Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Leave A Message After The Beep

 

When did it, in this 24/7, world of instant communication become unreasonable to have time to yourself? 

I need it, time to let the mind wander or think of possibilities or think of nothing at all. Perhaps it was the invention of the smart phone, text messages and instant communication software. Take your pick of poison that you can chain yourself to with Facebook Messenger, Facetime, WeChat, Skype, Zoom etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I remember the world before all of that and it was a better world when it came to privacy and personal freedom. I remember the world without cell phones when there was no expectation on the human mind to always be contacted and connected. I walked outside then and if I did not hear the phone ring, my answering machine took the call and the caller left a message or not. I would return at some point, spot the blinking light or hear the beeping machine that indicated that a message waited on a mini cassette tape. I would listen to that message at my discretion and maybe, if needed, I would return that call or not. The caller could call back later and I might answer then or maybe not. It was my choice and on my schedule.

Now the outside world and other people impose themselves on you and your time at their discretion and expect or demand a reply right then and there. I am reminded of an aunt yanking me by the arm as a young boy and screaming, “you're gonna answer me,” before she left her hand print on the side of my face.

This constant connection has made it harder for us as humans to connect with ourselves and especially our inner selves. Do people close their eyes and think anymore? What is back there in that dusty box in the attic of the mind? I know what I think about every night right before I sleep, it is one of two things and then I am gone to what awaits. What do others think or do they fall over clutching an electronic device that shines white light on their closed eyelids? The constant connection to something other than themselves vibrates, trying to rouse them from the safety of sleep to lure them back into their addiction -pets of Pavlov.

Do they answer?

The song Pets plays while I pull on my hiking boots and then roll up the sleeves of my flannel shirt.

Not me. Now that I am disconnected again from Facebook this is my time. I am the astronaut untethered and floating through the deep space of my own life. I fetch no more. I can create, work and focus on my next novel without that noise and harassment. I can get lost to find what I need and where no map can lead me. It is all off-trail through the brush, cold creeks and up that mountain again.

This is not my first time.

When I wrote my first novel, Dweller On The Boundary, I disconnected from all social media and deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts, not deactivated – I deleted those suckers of time, data and humanity. I had no social media except my website and no one contacted me through that enough at the time to bother me. 

I digitally jumped off the map. 

Somewhere in reality. Florida. April 2018. Photo by me.
 

I hopped in the car the next day and set off for Florida. It would be a year and three months before I joined Facebook again and did so very, very discretely. During that disconnected time, only those close and important to me knew where I was on any day or week or month. No one else needed to know, why should they? I did not owe them that right.

No one bothered me. 

Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. 2018. Photo by me.

I took a road trip across the country to California and back. I hiked down into the Grand Canyon, got sick in Amarillo on bad Thai food, sweated to death at Hoover Dam in 116 degree heat, danced in the desert, got into the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica and none of it, not one bit of it made it onto the internet. I did not have the thought to show off, boast or perform for social media. At most, three people knew where I was on the planet and only one knew every day where I was because they were with me. That time before I got back on Facebook was the greatest period of freedom I had experienced since the early 2000s.

By the time I jumped back onto the digital map I was Rip Van Winkle. The interfaces and designs had changed and of course it had more features than it did when I left to keep you in the spider's web. It was disorienting and I questioned whether it was the right decision for me to put myself back out there for people to find me, that I did not want to find me. My gut said that I did not want or need to be there, but I sucked it up and gave it one more shot. 

I had the manuscript of Dweller On The Boundary close to finished by the summer of 2019. I worked, rewrote, added, subtracted and tweaked it for another year. That first chapter had so many versions, but inspiration and the truth had me pick the correct one. I allowed a handful of people to read the original manuscript, made changes and shopped it to literary agents. It was not easy, it was not as smooth as it sounds, it was difficult as anything worthwhile should.

When my feet were wet again with the likes, comments and the connections of social media, I asked one longtime friend going back to the middle 1990s if they would be interested in giving me an opinion on the manuscript. It was by that time nearing the polished form minus the stray typo. I did not want a fully fleshed out critique and I made that clear. I wanted a general opinion and nothing more. They agreed to read it. I sent it with the condition there was no pressure and that they could read it at their leisure, but to please let me know what they thought. It was simple. 

My eyes fighting the 1990s sunshine on Tybee Island, Georgia.
 

I knew this person well, we had a long history and many meaningful memories going back to my early 20s. This was a person I had allowed to sleep on my sofa in my Atlanta loft for months. I had stayed with them too for a couple of weeks when I first moved to another city. The last time they were in Atlanta, I hosted their entire family at my house instead of a hotel in the 2000s. They had even stayed at my childhood house in the 1990s, which for me to allow that meant that you were one of the most trusted people on the planet. They met my parents a few times and I rarely allowed that. They had witnessed my highest highs and we sang the RENT Original Broadway cast recording over and over. I had toured them at one of the radio stations I had worked and let them in the studio with me. I gave them a calico cat for Christmas one year since they wanted one. We had developed an idea for a television show involving books and travel – well, I did most of the work, but we had a plan! We had packed U-Hauls together and drove them long distances through the middle of the deserted night in thunderstorms. We laughed at the dumbest things that only twenty-somethings can and haunted bookstores. They had asked me several times that if they never found their soulmate to father a child with them (read that twice). These were not little favors asked by an acquaintance. We had real, see you at your best and worst history. This person was well-read, allegedly open-minded and knew me as an adult, not as a child. There was no better to person to ask. They could have said no, nope, not going to happen and I would not have thought any less of them.

I waited months, since it was no pressure and I thought they respected me enough to come through. 

They had not died, I checked and waited more. Why could they not say something? I had said to them that even if they thought it was terrible or they hated it to please let me know. I warned them that it was not a lighthearted novel and could be upsetting. I also said that it was a true story about how I grew up.

I never heard another word from that person since they received the manuscript in early 2020, not even a hello. I assumed they were shocked by what was written and wanted nothing more from me. It stung, but I never contacted them to ask what happened. They rejected that boy version of me without even a wave of the hand or reply to sender. So much for all that shared history. 

I was twelve again.

I went ahead with the book without their feedback and I am glad that I did, but I knew it was the end of that friendship. It did not make sense, but not everything does and no one ever needs to remind me of that. Friendships, even the genuine ones that span years and are cultivated, are mysteries to me. It was good to know that I was free of the obligation to reply to their future email, phone call or request for a connection on the digital map. They can leave a message and at my discretion I will wave it off without a second thought.

As for the request to father a child with them, well... I said...

You will have to read my next novel set in the 1990s to find out that answer. If you have not read either of my first two books, give them a try. You might be surprised where they go and what you did not know. Let your mind be free of the constant connection and get lost with me off the digital map before it existed.

Beep.

 

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