The joy of quiet

I wrote this post back in 2011, and am just re-reading it now. It's still one of the favorite things I've written, perhaps because the things I was discovering about myself at age 23  is still a core part of my self.

Probably the best part is referencing getting an iPhone. I was so nervous :/ 

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Yesterday at work, while I was in the middle of emailing and writing and sipping coffee and thinking and gathering and organizing, I was “interrupted” by Twitter and a certain New York Times article that was re-tweeted, caption: Read This.

So I did.

Since then, I haven’t really stopped thinking about it. Written by Pico Iyer, a  respected travel writer, essayist, and novelist, Pico dives into many ideas that I constantly ponder and struggle with: the urgency of slowing down, technology & communication, free time we desperately want (but indeed never create), and the positive purpose of being selfish in order to become our best self for others.

There’s a lot to take away in his article, but i’ll just highlight a few things. I highly recommend you read it for yourself, too; it’ll be better than anything I write about here.

In any case, Pico writes: “The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.” And it’s true, for the most part. For me at least. It seems like we’re constantly battling with the two extremes: going forth with technology and innovation, while wanting to rewind at the same time. Maybe for our generation, it’s especially pertinent. We (sort of) remember what it was like without cellphones, with casette players and VHS’s, browsing TV guides to see what shows were on, and waiting for 15 minutes to get on dial-up Internet, as long as dad wasn’t on the phone.

That’s why it makes it harder. We’ve seen both sides of the story—both ways of living. I remember trips to Blockbuster to scan the “new release” section. I also know how to navigate Netflix and watch any movie without moving a muscle.

I think that many people feel secure staying plugged in. Personally, for the longest time I never wanted an iPhone. I didn’t want to become dependent on it. And, well, I just got one. And as stupid as it may seem, it was a huge step for me. Of course I had asked for it, and in ways felt like I needed it. But why? Do I actually need it? Probably not. But it could be extremely convenient, relevant, fun. Geez—it’s normal. Everyone has the thing.

But…it’s just the idea of having another sort of distraction, a way to make things too easy, or even another way to speak without talking— as Pico says: “We have more and more ways to communicate… but less and less to say.”

Another important point Pico brings up is the “urgency of slowing down,” which ties into this whole unplugging thing. I feel like I sometimes live these two lifestyles that stand on opposite spectrums. On the one hand,  I’m totally plugged in, working a lot, spending most of the day on the Internet, while checking Twitter, Facebook, my iPhone—what have you. “Free time” is really a foreign concept, but I function well without it. I need to dive into something 1,000,000% while finding time to run and workout and write and read for myself, and somehow see my friends along the way. It’s how I work.

But I’m also the complete opposite. I need to detach completely. Some of the most important moments in my life have been by myself, usually just looking up at the sky, somewhere, anywhere. (Once on a beach in Ghana, and another on a morning walk in Colorado stick out particularly right now).

Even a few days ago—I woke up knowing I had to go out and buy coffee before getting ready for work (I have a morning routine with my french press and the New York Times), yet when I walked outside, it was absolutely beautiful out. It was the first cold morning in awhile, which for some reason comforts me. So rather than quickly purchasing my coffee grounds and going home to read and shower and get ready for work…I walked. For awhile. In the beautiful, comfortable cold. I had nothing with me but keys and two dollars, which accompanied me on this beautiful, still walk around Brooklyn.

“The urgency of slowing down” is what I was unexpectedly able to find that morning. I needed the “time to do nothing at all,” and it came at just the right moment.

Still, that walk happened once, and those nights I find myself alone looking up at some star-filled sky without a single worry are few and far between. For the most part, lines are blurred, hours turn into days turn into a week, and I can barely separate one moment from the rest. In better words: “All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us — between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there — are gone.”

But I’m happy. And if I was stuck in the middle of the woods, as much as part of me truly wants that, I’d go crazy. Still, everyone can find their escape depending on their surrounding environment. For Pico it is living in the middle of the woods (in Japan!). For me in Brooklyn, my time to unplug comes from working out, or early weekend mornings in bed with coffee and a book or my moleskin. When I first moved to the city, I thought I needed to escape to the nearest cabin or jump in my car and drive on a long stretch of road. But now that I’ve finally settled, I’ve learned that I can find peace without going anywhere.

What I especially like about Pico’s moving to the “middle of nowhere” is that his decision has nothing to do with “principle or asceticism,” but rather..selfishness. And I love how he uses that word. It’s okay to be selfish; we all need to find what makes us calm, clear-headed, and joyful. And I’m a big-believer in that: only when we can be our best selves can we in turn be a better daughter, parent, friend, co-worker, etc. Too often we’re out to please others, compromising the time and space we need for ourselves.

But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.

And these words comfort me most. I battle everyday with these two extremes: working hard and learning and accepting how this new-aged world works, and wanting the complete opposite: to tear away from it all. But now I’ve seen how they both work together, that they’re not separate entities but rather complement each other… and make me whole. The quiet distance from things calms me down and lets me see clearly that the life I’m leading is the correct one, and it’s wonderful. And the real battle is finding that balance, to stay connected in this quickly moving world, yet be able to hop off that walking escalator.

And perhaps that’ll be my new year’s resolution I vowed not to make: balancing productivity and inactivity—the joy of movement and creation with, as Pico says, “The Joy of Quiet.”