On Tuesday I arrived at the Leon airport in Guanajuato, Mexico. On my customs form I was supposed to admit to bringing any fruits or vegetables into the country… I knew I had an apple in my bag, but I didn’t report it. I was planning to eat that apple during the hour and a half car ride to San Miguel de Allende, where I will be spending the month of July.
But, while I was waiting for my luggage, I was suddenly jumped on — literally — by the customs dog. He sniffed my backpack suspiciously.
“Tienes frutas?” the security officer asked me. “Do you have any fruit?”
I told her no, and she went away. But soon, she was back, and the dog was sniffing suspiciously at my bag again. The dog knew. He wasn’t going to let me get away with it. The woman raised her eyebrows at me. “You have any frutas?”
“Oh, I totally forgot,” I said. “I have this apple.” I pulled it out of my bag. “I’m so sorry. I forgot it was in here.”
And thus my apple was confiscated. The officer handed me a form on which she’d written my name, passport number, and my offense: manzana. I was made to push “the red button,” which apparently means I’m going to be searched on my way back home. Sigh. And I was really looking forward to eating that manzana. It was a Honey Crisp.
But otherwise, things are good here so far. I’m staying in a lovely casa with my own room and bathroom. I have two lovely housemates — another writer and a photographer, both of whom are smart and nice and interesting. Yesterday I taught my first fiction class (there’s still time to sign up!), and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. I get to spend time in a beautiful place, working on my writing and getting paid (a little) to teach a fiction workshop. I really should not be complaining about anything. And yet, I’m embarrassed to say, I have been frustrated by one thing in particular: there’s no Internet in my room.
Notice, I didn’t say no Internet in the house. There’s wifi downstairs, but the signal doesn’t reach upstairs to my bedroom. So I am forced to either sit in the common areas downstairs, or work in private upstairs without the Internet (gasp!) Not to mention, this puts an end to any thoughts of late-night Netflix binges in bed…
I’ve been noticing something about myself lately, and it’s worrisome. I can’t seem to go for more than fifteen minutes without checking my email. I’ll be working on a blog post or a chapter of my novel, and, right in the middle of a paragraph or a scene, I will suddenly feel the need to take a break and check my email. I’ll work another ten or fifteen minutes then take another email/facebook break. It’s like I’ve developed ADD — I can’t concentrate on reading and writing the way I used to… at least, not when my good old pal Internet is around. (See the famous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” or the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, both by Nicholas Carr, for more on this topic.)
The truth is, the Internet has become my constant and trusty companion. He tells me the weather so I know what to wear in the morning. He gives me restaurant and book suggestions. He tells me how to get where I want to go and how long it will take me to get there. He makes me feel safe and secure. With him, I don’t have to ask people for directions or recommendations. I barely have to speak to anyone at all. The Internet is the only friend I need.
And yet, I like having a connection with people… hence my email obsession. These days I feel the need to check my email right before bed, and then again as soon as I wake up. As if my inbox is all of a sudden going to be filled with amazing and important messages, which it almost never is. If I added up all the time I spend checking my email and scrolling through facebook… well, I wouldn’t want to because I’m afraid to see what it amounts to. How much time I am flushing away on mindless Internet activities?
I know I’m not alone is this problem. And I know I would never give up the Internet of my own accord.
David, the other writer who is staying at the house with me, said that he and his artist wife once spent six months “in the woods” with very limited Internet, and they found themselves reading and writing/painting more, and not only that — they were doing both of these things better, — reading more closely, giving more attention to their creative work.
“We thought we’d come home and bring all these great habits with us,” he said. “But no, we went right back to our old Internet ways.”
The thing is, I know it will be good for me to be here in San Miguel with less Internet than I’m used to. Sometimes you need to have the things you love taken away from you — be it apples or the Internet. I’ll spend this month more focused on my writing, and I’ll read at night instead of watching old episodes of 30 Rock. It’s going to be a good summer.