Monday, November 14, 2011

The Importance of Unplugging

There is absolutely no science to support what I'm about to say. (Since when has that stopped me?) But honestly, the older I get, and the more time I spend on the computer - for work, for entertainment, for social networking, for a dozen other things - the shorter my attention span becomes. The more anxious, sometimes, I become. And like many folks, sometimes I get internet fatigue.

This is mildly alarming, since the internet and I have been BFFs for quite a long time now and 99 percent of the time, if you tried to take Twitter away from me I would clobber you over the head with a frying pan. But every once in a while, I stare longingly at the "off" button on my wireless connection, wishing I had the willpower to turn it off voluntarily.

That would, of course, never happen.

So I did the next best thing: I went camping this past weekend. Anyone who knows me should probably take pause at that sentence. I do not do the whole communing with Mother Gaia Earth Outdoors Thingy particularly well. I'm pampered and spoiled and my idea of 'unwinding' usually tends to involve more cabana boys bringing me fruity drinks as I lay by the Puerto Rican shoreline and less 'Nature! Nature IN MY FACE!'

But I did it anyway.

It's important, as writers, to stretch outside of our comfort zones every once in a while. Writing what you knows gets old - and uninteresting - pretty quickly if you don't know a whole lot. I've talked a bit about this before on my own blog, the phenomenon that my friend Erin calls "replenishing the well". So that's what I took this weekend to do.

It's not just about finding inspiration in the unusual, or the outside world. Sometimes it's about stepping away from the world you know. I had zero cell phone service for close to 48 hours. No phone calls or e-mails or Twitter. I missed Twitter (though truly, I did not lament the loss of e-mail notifications for just about anything). But I needed it. I needed to take a breath.

I'm refreshed now, despite sleeping on the wooden floor of a poorly-insulated cabin and somewhat freezing my tuchus off the other night, because camping in Virginia in the middle of November is what some people would refer to as 'silly'. I'm refreshed in spite of inhaling the ashes of a giant bonfire all weekend, or having to pee in a batch of what I strongly suspected to be poison sumac, or hiking about a hillside looking for firewood and coming up pathetically empty-handed.

I'm refreshed.

I could do with some more time away from the back-and-forth of everyday life - couldn't we all? - though I think I maxed out my enjoyment of forfeiting my memory foam mattress. But the breathing, the action of stepping back, even if just for a day or two, is always so much better for me than I anticipate going in.

(I tend to project worst-case scenarios. Thinking things such as 'But I will be in the woods in the middle of NOWHERE and someone important will call me - the President, what if it's the President? And I can't ANSWER! And also there are BEARS, and since I did not bring my computer it may resign in protest, dousing itself in gasoline like a Buddhist monk and going up in FLAMES and then the President of the United States will think I'm not returning his calls because I ran off with the Prime Minister of Greece when really, I've just been mauled beyond recognition by a bear. HOW DID ANYONE TALK ME INTO THIS?!')

But none of those fears came true.* And I'm better for the experience. I have a bit more focus and perspective now, and I mentioned on Twitter last week that I was beginning to get a bit down/discouraged about my writing journey. I feel a bit more confident, or at least calmer now. But the demons of doubt reach everybody once in a while, and it's important to be able to run for the hills.

So when's the last time you took a step back to breathe? Really, truly breathe? And how did it affect you - and your writing?

* The President did call, but my secretary got back to him in a timely fashion, I'm assured.

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