You know you live in Israel when your in-laws offer to take 2 of your 3 children for a sleepover, you return home with your husband and sleeping 3rd child, you strip off your clothes, get into bed and your first thought is not “How much hot sex with my husband can I have right now?” but “Oh shit, <said in-laws> have two gas masks (if any at all) and room for approximately 2 1/2 adults in their walk-in closet miklat.
Conversation with husband follows:
“There are 10 people sleeping in the house tonight. Who do you think they’ll give the gas masks to?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No seriously. Do our kids get preference because they’re Israeli … you know… the other ones are just visiting. They knew the risks of vacationing here without gas masks when they bought the tickets.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about.”
“No I’m serious. There is no room in that closet for all of them. Plus, there’s no door.”
“Nothing will happen.”
“You always say that.”
“Shit? Really? I guess they’ll be okay until morning.”
And what happened after that is left to your imagination…
In a discussion with my mother last week, I explained to her with confidence that a group of people were surely talking about me when I left the room.
“How exactly do you know that?” she asked me.
“I just do,” I replied.
“How?” she pressed.
I explained to her that in the same way she is brilliant when it comes to data analysis or number crunching, I know people and their behavior.
It’s not my paranoia, it’s my specialty.
This is why I excel in marketing and branding — you need to be hyper sensitively tuned in to emotions and able to anticipate reactions in order to predict trends and behavior.
I like to tell people — because it’s true and a little self-deprecation is still attractive on a 39 year old who looks 34 — that I am a trend spotter, not a trendsetter.
I spotted the name Hannah, and sock monkeys, and gluten free all before they became Average Joe household-familiar trends.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
The bad part about being a trend spotter, much in the same way that it’s bad to be psychic — people tend to think you’re crazy until the moment after the trend hits the Today Show.
They either don’t listen to you or roll their eyes or … talk about you behind your back, often and with more eye rolling.
The worst part? I receive little to no vindication years later when the trend is obvious. Most people, except for my cousin Jami, have all forgotten by then that crazy Jen suggested years ago that probiotics were the key to fighting depression.
As for my digital detox, I was a little late on the uptake this time.
Only days after I finished my detox — which included the elimination of my smartphone and all computer-related activities for 2 1/2 weeks except for checking personal email once a week and Facebook on my birthday — someone sent me this smart and poignant short film about our cultural obsession with digital connection. The same day, as I returned to Twitter activity, this article from Fast Company appeared in my feed about “slow design” and mentions the digital detox trend. (Not to mention silent meditation retreats — something I’ve been doing, writing about, and suffering ridicule for over the last two years! )
Maybe my trend spotting eye has blurred in my old age, or maybe — like the rest of the world — I am too tired and over-stimulated to be spotting much of anything save for my second cup of espresso.
If digital detox has become a trend before I spotted it, so be it.
It’s good for us.
We need it.
And we need it fast.
More and more I am hearing from my friends or seeing evidence on the social media networks I somehow feel compelled to follow even though I am getting more and more tired of the content, that —
life is too fast and too hard to keep up with
Just yesterday, my poor friend on Facebook posted an urgent plea for advice:
How do you all do it? She wanted to know.
How do you all keep up with everything? Work, kids, marital bliss, friends, community, world news?
How do you all do it?
I could hear the defeated sigh that followed the last question mark.
We don’t, was my answer.
We’re suffering, I told her.
I hoped to offer her some solace, some comfort. Misery, after all, loves company.
But I don’t know how much relief company will bring. In this case, the more we see others faking it, the more “less than” we feel. And it’s so easy to fake it. It’s so easy to distract yourself from your pain and discontent.
Until it’s not.
During my own digital detox, which took place during a family vacation, I become hyper aware — just like the girl in the video — of all that goes on, and all that is ignored, around me.
I also became acutely aware and appreciative of my own presence in my own life.
It took only 48 hours of being off Facebook to be so thankful to be off Facebook.
To be relieved.
It took less time for me to be thankful to be off Twitter.
To not know what was going on in the news.
To not have to be witty or responsive.
To tune out the latest trends.
To tune out other people, and the details of their lives.
This may sound mean or psychopathic. Or at the very least, depressive.
Maybe it is.
But if it is, it’s a cultural disease that most of us are severely suffering from.
Most of us just don’t know it — or acknowledge it – yet. OR we’re still convincing ourselves that information access trumps burn out.
Or we think there is no way out.
The symptoms of our cultural disease come out in little ways, like my friend’s Facebook plea, or in a whispered coffee chat between young mothers, or in a verbal spar between embarrassed male colleagues, both overtired and fearful that they will never be able to catch up on their emails or please neither their bosses nor their wives.
My heart hurts for those men, and
I mourn the loss of my freedom.
Because that is what digital detox is — a gateway drug to freedom.
It’s just too expensive for my pocketbook right now and not trendy enough to be available to the masses.
I’m waiting, though.
I’m watching the Today Show headlines on Twitter, and waiting.
Because years ago, back when people were complaining that $5.99/pound was too much to be paying for apples, I was secretly shopping organic at Wild Oats in Tucson, Arizona, waiting for Walmart to catch up.
And hoping for a trend to hit.
Hoping that I wasn’t mistaken and hoping I wasn’t alone.
As if jet lag, back-to-school prep, protecting my kids from a polio outbreak and returning to work after a 2 1/2 week long digital detox wasn’t stressful enough, now I have to worry about a Syrian attack before Thursday.
TOMORROW is Thursday?
I should have bought more Tums while I was in the States.
Or I should have taken a longer vacation.
Either way, I am in deep doo doo because my stomach just can’t handle the stress.
Last night was the first full night sleep I have gotten in three days. THREE DAYS.
And tonight I have to attend a women’s birth circle on Hannaton. (Don’t ask.)
Just about 39 times, I’ve grown older on August 19 and it still feels off.
I’m a numbers girl and 19 has never quite fit me.
Not now, not when I was 19, not ever.
First of all, in general, I prefer even numbers to odd.
And second of all, nine sounds harsh, and nineteen harsher.
The 20th seems like a good day to be born. Or the 4th. Or the 16th even.
But not the 19th.
Of course, it doesn’t help that my birthday lands in the worst part of the summer, when school is out but camp is over and everyone is away on vacation or hiding in their houses praying for Labor Day to arrive quickly or not to arrive at all. No one is around or above ground to notice that it’s August 19, the day of my birth that never quite feels like my birthday.
Maybe the 19th is better when it arrives in June.
Whenever my birthday week comes and goes, I feel as if I was headed for a honeymoon in Vegas but ended up stranded in Cleveland.
Long ago, I stopped expecting my birthday to be special.
But I’m taking my birthday back this year. Because it is special, I realize. It’s my birth day. The day my soul came alive.
Fortuitously, I read this post by Waylon Lewis this morning, which helped me make a decision to transform my birthday this year from a not-quite-right kinda day of awkward moderate celebration into a meaningful experience. Even if that meaningful experience lasts an hour, not all day long.
Waylon, who was born and raised in an American Buddhist family, suggests:
“Meditate for a few minutes, then contemplate—a focused, deliberate sort of thinking—your life. Think about what it’s for, and where it’s been, and where you might have gone off the path of being genuine and trying to be helpful to yourself, to others, and to our fragile planet. Don’t waste much time in regret, which Trungpa Rinpoche said was a valuable emotion but one that you ‘should only spend three seconds on’ after making a mistake. Think about where you’re going, how short your life is and what it is for (‘benefiting all sentient beings, including oneself’ is a good place to start if you’re coming up empty).
Then, celebrate the day with your community—genuine friends and close family. Presents, cake, it’s all to the good.”
Yes, it is all to the good.
It will be especially this year because I’ll be on vacation during my birthday. And since I’ve made a conscious decision to disconnect during my vacation, meditating and deliberate thinking for an hour should come reasonably easy.
Yes, this is to the good.
August 19 was, according to my parents and a hospital clerk in Philadelphia, the day I was born. The day my soul made a conscious decision to enter into human life.
And while, for some unexplainable reason, the 19th has never felt quite like mine, perhaps this is just something to notice.
Allow the idea to simmer, to be there without judgement.
To just accept August 19 as my birth day and be grateful that it has come again, and my life is mine to create. Each year. Each day.
Waylon finishes his post with this note:
Chogyam Trungpa always had everyone sing “Cheerful Birthday,” not “Happy Birthday,” saying that Happiness was a state of mind that had Sadness or Unhappiness on its flip side. Cheerfulness, he said, better described a fundamental way or attitude of being. So, growing up in the Buddhist tradition, we always sang Cheerful Birthday to you… Either way is great, as long as you consider that you’re not wishing a temporary state of being based on circumstances—but rather that the you may truly continue to become friends with oneself.
If you wish for me something this birthday, wish for me health, cheer, and the strength to continue becoming friends with myself.
I’ll be offline for a while — meditating on me, and enjoying life. Please consider reading some older posts and commenting on them in the meantime.
Now, mind you, this vacation will be in New Jersey, and it will be inhabited by my children, which some people by default would call “travel with children,” not a vacation.
But let’s not get too technical or too obnoxious.
I am going on vacation.
And by choice, I will be disconnecting.
Yup — disconnecting.
I will not be bringing my smartphone with me, which is a lot easier when you live in Israel because it requires some energy and some money to make my smartphone work in America.
And I will not be bringing my laptop with me, which is a lot easier when you live in Israel because no one likes schlepping a heavy PC with them through airport security, or shuffling your feet around a bulky backpack under the seat in front of you.
And I won’t be checking my work email.
My out-of-the-office reply will be for realsies.
I will be gone.
And it won’t be very hard.
But disconnecting from blogging and from instagram will be.
Blogging and instagram ease my pain, clear my head, help me connect to the beauty in my heart and in the world.
Blogging and photography heal me.
Now, of course, I could still write, and still take pictures. Pen and paper, those old things. There’s my not-so-ancient digital camera that’s been collecting dust underneath my desk.
Maybe I’ll fall back in love with the lens.
But something tells me I won’t.
Why not bring the smartphone but just turn off email, ignore the alert?
Technology is an addiction, and I get rid of addictions by going cold turkey.
Cold turkey is how I got rid of cigarettes and how I got rid of gluten.
And cold turkey will be how I get rid of technology.
I almost forgot to punch out my 15-minute Friday piece until I checked my WordPress Reader and saw that the Daily Prompt today pushes us to “Go Serial.” I started going serial accidentally last week when I found myself compelled to write yet another poem about Kfar Manda, the Arab Village down the street from Hannaton, the kibbutz village in which I live.
I was in Kfar Manda because I heard from my friend on Hannaton they had a great health clinic with good doctors and lots of services the smaller clinics here in the North don’t typically have. The two clinics I normally go to were closed and I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t want to wait until the next morning, when my doctor would return to the office.
Going to the health clinic is always a test of bravery for me here in the outskirts of this country. You never know how good the doctor’s English will be and you never know if your Hebrew will be strong enough to indicate which organ feels busted or which region needs attention.
I still don’t know how to say vagina in Hebrew.
I do now, however, after many awkward interactions, know the grownup words for peepee and poop.
It took me 6 months of living in Israel before I felt comfortable going to the doctor without my husband in attendance. But it took me 2 1/2 years of living here before I felt comfortable driving in and around Kfar Manda.
This week was the first time I drove in alone. And I only felt comfortable doing so once I saw on Google Maps that the clinic was only a few blocks from the main road. That said, Google Maps doesn’t really work in villages Northern Israel: neither the Jewish nor the Arab Villages have street signs. And so directions “to turn left on Peleg Street” don’t help in real time. So even though the clinic was only a few blocks in, I needed help from the locals to get me there.
By a mix of my broken Hebrew and theirs, I found my way to the clinic and was graciously supported by the Arab doctors and nurses. The only difference between this clinic and the one I normally go to was language. The promotional signs from the health plan, for instance, were in Arabic instead of Hebrew; as were the conversations between the health professionals.
My solo trip into Kfar Manda didn’t end there. I had to go for an Xray. I could have waited a few days and scheduled an appointment in Karmiel, the nearest city. But I wanted to get the Xray over with. So I asked the doctor for directions.
In typical Middle Eastern style, he pointed out the window and told me in Hebrew to walk this way, that way, and then straight, straight, straight for 50 meters and I’d see it.
I nodded and did as I was told.
Except after 45 minutes in the heat of the day trying five different versions of “this way, that way, and straight straight straight” I only found myself at a market, a pharmacy, and at a store selling curtains.
It was time to go home or talk to people.
I chose to talk to people.
7 or 8 people later, I found the hair salon whose owner pointed me to the bank whose member directed me to the restaurant that was above the Xray center.
I found it.
And in doing so, I found another way of looking at Kfar Manda.
A perspective that involved real people, not just characters in stories. Stories based in fact, yes, but stories also based in fiction. In assumptions. In racism. In fear.
Stories I had been told and stories I told myself.
And so, with personal experience, my understanding of Kfar Manda shifts.
And keep us from having meaningful conversations with other human beings, in particular our kids, our spouses, and our friends. People, presumably, we like and want to have meaningful conversations with.
And yet, we keep using them. We keep buying faster ones, stronger ones, more multi-purpose ones.
We download apps faster than you can say “Shoot me up, Scotty.”
This isn’t news.
Nor is it news that many of us are, at the very least, conflicted about this,
But despite our conflict, we continue to use.
As a recovering control freak — I am pretty addicted to my Waze and my easy access Google, which lets me find out within thirty seconds where the nearest ER is.
We parents like our Angry Birds, so we have something to do while waiting for the doctor. We like our YouTube, so we can have a quiet meal with kids every now and again.
We really, really, really like our Instagram.
Last week, however, the battery in my smartphone died. And due to complications with my warrantee, I have been using a regular old telephone for the last week.
It’s been great.
Weird, disruptive, but great.
I know I’m not the first to notice how much of your life you get back when your smartphone dies, but I can’t help but share my awareness with you.
Without the camera on my smartphone, I just sat and watched my children play for an hour on inflatable jumping castles yesterday.
Without my instagram, I smiled inside and shared my joy with myself only … until I saw my husband later, and had to use my words, and not pictures, to describe how much fun they had.
Without my smartphone, my work day ends when my work day ends, and my work day begins when it begins.
It isn’t one long everlasting day that runs into the next one.
Without my smartphone, taunting me with a flashing light or a clever, nostalgic ring-a-ling-a-ling, my thumbs rested, for the first time in many years. And I listened to a story someone was telling me. I actually listened — to the whole thing — uninterrupted.
Our smartphones are the very physical representations of our very distracted society — a society that runs, forgets, snaps, jumps.
Only when our smartphones disappear — or worse, when tragedy strikes — are we reminded of the choices we have to make each and every second of each and every day.
We must constantly choose where to be.
Are we with our phones? Or are we with our life?
When our phones are around, most of us inevitably choose our phones.
When we don’t, because we have to focus on something or someone else, our typical first responses are irritability or confusion.
WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME?
HUH? WHAT DID YOU SAY? SORRY I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING.
This state of irritability or confusion is how we spend our days … our moments …
With our minds constantly stimulated, we forget we have a choice.
We forget that in every moment, we must choose.
Where to be.
Why do we forget? Because usually we don’t choose. We react.
That’s what humans do when they are over-stimulated.
Our minds have been re-trained from choice to reaction.
For the last week, my mind has been getting a work out in under stimulation.
I had to sit in the doctor’s office and look at the walls, and the people.
I had to wave to the guy riding a donkey in the middle of the road, instead of snapping his picture for posterity.
I had to watch my children … just watch them.
Mostly — I loved this week.
I cheered the death of my smartphone secretly, even though I kept bugging the technician for a date of repair.
Because I understand that it can’t be like this.
That I can’t have it both ways.
That, yes, there is a bigger choice I could make that would allow me to be more present more of the time.
But it would require giving up a lot.
In the meantime, I’m grateful for the death of my smartphone. And I’m proud of myself for realizing the gift inside this temporary loss.