On a recent trip to Florence, I did something radical. I cut myself off.
Okay, not completely. I had my iPad in my hotel and an international cell phone on me at all times to monitor an emerging family health crisis.
But I did not have a smart phone. I had traded it in for an old clam shell-style phone that did much less and didn't make me crazy. My smart phone had simply become an albatross, its physical weight matching its psychological burden. Wherever I went, I checked email: standing on any line, waiting at traffic lights, sitting in a doctor's office. That's how I do business as an author: via email. The smart phone meant I was constantly at work.
I broke that habit -- and another.
Writers are constantly transforming what we see and experience into words, and it's very hard to turn that off. I struggle with it all the time, and this trip, I won. Yes, I wrote a Huffington Post blog about being in Florence, but only after I returned. I did send some emails to friends about what I was seeing, but that was usually at night, before bed, and I hadn't let the Internet rule my day. I ignored newspaper web sites from home, I didn't surf Amazon for my next read, I let go and relaxed.
Most importantly, I left my journal at home. I didn't take notes anywhere in Florence (not even with Evernote on my iPad back at the hotel). Sitting, for example, in a lovely outdoor restaurant on Piazza Santo Spirito, I enjoyed my meal, watched people walking by, studied the intriguing facade of Santa Spirito, observed birds splashing in the square's fountain, relished the warm weather, sipped my Montepulciano.
Scientists have shown that it's immensely difficult to forgo email, etc. in an over-connected time like ours: We've become addicted to the dopamine rush of electronic stimulation.
Me, I drifted into and out of churches and restaurants and piazzas, often not even taking photos, just gazing, admiring, wondering, reflecting, dreaming.
It was paradise.