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The sound of silence scares me

07 March 2011

Try spending three days - one is enough - in a place where you can't check your phone calls, emails, SMS, MMS; where to have a quick look-see at who may or may not have contacted you is out of the question.

I'm addicted to sliding, clicking, pressing on the iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, whatever, and scanning for communication.

And what do I get from the urge to have a quick look? I am driven by the chance someone I want to hear from has contacted me. And if it happens, or even if it doesn't but I think it might, and no matter how banal the conversation, messaging, emailing might be between us, I keep going back for more like Pavlov's Dog.

Imagine then sitting in the bottom of a valley, waiting for school holiday riding camp to finish knowing the drive back to get reception is both difficult and lengthy.

The first thing I became acutely aware of - other than the ominous words No Service on my phone - was time. Without the white noise of constant connection and communication, time passed differently. It passed really slowly. Less to be done and to do, less checking, less contacting, hence more time. Much more time.

Not long into the day and all I could focus on was time and what was I going to do with it. I needed a distraction. Take a photo maybe? But I was foiled by the weather. That distraction snatched from me by the vagaries of nature, I'm thinking should I just cave in, drive until I get reception and watch all the communication drop into the various in-boxes?

I know having 'undistracted' time is meant to be good for me. But I wonder whether my body is so used to its urban existence I may develop life-threatening health problems on the new unknown stuff. (I think I read somewhere that the Inuit diet, which consisted mainly of frozen whale protein, once altered by the introduction of all those things we think are healthy - fruit, veges, grains, etc, etc - left them with major health problems.) Sure, downtime is important, but perhaps it's about assessing it in relation to who you are most of the time before making the mistake of running off to a deserted island (or communication black hole) for a week.


Early in my work-life I was anxious about my ability: obsessed with doing a good job and never feeling I'd achieved it, that sort of thing. The answer I was told by well meaning friends and my parents might be to meditate. My only problem was I was scared to concentrate on 'the breath' in case 'the breath' stopped coming. Catch 22. Not much good practising breath-based meditative exercises if you're neurotically obsessed with the idea you're going to stop breathing. This is not something that happens to me now but getting the work-life diet right took time. I know I'm better busy and I'm obviously more comfortable surrounded by white noise.

Manufacturing stories

Time is something high-end craftsmanship needs in bag loads. One prestige French leather goods house (think orange boxes, ponies, leather, Birkin and Kelly bags) has a handbag that takes 17 hours to make and is touched by just one craftsman. In Australia, according to a friend of mine who has just published a book, \"Shoes for the Moscow Circus\" (Murdoch), there are any number of unusual manufacturing businesses (cricket ball makers, string bean peeler makers, cobblers) often struggling, but employing craftspeople of great skill. Her fear is that if we lose them and their abilities we will be poorer for it as a country. I think that is the point about diversity and individual excellence, it adds dimension and depth to the norms we take for granted.

Literally converted

The Sydney Writers' Festival is on in May and I booked the other day for one of the ticketed events (much of it is free, very easily accessed and on for all ages, albeit this one is adult only). A crowd pleaser in past years, writers are asked to write a short piece of erotic fiction about a celebrity or fictional character and then read it in public. This year, Jennifer Byrne (First Tuesday Book Club), HG Nelson and Lisa Pryor (author of the \"Pinstripe Prison\", a book on the trap of picking a course such as law because you got the marks and then staying in it because your sucked in by the pseudo-rewards of designer suits, the mystique of hierarchy and working in glinting, shiny office towers) are on the list.

On an entirely different literacy note, our ruby of the month Bronwyn Sheehan has made me think of finding time to volunteer as a Pyjama Angel. Her Queensland based service (The Pyjama Foundation), which she is working to take national, asks volunteers to spend about an hour every week with children in care reading to them, playing educational games and generally making the skill of literacy fun, easy and something they really want in their lives. She 'network' reads herself. Here are her present diverse group.

Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich - \"It's light and easy.\"

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neil - \"It's about a child who goes into foster care. I have read heaps of these. I am trying to stop. They are a bit sad.\"

A Prisoner Of Birth by Jeffery Archer - \"Haven't read any of his books yet, but heard they're very good.\"

101 ways to get your child to read. Patience Thomson, book from the UK. - \"It will be published here soon. Great tips and useful information.\"

Find Your Tribe by Rebecca Sparrows - \"Every teenage girl should read this book.\"

My Life, autobiography of Bill Clinton - \"Very detailed; I am struggling.\"