I turn my back to the wind,
To catch my breath,
Before I start off again,
Without a moment to spend,
To pass an evening,
With a drink and a friend…
– “Time Stand Still” by Rush
Dear reader, this past weekend I decided to take a short but much needed break from the internet and social media. My “mini-sabbatical” from all things digital came about from a deep sense of weariness and a need to reconnect with the real world, not the bizarro-fun house mirror world of social media. I spent much of Friday out amongst the living, and in fact spent most of my time outdoors in the beautiful sunshine. The rest of the weekend I spent reading and writing – more than I’ve written in some time I’m happy to report.
The primary goal of my excursion was to give me time to consider and meditate on my future and my journey. The disconnection from the internet and social media were essential. I maintain that it is impossible to ponder one’s life in anything like a meaningful way when we’re being bombarded by the cacophony of blings, bleeps, buzzes and warbles notifying us of a particularly vacuous picture we forgot to stare at dumbly, or a post worded is just such a way as to make us incandescent with rage over an issue we wouldn’t have given three seconds attention to previously.
This sabbatical was primarily an opportunity to recharge the creative batteries. Writing my own stunts as I do on a daily basis is not the easiest of tasks. Dreaming up 80+ gleaming words of discursive prose with which to harangue an otherwise innocent public requires a certain degree of creative stamina.
My temporary furlough also taught me some lessons – some of which I’m still processing. However, I share them here in the hopes that they may offer you some insight.
So what, pray tell, did I learn? Four things to be exact:
1. I failed.
Well, what I mean is, I didn’t go the entire weekend without internet. Early Sunday evening I went back in to check my emails. I wasn’t even consciously aware of the act. I quite honestly found myself staring at the open email program (with 73 blasted emails waiting!) with no memory of even having turned on the computer. I have a serious fear of losing control like that – an addict who does things so automatically that thought is no longer involved – so as a result, I am not happy with how that happened so unconsciously. I already battling addictions as it is (not alcohol or drugs thankfully) so I don’t need another. This will bear greater scrutiny methinks.
2. I really dislike email.
When I say “dislike” of course, I mean “repudiate and loathe with a passion exceeded only by the abomination that is a ‘Terry’s Chocolate Orange.'” Email is one of the most insidious devourers of productivity ever invented. Though I can’t boast of having reached the mythical state of “inbox zero” (the fact that such a concept exists should tell you something), I am quite fastidious about my emails, even having a separate address for mailing lists to keep things from becoming overwhelming. As I said, when I opened my email after just over 48 hours, I had 73 emails waiting for me. The worst part was, only four of them were actually of any use. The rest were basically junk mail. Suffice it to say I went on a bit of a mad purge, marking messages for the eternal hell of the “Junk” folder as fast as the computer could keep up.
3. I don’t read nearly enough.
I spent much of my time, even when I was out on the town, reading. There are few experiences more delightful and exquisite than sitting in a restaurant eating alone with a book to keep you company. Sheer bliss. Over this weekend however, I realized that I hadn’t been reading as much as I’d like. There was a stiffness, an hesitation similar to the way muscles feel when taking up a long abandoned activity. I do read regularly, but the internet – bless its cold little silicon heart – has trained me to read too quickly. I don’t skim, as many netizens are said to do, but I read too quickly to absorb. It’s like eating a great meal – you need to slow down and savour every bite, not wolf it down like your life depends on it. Reading is no different. Give the words time to penetrate. Savour the structure, the subtle ways in which the author brings his or her work to life.
4. I need to set my artist free.
I’ve spent so long struggling to make a living and survive, I’ve held back the artist within me, the person who just wants to write for the sake of creating something beautiful that never existed before. The practical side is important of course, always ensuring that I’m making a living and eating (semi) regularly, but the artist just wants to create, and suppressing it is as unhealthy as it is unpleasant. Even here, on this site where the only restrictions are self-imposed, I’ve held back my artist side, not allowing the true fruits of my literary labours. It’s absurd and counterproductive. I look forward to sharing some of the more creative work I’ve held back for so long. Watch this space.
Disconnecting from time to time is absolutely essential in our digitally-drowned age. The low-level static of the internet and social media give us no break, no space in which to formulate our own ideas. Between emails, text messages, tweets and posts we don’t stop to simply listen to our own thoughts. Being suddenly thrust into (relative) silence is both shocking and incredibly peaceful.
My next step is to do a full disconnect – a weekend in a small cottage in the country. No email, no computer, no cellphone. Just a weekend of relaxation and writing with pencil, paper, books and Mother Nature’s beautiful soundtrack. I don’t know when that will be possible, but every day I get a little closer.
Ladies and gentlehumans, the world-wide-inter-web-net is full of wonder and strangeness, but sometimes, you just need to turn it all off and hear yourself think. You might be surprised at what you discover.