Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out for Writers: National Day of Unplugging
I don’t know about you, but when I was younger (before smart phones and social media) synchronicity was a daily event. I would think about someone and they would show up, or I would be thinking about an idea and it would pop up in the real world somewhere. That doesn’t happen to me much anymore. Or maybe I’m just not aware that it’s happening because I’m too distracted by the noise of our current civilization and the gluttonous feast that is laid before me at every turn in the form of on-demand TV, social media, news delivered to my smart phone, apps that collect and interpret data on my biometrics, etc.
But today, ah today, a generous little synchronistic moment happened—though not without a sweet dose of irony. I woke up and logged into Facebook (the irony in case you missed it) and scrolled through posts long enough to see that my friend, traveling cook and writer Steve Le, had posted that today is National Day of Unplugging. Ok, I’m gonna take the hint, I thought and moved on to what I had really been planning to do that morning—re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
You see, I’ve really been struggling with my novel. It’s my first. And while the first 30,000 words came pretty easily, I’m mired in the swampy muck and weeds of the soggy middle and I’ve pretty much started to hate myself and my book. I’ve spent the last couple months avoiding working on the book with TV and internet and cleaning the bathroom. But these things have only exacerbated my sense of self-loathing. I needed help. Fortunately, I knew where to look. Steve Pressfield wrote The War of Art for me and everyone like me. So, I sat down with the slim tome about the Resistance which besets anyone who sets out to do something that hasn’t been done before and read until I reached this paragraph:
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
If that isn’t a rousing call to action, I don’t what is.
The call to unplug from the consumer merry-go-round spoke to me. We are so inundated at every turn with information, with marketing that manipulates us into thinking we need to be something, do something, have something other than what we are, do, and have. This infects our writing and our drive to write.
When I went to fact check my friends post and make sure that today was, in fact, National Day of Unplugging, I discovered something else. The day isn’t just March 1st. Organizers of the day have designated from sundown Friday, March 1st to sundown Saturday, March 2nd to observe the day of unplugging. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jewish customs, this is patterned after the Jewish Sabbath, the weekly day of rest commanded by God in the Bible (Ex 20:4-8).
As writers, it’s part of our job to study storytelling—to read books, watch films and television, keep up with industry trends, and do extensive research. Like any industry, being knowledgeable in your field is important. But we can’t let these things become our whole world. We need time to connect with a deeper reality. Without this connection, our labor, no matter how much we love it, is in danger of becoming meaningless.
You don’t have to believe in God, but you do have to be able to find the stillness that people so often find in prayer and meditation. And that takes unplugging.
In this space where we drop out of the noise of our consumer culture and its demands on every facet of our being, we have an opportunity to tune in to a deeper reality, our deeper reality, and turn on that part of us that is alive with creativity, that part of us that is good enough, does enough, has enough to generate works of art that have meaning not just to us, but to the people we are dying to connect with.
Unplugging will look different for everyone. Some may find themselves actually doing the writing they’ve been putting off (raises hand), some may find themselves in nature or sharing a meal with friends they haven’t seen in a long time. The point is to move away from the gazillions of terabytes clamoring for our attention and trying to shape the way we see the world and ourselves.
You know what else is startling to think about? It takes so little unplugging to make a difference. We may not all have the discipline required to observe a weekly day of unplugging as the Bible suggests, but we can certainly experiment with one day.
I already feel invigorated, and I plan on observing this year’s National Day of Unplugging through tomorrow's sunset. Will you join me?
Let’s see what kind of fruit it bears.