Forcing myself to unplug in Yosemite

Despite magnificent weather, gorgeous scenery and the company of three of my four favorite people (our daughter wasn’t there), I still struggled over “unplugging” from the Internet in order to enjoy our family’s trip to Yosemite last weekend.

I knew from past trips that cellular coverage was spotty at best, and wifi would likely be available only in our motel’s common areas.  No problem – I had worked furiously on Internet-related projects before leaving town, so I figured things would be fine.

But I didn’t consider how pulling out my iPhone to check messages, get a weather report, or do a quick Google search has become a habit – something I do to fill a spare moment without even realizing it.  I knew from observing the 2011 National Day of Unplugging that I might have some “issues” – but this weekend brought me face to face with them, again.

When the front desk receptionist informed me that Yosemite Lodge now provides free wifi in the rooms, I thought, “How great — our national parks are joining the digital age.”  Then she added, “It’s been kind of touch and go lately.  What can I say?  I.T. is working on it.”

Sure enough, we got to our rooms and found that, while our sons were able to get random, weak wifi, my husband and I found ourselves sitting side by side, staring at blank browser screens and watching our “loading” wheels spin.  Also, our TV was tiny — you needed birding binoculars to check the Giants’ score unless you sat right next to it.  Which was kind of a problem, since there was only one chair in the room, and it was more of a desk chair, not a TV chair.  But what was I expecting, the Four Seasons?  That wasn’t the point, I reminded myself — we were here to enjoy Yosemite’s grandeur.


Mirror Lake 2012, by Micah Rosales


The next day was sunny and warm, not too hot.  Blue cloudless sky.  In other words, perfect.  We chose to hike up past Mirror Lake, a ideal route because, since a rock slide had closed off the trail higher up, few people bothered to go past the Mirror Lake destination. But at the same time as I was enjoying our journey, I knew the Prince of Smooth was playing Lord Valdemort in the French Open semi’s, and my iPhone wouldn’t even give me a score update, due to the lack of cellular data coverage.

[Read more…]

New match. Love-all.

Maybe it was as simple as sunlight deficiency during the winter months, but I was on the verge of quitting tennis after a few disastrous performances earlier this year.  “Performances” – that’s the key word.  As if a bunch of people were watching me play a ladies match that counted for nothing, that would not be recorded in the USTA’s computers or anywhere else.  I had let tennis become all about me and how I was doing, whether I was playing well and what others would think of my abilities.  Narcissism was killing my game, and it was certainly killing the fun others might receive from including me in their games.

Not surprisingly, I also couldn’t get going with my writing projects.  I had nothing worthwhile to say.  I’d type out a few sentences, then backspace over them to delete most of what I’d written.  My feelings were similar to those I experienced on the tennis court.  I feared my writer friends might judge me as eddying, stuck in the same essay — while at the same time they were progressing from one chapter to the next in their books.

So something had to change.  Fortunately the days got longer, which for me seems to make a big difference.  Don’t forget the iPhone weather app icon, 73 degrees and sunny, was created in Northern California.  But I also decided that, if I couldn’t enjoy tennis and writing, I would have to find other activities.  After all, no one was forcing me to do these things – they were luxuries I supposedly chose to pursue.

So I made two big changes.  In tennis, I started to focus on singles.  At first I did this because I figured other people were getting sick of partnering with me, but then I started to like it.  It was simple: just me, my opponent and the ball.  I could concentrate better, I didn’t need to worry about interpersonal dynamics on my court, and I didn’t need to stress about letting my partner down if I missed a shot.  Perhaps it’s the ultimate expression of narcissism, in that singles means every ball is mine, but I’m no longer worried about my performance.  I’m just playing the game.

In writing, I started to check into things I thought would be fun.  It’s a subtle change, but while I had enrolled in a creative writing program with the goal of writing a non-fiction book because that’s what the syllabus said I was supposed to do, now I’m thinking about heading in a different direction.  What I like is the intersection of writing, social media, podcasting, video and the interaction with readers – in other words, forming an online community.  There’s so much to learn here, and that’s why I enjoy it.

So I’m augmenting my traditional writing classes with others on internet publishing in all its forms.  I hope to change my blog posts to be shorter but more frequent, and to add podcasts in the future.  So stay tuned.  It’s a new game.

Why are mental issues the toughest?

I just lost a tennis match.  A USTA match.  One I should have won.

It started out well enough: my partner and I won the toss, served and won the first game.  Next we lost our opponents’ serve, no big deal.  Then they broke our serve  — this was kind of a problem, since their better server served next, and we couldn’t break back.  Now the score was 1-3 against us.  Our opponents made a couple of questionable line calls, which we let go rather than argue, but I resented the behavior nonetheless.  They also had an annoying habit of whacking the ball back to the server any time a first serve was out, disrupting the server’s rhythm and focus.  Before we knew it, the first set was over, 6-2.

My partner and I tried to regroup.  Our opponents weren’t better players than we were, we knew that.  So we resolved to sharpen our focus, watch the ball, etc.  We won the first two games easily.

They called my partner’s shot out on an important point, when I clearly saw the ball land in the alley.  I questioned the call, but not surprisingly, our opponents were “absolutely positive” they had seen the ball land wide.  I was so irritated with them at that point that I double-faulted the first point of my serve, and proceeded to lose the entire game.  I told myself to get a grip, breath, calm down.  We went up 40-15 in the next game with a volley I hit at the feet of the gal who had been calling our balls “out.”  She popped the ball up and over the fence, into some bushes nearby.  She immediately directed her husband, who was sitting on the sidelines with a beer, to go and find it.  He started rustling in the bushes beside us, and we lost the next point, 40-30.

The husband handed over an ancient, dirt-caked ball.  “No, that’s not it,” she said.  My partner asked if we could please just finish this game and then deal with the ball situation.  “Sure, no problem,” our opponent said.  But her husband returned to the shrubbery.  As he continued to shake the bushes, the other side won three points in a row to take the game.

No question about it, I was letting my emotions get the best of me.  I was also sure my partner was thinking it was my fault we were losing this match, that she’d never want to play with me again.  My internal voice of judgment was drowning out the simple “bounce-hit,” “watch the ball” mantra I would repeat to stay calm.  I just wanted to get out of here.  That happened soon enough: we lost 6-2, 6-3.

As you may have guessed, the foregoing was not an actual match, but an amalgam of USTA matches I have lost.  While higher-level tennis may not be disrupted by balls in the bushes or arguments over line calls, nearly every player loses to a “lesser” opponent at least occasionally.  We saw two such matches last week, as Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, world-ranked #2 and #1, both lost early-round matches to players ranked below them during the French Open.

Jitters, nerves, collapse of confidence, lack of focus.  I’m not talking about being out-played by a better player, nor am I highlighting those times when technique may have failed me.  What we’re looking at is, pure and simple, letting psychological issues rule the day.  I would venture to say that my serves, groundstrokes and volleys were just as good as those of the women I lost to, but I couldn’t summon the mental toughness I needed, for as long as I needed it to win.  [Read more…]

Of flames and forks

The flaming email — we’ve all received them.  We might even admit we’ve sent one.  Maybe not a flame that rages like a “Howler” in Harry Potter, but certainly one that smolders.  While we think of internet flames as caustic remarks on public message boards, PC Magazine defines to flame as “to communicate emotionally via email.”  If that’s the case, I’m definitely guilty of flaming, as are some people who have emailed me without pausing to re-read or reconsider before hitting “send.”  Numerous publications have explored the flame phenomenon, including Wired and the New York Times. Flaming arises in part due to a key problem with the email genre — namely, the brain’s inability to discern “tone” in the absence of facial and voice cues. To me, however, email flames are more than poor “netiquette:” they reflect how manners are changing not only in our cyber-communities, but also in our “real time” relationships.

I  bristle when I enter a bistro or church service, and I see a man wearing a baseball cap.  While I realize such behavior is ubiquitous and even accepted in our culture, it still bothers me.  I can’t help it: I was raised in the South at a time when gentlemen removed their caps while attending church or dining inside.  They opened doors for ladies – didn’t just hand off door handles like relay batons to females entering behind them.

Yet I wonder, what IS it that causes us to “forget” our manners?  Are we in too much of a hurry?  Consider, for example, the school carpool line.  Drivers actually try not to recognize each other.  Allowing a car to merge ahead of you is a sign of weakness, as is a wave of thanks from the “merger” to the rare person who lets her merge.  It’s the driver’s job, after all, to stay isolated and maneuver as quickly as possible to her destination.  [Read more…]

Unplugging, and facing the truth

Thank goodness, I’m back online.  Friday a story about the “National Day of Unplugging” came on my car radio.  You can read about “The Unplug Challenge” here .  Basically, you disconnect from your cell phone, email, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc. for a 24-hour period, to help you “slow down life in an increasingly hectic world.” Ironically, the Sabbath Manifesto folks created an app to help you disconnect.

Anyway, I decided to take the Unplug Challenge.  I spent Friday night sending emails, doing online “work” for my various volunteer jobs, and printing out documents from a class I’m taking online, so I could be productive even though “unplugged.”

I officially shut down my computer and turned off my cell phone and iPad at 8:30 pm.  With a little fear, but also self-satisfaction, I headed out to unwind in the hot tub.  While there I panicked, remembering a couple more messages I needed to send, plus the idea of putting a “vacation response” on my email — so people would know I hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth, merely unplugged from it.  I went in and booted up my computer, did these things and printed out Saturday’s calendar, since I wouldn’t have access to it on my phone or computer.  Much calmer, I officially began my Sabbath from the Internet at 9:30 pm.  [Read more…]