Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To be or not to be..."Plugged In"

My first attempt at rhubarb pie (I'm a "late bloomer" in the baking department, as far as Mennonite ladies are concerned).

It's a strange and wild world when even Lehman's Non-Electric Hardware Store (http://www.lehmans.com/) has an active Facebook page. I grew up about two miles from this celebrated Kidron, Ohio business and know the founding family themselves (Did I mention that my big sister helps write the catalog among her job duties?). Anywhere in the world, you can usually find a Lehman's connection (somewhat like the Kevin Bacon "degrees of separation" game" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees_of_Kevin_Bacon). For example, while on honeymoon to Ireland, my husband and I stumbled on a castle being repaired using, among other things, Lehman's products! The store also had a tremendous rush of business around the Y2K extravaganza, and today's economy scare seems to be only strengthening its customer base. But I'd venture to guess that it's not the composting toilets or world's largest canning jars that bring in most curious tourists from around the globe...

Could it be the drive to re-connect--to each other, an out-of-practice family recipe, or the time we forget we still actually own? I believe this reconnection with the past helps us plant ourselves firmly in the present; by sifting through what worked "back then," we can choose what can be used again in 2009. Growing numbers of us long to keep chickens, grow vegetable gardens, and use wood stoves, for instance. Now, I'm not saying we should all buy wring washers again (though my Grandma refuses to get rid of hers!) But in all seriousness, what do we do the "slow way" anymore? How much technology is "enough," and how has "plugged in" communication changed the way we "know" ourselves, friends and families? What information craved can't just be "googled" or "wiki-ed" in some form or another (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonite)? Now, I'm no 70-year-old typing sourly away here, and I don't mean to sound like I am (and--for the record--I happen to know some 70-year-olds who would throw their blackberries at me for this hasty comparison). But as I reach towards age 30 and my second year of marriage, I've got to question the overall success of time-saving devices that make our "multitasking on espresso" lifestyles possible...Are we happier adults because of all we can do and have at our fingertips; are we truly content?

The above are big ol' questions, and ones I'm deeply rooted in myself. Coming from a tradition that used to be totally--and strictly-- off the grid, striving to slow down and "unplug" when necessary should be easier for me...So why is it a daily battle?

One reason? I'm an academic; I'm addicted to knowledge (Another confession: I'm working on my 4th degree, just for the sheer love of writing, teaching, and reading.) Some days this fuels me--on others, it weighs me down. To "keep up" in the world of technology and communication is literally impossible. I watch my college students attempt this feat, and it's pretty much a full-time job (At least this would explain all the texting going on around campus and in the classrooms, right? Sit and people watch pretty much anywhere; everyone's "plugged in" to something or other). And yet so much of the world (and our lives, let's face it) are spent adding to/absorbing things fueled by electricity. We're plugged in to a heck of a lotta white noise...and the speedier that things get, the (fill in the blank here) we are. (For me, that blank would include things like "sleep-deprived, cranky, unhealthy, surface.")

Thus, I am challenging myself--as a Mennonite now living and working in a progressive college town AND as a creative writer--to examine/narrate the way my life strives to find simplicity, mindfulness...and all things intellectually stimulating.

To place it in a tidy wee nutshell: How do I choose to connect my life to other people and ideas? And, am I really that different from other American folks striving to slow down, refocus? I am a piece of taffy between various cultures: the Mennonite side of me wants to sometimes throw my laptop out the window, to stop striving and "be still"; but the writer/composer/college teacher in me asks for more communication, community, and opportunity in unexpected places (even--mostly--via a computer keyboard).

The 2009 OED "Word of the Year" was "unfriend," thanks to Facebook. Here, I draw the line. Here, I have to say, "Really, oh glorious and ever-evolving world?" (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AheadoftheCurve/unfriend-defriend-facebook-fans-debate/story?id=9106240)

Perhaps you will find the following "confessions" as interesting (and sometimes disturbing?) as I did:

My Quaker husband and my Mennonite self own:
 -17 things in our upstairs alone that need electricity to function (including, right now, three computers) 

I admit today to spending more time on Facebook & email than doing the following:
1. Meditating/Praying
2. Exercising
3. Cooking
4. Napping
5. Talking to my friends/family/students on the phone or face-to-face 
6. Revising/submitting my work
7. Being romantic with my husband

...and now I'm too depressed to add another thing!

"Slow/Simple" things I refuse to give up:
1. snail mail
2. hard copy books
3. baking/cooking (did you know that houses in certain areas of the country are now built without kitchens?)

4. walking to a destination  if it's possible
5. writing out a song on staff paper
6. that (sometimes agonizing) hour of Quaker Meeting for Worship

The thing about discoveries and writing them down is that they become more 3-D "real" somehow. So the next step will be staring these self-discoveries in the face...

To end with the words of Wilder:
                Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute? 
                                          ...The saints and poets, maybe they do some...

I'm no saint, not even close--but I am a poet determined to listen to the world more carefully.   

Hello, life. How can I help you today?

No comments:

Post a Comment