my girlfriend’s house that I realized that I had hurricane news fatigue. That day I had gone into work and lost power shortly before the library was to be opened. Apparently, the electric company was trying to get a substation online that was underwater from the hurricane and it failed. After a day of no power, the night was coming on, my apartment was getting colder, and I was tired of waiting for the power to come back on.
In driving down the interstate, I saw a line of power trucks heading north and my eyes immediately misted up. I bit my lip to stop the tears as I looked at the long train heading in the other direction. The realization in the moments afterward was plain: I really needed a break from the hurricane and all its related news.
To be plain, I count myself very fortunate that was spared the worst of the storm. I lost power for about two hours on Monday night and that was the extent of it. Some parts of my town had no power for days. My friends and family were healthy and safe, albeit they had stories of flooding and power loss in and around them that they shared on Facebook and Twitter. If anything, I was experiencing the storm by immediate proxy.
The other half to the social media contingent was the news media aspect as they raced to add photos and updates about the tri-state (NJ-NY-CT) area. The pictures of cars floating in Manhattan dovetailed into the tremendous storm surge that devastated the Jersey shore region. It was to the latter that I found myself searching for images of, well, any of the beach areas that I had fond memories regarding. Anything to do with the Long Beach Island, the place where I spent many summer days from my birth to my late teens, to Atlantic City, the place just over the horizon from Stockton State College, to Seaside Heights, a place I discovered as a young adult.
What I found was just devastating: beaches gone, houses wrecked, boardwalks crumpled. The wrath of a storm had exacted its price from the land. An intense curiosity to find more along side a set of honed search skills, traits that are seen as highly desirable in librarian profession, soon became a liability. When I found more stories and images, it saddened me; when I couldn’t find something on a particular area, it provoked an anxious response and pushed me further to look harder.
Between the social media and my own searching, I was simply saturated in the hurricane news. When I wasn’t reading a friend’s update, I was scouring the New Jersey news outlets for pictures and particulars. Unthinking, I was diving too deep into the whole situation. Ultimately, it provoked a late night anxiety attack that had me reaching for the Xanax to quell.
In talking with my girlfriend about this whole series of events and coming to the eventual realization contained within this post, I had to wonder. I’ve seen some pretty nasty things online that remind me that humans are capable of real depravity. It bothered me, but not to the level that it has with the hurricane. The difference I feel is that this is personal. The other things, the wicked things people do to other living beings on this planet, is still abstract. It’s horrid, but it’s not anyplace I’ve ever been or seen. The storm damage is so very tangible as I look on at images at places I’ve been to and know. That is the difference, I think, and where my feelings have come on stronger and more intense. And so, I’m taking a bit of break and limiting how much I can search. So far, it’s been working.
I’ve been looking to pivot these feelings into action and see what I can do to help out. I may be tired of the scenes of devastation but I know that the people in those scenes are not afforded the same luxury of distance. NJLA has put together a donation fund to help out libraries and library systems that were hit by the storm. I emphatically encourage people to donate. I’m waiting to see what else I can do to help out when it comes to those libraries. In the meantime, I’m hopeful. It’s the one thing I can be.
(Note: Nancy Dowd wrote a lovely piece about her Jersey roots and the storm. It’s a good read as well as containing links to other ways to help out.)
I had the same reaction after Irene, where the damage was far worse for me on a personal level. This time I intentionally did not look for photos or news. The first few days that was easy–I had no power. On Thursday, when the power was back and I was at work, the steady stream of customers with stories provided me with more information than I needed or could process without getting overly emotional.
As you say, the devistation impacts me so much because these places and people are real to me. I am a new junkie–it is rare that I am not watching, reading, or looking for news. And like you, I wish I could find a way to make the feelings become an action, but even so, I have to shield myself to a certain extent.
Hang in there. Thanks for the information on the NJLA fund–that sounds like a good thing to check out.
Thanks, Cynthia! Hope things are going well in your part of the state.
I’m glad you and yours are ok. I’m on the south shore of LI where the stomping was heart breaking. The pictures of Staten Island and Lindenhurst, makes me want to cry just thinking about it. I lost power for three days, but my pattern of behavior was pretty much the same as yours, just on a the tiny screen of my phone. I’ll pass the link you posted along. Take care.
Thanks. And stay warm and safe up there!
Although I don’t have childhood memories of the Shore (despite having grown up in NJ), I understand the emotional impact. I had to turn the news off at a certain point last week because I couldn’t take more of it, either. It is truly heartbreaking. There are still so many people struggling because of the storm, in all parts of the state.
I’ve tried to use my info pro skills for good and not for evil. I happen to be a birder as well as an MLIS, so I started posting updates about access to NJ birding sites to one of my blogs. It’s hard to look at photos of places that I’ve visited (sometimes just a month or two or three ago) that are now almost unrecognizable. On the other hand, every site that is open or reopens is a piece of good news. And birders want the info (at least the ones who have internet and gas for the car). I guess that’s how I’m dealing with the emotional overload of post-Sandy news.
Anyway, thanks for this post and hang in there.