Should Erik Hagerman be envied or pitied?
I, for one, cannot decide.
Hagerman, 53, lives on a pig farm near Athens in southeastern Ohio. He made a bundle in the corporate world and, like a retro hippy, decided to “drop out” of the rat race three years ago. Now he is a kind of latter-day Henry David Thoreau, seeking solace and wisdom in his woodsy niche.
I learned about Hagerman in a wonderful feature story, “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” written by Sam Dolnick in the March 10 New York Times.
Hagerman not only dropped out from the rat race, he dropped out from all contact with anything going on in the world. He was so shaken and disgusted by the election of Donald Trump, he decided to become a kind of head-in-sand ostrich. He intended to tune out the news for just a few days, but now it’s been more than a year. He knows nothing about White House chaos or Robert Mueller or Stormy Daniels. He is oblivious to the Me Too movement, mass shootings, hurricanes, fires and other disasters.
Hagerman’s determined disengagement from the world of news is “draconian and complete,” as he told Dolnick. “It’s not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation,” he said. “It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust.”
When I read that, I burst out laughing because I could so relate to Hagerman’s attitude. Since Trump was elected I, too, have felt like banishing at least TV, if not newspapers and magazines. Just the sight and sound of that sneering, pouting, blustering charlatan, that Narcissist-in-Chief, has me lunging for the mute button and more often lately, the off button. On busy days when I keep the TV off, I feel so much better.
And it’s not just Trump. It’s an overload of everything: too many witless commercials, too many catastrophes man-made and otherwise, too many killings, too many scandals, too many noisy arguments from TV’s talking heads, too much cruelty to children and animals, too much trivial nonsense, too much of this, too much of that. Too much of everything.
But, alas, the “news junkie” in me keeps going back for more. My morbid curiosity about this floundering world is at least buoyed up by slender threads of hope, but those threads are getting slenderer the longer this president stays in power. This country, this world, in my opinion, would be infinitely better without big bad bully Trump at the helm, with someone like Hillary Clinton or John Kasich guiding the ship of state. Well, as they say, wish in one hand, dream in the other.
Almost like a choreographer, Hagerman has worked out a soft-shoe strategy for his no-news life. Friends and relatives keep any mention of any news from him. During conversations, they’ve learned to do a verbal tango around what’s in the news. In the morning, Hagerman drives into Athens for coffee and sits at the café, scrupulously avoiding any newspapers that may be hanging around. He admits he sometimes gets bored. Watching the weather all the time, he said, wears a little thin.
But then one day he discovered what he calls “The Lake.” It’s a 45-acre long-abandoned coal-mine property he bought near Athens. With the help of an ecologist friend, he is restoring those ravaged but beautiful woods, living in them, enjoying that lake and that land the way Thoreau famously loved Walden’s Pond. Hagerman will give the land to the public when he dies.
And that is the way Hagerman the newsless man decided to leave his mark on this world – to nurture a patch of nature back to health and give it to the people. Should we envy him? Pity him? Hard to say. But one thing’s for sure: In his extreme way, Hagerman is living his life in a way all of us wish for from time to time – a longing to free our stuffed minds and heavy hearts from – as poet William Wordsworth put it – a “world that is too much with us.”