Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life Unplugged, Part II

I pulled into the driveway and took a deep breath. After five hours of solitude in my car, I was keenly aware that the whirlwind of the next few days and weeks would mean that time was simply not going to be my own for the rest of the summer. Wallowing in the loss of my Internet access and computer--and everything that was on it--would need to take a backseat to, well, real life.

In four short days my brother was getting married and the celebration was taking place here at the lake. Like any wedding, this one came with its share of last-minute preparations, visitors, dinners, events, nerves, and a few short fuses.

But when all was said and done, late that Friday afternoon I stood before my brother, his bride, and a small group of close family and friends, in the nearby church where the Strouts have attended for generations. I did that traditional "Love is patient, love is kind" reading from the Bible, and not long afterward, Jon and Erika were pronounced husband and wife.

Then the real mayhem began.

Following the two-day celebration of the newly minted union, my cousins moved into the lake house for a week's vacation. I went from a peaceful household of one, to a spirited household of 15, including six kids. We shared 10 days of playing in the water, eating leisurely dinners, having long conversations on the porch over many bottles of wine, drinking coffee in the morning, and of course, filling the house with lots of laughter...adding yet another chapter of family memories at Saylor's Lake.

During my run on one of those mornings it dawned on me that it was the first time in years I didn't feel distracted from any of those moments. There was nothing pressing or cluttering my mind, taking me away from the rare opportunity to fully enjoy the time I was getting to spend with a group of the most important people in my life. I had to wonder why. What was different?

The only conclusion I could come to was that my world was right there and nowhere else--without the option of escaping to cyberspace, there was nothing virtual about my days. I didn't have access to e-mail or Facebook or message boards. Those in my "social network" and "community" (we used to simply call them "friends"), found a way to stay connected--they used this old-fashioned device called the phone, or they stopped by for a visit.

While I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering the human connection, when the new computer finally arrived, I confess that it took me less than 10 minutes to fire up the wireless access. I took one look at my inbox, where hundreds of unread messages resided, and felt overwhelmed, and a little bit sad. My respite from the real life, as it exists in 2008, was over. I may be able to live in Nowhere, PA, for a while, but I couldn't completely fall off the face of the Earth, for many obvious reasons.

What I learned is that a life unplugged is rejuvenating, healthy, and a good reminder of how to give my attention to the here-and-now, instead of constantly dividing it 20 other ways and letting the virtual world constantly distract me.
Rest assured none of this is to say that I'll be dumping white wine on my home electronics again anytime soon, if I can help it.



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Life, Unplugged -- Part I

I was snuggled up at the kitchen table in Lake Placid that Sunday night three weeks ago, finally comfy in warm, dry clothes after spending more than 14 hours in the torrential rain watching Ironman.

Some wine was poured.

A glass of it ended up all over my laptop.

It died.

While the previous three glasses of vino numbed the pain--and the reality of what I had lost--until the following morning, I awoke to a personal endurance event of a very different nature. As a house full of triathletes said their goodbyes and we all went our separate ways, I was headed to the remote patch of Northeastern Pennsylvania that I am temporarily calling home, without any immediate hope of Internet access, without a connection to the world, my friends, or my work.

I was terrified.

On the five hour ride home, I began taking a mental inventory of the writing, photos, and documents that may be lost forever. I wondered how I'd go about drumming up some needed freelance projects until my new computer arrived. Afterall, I now had a laptop to pay for. What if the assignment of a lifetime was sitting in my inbox, waiting for a response? How would I access my marathon training schedule? Would my friends forget about me if I stopped returning all those Facebook messages?!

I had a few weeks to figure all of this out. And, as is always the case, the experience taught me oh-so-much more.