A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Broken Connections

DSC01566I have never thought of myself as a huge fan of technology.  I get annoyed at people who spend too much time staring at their tablets or cell phones; I prefer to shop at real stores rather than buy things off the internet, and according to my son, I have absolutely no understanding of what Wi-Fi is.  So I was a little surprised by just how much my life was disrupted recently when a storm that blew through town knocked out my cable and internet connection for over two days.

At first, I didn’t mind when I realized that the cable was out, meaning I couldn’t watch television or log on to the internet on my computer or phone.   For one thing, I was just grateful that our house had power, since so many of the homes and businesses in our area didn’t.  (Some lost their power for days, ours was out only for two hours.) And I kind of liked the unexpected break from technology, especially since it meant I had more time to do things like read a good book and tackle some of the chores that have been on my to-do list for a long time.  I never quite realized just how much time I wasted “surfing the net” until I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore.  And I may have lost my instant access to the news, but that meant that I was also less stressed and worried than I usually am when I actually know what’s going on in the world.

For a while, I was feeling a little smug about how well I was coping without my cable TV and my internet access.  But I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t very long before I was also feeling a bit anxious.  We had no service on Thursday, which is one of my usual days to publish a blog post.  I actually began to fret about not doing that, as though thousands of readers around the world were going to be logging onto my blog, only to be disappointed to find no new post.  Worse, I had no way of reading or commenting on the many blogs I follow, and worried that I might be offending my fellow bloggers by my absence.  (Because no one can possibly feel they have a successful blog unless they know I’m reading it, right?)  I’ve gone “off the grid” before, but I was always able to let people know ahead of time.

I was supposed to go out to eat with some friends, and  wanted to call the restaurant beforehand to make sure they had power. My first thought was to check their website to get the phone number.  Only I couldn’t do that with no internet, and I also couldn’t remember what I did with all my old phone books.  I needed to buy airline tickets for an upcoming trip, but I knew I didn’t have the patience to try to do that over the phone, since it seems that most airlines have exactly three customer service representatives answering their phones these days and calling them usually means waiting on hold for a day or two.  In short, I kept thinking of things I needed to do, and wanted to do, but no longer actually knew how to do without the help of the internet.

Which brought me to a rather startling realization.  I may not have any idea how my computer or cell phone actually works, and may believe that WiFi is something that exists solely to allow me to play solitaire on the internet, but I have become just as dependent upon technology as everyone else.  I like to think of myself as an old-fashioned sort who has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards technology, but that’s just a sham.  I never thought it could happen, but I’ve become addicted to the internet.  And as far as I know, there’s no twelve-step program to help me cope.

 

Understanding Politics

I admit that I’m no fan of politics, probably because I understand it just about as well as I understand trigonometry, which means I don’t understand it at all.   If I’m in the room when two people get into a heated political argument, it takes very little time for me to be so overwhelmed by the points, counter points and accusations being flung back and forth that I just tune out.  (Which is exactly same reaction I have if someone is trying to explain trigonometry to me.)  But while I might not understand all the intricate workings of the American political system, I can’t help but notice that there are certain patterns to the way that many people deal with politics, and I thought I’d pass those along.

IMG_1144First of all, I’ve learned that words are very important.  If the candidate you like says something untrue, then he or she “misspoke.”  But if the candidate you don’t like says something untrue, then he or she “lied.”  Similarly, the candidate you like has “friends,” while the candidate you don’t like has only “cronies.”  The one word that is never uttered is “hypocrite,” for obvious reasons.

Viewpoint is also important.  If you like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on Congress.  If you don’t like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on the President.  If both the President and majority of Congress are members of the party you vote for, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on some other group.  At the moment, the two most popular scapegoat choices seemed to be immigrants and the rich.  (And “the rich” means anyone with more money than you.)

Constantly sharing your political opinions is considered a good thing.  Posting them daily on Facebook, working them into every casual discussion, and speaking up at family dinners with a pleasant conversation starter such as “Candidate X is a complete moron who will ruin our country” is apparently very necessary.  We all know how short attention spans are these days, so it’s best not to trust anyone to remember how we think they should vote, and why, just because we told them so yesterday.  I think this is the same rationale used by the groups that make watching TV during an election years so fun by running the exact same campaign ad five times in a row.

Finally, be sure to idolize your favorite political candidate and absolutely do not tolerate any criticism of him or her.  If someone persists in sharing facts that tarnish your idol, try name-calling.  (What worked in kindergarten can also work now. )  Better yet, distance yourself from anyone who doesn’t share your political views, no matter who they are.  You probably have more close friends and relatives than you need anyway.

Again, I am certainly no expert on politics, and am just reporting what I have observed.  There also seems to be an alternative model for being politically active, which involves simply supporting and even campaigning for the candidate of your choice without abandoning good manners or common sense.  I’m lucky enough to know several people who fall into that category.  And if I were ever forced to become more involved in politics, that’s the group I would hope to join.  Sometimes it’s good to be in the minority.

I’ve Got This

family photWhen I was a child, I hated it when I would ask my parents to do something for me, and they would insist on teaching me to do it myself.   I remember asking my father to make me some scrambled eggs, and his response was to whip out the cast iron skillet and proceed to teach me how to scramble an egg, so I could do it myself the next time.  If I dared to complain, he would just say, “You’ll never learn how to do it any younger!”  My mother was even worse, since she was a kindergarten teacher, and therefore tended to explain things very slowly, step by step, just to make sure I was following along.  My thought was that if I had wanted them to show me how to do something, I would have said so, rather than simply asking them to do it for me.  But I was smart enough not to say that out loud.

Now that I’m on the upper end of middle age, I find that I am much more willing to learn something new than I ever was before.  I have learned quite a few home improvement skills (despite what my husband thinks, but he’s never forgiven me for that crowbar incident…you can read about it in:  What Did You Say?), my gardening skills are much improved (most of what I plant lives, which is new for me) and I’m thinking about taking a wood working class.  Despite what my kids think, I really do try to learn how to use new technology and spend quite a bit of time and energy trying to figure things out.  My constant questions to them about my cell phone and my computer are simply because, despite my best efforts, there are some times I still have to throw in the towel and ask for help.

But I have had some success learning how to do things on my computer without my children’s help, and “exhibit A” is my blog.  I remember when I first heard of blogging, my initial thought was, “What kind of idiot would keep a personal journal on the internet?”  (Apparently, the same idiot who looks back at me from the mirror each day.)  But eventually, with the steady encouragement of a good friend, I did start my blog, despite my deep misgivings about sending my writing out into cyberspace where perfect strangers all over the world could not only read it, but comment about it as well.  Frankly, I still find that part a little bit intimidating.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this blog (if you use WordPress, check out the entirely random pictures I was horrified to see added to some of my posts in the Reader section), but I’m also having a lot of fun and my list of followers is growing steadily.  And as much as I enjoy blogging, I do miss fiction writing, so I’m planning to learn all I can about e-publishing and see if I can figure out how to do that as well.  And who knows where that might lead?

It pains me to say this, but I have come to realize that my parents were right.  There is so much I want to know, so much I want to do, and learning to do it for myself is the best way.  And I’m not getting any younger…..