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It has never occurred to me in five years of doing this that we needed a logo. A hashtag already seemed like enough because this was all about the words anyway, and it sort of felt business-y to have a logo and I have always been wary of this being or feeling like a business. But then a New Orleans organization we will be fundraising for (more on that soon) asked me if I had a logo and I was like, wait, do we need one? And then local hero/style icon Jacq Pierre François offered to make us one in a flash and here it is and it is awesome.
After I posted it on social media yesterday, some of you asked for it on a t-shirt, so now we are selling t-shirts and sweatshirts and mugs. It makes me nervous to sell something not book-related, but also I got the golden sweatshirt so I am not immune to the cuteness of these objects. Anyway, treat yourself if you feel like it.
OK, enough of that.
I used to smoke cigarettes, for a long time, maybe twenty years. Somewhere in that time, I remember reading an interview with a British writer — I can’t remember who it was now — where he was talking about smoking cigarettes, even as an older man, who should probably have known better by then, but he just couldn’t stop. He said that when he was smoking he always felt like he had twenty best friends in his pocket. That made so much sense to me. There was always something to do when cigarettes were around. There was always a good time to be had, even if it would only last for a minute or two. You were never really alone if you had cigarettes.
I think about this a lot now when I think about my relationship with my phone. The fact that I can always reach one of my actual living best friends when I have my phone in my pocket, which is perhaps why I carry it with me so much or fall asleep with it resting on my bedside table. And does it make me feel a little safer to know it’s there? Perhaps.
But also, I know that when I reach for it first thing in the morning instead of a notebook or a book to read I’m making a specific choice not to engage with my brain creatively. I’m looking for friends, or information, but not inspiration. Often I’m giving into the lazier part of my brain that doesn’t quite want to start working yet in the way that creativity demands. Sometimes I get distracted by my phone for twenty minutes, forty, an hour, and I look up and those minutes are gone, and I could have been reading a book that entire time.
OK but what about when I take walks? I like to listen to music on my walk, or sometimes I call my parents or friends. I like to take pictures of street cats in my neighborhood or flowers growing up from the sidewalk and I find it comforting to share these images on the internet. How can that be bad?
But on the other hand, what about if I walk without a computer in my pocket and see things and clear my head and think about the world without a lens? What about that? Look up, I whisper to myself sometimes. You’re missing things.
All right, what about the fact that I’m writing this now by typing it into an e-mail to myself? It’s made my life as a writer easier, or at least easier for certain kinds of writing, although I’m not sure if I’m doing necessarily better writing. It’s just so quick to type it this way. A thousand words can blow by so quickly.
But am I missing out on a possibly better albeit slower kind of writing because I’m just using this tiny screen which forces me, in a way, to think in a tiny box?
I did come up with the idea to write about this topic when I was scribbling in my journal last night. I went to my favorite local wine shop and I bought a glass of wine and I sat with my journal and was alone in my own thoughts, away from screens. It’s actually good not to have my best friends (or a simulation of them) near me at all times. It’s actually healthy to be alone. And for me it’s so important to write things down in a notebook because I swear to fucking god I can never lie to myself when I’m handwriting. Like my hand will not form dishonest words, whereas when I text or type into my phone, the possibilities of alterations, shading, filtering, are extremely present. And even when I am writing fiction, I still need to be telling the truth.
Before the pandemic I was definitely better at separating my life from my phone. But then there was a long stretch where it felt crucial to have it on me at all times. What if I missed some news? And the idea of being alone was fraught in a new way. I needed to feel connected. It was just so easy to slip into it all feeling necessary.
But I’m getting much, much better at separating myself from it again. I know how to leave it in the other room if I want to concentrate on my work. I know how to take a walk without it again and just put a notebook in my pocket if I think I’ll have some ideas I want to capture. I know how to turn it off, put it away — I just don’t do it all the time, or as much as I’d like. But I’m getting there.
I think about how I quit smoking all the time, too, even though it’s been ten years already. I like to tell the story that I quit smoking in an instant. I was meditating and a voice came into my head that said that I needed to stop punishing myself with smoking and then I never desired another cigarette again. This is one truth. But the other truth is that I quit and started again for a number of years, so in a way I was quitting the whole time, and that was just the moment where it finally worked. Still I recognize the importance of that one moment where I said to myself: Stop punishing yourself.
How is technology going to play into your work? Will it impact it positively or negatively? Can you cut down on it in the next few weeks? How can you clear yourself from the distractions so you can be your most productive self for at least a little while? I ask you these questions because I am asking myself these questions. I don’t have all the answers, but at least I know I need to find them.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Cave Canem Foundation.