Until My Next Apert
Some problems are sticky. We believe we’ve solved them, time and time again, yet we come back to the same old struggle. I say, if you want to know yourself, look at your sticky problems. These sore spots of the psyche seem to represent the gap between our aspirations and our attitudes. There are few things more humbling than being stuck in a loop, yet the loops themselves tell us something of our own souls, I think.
One of my sticky problems is my relationship with external stimulus. I have a goodly amount of free time and I’m curious about many things, so I often reach out with my eyes and fingers and read what is laid in front of me. And when I’m not careful about my inputs, I feel awful.
My mind: distracted.
My heart: distressed.
My imagination: put to all the wrong uses.
I don’t want to overstate my problem. Overall, I’m capital-G Good! I’m not wandering around feeling unhappy. But this particular problem remains sticky. So I’ll lay it out on the page and inspect it.
Fantasies can be useful sometimes. And I keep returning to the fantasy of becoming a hermit or monk. Monastic life first captured my imagination during our travel sabbatical in 2017. We visited beautiful monasteries in Spain, and later, in Meteora Greece, where the monasteries soar high atop craggy cliffs, a kind of epic beauty that exists nowhere else on Earth.
I was fascinated by monastics: Why do people cut themselves off from the world? What do they hope to achieve? What are they smoking, and can I have some of it? I’ve watched some documentaries, and read about monks, and poked at the topic. But it’s not the religious ideology inside the monasteries that interest me. The monks and monkettes (okay, nuns) have withdrawn from society to get closer to God. Where as I want to withdraw from society to get closer to wisdom. I often yearn to shut out the cruelty of the world. To lock out the stupidity, the avarice, and the endless selfish grasping.
Calgon… take me away!
I’m not interested in a religious hermitage. But as an exercise, I’ll ask myself: If I were going into a monastery of my own design, what would forbid inside my beautiful stone walls? The answers come easy.
Liars. Slant. Conspiracy. Trolls. Clickbait. Cynicism masquerading as humor. Nihlism masquerading as realism. Sensationalism. Rage. Contempt. Propaganda. Gossip. Outrage-bait. Catastrophizing. Meanness. The Cult of Personality. Political screaming and exaggerations. Trends. Proud Ignorance. All forms of “this is what the hive mind is saying/thinking/reading/reacting to right now.”
These are good things to avoid, but still, my desire for withdrawal feels self-indulgent and immature. The world will not stop being what it is simply because I avert my eyes. Wouldn’t it be better for me to toughen up?
Sure, coping with this world would be easier if I could lock myself in a beautiful stone building in fantasy land. I’d enjoy it, at least for a while. But the walls would be a crutch, no? I believe we have a responsibility to one another, to society, to be present in our community instead of running away to a cabin to get away from it all.
So I’ve been toying with a new metaphor. It’s a monastic concept borrowed not from the real world but from science fiction. In his novel Anathem, author Neal Stephenson wrote about monastic communities that opened themselves to the secular world on a schedule. They called this time of opening an Apert.
Some of Stephenson’s fictional monasteries interacted with the secular world once a year, others, once every thousand years. Thus the monastic communities maintained a culture and way of life distinct from the broader world. As a side effect, they served as repositories of older knowledge. But they reconnected with the broader world at regular intervals, during those openings, or Aperts.
I find the notion of cyclical retreat-and-engagement to be a useful fiction. You might say I’m embracing a hermitage of the mind and heart. A purposeful withdrawing from the corrupting world for a cycle of time, but not forever.
The way I see it, passive consumption of media can act as a form of mind control. When you read or watch media, even in the context of entertainment, you’re allowing the writer/speaker to hijack your thoughts and lead you down a path for a while. Done with care, this can be good! It allows you to explore new ideas, take imaginative jaunts, and consider new perspectives. But when you’re putting the wrong sort of people in charge of your brain, and when you’re steeping your perspective in toxicity, it causes problems. And all of this leads me back to:
My mind: distracted.
My heart: distressed.
My imagination: put to all the wrong uses.
A Month of Retreat
I started this essay about six months ago. Afterward, I decided to borrow from the metaphor of Anathem and close up my life for a period of time as a lived experiment. I marked a day on my calendar as my next Apert and then I ceased all activities that were prohibited within my monastery walls.
My list was personalized and kinda strange. For example, I stopped watching late night comedy shows. While they made me laugh, they were also full of contempt, and contempt was something I was eager to escape. For a month, I hung out in the flesh-and-blood world, did my work, read books and curated blogs, and enjoyed correspondence with friends and online friends. Unsurprisingly, I came out of that month feeling great.
That was my first cycle of retreat. I didn’t rent a cabin or make any announcements. But I did what I could to build a little monastery within my own mind and heart. And I tried to shut the toxic elements of our culture out.
I’ve been back in the wider world for months now now, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the lingering effects of my time away. After my break I was feeling more grounded. And I still don’t watch much late night comedy. Contempt used to make me laugh and cringe in equal measure, now all that’s left is the cringe. Overall, I’m a bit choosier in what I read, and it feels good. I’ve learned a trick, you see. Our wider world may be distressing but I don’t have to engage with it 24/7. I can leave for a time, tend to the hermitage of my mind and heart, and return, refreshed, ready to be a citizen again.
Until my Next Apert
2020 is coming to a close, and I’m feeling ready to duck back inside my monastery walls for a period of retreat. I’m giving up the news for a while, updating my RSS feeds, blocking Reddit and Twitter on my devices, and so on. And I’m contemplating my list of exclusions. What will I be living without, and why?
Until my next Apert, my world will feel pretty small. And that’s okay. The wider world will still be there when I’m ready to engage again. For now, I’ll close my eyes and hold out a hand, like baby Yoda, using the force to encircle myself with an invisible monastery of my own design.
A blanket of charcoal gray clouds are rushing overhead, right now. The wind is rising. Huge sheets of rain are blowing sideways outside our window, forming a shifting veil of water that looks like a lace curtain being drawn. I imagine myself folding this blog post up like a sheet of paper, and sticking it in a mailbox embedded in my monastery wall.
I am glad to be sharing letters with you, dear reader. The flag in my mailbox is up! With my letter sent, it’s time to put the typewriter away, light a candle or two, and relax until dinner.
November 24, 2020
Check out my iPEDs
I like gadgets, but I don’t always like being connected to the internet. This brings me to my latest quirky obsession, PEDS, or privacy enhancing devices. Perhaps I’ll call them iPEDs. Internet-free Privacy Enhancing Devices. Who needs an iPad when you can have an iPED?
My newest iPED is an inexpensive MP3 player. I plug it into my computer, download whatever audiobooks and music I want into it, and then I can walk about town with all my music, but no internet connection. It’s great! But you might be wondering: Why bother with an iPED for music? Isn’t Spotify more convenient?
As I mentioned before, I have a hard time feeling alone when my phone is powered on and near my body. Thus there are times when I like to leave my phone off and put away. I want portable music without the rest of the baggage that my smartphone delivers.
No third party is keeping track of what I listen to and when. In this age of surveillance capitalism, I find the mere act of being unobserved to be a significant perk.
I can fill my MP3 player with music and audiobooks that I own. This means my stuff can’t be taken away if some service provider’s licensing agreement changes, and it also encourages me to simply buy what I want, thus directly supporting authors and musicians I enjoy. It supports high quality audio files like FLAC if I want to get fancy.
My MP3 player is small, the battery lasts forever, and it easily clips to my pocket. So lightweight! And it has a standard headphone jack, like God intended.
More iPEDS, Please?
Technically, my wristwatch is an iPED. I’ve only worn a watch for the last four years or so, but I like the fact that I can check the time without plugging into the interwebs. It’s so simple. My watch needs a new battery every few years, at a cost of about four bucks. P’s watch is even better. It charges itself with the motion of his arm swing!
Any old-fashioned alarm clock could be an iPED. (Although it’s difficult to find one that’s well-built, these days.) Ditto my Blueray/DVD player. I picked it up for ten bucks at a second hand store, and instead of chasing my favorite TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example) from streaming service to streaming service, I can buy them, often cheaply, and have them on hand for our annual rewatch, no subscription service needed. No ads. No algorithms. No profiles being built about my watching habits, to be bought or sold. I’m not such a purist that I’ll swear off Netflix, but I admit, I feel good about accumulating physical media. I wish I hadn’t dumped my old collection when we downsized, but hindsight is 20/20.
The iPED I’m lusting over at the moment is the upcoming 4G Rotary Cell Phone from Sky’s Edge. Technically, as the phone will have a SIM card, you can argue that it’s not internet free. But the phone (in addition to having a quirky & fun design) does nothing but make and receive calls. There will be no bluetooth. No apps. No web browser. No texts! Just a phone. Would purchasing a second phone be an indulgence? Yes. But I’m kind of in love with the idea of being able to take JUST A PHONE with me when I go out for my walks. In this time of hyperconnectedness and hidden data packets flying around, I totally want to have JUST A PHONE.
In fact, should the rotary phone be as much fun as I expect, I may move to a two-device solution. I’ll downgrade my smartphone to the cheapest plan possible, forward calls to my dumbphone, and hang onto the smartphone as an “internet-connected tablet” for those moments when I need something like a web browser or directions. I expect most people would find this split between phone and tablet overly cumbersome, but I’m curious enough to try it out.
If you think I’m weird; I don’t mind! To each their own. I truly enjoy one-off devices, and I consider a lack of third-party monitoring to be a significant perk. For me, an iPED gives me both things, and that makes me a happy hermit.
PS: If you have any iPEDs in your life that you enjoy, I’d love to hear.
November 19, 2020
Today I’ll share some thoughts about my upcoming author website redesign. And what does my website have to do with introversion? Well, one element of my hermitness is physical; finding time and space for solitude in the flesh-and-blood world, managing my energy in personal relationships, and so on. But there’s also an aspect that relates to how I relate to the broader world.
How do I reconcile my interest in having a public author presence with my desire to avoid parasocial relationships? How do I enjoy sharing my blog posts without giving myself barfy feelings? Where are my boundaries?
These are questions I’ve been thinking about. And I have a few ideas as to how to answer them.
1. Turn my Blog Archive into a “Best of” Archive
I’ve got hundreds of blog posts on my current site, and they’re a mishmash of photos, essays, book news, and so on. Sometimes I feel anxious about the sheer amount of stuff I’ve put out publicly. Yikes! Have I thrown my guts out all over the internet?
For my site migration, I’ll select a subset of my old posts to make public. Not only will this keep my site size more manageable from a data use perspective, but it’s also a way of limiting my barfy feelings from self-disclosure. I don’t need to leave everything up, forever.
While I love chatting with people on the interwebs, and I consider these chats a form of friendship, I don’t particularly like the permanence of blog comments. Discussions regarding a blog post tend to be conversational and ephemeral; why store them indefinitely?
It kind of gives me the heebie jeebies.
So how to handle my love of chatting vs. my dislike of comment storage? I’m happiest interacting within two online communities, Micro.blog and (carefully curated) author Twitter. So I figure, why not be social in those two places without the pressure of “hosting” commentary on my site?
Removing on-site comments has the side benefit of making my blog less complicated and it means people don’t need to email me if they want a comment taken out of my Wordpress database.
I may keep webmentions (for cross-blog discovery), but I’ll need to think about that.
3. Separate the Personal and Professional (a little bit).
Becoming an author has made me far less comfortable when posting about things that veer into the personal and political. Oddly enough, this isn’t about the fear of professional consequences. It’s not going to ruin my livelihood if people read my political views and choose not to buy my books. I won’t even be offended! Nor am I particularly worried about being canceled. But I’m leery of being one of those authors who uses their platform to engage in divisive idealogical battles.
My reasoning for posting personal or political posts isn’t to “win” any argument. Instead, I post those things for self expression and for the opportunity to interact with other thinkers online. But our current online culture makes that difficult, doesn’t it? It’s tricky to express oneself in any genuine and vulnerable way without being co-opted, labeled, and assigned a trench in the ongoing flame wars.
Authenticity is important to me. I don’t like being one version of me in one venue, and another version of me somewhere else. But I may need to split the diff here and shunt some of my writing off my author blog. My bottom line is that I trust the Micro.blog community as a place where I can safely share ideas more than I trust the interwebs at large. Thus I may not post everything I write on my “big” website, and that’s okay. It’s fine if people find my more personal posts and read them. But I don’t want a blinking neon sign over those posts every time a reader visits my website.
Am I overthinking things here? Probably! But that’s what I do.
Looking for the Middle Ground
As an introvert* my feelings often conflict with my goals and desires. I want to blog freely and authentically, but I don’t want too much attention. And I want to have a big audience for my books, but I don’t want a big audience for my blog, nor do I want to be forced offline because my author-presence makes personal expression dangerous.
As in many areas of life, these feelings represent a tension, something I can’t fully resolve because there’s no way to have all the advantages of one thing without any disadvantages of the other. All I can do is find a middle ground that I can live with.
This concludes my hermity thoughts of the day. Be well, fellow introverts. And thanks for reading.
PS: My background in organizational psychology requires me to acknowledge that that the concepts of introversion/extroversion lack rigorous scientific validity, and thus they should only be used in a colloquial sense. The MBTI assessment is about as scientifically valid as a Buzzfeed Quiz, but the word “Introvert” remains a useful shorthand for a common set of human preferences and behaviors.
November 15, 2020
I Don’t Like Texting
I haven’t told anyone this, but I don’t like texting. Here’s why:
- Texts imply an obligation to reply SOON no matter what I’m doing.
- People get testy about interpreting texts! If you use the wrong word (“Sure” instead of YES! LAUGHING HEART EYES EMOJI) people assume you’re upset.
- As texts become common they’re taking the place of better forms of communication.
Here are the limited circumstances in which I feel texts are appropriate:
- Making meetup arrangements. “How about Wednesday at 3?”
- Transit updates. “I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
- Quick spousal reminders. “Please pick up milk at the store.”
- Exchanging salty political memes with my mother. (per mutual agreement)
I Regret the Inconvenience of Being Me
Despite my dislike of text messages I haven’t asked people to stop texting me. Mostly, I don’t want friends and family to think I don’t want to hear from them! If I come out as an anti-texter I risk reducing communication from people I value. And it also feels rather selfish, no? “Please accommodate my preferences even though they’re totally out of sync with the world at large. I regret the inconvenience of being me.”
So I treat texts like emails. I leave my phone on silent and face down, and sometimes I stick it in a drawer all day. Unless I need to use my phone I tend to check messages at lunch and at the end of the day. This satisfies me but it’s led to some awkward moments. Last week I picked up my phone to make a call for a meeting and the person I was set to meet with had been frantically texting me about changing our meeting time. I had to ask myself, Reddit style, Am I the Asshole?
Here’s my line in the sand: I decline to make myself constantly available. And at risk of sounding like a lunatic, I often feel that “The Internet” (as manifest through my smartphone) has taken on sentience while my body has been downgraded to a biological peripheral. The phone beeps, and I look. It chimes, and I look. It vibrates, and I must look. Is there any wonder why I turn the thing off and shove it in a drawer? Sometimes, even when I’m not using the damn phone, I feel its presence like an invisible tether. I can sense my my free will draining away, byte by byte.
I am never alone when my phone is active and near my body. Thus solitude is as much a state of mind as it is a state of physical positioning. Why do I dislike texting? Because texting implies one is never allowed to be alone, offline, unreachable, and free from interruption. I feel no hesitation in turning off unwanted notifications on my phone. But turning off texts? That’s so much harder.
Still, I’ll admit that texting isn’t all bad. My favorite text message of last week was: Can I call you tonight to say hi? How about 7ish?
I’ll admit, that was a nice one! :)
November 8, 2020
Welcome to Hermit.fun
Welcome to Hermit.fun! My name is Cheri, I’m a writer from Seattle, WA, and I’ve created this hobby blog to explore my thoughts about solitude, introversion, voluntary simplicity and related topics.
Why make a hobby blog? This web project grew out of one of my journal retrospectives. Every six months I go through my old paper journals to look for patterns, stuckness, and unresolved issues. And for a while now I’ve been feeling a strong call toward introversion. I’ve been craving more solitude, more privacy, and a certain degree of distance from what often feels like a frenetic, amoral world.
Why am I wrestling with introversion now? Who knows? Change is a normal part of the human experience. But I suspect that some of my unease comes from my authorial ambitions. When I was just another random person on the internet, I didn’t much care who read my blog posts. But now that I’ve got readers visiting my website in search of book information I feel vulnerable anytime I post something other than a cheery writing update.
To sum up my inner struggle:
- I want to be alone, a lot.
- I’m more hesitant to share what I’m thinking and feeling, because those things feel private. Yet this feels like a loss, because self-expression is one of the ways I make meaning in my life.
- I dislike being hyperconnected and hyperinformed.
- While I tend to enjoy social gatherings in-the-moment, I often dread them for days beforehand.
- Now that I’m an author, I’m less comfortable being myself on the internet. This too feels like a loss because I enjoy connecting with other humans on the internet.
For a while I’ve wondered: Do I want to be a Hermit?
I think I’d enjoy being a hermit so long as I could take my husband with me. But in a practical sense it won’t work. I value connections with my family and friends, I enjoy living in my beautiful and bustling city, and I embrace the Stoic notion of Cosmopolitanism, an affirmation that humans are social creatures by nature, meant to live and work in community for the common good.
Still, I think it’s worthwhile to give my hermity feelings some space to spread out. I might not be going full hermit. But I intend to have some hermit fun.
November 6, 2020