Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Contemplative Call

A couple of weeks ago, I declared a "pajama weekend" and vowed to drink as much coffee and read as much as my eyes could tolerate.  My initial plan was to finish the third volume of the Hunger Games trilogy and then start over. I read all three books the first time in the manner I read every novel that engages my interest: at breakneck pace simply desiring to know what happens next. I almost always read novels I really like at least twice so I can actually savor the details I miss the first time.

On Sunday morning, I decided to read some actual news articles before going back to bed with Katniss and the gang.  I was in the mood for something meaty, so I pulled up an article from The Atlantic. I read news articles that were interesting, alarming, and (to an extent) informative. That foray into news pages mostly served to remind me why I avoid reading too much about current events. It does bad things to my blood pressure.

Then I ran across this article:  2012 Atlantic Article "It's Not Just Porn: Why Orthodox Jews Fear the Internet".  I  hardly ever read anything with the word "porn" in the title, but the second half of the title caught my interest (especially following immediately upon the clause containing the word "porn").  I know little about the actual lives of orthodox Jews, but I have read enough about them to understand that they are among the most serious scholars on the planet. I was interested to know what they think of the Internet. The interview ranges widely across topics of interest to me, and I want to go back and read more of the articles mentioned in the interview.

Immediately after I finished reading the article, I pulled up and read this article:  2008 Atlantic Article "Is Google Making us Stupid?" .  I read the story all the way through, and intend to go back and read more of the items it links to as well. I think everybody who uses the Internet on a daily basis should read it.

I was immediately struck by two things. First, I totally identify with the issues raised in both of these articles. In my day job, I work in an environment where I am a slave to email. There are times I find myself working faster and faster, in an effort to get through all the emails in my queue. The faster I go, the poorer the quality of my written responses; sometimes I end up using one-word responses, almost like text messages. The faster I read the messages addressed to me, the more likely I am to miss a significant bit of information, which often leads me to draw incorrect conclusions about what to do with the message. I have to draw those conclusions on the fly, and I can't afford to be wrong.  Several times a day, I find myself walking to the bathroom when I don't have to go or pouring coffee I don't intend to drink, just to get away from the relentless onslaught of email. It's a way to make a forced full-stop to let my brain rest for a minute, but it doesn't really help. By the end of a typical day, my brain hurts, and my attention span is about 30 seconds long.

My non-working Internet browsing is not as frenetic, but my habits are almost as bad. I read a number of blogs. I have a bad habit of following hyperlinks to other articles before finishing the one I'm reading. I scan. I get distracted by the side-bar ads. I bounce out to check my email or the weather.  If I spend more than a few minutes on Twitter, I feel my anxiety levels rising. I don't know what to do with Facebook.I can waste hours without ever truly reading and reflecting on an entire article.

And then a Little Voice says: Stop the madness! Sit. Think. Ponder. Breathe. Immerse yourself in a story-world. Let go of 21st Century America and go someplace imaginary. Then take the time to really think about the magic of that story world and why reading and writing are so important to you. Take time to enjoy what you're reading and writing. 

Contemplation has always been important to me. When I was a kid, I could sit for hours just thinking and wondering and putting questions out into the universe.  Often I was blessed by amazing insights in response. I read books for hours every day.  I have kept a journal off and on my whole life. Sometimes, when I was young if I had really significant processing to do, I wrote (just god-awful, pathetic) poetry.

Lately, I've gotten out of the contemplative habit. I think a lot, but it's mostly about what to write next, how to draw attention to my blog, how I can work faster and smarter at my day job, how I can make more money, how I can re-do my budget to save money, etc. It goes on and on, and round and round. Until I'm not really thinking, I'm just skating the surface of a bunch of random ideas without really exploring any of them. Not unlike the way I surf the Internet.

I think the reason I changed the tone and focus of this blog was because I was chasing my tail and doing things that not only felt unnatural but were making me crazy. I love reviewing books, because I'm the kind of person who just has to share good books I've read with my friends.  However,  reviewing a book a week was getting to be a burden, so I'm going to stop for a while. I may endorse a book  I really like from time to time, but I'm not going to put pressure on myself to do it every week.

Instead I'm going to write the kind of blog I like to read: pondering ideas; recommending cool stuff I've run across; and, sharing my journey.

Come along. Chime in!

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