First… Kristin in Franklin County, you won the Fire Cider! Just tell me where to send the goods. And thank you to everyone who entered.
Last week, I had the great fortune to spend a week at one of my new favorite places, the Spruceton Inn. It was a really great week. I got loads done and came back with some new inspiration, too. There was so much about the week that made good, but one of the lucky factors is that being 3 miles down a dead end road in the Catskills, the Spruceton Inn has very little internet and no cell service.
I try not to do too much internet hand wringing, although I find it’s easy to slip into it. I think most of us have a complicated relationship to these great wide webs, and whenever I try to write about it even for myself, the wringing begins again. But somehow with the space away from it, I was able to think about the internet a little differently, and I thought I’d share some of those thoughts here.
When I was a kid, I lived in a house where the mailbox was across the street.
I loved checking the mail.
I was the kind of kid who sent away for stuff whenever I could. I was obsessed with the idea of vacations, and as this was the time before the internet, there was still such a thing as vacation pamphlets, which, if you’re younger than me or just were never into vacationing, were full color brochures about cruises or islands or that sort of thing, and although usually people looked at them at travel agencies (remember those?), you could also send away for the brochures through ads in the back of magazines, and this is what I did. I had a stack of these in my room, and for fun I’d plan out and price vacations. I did the same thing with catalogues. I loved the brown paper Body Shop catalog and JCrew, and I’d give myself an imaginary budget and try to spend it wisely.
This is just to say, I got a lot of mail.
I remember how it felt when I heard the rumble of the mail truck come. I remember the sound, and the feeling in my belly that THE MAIL WAS HERE and whatever I was doing I’d drop it and put on my shoes and shoot out the door. That feeling of expectation and promise would propel me across the little front lawn, and I’d hold it back while I looked both ways and gallop across the street like a racehorse.
It was almost too much to take.
And then I’d be there, at the mailbox, and I’d get to open it up, and take out the pile, and that would be the end of the unexpected. Because of course as much mail as I got, I usually didn’t get any, and as soon as I saw that it was bills and the penny saver the moment was over. But then there were the days—the days the Body Shop catalog came, or maybe even a brochure from Antigua—and the thrill of holding those beauties in my hand was exactly what I’d hoped for.
And then, of course, I’d get to do it again 24 hours later. I loved checking the mail.
Having the internet? It’s like being able to check the mail every single second. Every moment holds the possibility of delivery. Is there a new email? Did someone like my Facebook Post? What’s that beautiful lunch soandso just put up on instagram? Oh look! Boden’s having a sale on kid’s clothes. Who’s that new follower on twitter? Oh she has a blog! Did she knit that? I should check my bank balance! What’s the weather channel saying for Friday? Is there a new email? Ding! Who’s texting me? And on and on and on.
Every time I press the little round heart-of-the smartphone button, it’s like the sound of the mailtruck is ringing in my ears.
Sometimes I think that the internet overwhelms me. Bombards me. There’s too much information, communication coming in. But I think at it’s heart, that’s not it.
What overwhelms me is the constant suspended state of me, a child, running across my little yard towards the possibility-filled mailbox. It is my own feeling of bursting out the door that overwhelms me.
And this past week, the mail didn’t come. At least, not much. I had to go outside, walk through the ice and snow, open my computer, and check the mail. I did this about once a day, and sure enough, walking towards the little spot that had internet, I heard the rumble of the mail truck. I walked a little faster.
But then, after I’d checked the mail (sometimes a Antigua brochure but more often the penny saver), I’d walk back to my quiet room. And then I’d go back to work.
Applications are already open for the Spruceton Inn 2016 artists residencies. If you have the kind of work that might benefit from that sort of thing, apply! It’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
I too was out of range last week. In west Texas. On a spinning retreat with a community of women I feel I now know as this was my third year. It was wonderful, in part, because there was no cell or internet service. Yes, of course you could go stand up the hill under that one certain tree and check messages and maybe make a call, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that you could hold on to the connection. And the internet was available on the lobby area but it was S.L.O.W…I loved not having a signal in either regard and totally embraced it since afterall, I was there to commune and spin.
I also had the obsession to get the mail when I was a child. Our front porch had a railing unter the mail box that my wee self could climb up…curving “steps” that curled into a nice sharp point. Constantly warned and admonished, I was clever enough to do it anyway, until one morning when I was 5 and I slipped, impaling myself through my knee…the mail lost a little appeal that day…
Margo, Thrift at Home says
I think you’re so right about the internet. What keeps me up late at night is checking checking checking around the web for some new sign that there is something new somewhere, either about my content online or someone else’s. Maybe if I can name and explain this fixation to myself, I can calm it down to reasonable and walk away happily from the screen. . .
It is amazing how remote places offer us the gift of disconnecting!
Hope we get to see/know about your work in the little white room. . .
I have been challenging myself with Screen-free Sundays. Of course I can turn on a screen if I am weak, but it has been quite refreshing focusing on more tactile doing.
You so well described me, too, as a kid, anticipating the mail, and writing away for the travel brochures! I wrote to all 50 states for their print literature, plus got a magazine just for finding penpals — and I had 12 or 15 at one time for a while — and got every kids’ magazine I could (Ranger Rick, Scholastic, Weekly Reader … though not Jack & Jill or Highlights for some reason). And I’m still the same, so happy to get real email, comments on my blog, Facebook comments, and not just junk mail and, their near runner up these days, “likes,” which, while nice, don’t satisfy like actual words from a friend or stranger, like new information and something to look at and think about does.
Thanks for sharing your experience!
Ha! Glad to hear there were other kids out there like me 🙂
That must have been loads of fun as a kid! I work in a visitors center with dozens of travel brochures….. Can I send you some, for old times sake?
Ah, thank you Stacy! Somehow it makes me happy to know there’s still such a thing as a travel brochure. But I think I’ll let them live on in my memory…
I’ve always had a similar relationship to the mail except that I still expect and hope for something that will change my life. It never happens, though a good hand written letter comes close. Needless to say, I expect the same from the internet but hand written letters there are few and far between.
Another big mail kid here. Remember pen pals? Do they even exist anymore?
Yes! Much less, but they do- at least, my kids have had them. I think we need to bring that back a bit.
Margit Van Schaick says
Alana, thanks for posting this topic for discussion. I’ve been thinking about this major change in my life since I got my I-pad (don’t have the usual computer), right after the I-pad was first introduced. I love to read. I’ve always loved to read. Having been self-employed for more than 20 years, with my office in my home, it’s been interesting how my work habits have changed. I have read only two books in the whole past year! I read the headlines and some stories in the N.Y. times with my morning coffee, and I read on the I-pad during meals and I have it with me while I watch TV (do not turn it on until 5:00 P.M. earliest). I watch some evening news, some CNN, Charlie Rose and on Sunday, some PBS like Doc Martin. So, when do I work? What I really have to face as honestly as possible is that the I-pad is truly addictive, sucking my attention away from the work that pays my living expenses and is my sole avenue to any financial security. Yes, it does connect me with ideas and new learning. But at what cost? There’s only so many hours in a day, and I need 8-9 hours total of sleep. We at-home workers have to find a sustainable balance in the use of our time. We do not have places like Spruceton Inn readily at hand to help us by taking us back to a different era, so we have to create our own version of Spruceton Inn right in our own home. The key question we have to decide by our choices in how we use our time is just what are our priorities and what are the sensible ways to try to achieve them. I don’t want to have feelings of GUILT creep in with my I-Pad, this truly amazing doorway to the wonders of the world. To save myself, I need to remember the meaning of “I think, therefore I am”. Would love to know ideas from you and your readers in how we can best come up with workable ways to deal with the immensity of the world all around us.
I’ve been working on curtailing most of my internet activity recently. I love my iphone. LOVE it. And it’s useful in so many ways. When my youngest (now turning 2) was nursing, I would read books on it during late night feedings. But then checking my email/surfing the web/etc started to creep up more and more into my days. It wasn’t until my four year old asked me to “please put down my phone” that I realized it was a problem. That’s sort of the reason I’m not, and never have been, on Facebook. Because I would love it. I know that I’m the type of person who would check it CONSTANTLY. So I’m not on it. And now that I’ve started to slide down that same slippery slope with my phone, it’s time to break that habit. I’ve limited internet surfing to during naptime and after bedtime. I’ve also eliminated a number of websites I used to check. I was surprised to find that I don’t miss People magazine (seriously, I’m 35. Why was I checking that daily?) or any of the other eliminated sites nor do I miss the time spent. And it’s an extra check in the “try to be a good mom” column.
I think you bring up something so good here- that we’re always talking about how to limit the screen time of our kids, but more often than not, they’re the ones asking us to limit ours! Such a good thing to remember.
Rachel @ 6512 and growing says
“What overwhelms me is the constant suspended state of me, a child, running across my little yard towards the possibility-filled mailbox.”
Yes, I think that’s it. The wishing and wanting and waiting and hoping and anticipating, which really, is not a sustainable way to live, nor a recipe for inner peace or lasting happiness. I say this because I understand completely.