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04/12/2004 Archived Entry: "Owning my own mind"

THE BEST THING ABOUT MY TRIP. I was considering what that might be. I've never been a good traveler, and this was in some ways a tough trip. I drove 76 long hours during the 11 days I was gone -- some if it in white-knuckle snowstorm conditions. During the few days I stayed put, friends and I spent way too much time bundled up in a wind-blown, thunderstorm-stricken tent, trying to entertain ourselves while joking feebly about how our ancient ancestors managed to survive in their huts and yurts and teepees. But it was a fine trip -- shooting Peeps, meeting good people, seeing spectacular sights, and finding out some intriguing things -- including how remarkably well half dozen semi-strangers and five dogs could get along in taxingly intimate quarters. (Nice bunch of people, those guys.)

Still, I was glad to get home and for a while I felt as if I'd never want to set wheels off my own road again. I wondered if my fellow travelers felt the same.

Not until this morning did I realize what was the best thing about the trip. For 11 full, round, perfect days, I owned my own mind, with no clatter from the outside world, no competition for my own time, no mental "noise."

The glory of it hit me only afterwards -- this morning when I started to scan through the predictable hundreds of e-messages that had piled up in my absence. Nearly all the mail contained bad news -- primarily about developments in surveillance technology, or in the political attitude that all of us must be, and deserve to be, surveilled every moment of the day. And even the friendly mail contained demands. Read this. Pay attention to that. Tell me about this. Do that. Where is thus and such? Can you help with this-or-that? Have you got a comment on blah-de-blart?

I'm sure all that's pretty familiar to anyone who's ever returned from a vacation. Doesn't matter whether it hits you via e-mail or when you walk into your office on a post-vacation Monday. It hits you.

But this e-hitting is still a peculiar thing. So much comes tumbling down so fast. So many urgencies. So many problems. So many needs. So many wants. And the barrage has such immediacy. Pay attention to me, me, me. Right NOW, NOW, NOW! Even the most demanding real-world office Monday doesn't usually quite compare in intensity to the impact of a typical e-barrage. Yet if you think about it, the most urgent e-news and e-pleas, those that scream the loudest for your awareness, are in effect very far away, very unimportant. They're exactly the things that should make the least demands on your real-world life.

Strange news, coming from strangers far away. The blessing and the curse of the Internet.

The road -- even the most boring or tense hours on the road -- put that in perspective. A snowstorm is really NOW. A beam of sunlight illuminating red rock is true presence. A dog needing a poop break is reality. Arriving at a place where the well water tastes like liquid silver is genuine experience. And thinking your own thoughts in your own time is ultimate balance.

On the road, I was aware of news happening far away -- especially the grotesque horrors and political stupidities in Iraq. I listened to NPR when I could get it on the truck's radio. I saw local newspapers with their local crises. But there was nothing I could do about it all. It was just there in a world that has always been -- face it -- filled with horrors. I sorrowed for the suffering. But it wasn't my responsibility. I wanted to be aware of it. But it wasn't my experience -- thank heaven. My experience was the road and thousands of rolling miles and the grass and the snow and campfire dinners with my friends and smores and a warm dog with his head on my lap.

As the e-mail poured down this morning, though, I had to quell a rising panic, a sense of being swept off balance by the flood of sheer information. Information somebody thought I should have. Information I think I should have. E-bits of artificial, mostly irrelevant information that threatened to become the reality to replace the real reality I'd just experienced for 11 days. I took a deep breath and didn't let myself fall off balance. Today.

But this is a weird way to live, you know -- connected to so much of the world through electronic zips and zaps and alerts and hoaxes and musts and shoulds and right nows. So that was the best thing about the trip -- being away from the seduction of it, the ever-flowing current of it, the hypnotic, panicky, screaming urgency of it all for 11 days. And just being a human connected to actual, physical humans again. And dogs. And my own, lone self.

Posted by Claire @ 09:53 PM CST

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