I’m sitting in the gray light of a rainy Brisbane day. The street we live on is steep, so there’s a torrent rushing down the side of it adding to the music of falling rain, distant traffic, and the occasional squawk of an unhappily drenched crow.
It’s the first moment of stillness that I’ve had in a few days. I just cleaned house and I’m waiting for pizza dough to rise—now to reflect on the past few weeks. Ah, domesticity suits me… sort of.
We had Denver friends in town for a few days as they make their way on a round-the-world trip. It was fantastic seeing some faces from home and hearing news of people we know. We brought them to see a soccer game, checked out the beach at Surfer’s Paradise, and grilled some kangaroo on the barby. Also, one of them was accepted to veterinary school while here, so we had to celebrate a bit! Good things happen to those who visit us!
But now that they’re gone, it’s back to normal around here. R and I are taking an introductory painting class at the Brisbane Institute of Art. We’re both running a fair amount with an eye towards the Gold Coast Marathon in July (I’m also working on my barefoot running). And, of course, I am on the job hunt—and there have been some promising developments, but nothing concrete yet.
Mostly today, I am reflective. Rainy days do that. I have felt a profound desire to disconnect, leave facebook and stop compulsively reading the New York Times—to seek a more permanent state of stillness and focus. Of course, knowing almost nobody in Brisbane and being on the other side of the world makes that prospect a bit daunting. Reliance on the electronic world to connect you to all that’s familiar is a frightening form of dependence, which scares me so much I want to disconnect. Of course, disconnecting scares me too. But why should I be scared? What is more familiar than taking some time with yourself, without a computer screen or a movie, or podcast, or ipod—just you and your thoughts. Every time I am alone with my thoughts, I realize that I like them. I find them comforting. My brain keeps occupied and I don’t feel distracted.
Eventually, however, I wonder if I am missing out on something and it eats at me until I check in online. And then 20 minutes later, sated on information, I am left shamed by my lack of spine.
I know I am not the only one thinking this. These days, I get a sense of the tide turning away from connectedness. The New York Times recently discussed it, I have seen multiple facebook posts about disconnecting, and then there is this game. Twitter, facebook, text messages, blogs, and the like are all great for feeling connected but, as my friend Katie once said, “that shit ain’t real.”
People seem to want to reconnect with the wholesome – cooking, crafting, making a home; but they can’t let go of their online compulsions, so they combine the two. Have you seen the glut of cooking blogs, or Do-It-Yourself homemaking, or crafting these days? When I google “cooking blog” I get 306,000,000 results. It’s mind-blowing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the recipes, the crafts, and the sharing. I cook from recipes I find on blogs all the time, but you have to wonder, is all this homemaking-themed blogging an attempt to connect with something authentic and wholesome that we hold in our distant memories and yearn for but don’t really have? And, if you make the world’s most beautiful loaf of bread, photograph it, and share the recipe with your friends does that fulfill the authenticity-shaped hole in your life? Do you find wholesomeness and fulfillment? Or do you then check to see if anyone has commented on it or if the collective cyberworld “likes” your latest offering. It’s a messed-up, vicious cycle, people. I’m thinking of tapping out.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently did an article about one of my favorite authors, Sigurd Olson, who was a proponent of getting away, getting out, leaving the distractions of modern life in order to find ourselves and reunite with a peace and spirituality that becomes lost in the rush of life. He, and a number of other environmental thinkers/writers/poets have long forewarned us against the dangers of losing ourselves in society. See below:
One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards. – Edward Abbey
“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
― Sigurd F. Olson
My guess would be that someone someday will trace the roots of modern human loneliness to a loss of intimacy with place, to our many breaks with the physical Earth. We are not out there much anymore. Even when we are, we are often too quick to take things in. A member of the group who insists on lingering is “holding everyone else up.” I think about this kind of detachment from the physical world frequently, because human beings, generally, seem to long for a specific place, a certain geography that gives them a sense of well-being. – Barry Lopez, “Permafrost”
“for how many years have you gone through the house
shutting the windows,
while the rain was still five miles away and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north
away from you and you did not even know enough
to be sorry, you were glad
those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple, were sweeping on, elsewhere,
violent and electric and uncontrollable– and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget all enclosures, including the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf,
and will you dash finally, frantically, to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything
that is beyond capture, shouting
i’m here, i’m here! now, now, now, now, now.”
― Mary Oliver
These writers, for the most part, have written about a society that was moored. That was tied to a city, that was on a physical telephone line, but today society is everywhere. If you have a phone, chances are you’re connected to the internet, and with that link out there in cyberspace, the world connects to you whether you like it or not. You can’t just walk away from society, you have to walk away and turn off. People love to fault Aaron Ralston for his cavalier behavior in going into the canyons without telling people where he was, but damn if sometimes you don’t just want to go away and run the risk of really living your life without being connected, despite the potential consequences.
While I was hiking, recently, in Tasmania, my camera battery died. I began using my phone as a camera. We had no service, which I liked, so I could just snap a photo and put the camera away. But then one day, we hiked to the top of a mountain, and I turned on my camera to take a photo of R and I – smiling, happy, escaping from the world (I appreciate the hypocrisy of this after my earlier rant) and then my phone chimed. I had email. I got service atop a mountain. And rather than ignore it, I checked it. And my dog had died. No joke. So, you see, sometimes you just wish you weren’t connected.
I don’t have the answer on how to break away from the hyper-connectedness of today. I wish I did. I am starting with appreciating my experiences in the moment, rather than documenting them for future consumption by others. I think this is a good starting goal, and as I do it I’ll begin working towards fully disconnecting.
On that note, I need to get going – too much time on the web, too little time spent outside. The rain has stopped, and the birds are signing. Time to live life.