The Twenty-Four Hour Cell Phone Fast

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8:40am: I just woke up from a restless nights sleep. I need to check my cell phone and see if there are any texts that are waiting for me. I may need to return a few of them before I began the twenty-four hour cell phone fast.

8:56am: Just finished returning the three texts that were waiting for a reply. Time to begin the fast. Turning my cell phone off now.

9:57am: My wife just informed me that someone was trying to get in touch with me via text so I need to check real fast and make sure it is not an urgent matter. Then I can resume the fast.

10:52am: I have been fasting for almost an hour now but I really need to check my phone quickly and see if anyone needs me. When I checked my texts first thing this morning a friend of mine texted me a question. I should probably respond. I don’t want him to think I am ignoring him. Just real quick, then I will turn off my phone.

After not using my phone for a bit these thoughts came into my mind while sitting on my couch: What if the things that we carry in our hands and on our bodies either strengthen or weaken us? What if carrying around a radiation emitting cellular device, all day/day after day is actually gradually weakening our vital organs, our immunity, our brain functioning, our bones? What if the “experts” in the field, most of whom are funded by the telecommunications industry, are dead wrong about how cellular phones affect our bodies and minds? What if acupuncturists, natural healers and energy workers are correct when they suggested the cellular phones carried around on the body upsets/disrupts the body’s harmonious energy flow, which causes numerous physical and mental health problems?

11:33am: My phone rests besides me. Because it is off, it looks like a non-threatening, lifeless object. When my phone is off I notice that I feel more grounded, less restless. I feel like I have more time to think and be and there is an absence of the chronic impulse to continually “be in touch.”

12:41pm: I had a strong feeling that someone desperately needed to get in touch with me, so I turned on my phone and there were six texts waiting for me. Six texts from six different people! I called my wife quickly (she had been calling me) and returned a few texts. The moment I returned the texts, I received responses and I had to respond to the responses. Several textual conversations then ensued. I think that the downpour has ended and it is safe to now turn off my phone.

1:34pm: I am sitting down for lunch in a quiet sandwich place down the street from my office. My phone sits on the table besides me. I am not even sure why the hell I need to have it out. The urge to turn it on and check my email and surf around on the internet while I eat my lunch is strong, really strong. I need to just sit here, eat my sandwich and be present (non-distracted).

2:43pm: I need to turn on my phone. This fast is ridiculous. Not practical. I mean what if my wife is trying to get in touch with me?

2:48pm: (sigh) I turned on my phone again and there were four texts awaiting a response from me! Does it ever stop? I responded to the texts and now I need to wait for their response so they don’t think I am rude by not acknowledging their response. This fast is not going well but I do notice that when my phone is off I feel better, calmer, less distracted, more at peace.

3:13pm: Ok, ok………I’m turning it off.

4:24pm: I notice that I have been sitting here reading for the past forty minutes without once feeling like I need to distract myself with my phone. Wow! This is a first.

5:27pm: Just awoke from a brief nap. I fell asleep while reading. When I woke up I noticed my wife’s phone on the table besides me. It was on, so I reached over, grabbed it and checked a few things on-line real quick (New York Times, Daily Beast and a couple of blogs I like to read). After about five or ten minutes I felt guilty, so I put the phone down and got up.

5:56pm: On a regular day of texting I notice that the tip of my right thumb (which I use for texting) is tender and soar as if it had been touching something radioactive. Today I notice that my thumb is not bothering me so much.

9:02pm: I need to check my phone, I need to check my phone, I need to check my phone, I should really check my phone, this fast is ridiculous, just real fast I  will check my phone, real fast, just to see if anyone is trying to get in touch with me, real fast, then I will turn it off and not check it for the rest of the evening.

3:32am: I wonder if anyone one is trying to get in touch with me? Should I check? I wonder what is going on in the world? Should I check The New York Times? Twitter? Maybe I should check real fast.

8:17am: Usually the first thing that I do in the morning is check  my phone to see if I have any emails or texts. I am going to resist the urge this morning. I slept well last night.

8:42am: I notice that when I am always checking my phone, it is because I feel this pressing need/urge to be “in touch” and feel like I am not “missing out” on communications with others. It really is a subtle form of madness. Low level and chronic madness. As a result of not using my cell phone as much, I realize just how fragmented and less private my life has become. I have become more generally distracted and unable to focus for long periods of time (unless of course I am on my cell phone). I’m keeping my phone off for the rest of the fast.

8:46am: Ok, I just need to check real quick.

8:48am: Seven unread texts but I am not going to respond just yet. I will wait until the end of the fast. Turning off my phone and putting it away. Out of sight.

8:52am: One more hour.

9:33am: Where the hell did I put my phone?

On Becoming Domesticated

imagesToday I need to clean under the dinning room table, vacuum the carpet in the living room, fix the grass borders in the backyard, clean the back windows and plant the cactus someplace in the backyard.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, on of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, wrote: “The man who is happy in his domestication, who sees his domestication as the good graces of the Gods being bestowed upon him, is no longer a threat to the world, to others and most importantly to himself.” But I didn’t see this one coming. Who could of imagined that by the almost middle age of 42 I would become happily domesticated? Ten years ago, not my mother, my father, my sister, my daily bartender, my palm reader, my marijuana dealer, my pharmacist or my psychotherapist could have seen this coming. To be domesticated basically means to feel comfortable at home. After a lifetime spent feeling terribly uncomfortable and anxious in the numerous places that I lived, its nothing short of a miracle that I not only have my own home but am comfortable in it. The comfort aspect of domestication is not what concerns me. I am grateful for it. If you look up domestication in the dictionary you will find several definitions. If you read through all of the definitions you will arrive at one, which says: To bring down to the level of the ordinary person. I suppose this is that part that concerns me.

At the moment I am writing by my kitchen window, which looks out into my expansive back yard. It is a cold Southern California morning. I am looking at my two German Shepherds pace around in the pea gravel that my wife and I recently purchased. One of my dogs, which is named Camus but lacks the intelligence of the author he is named after, is engaged in a long and steady urination, which is getting all over his front paws. The fact that he is peeing all over himself doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. I am reminded that, contrary to certain people’s opinion, I am nothing like my dog. If I was peeing all over my feet I would like to think that I am civilized enough to move my feet out of the way. My other dog is sniffing around in the pea gravel trying to find an adequate spot to relieve herself. And I get to observe these kind-of-wildlife undertakings from the heated comfort of my kitchen nook. It is this aspect of domestication that I am grateful for. I too spent many years out there in the cold looking for a place to pee.

However, I wrestle with this notion of being brought down to the level of the ordinary. Ordinary? Oh gosh. In my twenties and thirties, when I was still naive enough to think it was only a matter of time until I was recognized as a great American writer and painter, I disdained the idea of domestication. I had nothing but indignation for those who had embraced domestication and I looked upon these “masses” as having given up on their unique greatness (whatever that meant). I would walk by a man gardening or watering his front lawn and I would have to restrain myself from calling him a “sell out.” I would see families moving into beautiful middle and upper class homes and think of these people as mediocrities. Becoming domestic was a threat to my dreams of literary and artistic eccentricity. And as wrong and judgmental as I was about the motivations of those individuals who had embraced domestic comforts, I was not far from correct about domesticities effects upon creativity.

Today I need to clean out the garage, sweep up the pea gravel that has gotten all over the driveway, water my plants in the front yard, sweep the backyard deck and straighten up in the house. Maybe I will do some touch up painting on the walls which have been chipped and marked up. I also need to walk the dogs and unload the dishwasher. Due to my extensive studies in Eastern philosophy I am well aware of how ones outer environment is a direct reflection of their inner environment, and vice versa. I am also aware of how a person’s external environment interacts with their inner life. It is important for me to have everything in my home look curated, cared for, dusted and organized. It is one way that I attain inner peace. However, for those of us who can not afford a housekeeper, maintaining a home that is a direct reflection of an inner life that is balanced, calm, caring and refined requires a continual, almost athletic effort. It leaves little time for making art. Or I should say that being domesticated becomes the art.

I am sure there is extensive information out there on the historical and sociological aspects of human domestication. I wonder if there is as much information out there about what happens to artists, writers, musicians, etc., when they finally become domesticated. Off of the top of my head, I know of few artists, writers and musicians whose works have not become less interesting, potent and innovated after becoming domesticated. I wonder if this becoming comfortable at home business somehow reduces a persons suffering and as a result reduces the quality, ambition and quantity of their artistic output. Why make art once a person finds comfort? I wonder if many artists, writers and musicians who at some point in their life become domesticated are making a kind of Faustian bargain where in exchange for the comforts of home they agree that their art will become their hobby and they will become a bit more ordinary. After all the years of struggle and uncomfortably, for most artists. I would assume that this is probably a fair deal.

Today I also need to clean up my dogs poop, mop the hardwood floors, water some of the potted plants, pick up water for the fish tank, empty various trash cans and sweep the dirt away from the front patio. I may also need to take a trip to IKEA to buy some pillows for an older mid century couch that my wife and I purchased yesterday. I can’t help but think: Am I wasting valuable time? Shouldn’t I be more disciplined and working on a painting and/or writing? If I put as much time into my artistic interests as I do into maintaining my home maybe I would feel better about myself (not that I feel bad about myself)? Maybe I would feel more purposeful? Maybe. The truth is that when I spent almost two decades committed to my art (well committed to the idea of being an artist but not committed to the idea of doing the actual work) I was miserable. I struggled and got little in return for my efforts other than a vague notion that one day all of my toil and poverty would one day pay off. And it has, just not in a way I ever saw coming.

Instead of visiting a bookstore or spending my evenings sitting in a cafe reading, I now prefer to go to Home Depot or Lowes in order to find various things for my home. It is almost as if Home Depot has become my night club. Last night was Saturday evening and I was at Home Depot looking for a new water faucet for my kitchen sink (I like the ones that are steel and are in the shape of a candy cane). On Friday I was at IKEA looking at various linoleum floors to replace the current linoleum floors in my kitchen. Rather than spending hours and hours reading literature at my desk, I now enjoy sitting on my couch or my back deck looking on Craigslist or EBay for deals on Danish modern furniture for my home collection (I have developed a passions for chairs and want to collect as many strangely shaped modern chairs as possible so that one day I can open a chair museum). In my twenties and thirties I wanted to be one of the greatest living American painters and writers. Now in my forties, I am driven to one day open a chair museum. How things change.

I also need to shave today. I also need to go to the market and prepare a lunch for myself to take with me to work tomorrow. If I have time I would like to hook my stereo speakers to the television. I would also like to watch another episode of Breaking Bad. Has being domesticated made me more ordinary?  Has it made me what my twenty something self would of called a sell out or a mediocrity? From a particular perspective, probably so. In many ways there is probably not that much difference between myself and those thousands of other American who love their homes. We are all engaged in similar daily home maintenance routines. But in becoming domesticated I have found an extraordinary well-being and satisfaction that I never imagined I would experience. I have chosen to now spend my days designing, cleaning and maintaining a beloved home rather than pursuing what I now realize for me was a unobtainable dream. I have learned to find satisfaction in everyday, ordinary acts rather than the annoying and constant desire to become something that I am not. My marriage, my dogs and my home have become the canvas upon which I now work.

I will never be comfortable with this idea of being ordinary. However that might not even be true. Our views and belief systems are always changing as we age. Ten years ago I would of never, ever imagined that I would be forty two years of age and happily domesticated. I do know this- if becoming ordinary means feeling comfortable in one’s home, I welcome the ordinary (I think). Now when I go for walks around my neighborhood and I pass by someone gardening or watering in their front yard, I wave, smile and say hello.

The Incomplete Writer

773px-Erika_9_typewriter  I struggle to complete things. I am the kind of writer who often gives up just before an ending. I have written numerous incomplete short stories, essays and novels, leaving them for dead right before the end. It is a strange affliction that causes me a great deal of envy towards writers who are able to complete their works. It’s a muscle I lack. In order not to retire certain writings to the dump yard of all my other unfinished works, I have decided to collect below several of my most recent unfinished writings before I forever let them go.

 

So This Is What Grief Feels Like

How does a person’s childhood home live inside of them as an adult? I have just returned home after spending several days visiting my childhood home, where my parents still live. I’m sitting on my couch looking out a window into the backyard. The clock, which hangs on the wall, is making a sound that mimics my heartbeat. Or my heartbeat is mimicking the sound of the clock. My eyes feel slightly swollen from a few short-lived bouts of crying. I miss my childhood home in the same way that a person could miss a pet or a recently lost lifelong friend. I am aware that in my absence my childhood home feels emptier. Quieter. I know that it too is sad that I am gone.

The Beard

One morning he awoke and his beard was gone. There was a note on the pillow beside him, which read:

The Tunnel

A man, who cares about his age, needs to move out of the city, who cares about why. He moves to the suburbs, for reasons that I don’t want to understand. The only real problem here is the tunnel, which divides the suburbs from the city. After several weeks of living in the suburbs, the man, like most men, wants to go visit friends in the city. The suburbs are long, flat and lonely and for more reasons than I am wanting to go into here, the man desperately needs to spend more time in the city. Lets just say his mental health depends on it. Ok? But the problem that I previously mentioned is that he has a terrible fear of going through the tunnel. Maybe he is claustrophobic; I am not a medical professional so it is not for me to make that judgment. All I know is that the man’s inability to go through the tunnel is causing him to become trapped in the suburbs. It’s not a good situation for anyone.

The Insomniac

Five o’clock, Sunday morning, is the quietest time on earth. Everything is still. No one is up- except for the insomniacs.

JTimothy’s mind was a web of noise. Solitude was not bliss. Instead it was an uncomfortable collar that felt too tight around his neck. His feet were like ship anchors dragged along his apartment floor. What use was flossing his teeth when all he did was grind them? The only way that JTimothy could get some semblance of sleep was by putting clean, white tube socks on over his bare feet. And even that was not sleep enough.

Rewind. Three years before. JTimothy slept as much as you and I. A dream filled sleep in the nude. Back in those days the mountains outside his window were still skyrockets filled with opportunity and mystery. They had yet become the claustrophobic walls that trapped him. The washing machine and kitchen table were still inanimate objects. Three years later they would become his best friends and chess partners. The insomnia set in before he consciously realized that his adult life had become intolerable. A constant steady flow of deteriorations, disappointments and humiliating defeats. As is often the case with most diseases, JTimothy’s insomnia knew more about JTimothy than JTimothy knew about himself. His tube socks could attest to this .

JTimothy’s apartment was once an alarmingly beautiful space. It was clean and looked like the kind of space that you could tell the tenant enjoyed taking care of it. From the outside you would never know that inside was a well-curated showroom for mid-century modern furniture. Most of his money from his often-suffocating job went into these objects of good taste. The black Eames chairs in the corner were his favorites. What use are the most stylish and aesthetically pleasing objects when you can’t sleep? The insomniac gradually loses the ability to see beauty.

Fast forward to where this story began. JTimothy in tube socks and yesterday’s clothes. It’s 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning and JTimothy is the only person awake in a sleeping world. Macaroni noodles are boiling on the stove. The kitchen table is already hungry. The washing machine is not yet ready to eat. Just the other day JTimothy had to take the washing machine’s drivers license away from it. The washing machine is currently engaging in a hunger strike against what it feels was an unfair decision to strip it of its autonomy. JTimothy became feed up with the washing machine not being around every time he needed to do his laundry. Ever since the washing machine received its drivers license it had been going out constantly with other washing machines. JTimothy knew that the washing machine had been going to parties and he was concerned that the washing machine would drink and drive. Or even worse- what if it fell in love with a dryer and ran away? He could not admit it but JTimothy was jealous. Deep down he was annoyed that his washing machine was having more fun than he was.

The insomniac can become very possessive. There were times that JTimothy believed that even the mountains belonged to him.

JTimothy paced around his apartment. What had happened to him? He listened to the hot water boiling on the electric stove. JTimothy’s insomnia knew that the reason he could not sleep was

The Driver

The only place that the Driver feels safe and in control is in his car. This is why the Driver drives around and around and around. Day after day.

The Novelist

I know what your thinking. “Forty three years old and he has just written his first novel?” Before you jump to any unfair conclusions with regards to my ambition or will power please allow me to explain. But before I explain allow me to give you this brief list of novelists who made no money from writing before the age of 45: Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Tomas Espedal and I know there are many others but I can not come up with the names now.

If by the end of this short autobiographicalish story you do not think that I deserved to be called a novelist, fair enough. If you still think it is too late for me, that I have reached the expiration date as far as being a legitimate writer is concerned, fair enough again.

You see I have been determined to write a novel since the age of seventeen. No, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start where I am at now. The past is the past even though I understand that the past is as important to a writer as the present is to a Zen Buddhist. So let me begin from right now.

The Bathroom

Waiting in a bathroom stall, after having had an impressively large bowel movement, for a man to finish washing his hands and doing his hair because I am too embarrassed to walk out because of the odor I have created. The man is taking forever.

Walls

I built a small space in my backyard where I can be alone. It’s just one small room- no hallways, no bathrooms, no furniture, no windows. Just six walls made of pinewood and a pillow for sitting. I enter the space through a hatch in the roof.

Bad Bosses

I wish I could invent a device that would make all bad bosses disappear.

The Collector

My wife thinks I have a shopping addiction (even though I do not have enough money to have a shopping addiction). She thinks buying things helps me to feel empowered and in control. It’s a momentary substitute for the general sense of helplessness and lack of control that I feel most of the time, she tells me. I’m not sure I agree with her, even though in the end she is almost always right. However, for the purposes of this autobiographical essay, I will pretend as if she is always, completely wrong.

I don’t see myself as a shopping addict. I think the diagnosis is completely missing the point. Through years of study and exploration, I have developed a sensibility for the finer, more alternative things in life. In the same way that the archeologist has spent years studying so that she or he can identify and collect important objects, I have been refining my ability to

One more:

Chronic Pain (a memoir about a son’s life long struggle with a difficult father)

I was having a difficult time breathing. It felt like something heavy was resting on top of my lungs all night. As I sit up from a restless nights sleep, I struggle to breathe air into my lungs. It feels like trying to pump air into a bicycle tire that is almost full. My wife is still sleeping. She is wrapped up in heavy blankets, like a sausage inside a sourdough bun. I don’t feel rested but it’s 6:20am and I am ready to go.

My wife and I drove for six hours to visit the house were I spent my childhood and grew up into an angry young man. After thirty-five years my parents still live in this aging mansion, which sits on two acres of beautiful Northern California land. The house sits on top of a hill overlooking the affluent country club, which it is apart of. Twenty years ago I remember how upset my father was when the country club association started building larger houses in the oak tree filled hills behind his house. No longer would he be on top of the world- now more successful and wealthier people would be looking down on him.

It’s a cold November morning. Wet leaves cover the damp concrete ground as my wife and I load our suitcases into the back of our financed Prius. I’m too tired and sad to talk. I just want to get this over with as quietly as possible. Once we have loaded up the car with all our stuff we return inside to make sure we have not forgotten anything. As I look around I’m feeling a deep sense of grief. It’s been a difficult weekend visit with my parents and a part of me feels like this may be the last time I will ever return home again. I try to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake my parents. We have already said our goodbyes the night before.

Before retiring to bed last night my father came up to me and in his strange way tried to make amends for the fight he had started the day before. “We should talk on the phone once a week so we can improve our relationship son. I am who I am and I’m not going to change but I want to be your friend,” he said while standing a bit too much in my personal space. I admit, I felt threatened and annoyed. We were standing in a hallway that was filled with a history of my childhood battles with my father. “I don’t need you to be my friend, I need you to be a father,” I replied. “Son I’ve already done the best I could as your father. You’re a grown man now and it’s time to be friends.” I felt slightly confused and uncomfortable, like my father was once again trying to make me agree to something that was good for him but inherently bad for me. He gave me a hug goodnight. I told him to sleep well and with his signature negativity he said, “yeah I’m going to go die.” I knew that indirectly he was trying to imply that our dynamic had worn him out.

I stood at my old bedroom window and looked out into the expansive backyard, where I had spent so much of my lonely and unhappy youth. The same backyard furniture that I sat on as a child was still there and so were all the dangling bushes that I used to sing to while pretending that they were the hands of adoring fans reaching out to touch me. How can one be so sad, angry and unhappy in the midst of such beauty? I thought to myself. Did I even see the beauty when I was growing up? I turn around, turn out the bedroom lights and say to my wife, “Ready to go?” We have a six-hour drive back to LA ahead of us. Before I close the front door behind me, I take one final listen to the sounds inside the house that I love so much. I can hear the subtle sounds of the house settling. I can also hear the hallow sounds that a large house makes when everything inside is still. Upstairs, I can hear my father snoring and I imagine that my mother is laying in bed with her eyes half-open, tears on her cheeks while she listens to me leave.