I don't always travel with a laptop, although it's becoming less unusual than it once was. And when I travel with my laptop, I don't always seek out an Internet connection. This past retreat week was both the same and different.
I took my laptop because part of the week was going to be devoted to writing, and I thought I might want to have access to my files. I didn't really plan to be online much, and I even told my boss and my students that I didn't expect to be able to check in.
During the first part of the week, I was able to get a connection at my friend's house where I'd gotten one before, but not at the other friend's house. On Monday, I got to Mt. Pleasant an hour and a half before my lunch appointment with friends. I thought about going to a museum, but decided it was just not enough time, what with the surprising amount of traffic in the Charleston area. I thought about finding an Internet connection, but couldn't find a Panera and the Starbucks looked crowded.
The public library provided me the Wi-Fi--I provided the laptop. At the time I wasn't sure of what the retreat at Mepkin Abbey would look like, with the absence of Kathleen Norris. So I downloaded the submission guidelines for a publisher in case I had time to prepare the packet. I answered some e-mails. I checked in on my online class. I did not check work e-mails, since I know that task always takes more time than I think it will.
I had no Internet connection at Mepkin Abbey, which was as I expected. And at Lutheridge, the camp where I spent the second half of the week, I had good connectivity early in the morning, and very slow service at any other point in the day. The slow connection was a blessing, since I wasn't tempted to be online once I left my room for the day.
I mention this history because I want to record the results of the experiment I didn't plan to conduct on myself. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I got more work done and stayed more focused in general, when I didn't have Internet access.
I found the results of our Wednesday group writing most surprising. The group of writers gathered for the Mepkin retreat decided to gather in the main living room-like space of the retreat center. We would write in silence. The night before, we had been given a prompt from 40-day Journey With Kathleen Norris, a prompt that involved silence (Day 12). It wasn't so much a prompt for a poem as it was a prompt for insight.
I wrote 3 poems in an hour, and they were not bad at all. I wrote a poem and then wrote it in sonnet form (that one needs more revision than I'm likely to give it) and then some fairy tale imagery bubbled up, and I followed it to another poem. Then I revised the first one. It was a remarkable hour.
If I had been plugged in, I'd have wasted time in Internet rambling. I'd have looked up some fairy tale details and then popped around the Internet before returning to my writing. And then, I'd have likely decided to work on the poem later.
But because I was committed to sitting with the group for an hour, I went deeper inside myself than I usually do. I don't feel like the energy of being with other writers was responsible for that going deep, but I do feel that the commitment of one hour with few other distractions was the aspect that helped most.
It was also easier to do in that setting, where no one would disturb us, where no chores beckoned, where I wasn't trying to squeeze in the writing before the demands of the day set their sights on me. It was easier to sit in silence when there was no Internet to offer a multitude of noise offerings.
I have always suspected these insights to be true, but I didn't know for sure. Now I do.
So, will I change my daily life? I'm not sure. Could I add an hour of silent, unplugged writing to my weekly schedule? Let me make a plan.
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