What does unplugged really mean anyway? If you have a teenager in residence -- that's a pretty easy question to answer. Imagine the shock and awe of disabling their electronic devices, all of them. Alas, sometimes, we have to turn those questions on ourselves. On a recent camping trip, I found myself lavishing in an early morning cup of coffee on the porch of the "Gathering Place," a charming little building on the campsite grounds that serves coffee and sugary pastries by morning, homemade ice cream by night (my kind of camping). Here, one can stop by to provision for ice and firewood, play board games on rainy days or, more commonly, log onto the free Wifi and recharge the batteries of our electronics. God forbid, we lose our last bar.
On that particular morning, perhaps it was the endless cacophony of birds on the shoreline outside my tent at some ungodly hour, or the chipmunk that made his way into (yes, you read that correctly) our tent -- regardless, I wasn't going back to sleep. Ironically, I could sleep soundly amongst the sirens and lights of Manhattan, but put me in a tent with cawing crows and seagulls and I was wide awake. I made a quick assessment of the tent: My clothes in a pile below me, computer bag in the corner, and my family fast asleep, I unzipped the tent flap and headed out with stealth determination. I was on a mission -- jonesing for a hit of caffeine and some Internet.
What's wrong with me? Can't I go a day without checking my Facebook? You don't have to answer every work email that pings your inbox, I told myself. You would think I was running a Fortune 500 company. I sat on the porch for a blissful half hour waiting for them to open. The campsite slumbered in silence and freshly brewed coffee wafted my way. It felt like a guilty indulgence. I watched the clock on my computer as I tip-typed away, counting the minutes. I would be the first in line for a 16-ounce hot cup of joe. It wasn't particularly spectacular coffee, but in that moment, it tasted like liquid gold.
Back outside on the porch I set up my command post -- a corner table strategically located under a wall socket capable of charging both my phone and my computer at the same time. Seizing the opportunity before me, I sat amidst strands of white cords. Batteries with full bars:nirvana.
It wasn't long before the voices of children could be heard from the surrounding sites and sleepy-faced campers started to make their way in my direction for their "hit." Suddenly, my own personal Private Idaho disrupted, I became a bit self-conscious of sitting there on the porch with my MacBook Air encased in a hot pink shell. Why? Not an unusual sighting, however, it felt like an odd juxtaposition at the campsite setting. Were they judging me as they walked by (Man, she has a serious problem, can't even get off her computer while camping)? Was that their voice or mine? Who was judging who? Perhaps I was imposing some preconceived notion of what camping "should be?" Should I be unplugged? Was I suffering from a guilty pleasure, an addiction or maybe both?
To add insult to injury, as I was traveling down this thought path, my campsite neighbor strolled up and noticed me. He nodded and rolled his eyes at the sight of me and my computer. "Communicating with everyone at home?" he remarked with a tone of snarkiness as he air-typed with his hands. Well, not exactly, but hold on a minute. Who cares what he thought I should be doing or not doing. Who gets to decide that and why did it bother me in the first place? Probably because there's some truth to it. Where there is smoke there is fire. So, I decided to dig a little deeper.
Here's my talk back to that mind noise -- so what if it's my guilty pleasure?! I'm a writer, all the more reason to indulge it. It makes my soul sing. Sitting in the early morning quiet of the day with a cup of coffee, shut off from the rest of the world and plugged into my laptop - is bliss to me, like reading a great book, taking an early morning kayak or meditating. I spent many previous years dreaming of the moment I would have a sleek little computer small enough to slip into my bag that could go everywhere with me. Now that I do, there's not going to be any cowering in the corner. It's my party and I'll write if I want to.
Is there some guilty pleasure you are depriving yourself of?
I wasn't going to spend all day sitting there with my open screen, but it's the way I love starting it. As I looked up, I could see my newly awoken boy arriving on his bike to collect a chocolate donut. It was time to kiss his face, bask in the beauty of this special place and indulge the gratitude I had for it all. Now, it was time to unplug -- and not because I was guilted or shamed into it, but rather because it was time to seize another opportunity. The good news is that there is room for all of it, if you carve out the space. Balance.
The laundry, the dishes, the to-do lists can wait. What does unplugged or plugged in mean for you? Plugged in doesn't have to be a dirty word! How do you want to start your day? Go ahead and indulge yourself and set the tone. See how much better you feel.
A parting note, if we can agree that vacation is a "should"-free zone, is it possible to insert a bit of that into the rest of your days?