2022/05/30

Cruel to be kind

Red ginger flower at Diamond Falls Botanical Garden
Our stay in Saint Lucia was sometimes challenging. We called it our "adventure holiday" (see Monty Python "Travel Agent" sketch). As our stay progressed, I started wondering if it might not be too adventurous for us anymore.

On Monday, our first full day in Saint Lucia, we thought we'd check out the nearest beach, Anse Chastenet. The protected snorkeling area next to the beach was a big reason Sweetie had chosen our particular villa. Google Maps said the walk to the parking lot was 850 metres, and the beach was a short walk beyond that through the resort grounds (all beaches on Saint Lucia are public, though typically are surrounded by resorts and their facilities).

We knew the road was broken up. We had bounced up from Soufrière. But we didn't realize how difficult that surface would be to walk on. As well, the 100-metre elevation change felt steep. We had read over and over that the road was walkable, but hikable would be more accurate.

We made it down a couple hundred metres to a "police" (resort rent-a-cop) checkpoint, were told we needed masks to enter the resort grounds (entirely outdoors, but their rules), crawled back up, hiked all the way down, signed in, went swimming, and then set off back up the deteriorated road, slowly, painstakingly, and with many rest and water stops. We barely made it, and not just the person with balance issues who is recovering from a stroke but her ostensibly reasonably fit spouse as well.

(We somehow didn't take into account that we had jumped three time zones and had had only one night's good sleep over two nights.)

Back at the villa, I drank a bunch of water and passed out for a good hour. Upon awakening, I was a wee bit concerned. We had been counting on reasonably easy access to the beach and snorkeling area. Now we realized that we would not be jaunting merrily down and up that hill on foot. We would have to pay our drivers, in cash, for more lifts than we had anticipated. So we would need to obtain more cash than anticipated, which might require more lifts because of daily cash limits.

The next day, we booked a planned lift, got a bunch of US dollars, toured around Soufrière, had a tasty lunch, and bought a bunch of groceries. It all went smoothly, and I felt soothed.

Wednesday, however, started with me being awakened at 6 am by the gardener sweeping the pavement outside our bedroom windows, just feet from my head. Singing frogs and cooing doves I can sleep through, but broom straws on concrete near my head, not so much. Then there was a surfeit of bad news in the world, the worst of which was the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. That crushed me.

I had a cry, then got it together. We booked a lift to the beach and went snorkeling, booked another lift so we could walk through a botanical garden and have another excellent lunch, and back at the villa spent time in our plunge pool. We booked a boat trip (and a lift) on Thursday which provided us with excellent snorkeling.

Friday morning began with me yet again being swept awake at 6 am. I needed more sleep, but I wasn't going to get it. Then lingering concerns about being able to obtain enough cash and feelings of being trapped without a driver came crashing back.

The road to Soufrière is tough on bollards too
(sheer drop to the left)
Instead of staying anxious and full of bad thoughts, I determined that I was going to conquer the road into Soufrière on foot. Sweetie had no desire to try it, but I figured I could do it on my own (I'm very sure-footed).

I hiked down, did my business like a normal person, took photos like a tourist, and hiked back up, slowly and with lots of rest and many sips of water. I reached the villa in pretty good shape! After almost failing to make it back up the beach end of the road on Monday, I felt redeemed. And I felt empowered knowing that I could get around better than I thought on my own two feet.

Later that day, when we were negotiating a difficult path in the rain forest, our bird guide Smith found a walking stick for Sweetie that she realized helped her a lot with balance. As we were walking back to his vehicle, Sweetie found an even better stick by the side of the road.

If we had had time, with me feeling stronger and more capable, and Sweetie feeling stronger and armed with a walking stick, I think we would have made it to the beach and back without much problem.

Physical and psychological challenges were probably not the only things that triggered crying spells. Because of international and local laws, I did without a couple of my usual meds. Even though in general I was feeling good and mostly sleeping well, there were still some neurotransmitter adjustments that likely played a part in defences breaking down.

Fortuntely, I still had one med, coffee, locally grown, quite good. I was well caffeinated, which both perks me up and calms me down. On a few evenings, I sipped a Piton beer. The warm climate and beautiful surroundings also helped ease the brain adjustment. Most of the time, I felt pretty relaxed, and relaxed progressively more as the week went on.

I think challenges and med deprivation were like cracks that released some of what I seem to have been carrying for the better part of two years. I don't know exactly what that stuff was, but it must have been substantial, because the relief is obvious. Generalized accumulated pandemic stress, maybe. Excision by the island spirits wasn't always gentle, but it was effective.

On the way home, I finished Sarah Polley's Run Towards the Danger (my kind of beach reading). Her voice is so refreshing, her insights keen, her honesty sometimes painful but never brutal. I took a lesson from the book: when I think I'm being kind to myself by taking it easy, I might in fact be doing the opposite. Sometimes I might need to push through, lest an acute condition become chronic. Self care for me might not be what I thought it was.

When good changes have happened, you want to keep at least some of them and not just slide back into the same stress build-up. When you've learned something, you want to make sure you remember it and take it to heart. So I'm a little obsessed right now (thus constantly writing and rewriting), but so far not too stressed. Holding on to the irie.

2022/05/21

Irie

Diamond Falls. Grey water from minerals.
A funny thing happened following our week in Saint Lucia, though not right away. Having come in on a late Sunday flight and having hit the hay at about 4 am, on Monday we were both exhausted and stressed over our delayed luggage. I managed to go to the optician to get my glasses fixed (I had napped on them and bent them), but I couldn't make supper. Japanese takeaway to the rescue. I showered. We crashed early.

Tuesday was a whole 'nother story. I was still tired, but somehow I had energy. I did a load of laundry. I made a turn around my garden and took photos. I took my cart down the hill to the Refill Shop and to Donald's (oops, City Avenue) and hauled a rather heavy load back up. We already had some leftover curried lentil soup to heat up for supper, but I made a batch of whole wheat naan to go with it (and slipped in a nap while the dough was proofing).

After supper, still feeling tired but weirdly energized, I did some guitar improv, recorded a song idea, and practised about half my set, playing and singing. And it wasn't just that I managed to play. I also felt uncharacteristically confident in the sounds I was making.

I didn't go flat-out again on Wednesday, but I still felt energized. I did a bunch of garden work, wrote most of the previous blog post, and transferred photos. I had a nap, and then I made supper (kofta kebab on naan). While I was preparing the food, I realized I was doing it at a slower pace. I tend to move pretty quickly in the kitchen, sometimes too quickly. This time I was relaxed and focused. I still managed to leave out a spice ingredient (I have a bad habit of skipping around ingredient lists), but I was almost there.

I felt a little mellower on Thursday, but still noticeably more positive than usual, and still with the energy. My brain seems to be functioning unusually well. Sussing out Wordles in three or four, giving Sweetie quality help with the Spelling Bee, and finishing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, a particularly tough one.

We often say that we feel rejuvenated after a vacation. We expect a vacation to make us feel that way. But this particular rejuvenation feels more powerful than usual. I seem to have got renewed in body and spirit more than I expected.

I have been feeling for a while that the pandemic had brought extra aging and a fundamental weariness. I feel that this holiday has taken at least some of that away. During the worst of the pandemic, my CPU clock got set higher, even though I was doing almost nothing but errands and chores. My clock speed is definitely slower now. CPU functioning is much improved.

Soufrière from Anse Chastenet Road
Some of that happened because we had a relaxing time and good experiences, such as the snorkeling trip and the botanical garden visit. But some was because of other experiences.

A place you've never been before comes with a new set of challenges, and we faced some. New situations to understand, new problems to solve, new things to accomplish—those are good for my brain and body. My solo trek into Soufrière and back showed me that we were not isolated on our hill, able to get about only by motor vehicle. It was a great physical challenge to overcome as well and has left me with lingering positive feelings. Dealing with the need for cash and not freaking out (for too long) was also good.

Something close to magic happened during that week. The island cast its spell. Partial immersion in a different culture, especially eating a lot of local food and interacting with local people on a daily basis. A town that charmed me. The manic energy of Smith of Exciting Tours Saint Lucia (and the music he exposed us to). The lush Diamond Botanical Garden. All the sea life of Anse Piton Marine Reserve. The birds at our villa that wanted us to give them fruit. The Antillian crested hummingbird that was content to feast on all the tubular flowers on the grounds. The rich plant life around us badly in need of a soaking rain.

The Saint Lucian people I met had an air of calm assurance about them. They know who they are. They are very much a part of their land and their culture. I, as a modern person, have only tenuous connections to my own ancestral culture and am mostly surrounded by a post-cultural world created by barely regulated market capitalism. I need to get me some of that calm assurance. I need to find that rootedness.

I don't know how long the good stuff will last. I know it can't be bottled. I just hope the lessons stay with me even as the feeling fades. And that my clock speed stays where it is.

You show them you're vaccinated and they put this on your wrist

2022/05/19

Splash in the sea water

Freedom Monument, Soufrière
Sweetie and I travelled by airplane for the first time since we went to France in October 2019, way back in the Before Time. We took our chances, wore masks, and endured flights to Toronto and Saint Lucia and back. I sweated getting the ArriveCAN app right for the way home, and hoped that we wouldn't be selected for random testing (we weren't). Our two checked suitcases decided to spend some extra time in Toronto, but that's a whole 'nother story. We have them back, so all is well.

Every holiday changes you in some way. Every time you spend time somewhere that's not your home, it changes you. You're living with a different set of challenges than when you're at home, and often encounter one or more novel situations. And you're surrounded by a culture that's different than your own, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

On Saint Lucia, we stayed in a villa, not at a resort, outside the town of Soufrière in the less touristy southwest. We are not resort people, all-inclusive least of all. But we weren't entirely on our own in our short-term rental. The property manager also acted as kind of a concierge, assisted by her daughter. One and usually both of them came by every morning but one, to make sure things were ok with us, to arrange something if we wanted something arranged, and to answer any questions we had. It was never an intrusion. It was more like a morning chat with friends (over coffee in my case). On their day off, we felt like something was missing!

Gros Piton and Petit Piton
Regular roads in Saint Lucia are fine, if often narrow, but the steep mountain roads, like the one that leads to the villa, are a crumbled, washed-out mix of concrete, rocks, and gravel. Apparently, everyone is fine with this. The most broken sections function like speed bumps. Vehicles crawl along at about 10 km/h. The roads are also basically one lane with occasional wider spots, and you need to beep your horn at every sharp curve. Add in that Saint Lucians drive on the left, and we decided to use the services of the villa drivers, a husband and wife team. Not only did they save me from having to negotiate the roads on my own; they were also two more interesting people whose company we briefly got to enjoy.

Because we were not at a resort, we had to provide for ourselves. At our request, our host started us off with some basic groceries and had made us a delicious home-cooked creole fish dinner that lasted us for two dinners. After that, we would pay for a lift into Soufrière and do our own grocery shopping.

On a typical day, we would have breakfast at home, lunch at a restaurant while we were out and about, and then I would make supper at home to eat on the deck while the sun set. Breakfast always included one or more tropical fruits, gifts of our hosts. Lunch became our main meal, so that I would make something fairly small for supper. For all but one lunch, we went to places where at least some local people go.

A lunch meal would consist of fish, chicken, or pork, plus "ground provisions," meaning all the accompaniments, which might include any of rice, "peas" (lentils or black-eyed peas), mixed vegetables such as carrot and broccoli, sweet potato, dasheen (taro), fried ripe plantain, green fig (banana), squash, and mac and cheese. I called it Saint Lucian plate lunch because of the similarity to plate lunch in Hawaii. We ate some really good examples of it.

We did our share of vacation stuff. We saw an amazing abundance of sea life including healthy coral on a snorkeling boat trip to the Anse Piton Marine Reserve near Sugar Beach. We walked through a beautiful and informative botanical garden that includes a majestic waterfall. We hired a guide/driver (Smith from Exciting Tours Saint Lucia—he'd want me to mention that) to take us on a bird watching hike in a rain forest at 1900 feet of elevation. We walked all over Soufrière on our own. We swam in beautiful water. We plunged in our plunge pool. We sat on our deck, surrounded by trees, and just enjoyed our surroundings.

Soufrière
We did everyday stuff too, like grocery shopping and food preparation. I like that this was part of the mix. An important task was getting cash. In and around Soufrière, there are businesses that take credit cards. We found, however, that we needed more cash than we had anticipated. Saint Lucians accept US dollars as well as their own currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar, and we used both (ATMs give EC$). We reimbursed our host for groceries and dinner in cash. We paid our drivers in cash. The snorkel tour took our Visa, but not the bird watching excursion. We paid for groceries and one restaurant meal with Visa. The rest we paid with cash.

On the morning of our first full day, we waited in a bank lineup. Banks don't keep long hours, and people seem to need tellers often, so lineups at the Bank of Saint Lucia in Soufrière happen during much of the day. We wanted US$, which we could obtain only inside the bank. Waiting in that lineup with lots of regular folks, chatting with each other, talking to people going by, was as enjoyable as anything else on the trip. While Sweetie was inside, I stood aside and got an even bigger dose of local culture and street life. I felt privileged to be ignored and to see everyday Saint Lucia around me.

There were some stressful times. I think it was Friday that I had a bad morning. I get those sometimes. Anxieties about this or that. We needed yet more cash and to do a final grocery run, so instead of booking a lift, I decided to walk to town. The road features a 100 metre elevation change over less than 2 km, so I needed to be careful of my footing in some spots on the way down, but I made it fine. I loved walking around Soufrière doing my business like everyone else there. I also walked around a bit more to take some pictures like a tourist. The town won my heart!

The climb back up was difficult. I'm 68 years old, in decent shape but no athlete. I took my time, sipped water, and stopped when I had to. I got lots of friendly waves. I made it, and I felt great about having done it. The rest of the day went much better than it started.

Grey trembler eating mango
Saint Lucia was originally a land of Arawak and later Carib people. Several European countries tried to colonize it. The Carib repelled them. It was interesting to learn that the French settled there by treaty with and payment to the Carib. Unfortunately, they settled there to farm sugar cane and used enslaved West Africans to work the fields. The English ruled the island from 1814 until 1967, and it was 1979 before Saint Lucia achieved full independence as a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, with membership in the Commonwealth of Nations (much like Canada). Their culture is a mix, and their language a creole, but the people are predominantely the descendents of enslaved West Africans. Saint Lucia is their country.

Toward the end of our stay, I learned that the term for the side orders I mentioned earlier, ground provisions, comes from "provision ground." Provision ground was a plot of land that slaveowners reluctantly gave to their slaves so the enslaved people could grow their own food, thus alleviating the slaveowner's responsibility to feed them. That pierced me through the heart. The idea of eating ground provisions took on a new layer of meaning.

I'm under no illusion that we weren't in most ways like all the other white tourists who holiday on Saint Lucia. But I never felt that the people we paid to help us were working for us, like at a resort, and I don't think we treated them as such. We depended on them and on the expertise they shared with us. I had nothing but respect for our hosts and drivers, as well as for the kindly gardener who showed us the plants he was tending around the house. I was always a tourist, an outsider, but I felt that they allowed us to immerse ourselves in their culture at least a little.

I feel privileged to have visited the beautiful country of Saint Lucia. I am a descendent of predominantly French colonists far to the north of Saint Lucia, some of whom might have owned enslaved people. Certainly I am a member of the culture that benefited greatly from the labour of enslaved people. I have now visited a country created by the descendents of people who had been brought there against their will. They made their enforced home into their beloved home and then graciously shared it with us.

During our rain forest drive, Smith introduced us to Saint Lucian singer Jany, who died too young in a car crash. I think every Saint Lucian knows this song:

2021/12/09

Acoustic mail

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to my bestie from high school. Wrote as in wrote by hand. Then I put it into an envelope, sealed it, put a stamp on it, and walked to a nearby postal outlet to turn it over to Canada Post for delivery.

All that is becoming pretty odd anymore, and sometimes disquieting.

I've become so accustomed to writing emails that save a copy of what I wrote. There's no copy of what I wrote to my friend. I have a general idea now of what I wrote about, but I couldn't tell you details. There's a risk in any writing, but a handwritten note is a bigger risk than most. It's very much of the moment.

When I write with a keyboard and computer, I edit constantly. I rarely just pour out a bunch of words without checking to make sure they make sense and say what I want to say, rewording here, tweaking there, cutting and moving and deleting. Handwriting, unless you're copying from something, goes from brain to paper. You have to get it right the first time unless you want to blot things out or even start over. You have to think linearly and even slowly enough to capture your thoughts in ink.

Once I've finished an email and clicked "send," Gmail gives me a maximum of 30 seconds to have second thoughts and recall the message. A letter popped into the post has no possibility of recall. Many a comedy sketch has been based on that fact.

Emails are "free" to send — I pay only with all the information Google extracts out of me every time I use it. Nothing is really free. The letter I sent to the United States cost me C$1.30. If what I'm sending is special, I consider that a bargain. It's not hard to be more special than an email.

The letter took several days to reach my friend. I don't know how long, because I didn't pay for tracking. An email message, on the other hand, after that 30-second grace period, is in the recipient's inbox within seconds, on their mail server if not yet viewed on their own computer or phone.

It had been a long time since I'd written anything more than a Christmas card by hand, and I didn't even do very well at that last year. It took a lot of time for me to build up to actually writing that letter. The trepidation was real. But once I was into it, at the right time, it was quite satisfying.

Sending letters is starting to feel like an anachronistic indulgence. I'm having a physical message brought from one coast of one country to the far coast of a different country. It's kind of amazing governments still provide a service like that.

Letters sent in the mail are a really inefficient way to communicate. And yet they can be a deeper, richer way to communicate. Email has its place, but maybe writing more by hand would be good for me. Maybe I should take a risk and be less edited.

I'm doing better at Christmas cards this year. I might just keep surprising people by scrawling notes and popping them in the post.

2021/06/30

Troublemaker 2.x

In 2017, I was asked to participate in the second round of Troublemakers, a program by community development group Reel Youth that matches young, queer filmmakers with queer community elders. It was the second year of the project, thus Troublemakers 2.0.

Most people seem to think I'm much less introverted and neurodiverse than I am. I have tried hard to fit into the normal world, and I think I give the impression that I'm better at it than is really the case. This is why people invite me to things like Troublemakers.

I said yes because I thought it was a great project and an honour to be asked to participate. But sometimes you should say no to things even if you disappoint the person asking, and that time I should have followed my gut.

It was a difficult weekend for me.  I was uncomfortable going in. I felt out of place. Group exercises felt awkward and sometimes even painful. I met many wonderful people that weekend, but I was just in the wrong frame of mind for a big group thing. I felt bad because I had put myself in the situation, and then bad again because I hate being a drag.

At the same time, the very young filmmaker I was assigned to work with had issues of his own. He wanted to make the interview entirely spontaneous. We tried that on the first day of shooting, but it left us with pretty much no usable footage. So on the final day, one of the mentors helped fix the questions, and then kept us on script while helping the filmmaker stay focused and positive. I could have prompted less generic questions, but I did not. I just wanted to cooperate with the process. I wanted the filmmaker to do well too.

It worked, pretty much. The film came out well enough. It's well shot and edited. I recognize the person speaking. The music stuff was good. I also talked about sex, which was about as close to the edge as we got. The rest is trivial. I hadn't let them know in advance about any other troublemaking, and the questions didn't go in that direction, so it's a pretty untroubled film.

I could have re-upped and participated in Troublemakers 5.0, but I knew it would be no better a fit for me now than it was four years ago. Instead, I'll write about the trouble I made that I should have talked about when I had the opportunity.

I went to a private Catholic school run by an order of teaching sisters. I was smart and had unrecognized ADHD, so I was often bored and in need of stimulation. I had a bad tendency to latch onto troublemakers and then join in with them. All the way through grade eight, I had excellent academic marks and terrible conduct marks.

By GIF version: Stoic atarianSVG version: WhiteTimberwolf - Vectorized PD image on English Wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2111203
None of that was "good trouble," just acting out. My troublemaking improved in high school. I became an environmentalist when that was still considered extreme. I wore a black armband on the first anniversary of the Kent State massacre. My friend and I were hauled into the principal's office for creating and distributing an unauthorized publication. I used my position as yearbook editor to make a political statement in the opening thematic section. As class valedictorian, I made a speech at graduation condemning the widening war in Vietnam, and I urged my fellow newly enfranchised 18-year-olds to vote for change.

At university I participated in antiwar protests. There was a big one in the autumn of 1972 in front of an armory where a Nixon fund-raising dinner was going on. We were run off by police after someone set fire to a car.

I had a folk music show on campus radio, and I aired a whole lot of controversial stuff during my four years at the mic, staying just this side of having the Jesuits come down on my musical selections.

In 1975 I was part of the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which Jeremy Rifkin led before he went off the deep end. We staged an all-night concert and protest at Concord Bridge, where President Jerry Ford made a speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary War (we did not succeed in interrupting the festivities).

After university, I got involved with the Clamshell Alliance. I was part of a huge protest at the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power station. I was less afraid of meltdowns than I was concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste.

When I started making original music in the 1980s, it was raw and sharp and in yer face. I wrote anti-Reagan diatribes. I railed against the shallowness of modern life and the siren song of consumerism and wealth disparities. I had been brought up with strong ideals. They got pretty smashed up in 1968 and the years following, but I never lost them.

I shifted from music to acting in the late 1980s into the 90s. I was not making a lot of trouble then, other than for myself. I moved to Vancouver in 1994. I spent many years working, saving up to buy a house, and living through shit like 9/11. I made no appreciable trouble for many years.

I started to break out of that in 2006, the year I volunteered for a queer help line at Qmunity (then called The Centre). I even helped train new volunteers. In 2009, I volunteered at the first Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. At the time, it was still pretty subversive to help girls to make their own music and play together in bands, and this was an organization that was mostly run by queer women. I did GRCV for its first two years. I then helped to run Ladies Rock Camp so we could subvert the grown-ups too, and finally went back to GRVC for one more year.

Lisa's Hotcakes laughing, shipping containers in background
Thanks to Girls and Ladies rock camps, I connected with local musicians, local women, and local queer women. In 2012, my bass-playing spouse and I formed Lisa's Hotcakes with two other rock camp alumnae. Hotcakes wasn't exactly a subversive band, but it goes against the norm to have older women making their own music together. And we were three-quarters queer.

In 2014, after Hotcakes was done, I became a charter member of Femme City Choir, a group of queer femmes, all of whom were younger than me, usually much younger. While having fun singing, I got steeped in queer, activist Millennial thinking. I learned a lot from them, and when I didn't agree with them, I learned a lot on my own. They prompted me to re-evaluate just how progressive I was and where I could do better. My time in FCC was not always easy, but I think it was crucial to the way I think today.

I feel as though I've regained my youthful fervor for change, with a lifetime's-worth of better ideas of what those changes should be. I joined the BC Greens, not exactly the establishment party, and volunteered in the two most recent provincial elections. I helped make New West Pride the most accessible Pride festival around, and then worked to keep reducing and eliminating barriers.

The election of D. Trump as president of the United States certainly focused my thinking. He was much more alarming than Nixon or Reagan or even Dubya. My long-time anti-fascism became popular again. The non-racism I was brought up with became anti-racism. The feminism I had never lost became more important than ever.

Not all old people become conservative. I support land back to Indigenous peoples. I want radical, effective action to mitigate global heating. I want white supremacism to die with a stake through its heart. I'm not as energetic as I was when I was younger, but I'm still ready to make trouble to make change.

2021/06/07

All things in moderation

That was my mother's motto. She was pretty extreme about her moderation.

I had a glass of wine last night whilst watching TV, the end of a bottle that I've been using for cooking. It was a'ight. It mostly made me sleepy. I did not suffer for it. I'm glad for that. I'm still hoping that when real summer happens (we've had two pseudo-summers so far), I will be able to enjoy some beer. With company.

I pop into Twitter from time to time. I have posted or shared a few times and replied a few times. I'm not feeling compelled to go through every tweet in my feed that has shown up since the last time I looked. Apparently I'm using the hours (yes, hours) I used to spend on Twitter doings something else. I don't feel that I have the time to give to Twitter that I once did.

I miss knowing what's up with friends and neighbours. I miss feeling connected and better informed about issues. I do not miss the compulsion to check my timeline often, getting wound up by Twitter, or having to censor myself so as not to give offence. I do not miss GIFs, TikToks, or snark.

I am not going to preach the joys of reducing social media and/or screen time. Everyone has to figure out what works for them. The difference in my brain is still noticeable, but my brain is weird.

I'm currently reading The Obelisk Gate, the second book in The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. If anything, I'm even more absorbed in it than in the first book, The Fifth Season. Jemisin's world invention is astounding. And all while telling a rippin' yarn, she says important things about us and the society we live in.

I'm also reading another ostensible self-help book, another that I learned about through CBC Radio 1, called The Dance Cure by Dr. Peter Lovatt. If it helps my self, great, but I'm mostly interested in the what happens in our brain and body when we dance. Very interesting so far. Maybe I'll start bopping around the living room like no one is watching.

2021/05/08

The bluebird of Twitterlessness

 It's Day 6 without Twitter. All is calm. All is a'ight.

I've enjoyed using Twitter since 2007, back when normal people thought it was silly. My engagement ramped up when a certain twice-impeached former would-be dictator occupied the White House, the same time as those who had scratched their heads for 10 years signed up, and Twitter exploded.

I watched from the country next door as the country of my birth waved its Confederate battle flag, murdered its Black citizens, had its highest court packed with right-wing extremists, and almost lost its democracy. I went in even harder when COVID hit. We also had a provincial election, and then a U.S. presidential and congressional election. For lots of reasons, it was important for me to try to keep up with several streams of news and views.

For a while, I had been feeling that I might be consuming more media than was really good for me. I started wondering how much time I spent using Twitter, and what I might do with the time if I stayed off Twitter. It reached a critical point for me when I was reading Hunt, Gather, Parent (but that's a whole other story) and felt that I needed to stop consuming, to be thoughtful, and to consider what might need to change in my life.

The main thing I did more of without Twitter was read books. I finished Hunt, Gather, Parent, and then zipped through a novel for my local book club. I'm a fairly slow reader. I can't get rid of the reading-aloud voice in my head. But I feel as though this recent reading was rather effortless. I also found that I enjoy reading more. I had always though retirement would be good for reading, but until now, not so much.

I've written more as well, but otherwise I haven't added a specific activity other than reading. Reducing my media consumption is not magic. I would be spending time working in and enjoying my garden anyway. I haven't adding any extra cooking. I haven't played music! (Hmmmm.)

I noticed, though, that I was getting to things more quickly than I used to. I got dressed earlier, was out in the garden earlier. I even did some household chores that weren't particularly fun with much less procrastinating than usual.

An adult diagnosis of ADHD is hard to obtain, so let's just say that I have ADHD symptoms and have had them for as long as I can remember. Now, correlation does not equal causality, but since I got off Twitter, my symptoms have decreased noticeably.

Most obvious for me is distractibility. Why did it never occur to me that Twitter was the apotheosis of distraction? It was working as designed: drawing me away from whatever I was doing or trying to do, keeping me engaged, winding me up, and keeping me coming back for more.

Less distraction means better focus. Improved focus might be why reading feels easier. It helps in getting me through my day more like a functioning adult. My anxiety is lower. I'm feeling more relaxed than I have been for a while.

I had thought, or told myself, that Twitter was a net positive experience for me, that the good I got out of it and the satisfaction I got from using it outweighed any negative effects, which I have always known were there. I now know that even if the negative effects are few, they definitely weigh in my life more than the many positive effects.

This is not a controlled experiment, of course. Life is full of variables. I had my first vaccine jab several weeks ago, and although I haven't changed my behaviour and likely won't change much before jab #2, I'm probably a little more at ease and feel a little less endangered. Hunt, Gather, Parent curiously gave me, a non-parent, many things to consider.

There was a knock-on effect as well. Without Twitter, I spent much less time looking at my phone, and sat at my laptop only to do actual work and not just use to Twitter and let that turn into surfing aimlessly. Even my light use of Facebook got lighter. Mostly I watch for birthdays.

I haven't been off Twitter entirely. I respond to direct messages. But lately, I've been trimming my following list a bit at a time and then checking to see if my timeline seems more manageable. People in my city stay on the list. Twitter is a curiously good connection among people here whom I might not encounter otherwise. And I keep accounts I wouldn't want to be without, so far.

I need to know what's going on in the world. I need to keep myself open and learning. I need to stay in touch with neighbours. I also need to manage my anxiety level. I don't expect zero anxiety. I don't want to live in a bubble. But I can't let my need to stay connected have a negative effect on my well-being.

Somehow, I need to get what I want and mostly avoid what I don't want. I need the news and views and connections, but not full throttle. I'm not sure yet how I can make that happen.

(I shall now hypocritically post a link to this post on Twitter and Facebook.)