Just wanted to drop a quick note to all my readers here, new and old, and say have a safe and happy start to 2019.
I’ve had a bunch of new people follow this blog and comment on it, and it is consistently one of my favorite internet outlets, because the quality of discussion and discourse here is so much higher.
I’ll be taking a short break (like many do) over the next week or so, and be back next year with plenty of new posts about writing, a bit of film photography (got a new camera for Christmas!) and some site updates.
After my 3rd smartphone in 4 years broke, I got frustrated with such expensive products being so fragile, and on a whim at the store I said “screw this, do you have flip phones?” The girl at the store laughed and said, “Yes. Those still exist”. I now have a phone that makes calls, texts, and can sync email and calendars, plus some other basic things like an alarm clock and FM radio. It costs $20 a month.
I wanted to save money on my mobile bill and have a sturdier device, but this is the stuff I didn’t expect:
That I’d spend a few days freaking out in some kind of weird “smartphone withdrawal”, habitually touching my pocket, while trying to remember how to use T9.
That my social media usage would basically dwindle to nothing (a few times a week) because that urge to scroll was no longer there.
That my attention span and focus would slowly improve over weeks, to the point I’m way more productive at work and at knocking out long overdue “to do” lists.
That I would notice friends, family, and like 50-80% of random strangers with their heads buried in a screen FAR more than I ever had before.
That I am becoming intolerant of people replying “huh?” or “wait, what did you say?” in conversations when their faces are buried in those screens.
That I would start consuming art & entertainment & news much more deeply. Reading text more slowly, and not half-watching movies while looking at IMDB to figure out “what else that guy was in”.
That I would pick up the nice digital camera I received a few years ago as a gift and rediscover a love of photography – capturing fewer photos with an intention of artistic expression, not just mindless snapshots of food.
That Garmin GPS have a McDonald’s button in 2018 (What a time to be alive!)
That a pencil and 50 cent notebook works nearly as well as Google Keep.
That I can be bored again, and boredom is a good (and sometimes scary) thing that can be filled with creativity and introspection.
That being the only person in a Starbucks not on a smartphone makes you look like a WEIRDO since people watching is apparently rare and frowned upon these days?
That only charging my phone about once a week, and not really caring if I forget it at home are quite freeing.
That smartphones are really cool, and super convenient, but convenience comes with costs that I don’t think society has fully recognized yet.
That it is really, REALLY satisfying to snap your phone shut when some annoying telemarketer calls you.
TL;DR – I went back to a flip phone and it had a bunch of unexpected benefits. You might want to try it out sometime.
This got me thinking about friends and fellow creative people who have “too many hobbies”. There are only so many hours in a day, and as creative types get older, “adulting” often assails our best efforts at output with jobs, families, and other un-creative nonsense.
So what can you do? My choice has been to limit my hobbies. If you buy into the idea of the Renaissance Soul then you’re probably shaking your head right now. In my opinion, that whole concept is just a feel good exercise for people who cannot commit to something. During the ACTUAL Renaissance people were discovering new things, these days I’d wager the majority are just intrigued about emulating those they follow on Instagram. I blame the internet, and MTV.
But I digress.
I feel like two hobbies is the right number for those who want to really excel at their passion. Why two? Because you need a secondary hobby to maintain creativity when you’re burnt out on your primary one.
Everyone gets burnt out by their passion on occasion. It’s just a part of the process. We happen to call it “writer’s block”. When burn out happens, you can always refuel your tank by relaxing and enjoying different media. But if you’re the kind of person who recharges their batteries by doing something creative, then a second hobby can do the trick.
Photography can get expensive (just like writing), but it doesn’t have to (just like writing). Learning to use a decent point & shoot digital camera in Manual mode, along with an instant film cam force me to re-learn fundamentals like composition, lighting, and the “exposure triangle”. It can also be a fairly quick hobby, snapping some photos and slowly improving my editing. Taking a few days off from writing to explore another hobby that requires different creative muscles makes me feel refreshed when I sit back down at the old manuscript.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, other than saying it’s good for writers to have additional creative outlets, but not so many that you’re distracted and unable to put the time needed into your writing.
Do you have other hobbies besides writing? Do they help when you’re blocked? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Something happened last month that has profoundly affected my creativity.
My smartphone broke.
Yellow jackets get pretty ornery around late summer (they sense their collective impending doom), and as luck would have it, I got stung in the hand while scrolling Twitter. My phone hit the sidewalk and even a fancy $3 case and screen protector couldn’t save it.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything, as it would turn out.
Enter the flip phone.
I’ve contemplated how much I relied on my smartphone for a while now. I used it too much, and research is showing the negative effects of technology overload, especially on creativity. I decided to switch back to a flip phone as an experiment, and the results were almost immediate.
This is what I found:
I’m perfectly OK without a smartphone. I have other computers/devices (GPS, laptop, etc) to access maps and information when I need it. It’s freeing to not feel “connected” at all times.
I AM BORED AGAIN. I realized just how long it had been since I felt boredom. I was literally programmed to grab my phone to “fill in the spaces”. Now that the flip phone only serves very intentional functions (calls, texts, email) my body and brain are literally retraining themselves to accept true downtime again. Walking around, standing in lines, all those things that prompted smartphone use are filled with contemplative thought and observations.
I realize how pervasive smartphones are. I’ve joked that I’m “awake” now, but being more present has allowed me to see just how often other people are on their devices. It is nearly constant. Kind of scary, but this experiment is about me, not about what others are doing.
My attention span is slowly returning. Deliberate, focused consumption of books, movies, and television (even a newspaper!) without the risk of distraction has made me realize the strange cognitive dissonance that “two screening” had caused. For the first few days I felt randomly distracted and jittery sitting through an entire movie. That is slowly fading, and I find myself contemplating what I give my attention to more deeply.
I have gotten so many more story ideas in these bored moments. Creativity appears to be expanding to fill those gaps.
I have more time to write. Those little (and not so little) pockets of free time are spent writing instead of mindlessly scrolling on a screen.
This endeavor is still burgeoning, but so far I’ve seen mostly positives for the trade offs in convenience. Will I ever get a smartphone again? I’m not sure. But for now I’m enjoying a newfound well of creativity, and only paying $20 a month for something that won’t break if it bounces off a sidewalk.
If his soul could cast a reflection so brilliant, and so intensely sweet, he might beg God to make such use of him. But that would be too simple. But that would be too childish. The actual sphere is not clear like this, but turbulent, angry. A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.
It’s Friday, and I’m ripping this incredibly controversial topic straight from the headlines.
It’s a dispute that can destroy relationships, families, and book clubs.
The question at hand?
IS IT OK TO WRITE IN YOUR BOOKS?????
I actually like to look back over highlighted passages that spoke to me, as well as jot little notes in the margins of stories to capture my in-the-moment thoughts on them. I use the “highlight passage” feature on my Kindle regularly.
Plus, when I purchase a used paperback, I actually like finding highlights and notes from the previous owner. In a way it makes me feel like that particular copy is more special and has a bit more to tell than it’s mass-pressed brothers and sisters.