Pavlov’s experiments, 21st century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

I’m reading a book set in 1936. Some of the characters have a bungalow in “the country”—this is Great Britain in the 20th century, so “the country” is an hour’s drive away from London in “bad” traffic—less by train. They don’t put a phone line in the bungalow, because part of the reason for having this retreat in the country is to get away from the phone. “It rings night and day in the London flat,” one of them says. “One can never get any peace.”

One can, of course, turn it off or simply not pick up. But it’s hard. We’re social, communicative and CURIOUS creatures. It is very very hard for us to give up social connection and information when it’s readily available.

So. Sabbaths, retreats, cottages without phone lines and wifi.

I have been struggling with this issue of constant connectivity ever since my mother bought me my first smart phone in 2013. (Mom, I am so very grateful, and I don’t know how we would have coordinated the post-flood clean up without it.) I had had a dumb cell phone more than a decade before that—I was an early adopter, I suppose—but then I lost it on a train between Toronto and Montreal in 2006, and decided to let it stay lost. Yes, it let me conduct interviews wherever I was. But it also made me available to clients and editors wherever I was. Fuck that. They did not need to have access to me on a Sunday afternoon when I was at the playground with the kids.

Now, of course, everyone expects to have access to everyone else 24/7 and freaks out if they don’t get an immediate response.

“Did you not get my text?”

“Are you dead?”

“Do you not love me anymore?”

Fuck that.

I’ve been guilty of getting infested with this anxiety myself. Fuck that. I don’t want to. I refuse.

I am going to use this connectivity, connection, communication and mind-blowingly unlimited access to information to my advantage. I’m not going to let it use me.

selfie with audiobook
headphones connect to phone
phone connects to ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD

This isn’t a manifesto, really. It’s just reflection. When something keeps on making you unhappy… unhealthy… why would you keep on doing it?

it snowed in yyc this week

So if I don’t return your texts right away or don’t enter into the panic mode of your email within an hour—it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because I’m reading books about the 1930s and writing books for the 2020s, and also, teaching Ender to read, braiding Flora’s hair, buying Cinder winter boots, and also, making soup and walking the dog and sitting in my studio with a book of Shamlou poems in my lap staring into space.

And all of those things need and deserve my attention. They world in my pocket, and my connection to you at a physical distance, is wonderful but it can wait and get its focus and attention when the world around me doesn’t need it.

on wednesday my Ender was sick sick sick
and my job was to sit beside him and hold his hand

I’m not flushing the cell phone down the toilet. I know I can’t—and I know we can’t go back. But, we can go forward, in a consciously chosen, intentional way. Not in a panic driven by pings, FOMO, texting tantrums, midnight email exchanges that could really have waited—should have waited—until tomorrow afternoon.

on friday I bought ALL THE FRUIT

I’m going to use this device, I’m not going to be its drooling Pavlovian bitch. You understand?



on thursday I missed yoga and meditated here instead


The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)


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Mind wandering, solitude and NOT texting you

It’s Sunday morning of a weekend that I am trying to “take off”—the last long weekend of the summer—the last weekend of the summer, really, because are we not really in fall by Labour Day? There may be two weeks until the Equinox still, but September is fall. This year, the grass on the Common has been brown all of August. The leaves of our parched trees are already dotted with yellow and brown.

It’s fall.

It’s also Pride weekend in Calgary, and I was trying to finish a piece this morning that I’ve called, “It’s just a fucking pronoun—use it,” but it doesn’t seem to be gelling, so I set it aside. Because I’m trying to take today “off.”

So instead, I’m sitting on my balcony—a cup of coffee I can’t bring myself to drink beside me… I really wanted it… why, why, why does it not taste good anymore?—watching Ender waste water—er, play with the hose—down below—burning incense instead of smoking a cigar, because it’s 9 in the morning, and hell, even my vices have their shame—and I’m letting my thoughts wander.

NB: Today’s post is illustrated with Prisma selfies.Because I feel vain. And pretty. 😉 Call it self-indulgent. I do; I do it anyway.

They are wandering/wondering about three things:

First: The idea that “mind wanderers” are unhappy.

There is a swatch of research about this apparently. You can check out this Psychology Today blog post (” Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer”); this Ted Talk on Day Dreaming; or this Smithsonian mag article for a smattering of insight on why mind wandering / daydreaming makes people miserable.

But I like it when my mind wanders. I can’t imagine it not. (Ha, see what I did there?) What is the point of having no thoughts?

You: So it’s been what, eight months now, and you still don’t get the point of meditation, eh?

Jane: I like thinking. I don’t think not-thinking is the solution to anything. Nor is thinking my… problem.

Second: Solitude.

I’ve had a hectic week. Month. Full of work and play. Also, people. In-flesh people and cyber-people—the biggest hunk of my work over the last month of so has involved finding people, researching people and emailing them. And I’m fatigued.

On Sunday mornings, I usually read, because, brilliant, and today, Maria Popova is teasing out wisdom from Rachel Carson:

I read this:

Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He* moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.

Rachel Carson

and this:

You are wise enough to understand that being “a little lonely” is not a bad thing. A writer’s occupation is one of the loneliest in the world, even if the loneliness is only an inner solitude and isolation, for that he must have at times if he is to be truly creative. And so I believe only the person who knows and is not afraid of loneliness should aspire to be a writer. But there are also rewards that are rich and peculiarly satisfying.

Rachel Carson

And I have this very strange thought that I want to be… lonely.

And yet… also…

Third: I’m thinking about texting you.

It’s ridiculous, really. I have nothing to say to you. I don’t even particularly miss you. I’m sorry, my love—I don’t. I’ve seen you not that long ago, and even if I hadn’t—I’ve seen, emailed so many other people. I am fatigued, did I not say? I want to sit still, alone, smell the incense, drink the coffee—ugh, it tastes like poison on my tongue, I shove the cup farther away—and let my mind wander.

And I also want to text you.

No. I don’t want to text you.

I feel this sick compulsion to pick up my telephone and scroll down this newsfeed, that, ascertain nothing interesting is happening… and then send you a, “Hi. How’s it going?”

Except… honestly, my love? I don’t care. I don’t care what’s happening with you at all.

I don’t miss you.

I have nothing to say to you.

What I want… is to be alone with my mind wanderings. And I have these precious few minutes in which that can happen.

And yet… the phone. The fingers. The thought of contact with you…

I let my mind wander in this direction. Why do I crave, in this moment, something that I don’t actually even really want? I see the text in a similar light as I see the cup of coffee—a habit that doesn’t serve me, the craving of which is more pleasurable than its execution.

You: You fucking bitch, thank you very much for penning an essay about how you hate texting me!

Jane: A) In this case, you are a metaphor. B) I don’t hate texting you. I’m just questioning-examining the motivation behind my desire to text you. When life offers a moment of solitude… that I know I need… and yet… I move to sabotage it by grabbing the damn crack-Phone and saying, “Hi. How are you doing?”

Here is what I have found about texting—with which I have had a love-hate relationship ever since I finally buckled and allowed the iPhone into my life in 2013—which is also my experience with Facebook and all forms of social media:

It fucks up my connection receptors.

Does that make sense?

When I feel lonely for people—when I need, want people—and I reach for them in the cyberworld—when I feel lonely for you, and I text you—while we’re engaging, I think I’m with people. And then, when we get off the phone… I’m still lonely. Unfulfilled. I haven’t filled my very real need for connection.

Worse—when I feel the need for solitude—when I need to be lonely (Maria Popova and others go on at lengthy about the difference between solitude and loneliness—I don’t know… I think they’re a little related, but we can talk about that another time)—and you text me or I text you… because I’m alone and you’re alone, and we can’t be together and one or the other of us has forgotten how to be lonely and satisfied with that feeling, for a while—I don’t get my solitude. I haven’t seen you. I haven’t seen, touched anyone. But I haven’t been alone either—I haven’t gotten my alone fix.

Texting/social media contact has the potential to make me feel never alone… and never connected.

And I need, very desperately, both.

This is the point at which Aunt Augusta may, self-righteously, tell me to stop whinging about it and just… unplug. Not text. (Not blog, lol.) Live like it’s 1999 again.

And I do that intermittently—I did it in Cuba. I loved it.

But it’s 2017, and 24/7 connectivity is part of my life, and my task—I direct my mind to wander there—is to make that connectivity work for me, fuel me, empower me—free me.

Not fetter me and damage me.

So I whinge. Reflect.

Take my Sunday morning “off” to be with myself. My—not silence, I suppose, because my Self is very rarely silent—but my thoughts. My self.

You: So you know your thoughts are not your self, and…

Jane: You know what? I get that kind of thinking helps other people. And you can think your thoughts are not your self. And you can think that my thoughts are not my Self, too—your thinking that does me no harm. Really, I don’t even care that much if my thoughts are or are not my self. I just like having them. Even the fucked up, hard ones. I like spending time with them. I like parsing them and dissecting them and feeling them and chasing them. I like thinking!


When I pontificate about writing, I have this line I like to use:

Writing is easy. Thinking is hard.

(end of interlude)

So. I didn’t text you.

I thought about you, though.

You: I thought I was a metaphor.

Jane: Metaphors are grounded in reality. That’s what makes them so powerful.

Wasn’t it better this way? I thought about you and experienced you… and had my solitude too.

I feel better. I am better.

You: I feel neglected and lonely.

Jane: Your problem, not mine.

The morning is about to turn into early afternoon—the sun has climbed over the rooftops and trees and is now flooding the Common with light—definitely autumn light. Ender and his friend are drowning toys in a tub of water, and soaking themselves in the process—I will need to change his clothes before we go to Pride. Flora and her friend are covering themselves with glitter. Cinder is still sleeping, the heavy sleep of the metamorphosing teenager. Sean, fighting nasty cold-it-is-not-the-flu!, is back in bed. The house is a strange mixture of quiet and noise—a metaphor, in this  moment, for my mind.

You: Maybe you should meditate.

Jane: I might. Or, you know, I’ll just sit here a while longer… and think.

I will text you, perhaps, tomorrow. I will maybe have some things to say… about mind wandering. Solitude. Texting.

If you don’t hear from me—it’s because I decided I want to, need to be alone. And I managed to overcome the craving for the fake contact in favour of real solitude.

But if you miss me… come by. Not for coffee—we’ll make something else to drink. I found this recipe for ginger tea with pepper and cinnamon that has a most satisfying smell. Or maybe tea with cardamom?

Come by. I’ll make tea. We’ll go for a walk.

I’ll tell you things.

And when you leave, I’ll settle into solitude—if the kids let me—deliciously.



“Is it important? Yes? Then don’t text me.”

I’ve instituted a new rule in my house. You’re welcome to copy it. It might save your marriage. It is thus:


This is my compromise on the rule that I initially proposed, which was the draconian:


This is because—ready? Revolutionary!—we do not speak the same texting language. AT all

Example A:

I’m working out of the house. Ping.

Sean: We are out of milk.

My reaction: Why the fuck are you interrupting my work flow with this inanity? (I don’t text it. But I THINK it.)

What he meant:

“We’re out of milk; could you pick some up on your way home?”

My reaction to which would have been:


But instead I’m pissed, my flow disrupted, and I wonder why I didn’t turn off the phone?

Example B:

I am out in the wild with the children and I see something beautiful-ugly-heartbreaking and I take a photo and I send it. Ping.

Jane: [Image]. Heart-broken. Sobbing. Despair.

Sean: WTF? Are you ok? What happened?

What he wishes I had said:

“Look at this disturbing picture of [X] I took. Doesn’t it make you think of heart-break? Despair? It is so evocative!”

What I want him to say in response to what I actually said (didn’t say, implied, experienced, tried to convey with fragmented words):

“God. Baby. Beautiful. I love you.”

Example C:

Jane: 2 out of 3 of our children want to go swimming and I’m going to force the other child to cooperate. Should we wait until you get back home so we can go together?

Sean: Walking from Bridgeland to downtown. PS Forgot to take out the steaks to defrost.

Jane: Does not answer my question.

Sean: I also have to go print photos after.

Jane: You! Still! Have! Not! Answered! My! Question!

But he thinks he has…

Right? He’s said:

“Here are all the things I’m doing and have to do.”

But he hasn’t said, what I need to hear, which is:

“There is no way I will make it back in time, go without me.”

Or even, you know, I’ll accept this:

“I really don’t want to go swimming. Just go with the kids; I’ll see you at home later.”

Dedicated to that girl I love, so far away now. You know who you are. Who insisted I should get a cell phone. And ruined my life. ;P

(Not really. But. Don’t you sometimes wish you could go back? I do…)

nbtb-is it important don't text me