Life In The Real World, Day 13: “Learning To Live With Yourself”

I’m finally settling into the working life, which is about as frightening of a sentence as I’ve ever truthfully typed. The 5:45AM alarms are a pain instead of a bullet to the head, even as I get further and further behind on my sleep. My drives to and from King of Prussia have become something I look forward to every day, simply because they give me time to simply be by myself.

If it seems odd that a 22-year-old guy living in a one-bedroom apartment needs more time to be by himself, well…yeah, I guess it is kind of weird. But even when I’m home alone, eating dinner and watching a TV show on my computer and reading a music blog, I never really feel like I’m by myself. One thing that technology has definitely done is removed that feeling of self-sufficiency from our lives. We’re so plugged into the ether that we lose focus on the physical. This is a really obvious and overdone example, but think of the last time you left your smart phone at home. By the end of the day, you had probably gotten used to the feeling (some might call it freedom) of not having a small computer sitting in your pocket. I’m willing to bet those first few hours actually felt like an appendage was missing.

There’s actual psychological damage at play here. We’ve trained ourselves to immediately answer the buzzing in our pockets, and our brains actually get tired from the stress of responding. The infrequent vibrations of our cell phones become a kind of Chinese water torture, with push notifications taking the place of water droplets. Without the stimulus there, we find it harder and harder to act normally.

I took a class once where we were given the homework to (1) sit alone in a dining hall and (2) eat a meal without distracting ourselves–no phones, no books, no newspaper or scraps of napkin to draw on. Just sit, eat your dinner, and learn what it feels like to be with yourself.

You can imagine what the response papers looked like. Personally, I wasn’t able to complete my meal. The awkwardness of not DOING something was actually worse than the social implications of sitting by myself.

So this brings me back to sitting in my car in the morning. Usually I listen to music, but more and more often in the last week I’ve been putting it off–driving in silence for the sake of it. It’s actually pretty nice to only have one task every once in a while. Everything else becomes less important than the one thing you’ve decided to do, merely because you decided it should be that way. There’s an element of control there that’s amazing, especially at a time in my life when I feel like I have less and less control of myself and the world around me.

For example: Drake’s new album, Nothing Was The Same, leaked last night at about 2AM. I found out at about 7:30 this morning, after I’d gotten into work and checked my email notifications. However, my company doesn’t allow me to download things off the Internet and the wifi’s password-protected. I was forced out of the conversation all day by my inability to instantly get what I wanted, what I felt entitled to have. I practically drove myself crazy in my cubicle thinking about the leak, or more accurately, thinking about how I didn’t have it.

When I got home tonight, I downloaded the files, went for a drive, and listened to the album; it’s good, maybe great, but I didn’t need it at noon.

I’ve been wondering lately why I write more late at night. Spoiler alert: most of these blog posts start as haphazard notes that I jot down during the day, random little phrases that sound smart or–even better–carry some actual insight into whatever I’m thinking about. But it never really congeals until sometime after 10 o’clock or so, when I can reach to turn the lights down and they actually stay there. And in that moment, I can say whatever’s on my mind, even if it moves in random tangents about torture psychology and Drake. I’m free because that other computer that I carry with me all the time–my brain, or more honestly, my neediness to get something right–shuts off just a little bit, and the data can get through with worrying about being correctly interpreted and laid out.

Like a lot of people (hell, like everybody), I’ve often got contradicting impulses firing through my whole body, simultaneously telling me to act one way or another. It’s the reason that dancing with someone at a club can never really just be about the music or the movement. The darkness becomes like an ellipsis, leading you towards wherever you first think of heading and forcing you to blindly go for it…I know that’s not always a good thing, but my life would definitely be better if I stopped thinking in periods.

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