I’m having some trouble being here. Not here on the blog, but here in my life.
Over the past few months I’ve started a new blog (this one!), rejoined Instagram and Goodreads, signed up for Twitter (yes, I know I’m late), and after years of holding out, I’ve joined the ranks of every other person I know and opened a Facebook account.
Initially, I tried to ignore Facebook because it seemed like an online high school reunion, which I had no interest in taking part in (still don’t). But also because it reminds me of yearbook culture [shudder].
I still get sweaty palms thinking about middle school yearbook season. I remember trying to act all blasé, like I didn’t care about how many signatures I collected, or which boy scribbled his name on top of his grinning snapshot, and then the next thing you know I’m sprinting down the hall with every other seventh grade girl, collecting as many signatures as possible.
Fortunately, because I’m so late in the game, the competitive feeling has subsided and most of my high school alumni have already (perhaps) tried and failed to find me. It’s quite possible I’m overestimating myself. At any rate, I’m happily cultivating a small and genuine group of “friends.” It’s also been an unexpected delight to reconnect with those I’ve lost touch with over the years.
But all this online involvement comes at a cost.
My time. My attention. My focus.
There is pretty much NO reason at all to be alone in our lives, to be bored, or quiet, or still, ever. I know I reached rock bottom the other day when I was cooking dinner, and in between steps of the recipe, refreshed Twitter and checked my Facebook status.
UGH. This is why I hesitated to rush into the yearbook fray, because I know myself, I know how susceptible I am to distraction, to checking out.
We are all guilty of this, of course, but sometimes it comes at a cost higher than we’d like to pay.
Eight years ago I spent the afternoon with my mom, about a week before she lost consciousness forever. She sat in her usual reclining chair and we watched TV while my dad attended his company picnic, a celebration my mother hadn’t been able to attend in several years.
My mom seemed more out of sorts than usual. She kept asking me to help her stand up. Just let me put my feet on the floor, she kept saying, agitated at my reluctance.
At least let me try, she said, growing steadily more furious. I can’t do it, mom, I kept saying, I’m sorry. Please, I begged, stop asking me.
But she wouldn’t. Finally, I lowered her chair so her toes were grazing the floor. See, I said, helpless with despair, it’s not working.
Furious, she ripped her gaze away from me and stared at the TV leaving me feeling more alone than I had ever felt in her presence.
You need to understand, my mom was a paraplegic. She had a severe form of multiple sclerosis and hadn’t walked, let alone stood on her own, for at least a decade. Listening to desperate pleas to stand, as if we, her family, had been withholding this ability from her, tore at my heart.
This was years before smart phones, but I did have a laptop. I remember checking my email and staring at a ridiculous celebrity gossip site. Anything to create distance from my mother’s pain and my inability to help her.
It breaks my heart, even after all these years, that I tried to escape from her weeks before she left me forever.
Escape has its consequences. The price for checking out can be steep.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for the pleasure, guilty or otherwise, of reading say, the New Yorker, or E!
Technology is a brilliant way to stay in touch with friends, keep up with news around the world, and read beautifully written blogs filled with life and writerly advice.
But when all you do is click, when you can no longer bear to hear the noise of your life, it’s a problem.
Sometimes I think I stay online because I am so afraid of missing anything. But if I’m not careful, I will miss my life.
This isn’t news. There are – ahem – a bazillion blog posts, not to mention books, about the risks of living online instead of off. But this is my wake up call. I need to focus.
I need to Be Here.
That’s the reason for my rock, the flip side of focus, to remind myself where I’m supposed to be. While cooking dinner, driving with my family (as a passenger!), playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, and writing.
So, if you wonder where I am, that is where. Here. In my life.
I’d love to hear from you, if you can spare a moment, to learn how you balance – or not balance – your online and offline lives. Do you schedule out your social media time? (Something I’m considering.) Do you put away your phone at certain times of the day? What is ONE thing you can do, right now, to be more present in your life?