Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm not embarrassed.

phone, 2012

One of those very scraggly, yet entirely confident, hipsters rang up my groceries today. She asked me if I was on my way home or to work. I said both. She said, oh, home and then work? I said no, home is work, although I do need a better chair. She very soberly said work and play should be separate. I said they are, mentally. She smiled disapprovingly and handed me my receipt.

I wondered if she had a point. Is working from home a bad idea, like driving a car while texting?

I do generally believe in doing one thing at a time. Earlier today I read this article (Thanks, Chris), confirming much of what I already believed.

After the article, and before the grocery store, I was pulling together a few things to go out for some coffee, writing, and a little Mark Strand (Thanks, Ann). No, not all at the same time. Well, actually I did plan to drink the coffee while writing. And I sometimes talk to my father on my cell phone while I'm walking. Nothing is ever black and white...

I do work from home, but I do not do all of my work from home. I also transform cafes, libraries, park benches, beaches, and community gardens into writing spaces. Sometimes I stand on a curb. And there is the corporate work, in the Financial District. But almost everything I do on my laptop is done at home.

So anyway, as I was preparing to do some work outside of the home I noticed my cell phone on the kitchen table and thought goodbye. I won't take you along today. I'll walk out the door without you, completely free from digital distraction. This relic of a phone has such minimal capability most would not see it as a devise qualified to distract. It has been out of date for quite some time now.

My husband has an iPhone. My parents are completely up-to-date with their shiny new phones. I don't think I know anyone with a phone like mine. Maybe this is why I like it.

A few years back I was out for cocktails with some friends when I pulled my phone from my handbag to check my messages (someone was late, possibly lost). A rather straightforward friend of mine yelped Denise! For God's sake. Get a new phone. That thing is embarrassing!

Embarrassment is not why I make purchases.

I didn't take my phone (yes, that same old phone) out with me today and I hesitate in buying a phone with more progressive technology because I don't enjoy constant connection. I don't want to be linked up with every single person I know at every moment of the day. I was slow to warm to the cell phone in general. I originally embraced it as a tool for emergencies, to be kept in my car.

I don't own a Kindle, yet. But I might, one day. I do read articles and poetry, watch movies, and do many other things on my laptop. I'm obviously far from being a Luddite. I tweet, I pin, I blog.

But I continue to write in pencil and transfer what I like to my laptop, later. It is what works for me, for now. I have no desire to tote my laptop around or confine myself to my apartment for peak efficiency. I feel a certain freedom and lightness when I walk out into the fresh air with only a pencil and paper.

That being said, it could all change.

I haven't shot film in ages. I really should finish that ancient roll of black & white film I have in my dad's old SLR. The last time I was in a darkroom shunning photographers using digital cameras, sheesh, it has been about five years now. And those days beneath a big black cloth, exposing large negatives, they are even further back.

I now treasure a banged up little digital camera I originally borrowed to make test shots before exposing large format negatives. It's not perfect, but it allows manipulation of film speed setting, lighting, and exposure. It has been good to me and has served me well as a camera for my thoughts.

I read this poem after writing the above, saw a connection, and thought I'd share it with you.

Old Man Leaves Party by Mark Strand


  1. I'm hugely in favour of working from home because no one talks to me. It rocks my inner core to be interrupted as I concentrate, but one must be sociable, kind, and what have you. So the silence of home while the girls are at school is a joy for getting some work done.

  2. I work in tech as an interaction designer, and I wanted to let you know that I think you're spot on. Just the other day I was talking to someone who was considering taking the plunge to purchase a smartphone, and she asked me my opinion. I told her to wait as long as she could, because once you dive in, it really does feel like there is no going back. That constant connection becomes (at least to me) a kind of vice. Also, what I find "embarrassing" is the idea that people actually care about the make/year of someone else's telephone. :-)

  3. I love your thoughts here. I am always resistant to new technology. Rather than following the crowd, I wait until the benefit to me becomes clear. I still have an old phone and will replace it when it dies (with a smart phone of some sort as I have finally realised what value I might get out of it). But I will still wish to disconnect. I find it sad to be out with friends who fiddle with their phone rather than focus on the fun that is happening around them. I resisted Kindles until I realised how much value it gives me as a vision-impaired person. Rather than being "embarrassing", I think staying true to your needs/desires and not following the "new product frenzy" is actually really "cool". As for working from home, I think it's a wonderful lifestyle choice that benefits the whole household. Love your words.

  4. there is no right way to live. you are spot on, denise.

  5. I suppose work and home being separate depends on circumstance. Can you work at/from home, but stop/switch off when needed...? Or perhaps the 'work' is not work in the traditional sense, so there is no switching off. I have a fancy new phone, but refuse to use it to check my emails - silly really, but I have an overwhelming desire to remain unconnected at times. After several years of being 'on call' media wise for work, being able to leave any form of communication behind is still quite liberating. And I confess there are times I yearn for the days of written communication...letters across the seas... My father and I can Skype or call across the seas and timezones, but we both prefer to use the written word...somehow it feels more complete, more thoughtful... I miss my mother's letters...
    On a side note I keep coming back to your earlier post on 'the march', mine would be 'the rush', the constant charging towards the next thing (even if that thing is months away). Your post has helped me refocus this past week - in a truly satisfactory way. Thank you.
    Annie x

  6. The funny thing is, I am immersed in technology for work yet am incredibly selective in what I personally use. My pay-as-you go phone has languished for so long I lost my phone number on it (as in, I can no longer use it). I am pinless, flickrless, facebookless. Yet I blog, I love Ravelry. I can't imagine still handwriting most of my work -- except for poetry. That requires hand to paper, not fingers to keyboard.
    Aren't we a funny people?

    (Thanks for sharing the poem.)

  7. I think it's incredibly important to disconnect every once in a while - especially now more than ever - and re-engage with yourself. Keep marching to the beat of your own drum!

  8. it really depends what the work is. i can imagine some work would be horribly stressful and therefore not a good thing to do from home.

    boundaries are important - whether with time or area.
    newish android smartphone and kindle. but i refuse to be always connected. my phone is mostly for quick snaps, i don't update fb or twitter on it. and my kindle is loaded with all the free classics available. i alternate between it and a book.

    it's mindfulness, not an either/or situation. recognising the moments we really do not need a digital connection, like on a nature walk.

  9. don´t be - it´s so great to be not to attached to ones phone - although i use it to get not attached too much to my computer and it works great so far.

    this post is great - i was thinking "yes, yes, yes, so right" all the time!

  10. Denise: thank you for this. I have been removed for a bit....and might continue to do so for a bit more. Life throws you curve balls, but it's ok, cause we train, hopefully, to catch them. I have a hate-love relationship with my cell phone too (not an iphone) and completely understand how free it is to be without one. But the rhythms today are just too fast...and in order to keep going, keep up, I feel like i need to adapt.

  11. P.s. I work from home too, and share many of your questions about space division. But in the end, i rather like it.

  12. I really like this post. Especially the part about being free when you walk out the door with just pencil and paper. I also LOVE the idea of you writing as you sit in cafes, park benches, etc., because that is how I have always pictured you as an writer.

  13. I only have an iPhone because it was a free upgrade. Free in that it's not the most recent iPhone, but a couple years old. I work from home only one day a week—for now. I can see that evolving into two—my director tells me to work wherever I can get the work done. I like that. I find I'm more creative and productive without all of the distractions of office life. I've never felt creative surrounded by beige cubicle walls or smelling cardboard heating in a microwave. And commuting is for the birds. Traffic in the Baltimore metro area is defeating. I could go on and on about the benefits of working from home, from the park, from a coffee shop, perched on the back steps of our house...

  14. I am glad you're not embarrassed because that silly old phone is part of who you are. I'm glad to be of the age that I was born when there were rotary phones and I was taught to hand write letters and thank you cards, among another million "old school" things that the next generation will never understand. The VCR. The tape player. Record players! The list goes on and on.
    When my mom approached 40, she wrote in a letter to someone that for her, getting older (it's all relative since she only lived to 44) was about becoming clearer and clearer about who she was, with no apologies. That reminds me of your statement not to be embarrassed. It shines of self confidence and a strong sense of who you are in this world. Beautiful.

  15. Love this! Loved, loved the poem!
    Today my husband and I took a walk along a towpath with three of our sons and discovered the black throated blue warbler for the first time. I identified him from my 1966 Birds of North America field guide and he verified this bird's song from his Galaxy S2 Android.
    Both worked beautifully.
    To each his own as far as technology is concerned- but I'm more inclined to veer on the side of less is more, as well.

  16. I also have an old phone with the potential to embarrass. No camera, no email. I'm uncertain if I want to change that. In the same way, I resisted digital for a long while and although I've come to appreciate it, I miss the rigour and sheer surprise of film. That poem made me shiver with pleasure and recognition. Thank you.

  17. I find that smartphones and the culture of constant connectedness really increase my daily workload, often unnecessarily. There is redundancy and just plain too much information. Every day, around 30 minutes of email to attend to. And my 'only' job is managing my family and the associated school, sports, etc. my life.

    Working from home seems to work for some, but not others. I'm sure you've found a balance for yourself; if you haven't, you will.

  18. Much food for thought here in your wonderful story. I try to come "unplugged" from time to time. When I go for my walk, or when I am engrossed in a book or project. Most calls can wait for a bit while I carry on with my interests. I have found with my new-fangled phone that I now get few calls, but many text messages which is rather nice I must say....I so enjoyed the poem.

  19. I love your phone! The reminder to leave things at home and not always be connected is so good. Sometimes I still think of having only a home's the good ol' days right?

  20. Ah, more ways you and I are similar. I have one of 'those phones' too and everybody I know continually bugs me to 'upgrade'. Why? I only have a cell phone because of how much I'm in the field and it's the only way I can maintain contact with my family...and call out in case of emergency. Otherwise, I wouldn't own one...I never carry it with me unless I'm traveling or in the field. I do, however, own a kindle...a gift sort of pushed on me. I have to admit that I love it and for fieldwork, it is pretty nifty. Instead of lugging around 15 books taking up space I don't have, I can take out a kindle and charge it through an inverter hooked to the cigarette lighter. I'm a bit ashamed but I'm addicted to it. I do tend to read books in the winter, but kindle for fieldwork is the way to go.

  21. Ha, I love that you have an out of date phone because I do too! In fact, mine only serves as an answering machine for my students and the rest of the time, it stays at home, switched off which exasperates some people but I honestly feel so much better without it. Mine somehow looks quite cool so nobody realises how old fashioned it is. I agree how nice it is just to do one thing at a time, although I love to read while I eat and feel it somehow enhances the pleasure of both.

  22. I rather like my old clamshell phone, too. It doesn't take up much space, doesn't do anything except send and receive phone calls. One day I described to a friend a visit to an estate sale in which I wished I had my camera with me, because of something interesting written on a large chalk board leaning up against the wall. He said, you should get acquainted with the camera on your phone. Camera on my phone? He was young, he couldn't imagine -- I don't have a camera on my phone. Well, now, maybe that would come in handy sometimes. But, embarrassed? Why ever? Having a phone you don't mind leaving at home when you go out sounds like the right sort of phone to me.

  23. so much to enjoy about this post, wonderfully, honestly written. Strand's Reasons for Moving has long been a favorite, so I thank you for the reconnection to his work

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I've just requested Reasons for Moving from the library. I imagine it was quite a treat to see him do a reading. I continue to think of Blizzard of One and am planning on buying it. I know it will become a treasure I'll return to again and again.

  24. A pleasure to read your post and the poem. A resistance against the unheeding aspect of technology is a good thing ( I, too, have an antiquated cellphone that I will give up only when it breaks down).

  25. At the risk of sounding really, really snippy - what was the grocery bagger doing offering a single option on your life? You responded with much more grace than I would have in your position.

    And this: I didn't take my phone (yes, that same old phone) out with me today and I hesitate in buying a phone with more progressive technology because I don't enjoy constant connection. I don't want to be linked up with every single person I know at every moment of the day. I was slow to warm to the cell phone in general. I originally embraced it as a tool for emergencies, to be kept in my car. I am so with you on this. I honestly could have written those words. I love it! It's so good to have found you again. You are a kindred spirit, I just know it.

  26. My phone is a clunker, too. It's sturdy enough to endure many a drop on the sidewalk. It's heavier than a large skipping stone. In fact, when I bought it I think it was described as a phone for the construction site, and I thought, Yeah, that's exactly what my life is like.

  27. i agree. it's about balance, right? between the old and new. and for me, trying to find the reason for the old and the new. letterpress, because it is unlike any other printing method i know. but pinterest because it's the best inspiration board i've found yet. and time to unplug altogether sometimes. yes, good that you do.

  28. I've so enjoyed reading this particular set of comments. You are a thoughtful and quite special bunch. Thank you.