I’m not handling being alone very well.
Here I am on this “retreat,” posting Facebook statuses about how busy retreating I am, and how you should leave me a voicemail “if you need me,” and secretly (to nobody), I’ve had the most hard-wired Internet day I’ve had in forever.
Sure, I wrote stuff. The easy stuff. The low-hanging fruit, as they say. But I’m too embarrassed to check exactly how few people gave a fuck. I was just indulging myself. Everyone can tell when someone’s doing that. “Blah-blah, boring Internet,” as Merlin’s daughter would say.
To compensate, I did it all outside. I spent the entire day squinting into a laptop through my Transitions® lenses, sitting in a lawn chair in my ratty Burning Man hoodie with the hood up, so I didn’t get sunburned. Hunched over my keyboard a hundred yards from the beach, I spent the day exactly as I would have at a desk in a fucking cubicle. On Twitter.
The sick thing was that I was writing about my latest Digital Detox escapades. I’m not fooling anybody with that. You all know better than I do that I was hiding behind the fucking curtain in there on my phone whenever I got a chance. If you’re reading this, you were probably out there reading those tweets. You knew I was sneaking some digital, even though I was supposed to stay clean. Why didn’t you say anything?
See how scared I am to be alone?
It’s now 12:37 a.m. Daylight Savings Time kicks in at 2:00. I just got back from a walk down to the beach. I was in bed (on the iPad, of course), but I made myself pull on the three mismatched layers I wear for warmth these days, crank my belt around my one pair of jeans, which is about five inches too big in the waist, and lace up my adventure shoes. I was fed up with my online forever-alone-ness, so I prescribed a good old Night Nature Experience. That’s always my favorite medicine.
But Pismo Beach is weird. The cliff over the beach is fake, walled with concrete, because the ocean has almost eroded away the neighborhood. There are tall street lamps right at the edge. The one at the end of this street flashes on and off at a stupidly fast interval, so you get a few precious minutes of dark waves, and then you’re blasted with orange light, and you cast a 70-foot-tall shadow across the beach.
The back half of the beach is shadowed by the cliff, as is the bottom half of the stairwell that takes you down there. I will readily admit to being too scared to go down past the first landing.
So I stood on the landing for a few cycles of the streetlight, looking out at the ocean. The stars were plentiful and fuzzy, but the opulent homes along the coast were much brighter. I saw a couple meteors during the dark cycles. The waves rolled in and out, a sound and force that frightened me in the super-weird context of the artificial beach lit from the street.
While I was there, I thought about deadlines. I wondered how accountable I really was. I don’t owe anyone anything specific, unless you count The Internet, which is a place I keep posting things that say I’m accountable for something. I make things for The Internet because it feels like it’s full of people waiting for them. As long as I keep telling You, People Out There Reading This, what I’m going to do and when, it puts pressure on me. Deadlines make me work.
Because I’m alone out here at the beach, even more alone than I am building my solo website at home instead of working for a company, I’m lonely, and I’m putting way too much stuff on The Internet, begging for ‘likes’ to compensate. I’m fishing for deadlines.
This is narcissism. Navel-gazing. It's not journalism. It's journaling. Making the blinky cursor move to the right does not always mean a worthy story is coming out. But as long as something is coming out, it feels like work.
I realized this as the streetlight popped on again, destroying any sense of what was natural about this scene on the beach at night. I’m working in this ass-backwards way that’s shrouded in delusion. I’ll never do any good work like this.
I’ve been reading lots of interesting reactions to a 2010 paper by Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan called The weirdest people in the world?, which I have not read. I get the idea from these two long articles about it. It proposes WEIRD as an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, and it says WEIRD people turn out funny.
Basically, that kind of society teaches egoistic thought and behavior and suppresses bodily thought and behavior, which makes us into alienated, fearful little cephalopods in caves instead of healthy, prosocial monkeys that feel like an embodied part of their environment. And the monkey one is the truth: we are a part of each other and our environment, and to think we’re separate or better is dishonest. I really recommend “Honesty and the Human Body,” a guest post by Kevin Simler on Ribbonfarm, for the full-fledged argument I’m riffing on here. It’ll come up often in my upcoming work, I think.
What I’m trying to say is, fuck this, I’m going for a hike all day, and I have to leave my phone at home. I can only safely avoid the Internet by removing the option. I’m tired of being a little floating head. I need to get embodied again, or nothing I write is going to make any goddamn sense.
But you’ll still be there when I get back… right, Internet?