Is This The Real Life?

Sunday, April 15, 2018, in Annapolis, Maryland, was, as my father used to say, “a royally shitty day.” In stark contrast to Saturday’s sunshine and high-80s temps, Sunday featured chilly, wind-driven rain all day long. Just a soaking, miserable day (that peaked with some thunderstorms around 4 a.m. Sunday night/Monday morning) that precluded any outdoor fun and games. The day also taught me a lesson I apparently have to keep learning over and over again.

I sat inside and, like many in this 21st century, that meant I was online. That I was cooped up on my sailboat, Further, was scant consolation for the fact that I was little more than a bump on a log.

Sure, I got to see my beloved Newcastle United upset visiting Arsenal to pretty much secure their Premier League survival. I also got to enjoy Manchester United losing at home to last-place West Bromwich Albion, thereby handing their crosstown rivals Manchester City the season title (that, and as with the New York Yankees, it’s nice just to watch Man U lose). And I even did a few (somewhat) productive things like work my way through the New York Times. What the hell?! I like to be informed.

But a lot of the time I sat there completely goofing off online. It was the kind of time-suck that back in February drove me to make my Facebook account inactive—and yet here I was perusing the same old inane shit on that cursed site. No, not updates from friends, I enjoy seeing those (although there isn’t as much of that as one would think) but rather all that “what XYZ shows you’re from whatever era” crap that a lot of people (including, apparently, a lot of friends) feel compelled to do, thereby flooding my news feed and likely adding to the data breaches for which Facebook has become famous. And yet I couldn’t help myself. Scroll, scroll, scroll…on and on through the news feed and also through countless boatwork videos, most of which turned out to be less helpful than if I had just dug into the issue itself on Further, until my head was about to explode and I forced myself to get the hell off the computer and off the boat.

What I did was no less indoors and no less sedentary, but it was a lot less mindless.

I took my book—I’m currently reading a collection of stories by Tom McGuane—and went to my favorite coffee shop. A comfy armchair, a cookie and a chai and I settled in to enjoy some quality wordsmithing. And in the process, my soul lifted, just that little bit.

And after I returned to Further for a bit of dinner I was off again, this time to the rink for a bit of beer-league hockey. And you know what? That peace and centeredness that playing puck always gives me returned again—in spite of the fact that I am not playing in a league featuring good hockey and it was also a playoff game so all the hacks were amped up and frothing at the mouth. But just being active—just…living—made all the difference.

I think I felt my heart settle down a bit despite revving up from skating. I know my mind calmed. And walking out of the empty rink after the game (we won, by the way, a game we had no business winning based on the regular season; semifinals are tonight) it occurred to me that I had lived more in that hour on the ice and that hour reading than I had in all the other hours of the day combined.

It’s an insidious device, this contraption I’m typing on right now. Capable of so much empowerment and yet also capable of incredible enfeeblement. It’s up to each of us how we make use of this tool. I am fully aware of the apparent hypocrisy of me bemoaning the internet as I write a blog post, but there are ways to be engaged online and there are ways to be enslaved online. And going forward I’m going to be more active in evaluating how I spend my own time and how I use computers and the interet: am I going to live? Or am I going to watch others live?

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