Unplugging (Or How Often Do You Think About Going On The Internet In One Hour?)
When you see a * it means I thought about checking FB or email. When you see a *** it means I fought and lost.
I do not have ADD or OCD. I’ve always been a highly focused, project-oriented person, and not a big fan of multi-tasking. I like to choose something, give it everything I’ve got, and then move on to the next thing. For the last five years, however, I have been writing four books. I don’t recommend this, unless you have a committed and long-term writing practice.
* I don’t really recommend it even if you do. It’s a fractured way of going about the writing life. But it’s what I had the heart for. Sort of an eeny meeny miney moe. Each one provided different oxygen and I am grateful for the stories they helped me breathe alive. I’ve completed two of these projects and am hoping they will see the light of day before too long. But in that fracture, I allowed something pretty corrosive to leak in: the Internet. *
The Internet is a writer’s friend and a writer’s enemy. It gives us community and support in an otherwise very solitary profession. Just ask my 4,000+ Facebook friends. (Many of them are writers I’ve never met before, but if they asked me to help get the word out about their writing, my answer would probably be, “of course.” *It’s a generous platform, especially for writers. But the Internet is also a big problem for writers. We’d be fools not to use its powerful tentacles. Blogs, guest blogs, interviews, videos, podcasts, webinars … makes my brain hurt just thinking about all the ways I haven’t used it, but even the most Internet savvy writer out there still lies in bed wondering if they’ve done enough to promote their work and if they’ve given their stories the oxygen they deserve once they have life. I’m fairly sure there isn’t a writer out there who at the end of the day says, “Yup — I did it all. I am fully cyberly self-expressed. Check.” ***
I miss the days when the only buttons I pushed were on my keyboard, writing books and essays. I never had leaks. Maybe the muse would pause for a cup of tea or a walk with the dog, but when I wasn’t mothering, I was pretty much writing. It was heaven. Now, approximately every 30 seconds (I timed myself), I think about the Internet. That email I forgot to respond to. *That blog post I should write. *Oh, and I wonder who’s got an interesting article up on Facebook that might inspire the muse, or how my friend’s new pug is today on Instagram, *or what witty thing that poet I follow is Tweeting about. *I’ve let the internet fracture what was already a fractured writing practice, divided by four books. I lead writing retreats where people unplug and write for five days in the splendor of Montana, unplugged. I need to do the same. I need to reclaim my focus and luxuriate in it.
It’s not like I’m not writing. It’s that I’m writing in too many directions. A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed a good old fashioned lock down. Somewhere with no Internet service. Somewhere I don’t recognize. In a place I am not responsible for. I needed to remind myself who I am when I’m totally focused on one large project. *So I chose one of my books which needed to be edited from top to bottom, and drove to a remote town in Montana to a cabin on a country road called Sweathouse Lane. And that’s what I did. Sweat. (Blood and tears included). I brought enough food for a few days, my laptop, my journal, and a change of clothes. That’s it. I made sure my cellphone wouldn’t get service. *I made sure I couldn’t get anywhere near the Internet. And I worked. For 18 solid hours I worked on one… project.
At first it was sort of a Goldie Locks feeling. I found myself pacing around the kitchen. No one to interrupt me. Nothing for me to interrupt. I sat on the living room couch. Too soft. Sat at the kitchen table. Too hard. Sat on the front porch. Too hot. And so, as I often do, I took to the bed. Basically, I didn’t move from that bed except for ablutionary reasons, for 18 hours. I couldn’t believe how freeing it felt. Without the temptation of the Internet, *I was able to hold all 350 pages of my novel in my head and heart and balance it all until it felt stable. Whole.
Whether or not you are a writer, I challenge you to sit down for one hour and write something … something inspiring with a good lesson at the end … even if it’s just for your eyes only … and notice how many times you think about going on the Internet. *It might be one of the most powerful exercises of your life, because it might show you something about yourself and how your brain works. Especially, where the leaks are. I’ve learned in this hour that I think about the Internet when I’m pausing, or when I’m trying to find the courage to go deeper into my thoughts. That’s scary. Because it means that the Internet has become my binkie. And that’s when I’m trying to focus. What would happen if I did this experiment when I wasn’t trying to focus? Say, stuck in gridlocked traffic. Or lying on the beach on a summer day, trying to relax. If we are constantly checking the Internet, are we ever totally focused, never mind totally unwinding? Are we ever really taking a day off? Do we have to go to a remote cabin with no wifi in order to remember what it really is to pause? Or sit on a meditation mat? The ultimate challenge would be to see how many times you think about plugging in to the internet on a meditation mat! I’m too chicken to try that one.
When the Hindus are trying to separate from their thoughts and transcend worldly attachments they say “Neti neti,” which is Sanskrit for not this, not this. In my attempts at meditation, I say “Neti, Neti” as much as I’m showing asterisks here in this essay. I wonder if there’s an emoji for neti neti? *
I have simply got to make my time around computers more yogic. I have got to designate email time and social media time to definitive slots and take vows to observe them. Or my mind is going to become permanently fractured and my writing (and my life) will reflect it. For now, I’m going to take a walk with my dog. No phone. Neti Neti. *Neti.
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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on July 14, 2016.