Last week I spent two days without my husband and also without my internet connection.
You haven’t lived until you’ve dealt with a Swiss cable company employee for an entire afternoon. I did my best to decipher the loud, guttural Swiss-German commands over the phone. And I tried to translate the annoyed and impatient words that I took to mean that I was supposed to randomly yank cords out and then plug them back in.
But the cultural divide was too great. And in the end, it concluded with me dragging my self-pitying ass down to the neighborhood Starbucks, a place in Zürich I swore I’d never go.
Because I could feel the withdrawal, my hands actually twitching and my temper about to short-circuit. So rather than bawl on the phone to my husband, I headed for a frappachino. No, calling him wasn’t an option – he was out-of-town, in the middle of an international press conference thingy, I really shouldn’t bother him.
Who cares, I called him. He was terse, he was apologetic, he seemed distracted. But, dammit, he wasn’t sorry enough. Because hell, my issue was more important. I was unplugged. I needed a press conference to announce the fact that I needed cable and I needed it now.
It felt almost like being deprived of oxygen. I was nearly hyperventilating, like I might die.
Such is my life. I like to think of it as the life of a suffering artist.You know, like Hemingway. But we all know that as soon as I logged on in ‘bucks, I went straight to the kitty yoga videos and my latest General Hospital episodes.
Let’s not kid ourselves, we waste time on the internet. Several of my friends refuse to be on Facebook for that reason. A time suck, they say. Well, I have a ton of time to suck, so leave me here to suck on it.
Seriously, the ongoing discussion about the value of the internet is divisive. Purists think that virtual isn’t real. But if it isn’t, then what exactly is it?
My blog has meant a lot to me over the past year and a half. It’s been a creative outlet, a way to occupy my solitude, a vital connection to people from back home. It doesn’t feel artificial or virtual, it just feels like me writing.
But I don’t know. Deep inside me there is an inner Luddite that is scolding me. Like I should be pure and unattached to the digital world.
Honestly, I only have access when I am here in the apartment. If I go outside, get on the tram, take a trip, I am severed from the mothership. Like an embryo without a placenta. A teabag without a string. A tether ball without a tether. You get the idea.
But the thing is, I think the blogosphere is tailor-made for me. I grew up writing in journals, I have a secretive side, I’m an introvert. I love to write long letters. These are my rationalizations.
And how is it any different from any other network? Like those party telephone lines people used to have, where everyone could listen in on the conversations. Perhaps the internet’s just an ongoing stream to dip into and float along with, as we add our two bits to the chatter.
I don’t have a cell phone. I’m not one of those people texting every minute, or Googling for information at dinner. Aren’t there things we should just wonder about? I don’t like telephones or even something held up to my ear. Who wants people to have access to you every minute of the day?
My relationship with my laptop is based on getting lost, getting away from the noise and chatter. Finding a quiet place where I can hear my own voice. When I bought it for our trip over here, I thought it would be for information. Instead it’s like a paintbox full of color. I can play with formats and fonts and my photography. I can watch my words take shape and become like chapters telling a story.
But the web is tricky, we have to use care and discretion in how to navigate the waters. My son is fond of saying, don’t believe everything you read on the internet, Mom. It never occurred to me that I was doing that, but I was.
I realized it during a heated debate with my daughter over the anti-feminism of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was citing inflammatory statistics from the “bondage community” that I’d read online, and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lewis shaking his head.
Our kids are seasoned pros at this stuff – he knew I didn’t stand a chance.
Because, in the end, you can find information to support anything on the internet. But it isn’t exactly reliable. In truth, we all need our middle school librarians nearby to help us navigate our sources responsibly.
So, in a lot of ways, the web is an echo chamber.
And a place to glut on media and information. And my body knows when I’ve overindulged, I get that over-saturated sensation. I’ve spent too much time hopping around like a jittery cave cricket, from one website to another.
But for whatever reason, I’ll eventually look up over the lip of my laptop and see the neighbors’ mangy calico cat in the field out back. He is hiding, crouched low to the fresh-mowed grass, his tail twitching back and forth, waiting for mouse movement. I know he’ll be there for hours.
And the sunlight sparkles and the yard seems to be waiting for me to come out and explore. And the warm Summer air touches my skin and my brain feels just a tiny bit lighter.
That’s real life. It’s out there.
And that’s what I want to experience, to stock up on, so that late in the afternoon I can come back into my cool, darkened living room and exhale the moments out onto the page. Where I hope the words will stick and I can move them around like Scrabble tiles.
Years ago, my parents knew the benefits of shooing us kids away from the t.v. and out of the house.They knew we had to be wild and physical and roll around in our leafy forts. To spin through the neighborhood on our bikes, out-pedaling our overactive minds – kicking up stale thoughts and worries along with the gravel beneath our tires.
They knew that our brain was just another auxiliary organ attached to our developing bodies. And the rest of us – the flesh and bones and nerves and connective wires, kept our brains from getting too big, too prominent.
I definitely have days when I experience that familiar feeling of being cooped up, as my mother used to say, and in need of airing out.
And as much as I try to ignore the signs, I need to shut down. Because the sparks of inspiration are sputtering out on the page, the words coming from my fingers to the laptop are starting to lack freshness and energy. Something needs re-charging, some kind of a restart.
It’s time to take a walk up the path into the mountains overlooking the city. And to feel the burn in my lungs that’s purging the musty indoor air. And to feel my heart pump as it sends fresh blood to my brain, flushing out tired ideas.
And I stretch my limbs and feel them synchronize without a thought, and a serenity comes over me. Curious how little is required of my cumbersome brain in this activity. My body becomes a conduit of sensation and discovery.
And the door on my brain’s dark chamber, where the wild, imaginative beasts live, begins to close. Those overactive critters can sleep and plot and scheme on another day. For now they will rest and dream, and await the time I’ll punch them awake and want them to come out and cavort and create.
But now it’s my breath and heartbeat and muscles that take the lead up the mountain. And I feel my senses plugging into a new current: the crackle and swish of the leaves in the forest, the crunch of my boots on the rocks. The bees sawing in the field of trembling poppies.
My own electricity joins with a pulse of infinite possibility.
And I connect to a web that isn’t artificial. It’s dirt and fresh air and a sunburn coming up on my shoulders. And it simply requires that I be present – here, in this body.
Lifting the gossamer scrim – just me without internet, me without words.