by: Douglas Grant
Beseeching a digital purge in an effort to achieve consummate catharsis….
It was one of those things that just kind of happened naturally without a lot of thought. Without planning it I would gradually cut myself off from all electronic communication. Maybe if I had thought it through I might’ve done it in a way that wouldn’t have pissed so many people off. It irks me to be perceived as wishy-washy under any circumstance, but the truth is I only have myself to blame. Here’s the thing though: It was one of the best off-the-cuff decisions I could have made for my mental well-being, and if I’d just added a few minor details to my preparations, it all would have gone much smoother. Live and learn.
Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina: My new manuscript was coming along rather nicely before I took off to go see my family. The plan was to work on it during all the downtime I would have. But I’ve lost interest at this point. I feel uninspired. That’s alright though. I came here for some R & R, and there’s no rule stating that I need to be creative or productive on my vacation. Instead, I think I’ll be inspired by this lush foliage just beyond the screens of my parents’ back porch. I’m going to sit here indefinitely and sip on this Grey Goose, and all will be right in the world. I should respond to those texts that came in a few minutes ago, but I’m not feeling it right now. Maybe later.
Atlanta: Good ‘ol ATL. Always feels great to be back. I’ve never had a bad time here, and this city will always hold a special place in my heart. It doesn’t even phase me, this traffic we’re in; I’ve got a limitless archive of Outkast at my fingertips, which I am currently taking full advantage of.
It’s uplifting to be with my cousin and his family again. His kids are absolutely delightful. I’d like to take a moment to check my email, but I don’t. I know no one would hold it against me if I do, but it seems rude to me. I suppose I could steal off to the bathroom and wash my hands, then lean against the sink with the door closed and catch myself up with the outside world. Y’know what though? I really don’t want to. I don’t want to waste a single minute of whatever family time I have before I jump on a plane tomorrow. I want to savor this brief stay. Maybe tonight, just before I go to bed, I’ll check in with what’s been going on.
I don’t though.
Boston: I’ve been catching up with old friends and having a blast in a city that I never truly gave a fair shot. It’s great to see these people again, and they are the most gracious hosts you could ask for. At the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown we have a spectacular view of the skyline at night, and we refuse to pass up the photo op. The picture turns out great.
I could upload it to Instagram. I’m sure there are quite a few connections between us who’d love to see three familiar faces, childhood friends, enjoying each other’s company after thirty-something years. I could upload it, and it might even make someone smile.
I don’t though.
On the second day I have down time and no desire to be social. I’m enjoying exploring Somerville, even though Boston’s whack ass maze-like topography throws my internal compass for a loop. I have no sense of direction here. New York City is so much easier.
Back at the apartment I watch True Detective and Mr. Robot, and later I’m pleasantly surprised with the action/comedy Kingsman. I have an inclination to go on Twitter and offer some mundane thoughts about my reaction to them. Maybe I’ll put a humorous spin on these tweets. Maybe someone will say to themselves, “Hey, this guy is witty. I should buy one of his books.” I could send out these tweets with specific hashtags and maybe even facilitate an online discussion.
I don’t though.
In the morning I check my texts:
Are you dead?
Where are you?
So….no response, eh?
Did you click on that link I sent you?
Where you at?
Are you in San Diego?
I’m starting to realize that I’m giving the impression that I’m a flake, and I’m not happy about it. It’s one of my greatest social fears. Not only that, but two of my good friends who I write alongside and exchange ideas with were looking to me for a little help, and I completely let them down.
Just as I’m having these thoughts, a call comes in, and it’s from someone who is very dear to me. I’ll….I’ll just call them back later.
At this point I wouldn’t hold it against you if you thought I was being an asshole.
New Hampshire: Have you ever apologized to someone for being incommunicado, citing being in a “no service area” as the reason, but knew that if you just walked twenty feet down the road you definitely could have made the phone call? That’s what New Hampshire is to me: it’s the half-assed excuse I have for unapologetically going off the grid. And damn it feels good.
I had no idea how much I missed the serenity of these forests. There are creeks, rivers, and lakes everywhere. The green horizons are breathtaking. I suppose I’m feeling the moment more acutely considering where I live is plagued by drought and much of the state is on fire.
I have the opportunity to visit the summer camp I worked at when I was seventeen, and so I take it. It’s very rare in this day and age in America that you should find a place that seems unchanged in two decades, but when I return to this camp that is exactly what I find. It’s as if this place has been frozen in time since ’95. On Facebook I’m connected with many people who I worked with that summer, and I’m sure that if I took a picture and attached each of their names to the post, they’d be able to see what I mean about how the camp has been unaffected by the passage of time. That’s not really my style, though, and I keep the experience to myself. I feel like Gordy in Stand By Me after he sees the deer.
It’s worth mentioning at this point in the narrative that it’s not just people that I have been blowing off. I have also neglected personal responsibilities. I don’t check my bank account, because I know doing so will just depress me, even though a vacation is probably one of those times when it’s imperative that you check it every day. And for all I know that rental car company has tried to screw me over royally regarding the EZPass lane. If there’s an erroneous charge on my credit card that I need to dispute, then….well, I’m not taking care of that for at least another week.
Portland, ME: Here’s another city I’m a big fan of that I haven’t visited in quite some time. My girlfriend and I just had a wonderful lunch at DiMillo’s, a pleasure boat that’s been refashioned into a restaurant, and now we’re thoroughly enjoying ourselves at Liquid Riot Bottling Company. Just up the road is the Allagash Brewing Company, whose Confluence Ale is one of the best beers produced in the city, and is also represented in the southern territories by one of my good friends from college. Now, as opposed to before when I joked about using Twitter to serve my own ends, here I have the power to use social media to put the word out on some local businesses that I wholeheartedly endorse. I can help spread the word, and it would take less than a minute of my time to do so. Yet I reluctant to take myself out of this feeling of being completely present. I don’t know what my problem is. I’m not sure there even is a problem. It wasn’t like this before. Before all you had to do was pick up a post card. But now I seem hell bent on keeping two worlds separate, and there’s a little voice in the back of my mind that tells me I should feel guilty about it.
However, don’t I feel like I’ve been living in the moment as of late, more than I have in a long time?
As I gaze across the Atlantic I look northeast, and although I can’t see them I know that not too far from here are the islands that I kayaked to during my Outward Bound program. In Outward Bound you are strongly urged to leave the outside world behind, to be ever-present and rooted in the moment. Aside from outgoing letters, you actually are cut off from the outside world. Even regularly checking your watch is discouraged by some. I think about sixteen to eighteen-year-old kids today, and wonder how they would handle that responsibility. Would it be too much for them?
Upstate New York: If you told me twenty years ago that I’d still be going to Phish festivals at age thirty-seven I’d probably tell you to beat it. But I am having nothing but a grand time at Magnaball, Phish’s tenth three-day festival, and I don’t feel like this scene has moved on without me at all. Truth be told, if anything this scene has matured with me and my own. It’s cleaner, safer, more professional, and more engaging. It’s like New York City post-Guiliani. Most of my college friends are here, but I’m missing my high school friends and others that I used to go to these shows with.
It’s day two, and my friend who’s not here just sent me a text that insinuates that since I didn’t upload a pic from last night’s show to Instagram, that I am, in fact, not even there. I know he says it in jest, and his text gets a good chuckle out of me. Just give me tonight and tomorrow. That’s all I ask. After that I’ll fly home and plug myself back into the Matrix. But for tonight and tomorrow, I’m all about me.
San Diego: This improvised social experiment of mine is, for the most part, successful. I know it sounds arrogant, and even a bit irresponsible, but it needed to happen. For a few weeks I saw the world how I used to see it, and before that I didn’t even know what it was that I’d been missing.
I only have two regrets that barred this cleanse from being a complete success, and here’s my advice to anyone else entertaining the idea of going AWOL:
- Simply let people know that you’re going to be out of touch for X amount of time, and you can save yourself some serious aggravation. Trying to explain yourself after the fact sounds weak. Your loved ones deserve better than that.
- Get your finances in order if you don’t plan on opening your emails. What could be waiting for you when you get home might very well take all of the joy out of your vacation.
I was trying to figure out where I left off with that manuscript I was writing, and now I’m at a complete loss.