Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Offline Appetite

I just finished reading Jane Eyre for the first time. I happily contemplated Jane’s two mile walks without ear buds, no impulse to start Runkeeper or snap a photo of the blossoming crepe myrtle. An imagined interruption of that kind, her pausing to comment on a friend’s selfie at Starbucks, amused me. It erodes that carefully cultivated image I have of her deep-rooted virtues made possible by difficult work. I closed the book now and then and wondered if we can still yearn for things and for people when we churn our experiences and thoughts onto social media just minutes after they drip into our laps. I think there is a place for waiting & withholding and I wonder what that should look like for me. How it could look like.

I love how summer pulls us away from the screens. A pool or a lake haven’t yet caved to accommodate the iPhone, at least not if we want to have much fun. All the long hours of sunlight urge us to venture to the park, take a walk with the family, or sit on the porch past dusk even when it means cursing mosquitos. Last week, at my in-laws’, I took several trips to the hammock to lose myself in a canopy of green leaves and soft blue. Its lull away from all those things blazing bright inside my phone’s screen was a very welcome and mysterious one.  

I want to build better boundaries. Thomas may talk a million words on a screen-less trip across Missouri, but it’s a delight worth the work. It is easy to let Netflix finish the day, Paul on one couch and me on the other, but I would rather argue with him over how to spend that chunk of money we have set aside than let the time roll by untapped. I want to weave in intentional work to preserve the time I have with my loved ones.  It is so easy to cave.

Twinsies (Thomas and his Papa.)
My answer for feeling good about all that noise online is to stop thinking about all that noise online, or at least for chunks at a time. An easy step, a first step, is saying no. It’s as if I give myself permission: you don’t have to bring the phone with you. And then I have a little arguing with myself and finally a voice wins with, “Really? No one cares!”  Baby steps in cleaning up my mental diet are walking without the phone, going to bed with the phone in the other room, heck, just leaving it alone for a bit.

I have to wonder when I’m scrolling feeds, is there something that I need: love? attention? affirmation? connection? answers? a sense of achievement? community? If I’m able to answer that question and my time and attention isn’t already needed elsewhere, the world wide can be a wonderful thing. Truly! But if and when I’m distracting myself away, splintering my love, attention, focus and all for something mindless, I have truly missed out on the blessings right in front of me. Gifts that are not promised for any other future moment than the one I'm inside.

If time online leaves me feeling empty or fake or unsatisfied or chained, I must feast on other things. Namely, nature. Easily, family. Predictably, books. But other things too. Things that take more work, things that require a little more simmering and self-control, a little more time to grow before bearing fruit.

My heart is craving a healthier offline appetite. The salad doesn't always sound good, but McDonald’s just isn’t leaving me full.

As they say, moderation in everything. And yet, I don't think you can get too much time like this--- in the woods with family. Delicious! Seconds please.

When we talk about Facebook and blogs and Instagram and all the things online and how they aren't good, let's turn our gaze to the things that are. I know my garden needs a bit of care, that I live in a neighborhood shaded by trees, and I have hundreds of recipes calling my name and a four year old happy to play sous chef. I don't feel disheartened by the things in screens, but I do know their power to fix us quick, sell us cheap & to slice up a mystery that sometimes would be better left savored elsewhere & by someone else. It's the good things that our attention should be fixed on, those things that usually take a lot of quiet, invisible, tiring work but with a greater, fuller, satisfying reward. Sure, screens vs. our time away from them isn't a fate of either/or, but it definitely can't be all, all the time.

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