The Accidental Unplug

Due to a billing glitch, I’ve been without a cell phone for the last several days. I had no idea how dependent on that stupid little hand-held electronic gadget I’d become.

It takes me back to, oh, 1980 or so, when microwave ovens started becoming very popular. “Who on earth needs one of those?” I said. I didn’t get one until after my son was born in 1988, and even then I was scared to heat his bottles in it because of some story I’d heard somewhere about radiation or exoplanetary death rays or something. Now, of course, it would be difficult to live without a microwave. I almost did, back when I took my kids and left the Troll, taking few kitchen implements and little money, but my mom showed up at the doorstep of my new apartment with several bags of badly needed groceries, cleaning supplies, and — ta-daah! — a microwave oven. Moms, keeping us clean, fed, and civilized, since forever.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m seeing all these cool people with their cell phones, on their hips in holsters, like six-shooters. “Good lord, no,” I said, more than once. I don’t like talking on the phone and will avoid it even when I’m stuck in the same room with one; why in hell do I want one everywhere I go? When I got my very first apartment, I didn’t have a phone, because the phone company wanted an outrageous deposit even though I worked for them. I didn’t care, but my mother was appalled. “What if a rapist breaks in? How will you call the police?” Umm right, Mom. I’m sure the rapist will stop and let me call the police, then rape me. Maybe I can hit him over the head with the phone. Whatever. Mom gave me the money for the deposit, I got a phone, and my world has seldom been entirely quiet since.

It looked exactly like this. Exactly. Even the color. It was usually unplugged. If people really wanted to talk to me, they could come over. Yes, I am an introvert. No, I never had to hit a burglar over the head with it, although I did throw it at a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend once.

Public Domain.

And eventually, like pretty much everyone I know, I gave in to the cell phone. The whole shebang, with music and the ‘net and a picture of the French raspberry tart I’m having for dessert and apps for every damn thing you can think of. I succumbed.

Just how far, I had not known.

So here I am, these last few days. No cell service. No checking email. No balance alerts from my bank. No playing Dumb Ways To Die while waiting for the bus. No Metro app, or plugging into Pandora to shut out the obnoxious drunk three rows behind me. No online Washington Post. No texting Monster when we’re both supposed to be working. No texting Dream Girl about what she wants for dinner and why she has to, for a few months more at least, consider finding x to be one of life’s most important missions. No graphing calculator website. No setting appointments and reminder alarms. No texts from the Tominator reminding me that I’m gawjuss. No writing flash fiction. No looking up microwave ovens on Google to see if they transmit radiation into baby bottles. No reserving books at the library, or putting my book down to look up an unfamiliar word or term. And if it weren’t for the small screen and my getting-old eyes, I’d read books on my phone too.

Just about the only thing I don’t do with my phone is talk. Some things don’t change.

Still. It’s a monster.

I’m maintaining well, all things considered. We switched from monthly plans for three different lines to a family plan, and the company ignored the two weeks we’d already prepaid and moved our payment due date up, but didn’t tell us any of that. Surprise, no phone! Yes, the Tominator talked to the nice woman at the local provider store (because the rep at 1-800-WE-SUCK cared not a whit) and got us the credit we deserve. But there’s all that inconvenience, all that missed communication, all that withdrawal. A credit, yes, thank you so much for the credit, but what about these days I’ve had to slog through with no phone? You can’t give that back to me!

Wait…give what back?

Well, instead of playing Zombie Highway at the Metro stop, I looked around at the trees and the morning sky and the moon, hanging low and fading. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping. Instead of writing flash fiction in Google Docs, I wrote in a notebook, with a pen, and laughed because it felt like I was trying to draw hieroglyphs. I left the Tominator a note with x’s and o’s, instead of sending a text with a heart emoji. I read a real book, that smelled like binding glue and dusty paper and had that wondrous, solid, secret, book feel in my hands. OK, I do that a lot anyway, but still. It felt so 2005, you know? I checked email on my laptop at home. I didn’t read the news at all, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much. I know the world didn’t end; it’s right there, outside my window. I didn’t see one word about Kim Kardashian anywhere. I feel lighter of heart.

Tomorrow is payday, and I should have my phone back in service.


But I do need to call my mom.

#1000Speak: When Less is More

The theme for this month’s #1000Speak is nuturing. Once again, I was having trouble thinking of something to write. There is so much out there about nurturing others. We spend a great deal of time nurturing others, from our children, to our spouses, to our aging parents, to others in our churches, groups of friends, support groups, students, online communities, even co-workers at times. What we often don’t get enough of is self-nurturing, taking the time to care for ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. For me, this would be an evening out with The Tominator, or a favorite album with some wine and a home pedicure, or tending the little container garden on my apartment deck.

Gardeners have known for a long time that digging in the dirt replenishes the soul, and a recent study has shown that there are antidepressant microbes in soil. The science behind the magic. But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. Where I spend a lot of my time studying or researching and writing papers or blogging, there is a beautifully simple view out of my window. It’s a tree, a maple tree, four stories high and full, with spreading branches and myriad leaves. The tree spreads over the entirety of my window, with the corner rail of the deck visible at the bottom. My view is filled with leaves made shimmering by the breeze, with flashes of azure in between, birds flitting in an out, and a few flowers accenting the lower corner, petunias and pansies and snapdragons looking sleepy in the sun. I don’t need to see anything else. This is what fills my vision right now as I write this, and it is lovely, although the snapdragons need water. It reminds me of sitting inside a full and lush weeping willow as a child, hidden in a verdant cave that whispered to me while it sheltered me from the world. Secret and safe.

We live in a world of bytes, millions and billions of them floating through the aether and the cybersphere most of us are connected to these days. Not too long ago I created my own Twitter account, admittedly with some misgivings. I have enough problems with my Facebook news feed, post after post of other people’s crocheting projects and political memes (some of them quite bigoted, but that’s another post) and game invitations and endless adorable baby animals and teenagers’ vague angst and photos of other people’s dinner and uplifting quote after uplifting quote, which are admittedly better than hateful ones, but one after the other, they stop meaning anything. Studies have shown that when we see endless posts about the wonderfulness of other people’s lives and children, we start to feel depressed, like we can never live up to those standards and we simply aren’t good enough. When I first opened my Twitter account, the few times I looked at my home page I saw an endless stream of cleverness, hyperbole, political ranting, pop culture one-liners, all in 140 characters or less, from people I don’t even know. I felt bombarded and I haven’t looked at it since. I’m particular about who I follow. The Dalai Lama says little, but what he says, matters.
Even the news gets to me. I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper that wasn’t free; like so many other people, I get my news from the Internet. The difference is that I still end up feeling inundated with negativity, the scope has increased from the local newspaper to the entire country, and I don’t even get the crossword puzzle as a consolation prize. A newborn baby found in the trash in New Jersey, four people dead in a car crash in Las Vegas, a house fire in Chicago, another police officer and excessive force in Milwaukee, yet another bombing in Afghanistan, a gas pipeline explosion in Los Angeles, the snatching and murder of a little girl in Poland, not to mention the endless stream of ads for things to help me lose weight, erase my wrinkles, cover my gray, dress like a hot young thing, and not least an advertisement claiming I can “stop worrying about poor self image” by using their product instead of just not trying to live up to these assclown standards in the first place. Yes, I care about what goes on this world and I consider myself an activist for a couple of causes I care very much about, but the truth is, the deluge of bad news I can do nothing about is downright depressing and, in the end, bad for my health.
Stop it already.
Sometimes you have to shut it off. Unplug. Withdraw. Nurturing does not always have to be an activity. Frequently, nurturing is a passivity. It is not being connected, it is not being involved, it is not responding to the world’s constant pressure to do and act and have our awareness raised and achieve and accomplish and above all to be as good as all these things make us think everybody else is. It is finding the weeping willow tree in my mind and crawling inside and doing nothing else but sitting against its strong trunk, fingers pressed into the dirt and bare toes curling into the grass, and not coming out until I can feel that secret cool greenness in my very soul.
I’m not saying that Facebook and Twitter and the Internet are bad. Facebook is a great way to stay connected with the people I love who are far away. Twitter has proven very useful for keeping up with my beloved 49ers. Used correctly and judiciously, the Internet is a world of information at my fingertips for research papers and just random things I want to know about, like what are the little plastic tabs on bread packages called, or the syncronicity of stumbling upon the unfamiliar word sophrosyne and using my phone to learn that, in a way, it’s the whole point of 1000 Voices for Compassion.
Nurture yourself. Turn off the TV and power down your computer and your tablet and your phone. Step back. Disengage.
Breathe in the quiet. Breathe in the you.
(P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @99_Monkees. I promise I won’t pepper you with silly stuff.)
(P.P.S. The little plastic tabs on bread packages are called bread tabs, bread tags, bread clips, or bread climps, and they were invented in 1952 by Fred Paxton of Selah, Washington. They are also color-coded by day of the week, so if you buy by color, you can get the freshest loaf. However, different brands use different colors for different days, so you’re still best off to check the date printed on the plastic thingie. You’re welcome.)

Photo credit:
Willow tree, Geaugagrrl, Public Domain