I’ll begin this expansive multi-part project with two quick anecdotes.
Over the years, I tried to stop smoking several times. Whenever I found success, I’d kill it by letting myself have “just one”. Yep. “Just one” Swisher Sweet always turned into ten then another pack of Marlboros.
When I succeeded long-term, almost 8-years ago (Yes. I’ve since re-started. Hush.), the cravings continued until, about 8-months later, I smoked a full cigar. My body was sufficiently cleansed by then so the chemicals hit with full force. Like the first time I "really" smoked when I was 15, I wound up sick and curled up in a ball until the sweats, spinning, and nausea finally stopped. That miserable experience proved useful because, after that, I both appreciated smoking’s ill-effects and wanted nothing to do with another episode like that! Moving forward, the cravings were insignificant.
The morning that July’s trip ended I found myself in a trucker’s lounge inexplicably watching NBC’s Today Show. I’d been without television for months and was at the height of my Digital Detox therefore re-sensitized to the media’s endless barrage of propaganda, standard-setting, and advertising. Even this brief exposure to “the media"™ caused a rejection of what assaulted my eyes and ears, almost as though it were new. I found myself quietly yelling at Matt Lauer and his media whore cohorts from my perch in a fake leather chair inside this Vermont truck stop! Afraid of being kicked out, I flipped the channel to Green Acres. Read about it here if you missed it but, again, it proved valuable. By the time I left the lounge in search of a ride, I’d come to understand what happened and knew there is probably no way I’d have another cable subscription.
Back from Vermont later that day, my “plan” (ha!) was to be home for ten days or two weeks before resuming the summer’s travels. On day nine, my back began growling much as it had during the move. Then, on day ten as we were looking for boots to replace the leakers, I bent over to try on a pair and my back ambushed me. I nearly fell over in the store. For the following two weeks, I was worried that this was the chiropractic catastrophe I’ve always expected would end my traveling. Lifting my backpack, let alone lugging it around the country, wasn’t an option so things were put on hold as I slowly worked on the written and video updates from my Champlain trip. Over the coming weeks, my back returned to normal, as it had in June, but that flare-up killed July.
I won’t bore you with many mundane domestic details, but finding housing in Massachusetts is wicked dumb. Especially from Chicago! Before leaving we secured a temporary place near Amherst, until the end of August at the latest, just to get in country. When August arrived, permanent housing was proving even harder to find than anticipated and anxiety grew as we wondered whether we’d find a place before we needed to move! Just after the first of the month we finally secured a permanent place for us and the cats that would be ready just before our exit date. Laina and I both literally and figuratively exhaled.
Yes, impatient reader, there is a point to this!
Once I realized my back wasn’t (yet) a permanent handicap, I could look forward to the rest of the year and began preparing this dusty obscure virtual outpost for its future as a low-power beacon. Since I stubbornly refuse to engage in whorish marketing and/or shameless click trolling, I had a problem: getting what I’d written in front of at least some eyeballs until I get back on the road and begin building a targeted audience.
What about the meantime? I refuse to use Twitter on principle. And, thanks to their money-sucking algorithms and unless I submit to Facebook’s fluffing/marketing attempts, their page is basically useless. Paste my URL into each thread on every vile comment section on the internet? Ha! No, silly child. No. Thus, the only people who'd see what I’ve put together are…wait for it…in my Facebook "friends" list. The Unpurged! Ugh. Finding our new place coincided with the realizing and accepting that if I wanted any readers before I begin recruiting them on the road I needed Facebook’s spoon feeding platform.
Exhalation plus "acceptance" equates...to...uh oh.
|The Facebook Fluffer.|
It started simply with the occasional login in to post what I’d finished. “Oh, just one Swisher…”
Before long I was leaving my profile active and found myself on Facebook increasingly more. “Oh, one pack won’t hurt…”
Suddenly I was chain smoking: scrolling thru their infernal “news” feed reading comments from both my “friends” and those left by the most retarded and ideologically pure of their “friends”.
The effects on what had been a relatively calm, focussed, and noise-free mind were instantaneous and physical! My concentration re-fragmented. Restlessness followed me throughout the day; a general, inexplicable, perpetual feeling of anxiety! A constant, familiar-yet-new hollow sensation.
The physical symptoms paled in comparison to the psychological. The negativity vortex I’d abandoned in Chicago returned. I’d been writing so that daily habit morphed into a renewed urge to rant as my overall mood plummeted in response to the rhetorical sewage I'd exposed myself to again and became steadily angrier. I noticed myself frittering time away bouncing from website to website looking for things to piss me off. Suddenly I remembered the book I’d devoured just weeks before: The Shallows. “What the fuck happened,” I asked myself.
The ridiculousness threatened to rob me of the attention given to my journal (more on that in a coming post) and I procrastinated on the July updates; I was otherwise “engaged”. The overriding tendency: shove everything constructive aside. In favor of what? Bitching about things I have no hope of changing? Of course, this came with a loss of momentum and creative energy toward writing, editing video, even the ambiguously upcoming travel itself. Ultimately, all of the positively charged outlets were floating in suspended animation in the vast recesses of my mind while I turned my attention to useless shit that “just…doesn’t…matter. “
Ahh, but our story’s (eventually) a happy one! Here’s the soul-saving rub: I knew it. Because of what I’d written and read over the last year I was perfectly mindful of what was happening…yet still engaged chiefly because I wanted a place for people to see my stuff! I’d be better served dealing with a pay wall.
What followed the negative self-awareness was, naturally, frustration and the loss of whatever self-respect I’d recently gained. That loss compounded itself because with the writing, editing, and yes, the traveling, I’ve seen what I’m capable of; tasted the blood of possibility when it's pumping thru a defragmented, engaged mind. Even in my states of distracted sloth, I never forget that. The splinter constantly oozes into my consciousness.
A main tenet of stoicism is to ignore the shit you can’t control and concentrate on what you can: your actions. I’d make a shitty stoic. I’m not presenting this as a positive trait: by habit I observe and analyze whoever and whatever’s in front of me. Almost every one of these noisy distractions stem from things I can’t control. Like Facebook. If I were less concerned with brevity, I’d insert my own Useless Shit Epiphany text *here*. I won’t. You’re welcome.
The Mindfulness Life Raft
Again, to be fair, and to my meager credit, I realized what was happening. It wasn't hard to connect the intense physical and psychological reactions to what Facebook was shitting into my laptop and the consumerist ejaculate I saw dripping from Matt Lauer’s chin on a truck stop TV. It’s simple: I’d detoxed. Or, using the famous frog analogy, I’d escaped the pot and now fully felt the scald!
I can’t overstate it and please believe me when I tell you this isn’t hyperbole: my entire essence, maybe a psychological immune system, rejected being re-exposed to both media viruses and tried self-correcting and defending itself the way our bodies always do: with discomfort and pain. There's a huge tangent sitting just over there! ------------> I'm choosing to ignore it for you, Jeff.
From here, I saw that, like the cigar sickness, I could channel this acute and unequivocal rejection to my benefit with behavioral modifications and/or self-sabotage sustained and protected by recall. To simplify, imagine a 15-year old puking on Southern Comfort then never being able to even sniff it again. Same general idea! I'd gotten a whiff of The Mammon "News" Network in Springfield and had to get it away from me. Now, Facebook was having precisely the same effect.
I highly recommend adding Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows to your reading list. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand: I was happy to understand that, from traditional media to social media, the work done rewiring my schema had achieved significantly more than I’d realized. What I called a self-correction was in fact a reaction to the real self-correction consciously made months ago.
Over the last 10-days or two weeks, I've been devising a concept (not a “plan”, goddammit!) for the rest of the year and beyond. Thru this I begun to see and started plotting the solution. I decided to chill out, finish my updates and, switching metaphors, go on one last bender since I was already half-lit anyhow! “For old time’s sake!” What’s the harm in that? Maybe something useful can come out of this before I deactivate again. Ever the optimist, this one! Kidding aside, it turned into a quick but immensely useful period of time and I’ll get to all of it. But not quite yet. You’ll have to check in later. If you’re dining in the Facebook group's cafeteria I promise you’ll relate!
First we must walk another hazardous road. One filled with zombies, Nazis, armed robbers, and my estranged old friend: politics. Oh…joy.