I have a bit of an obsession with emoticons. Now that apparently I use my blog to confess all my addictions — like wild plums and all the thick sweet things you can make with wild plums — I figure I might as well also confess that I’m addicted to emoticons. I was actually asked to write a professional article for a real deal magazine this month and I almost couldn’t make it through without a smiley face.
The truth is, it is a huge part of my story — a huge, crucial part of my story of becoming more myself and more whole and more human — that I went for a year without the Internet. It is also a huge part of my story — another huge, crucial part — that I’m now the modern kind of off-grid homesteader, which means that electronics and electronic communication are integral to my daily life. Which is how it’s true that I really can’t go a day without emoticons.
There are those who like simple ideas and pared down definitions, and I’m just not one of them. It’s alright. You do you, I’ll do me. I’m always looking for more options, more complexity, deeper paradoxes. I think the best thing to do with a definition is to explode it, and the best thing to do with a category is to fuzz out the edges. I’m simply not capable of being an Internet hater, anymore than I’m capable of not ever wondering what my life would be like if I pulled all the plugs.
I went off the Internet basically because I realized that I couldn’t. I realized one day that I couldn’t and I don’t like it when I can’t do things. So that was my bone, and I chewed it. I fought for that sector of ability — that freedom — and it wasn’t easy. I had to work my insides all into a different configuration so I could do this thing that before I couldn’t do: this thing being probably 90% get around a city without Siri and 10% something deeper about identity and motivation and perceptions of what is and isn’t real.
I absolutely do believe we’re living in a kind of Matrix, just like that now-old movie. I do think there’s something deep and vitally true to this myth in which the people are just sleeping their lives away in plastic pods, giving their life energy to an unseen enemy, while their minds exist in an completely articulate artificial world they call reality. I do think that in my place and time as a relatively privileged North American citizen consumer I am invited and expected to live like this, as much under fantasy as reality. And independence from that is both costly and hard to come by.
What I don’t think is that this break between fantasy and reality drops along the lines of our electronics.
When I came back to the Internet after my year away I returned with a somewhat adapted set of interests. Ethical eating, ethical consumption (if there is such a thing), and racial justice had become more pressing concerns for me during my year offline, as I had run myself out of distractions and run square into my ego and my selfishness and my inability to care for others. I also had gotten wayyyyy into homemaking, which was a huge surprise for everyone. (I need some emoticons right here.)
My interests had shifted because I wasn’t feeding myself a constant stream of distraction. That is not made up. And I had experienced a kind of ancient, universally available process of healing, which is also not made up. But at the end of that year, when I came back, it was clear that while I was having all that real (and really important) stuff going on inside me, the rest of the world was just plugging along. And all these issues that had seemed new to me weren’t really new at all. They were all over the Internet.
It’s a true thing about people that we can’t see things, even when they’re right in front of us, unless we want to see them. And if there is a Matrix, of fantasy obscuring reality, it’s there because we like it.
Also, it’s there for the people who can get it, and that’s never going to be everyone.
I’m telling you all this because the blogger Andrew Sullivan — brilliant wit, excellent writer — wrote a long form piece in New York Magazine about the Internet and distraction and our souls. It’s a good read, but also I found it kind of depressing.
Here’s the thing I won’t accept. I won’t accept that any of these technologies have me by the throat, certainly not in terms of me requiring them for survival, but also not in terms of being a scapegoat for what’s lacking in my moral character.
It’s funny to me how people don’t have to know the details of what I stand for to feel inspired by my willingness to stand for it. I love that, actually. I love that Nick and I represent a kind of willingness to take drastic measures, to change direction in life, and to take risks, and people interpret that however makes sense to them. As a couple who enjoys exploding definitions and fuzzing out categories that fits us well.
But I do want to say this. The spiritual path just isn’t easy. Even as a naturally introspective and searching person I would absolutely never have taken the steps I did, except I that I got everything so messed up in my life I didn’t have a choice. I don’t think it does anything or anyone justice to say if only we didn’t have the Internet then all the scales would fall off our eyes and the planks would fall out from them and we would be like blind people who see.
Yes, these kinds of changes are possible. And yes, there is a thing about going into the dark of the woods, or the cave, or the mountaintop, to seek for these kind of changes. Silence invites conversion. And I do believe that Christ comes to those who call. But also the stark open pain of the wilderness is available already. It’s right there in your iPhone, or your laptop, or your phone line, or your newspaper, or the person right next door or down the hall. The things that make your heart open and crack and shape-shift are right there for the taking. Love in emoticons. It’s there already. You just have to want to.
The wise people always say to know your joy you also have to know your sorrows. And the world is full of them. It’s so easy not to look. It is so easy to hide behind all the walls and that isn’t a new thing even if our smartphones are.
I wish you all the tenderness to open hearts, and find your joys alongside each other’s sorrows. I wish you the freedom to define yourself, by something other than running away from hard things and feeling numb. And I wish you the courage to break on the side of reality, even to slip out from under the polished, urgent fantasies that keep us in thrall, when our hearts would lead us into further danger and more dangerous hope.
Also. Lots and lots of emoticons.
With love from the yurt,