Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where There is No Path

I had planned this morning to write you a post about information. I thought I might title it, "A Shout Out to People Who Know Things," and I would, in my usual meandering way, discuss the intellectual honesty that is coming to my house as a not-so-welcome guest of my experiment. I am preparing to lose the ability to look up any piece of information anytime. This is to say that I am preparing to lose the ability to pretend I know things. Without Google, I can't casually list the number of legislators in the combined houses of Congress, 535, as I did in an essay-post last week. Without Google, I can't resolve a dinner table disagreement over whether it was rampion or arugula that Rapunzel's mother so fatefully craved from the witch's garden across the wall. I can't finish the Friday New York Times crossword puzzle. And I can't instantly learn how to get a white heat ring off of my dining room table. (Iron, wool setting, through two layers of white t-shirt, presto, thank you internet!)

What will I do without my ability to look up wonderfully useful items of information like that? Have to watch where I'm putting my coffee in the first place?

It's Saturday today. And, like last Saturday, I'm feeling overly earnest, and exhausted. I keep drifting away from my discussion of Wikipedia, in which I'm trying to endow the phenomenon of user-generated encyclopedia with a degree of influence that it may not particularly deserve. "What does it all mean?" I hear myself asking. "How can I make this mean something?"

And I'm trying to find a way to fit in a picture of a handmade birdhouse, which Milo and I rescued from the thrift store along with our mismatched stationery and forgotten postcards. The picture doesn't do it justice. Someone made it. And painted it. And I found it at the thrift store for 3.99 and fell in love with it, and am now learning (from the internet) how to use it to attract a mating bird couple to our front yard.

And I'm tamping down a very small but creeping sense of dread.

This may not work.

This is not, please -- not at all -- a fear that I can't do my Year Without Internet. For God's sake, I can do it. But I am a little bit afraid that it won't help.

As I mentioned, it's Saturday, and that means my husband has been gone all week (and is asleep right now.) And I'm feeling like little Milo, who woke up too late to see Daddy before work a few mornings ago -- which means that he wouldn't see him at all that day -- and ran like a dramatic heroine to the front window, crying, "No working, Daddy! No working!" It was exactly the same tone of voice that he uses when I refuse to let him have a second cookie. But I don't care too much about cookies, and in that case when he cries, "I want it, I want it!" he isn't speaking also for my heart.

We can't explain this yearning away by saying that I don't have community, because I do. My brother and my niece each come over at least once a week, and they also babysit. I am not housebound. I have hobbies, I have a couple of interest groups, and I have a church. Yesterday I dropped the kids off at Jacob's house and went to Mt. Auburn to meet D.W. Jacobs and a couple of folks from Arena Stage at the grave of R. Buckminster Fuller. It isn't that I'm bored.

But I have space in my life. That's what small children require of you. They force you to make space for them, and then they don't fill it. And as much as I've adulated open space, it is also terrifying. It is often lonely. And it's silent. And sometimes, I think, it gives you knowledge of yourself you didn't really want to have.

I've been making a brave stand here against the big bad wolf, the internet. It's going to be SO hard. I'm going to be SUCH a hero. But my personal journey has very little to do with the internet, in itself. Can high speed information access really make a difference to whether you stand firm in your loneliness or run away from it? Can the absence of it really teach you to stand firm in any and all of your imperfections? Can turning off the computer possibly teach you to stop running away from your life?

In the hero's journey, growth always begins with a pilgrimage: like the Grail knights, into the darkest part of the wood, where there is no path. In the context of my real SAHM life, I think Jennifer described it well as, "My Year Under a Rock." In this modern era, that is where the darkness lies -- the quiet of the soul. It's under a rock, and I'm going to look for it.

The question is, in a year or so, when it isn't so eminently sensible (or even possible?) for me to stay at home with the kids, can I return to the world/internet/workforce with a greater sense of balance? Can I return with a greater appreciation for humanity and humility and spirituality and personal journey and all the little details of life that I forgot because I was glued to the computer, constantly scanning cyberspace for a quick ticket to resolving the inherent difficulties of this one great difficulty, life?

In this way I have an appreciation for accountability, in the sense that I won't always have access to a myriad of experts to help me fix my careless errors. And I have an appreciation for humility, in the sense that if I don't know something I will have to ask. I will have to raise my hand in class, as it were, and say to another person, "You know that. And I don't."

No epiphanies. No miracles. Just a lot of work to do to change my habits, with some short term consequences and, maybe, some long-term rewards.


Daiquiri said...

"They force you to make space for them and then they don't fill it"...still reeling from the beauty and perfection of that statement! So very true.

I'm always feeling like I'm overwhelmingly needed. My to do list is infinite. The people who surround me are constantly in my face and near me and ON me. So how can I be so bored and lonely? It's that vacant space you speak of.

When I'm forced away from the internet for a period of time - even just days or a week. That empty spot leaves me literally wandering around the house...a nibble of a chip here...a watering of a plant adjusting of a crooked photo on a wall...a glance at myself in the mirror...thumbing through a magazine...

Eventually I sit and rest and go to that space. It's then that I realize that it's in that spot that God resides. Why do I spend so much time filling that space with busy work and avoiding Him, I wonder?

(This is a conversation that needs to be had! I'm going to basically copy and paste my comment to my blog, and then link up to you. )

Esther said...

Daiquiri! I'm glad you're here. And I'm very glad you're interested in this. Your eloquence and compassion and spiritual strength may do a lot to help the idea of reducing internet use look like an opportunity, and not just a joke, or a hardship.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. I love your unfaltering bravery, Esther, and your ability to swallow that metaphorical flashlight and illuminate the squishy dark places.