I check my phone approximately 57,000 times a day, for no particular reason. God forbid I don't respond to a text or email right away or know the up-to-the-minute news, or see how many people have liked my latest post. I spend way too much time checking social media, which is maybe in part due to the fact that I manage the Children's Literacy Foundation's social media accounts, but, let's be honest, who really cares if I don't see that 43 people have liked the latest article on reading right away? I try to ignore the weekly notification my phone gives me about how much screen time I've spent that week because I know it will depress the hell out of me. What else could I be doing instead of checking Facebook or Instagram for the 97th time that day? I can't even sit down to relax and watch a show or read a book without my phone by my side, making sure I'm up-to-date on what's happening in the world or whose kid is the cutest. And it's not just screen time. We often have a podcast or the news on in the background so we can learn about the latest scandal or tragedy while we read or do the dishes. It's hard for me to just sit in silence and take in what's around me. I've taken lately to not listening to music while I write, trying to be more focused and present in my tasks. But it's still hard for me to sit and accomplish one thing without hopping up to jot down an idea before I forget it, or send a text while it's fresh on my mind.
It's hard to disconnect these days, with the fear of missing something important looming over us. I've (almost) stopped listening to the news on my way to work because it makes me anxious, the reminder first thing about everything that's wrong with the world. But then, when my husband brings up an important topic of the day that I'm unaware of, I feel behind and a little dumb, guilty for not reading every breaking news article that pops up on my phone. It's hard to remember that it wasn't always like this. I got my first smart phone a decade ago and, before that, what did I do if I had a spare minute? I read. I still bring books with me wherever I go, but I constantly interrupt my reading by checking my phone, replying right away, rather than fully immersing myself in a book.
And it's not just technology. I never slow down, rarely give myself a moment just to sit with my thoughts. I try to write every day, submit stories at least 3-5 times a week, post on this blog at least once a week, revise and write new stories, research and read journals to decide where to submit next. And that's during my time "off." I have two writing groups and a student working on getting her high school diploma, and often read/edit others' work, so I always have something I feel behind on. I'm working on a short story collection and a memoir, with a novel on the back burner. If I take the time to walk my dogs or watch a TV episode, I feel guilty that I haven't accomplished anything in that half hour. My to-do lists are a mile long and rarely get fully crossed off. I get home from work and go to work on writing and reading. Oh, and the house occasionally gets cleaned (though not often enough).
Since I graduated from the Bennington Writing Seminars in January, people have asked me how it feels to be done with school. "You must have so much more free time!" they say, and I laugh a little. "Free time? What's that?" I might joke. The truth is, I've stuck to the writing schedule I maintained during school and have written just as much as if a professor was expecting my work every month. While it's sometimes freeing not to have those deadlines or to be able to work on whatever's calling me in the moment instead of finishing a piece to submit according to a schedule, I've been terrified of losing my momentum and haven't slowed down a bit. Even if I don't sit down at my computer to write every day (though I do most days), I'm still thinking about what I'm going to write, wrestling with a problem that needs to be solved, jotting down notes or rereading the last thing I've written. Not a day goes by that I don't do something writing-related. I've submitted nearly 100 stories since graduating (and gotten many rejections, which is its own kind of emotional work). My brain never turns off. For the past two years, I've also had two-to-three psychoanalysis appointments every week, and if you don't think that's its own kind of work that takes a toll on you, then you've never done psychoanalysis. It's emotionally exhausting, examining every part of your thoughts and feelings, digging deep and crying a lot. I often have a hard time getting creative work done afterwards, but not for lack of trying.
Tomorrow my husband and I leave for Greece for two weeks, a very generous graduation gift from my grandmother. We haven't had a vacation in two years, and even that was with friends, so we haven't taken a trip longer than a weekend together since our honeymoon four years ago (also in Greece). For the past two years, my vacation time has been dominated by ten-day Bennington residencies - hardly a vacation - and writing retreats. I haven't gone away without my computer and a thousand things to work on in years. Even when we were on our honeymoon, I posted photos nearly every day to capture how much fun we were having and checked constantly to see who was jealous (why?). This time, I'm determined to unplug and unwind. I'm going to delete my social media apps from my phone to eliminate the impulse to obsessively check them. I'll post all my envy-inducing photos when I get home. I'm going to do my best to remove myself from the news and not check my email (the Gmail app is going, too). Nothing is so urgently important that I need to know about it right away. I've left the Children's Literacy Foundation's social media accounts in the capable hands of our intern and nothing absolutely needs to happen while I'm gone. With the exception of jotting down the day's thoughts and highlights in my journal, just for me, I'm not going to write for two weeks (!!!). I'm going to give myself a break. I think I'll even try meditating with my husband, something he's taken to doing in the mornings to de-stress and which I'm pretty terrible at (hello, restless monkey-brain). I'm not going to get things done, but just try to enjoy the moment, like back in the olden days. I know it will be hard for me and maybe even a little scary, but I feel like I've been running and running and need to slow down. I've barely made it home before 9:00 p.m. in the last two weeks and even cramming in a thousands fun things has gotten to be an exhausting task. It's summer and I need to do everything all the time! Last Monday, I drove the two-and-a-half hours to Bennington, dropped off books at the local library for a children's program, made copies of a handout to teach, had lunch with friends, taught a two-hour class, saw a friend's graduate reading, drove the two-and-a-half hours home just in time to play soccer, had a beer with friends. Last Friday, I had an appointment with my accountant, met with my student, had lunch with my grandma, got some writing done, finished reading a book, went for a hike and apres beers with a friend. And that's just the fun stuff. It's time for me to relax, unplug, and enjoy the moment. I highly recommend it.