In the August 10, 2012 issue of THE WEEK magazine, editor-in-chief William Falk writes about the hold that the Smartphone-iPad-laptop techno Godzilla has on our lives—at work and on vacation. Pair this with the typical American work ethic these days and the picture begs for serious examination.
A short excerpt from Mr. Falk: . . . not long ago I would have found it unthinkable to work while on vacation . . .I recall glorious two-week sojourns where I had no contact with bosses, employees—even friends . . . But that was before I traveled with a Smartphone, an iPad and a laptop . . .
Read his brief, astute editorial at: http://theweek.com/article/index/231444/editors-letter-tech-masters-or-tech-slaves
Last week I attended a writer’s academy/retreat located in the sticks—and glorious sticks they were!
One-hundred and fifty acres curled around the bank of Chub Lake, complete with wooded walkway across a marsh covered in water lilies that leads to a hill where we could sit in a swing and look through the trees overlooking the lake. This retreat center offers five miles of hiking trails through woods and wildflower prairie land, a labyrinth, swings, picnic tables and fire pits placed throughout the grounds, along with three meals a day prepared by someone in the kitchen who knew about “Mom cooking.”
There wasn’t a burger, French fry or pizza in sight the whole time.
We enjoyed smashed cauliflower served with roasted pork loin topped with a spicy and sweet raisin sauce. There were roasted vegetables, and wild rice side dishes and tender pot roast accompanied by real mashed potatoes (with just the right amount of lumps) and interesting green salads (no iceberg or macaroni salad allowed). There were desserts—cranberry bread pudding and hot caramel sauce . . . fresh blueberry crisp—not too sweet—and real whipped cream for topping. And breakfast was ready at 8 o’clock every morning.
We had 24-hour access to the dining room where hot water and tea or coffee, iced drinks (no sodas on the premises – impressive!), granola bars, fruit and yogurt awaited us if we wanted it, not to mention bars, cookies, M&M’s or nuts snacks that appeared on the counter just for us between lunch and dinner—and late in the evening before bedtime.
I mean—come on—who couldn’t handle this?!
I took plenty of work along–(yup—I did)—just in case. I even took one freelance project draft copy; looked at it once and put it away. This was my fiction-editing and creative writing retreat and I wasn’t going to screw that up.
What I did:
- Ate smashed cauliflower – for the first time. (It looks like mashed potatoes, but with fewer calories.)
- I attended a short chapel session every morning in a sanctuary with 3-sided window views of woods, lake and prairie.
- I went to a couple of writing sessions on poetry and flash fiction—141 character flash fiction. It ain’t easy, but it was fun playing around with it.
- I enjoyed quiet, uninterrupted time in my private room ticking off edits on the novel. Yea!
- I walked a labyrinth. Timely it was, too—right after a critiquing session that left me a bit displeased—at first. I was back to breathing normally by the time I completed the labyrinth. (Additional blog post to come on this. Finishing a novel and walking a labyrinth are first cousins. Six pages of handwritten, single-spaced journaling shot from my brain.)
- Over meals I visited with interesting people; the majority of them older than me. People who’ve been to Haiti and Ethiopia and Israel and know of the Palestinian struggle. People who are exceptional writers, poets, essayists and published authors. Not one person dragged out their Smartphone or Blackberry in the dining room during mealtime. Not one.
- I filled my digital camera with pictures of the marsh land, and videos of the sounds of the wind through broad stands of tall cattails, and the breeze around the creaking wood swings placed among ash and aspens, cottonwood and bitternut hickory trees. These videos will be fun to view next winter, when the snow comes.
- I slept with my window screen open at night so I could watch peach-toned moonlight while raccoons scratched around in the dirt below, looking for something we human types might have dropped during the day. The stars had the night sky all to themselves. No ambient city light invaded from any direction.
- And I pitched the novel to an editor who gave a presentation. I didn’t know I was going to do that. She agreed to take a look at it.
What I didn’t do:
- Didn’t post to or read Facebook, LinkedIn, or check my blog.
- Didn’t spend any time on the cell phone except to let my family know I had arrived safely.
- Didn’t read any editor, agent, publishing world blogs, newsletters or other “do’s and don’ts” emails pertaining to the writer’s path.
- Didn’t look at world news headlines.
- Didn’t watch TV until the last evening after the retreat concluded. I had to see how the Olympians were doing.
- Didn’t count calories.
- Didn’t use the laptop to journal. I wrote with a pen—and often—sitting outside.
I’m back home with another freelance job to complete, and dealing with article sources who can’t—or won’t—follow through for me on a story assignment. There’s a stack of bills to pay and the laundry is in piles in the hallway—and I am eager to get the novel query package into the mail to that editor.
Returning home is always good. Don’t get me wrong. The whole concept of what home is, is what makes me tick in the first place.
But Editor Falk makes a good point. When you go on vacation—or retreat—you need to make the conscious decision to be there.
All of your electronic toys and phones, as well as the rest of the world, will be there when you return.