I'm currently in week three of five at a writer/artist residency out in the gorgeous, autumnal woods of New England. It's been a roller coaster ride of emotions, most of it euphoric, all of it dramatic and illuminating. It occurred to me that I'm going through the stages of culture shock (urban to rural, real life to dream life, connected to disconnected, familiar to unfamiliar, and so forth), and so I've tried to take each ensuing reaction and sensation as such. Not only am I adapting to my new environment, settling into new routines and navigating a brand new social world (the similarities between college and adult residency experiences are as many as you might imagine), I am also adjusting to my disconnect from popular culture in all of its many incarnations. So here are the stages of this withdrawal and transition as I've experienced them thus far.
BLISS (THE HONEYMOON PHASE): Everything is foreign, gloriously so, at this initial stage. My beautiful studio is as cute as I dreamed. There are creaky hardwood floors, a huge desk near giant windows overlooking fall trees with turning leaves. Lunch is delivered to my doorstep. There is NO INTERNET in my studio. This means no Netflix streaming coma stupors, no stupid Facebook, no aimless clicking around from one random article to another, no checking my email when I should be doing something MORE INTERESTING. This is going to be five weeks of ONLY being MORE INTERESTING. I cannot wait. I will be no less than transformed and enlightened. I'll miss Spotify, but that's OK. I love being alone with nothing but my own thoughts, a pile of books to read and conversations to have with interesting people. Five weeks of no urban ennui, no Google bus at my corner, no spending tons of money on fancy cocktails, no pesky obligations of any sort. The measurement of time is irrelevant. I do what I feel like doing whenever I feel like doing it. I'm ready and cannot imagine anything I desire more. It's magic, I write to everyone who wants to know, and it is.
FRUSTRATION (THE NEGOTIATION PHASE): My cell phone charger is lost. As you might imagine, I respond poorly to this development as I gaze at my dwindling battery life and frantically Google Map (is that a verb phrase?) a store that might sell one in the quaint nearby town. The closest place is about an hour walk and so I head off with 8% battery, dashing past beautiful rivers, sprawling graveyards, fall foliage and a view of Mount Monadnock (you might know it from such places as the writings of Thoreau). The store does not have my charger and so I do what anyone would do. I cry. It turns out that while I enjoy the idea of being mostly disconnected, I do not at all enjoy the idea of being entirely disconnected. Side note: some people here left their phones at home, an asceticism I admire but which never occurred to me. Walking along the road in this God forsaken wilderness, I text my husband with the panic of someone needing to utilize their survival skills on a snowy mountain peak. I Google Map a Verizon store (a nine hour walk). I cry. My husband texts back lovingly that perhaps this is a lesson. A lesson about what?! I respond with the little battery life remaining, but I know exactly what.
So in the days after this meltdown I take walks (less frantic, tearful, goal-oriented ones), instead paying attention to the beautiful things I pass by: the dilapidated stone walls, tangle of red and gold colors, wire archways, hydrangeas, chickens, and famous mountains against the horizon. I walk for hours, breathe the air, find secret pathways and feel connected, in a different sort of way, to the late afternoon I'm walking through. I go out in the evening to amphitheaters, parties, screenings and readings. Without my phone. This is how it feels to move unencumbered through the events of the day and night, through conversations, through a million beautiful and un-photographed things.
DEPRESSION (THE ADJUSTMENT PHASE): After a few days of working hard, marveling at my productivity and having creative breakthroughs, I feel this third and unwelcome stage coming on. Having a quiet, dark cabin all to myself at night is inspiring and magical until it's lonely, potentially haunted and I'm struggling to conserve my sole bottle of wine. So I do a very guilty, secret, very un-artist residency thing. I download Netflix onto my phone and watch New Girl. I curl up and hold my phone up in the air in front of me. This ridiculous decision is such a powerful antidote to my "adjustment phase" that I'm somewhat disturbed. Why does it make me feel so happy and comforted to watch the antics of Jess and the gang? What the hell is wrong with me? Instead of retreating from this disturbing truth, I proceed to watch not one, but TWO movies, Safe Haven and Abducted.