Yesterday I visited Dulwich, where my mum grew up and I spent time visiting my grandparents, and popped in at the stationery shop I worked in for a month when I was seventeen. It was, quite literally, exactly the same, with seemingly no attention paid to the passing of thirteen years. The same products on the same shelves with the same people visiting, and Mr Green – now in his eighties – greeted me like it was yesterday. There is something almost unbearably beautiful about its not having had to change or update to survive in the surging charge of today.
All this time, all this life that’s been had, and it’s just been there silently keeping on.
Things like that, make me think. Also being sick makes me think. Last week I had to stay in bed with flu for four days and it felt like a lifetime. Initially all I wanted to do was sleep and be still in my room-cocoon but as soon I felt a bit better – and still needed to be home, snug and resting – I began to itch for the pace I am used to operating at, and felt distinctly uncomfortable without the usual stream of information, alerts, notifications, news and more that I drink in from being online and connected for at the very least least nine hours a day. As I became aware of it I became determined not to pander to it. And it wasn’t easy.
Especially working in social media, and remotely, I have decided I need to be more cognisant of unplugging. I love growing in knowledge and awareness but there are downsides to the never-ending story of the internet. Plus, being a healthy and happy part of a distributed team is going to take more discipline than I have been exercising so that my soul knows when we are no longer ‘in the office’.
On that note, I saw a tweet last week about out of office notifiers. This person said something very dismissive about them, implying that in this modern age only complete idiots put them on as we are able to get online 24/7 and ought always to be reachable on email. Really? To be honest, my initial reaction was a weird sort of admiration. And then I started thinking how very unhelpful it was to celebrate this constantly plugged in way we operate.
I wonder if someday, or soon, there will be psychologists who will specialise in addiction to technology and who will help people rediscover how to live in the moment. I’d put money on it, actually.
Being busy is not something to be proud of (“How are you?” “Oh I’m fine, just so crazy busy“). The Busy Trap (2012), a NY Times article that did the rounds some years ago, well describes our strange culture of celebrating being busy all the time. A more personal example of this that stuck with me was a few years ago when I suggested 6:30pm for dinner with a group of girl friends and got a sharp reply from one of them asking what kind of job I had that I could suggest dinner before 8pm. A healthy job, is what I should have said.
One of the directors at my previous company, Yuppiechef, used to say if you couldn’t finish your work within regular hours you, or your manager, was doing something wrong. I understand in certain industries or during certain seasons of starting things or meeting deadlines, long hours are required and I have no problem burning the candle when it needs to be burnt. But never for the sake of it. Never because to stop would make one the only inert hamster in a sea of spinning wheels.
Something I don’t like about being busy is that I rob myself of the time it takes to notice the little things: the mother watching her sickly son on the tube, pointing out like dot-to-dot where the crumbs from his supper remained on his cheeks, the intensity of her gaze growing suddenly as he sneezed; the sweetest tiny baby at church tonight who, after about a minute of very animated and enthused waving from my side, raised a tiny starfish hand and, without changing his expression at all, waved back; a girl near home holding a generous bunch of Arum lilies completely lost in thought with a weekender bag and mud on her shoes (my guess is she’d had a lovely, romantic country walk which could be wrong but the point is I had time to let my mind wander there).
In light of all of the hustle, innovating and baying of the world for more and for faster – visiting the stationer in Dulwich and finding it the same was Havishamesque. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t changed at all, and that while I have had thirteen years rushing about it has just been there the whole time selling pens, and art clay, and paper.
Perhaps it was waiting for me to return to gift me the lesson that not everything worth celebrating is new and shiny, evolving or just struck upon. That there is something equally glorious and important about things that are content as they are, that to be far-reaching and evolving is not the automatic lot of everything and that for some, simply to continue on an even plane is the precise thing the world requires. Perhaps digging in one’s heels and staying the same will be in vogue again, vocational even.
In the meantime I think we’d all do well to have a few more measures of the old, the plain, the simple and the unbuffed in place of the shiniest, most fancy, trendy and quickly turned around. I for one am signing up for that and the first practical implementation of this was investing in an alarm clock yesterday.
Rather than starting my day with the same device in my hand that I use to connect, I will be woken by a £6 alarm clock from Mujii*, which will bring me to life with a beep I will no doubt grow to dislike, and I will gently take on the day with a good cup of strong English tea, my journal and a sharp HB pencil from a wise stationery shop I’m fortunate to know.
* Rosie Spinks did the same a few months ago, she is a wise thing.