Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hope and Food Production

I have a problem of perspective. The house on the hill is too small for Thumbelina, but the titmouse under its eaves calls it the Taj Mahal. I took a year away from the Internet. To the titmouse, it was a monumental, life-changing experience. To the wayfarer on the road, nothing much has changed. I don't know which tale to tell.

First, I’ve been asked a few times if I’m working. I’m not. Secondly, I’ve been asked how the kids are doing. They’re fine. They’re better than fine. They’re amazing. I haven’t taken pictures in months. Here I will be a good playwright, and put the plot exposition into the opening scene: pictures stored on computers, computers stolen, pictures lost, ensuing sadness/freedom, awareness that I can admire that gorgeous life spark emanating from my kids at any time, even without the aid of technology…total lack of inspiration to take more pictures. But because I was thinking of you, dear Internet, I dusted off the camera. Results attached: uneven but heartfelt.

And how is Nick? Ask him yourself! You can friend him on Facebook. After close to two years of stalwart resistance, he finally became a Facebook convert about eight months into my experiment, when the upstairs neighbor got unsecured wireless and I took a trip to Nicaragua. I didn’t mind, really. I gave him my password and asked him to count my friend requests.

And me? What have I been doing with myself? Not much. In fact, I have been doing as little as possible. I did too much in my twenties. I’m thinking I might take this decade off.

In truth I have made a practice of stillness. It feels good. And, even if it didn’t feel good, I'm due for it. I have a lion's share of listening and learning left to do. So far my studies are inexhaustible and inexhaustibly rewarding. I tell my pen pals that I am going to Do It Yourself grad school. I’m a candidate for a DIY degree.

Don’t ask me, though, what field I’m in. Some days I'd like to reclaim the M.R.S. degree, transforming that mean joke into an open door to all the sons and daughters of our mothers. To so many of our mothers the kitchen was a fox trap, because their dreams were hung outside the home. But a generation later, as we seek ways to reclaim humanity and human connection, and resist the ubiquity of commercial enterprise, an advanced degree in home and family sounds like a lifeline.

Of course I can't take the gender out of the MRS. Gender is a real thing, and it does exist, and it is used as a tool in hands we know and hands we don't know. If I could tidy up that knot in a single line of exposition, you must believe that I would. But I can't. Instead I set it aside, still breathing, still tangled, and trace one single thread: how I as a feminist chose to reclaim my own kitchen.

In the very first days of my experiment, I was hyperaware of one activity: eating. As I broke the addiction – and yes, I do think it was an addiction – I found myself turning constantly to food – for entertainment, consolation, and as the centerpiece of social behavior. I had nothing else to do. I began to cook. Having ordered out or eaten from the grocery store deli for most of my adult life, I was just learning how. First I learned to make dinner from scratch. Then I learned to make a vegan dinner from scratch. Then I learned how to make a vegan dinner from local ingredients. In August, sitting down at a coyantura in Nicaragua, hearing an historian ask the assembled travelers on which topics we most wished for her to speak, I was surprised to hear myself saying, “agriculture and economics.” Not art, not feminism, not that sexy poet assassin who killed the first of the Somoza dictators. (And doesn’t that sound like a great story?) No, I wanted to hear about food: who grows it, who eats it, and who gets paid.

Now some of you will remember my mother. She wrote a book about this sort of thing. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. I am paying attention now.

To some degree, following in my mother’s footsteps in this way is only an aspect of the largest accomplishment of my year without Internet. This is a slight but measurable increase in personal integrity. I left the Internet in search of authenticity. And I most certainly found it. What I found is that genuine lifestyle change is grueling and incremental. I did make changes. But other things have not changed. I did read some of the books that I have always thought I ought to read. But others I found boring and put back on the shelf. I have awakened and healed some of my broken or abandoned relationships. But others are still lost.

But the year has given me a tremendous burst in hope. Back on the Internet for one week, I see that the anger has not subsided. There is the fear. The desire to convert. The voices that are speaking but not being heard. It wears on me. I realize that beginning to take a square look at global food production – which is not a pretty picture – depends on my ability to retreat from the more fruitless aspects of ideological conflict. I have to be able to rest. I have to be able to find silence. Otherwise I will not be able to hear. I cannot constantly be on the attack. Nor can I lie back against the rope and allow myself to be pummeled. At least occasionally, I have to step out of the ring.

And in the resting, with silence, that heals and also transforms, there is this unexpected burst of hope. Change is possible. Positive change is possible. Start now. Start anywhere.

From Hafiz, "The Friend comes into my body looking for the center, unable to find it, draws a blade, strikes anywhere."

An Invitation to You

I am an Internet dweller once again. Please, come see me where I am these days, at a little place I call Church in the Canyon. I write there about faith, activism, personal integrity and our off-grid move to a yurt on an Idaho mountainside. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter.

Come see me!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Love, by Snailback

This is no longer a live, getting updated every day sort of blog. It is an archival, historical, this is what happened last year sort of blog. I'm pretty sure I will blog again at some point, but not right at the moment. In the meantime, if you'd like to find out what I'm up to, you can email me at esthermstar at gmail dot com. Or you can write to me at this address.

Esther Emery
62 Holyoke St
Quincy, MA 02171

If you're not someone that I have written to, and you don't want to write me a letter, and you don't want to ask me to write you one, just know that I WOULD write to you. I would write you a blog, and I would write you a personal letter. There is somebody who would do that crazy thing, who would put some love in an envelope and send it to you by snailback.


"Frog, why do you keep looking out of the window?" asked Toad.
"Because now I am waiting for the mail," said Frog.
"But there will not be any," said Toad.
"Oh, yes there will," said Frog, "because I have sent you a letter."
"You have?" said Toad. "What did you write in the letter?"
Frog said, "I wrote, 'Dear Toad, I am glad that you are my best friend. Your best friend, Frog.'"
"Oh," said Toad, "that makes a very good letter."

--from Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Return of the Jedi

Well, that was disappointing.

I had planned to reenter cyberspace somewhat gracefully. This didn’t seem like too much to ask. After all, we're talking about the new, improved Esther: Year Without Internet Esther. I was going to come right to my blog and impress you all with my hard-earned wisdom and composure. I was going to be calm, and serene – I was going to float back onto Facebook.

And float I did. I floated right out of my head: -- reaching for this and grabbing for that, having two conversations at once while also deleting masses of junk email and ticking off the mental list of pages I had to check just in case something had happened that I would just DIE if I didn’t know.

Nick came into the room and said, “I wouldn’t want to be that keyboard.”

I closed my mouth.

What the hell happened? Was it all a dream? That chrysalis to butterfly transformation that I described to my penpals: did I imagine it? The calmness that allowed me just that morning to spend thirty minutes with a guitar in my lap, practicing the transition from a G to a D, over and over again; the open space in my brain that fairly yearned for crazy hard reading, from global economics to the history of US immigration policy: is it gone? Is it over? Am I an Internet junkie all over again?

For a couple of hours it sure looked like it. At one point I literally pushed now-3-year-old Milo off of my lap, saying things like “Just…just…just a second. Go play with your trucks. I’m almost done.” I was almost done for three hours.

Only minutes before I made my not-so-triumphant return to the Internet, I had been on the phone with Liz Darlington, whose daughter, Eleanor, is the same age as Stella. We were talking about our lives, the cities that we live in – now at opposite ends of the country - and about the Internet. Is the Internet a road by which we travel to certain destinations? Or is the Internet a city – the destination itself?

If the Internet is a city, yesterday, for me, it was Las Vegas. It was a Las Vegas of skin and lights, Las Vegas as it is understood by Bill McKibben in his book, Deep Economy: “an attempt to figure out what More might mean when you’ve already had too much.”

Eventually, though, it all stopped spinning. I sped up, or the Internet slowed down. Both, actually, because I made it through those backlogged emails, and the number of people I haven’t talked to in an entire year is a finite number. I don’t have that many friends.

And once I got stopped on the street corner, at the intersection of Friendship and Purchasing, and was able to watch a couple dozen cars go by, I understood that this experience only supports my thesis. It DOES matter whether or not I go on the Internet. It does matter what I think, and how I think it, and at what pace. I am so adaptable. I am so wonderfully capable of change. I can do as the Romans, and keep up with Joneses and squish myself into whatever outfit I imagine ought to fit.

This is an odd thing coming out of the mouth of a person who still likes to take the very biggest piece of carrot cake, but I’m not terribly interested in resurrecting the Internet Binge. I might even move this blog to a page with a more appropriate title -- someday, when I get around to being on the Internet that long. I do want to tell you about my experience of the previous year. And I want to do that at a measured pace. I got free, and I liked it, and I think we would all be disappointed if I couldn’t now display some of this restraint that I keep claiming that I've found.

Promising that there is more to come, at some point, let me close this with the most important announcement I can make. I did it. I accomplished what I set out to do. I went 365 days without accessing the Internet on any device: not my computer, not a phone, not somebody else’s computer. I didn’t do email. I didn’t do Facebook. I didn’t Tweet or blog or use Google. There is fuzziness at the edges of the experiment, as it felt like there had to be, to keep the center intact. Sometimes I used an ATM card. A lot of the time I didn’t. Sometimes I mailed letters to Amy to post on the blog. A lot of the time I didn’t. I taped a piece of paper over my caller ID and refused to use electronic kiosks. But I made exceptions to the kiosk rule – notably the airport parking garage – and the piece of paper eventually fell off.

It seems like now is as good as any time to admit, too, that I failed on the first attempt. In a bizarre series of events that felt totally out of my control (but obviously were not), on the very first morning of my experiment, I found myself on a library computer, using Google. I was shocked, but mostly shocked into greater resolve. At 12 noon, I started again, and the second time it took.

Am I glad I did it? I can't tell you how glad. There were some rough spots. There were some times when the whole thing just felt absurd and stupid. But there were also times when I thought, I might have gone my whole life without knowing this, without knowing how it feels to be this free.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Word From Esther! Month 5

62 Holyoke St
Quincy, MA 02171

June 1, 2010

Dear Internet,

I can’t do this anymore. It’s over between us. It isn’t you, it’s me. I think it’s time we started considering other options. I’ve found someone else!!

It happens, on occasion, when I introduce myself and my No Internet project, that my new friend finds an inconsistency in what is and isn’t allowed. He or she appears to greatly enjoy this.

“You use a computer to type your letters? Isn’t that cheating?”

“Wait, you have an answering machine?”

“Why don’t you use an ATM card? What does that have to do with the Internet?”

There is, I assure you, method to my madness. I may not be following the rules that you, my new friend, think I should be following, but I am following some rules.

I do not use electronics to facilitate communication. Another way of saying this is that I don’t have conversations with computers. I use a computer for information storage and retrieval, assuming (maybe foolishly) that I am taking out exactly what I put in. But whenever my purpose is communication with another being or collection of beings, I attempt to keep my voice intact. I do use the phone. I do have an answering machine. I do write letters. I do not blog, Tweet, Facebook, email, use ATM’s, go in the self-service check out line at the grocery store or frequent anything referred to as a kiosk.

Nick puts it a little more succinctly. “You’re trying to live in 1980, for some reason.”

The exceptions are few and unfortunate. I have cheated, more than once, at the self serve photo printing kiosk. I have essentially cheated by asking Nick to buy me something with his credit card. And twice now, in the unattended airport parking garage, I have failed utterly to put the pedal to the floor and smash the barrier. Oh, tragedy of responsible adulthood!

And these letters! These letters are cheating, friends, there’s no way to excuse it. My purpose is communication. The method is electronic. I don’t get on the Internet to post them, true, but that distinction appears more and more superficial as my real life without the Internet becomes more and more complete.

I didn’t send anything last month and a few people that I love have commented on it. “I’ve been looking for your letter!” Ladies and gentlemen, if you want me to write you a letter, it’s very easy. All you have to do is give me your address. You may be surprised by just how much I have to say to you. You may be alarmed by just how much I have to say to you. Send me a postcard and I’ll send you a novelette. Send me a novelette and I’ll send you a trilogy. That’s just the way I am. In the months ahead, I think, those are the only letters I’ll be writing.

However, with my excuses made, I do submit this final update. It is the six month report, the halfway mark. As I have done four times before, I am sending this in the mail to my friend Amy Chini, and asking her to post it for me on our blog. I will do my very, very best to be informative. This goes against my very nature. But there is information to be shared, and for that worthy cause I will attempt to silence the meandering philosopher within.

Unburdened by my natural tendency to expand and complicate ideas, the take home message of six months without Internet is horribly simple. There is no personal failing, no tedious requirement of living, no unpleasant reality that is eliminated by a ban on electronic communication. It still takes work to keep track of things and people. It still takes work to communicate. I continue to struggle with maintaining friendships. I continue to find it difficult to engage my intellect and parent my children at the same time. I continue to feel lonely. I continue to mismanage my time.

Similarly, there is absolutely no joy, pleasure or security that is not available to me for the asking. Letter writing has deepened connections with people I love. I have a regular schedule of phone conversations with family. I send and receive photos by mail. A steady stream of used books from local thrift stores satisfies the whole family of bookworms. The phone book turns out to work pretty well for finding things, as do newspaper event listings and paper maps. Personal finances are managed well enough by calculator, pen and paper. And human travel agents do still exist. You can find them in the phone book.

Shocking, almost, is this realization that the world doesn’t much care whether I’m on the Internet or not. No paradise. No inferno. Everything adjusts. Raised eyebrows quickly give way to forgetful apologies, which give way to silence. The ball is almost always in my court.

And so it follows that it is my own game that bears the change. Under my self-imposed conditions, I am required to observe and question almost every action that I take, from shopping to parenting to putting gas in the car. I am self aware. I am relatively unable to take short cuts. As a result, I experience a greater sense of personal integrity. I feel a little bit more like I’m telling the truth. I am better protected against Imposter Syndrome, as it appears in the larger community in its largest sense, as this vague feeling that I’ve misrepresented myself somewhere along the line and have gotten status and reward that I didn’t deserve. I am better protected against the nagging fear that at some point somebody is going to find me out.

At risk of sounding overly dramatic, I have felt a few times as though I had taken Neo’s red pill. Here I strike a note with people more or less my age, who remember immediately the image of Keanu Reeves waking up in a nightmarish world of feeding tubes and plastic pods. That nightmare reality, the red pill reality, had been veiled by a virtual world of computer-generated fiction, the Matrix, in the science fiction movie of that title.

I know well how that series of images was crafted to draw a response. Every detail, from the eerie soundtrack, to the precise timing of Neo’s rescue, to the unsettling absence of the color blue, was selected to maximize audience response. This is fiction. This is nothing like what I experience. And yet, I know that movies speak to true longings and true fears. That’s what they’re made for. I do not claim conspiracy. Nor do I claim that my physical awareness of my body is somehow inaccurate, that I have been tucked into a plastic pod, or have lost memories. I do not claim to be misinformed of the course of human history. I do claim, however, that the fragmentation of our experience into smaller and smaller pieces is, by definition, a loss of history. And a loss of history is a loss of reality. I do claim that our ever-developing capacity to imitate life through mechanical means has driven a stake between experience and truth. It is not the first such division, nor will it be the last. But this one, computer aided virtual reality, is growing. And I see that it will continue to grow. It is a Matrix without agents. It is an intentional, accepted diversion of our life force. It is the prison we choose.

Ahhh…now you’re worried for my health. But I am pretty sure that I have never been more healthy. As the project becomes more and more an integrated reality of living, and less a prank, it becomes harder to write about. It becomes harder to address these issues without being honest about my concerns, as a human being, a member of a society, and as a parent of small children.

And I still have six months more to go! Who knows how these thoughts will develop? The path forward is always more daunting than what lies behind. But as I declared above, I will do my best to see it out.

This goodbye seems to have no more or less awkwardness than any other kind of goodbye. I think we’re breaking up, Internet. It’s been great. Thanks for the good times. Have a nice life.

Yours Sincerely,

Esther Emery

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Word From Esther! Month Two

Quincy, February 7, 2010

Dear Internet,

I miss you.

That’s the only honest way to start off a letter to the internet, which I’ve again asked Amy to post.

And after that…I don’t really know. The page is blank. I have fallen off my script. On the one hand, nothing much has happened around here. On the other, I’ve been launched into outer space.

For starters, I’ve gone off of politics. I didn’t blog about politics here, so it is only those who really know me who are currently picking their jaws up off the floor. I am off politics like someone goes off a drug. I am detoxing from the conflict, the name calling, the steady diet of anger, the dehumanizing of the enemy, the jealous guarding of one’s interests, and the perception of morality defined in the visage of kings. It. Is. Madness.

Now my phone is about to ring. A sister, a friend, a friend’s boyfriend… “We need you!”

And you do. I know that you do. How could I not know that, when I live in Massachusetts? This January (in a race that shall remain unnamed, like Voldemort) I was needed. At a play date with a fellow Democrat – and our three very youthful Independents – I heard that race described as a wake up call. Respectfully, I disagree. This race was nothing less than an opiate, one that kept the entire state of Massachusetts vibrating with fear and anger in the very same week that a chunk of the earth rearranged itself, crushing in the process 200 thousand human beings in Port au Prince.

In that week, my Sunday paper reports, eight million dollars were spent on the Race That Shall Not Be Named. More than four million on each side.

What does eight million dollars look like, I wonder, in medical supplies? In rice and beans and cooking oil? What does eight million dollars look like, in good will?

I had a strange moment shortly after the New Year, when, sitting on the edge of Milo’s bed, staring past Stella’s fuzzy head, through the doorway and on into the kitchen, I had a vision of myself being stitched back together. Uninvited came an image of fluid traveling freely over the seams, the whole length and circumference of my self, separating, recombining, and forming cohesive whole.

I do understand an idea of integrating partitioned aspects of the self. I have lived with this idea and even taught it: that a practice of attention, honest inquiry and forgiveness can bring back the orphaned pieces, once cut off by trauma or regret. But what part of me was being welcomed back into the fold? I couldn’t place it, couldn’t quite tell where this feeling of wholeness was coming from. Of greater concern, I couldn’t tell what breach had been repaired. I have felt so relatively healthy!

Hours later, in another moment rare moment of silence, after the kids had gone to bed, I was finally able to place it. This thing that is being put back together…is my train of thought.

I received a letter with a question; — and here I must interrupt myself to sing a song to the precious, steady trickle of letters! They are, in a word, sustaining. I’d like to brag that I have a “thread” going on gender, one on virtue, one on God, and another on intelligence and schooling. But to oversimplify these letters into “threads” is to oversimplify these people. My pen pals have the courage to share with me their hopes and fears, which is to say, they talk a little bit, every once in a while, about What Matters. How courageous! How unusual!

But that’s a side note. In a letter dated January 2, 2010, Kirsten Brandt writes, “How do we prompt dialogues? How do we have real conversations?”

And, for this month of January, I have directed myself to answering that question. It has brought me back, again and again, to the dinner table.

Cooking isn’t the only thing in my life that is moving out of Someday and into Now. Rather, my List of Things I Have Always Wanted to Do When I Have Time is seeing unprecedented turnover. My baby is in cloth diapers. I’m doing my own baby food. I’ve read the second half of the Old Testament. I can juggle three beanbags. Most everybody who ought to have pictures of my kids has pictures of my kids. Despite a truly impressive resistance to musical knowledge, last week I learned from my niece a little song, the four notes required to tune Milo’s ukulele.

But cooking is the most unexpected of my developing skills, and somehow the most important. I don’t have much to compare to, here, in my non-digital island. Is this my whole generation, or is it just me? Are there others of you who made it to age thirty and beyond without learning that pasta sauce doesn’t have to come out of a container? Or that you can make your own vegetable stock (and it’s cheaper and tastes better)? Or that it takes fewer steps to make bread than it does to make chocolate chip cookies? It’s too bad, in this, that I can’t see comments on this blog, but I will make an informed guess that I am not alone. If my mother, who literally wrote the book on country living, raised her youngest children on frozen dinners, chances are that some of you were raised that way as well.

Against the inertia of my former life, I am now learning how to cook. It’s a hard road, starting from so little knowledge, but I persevere. (Remember, without media entertainment in my life, I have really nothing better to do!) I have learned to make bread – although not nearly as well as my husband – and polenta, and short grain rice, and soups truly from scratch. I’ve nearly perfected the cranberry muffin, which success is mitigated by the fact that neither my husband nor my son really likes cranberry muffins. And, never mind that that the Sephardic bean soup was made essentially inedible by the enthusiastic addition of an extra jalapeno pepper, or that my apple muffins were unleavened, and not for religious reasons. There are successes, and there are failures, but mostly there is a sea change in my attitude towards how I sustain myself and my family. I am a creative being in the kitchen. I have a choice about what I eat. Putting food on my table can be an essay question, instead of multiple choice. And…I can invite people to dinner.

Question: How do we talk about politics without losing our very humanity? Answer: I am inviting people to dinner.

Aha! You see, those of you who were about to pick up the phone and chastise me, you may chastise me for my weakness, but not for betrayal. I am still in the fray. I am trying to go deeper into the fray. However, what I have been doing has not worked. Something needs to change. We are all human, and we are all hungry. I will not minimize, or be minimized. I will not be snowed by the infighting to the extent that I miss the greatest matter of that Race that Shall Not Be Named, which is that everybody feels betrayed. Who is betraying us? Is it really one politician over another? Or is it the unsettling possibility that we are all sitting at the table, counting our approval points, while the ship is going down?

“So what are we supposed to do?” asks my niece, who is not a resident of Massachusetts anyway, and looks as if she would like the whole darn thing that is politics to go away so we can go back to making pizza sauce and admiring Milo’s precociousness. “Vote for the person that we hate the least?”

Well, yes. That’s precisely what we are supposed to do. That’s precisely how our democracy is set up. What do we think of these people? That they are gods and goddesses? Or demons and demonesses? They represent blocks of people, not layers of stratosphere. They are not, in themselves, right action. What kind of drama has blurred the lines between politics and righteousness? Ah…but this is precisely the alchemy of a political campaign: to transform money received into messages to convert the many. Money into votes; votes into power. Money via drama into votes into power. And our media is so lifelike. We are so able to make our drama look like it is real. Money via reality into votes into power.

I don’t know, maybe I know too much about theatre. For listening to political campaigns? I should be earning union scale.

I do believe in right action. I do believe, ferociously, in civic responsibility. I don’t in any way eschew the ballot box. But my life is only so long! And my children are only this fragile, this vulnerable, for this short time! I see that the earthquake in Haiti could teach us our weaknesses. It could bring us closer to our vulnerability, which could bring us closer to one another. But, through the media lens, I see it only teaches us our fear.

I have plenty of fear. I won’t eat it. I won’t serve it. And I won’t pray to it.

Thus…After two months without the Internet, I am OFF the obsessive, multiple-choice politicking and ON to “Right Living, the Essay Question,” which is much harder, but which also gives my soul a space to breathe.

At this moment, the best thing that I can do for my country is to continue learning how to cook. Please, feel free to send me recipes.

Yours Truly, From My Kitchen,

Esther Emery

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Word From Esther!

Posted by Amy Chini

Month One

First things first. By way of correction, I need to let you know that my Year Without Internet is costing 15 dollars per month less than I thought it would. I bring this up only because I wrote two whole posts on it back in my blogging month of November, and now those figures are all wrong.

When I called to cancel the internet, the nice young man on the phone explained to me that I could keep my promotional rate just by signing up for basic cable. This sounds like a racket, and maybe it is, but the end result is that my monthly bill is less than I expected, and if you want to come over, I now have basic cable. All you have to bring is the TV.

I’ve asked Amy to post this letter for me today, because I feel strongly that the conversation I started in my blogging month of November deserves to be kept alive. This is a conversation about our relationship with communication technology. It’s a conversation about love of “speed” and love of “ease,” and whether or not technology created to sate these desires is actually in any way improving our lives.

In this New Year’s week, I have heard (on the radio) and read (in the newspaper) a lot of references to science fiction. As adolescents, we used to read books that were set in 2010. These books had spaceships and aliens and artificial intelligences. It’s funny now to say, “Look, none of that has happened. None of it has come true. What fun we had with all our imagining!” It’s also funny to say, “Look, robots are real. Genetic engineering is real. Cloning is real. It’s true that we don’t press a little button on our chests in order to open a phone line, but our lines of communication are that ubiquitous, and almost as easy.”

In some small ways, these two worlds are converging. Science fiction has happened. Science fiction has come true. (Although, apparently, without the aliens.)

I am only one of a hundred voices this week that is noticing this. Many, many people are talking about how we observe and judge our relationships with communication technology, especially at the individual level. How do I, in my life, find the time to disconnect? How do I turn off the signal long enough to live here and now, in the place where I am?

My perspective on this is personal, related to a difficult thing that I have set out to do, by myself. On my solo journey, I am constantly measuring my self-reliance. Americans are a hardy bunch, and we talk a big talk about this, self-reliance. It might be the ability to trust that even without the pull of the crowd, one will still muddle along into the best possible action. It might be the faith that motivation will sustain, even in the absence of deadlines and hierarchies. Or it might be the ability to stop, even when everybody else is still moving.

This is the practice which emerges from the journey of my Year Without Internet, Month One: a practice of stopping.

This is the question which emerges from the same: Do you know how to stop?

As soon as I set out to stop, there emerge two smaller and more insistent questions. The first is “What do I do with myself?” And the second is “How do I get away?” I have tried, turning these over in my mind, to disengage them from one another. I will do a chapter on each one. But I can’t get them apart. They are the same question. “To do” is the verb for getting away. I do in order to escape.

At the end of this first month, I am very aware of the relationship between the internet and what I might call “busy work,” which is any work that you do that you don’t really want to finish. A good friend of mine, living in relative idleness after being laid off from his job, was asked, “What have you been up to?” He answered,

“I’ve almost finished reading the Internet.”

Of course he started reading it all over again the next day. But I have excluded that option. Without my bottomless well of busy work, what am I supposed to do with myself? Crossword puzzles? Or a cross stitch? Read magazines? Pick the lint off of all my sweaters?

Approaching the same problem from the other direction, it’s privacy that feels lacking. I realize that Facebook is not only a way to connect with people. It is also a way to stop connecting with people: namely, the ones who live in my house. These are the little ones, who try to connect in problematic ways like begging for another game of Airplane, or spitting food into my hand, or just endlessly interrupting my train of thought. But this is also that one person who is always and forever occupying my personal space, whose imperfections are a constant drag on my buzz, and whose traumas are the ultimate killjoy. These are my children, and this is me.

So…here I am in New England, sitting in the middle of piles and piles of snow, learning how to live with myself. And the wonderful letters seem to come around just exactly when I need them, like ceramics classes. And this household celebrated the battery-operated candle lights out of Christmas.

I am (mostly) glad to be exactly where I am, right now.