I Wished to Live Deliberately

One of my friends is trying to quit smoking.  He was successful for about six weeks, until work stresses convinced him to have one after a tough day.  Then he got a coupon in the mail for a free pack.  A free pack?!

"And now," he said, between drags a couple of days ago, "Here I am again."

It's an old story, the story of addiction.  In a way, it's foreign to me; I haven't had turns with cigarettes or alcohol the way "real" addicts have.  But in another way, I do understand.  I have known the grip of a desire that overtakes reason and routine, transcending even itself to become a monster that gobbles up time, money and energy, leaving disappointment and emptiness in its wake.  In fact, I see it almost as a foible that my own weaknessess have never spiralled into something I couldn't control after a bit of a struggle.  If I were addicted, I mean really addicted, I'd be able to get help.  As it is, I'm able to convince myself on a regular basis that things aren't that bad.

Take technology, for instance.  I just read this inspiring article about a group of Oregonian high school students who, led by their teacher, embarked on a weeklong technology fast:
On the third day, the 20 students in one period shared varying responses to the assignment.

"I feel really anxious because I don't know if I'm missing something important," Amanda Schenberger said. "I keep thinking, 'I can't wait for this to end because I need to check my e-mail.' How many Facebook notifications am I going to have after this?"

But others reported benefits. Ashley Marcy talked about driving with the radio off.

"I've driven the route to school a million times, but I noticed so much more," she said.

Robert Paige said when his parents aren't home, he usually turns on the TV and all the lights for comfort. This week, he had to find other things to do.

"I just kind of sat and thought," he said. "I was thinking a lot about where we're going with the world ... about technology and what impact it has on society."

What an idea, to sit and think.  I do it probably more than most people my age, but not nearly enough for myself.  I sense it in the panicky, crushing feeling that builds throughout the work week, while I'm bouncing from class to activity to assignment.  By Friday I am snapping at students, answering colleagues and clients through clenched teeth.  When I have time to think, I can re-order my priorities, recall my passions (both the good and bad sort) and live deliberately, the way Thoreau wanted to: "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  The "it" was the woods, for him, but for me it is simply the task in front of me.  To sit and think.

But thoughtful living is not possible if I can't keep myself from the screens that surround and seduce me, moment by moment, every hour of the day.  As I said, it's not an addiction, not exactly, but it is . . . disordered.  As my time slips away into oblivion, and in the face of a plethora of others' opinions and experiences, my own fears and insecurities grow.  I hope that Sharon's new challenge, both glib and inspiring in its ambition, will help turn me back into a thinking person, a patient person.  Or, alternatively, that it fails so miserably I have to actually seek help.