Media Off, Nature On

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. – Gertrude Stein


No stranger to the siren, healing call of a media blackout, I’ve used this technique countless times to regain my senses. While we practice social distancing (shouldn’t we be calling that “physical distancing” since we’re socially engaging so much online?), perhaps the time’s come for a little media detaching, too.

One’s motivation for shutting off the usual channels is easy to find. I cannot recall a moment in my history when the noise and levels of information and misinformation, of facts and blatantly false truths, of a federal government so intent and addicted to lying to us and following self interests over people’s lives than standing up and, well, leading us out of this nightmare, has screamed “turn it off” as much as now.

Truth is, once unplugged from traditional and most viral forms of news, you’re not really isolated from what’s happening. I used to struggle with the dichotomy of wanting to isolate from external noise and remain informed. Either through email or online research or word of mouth, you’ll hear about what’s important to know, even if the TVs unplugged, the newspaper’s cancelled, you’ve walked away from Facebook and Twitter, and you’re avoiding the Internet’s ground zero for a tug-of-war between good and evil, truth and lies:  Google. Some people can separate the noise from the essence and find the kernels of truth, but I’m not one of those it seems. Or not one who’s willing to invest enough time to dig that deep and prefer to spend my time on other pursuits.

I remember the first time I enacted a media blackout during the 2004 election. After the debacle and theft of the 2000 Presidency, the noise just became too much to endure. I stayed informed during Obama’s run, but in 2016 the nightmare of the election and constant barrage of reasons this candidate was unfit on so many levels to run our country, and a media that seemed to act more like a game show with an agenda to make money than tell it like it was, a media blackout saved my sanity. Sadly, as a long-term NPR listener to that staple of true reporting, I blacked them out too since they also seemed to have gone over to the “news as entertainment” agenda.

The antidote (for me at least) to reverse the impact of media noise where verbal diarrhea and fantasy masquerading as facts abound, is turning to nature. Long walks in nature help tether you to sanity if you stay plugged in, but become restorative in reconnecting to your thoughts and ideas, suffocated and unheard by the flood of news and information from every direction.

No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk. The demons hate it when you get out of bed. Demons hate fresh air. – Ingmar Bergman

The one regret in unplugging from media (but can be easily caught up on later) are on the fascinating research and learnings from the science of Covid-19 and the eye-opening reports of how quickly the Earth is reversing human’s damage since global human impact is a fraction of what it was mere months ago. From the clear water in the Venice canals, to the countless sunken wrecks now visible below the surface of Lake Michigan, to how quiet the Earth’s become as surface seismographic sensors are now reporting tremor levels once only gained from sensors buried deep beneath the planet’s surface, it’s an amazing thing to witness. The science is showing our efforts to reduce humanity’s burden on the planet can make an enormous difference. Whether we’ll learn the lesson and civilization adjusts its actions, or we’ll go overboard in returning to (and possibly exceeding) our bad and wasteful ways, only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll continue my media blackout (admittedly sometimes more of a grayout) to keep my perspective, sanity, and ability to live each day without fear, while focusing on doing my work. I can, and should, dwell on only things I can control, and listening or watching things I have no control over is not how I want to live each day.

Morning Glory

These days I rise early. It’s not just eagerness to get into my morning creative zone; some credit must go to that arc of life eventually making us all morning people.

Most mornings after shutting off the alarm, I try to get to my desk and begin writing relatively quickly. In between there’s making the bed, getting dressed (despite jammies and bathrobe being an allowable fashion these days, I try to dress as if going work, which I am), grabbing a bite of breakfast, and that royal reward of morning coffee.

My morning coffee ritual is different than when making a cup after lunch. You’d think this early I’d be in a hurry to make and drink it, but just the opposite. While my senses are not fully active yet, it’s my moment to catch my thoughts and ease into the day. Besides, I have to give some time for the inevitable internal squabble between mind and body to settle over whose dumb idea it was to get up this early.

The beginning is autonomic: pull out the coffeemaker, position it on the counter, plug it in, fill the water reservoir. From there, however, the art of the ritual begins. Some morning it’s about selecting and grinding the beans, other mornings it’s deciding which grounds to use. Either way, the careful laying in of filter, adding grounds, and turning on the machine begins moments of mindfulness as the magic machine makes my brew.

As I start the machine, I listen to its familiar sounds: waking the heating element, heating the water, activating the pump to flow the boiling water over the grounds. There’s always that pregnant pause as the machine goes silent before it delivers a precise, thin stream into my waiting cup. And as I watch mesmerized most mornings, this steady, clear stream slowly changes into a dark, rich brown.

Soon I’m rewarded with a cup of steaming, slightly creamed coffee. From there I sit, sip, and let my mind wander and ponder on the possibilities of the day before me. And when I can see the full inside bottom of the cup, it’s time to go to work.

You-Don’t-Love-Me-Anymore Syndrome

Late last year, I sold the RV and bought a new Subaru Crosstrek. Love my new ride, and was looking forward to some serious road trips come warmer weather. Plus, plans were to add a Thule roof box and do some serious backwoods camping, too.

Fast-forward to life-as-we-now-know-it-now and not only are those dreams on hold, but I’m rarely driving my beloved Subie. Outside of the every 10 days Trader Joe’s runs, it sits idle, alone, in my complex parking spot. Abandoned, so to speak.

When I go by it on the way to my daily walks, I can faintly hear it whimpering, “You don’t write, you don’t call, you don’t love me anymore!” Yeah, not really hearing that, but these days daydreaming and imagination have to fill in for the entertainment void.

But, there’s hope.

My sketching friend TK reminded me it’s not only possible, but does work, to drive somewhere, sit in the car, and sketch. There’s even a hashtag for this rebellious activity:  #USkincar (USK is the acronym for Urban Sketching).

So don’t fret Subie, my pal:  we’ll start having some play dates ahead while I sit in your comfy seats and sketch something cool that’s on the other side of the windshield. Beats having to sit somewhere public and sketch while wearing the latest in face mask fashion.

Pandemic Perambulations

The trek to Trader Joe’s last week felt like going to Disneyland, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Goofy greeting me, gloved workers festooned with decorative face masks happily welcomed me in. Good to get out, drive, take in fresh scenery, and walk through the wonderland of newly stocked shelves loaded with that most privileged and appreciated commodity in these dark times: food.

Compared to daily walks around the complex or in the nearby woods, driving somewhere feels like I’m channeling Steve McQueen as he rides his motorcycle in his escape from the WWII prison camp. He eludes pursuers over hill and dale, but eventually gets caught trying to jump that final fence to freedom. Alas, like McQueen, I also have to return and continue the days ahead in semi-solitary confinement.

These periodic food runs and frequent walks outside the home remind me of things I miss doing and likely took for granted back then. The ability to go out on a whim, explore a museum, or think nothing of driving over an hour to Ohio for that pan of amazing coffee cake were delights I did not fully appreciate then. How could I, when they were anytime, anywhere options? Now it feels like a naughty pleasure to get out, triggering some religion-induced guilt for enjoying it so.

Once outside, I think I must be in a Twilight Zone episode, that one where everything looked normal and in place, except there were no people, anywhere. On some days, walks in the woods feel like I’m the last human on Earth. Except for the distant sound of highway traffic, it’s not a stretch to have those thoughts. But wait…up ahead, someone masked and gloved approaches. So I’m not the last. Soon those thoughts give way to the new, autonomic social distancing dance, once clumsy, but now just is.

My growing list of basic things now grateful for, perhaps not as much as before, finds walking at the top. Rewind back to 2004, my year of back surgery to correct a problem that evolved into being unable to walk without severe pain. After post-surgery recovery, there were still moments when I mentally wrestled with accepting I wouldn’t walk well again, but eventually those thoughts dissipated.

Since then, I’ve always been grateful for my recovered ability to walk freely, possibly that most precious of human abilities that opens doors to so many experiences and enables self-reliance. My love of hiking and walking, it seems, would not be denied and ever since, have been grateful for every step I could take.

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” – Thomas Merton

The power to move from here to there, without mechanical conveyance, is a marvel and a lifelong art form. The fluidity of muscles moving in harmony with joints, driven by the lung’s unselfish in- and out-breaths in rhythm with the heart’s life-pump, are as mysterious and amazing as any modern technology.

As I walk and earn that magical moment, what those who jog call “runner’s high,” all cares slip away and only the moment is in focus. The sensory delights of surroundings combine with the meditative and therapeutic value of a good walk completes the experience. Having the capability and opportunity to walk freely during these dark times is my daily taste of freedom…for now.

“An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” – Lucy Lippard, “Overlay”

“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.”
– Pablo Neruda

Nobody Knows Anything

This is not a blanket indictment of mistrust nor a simple, three-word phrase suggesting you have to depend on yourself for knowledge or the truth. This enigmatic, yet so timely, quip came to me from listening to Seth Godin, who heard it said by William Goldman, the prolific Hollywood screenwriter.

What this simple, powerful quip means is that in so many areas of life, where unexpected change is possible, those we think should know what’s coming, don’t.

No one can foretell the next bestselling book, fad or cultural viral thing that everyone wants to hear, or watch, read. Or the next Black Swan that will interrupt life as we know it. Even those paid to know such things, don’t.

For creators, this could mean “why bother,” why get up at 4 in the morning to craft well what we have to say, or paint to tell the world what we’re feeling or thinking, or head out into the dark fog alone to run because you know your life depends on staying healthy.

We know why we do these things, and although we don’t know whether it will be the next big thing, or even if enough people enjoy reading or seeing our work to add value. We just know we need to do it, and most times that’s all we have to propel us forward, to connect each day’s effort to the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Despite not knowing what will happen, whether it’s from the work you do, or how the world will survive these strange times, we press on and keep doing or thinking the good work. We know such efforts will have some benefit, even if it’s just to ourselves. That’s knowing something, but it’s wisely letting go of expectation or specifics of what tomorrow will bring. We have today and we have our memories of where we’ve been.

Most days that’s more than good enough.

Oh My…Has It Been That Long?

That white stuff outside is snow, and that blurry bit of a silver car out there is my downsize from the Travato van to a Subaru Crosstrek.

Embarrassed I’ve left this site go fallow, but honestly, doesn’t seem that long ago when I wrote about the shift from the wandering life to the Ann Arbor life. Guess it’s been that busy since and hadn’t noticed! I’ll fix that shortly.

Besides the transition from van life to house life, the adjustments to having space and my things around me that were in storage, and yes, to winter in Ann Arbor, I’ve added a new distraction. On January 9 I opened (re-opened, really) my online niche-market stationery shop that I had for several years back in the day-job days. Love doing this and immersing into this world again, but damn, it was a lot of work to get ready.

Now that it’s settling into a nice flow of orders, I’m ready to get back to writing and sketching, things I love that were put on hiatus while I spent several months re-establishing Notegeist, the online stationery shop (check it out!)_.

And so, as I sit here at one of my newly adopted Ann Arbor coffee shop haunts (this one Roos Roost off S. Industrial), I’m working on reestablishing my direction for this year in writing, sketching, and traveling. The shop will be a part-time endeavor along with these other joys rounding out for a full and interesting time of things here in Southern Michigan. And yes, I promise to write more about all that here in a, ahem, more consistent fashion.