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Category: Living Where I Live

Off the Grid

by mark neely

According to a study done at Ball State U., where I teach, the average American is looking at some sort of screen—iPhone, computer monitor, television, etc.—for an average of 8 ½ hours per day, and often using two or more screens at a time (e.g. tweeting epithets at Chris Bosh while watching the NBA finals).

Much of that time, of course, is spent right here on the Internet. I’m no Luddite (I’m writing this on a blog for Pete’s sake), and I exalt the wonderful anarchy and global sweep of the Web, but I also wish I spent less time there. Some days I feel my brain getting duller with each passing hour.

There’s some science behind this feeling. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr pools together a boatload of research on Web use, and concludes that the Net promotes “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” It also gives us “the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions.”

Hurried thinking, cursory reading, and superficial learning being antithetical to the kind of reading and writing I aspire to, I decided to go offline for the month of July. I didn’t quite keep my promise—once I had to download some important forms and once I took care of some pressing business at work, but all told I spent only two hours online in July—no email, no social media, no websites of any kind.

Unfortunately, I didn’t become a genius overnight, but it was a different life. I wrote and read more last month than in any 30 day period I can remember. I felt the heft of an actual dictionary. I opened a few cookbooks, which had sat idle and dusty on my shelves for many years. I rode bikes and played basketball with my kids. I flushed a family of turkeys from their roost on a morning run. I even napped a couple times. The days seemed to stretch out endlessly. I didn’t worry about who liked what on Facebook, or my Amazon ranking (always dismal), or Paula Deen.

I also missed out. A few writing opportunities came and went (the world of the Web moves fast). The lives (and vacation photos) of friends and relatives went on without me. As did social media—all its flaws, yes, but also its interesting banter and wit and controversy. I got woefully behind on various work tasks that came over the transom while I was away. I missed the news of a great friend’s next book!

I need to be connected most of the time to do my job—but my experiment proved to me that I’d be happier, more productive, and probably smarter if I spent less time online. Now I just have to figure out how to make that happen. The Net is a hard beast to master. Almost everyone I know has pledged to curb their internet usage at one time or another. Even fervent defenders seem to sense we’re all hitting this pipe a bit too often.

I know the Web is simply a new technology for disseminating information, just as the codex was a new technology a thousand years ago, but I’ve never heard anyone say they wished they read fewer books. I wonder why.

Living Where I Live: A Box

by tjbeitelman

A box came to my house yesterday. (My house is kind of boxy in its own right.) Anyway, I opened the box. My dog didn’t care either way what was in the box. The day before the box came, I learned I have two compression fractures in my neck. (This is painful though somewhat less debilitating than one might suspect.) I woke the day the box came not knowing the box would come (in fact suspecting the box would never come) but knowing it was the day my mother would have turned 75. On my way to work, I thought and almost said out loud, “I wonder if Mom’s paying much attention to me these days.” I think I thought I knew the answer. And then, that evening, the box came. I opened it. My dog didn’t care either way. This is how she (my dog and also probably my mom) keeps me honest.

Living Where I Live: Raccoons

by ajanefountas

Two fat raccoons just crossed our backyard. Mind you, it’s 10:00 a.m. and the sun is shining, which isn’t always the case in Seattle. I imagine they had a late night. I wonder if one lost a glass slipper somewhere.

Our cat has gotten into standoffs with these cat-like creatures. They always back off, thankfully.

On New Year’s Eve, I was watching Alice in the Cities, a Wim Wender’s film (1974), when I heard a loud crash on the side of the house. It spooked me: I was alone and it was late. When I looked out the window I saw three raccoons raiding the garbage. I guess this was their idea of a New Year’s Eve party.

We often catch a raccoon in the headlights.

Last summer, the balcony door was open late one evening and I heard what sounded like animals talking to each other. They were, they were raccoons. I saw the eyes of one glowing at the base of a very tall pine tree. She (I think a mother) kept her eyes on me. A while later, I saw a smaller raccoon climbing back down this very tall tree. Then another. And another. And another. Her kids, I’m sure. She, the mother, continued to keep her eyes on me while each kid made its way over the fence. This is where all of the raccoons we see in the yard eventually disappear: over the fence.

Raccoons in pure daylight. This world never ceases to amaze me.

Living Where I Live: Noodie’s Spectacular Fireworks

by tjbeitelman

Living where I live:

  • there are signs. Amish food. (Apparently.) Live bait.
  • there are boiled peanuts and mule traders.
  • there are vacant storefronts, and sirens.
  • there is heroin; there are floods made worse by drought.
  • there is flaked paint, more signs.
  • there are fireworks, fast cars.
  • and there is the relentless and very hot sun. Always.

What do the signs say where you live?

Living Where I Live: Words from the Rock

by theyogaofcake

I am living in Portland, Oregon, but in a few weeks I am moving back to Massachusetts. Portland is, as all cities are according to those who love them, the place to be. Which is why I moved here, and at the time that was enough to move. What makes it the place to be? I’ve asked locals and some of their responses are…You can grow anything and never have to pick up a watering can. The meat and veggies are as tasty as they get. There is a food cart for every comfort food you could possibly crave. There’s no better spot if you have a passion for recycling. The beer is amazing. Bicyclists own the roads. The people are kind—aggressively so.

I get lost in this city but I can get lost anywhere, and it seems I prefer to get lost most days.

Some days I must take the deepest inhale I can muster, scrunch up my face, close my eyes, and point my index finger forward. From here I turn in circles until I have the spins. When I open my eyes I go in the direction my pointed finger tells me. Today it was here.

I was prepared to lounge on the beach reading the newest Nick Hornby novel and eating dried mangoes.

I found myself walking down the beach freezing my butt off in my rain jacket getting closer and closer to this rock (I must mention this is more than just a rock, it is the rock from the 1985 movie The Goonies) for some reason I needed to get close to it like it had something to tell me or I had something to tell it.

I approached it and stood for a while, just staring, cold and wet. Finally I heard this ringing in my ear: you get to be okay, you get to be okay, you get to be okay. It was the perfect phrase to hear while standing in the rain. I opened my mouth and spoke out loud a familiar saying of mine—good-bye— to this rock, to this city, to this coast. The good-bye began to expand and say good-bye to more than this rock, city, and coast but something deeper, something I’ve held to so tightly it’s become a big part of me. It was good-bye to the beliefs and pursuits of skipping over all of this. It was good-bye to a yearning, to not have to sit still in my life. It was good-bye to thinking that I could somehow avoid really having to live this experience if I just keep moving. Having said my good-byes, I walked back along the beach, got inside my car, and drove back to Portland, this still echoing in my ear: you get to be okay.

Living Where I Live: Do-mi-mi, Mi-so-so

by laura didyk

When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most anything…

It’s true. You really can. You can also watch a movie that’s 174 minutes long and leave the theater with your face hurting from smiling so much. I admit there was a little bit of a hunt involved trying to find the right friend to go with me, a friend who when I asked wouldn’t respond with “How long is it again?”

My friend Cristie said yes immediately, and she’s guaranteed fun; another friend, Lara (see below), ended up directly behind us. We all sang loud with the song lyrics subtitled on the screen, laughed our heads off as we booed the nazis, saluted Captain von Trapp when he entered the room, hissed when the Baroness did the same, and acted out the “doe, a deer” hand-jive routine we were taught before the movie started.

The best part about where we were sitting, ground floor, middle section, at the very back, was that we could see the whole audience, everyone, doing all the movements: making doe ears over their heads, using a single finger to make a shape in the air of a sun (ray), the flat hand over the brow and toward the north implying distance (far a long, long way to run), the graceful wrist action involved in air-sewing, the hoards of right arms stretched to the heavens opera-singing “laaaa!,” and the miming of a pinkies-up sip of ti. It was so freeing to know that not only were we allowed to sing-a-long with the movie, we were expected to.

This event definitely makes the top of my list of favorite cultural/entertainment experiences for 2012 (plus Christopher Plummer was CUTE!). Here is Lara, lovely as ever, and one of the many beautiful “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes” present at the theater Saturday night:

And you can’t have a Sound of Music sing-a-long costume contest without some sisters from the convent:

The winner of the costume contest was a munchkin in a sequins dress portraying the Baroness (the girl on the far right looking out of the picture is so clearly Brigeeta):

I don’t know how unique this event is to Great Barrington, but I know it was completely my speed. A mix of ages. And nobody, it seemed, too cool to make doe ears one minute and bark a messy “Rolf! Rolf! Rolf” at the blonde, dreamy, misguided bike messenger the next… I certainly felt like I was 40 going on 17. I didn’t realize how much I needed a dip into something that wasn’t about being “productive” and “making progress.” Having good old-fashioned fun is important for every level of my health.

I forget sometimes.

Here’s one of my favorite sing-a-long scenes:

And just click on “Do-Re-Mi” below for more unbounded joy:

Living Where I Live: Bagpipes on the Hill

by laura didyk

On a recent walk in the Castle Hill hood here in Great Barrington, MA, I came across this sign on a telephone pole. It looked weathered, like maybe it had been up for awhile, still I felt like I’d happened upon a treasure. I’m not blurring anything out of the image. I mean, it was up on a pole. I think the story even made it onto a local NPR station. But I’m pretending I discovered it. Me and only me.


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