One of my favorite pieces on the internet was published two years ago in the New Yorker and was ironically called Before the Internet. If you haven’t read it, the title is rather self-explanatory. It’s a nice and short piece on what our lives were like before the internet.
I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot in the time since I first read it, and I especially return to it in summer months. I wrote a few weeks ago about my summer happy place, which is my grandparents’ home in our village in Lebanon. Lebanon has a lot of things going for it: mountains, beaches, sheer energy and vibrancy. What it doesn’t have going for it is dependable electricity and high speed internet. When we were kids and spent 2+ months in our village, there were hours every day without electricity, let alone without internet. It was infuriating. As a pre-teen into my early teen years, it was my single greatest complaint every summer. Summers are incredibly hot there and the sun beats down every single day making afternoons absolutely insufferable to spend outside. So we spent afternoons inside. Bored. I was bored every single day. There was never a day where I could escape that boredom. It was built into the afternoon routine.
The irony is back then I just didn’t appreciate what a strange and subtle gift it was to exist without the internet, to be forced to be unplugged - to be forced into boredom. Because out of that boredom came some of my fondest memories. I can remember devouring Dan Brown books when he was all anyone could talk about. I can remember lying on the bed, listening to CDs I’d burned to listen to on my Walkman, which looked like this to those who are unfamiliar. I can remember my friends and I choreographing dances and filming fake music videos. We all know how embarrassing childhood diaries are, but when I dig mine up from that time, they’re completely full - nothing like my half-assed attempts to start journaling in adulthood. It all sounds manic, which it definitely was, but it was also my most creative self.
I’m going through a period of change that somehow requires my undivided attention as well as bursts of creative inspiration. When I’m most looking for inspiration, I often turn to the internet. I fill silences with activity. I fill the lulls with browsing. I have a hard time sitting still and doing nothing - I feel that it’s a total waste of time, so I scroll through the Instagram discover page hoping that something will grab my attention and get me excited to create.
But maybe the opposite is true. Maybe letting myself be still and be bored is what I need to get creative. Maybe doing nothing is exactly what I need in order to do something.
What’s challenging is how difficult it is to recreate that stillness I felt during those summers in my grandparents’ house when I know the alternative exists, and it’s often right next to me. So this weekend I’m challenging myself to sit somewhere without my phone, without my laptop and just write in a journal for at least an hour. It will hopefully be marginally less embarassing than my diary from my early teen years, but I make no promises. Nothing may come of it and I may find it terribly frustrating and ridiculously boring, but maybe that’s the point.