Peace and Quiet Wisdom

blogXarthurWhen I read diaries, letters, and memoirs from the Regency period, I’m always struck by how erudite the prose is. Whether it’s a soldier’s memoir from the Napoleonic wars, a woman’s letter to her daughter, or Wellington’s dispatches, they had a thoughtful, articulate, considered turn of phrase–and mind–that I surely do not find in most emails.

I think part of the difference between a Regency essay and the emails I send out by the dozen has to do with the modern brain, or what’s left of it. We pop from answering emails to texting our kids, to consulting the weather app, to taking a call from the vet, to adding pet food to the shopping list on our phone, to resetting our fit bit, to…. We might feel as if we’re being productive and Getting Stuff Done, but the neuro-scientists tell us our frenzy comes at a high price.

blogXphoneThree quarters of the world has access to a smart phone. This percentage is higher than the number of people who have access to potable water. Phones can make us safer–they function as 911 on the go, 24-7 roadside assistance, flashlights, emergency contact lists when we’re in distress… all good stuff.

But what we call multi-tasking is not good stuff, from a physiological standpoint. To the extent that we’re never safe from our phones, tablets and computers, we’re constantly goosing our levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Our poor brains can’t focus, can’t recall, and are all too easily nudged toward irritability and aggression. When we stare at a screen all day, we don’t sleep as well–more cortisol and adrenalin.

readingXbyXcandlelightOur brains on iBusy come to resemble the brains of people suffering PTSD. Humor flattens, relationships suffer, and the go-to palliative–social media–can actually make us more lonely.

Our grandparents, and my Regency sources, didn’t have these ailments. True, they had tetanus, rabies, cholera, plague, and worse, but their minds enjoyed a kind of health we likely can’t reproduce outside of spiritual retreats. Their mail came once a day, if that. Communication happened most of the time face-to-face. Quiet–dense, deep, quiet–was the norm for most households outside daylight hours.

soldier_244wThey could focus, on a task, on a question, on the person at the table with them. They could plan their response to any epistle for hours, if not days. They could blow out the candle at night, secure in the knowledge that nobody four time zones away would send a text which–come fire, flood, or famine–the phone will display while it beeps and glows to make sure we give it our attention that very instant.

Where do you find peace and quiet? When do you unplug, or when could you start building some unplugged time into your week?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Soldier, because what Devlin St. Just suffered a result of war–bad sleep, irritability, inability to focus, memory problems–is what too much iTasking can do to us.

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31 comments on “Peace and Quiet Wisdom

  1. I take a couple of the dogs to the beach and walk when I need thinking time. No phone, no iPad, no Facebook check in. We walk for a couple of miles and I am able to forget the emails, texts and chores at home. I toss the tennis ball and one happy, sandy, smiling corgi returns it to me.

    I have built time into my schedule in the past few years to avoid stress. I get up early and read before my day begins. I keep the tv turned off in the morning and enjoy the quiet.
    And I have my dog training class on the weekend. My focus is on the dog not on anything else. I feel I sleep better because I have this time to myself. It’s amazing how cranky I can become when I miss class or my morning routine changes.

    Congratulations on the RITA nomination for Tremaine!
    Happy Easter!

    • Thanks for the congrats–it’s always an honor to be tapped for that list! When I took riding lessons, I got the same sort of “change of pace” from them as you do with the dogs. For an hour or two, I had to pay attention to my body, to my 1400 pound partner in the dance, and to what my instructor could tell us about us about the ride. No matter what mood I was in when I drove up to the barn, I was more self-aware when I left, and usually happier.

  2. I find peace in music; listening, playing or singing. I know you are a musician, Grace, and I know you know what I’m talking about by saying I find peace in music.

    When I’m in rehearsal, I feel better. I have told my voice teacher (I still study)the only time I feel like *myself* is when I’m in a lesson with her…and she and her accompanist laughed and laughed! When I’m performing, the world falls away and I concentrate and become the person I was before the rest of my life happened.

    Musicians have the privilege of being EXPECTED to turn off the cell phones, etc., at least for rehearsals, lessons and performances so we can do our thing…’s a gift in this day and age!

    Hope you have a lovely Easter today, Grace. Just one Easter question for you…Peeps or Cadbury Eggs?

    • CADBURY ANYTHING! I also indulge in one Reese’s peanut butter egg at this time of year. And yes, music… I miss the four-part a cappella singing my old Mennonite congregation did. They’d be singing, “The Lord Bless and Keep You” so joyously today, the rafters would shake.

      Joyful noise!

  3. Sewing is a great escape. I especially like the classes at my local sewing store. Lots of conversation and industriousness and companionship.

  4. Congratulations for your RITA nomination for Tremaine’s True Love!! It is well deserved!

    I am very bad about not completely unplugging. I do turn the volume and vibration off on my phone at night when I plug it in to charge – unless my husband is out of town on business, then I leave the call ring volume on but not other notifications. I will read for at least half an hour (often much more) after this, but many nights I do a quick email and text message check right before bed. Many times I wait to reply to emails, but I still feel the need to check. There are many multiple hour long stretches of time at work when I don’t check my phone or a computer, but they are not exactly relaxing moments.

    • You have to watch that email thing. If you’re working away at a task on your screen, and the little box up in the corner says you have email waiting, you’ll lose the equivalent of ten IQ points, in recall, accuracy, reasoning ability… that little box makes us dumber when we see we have an email waiting. If we see we have seventeen emails waiting?

      Drives me nuts.

  5. Congrats on that well deserved RITA nomination for TREMAINE.

    Since I retired, I have plenty of peace and quite – sometimes a little too much. By my own choice, I am not a part of the brave new I-world. I could text on my phone, but I see no reason to type out a message on a teeny-tiny keyboard when I can use my human voice to convey that same message.

    Communication is so important. Vocal tone and body language can convey so much more than a cold text. I have two relative who were feuding by texting each other last summer. It was becoming quite hateful when I suggested to my nephew that he and his sister should sit down and talk out their difference face to face. He looked at me like I had grown a second head. They finally did resolve their differences when they came together at a gathering for the sake of their Mother.

    Your post also reminded me of what a joy it was to write and receive letters. They were precious because you didn’t get them every day. When I composed a letter it would take a long time because I realized that they were just cold words on a piece of paper. I wanted to make sure that those words were composed in a way that would convey my true feelings and not be misunderstood. That can take a little thought sometimes – and more than a limited number of characters.

    • As a kid, I recall the sense of anticipation about bringing in the mail everyday. For a short time, I was penpals with a cousin, and my, the fun of that! Email doesn’t come close, not even emails bringing good news. Even a curly-paper fax was more fun than an email.

  6. I only look at e-mail and Facebook at work. I don’t have it attached to my phone. I was off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was nice. I talked to my best friend for an hour last night. I enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Every day I go for a long walk. I’m the inspector of gardens, of footpaths, or walking dogs, and of children not playing in the streets any more, but behind fences. I might look and take note, but mainly I’m in my own head, plotting, planning, and making lists – because my mind is free to wander unconstrained while I’m alone and in silence.

  8. Grace, before I comment, I just want to yell, “Yahoo,” at your RITA nomination! So wonderful and well-deserved! I am sending positive thoughts to the judges, just in case they need a nudge.

    As for letters from the past, what always strikes me is how educated people sound. Their lessons must have spent more time on the basics of reading and writing since they weren’t expected the absorb the monstrous body of knowledge that we have available to us today. Research and technology have come a long way since then, but our language skills have suffered!

    • I don’t know if I buy that theory Elaine, because I’m fairly well educated, and my emails are as choppy, chatty, and dull as anybody’s. When I write with a pen in my hand, I come across as more thoughtful. Consider too, that these people were writing with a quill pen, which is a far more physically demanding undertaking. You can’t just roll along, you have to trim the pen, dip it, let the ink run off back into the bottle.

      All of that is time to perfect your thoughts, to choose the exact best word, to stop and think if the sentence is going the direction you want it to. Might be the difference between sprinting, and walking. You’ll give a much more detailed and articular recounting of the countryside if you walk through it, than if you dash, lungs burning, joints aching, mind of nothing but the clock.

      My theory.

  9. One of the many reasons I do late night foal watch all spring is the peace and quiet of a night in the barn –and no, I don’t play on my smartphone all night ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I am able to enjoy reading or sketching.

  10. When I want to relax I read and go to another place in my mind. It is great to visualize the characters and the setting of the stories. I have been to England and have toured many manor houses and castles so I know what the rooms look like when they are talked about in the Regency writings.

    I don’t watch TV, not on Facebook, and my phone stays on the kitchen table all day long. I do take it with me when I take the car, just in case I need it to call someone. But it is not in a pocket or attached to my person. Since I have signed up at your web site, this is the first time I have done a blog. (I guess that is the correct English.)

    Sometimes I will turn on the radio during the day, but usually I just listen to the sounds of the house, or the birds outside, and other sounds of the city as I go about my day.

    • I don’t own a TV either, Joan, and I think it’s one of the reasons I get books written. I’m playing Let’s Pretend instead of “What’s On Tonight?” and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

  11. I read, I listen to music, I walk… usually, tho, I’m quiet in the car. I do a lot of plotting and planning and figuring in the car. I also have very *serious* discussions with my kids in the car… I know they want to talk if they offer to come with me to the store. And my youngest has an every-other-week appointment 2 hours away and we spend the entire trip talking.

    Congrats on your RITA nomination! (Also, don’t bother entering me in the drawing, I have that one ๐Ÿ™‚

    • One of the things I loved about driving from DC to San Diego to visit family was the days in the truck. Particularly driving west, the rhythm works. Back East, tons of traffic, old roads, low mountains… but as I cross the Mississippi, the sky opens up, the traffic thins, and my mind gets quieter. Driving the other direction isn’t so lovely.

  12. Reading or knitting. I admit to being attached to my computer, check emails several times a day, and some wbesites, but I’m not that big on Facebook, only check it once a day if that.

    • More and more, Facebook is a source of stress to me. It’s becoming like the 24-7 news channels which seem to think that keeping us anxious instead of informed is an honorable way to earn the press’s first amendment freedoms. I try to stay on my own page if I can, and that seems to help.

  13. I find peace and quiet when I read, cook or do all the chores no one else wants to touch. My family knows enough to leave me alone when I read or cook and the chores–well they don’t want me to ask them finish it/them.

    • My mom was famous for saying, “Out of my kitchen!” when she cooked. It was the one part of the house entirely hers to control, and when she ordered us out of there, out we did get! In her defense, it was essentially a galley kitchen where she had to cook for nine people. The risk of an accident from some thoughtless kid moving too quickly or climbing on the counter was significant.

  14. I find peace and quite at home with my cats. I generally keep the radio playing but if you were to ask me what the last song was that had been played more than likely I couldn’t tell you, unless that is it’s something I love and sing along with.