Stay in the stream?

Distractions, distractions, distractions….

I am guilty of inviting them, these distractions. I interact with Facebook friends on an hourly basis at times, especially when I am engaged in a rather exciting experience. Earlier this week, My wife and I took our two younger children for a Light Rail tour of Baltimore, stopping on three of the stops and exploring coffee houses, museums, and the lure of Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. Along the way, I updated my Facebook status, “checked in” at each location, and uploaded pictures of each site.

In many ways, I felt as if my Facebook Friends were with us during the entire day-long trip.

I was the one who invited you. Nobody asked me to take them along. I just jumped in the stream and paddled with the current.

I am so happy and disgusted with this stream for so many reasons. I am not a black/white person; I believe in variations of gray, where flexibility and participation runs on an experience-by-experience basis. But I don’t think I have ever faced such a love/hate relationship with two extremes in my life.

I click on any of the news feeds, and I am bombarded with unspeakable tragedies–all in my own back yard. I click over to Facebook and agonize over status updates and how others are doing. I am both comforted by being in touch and overwhelmed by the stream of information that sustains this pulse with the rest of the world.

By doing this, though, I lose my own pulse and struggle with le seul mot juste, that one precise word that I can no longer find to capture my dizzying thoughts that have lost their ability to just slow down enough to appreciate the simple movement of the Earth.

Just the other day I had breakfast with a good friend, and I expressed to him the agony of trying to wrap up my book and get it out to the public. I have wrote and rewrote and revised and edited and changed and destroyed and recreated the ending dozens of times. And now, I find myself right back where I started when I had first drafted the ending. All of that rewriting–and for what? Was my motive to find the right words for me? For what I wanted to say? Or was it to please my readers? To give them what they wanted?

My friend reminded me that I cannot be bothered by any of that. As artists, as writers, as creators, we must work with and share what is the most authentic and genuine reflection of ourselves, whether it be fiction, fact, watercolor, or pastels. I nearly ripped out my hair when he said these words, the very same that I have been preaching for the last 20 years to writing students and colleagues. Why is it so hard for us to follow our own advice?

I know that if I unplug to find and retain my own pulse, then I risk losing that other pulse of the stream that feeds me.

But is that so true? Spending so much time in the virtual world has cost me time with one of the best people I know, and I miss our unplugged meetings at the Bean Hollow in Ellicott City. Facebook has reunited me with another wonderful person in my world who now lives in Maine, but would it be so hard for us to write letters? Call each other? Actually make plans to travel north for the first time 17 years?

When I visited the Walters Art Museum a few days ago, I thought of the time, energy, and commitment–discipline–it took to create those paintings, statues, and sculptures. We treasure these findings because they represent those individuals’ unique perspective on their time period–but collectively, the lot of them gives us a greater understanding of the struggles, the imperfections as well as the interplay between life and love, between love and war, between war and peace.

Do we have such depth anymore? What will be in our museum in 2,000 years? Status updates and cool pictures that have been rendered and manipulated by high-tech, low-cost apps that do all the work for us?

Where is the individuality? The hard work? The unique perspective that is not being filtered by some money-making program created by some individual who, like every other developer, is just trying to make our lives easier.

I don’t know if I want your help going down the stream. I don’t know if I want you to make my paddles of the finest wood or plastic. I don’t even know if I want your 21st-century kayaks and canoes that have been tested, thousands of times, to ensure my journey will be both thrilling and safe.

I don’t even know if I like this stream at all. But O! The pressures to stay with the current! To keep up and swim with the masses! I know Emerson wrote that the Great Man is he who can keep the sweetness of solitude with him in the heart of the city. But really, Ralph–did you ever imagine it would be this crazy? Thoreau would walk into town daily to meet with friends and buy his day’s groceries, but he never did his writing immersed in such travels. The distractions were isolated by physical spaces and distances. Today, we are tracked (and we track ourselves) by technology. Any lapse in response to text messages, emails, or the antiquated phone message casts immediate concern and inquiry. Where were you? Didn’t you get my message? Why didn’t you respond? You didn’t have 20 seconds to reply? What was so important that you couldn’t have answered?

Distractions, distractions, distractions.

We are living lives tied by the needs and desires of others, stuck in this whirlwind of what-do-you-thinks and why-didn’t-anybody-responds… (Guilty. Right now. Wondering who will comment, if anybody, and whether this post will click with my intended audience. Whether I will get support and encouragement to leave the stream. Whether this will be a popular decision. Absolutely guilty.)

Hey–I’ve already damned my connection with my reader at this point. I’m over 1,000 words, and most people won’t read beyond the 25-word blurb posted on Facebook’s status feed anyway.

(Have I offended thee, reader? Are you feeling insulted that I have lumped you in with the masses that I am railing against now? Please, do not be offended. I do none of these things. I merely write to understand this struggle within to stay with the masses while staying in my own waters.)

Even with these words, I am concerned with my reader, concerned that I have offended in my own struggles to understand this raging battle between the desire to please and the necessity to create.

I do not believe that an authentic life is possible blending these two. The Sweetness of Solitude can only come when one has learned fully who he is.

Distractions, distractions, distractions.

Will I (or any of us in this new era of distractions) ever be able to accomplish such a feat in our lifetime?



2 thoughts on “Stay in the stream?

  1. Wow! I loved this post. It touched on some ideas I’ve been thinking about lately, especially your thoughts on artists in museums (which is something I thought about doing this week and regret that I did not).
    I can feel your frustration with technology, but what I connected with was the more general idea of distractions that prevent us from creating.
    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much time I waste and how other artists carve time out of schedules just as busy as mine.
    And I’ve been thinking “what if Jk rowlings watched hgtv instead of writing Harry potter?”


  2. All good thoughts, Cara. I’m leaving Facebook today, maybe for good. I’m serious about eliminating the distractions that keep me from capturing life uncensored as I see it. I feel like time is slipping by, wasted on the trivial and superficial that, in the end, means and signifies nothing. How can I delve into the deeper meaning of my own life and my interpretation of life itself if I am constantly refreshing a computer screen to see what others are doing?

    You and I–We need to talk soon about CBS and other such things. Maybe a dual artists’ date would be appropriate at a museum…


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