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Friday, January 23, 2015

Smart Phones, Photos, and the Struggle to Live in the Moment

My smart phone (um, my only phone) died very suddenly last weekend, resulting in the loss of quite a few photos and other sundry digital memories. This was especially upsetting because it happened with almost no warning. No chance to save my data. No last second to run back into my burning house (of pixels) and grab my prized possessions, i.e. all the adorable pics of my one-year old and his newborn brother.

Needless to say, I was pissed. At technology, for betraying me like that. At myself, for not creating redundancies and saving my data in multiple locations. At society, for normalizing digital photos to the point that 35mm film is archaic.

Once the dust settled and I wept pathetically over my lost photographic memories, a few epiphanies hit me:

1. It could be worse. Seriously. I lost my phone, not my pinkie toe. Buck up, I told myself, and get over it. There are still starving people in Africa (AND America), so how dare I cry over what is basically a sentimental inconvenience?

2. I must print more photos. Letting them linger, either on my phone or in the cloud, somehow makes them less real... and infinitely more vulnerable to destruction. What can kill a paper photo? Fire, water, theft. That's about it. What can kill a digital photo? Almost anything. Accidental deletion, new online data storage limits, or simply changing technology itself.

Thirty years ago VHS was the pinnacle of modern tech. Fifteen years ago the DVD was unparalleled. Now both are passe, usurped by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. In another ten years, who knows what will be next? Meanwhile, we still hang family portraits on our walls. We still cherish old faded polaroids. Bottom line: Humans are tactile beings. We like to hold things in our hands. Printed photos will never go out of style.

3. Are smart phones murdering our artistic energy? Are they plowing over and polluting the empty fields in our minds where wild beauty would grow, if left alone? If my phone kills the many seeds of boredom before they have a chance to take root and flower into creativity, am I shooting myself in the foot, artistically speaking? How many poems go unwritten, problems go unsolved, questions go unasked, prayers go unspoken--all because we distract ourselves with instant, endless handheld entertainment?

Related: I read an article recently about how some CEOs of major tech companies take smart phone "holidays." A chance, short or long, to literally unplug. Some turn off their phones for an hour before bed each night, some during a dinner out, some for a weekend ski trip, some for days or weeks at a time just because.

I really ought to build in detox time, I thought. Like those screen-free Sabbaths some of my friends observe. Only I'd ideally make it longer (a week if possible). Why? Preservation of what I call the sanctity of the present moment. Try it sometime. For me, it takes at least a day just to stop reaching for my phone every hour, to check email or texts or weather or social media or whatever. Perhaps most alarming, I did even notice I was doing it so often... until I was forced to go two days with no phone at all.

So... am I being a technophobe? Am I zooming in on modern smart phones and blowing this whole thing way out of proportion? I don't think so. But perhaps we should ask a more basic question: Is technology evil? No. In many ways it's a wonderful and powerful tool, even life-saving in some cases. But like anything with such potential, it can be abused. It can breed addiction. A cure can be corrupted into a cancer. A miracle drug, in the wrong doses, can eat you alive from the inside out.

Here's hoping technology will never eviscerate our lives, our arts, our experiences. May we always be ready and even eager to detox... to unplug our phones for the sake of renewing our spirits.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cabin Fever

I will forever remember the last week as definitive proof that I would never have survived as a pioneer woman.

Back in the day of the great plains settlement, everyone knew about prairie fever (and hoped it wouldn't happen to them). Hallucinations. Paranoia. Anxiety. Depression. Madness, in a nutshell, brought on by extreme isolation. Nowhere to go and no one to talk to, for weeks or months on end. And no wifi or Facebook or cable to help them cope! *shudder*

Now back to 2015... We have been stranded indoors, due to extreme cold. I literally did not leave the house for four days. Four days! Whilst stuck inside, I didn't just catch up on Netflix and eat cookies. (Although we are dangerously low on Oreos right now.) No, I had to entertain and care for a 16-month old and a 6-week old, both of whom require shall we say, a considerable amount of work.

At one point I actually begged my husband to let me shovel the driveway, in -5 degree temps and insane windchills, just because I was that desperate to get out of the house!

One night I was about to escape for a 15-minute errand of getting gas for the car, only to discover... the battery was dead. Much like my dreams of going anywhere. It was a low, low point. I nearly broke down sobbing, but I was afraid of what would happen to tears at -5 degrees. I imagined something like icicle mascara lines and decided to bottle up my tears until spring. Or at least February.

Today is the last day of ridiculous cold, with a high of 4 degrees. (At this point anything above zero is somehow counted a win. Wait, why do I live in Chicago again?) So the end is in sight. Tomorrow will be back in the standard-miserable winter temps, and I should be able to venture out with the boys in tow, albeit dressed in half a dozen layers. They'll look like little explorers about to climb Mt. Everest. But at least we will be able to get outside these walls and break the cycle of boredom.

So, lesson learned from this week's frigid lock-in? I would be a terrible pioneer woman. Maybe not terrible, but probably another hapless victim of prairie fever.

Unless... I learned to beat it. How does one beat isolation? It's tricky because you're really fighting yourself. And all the dark thoughts that come when you don't have errands and transportation and the outdoors and other people to distract you from the worst parts of yourself. Where do you hide from your own shadow? What can save you from the sanity-slicing effects of extreme isolation?

God, first of all. Prayer (mainly the SOS variety) saw me through the worst parts of this week. Also, projects. It matters less what you do than that you just do something. Creativity is second to productivity. Think of people who are shipwrecked or in prison. The goal is not so much to make time pass as to make the passing feel deliberate. To create a sense (even an illusion) of purposeful forward movement. As opposed to that sickening sensation of being stuck in one place, which all too easily breeds a twilight-zone sense of claustrophobia... and desperation.

Keep busy, keep sane. Inertia is your friend.

So next time you're marooned on a desert island (or in your own home for an entire week), remember: prayer and projects. The two best ways to fight prairie fever.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Upon Entering the Year 2015

I have let this blog sit idle for many moons, but now seems as good a time as any to fire it up again and see what epiphanies it might spark.

So as we embark on 2015, here are a few thoughts on the year just ended. What happened in 2014?

1. I became a mom, again. Which brings my total number of offspring to two. Just four more to go! Just kidding. Maybe...

2. I quit my job. Because having a newborn and a toddler AND working 40 hours a week is outside my capabilities. And childcare for said kidlets is outside our budget.

3. I slept very, very little. Impossible to overstate this. I averaged maybe 4 hours total (not in a row) per night. More later on the psychoemotional effects of this extreme sleep deprivation. Bottom line: not pretty.

4. I wrote very little. Either poems or essays or ramblings of any consequence. Here's hoping next year sees a big improvement in this area. After all, "A writer writes, always." Presumably even when they are caring for two children under the age of two.

5. I turned 30. Existential baggage to be unpacked later.

Highlights of 2014 concluded. Now on to the new year! May I be more creative, better rested, and less of a basket case in the coming year. Pleased to meet you, 2015. I can tell that we are gonna be friends. (Yeah, White Stripes!) *fistbump*