It started in my dream the other night: I was looking at my phone as I wondered why I spend so much time looking at my phone. I rarely remember my dreams, so I came back to it as I was journaling this morning.
The question is not a new one. The struggle is real. I don’t like how quickly I move to the small screen when nothing else is happening. I have deleted most all of my social media apps–Facebook, most notably–both to give me some distance from the chatter and also to force my eyes and my thoughts elsewhere, but in my dream last night I went farther. I deleted my news apps, my sports apps, most of my information apps.
When I woke up, I did the same thing. I am, as they say, living the dream.
I didn’t cancel subscriptions or close accounts. I just took them off of my phone so that I have to be at my laptop to get the information, which is one of the reasons I sit at my laptop. What I think I am chasing is the chance to learn how to do nothing again. To be bored. Unoccupied. I have a tendency to feel claustrophobic about life, in varying degrees; I am continually looking for space–for room to move, both physically and spiritually. These months of isolation have heightened that for all of us in many ways, but they have also created some space, or, at least, some time. My schedule is more open. My mind is still cluttered and crowded.
Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing, is one of the books on my wish list. For now, I subscribe to his bi-weekly newsletter. In a past issue, he talked about the connection between noticing and caring:
When the book came out, and I was out meeting people and talking about it, this “care for something” idea — the connection between noticing and attention and caring — came up a lot. Often we end up “noticing” or paying attention to things we really don’t care about: They’re irrelevant distractions, forced on us through screens or social networks or billboards or whatever. The book was written to help remedy that problem.
And at some point while talking about this I simply blurted out, “Pay attention to what you care about, and care about what you pay attention to.”
Though I didn’t have his words in mind, that is what I was chasing in my dream last night and my time this morning. I want to stop paying attention to things I don’t really care about. Wait–I’d rather state that as a positive: I want to pay attention to what matters to me.
Mostly, I just want to pay attention.
Maria Popova is another whose newsletter populates my mailbox from time to time. Her website, Brain Pickings, is a treasure trove of ideas and authors. She started her letter this week with these words:
When I walk–which I do every day, as basic sanity-maintenance, whether in the forest or the cemetery or the city street–I walk the same routes, walk along loops, loops I often retrace multiple times in a single walk. This puzzles people. Some simply don’t get the appeal of such recursiveness. Others judge it as dull. But I walk to think more clearly, which means to traverse the world with ever-broadening scope of attention to reality, ever-widening circles of curiosity, ever-deepening interest in the ceaselessly flickering constellation of details within and without. In this respect, walking is a lot like love–for one human being to love another is to continually discover new layers of oneself while continuously discovering new layers of the other, and in them new footholds of love.
Yesterday marked the day Ginger and I met thirty-two years ago. I turned sixty-four last month, so that means I have spent half of my life finding new footholds of love. Last night after dinner, I built a fire and we sat in the living room, surrounded by Schnauzers and the sounds of a playlist I made for our twenty-fifth anniversary, and talked for a couple of hours. The depth and range of our conversation was a beautiful reminder of the layers we have to discover and re-discover in each other. And we could have missed it, had we chosen from any number of distractions and other promises we have to keep. Some nights we have to do the other things, but I need to keep reminding myself that most of life will wait on any given night until after I have given my attention to the one who matters most to me.
Yes. I’m living the dream.
A beautiful piece, Milton. I’m encouraged by your tuning out a lot of social media since I often get discouraged by the amount of time I spend (especially during Covid) and a feeling of emptiness that often settles over me when I’m done. I’ve reflected a lot on what I did before computers and phones, and want to recapture some of that attention to people & to the world. Thank you.