I’m a shitty friend, but a better creative because of it
I’m a shitty friend unless you’re right in front of me, then I’m a wonderful friend.
Three months ago I uninstalled most of the apps on my phone. I take days to reply to things on social media. My DND mode is 9 to 5, regardless of what I’m doing. I check my email twice a day.
That means I’m sometimes a shit friend, sister, partner - when it’s viewed through the lens of immediacy and 24/7 connection.
But I am now more fulfilled and more present with the people I am with in the here and the now. The muses drop by more often. Each day the silence is so thundering that I follow inspiration often purely because I’m not thinking about inconsequential things whilst starting at a piece of glass smudged in fingerprints.
I haven’t had this many ideas since the time when I had my Creative Zen (an iPod competitor) and Nokia 3510.
It’s not foolproof, the pull of a myriad of apps are like the riptides in an ocean.
I worked at a local bookstore a handful of times and when I’m not labelling books or (wo)manning the cash register, I am checking my email and slack. I would be wiped at the end of these days and I only realised tonight that the reason why is not because I have had five conversations with strangers and tea with friends. I am not a newly minted introvert*, despite lockdown’s best efforts.
I’m just bad at being distracted and as a result, I am now horrible at multi-tasking**. I’m think I’m being productive by keeping the data and tasks flowing, but in reality, I’m missing crucial information, both in the half-halted conversation in the room that I’m in as well as the typed conversation with another human, in their home office 70km away.
The catch is to notice when this bifurcation starts to happen and prioritise one over the other. Otherwise, life ends up being a blur and you’re standing at a party saying “I can’t believe its October already, where did the year go?”
Multi-tasking is one of the greatest follies of technology apps. A notification or sound feeds the dopamine part of our brains as if we were standing in front of a pokies machine. Much like a poker machine, a tangible reward is highly unlikely.
I can’t help but wonder what part I had to play in this. Generally I designed software for businesses, so there wasn’t much designing for dopamine and addiction. But if you are what you measure, maybe software companies need to stop having daily active users as a metric and move towards something more meaningful, like emotional connection.
Back to the plot about ignoring your phone. Here’s the thing: there are friends that will love you, even though you are not hyper-connected.
We visited some friends in Seattle that we hadn’t seen in a decade. It was thoroughly wonderful despite the way Covid cannonballs through plans. While we were waiting for take away food, I confessed to Neha that I had been just a little bit shit at keeping in touch and she replied that she knew it wasn’t personal, it was just who I am and she knew I cared.
That level of acceptance is a rarity that feels as warm as sunshine after the rain.
“At this moment, I have 183 unread texts. Texts are not the boss of me, and neither is anybody who texts me. I have decided, once and for all, that just because someone texts me does not obligate me to respond. If I believed differently, I'd walk around all day feeling anxious and indebted, responding instead of creating”
- Glennon Doyle, author
I recently finished Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book about the habits of artist, composers and writers. There’s two patterns that have come to the fore.
Alot of them work hard and fight hard for uninterrupted, silent time - often making life difficult for the partners and families. Some condemn their loved ones to silence and whispers until 2pm. Others wake up early or work through the night to avoid people.
Seriously abuse amphetamines, alcohol and barbiturates. Lest you think these are starving nobodies, there are Nobel laureates included in this group. Some consume 20+ cups of coffee on top of this (I mean, I don’t even want to think about their digestive tracts).
Maybe a bit of uninterrupted time isn’t that bad compared to the alternative when it comes to finding your creative flow. Maybe it’s ok that we all take a day or two to get back to people. Remember, this level of hyper-connectivity didn’t exist 40 years ago. People used to send letters to give status updates.
I’m not a puritanical luddite, I will download apps to get an urgent task done, like the time I had to show a QR code to get into a gig or find an email to return an item, and then, once the task is done, I make sure the app is gone.
Most of the time, if I pause before I take action, I realise that my fluttering thoughts about things that are “urgent” can actually wait. I write a reminder in a pocketbook or ask Siri to take a note.
And then, I let myself get bored.
When I am sitting there, bored and slightly sleepy, I get ideas like the one you are reading now with your beautiful eyes.
Celebrate the peace in the boredom. Most of the time, things won’t break if you are slow to reply***.
*Exactly 24 hours ago, I turned off the car outside my brother’s house and my partner turned to me and said “Ok, this is a big party, what time are we leaving? Let’s agree on it because while you’re tired now, all will be forgotten once you’re inside.” We left an hour later than planned.
**Multi-tasking can be the result of societal diatribe that women can do two things at once and men can’t. Maybe that was the story we were told when women had less of a chance to say no and sequence things.
***Having the luxury of turning your notifications off also means that you are not the lifeline for another human. Being a caretaker adds complexity and I want to pay respect to that. Ignoring notifications is a privilege that some lucky folks get to exercise.
Intangibly creative: open your phone now and delete things that distract that don’t fulfil you. Gone are the days of the 1GB data plans, so delete and re-download as needed.
My zines are now online! Go explore, there’s some work on female sexuality, the magic of being human and some high school humour.
Estee and I went to the Northern Beaches zine fair last Saturday and represented the Mtns Zine Club. La Niña stopped us from jumping in the ocean, but it was still fabulous to get amongst it.
Be well, be bold,