Friday, September 24, 2010

The Chihuahuas are running amuck - Oh my! One Writer grapples with the Digital Age

America’s Got Talent was my summer’s guilty pleasure. (I actually voted for the winner!) But this 50-second chihuahua fiasco (in Portland) was my favorite bit of the entire summer. I laughed till I cried. And for days afterward the vision of Chihuahuas Unleashed would run across my inner movie screen and leave me chuckling at odd moments. It still makes me smile – so I share it here with you.

Ok, maybe it’s not that funny, except to me. Because there it was – a perfect metaphor for my writer self this summer as I grappled with a writing process that seemed about as controllable as a frenetic pack of chihuahuas!

View the doggie audition tape and you’ll see there really was a plan. Then came the BIG NIGHT. Equipment in place. Judges ready. And ON STAGE! BRIGHT LIGHTS! A ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE! Those doggies were not in their backyard Kansas anymore. There was NEW STUFF TO EXPLORE! Who wouldn’t go a little wild? The onstage distractions were just too tempting!

Much like being a writer in the digital age. Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Email, Cell phones - all those great distractions from the writing task at hand. When The Story of Baha’u’llah was published in 2005, Facebook was a year old and had not gone public. Twitter was nonexistent. No cell phone apps or Ipad, blogging was new, and my email felt manageable.

What a different milieu exists in which to write my current book. In 2006 I entered the blogging world, joined life on Facebook a bit later, forayed into the Twitterverse, and added texting to my phone skills. For someone who loves to connect and communicate, life was looking good – until it wasn’t.

In the middle of all that outreach I had started work on my current book project. With a large creative project I need time for immersion; for long stretches of time to grapple with problem-solving, whether at the page or away from it; for mind and spirit to rest in deep stillness, freed from distraction, in order to concentrate or simply be receptive to inspiration. All of which is the antithesis of life online.

Fast forward to this summer. Working my own paradigm for a creative life, I began to pay closer attention to my first writing tool, myself. What I noticed was a distinct difference between how I feel online and how I feel immersed in creative work. Online is more wound-up, scattered energy in response to the 10,000 prompts to go here, see that, share, comment. Working offline feels more settled; concentration deeper, even my breathing more relaxed.

But my online energy state would stay with me and beckon like a siren call for my return, running interference with the more difficult need to stay focused, go deeper, in the complex work of creative process. All of which pushed me into making a choice. I could stay connected with others or connect to my own creative self. How much book-writing would happen with my chihuahuas onstage?

I chose to let go, a piece at a time, of all that other-connectedness. Not absolutely - I value online connections - but to a much greater degree. I opted out of the ubiquitous notion that I might be missing something whenever I’m not connected. Now I turn off the internet, including email, for much of my work time. I took a little blog sabbatical and now plan to post, but less frequently than I did previously. Facebook and Twitter will carry on just fine with only occasional visits from me – especially as I write my book. Even my cell phone gets less play.

There is a great relief, I find, in the simple act of turning off and letting go of the group.

Does all of this sound familiar? If you are grappling with this issue you are not alone. Writers and other folks, including scientists, are examining the digital age and weighing in with some very interesting stuff. More on that in my next post: Twinkies, Brussel Sprouts & Digital Sabbaticals: 'Is this working for you?'

1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant. Not only are the chihuahuas a metaphor for the online frenzy we often find ourselves in, they are a metaphor for our own thoughts, as we try to focus them on one project, one thought, one prayer. Here we need not only turn off the computer/phone/whatever but actually sit regularly and turn off extraneous thoughts, idle fancies, vain imaginings. Single minded purpose is the phrase that comes to me when I think of this state.