As I write this, I emerge from an unintended week-long digital sabbatical. The reasons for it are mundane; the wire in the wall of our new place is busted, so we’re stranded without any internet. You’d think my phone would have me covered, but after moving to Germany, I never sorted out a new provider—didn’t seem a priority, really, I assumed to always have wifi—so, for the time being, I’m stuck paying extortionate data roaming rates. (€25 for two gigs of data for those of you wondering)
But, in the middle of a move, with a global pandemic serving as a subtle backdrop of extra stress, internet access was the least of our worries.
Sometime between my pack-mule duties, I sat down on the balcony with a lovely view of old Berlin townhouses and, having nothing better to do, no phone to check, I started thinking. About nothing in particular. Just let my mind wander.
It’s been a while since I’ve done that. Idleness doesn’t feel right, so I always find ways to keep myself busy, optimize, cram in some audiobook listening time while I’m cooking, that sort of thing. But I had nothing available, and I really needed to cool off in the fresh air. So I sat there and reflected.
On how it feels to be a total stranger in Germany, and how it’s not so different from the way I’ve always felt, even back home, back school, back in the corporate world, back as far as the memory is willing to go. I never felt at home anywhere, except when amongst my closest friends. Always an outsider, now finally outside.
I thought about the struggle to write something worthwhile, not for algorithms and trends, but for people, something that would have a heart and soul. Writing like that goes not only against the grain but against the current. Especially online. And yet, it’s the only kind of writing worth our time.
I thought about how difficult it is to keep someone close in your life for long. The longest I managed was about ten years, but then he finally found the love he was looking for and didn’t need a friend anymore. Others peeled away quicker than that. How much of that was my fault? Because, in case you didn’t know, everything that happens in my life is my fault, or at least so I tell myself, trying to understand the world.
It’s so achingly difficult to maintain a friendship after people change, or after you change, because years spent together teach you to expect things the way they used to be, even when that’s not possible anymore. There’s nothing to hide, nothing to brag about. Just two people. No longer young and unbeatable, but older, and slightly frayed around the edges.
I also reflected on how I’m making a bet with my life. A bet that you can achieve pretty much anything you like if you just stick around long enough for everyone else to quit. And on how I must try to make it work because if I don’t, my heart will burst. I’ve seen enough examples of it to know it to be true, but knowing and sticking around for a decade or more aren’t the same thing.
Too much thinking for one afternoon perhaps, and you might ask, what’s the value of thinking so much about your life and people in it, and to that I have no answer. But I know there’s value to having long, uninterrupted thoughts like that.
Like everyone else, I’ve been glued to some screen or another for much of my adult life. I read more than most, which is an exercise in uninterrupted thinking, but so what? Like you, I’m guilty of putting a book down just because I heard my phone vibrate on the table. What use is catching up on Seneca when a half-a-second-long buzz has the power to take my attention away.
Sorry, where was I?
Before all this evaporates in the stream of new distractions, I wanted to write it down. To share with you, but also to remember that there’s something worth exploring in spending less time online, and that letting my mind wander for long stretches of time doesn’t have to be a bad thing after all.