Sunday, 17 July 2016

On being out of touch....

I am trying to reconnect gently.  From Monday to Saturday morning I was living in an unconnected world: no wifi, no television, no radio and only sufficient mobile signal for the odd grudging text message, with no guarantee of reply.  Air silence.

I was at an Arvon course at The Hurst in Shropshire, spending a week with fifteen others and two tutors immersed in creative non-fiction.  I'm still processing that experience and may write about it sometime but right now I am just considering how it was to drop out of the digital world for a few days.

I hadn't noticed the "no wifi" when I booked to go on the course.  Checking what I needed as I packed last week I saw it:  no wifi, poor mobile signal, payphone in the hall.  My heart sank.  I like my connectedness.  Email produces mostly selling these days but every now and then there is something interesting with news or photos from friends or family.  Facebook is much the same.  I don't post very often myself and my daily checks are swift but I do like seeing pictures of friends' babies and walking holidays and having a loose sense of what is happening in their lives.  I love Instagram with its ease and simplicity and succession of snapshots of other people's lives and of course it is a rare week when I don't read at least a couple of the blogs I really like.  And over and above all that there is the sheer usefulness of the damn thing: news, research, instant answers, phone numbers, opening hours, weather forecasts.   How would I manage without it all?  Was it really necessary to abandon it?  Apparently so.

And a bit of me was curious to see what it would be like.  I have wondered sometimes as Ian and I sit by the fire, ipads on our laps, how much time we spend online.  Not a problem, I would have said.  We talk and walk and read and knit and garden and spend time with friends and our children and grandchildren.  It is only a part of life, but an everyday part.  As much a part of our routine as cooking and shopping and brushing our teeth.

Turns out that whether you miss it all depends.  The days were so full with workshops and tutorials and writing exercises and writing time that I missed the social media stuff not at all.  Indeed I couldn't have spent any time engaging with social media and also done all the other things I was trying to do.

At home I am a news junkie, likely to listen to the radio or watch the news at least twice a day.  For most of my life I have been interested in politics and current affairs.  I usually have a week or two off when we go on holiday and I expected this break from tv, radio and newspapers to be just like that.  It's normally good to have a break but after a few days I begin to feel out of touch and I return to my normal news diet refreshed and keen to get engaged again.

Perhaps it was the timing of this break that was different.  After the shock of the UK referendum vote and the sense of chaos that overtook UK political life, I  was punch drunk with news, reeling, sickened with it.  Being without it seemed to free my head to think about other things and to give me a respite from being battered by matters of huge importance about which I could do nothing.  I did feel a leap of guilt on coming out on Saturday and learning of the deaths in Nice, realising that I had not known.  Why guilt? I do not know.  It was as if in not knowing I was not caring.  That is a response which makes no rational sense but clearly demonstrates why I normally follow so avidly.  But a period without news and the analysis of news was oddly calming. 

And all of the other facts and research and usefulness?  I didn't notice their absence at all.  Admittedly I was not living my normal life.  I was mining myself for what to write about.

So the only thing I really missed was talking to people, especially Ian who is away trekking in Norway and not very easily contactable at his end either.  It made me realise how much I use talking to him and to one or two others as a way of examining what is happening to me and making sense of it, the very process of expressing myself to someone who knows me intimately and with whom I don't have to censor myself helping me to understand what I am thinking and feeling.

As I drove home I turned on the radio to listen to the news.  Over the last day or so I have caught up with emails and social media.  No desire at all to remain in purdah.  It has been good to get back in some ways and tonight I shall turn off my brain and gently watch Countryfile on the TV and that will be a relief and a rest after such intensity and hard work.

I don't suppose I learnt anything from the experience that I didn't sort of know already: social media takes up a lot of time; television does the same; watching the news can do your head in.  But it has been a very clear and concrete lesson.  If I want time for writing I can clearly make it by spending less time online and watching TV.  Listening to and, particularly, watching the news can oppress you, especially in times of great turmoil.  Talking to the people you love is a wonderful thing.

23 comments:

  1. Elizabeth, it's grand to see you posting from those Welsh Hills again. Our mutual friend Elizabeth and I were wondering where you might be.

    The name Arvon rang a bell. I believe that we also know some other folks who have been to Arvon. I'm not surprised that no wifi would be part of the week. I am sure that life provided a writer with many distractions well before wifi ever exisited, but that was then and now is now.

    Not only have many horrors filled the international and national news recently, but last week the pokomon search phenomenon seemed to be sweeping the States. Not my particular part of the States I assure you.

    I'm hoping that you got well into your own writing while away from home and will be able to keep the momentum going. One of my long time blogging friends, Vicki Lane, lives in North Carolina and is both a published author, but also a creative writing teacher at many workshops. I really appreciate being able to connect with her as a fellow Southerner of a certain generation, and to see how she continues to write and publish, while having many other active aspects in her life. You might enjoy her posts. Vicki regularly comments over at my place.

    I am trying so hard to not be swept into sadness by the pile up of news from all over. Just this afternoon I learned of more deaths in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tomorrow the Republican party's convention begins in Cleveland, Ohio, where it is legal to openly carry a gun.

    The farmers market's produce bounty, the beauty of the Park, the offerings of museums, and the joy of meeting up with friends all continue to offer proof that life can be filled with joy.

    Welcome back. Best wishes to you and Ian. xo

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    1. Hi Frances, great to hear from you and thank you for the steer to Vicki. I will certainly have a read. Yes, your news in the US is chaos and tragedy right now. In the end it is our responsibility to protect our own well being and if that means closing off from it for a while so be it. Your counterbalancing evidence that the good things in life go on too is a great reminder too! x

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  2. Sounds like you had a good break, in more ways than one. I've often pondered taking a course at Arvon, so it's interesting to hear how immersive the whole experience was for you.

    I brought a GMG committee meeting to a complete standstill once when I announced I was going on holiday, so there'd be no social media for them whilst I was away. They were shocked that I could contemplate time away without being connected to the internet (the implication was how would GMG and my business survive). I explained it was completely necessary to unscramble my brain. That disconnection time is so important, well it is to me anyway!

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    1. I think Arvon courses are in a class of their own Michelle. Couldn't recommend it more highly. Overwhemlming, but in a good way!

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  3. What an interesting take on being 'out of the loop'.
    How refreshing it must be in so many ways.
    I've been following Ian's wonderful views of Norway.
    Glad your course was worthwhile. I've been trying to get writing done here in New York and have been utterly overwhelmed, saddened and distracted by all the sad things going on in the world.
    Warmest greetings to you both.

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    1. I identify very much with your "overwhelmed, saddened and distracted". These things take up your energy somehow and yet it is difficult to give oneself permission not to know about them. I think for me the being without news will always have to be a rare and brief interlude.

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  4. I remember the name 'Arvon' from the Purple Coo days. If I remember it all correctly, that is a lovely gift to have given yourself.
    I find that I go for days without touching the laptop when the boys are here. I have the phone with me, but wifi at work is restricted, so I am a little out of the loop. In the end I don't mind so much. I think it's worse for those who don't realise just how much time goes to their gadgets of connection. Doing without is a bit like a 'spa regime' really. One comes through it feeling better and ready to take on whatever life throws.

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    1. it's interesting pondside because I think a little going without is a bit like spa time as you say but I find it remarkably difficult to do when I'm home and in my normal routine. it feels false and unnecessary. yet when I'm away it's fine. I think I might try to just take blocks out the day so that I'm not always "on call".

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  5. We call it the internet, but of course, it's people and friends. like now. Great to hear from you (and the two other friends I've been in touch with in the last 10 minutes while sitting in the sun in the garden)

    I wait keenly for the post on your course. Set me wondering if I'd write better or worse for being taught. So keen to discover what conclusion I'd come to from your experience. Bit frightening. Might learn to do it properly.

    Must also discover Ian's pictures... XXxxxx

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    1. some of it is people and friends as you say and many of those are friends like you I would not have made without this sort of connection. undoubtedly life would be thinner and poorer without it. but it's not all so positive. maybe you are more self disciplined than I am but I find I can spend time online which has no positive effects for me. Facebook is the worst offender for me. blogs are good, I think because I have already selected the ones I really want to read. Instagram is good too but that may be because I'm quite selective in the posts I follow. in fact I seem to be pointing out to myself that selectivity is the key!

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  6. Glad you enjoyed the break! I am trying to spend less computer time too!

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  7. The 'not knowing is not caring' aspect of avid news following that is so destabilising. I watched helplessly as someone I know burst into noisy tears and rushed upstairs on reading the news of Nice. My apparent lack of emotion was, I fear, interpreted as uncaring. Meanwhile I am doing all I can to stay rooted and useful in the here and now.

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    1. "Rooted and useful in the here and now" exactly. Me too!

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  8. if ever there were a time to take a break from being connected. . . I must say I regularly wonder about giving myself days off, but hours-off seems to be the best I can do.
    Very curious to hear whatever you're willing/find time to say about the writing course. Off to look up Arvon, which I hadn't known about.

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    1. I agree about the hours off Frances. That is fine when I am out and about and busy with things but when I come back inside I do tend to check. Perhaps I should aim to restrict that a bit!

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  9. It's hard to imagine returning to the early '50s and Pathé news , when one left the cinema with an impression of the Queen's waving white-gloved hand being what The World outside Glasgow was like .
    There were paper sellers on every corner , yelling the headlines , but they were almost incomprehensible ; if there was anything worth knowing , somebody's neighbour had already heard about it at work and as for international news ... most of us had an aunt in Canada who wrote regular letters .
    We can't go back , but sometimes it's tempting .

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    1. It has been an extraordinary change in a very short time period. I suspect my niece's generation (now coming of age) find it impossible to imagine even the childhood of my own children.

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  10. I so identify with this, Elizabeth - we have lived without a tv for 4 years now, and what a relief that has been. We do occasionally watch something on a laptop, but have to choose it carefully and deliberately, as The Gardener falls asleep within seconds, and I often lose interest. But the internet is different; I really do use it to stay in touch with people, and I listen to Radio 4 (current affairs), morning and evening, which is becoming increasingly grim. What I find helps greatly at this ghastly period of our lives is to have a silent house during the day - no radio, no music, just the sounds of outdoors and maybe a snoring cat. Not possible or indeed desirable for everyone, I know, but it gives me space to sort out my own thoughts and even take a rest from them. Not quite the respite you had on your course, but a mini-break from being "on" all the time.

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    1. I too like silence and always try to have a period in the day with no radio or tv or internet. it is the internet that might well get through that barrier, I suppose because there is no actual noise although I wonder if there is such a thing as digital noise!

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  11. We were away for 3 weeks and I deliberately made it an e-break.
    On the first plane the news about Nice came to us.

    At home I usually avoid cellphone and laptop until the evening. During the day I prefer to be in the garden. Or walking.

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  12. Interesting post and interesting comments. I'd happily forego the whole shebang if it were possible but I live in a house with teenagers and they'd think I'd cut off the air supply if I did anything about the wifi. My feeling is that this 'connectedness' (which isn't real connectedness like a phone call or a face-to-face chat is) is probably insidious and there is definitely a lot of 'noise'. I do listen to the radio a lot throughout the day, though. And of course I read blogs and check emails. Oh, and Instagram which I do like. But none of it is essential, is it? I'm glad you found it a good experience. Sam x

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