What I’m trying to do

Learning to manage, and not be managed by, the screen

I’m thinking about this vision I had for my life as a kid. I saw myself living in a hundred-year-old bungalow, with creaky floors and incense burning and classical music on the radio. There were cats, and maybe someone who loved me living their life in tandem with mine.

I pictured a home filled with books. I saw myself curling up next to a fireplace with a tome and a cup of tea each night, or falling asleep in a cozy bed with a paperback tucked under my arm.

In a lot of ways, my life looks like I imagined it might. Looking at my life from outside of myself feels nice; like a peaceful librarian character in a movie who always has the best retorts, thanks to a non-stop consumption of books.

What I’d never pictured, though, was this glowing nightmare rectangle that’s never not within a few inches from reach. I couldn’t have predicted the stories in books would be overshadowed by the stories from my smartphone. That I’d prefer to spend my time gleaning these little dramas from people I sort of knew: who was pregnant, who was breaking up. Who got new shoes, who had an elaborate salad for lunch, who is much taller than they were in high school.

Who’s selling themselves short, and who’s trying too hard. Who’s better than me, and who’s not. How close our world is to collapsing, and whose fault it is, and what we can do about it, if anything at all.

When I was a kid, I’d devour a couple chapters of Pony Pals or Animorphs or some YA novel before drifting off to sleep. My family went to the library often. I was lucky.

Now it’s scrolling for a few hours before bed every night, through this app or that. The harsh light of the screen teasing me: Looks like you won’t be getting that nice deep sleep tonight, buddy!

I’m trying to re-train my hands to feel natural while holding a book in bed. I’m trying to massage out that little dent in my right pinkie finger that formed from seven years of propping up an iPhone.

I’m trying to discern willful ignorance from self-care. Am I shutting out the endless news cycle to protect my mental health, or to pretend things are better than they are? That I don’t have to try harder to make this world better?

I’m trying to leave books placed strategically around the house and to pick them up when I have a spare moment instead of playing 16 rounds of “Bejewelled” on my phone. I’m figuring out if I’m being kind to myself by watching 12 episodes of Gilmore Girls after a hard day, or if I’m purposefully putting off being productive.

I’m not getting it right, right now. Maybe I will be soon. I’m trying to find a balance. I’m hoping that, if these words outlast me in some way, they’ll make little sense to some future reader who’ll have no clue their ancestors’ lives were ever governed so strictly by screens.

Laina Hughes is a Winnipeg writer who works in communications and indeed does live in a creaky bungalow with her cats.

Published in Volume 73, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 24, 2019)

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