Between Two Worlds
Trying to ground myself in the digital age
This week I’ve spent most of my time in my apartment, trying to isolate as much as I can before I fly back to the U.S. for Christmas. I’ve been watching films, knitting, and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. More than I normally do. It’s both out of boredom and panic. After scrolling for some time, I turn off my phone and feel like my brain is floating over my body.
I think social media is beautiful. I make connections, I share my writing, I get inspired every day. I don’t want to quit cold turkey, and I do believe it can be a very powerful tool in making the world a better place. We all have a soft spot: some use it more than others, some don’t use it at all. I just think I need to put more effort into finding mine.
Mary Oliver writes in her poem “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches”:
Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives --
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?
Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
I think it’s pretty neat how relevant this poem seems to be, despite being published over 20 years ago. What can be considered a part of the “natural” world has expanded with the growth of the digital one. (As in, I consider reading books and conversation a part of the natural world, though it may not have been 20 years ago). I am trying to strike a balance between them, so that I am merely a visitor to the latter and not a resident. But for a while growing up, it felt like the opposite. I used the internet as an escape, as a way to construct my ideal self, and mold my real-life self around it. This did not go well. Once I pulled back, I was surprised at how much more comfortable I felt in my own soft flesh, without the constant urge to escape into the virtual body I purposefully built away from my real one. But things constantly change and so do I, and I’ve gone through periods where I rely on the internet more than I should, as the world sometimes calls for it. Still, I always come back to this same realization, in new ways. Recently, I’ve opened my eyes wider to the world around me, and (maybe ironically) I owe a lot of it to the poetry and writing that I read online. I’m trying to use the tools I have to enhance the reality of my life rather than create it.
So, then, she writes:
Well, there is time left --
fields everywhere invite you into them.
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
I’ve turned off most of the notifications that come from social media on my phone, so more often than not, I wake up to zero notifications. I get no more than a few text messages a day, and I don’t have a single continuous text thread with anyone. For a long time, I considered this a physical representation of my loneliness. Moving to a big city has really changed my perspective on that. I’ve been forced to recognize the beauty in the long-awaited catch-up. I have friends I don’t speak to for days or weeks, some of them who don’t have social media at all, and but every so often we meet and talk for hours. In those interactions, I feel like I pay particularly deep attention, knowing it may be a while until I see them again. They are all I’m paying attention to, in that moment and vice versa.
All of this has made me realize how much freedom I have, how much time. There is no one waiting for me to post a photo of my breakfast, or tweet about the walk I just had. I can extend those moments for a while longer, and if I want to tell people about it, I can. I don’t think that takes away from the preciousness of those moments at all. But I think there’s more I can do to hold them in my hands, on their own, for long enough that it can become a part of me. The reality of it is, people usually will scroll past those posts fairly quickly anyway. Let me just bask in its tangible reality for just a bit longer. It doesn’t take much.
I’ve done a lot to curate my digital timelines to be meaningful spaces, and I’m happy with them. But I don’t think they’re ever truly meaningful until I take the time to contemplate their contents outside of the digital realm. When I do, that’s when I feel like a real, live person.
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.
So many of my observations focus on aspects of the world that make us feel human and I often wonder how that’s possible when that’s exactly what we are. It’s because we forget, sometimes. We are thrown into this otherworldly space in between body and detachment, and it stays with us until something comes along that serves as a reminder. A cold breeze, a nice conversation with a friend, the taste of a really good coffee. I guess my intentioned usage of social media lately has been trying to remind myself and others of these things. And this is where the good comes in: I’ll scroll and find a poem or a song or a piece of art that makes my heart thump a little extra hard and I think ah, yes, there you are. This is living. It can include digital bits, too.
What is the solution? It’s different for everybody. All growth starts with self-awareness. For me, I think maybe I need to inch towards spending weekends off of social media. And I’m not doing this because I think social media is bad, but rather because I want to understand its goodness better. To sharpen my view of the outer world. Maybe we should all start with that.
“The World Has Need Of You” by Ellen Bass (A/N: I included this one because I feel like, sometimes, we feel more wanted and needed on the internet than we do in real life. This is a reassurance that the earth needs you too.)
What I Enjoyed This Week
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. This was horrifying. And exquisitely so. I usually deter from dystopian novels but wow, this was the real deal. It takes place in a very quiet apocolypse, in which things are slowly disappearing — roses, birds, novels. The prose feels emotionless and indifferent at times, but it just adds to the eerieness of the plot. At its core, it’s about the trauma of loss and the fragility of our sense of self. I didn’t think that I connected with it much while reading but I’ve been thinking about it so much since finishing. 5/5
We lost a few incredible writers this week. The first of which is bell hooks, who I haven’t had the pleasure of diving into yet but I pulled my copy of all about love off my bookshelf and started it when I heard the news. She wrote: “To live our lives based on the principles of a love ethic (showing care, respect, knowledge, integrity, and the will to cooperate), we have to be courageous. Learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love. Our fear may not go away, but it will not stand in the way. Those of us who have already chosen to embrace a love ethic, allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act, know that when we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone.”
The second loss is that of is Eve Babitz, who wrote this beautiful excerpt in Slow Days, Fast Company, titled “Sirocco”: “God what a night. I was so glad you were home, standing up in all that wind while everyone else was blowing across the streets like tumble-weeds. I wonder if you wish you hadn’t been there, with the future looming up in such utter chaos before us. And meanwhile, the night was old and you were beautiful.”
Other Wonderful Things
I started knitting! I have been working on a red scarf and it has brought me a lot of peace. It gives me something to do with my hands instead of fiddling with my phone.
My Bonne Maman Advent Calendar. Oh my god. It’s embarrassing how much joy tiny jars of jam give me. My favorite flavors so far have been Raspberry Rose and Peach and Jasmine.
I binge-watched Love, Victor while knitting. I found myself loving it a lot more than I expected to. It’s a heartwarming story about a teenager who’s trying to navigate a new city and his sexuality as the son of immigrant parents. I wanted something cheesy to turn my brain off but I cried a few times. And I was thrilled to see a Iranian-American character on the screen <3
This was a long one. Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays :-)