The Teas That Bind

On my epic journey home to the frozen north today I read a book called The Teas That Bind by J.C. Greenway (@tenminuteshate).

It’s not my usual sort of book but I’ve been following Joanne on Twitter for a while and decided to purchase it to support another self-published writer.  I’m very glad I did.  I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be as moving as it was. 

It was a difficult book to read – most of the contents were written at the time of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and are collated here (I suspect) almost exactly as they were back then, with minimal reflection and without hindsight.  As a result, what you get is a very real and palpable sense of frustration, sadness and helplessness.  There’s a weird surreal feeling to it, like the anecdote about the little old man out sweeping the streets with his dustpan and brush in the middle of the night.  As a very visual reader I found my eyes prickling with tears at the thought of all those school children facing empty seats and desks every day as a constant reminder of the friends that they lost.  I could see it in my minds eye and it ached.  I also admit to being frustrated that without wifi (I was on a plane) I couldn’t follow the links provided for further information and I wanted to know more, to see the stories that inspired the posts.

I also find the writer’s decision to up sticks and move to Japan, and then to stay there with everything that was going on, incredibly inspiring.  I’ve thought about emigrating, I’ve even talked about it, but to actually do it?  I’m not sure I’m that brave.  It takes great strength of principle to do something so extreme and stick to it, yet throughout the book runs a current of humility.  The author is aware that she is not learning the language, that she’s feeling misplaced pride for visiting tourist destinations off the beaten track.

By far and away what surprised me the most was how thought provoking the book was.  Usually when I finish a book I just pick up and start the next one but on this occasion I switched my kindle off and spent the remainder of the flight deep in thought.  Many years ago I read a book called State of Fear by Michael Crichton and it profoundly affected my view of the media.  Although I try to keep abreast of the news, I now take everything I see or read with a pinch of salt and am occasionally amused by the sheer transparency of the media’s attempts to manipulate the public.  Case in point – I predicted several days before the announcement was made that Libya was going to be “invaded”.  How did I know?  Because for a couple of weeks the news had suddenly been filled with stories of atrocities committed by the ruling regime in Libya.  It had been singled out from the Arab Spring and reported on over and above the news of what was happening in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia for the sole purpose of putting the public in the right frame of mind to accept the decision of the government here to intercede on behalf of the rebels.  It never occurred to me to think that reports of the devastation in Japan were wildly hysterical.  While the northern areas were almost flattened and the death toll was in the tens of thousands, over here we were being whipped into a state of frenzy over the issues at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  There was widespread panic as people tried to contact their loved ones over there and tried to persuade them to come home, not really understanding that actually they were safe and well in Tokyo.  It should have occurred to me.  I’ve been a media cynic for 6 or 7 years.  It made me stop and think what other events have been twisted and tweaked to make better news stories, over and above the catastrophe in Japan and, in the case of State of Fear, the issue of global warming.  I found myself contemplating what is wrong with the human psyche that we allow ourselves to be governed and manipulated by an addiction to bad news.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever have an answer.

But that, I suppose, is part of the point of the book and also the blog (Ten Minutes Hate).  There’s an honesty to social media that is unassailable by the media and it’s something we need to learn about.  Instead of being the sheep that follow the news, perhaps we should try a little more social contact.  We should speak to the people that are there, the people that are living the news.  I no longer want to be governed by the hysterical circus that fills our screens.  Is a little honesty too much to ask?

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