Interlude: New England Idle Hours
A collection of random non-motorcycle photos, thoughts, and observations made during a lazy week in Maine. I may have been tipsy.
Each summer, our little clan piles into the car and heads off to our family’s house in Maine. The Maine-house is a picturesque place nestled on the shores of a lake. For the most part, I spend my days idling in the sunshine, kayaking, paddle boarding, and bobbing in the water like a neurotic apple. Oh God, did something just touch my foot? Are there sharks in this lake?
At the Maine-house, I get to pretend that I’m a part of small town life. I sit around doing little more than eating, drinking and being merry. There, I strive to lead a simple, leisurely life. That, as it turns out, is something I have to work at. Being simple ought to be simple. But the truth is, it isn’t. At least not right away.
When it comes time for me to do “nothing,” there is an uncomfortable decompression period. It’s like I’m detoxing from sugar – an internal battle rages on. On one side: the hunger to bombard my gluttonous mind with tooth-rotting doses of useless information and on the other, the idyllic pull of what kids these days call “relaxing.”
Relaxing: a necessary evil that sits on the other side of withdrawal. I know full well that stopping the flow of busy-busy tasks and digital intake is important. I do it on my motorcycle all the time. The benefit is that you come back from your mental vacation recharged and able to think more clearly.
But when I’m not riding and I’m just sitting around unfettered for a week at a time, initially uncoiling my internal spring leaves me with the feeling of not knowing what to do with my hands. Maybe I should go for a walk, or go swimming, or eat 6 pounds of fudge in 12 minutes! Maybe I can carve a canoe out of that felled tree. Or, I could build a bird house or maybe an actual house, or a space shuttle, or a car that runs on Vaseline!
The digital world is my biggest tether to overstimulation. My iPhone is both a blessing and a burden. It’s like crack – you carry it around in your pocket, take it out and start the burn whenever you want. You take a deep inhale of smoke and get a nice high. Unfortunately, you chase that feeling again and again and again. Next thing you know you’re addicted.
Somewhere along the line though, the high isn’t so great anymore. A moment of clarity slaps you in the face; the internet fixation-thing, this thing you keep taking hits off, is all bullshit. You’re hooked on something that isn’t real. It’s designed to make everything look perfect. But nothing’s perfect, you know that.
After about your 100th go-round with this epiphany, you have to ask yourself the uncomfortable question: why? Why do you need to know everything that is happening away from where you are now? Why can’t you see the greatness of your own existence? Why must you scroll, read, close, next app, scroll, read, close, next app… What are you escaping from?
Asking yourself why you need to see everything on the internet every few minutes can leave you feeling a little empty, maybe even a little stupid. More than that, it can leave you feeling a little like you’ve wasted what amounts to hours of your life living vicariously through some girl who lives minimally in a van but never needs to shave her armpits.
It may take a minute or two but an obvious, liberating truth will hit you. There is nothing going on in someone else’s life on Instagram that is more important than whatever it is you’re doing on any given Tuesday afternoon. Nothing. That filtered reality square has nothing to do with you. You don’t feel it. But what you do feel… is where you are now in all of its boring glory.
It usually takes at least 24 hours before my manic brain loosens its grip and I no longer have to fight the urge to look at my phone. But it’s in those transition hours that I play a self-deluding game. It highlights my absurd logic as I work my way through information addiction. It would probably be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.
My game goes something like this:
I’m meandering around the woodsy backyard, looking at the lake, looking at the trees, flowers, and moss. Oh, that’s pretty neat, I should take a picture of that. I’ll pull my phone out of my pocket and take a photo of a mushroom. Before I put the phone back in my pocket, I’ll accidennnnnnnntally look at Instagram.
Accidentally looking at my phone after taking a mushroom photo isn’t the same as pulling out my phone to purposely look at Instagram. Right? I mean, if the phone is already in my hands, social media just… happens. Kind of like when you slip and fall in the kitchen and wind up pregnant. Consequences are sometimes just inadvertent side effects. You can’t be mad at yourself. You didn’t exactly do it on purpose.
The drive up to the Maine house takes about 6 hours. That idle time leaves me with plenty of opportunities to formulate grand plans. Flying high on impending doses of requisite vacation fudge and possibility, those passenger seat hours are where I often begin drawing a roadmap to my best self. When vacation is on the horizon, there his a distinct feeling that anything is possible.
On this particular Maine-house drive, one of the routes on my map to greatness involved researching something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I furiously clicked, scrolled and squinted at tiny text on my iPhone that told me about writing classes.
With my self-doubt being what it is, I could only muster looking at continuing education classes and not degree programs. After all, at 43 aren’t I too old to think about trying to balance being a parent, having a full-time job and considering a degree? A degree that would serve no purpose other than personal enrichment, at that.
“Why? What would you be doing it for?”
For myself. Is that a good enough reason? In my mind, it sounded strong, right and true. But when I said the words out loud, they sounded limp and unconvincing.
Learning to write well, learning to focus and weave idea threads together would make me happy. Learning discipline and to work at writing would be gratifying. Understanding and giving respect to the craft, the conceptual tools, and finding ways to think better or to organize – all the nuts and bolts that exist beyond desire, could help me to build my loose ideas into something. That’s what I need. Right now, all of those things seem like voodoo. Could I learn that magic?
As I write the words out now – that would make me happy – I realize that is the crux of my problem. Sadly, I am the queen of self-sabotage. Writing something that I am proud of is fine. But, admitting that I like the good feelings that come from writing something that resonates with someone else, creates a problem for me. Those particular feelings of pride bring shame along with them. The shame comes because of my warped relationship with vanity, I think. Wanting someone else to like something about you is only acceptable for other people, not for me. Such gross displays of vanity are sinful. I mean, really. What kind of self-absorbed animal seeks appreciation like that?
But, let’s be honest here. I could write all day long for myself and never share one word of it with anyone else. I could be proud and happy doing something that I love. But clearly, that is only a part of it. This is my sin. I want to share and connect and perhaps to confess.
Once I get over my hurdle of busy-detox, I can settle into a straight up torpor. The other day I sat in a chair on the dock looking at absolutely nothing for about an hour. And it was good.
When you get into that state, you start picking up on little things that you wouldn’t when your mind is always on to the next thing and the next and the next.
On this particular day, I sat watching the way the sun turned the lake’s tiny waves into television static. The glinting light created sparkling patterns across the ripple peaks. Like one of those magic eye puzzles, if you let your eyes relax and fall slightly out of focus, it was like a billion diamonds rising above the surface of the water. Mesmerizing.
I can understand why some people love fireworks. And also why some people hate them.
Why do people subject themselves to the terrors of wearing white pants?
During this Maine trip, we visited the tiny and lovely Doubling Point Lighthouse along the Androscoggin River. The little light has a big job. It helps to keep huge ships safe as they make their way towards Bath, The City of Ships.
Loons have such haunting voices Their hollow, reedy calls are disturbing in the dark night.
Vacation has its own scale of time. When you’re at the beginning of a trip, there is the feeling that you have all the time in the world. A week? Pssssh. Might as well be a year! A lot can happen in a week!
But time has a funny way of slipping right out from under your nose. Minutes, hours, and days are all whittled away without you even realizing it. One minute you’re staring down eternity and the next you’re packing up your things and closing up the house in preparation of leaving.
As the noose of vacation’s end begins to tighten, the perception of time passing seems to pick up speed. Hours sneak by in a blink.