Recently I’ve returned from a trip to the east coast – Gloucester, Massachusetts. You know, where the Perfect Storm happened? That George Clooney movie with big waves? Everyone’s a fisherman there? Boston accents and salty cod air? I’ve been going up to Gloucester for 25 years, which is a long time to be doing anything consistently besides eating and sleeping. It is a wonderful, distinct town. Truly a second home to me to this day.
When I was younger and would go up with my family, we would have zero access to TV or the Internet, and it was fantastic. More recently, with the onset of smartphones, the introduction of Wi-Fi into the house in Gloucester, and simply having more important emails to read as a man in his mid-20s than I did when I was 11, I thought this year might be different.
If anything, it reinforced my 11-year old self’s limited access to TV or Internet.
The entire week, I did not check email. I did not check Facebook. I did not check Twitter. I stayed away from Splitsider, The Nation, Cracked.com, PeopleFallingDownStairs.gov and all the other web sites I frequent on a daily basis.
I cannot stress enough how much better I felt. I’m sure this was partially because I was on vacation and in a good mood already (and I realize how fortunate I am to have that opportunity), but there was something liberating about not browsing mindlessly or having to devour information and content at breakneck speeds. I let my brain decompress.
Admittedly, it took 12 hours and a dip in the freezing Atlantic Ocean for me to let go of all of it and be present in Gloucester. It felt like driving 80 MPH and then slamming on the brakes, pulling the parking brake and removing the tires all at the same time. I went from checking hundreds of emails and keeping track of Facebook events and tweeting for comedy’s sake to … nothing. Sitting on a porch and listening to waves crash. Talking with friends and family. Or just being silent together and soaking it all in.
The quietude cleared my brain of cobwebs and allowed me to restore a lot of creative energy and motivation. In L.A., I give myself time to be quiet when I hike the Santa Monica Mountains or do some reading, but never get to that level of simple existence found in Gloucester. That lack of pretty much everything that tends to fill up my day was gone, and the week was all the more restorative for it.
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The day I came back to L.A., I was right back in it – tweeting, Facebook messaging, planning dinners, devouring interesting articles, writing, doing improv, etc.
It was strange, too, because I returned to lots of news about trouble in Iraq and it felt like I time-traveled back to 2005. Back in the grind almost immediately. I felt guilty at reconnecting so quickly, but such is the way of the world in which I’ve chosen to live.
To a degree, at least.
That week in Gloucester highlighted an important truth: to stop consuming and to stop creating entirely is essential to be able to do either one effectively in the long term.
Because of that minor revelation, I’m going to try to take an entire day every several weeks to take in nothing and put out nothing. I’ve never been good at meditation and I do yoga purely so I can bend down to pick up things I’ve dropped, so maybe that’s what people get from those exercises: that sense of just being.
For me, I’m just going to sit on that metaphorical porch in front of the ocean every so often.
Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he’s just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country’s trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon.