I was facing a class of Freshman English students at the High School in Memphis, TX when I was asked that question. I knew what she was getting at and replied that I had a book along to read, or I wrote in my Journal or posted a blog entry, but I wasn’t satisfied with my own answer. Another student asked how I’d managed to find time to do so many things in my life. My reply to that one silenced the class: “I don’t watch TV. I don’t spend much time surfing the net, I don’t text, I don’t play video games… ” They looked at me in disbelief. Every single one of those students was given an iPad for the school year and they seem to spend quite a bit of time studying “technology”. These kids are actively and officially encouraged to be plugged in – “connected”. Talking to a bunch of high school kids was what I was doing for entertainment that day. (very entertaining, actually!)
Last January, when Gryph and I emerged from the Los Padres National Forest after two weeks with no cell ‘phone coverage (never mind internet) a friend asked me to write about what it was like to “unplug” so drastically. I’ve been mulling on that question ever since, watching myself with (and without) varying levels of “connection” – and those levels have varied Widely! Full disclosure: there have been times in my life when I’ve spent most of my waking hours in the company of my computer. I’ve been hooked into video games, on-line activism, web “research” and, at the Dublin auction barn, a bout of youtube. The computer is a great place to hide during hurricane season, emotional anguish or writer’s block. I’m on line right now, writing a blog post, checking my e-mail, looking up random curiosities and playing Freecell (which I have tried and failed to purge from my laptop!) Writing a blog post takes a really long time under those conditions.
I feel like I’m a different person when I’m spending a lot of time on line versus when I’m only able to be on line briefly and infrequently. The computer is a really useful tool. I’ve also come to believe that, for me, it’s a highly addictive, mind and personality altering drug. When I’m spending a lot of time with my computer I’m less patient with people, my attention span is shorter in general and I’d rather be inside than out. Even when I’m having a conversation with somebody I really like, part of my attention is on getting back to the box. I like the control of being able to “click” and change things whenever my mind wanders, the thrill of mental multi-tasking, how quickly I can follow the whims of my brain. But in terms of my life, the Journey, the needs of the herd and interacting with the people in my immediate environment? I’m much Less connected. And my body hurts a lot more, especially my low back and my neck and shoulders.
Two years ago today I moved out. Yes, on purpose. Live the Question. For the past two years I haven’t had a home to call my own and I’ve spent the majority of my time outside in close communion with the elements, feeling the weather on my skin, watching the seasons change, paying attention to what’s growing out of the ground and what’s not. For two years I’ve lived the way the vast majority of people have lived on this planet up until the past hundred years or less (many people in other parts of the world still live this way) and despite the occasional mishap or minor discomfort I am healthier, happier and (scary to say) saner than I’ve ever been. Several times during this Journey I’ve had to stop and wait while a horse or human heals – this is one of those times. On many levels it’s been lovely, but I’ve watched myself get sucked back into “the box”. I notice the return of the restlessness; I look up the word “malaise” on the online dictionary and read: noun 1) a condition of general bodily weakness or discomfort, often marking the onset of a disease. 2) a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy, or discomfort. I’m not sleeping as well and fear is creeping back in around the edges; a lack of faith, a dread of “discomfort” and “inconvenience”, moments when I doubt my ability or desire to finish the Journey.
Thursday morning it’s time to saddle, pack and ride. I’ll say good-bye to the first kitchen I’ve had to call my own since Ireland. Ice Cream will return to the realm of luxuries along with plentiful hot water and knowing where I’m going to sleep each night. If it rains I’ll get wet. If it’s cold I’ll bundle up and if it stays as warm as it’s been this week I’ll need to find a pair of heavy duty clippers to try and give Finehorn a little relief. Norwegian Fjords don’t dress for 70*F days in late January and with the added humidity she’s often still wet in the morning after sweating the day before! Thursday morning I will return to what I do for a life these days – I’m looking forward to rejoining the herd and hitting the trail. I will re-member a life that is full and rich and plenty entertaining enough without seeking outside distractions. Sometimes I feel like I am the entertainment. 😉 90 miles to Louisiana!