The second person I talked to about my Year Without Internet was my big sister, Dolly. As big sisters sometimes do, she started organizing me. "You'll need some criteria for deciding what you can and can't do," she said. "What are your criteria?"
Internet, no. Cellphone, no. Land line, yes. Ability to dial 9-1-1 if one of my kids chokes on a penny, yes. Computer, yes. The ban is on digital communication. Only, wait, that isn't accurate because land line phones are digital now. No, the ban is on portable, instantaneous communication. Walkie talkies are right out.
"You'll have to decide what you're going to do for entertainment," Dolly said, "besides the kids. Otherwise you'll go crazy."
I disagreed. I disagreed so much that I interrupted. "I don't think so." I think the entertainment IS what makes me crazy. Addicted and crazy. Addicted to being crazy.
I remembered my Aunt Mary's complaint regarding the half day drive with my dad from Boise, Idaho to their mother's nursing home in northern Utah (pictured here). "He doesn't like to talk," she said. "And he doesn't like to listen to the radio. So I'm sort of..." She grimaced and made a twiddling gesture with her hands.
I'm with my dad on that one. I like the drive across Kansas, and would prefer not to have it interrupted. Are we built differently from other people? Born under a different star? Made fit to tolerate silence? Or has there been some grain of separatism in the mechanism of our lives, behavior patterns that we acquired somewhere off the beaten path, that have taught us this aptitude for stillness? I don't mean to stray into nature vs. nurture here, but I wonder: Is this a trait? Or a practice?
People occasionally try to save me from my puritan tendencies. One beloved friend (and you know who you are, lady) tends to encourage me to let my toddler watch videos. I do sometimes let him watch videos. An example is our adventurous drive from San Diego to Boston, during which I gave exactly as much brain space to charging the DVD player as I did to keeping my gas tank full.
"There's nothing wrong with it," my friend says, meaning television, "and it can give you a bit of a break." She may be thinking to herself that I'm a perfectionist (which I am) and a control freak (which I am) and I just need to be reminded to relax.
But for me TV is not relaxing. Even the sound of it in another room tends to affect me for the worse. It's just too emotionally loud, too effectively geared to manipulate, for me to let it fade into the background. I know this because my resting state is without TV. And I'm here to test a muddy hypothesis that internet is doing the same thing.
It might go without saying here that my sensitivity to informational noise is informed by the struggle to generate art. I won't go into the chicken and egg question of whether my sensitivity came from trying to make art or trying to make art came from the sensitivity, but clearly I have both.
Theatre folk know well the first couple of sentences of Peter Brooks' book The Empty Space:
I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all I need for an act of theatre to be engaged.I think (hope?) I'm creating an empty space.
Do other makers of pictures and manipulators of ideas out there find that your creative state is adversely affected by informational noise? Magazines, advertisements, talk radio, worries...phone calls from your mom? Or maybe you find the opposite: it's difficult to get moving on a project without some good internet-style instant feedback. Like, say, you might want to blog for a while -- a month or so, maybe -- to kick up some ideas for a book?