During this morning’s walk my dog stopped in front of an elder tree – one of many trees in a plantation that seems to be a mixture of oak, elder, ash and beech. It was marginally larger than the others around it and the only one not to have its trunk cased in plastic. She sniffed it and went to move on to the next one – then abruptly turned back and sat, in the pouring rain, staring at this tree with her head cocked and her tail wagging like it does when she thinks she’s going to get a biscuit.
A little bit odd; a little bit worrying. She sat there for a short while, happily staring at this tree, while I looked at her and the tree and tried to figure out what was going on. Eventually I tugged on the lead to get her to walk on, and she did, a bit reluctantly. I made it about three metres before I turned back and nodded, saluted a little, muttered good morning. Felt like a fool, but just in case, you know. Not difficult to be polite to the little people.
Superstitions come flying back when you’re in the landscape for it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in September when I take myself off for my first, deliberately-booked-for-writing break. I found a place near the Cairngorms with electricity but not internet, cosy as anything, fairly lonely but not too much, all mountains and hills and river and, er, sauna. I’m planning some time for a bit of headspace and imagination, and it’ll be an escape from the mental noise.
By mental noise I mean, chiefly, internet and YES it’s hypocritical to write that here, online, on a site that you probably got to through a link on social media. I admit it. But this place isn’t a sucking waste of time in the way of most social media (unless you really, really hate my writing, in which case… sorry, I guess. And maybe close the tab, now?). Not a one of you reading this will have inadvertently opened this page ‘just in case’ something new has popped up. You won’t find yourself frittering away hours on it (unless you really, really love my writing, in which case: all power to you. Carry on).
But me, I have a problem of absent-mindedness when it comes to things involving some sort of conscious willpower, and social media is so much the norm now that it’s slipping under my radar. In the same way that when I (very briefly) decided I would be a vegetarian and found myself gazing into the fridge wondering what I could snack on while I snacked on a cold sausage, I have a tendency to tell myself that I will absolutely focus hard on my work, and while I’m thinking about how hard I’m going to focus on my work I find myself scrolling through facebook or twitter, getting incrementally angrier with and less interested in what I’m reading.
The anger applies less to facebook and more to twitter. We all know it is an echo-chamber, generally, so it should be a utopia of like-minded thoughts. But even carefully curated to people I genuinely find interesting and would like to interact with; even as I am such a micro-gnat in the buzz of the web that I don’t attract giant troll-spiders – it seems as though twitter is becoming a meaner and snarkier space. The good stuff just doesn’t outweigh the bad anymore. It’s mostly depressing and unhelpful and constantly outraged (if the outrage ever helped, I’d be so much more patient about it), and I just can’t face spending energy on that any more. It sucks up time that could be spent doing absolutely anything else. Anything. Humming a tune and gazing out the window on the bus; trying to remember the words to that Lisa Loeb song, even. Anything except gawking pointlessly at my phone.
If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes and thinking ‘jeez, get a life, just step away from the computer’, well, I salute your willpower. I don’t have it. And quite a lot of my life involves writing/editing/producing/researching stuff, and that mostly involves computers and they’re all connected to the freaking internet. And when I’m out getting a life, walking the hills and getting spooked by faerie trees, well, my phone is in my pocket and it’s too easy to just … check. Just for a second. Just in case I missed something.
Yep, the phone apps were the first to go. No more notifications, no more scrolling. Facebook messenger remains because of communication needs, but the newsfeeds are gone. At work and at home, my computers now have ‘productivity software’, which does the job of my willpower for me. Every site that I absentmindedly check has been added to the list of blocked sites that I can’t access for the bulk of the day/evening. I’m trying to slim my social media use down to actual use instead of the absolute shittiest, lowest-level of day-dreaming.
Also, doing this now will presumably be easier than going cold turkey from my infostream for four days in Scotland in September.
So this far-less-internet-sucked weekend involves more writing (look, you got a blog post because I’m not playing sodding Cookie Jam); more reading (not least because I discovered Nightjar Press, which will warrant a blog all of its own); more walking and cycling and Doing Stuff. Hopefully. It might also involve more sleep or more telly – BUT at least I’ll be watching the telly and not listening to it while I sit on Facebook, right?!
Also, this weekend will involve running. Training for the Great North Run has started in earnest, so while I’m slogging slowly through the mud and long grass that is my route, please consider sponsoring me: https://www.justgiving.com/hyperfran/