How we live from day to day becomes the shape of our whole life. Rhythms, routines and rituals matter for everyone. But writers are particularly those who help shape the stories we live by. So we do well to find patterns that nurture well-being. That help us to live with more kindness and connection, to our inner lives, to those around us and to the planet.
This is true for all aspects of life, which is why I’ve been thinking about how, as a writer, I relate to society’s norms of consumption. From the food we eat, to how it makes its way to us; from the choices of how we dress to the gadgets we use, there seems to be a welter of waste and tendency to fragment our time and emotional energy.
The myth of ‘us’
As someone who lives in the middle of nowhere, much of what we use arrives as deliveries from various distances. I’ve always seen this as a good use of time, such a precious resource for a writer or for anyone. But despite the rhetoric of living in an information age with endless choices, I’ve begun to suspect that the ratio of information to disinformation undermines this. Moreover, the huge array of choices often appears to make no difference.
As an example, on one of the days before Christmas, I set aside time to write. But instead I spent most of the day on the phone chasing up orders that failed to arrive and others that came in various sorry states. By the time it came to cooking dinner, I was out of sorts and felt as fragmented as my day.
In the scale of things my frazzled day was not a problem that merited much dwelling on. I was conscious of not wanting to become someone so spoiled that a delivery of rotten fruit and a missing parcel could disturb me. But it did offer a metaphor of how we live.
One of the raison d’etres of buying online is to save time. Our nearest town is 12 miles away and has few shops. The next is around 35 miles distant and is not much better, so it’s always seemed ‘obvious’ to use online deliveries. But when online shopping goes wrong, I’ve got two options. Either I join a phone queue and eventually complain (however politely) to someone who didn’t cause the problem or I simply accept that the tomatoes chilled to tastelessness and already rotting are ‘just the way things are’.
Both of these options leave us feeling dissatisfied. Despite living in a sea of plenty, the most devastating feature of this relationship to the things we buy to eat or for leisure or for eduction … is that we end up feeling less, not more, grateful.
At the heart of this experience is lack of connection. It’s not only that a system that purports to be about convenience and time-saving turns out to take a lot of time in other ways, ways that emotionally drain us. It’s also that this ways of dealing with life can be so distancing because we are completely disconnected from the corporation we are buying from.
Connection is intrinsic to being human. It is intrinsic to all life. So it’s not surprising that we attempt to relate to a corporate entity as though it’s a person. But, sadly, it’s not a person. It’s a basic lie of mass consumerism that ‘your call is important to us’. There is no ‘us’, only an amorphous entity. People care. People add value to one another’s lives. Amorphous conglomerats don’t.
Writers need the right time
Everyone’s time is precious. And as a writer, not wasting time on things that distract us from this passion matters a great deal. But writers are also embodied creatures and maintaining our bodies and daily lives is not a waste of time.
To live at a human and humane pace is not merely about saving time but about using time well so that it nourishes life. Giving time to our well-being as embodied creatures is fundamental to the stories we live and will write. And the key to this is always connection: connection to our bodies, our rhythms and rituals, to how we move in and impact on the world.
Writers need links
In a recent blog, I wrote about why writers should do less and be more. When we live by endless ‘to do’ lists, always busy, we risk becoming prey to the mores of consumerism for its own sake. When we live more slowly and attentively we may not do as much, but we will live at greater depth. We will tend to care less about having so many ‘things’. And we will make time in that attentive, slow living to choose ways that connect us to our bodies, our spirits, to other people and to all of life.
We don’t all need to become self-sufficient. We don’t have to never buy anything online again. But we can pause to think about how our choices can be as kind and connected as possible. In 2020 I’m experimenting with finding local food suppliers as much as possible. For other things, I’m investing time to find small-scale makers and recyclers who don’t have call centres to hide behind. I’m trying to deal more and more with people and less and less with amorphous entities.
Being more and doing less can give us the breathing space to create human links. It takes some of our time, but perhaps no more than going round in ever decreasing circles on huge sites with so much choice we stop being able to think. No more than getting caught up on telephone lines that offer Kafka-esque experiences. And as writers who witness to the world and write stories that change the world, we do well to think about how we live our daily, embodied lives.
The dehumanised facelessness inherent in so much of what we do and are presented with each day is not the only alternative. It doesn’t have to be ‘just how it is’. As writers, we can be those who challenge anything that undermines our human need for connection.
Day to day, we all have to live in a world where we have to deal with banks and large institutions and electricity suppliers and local council services … But wherever we have the choice and the power to change the story, let’s take it. An independent bookshop, a local vegbox scheme or community garden, a maker over a big brand …
Always what adds kindness — to ourselves, to to others, the earth. Always what forges connection.
Becoming a different story
Thank you for reading — if you’d like to join writers who are diving deeply into the writing life and making transformations, sign up to my email list. You’ll also find free courses on my site. While you’re there, take a look at my book Writing Down Deep: an alchemy of the writing life.
Carolyn O'Connell says
A very true account of how our lives are pressurised today. I can appreciate your need to use online shopping etc. as you’re in a remote location that now hasn’t got the facilities it once had and how that, together with the “social connections” makes demands on our lives. Everyone today is “connected” but doesn’t have time to be in touch personally. Being “connected” means we don’t ring, talk to or see the people that matter to us for we are too busy buying stuff or are on social media. Like you I buy online as I can’t get to the shops but it takes time, but too much social media means that I can’t devote time to writing so I’ve tried to limit it all to those who mean something to me and what is necessary. I’m trying to be slow(r).
Thank you Carolyn
It’s such a juggling act, isn’t it? And it has cycles. I get to a point where time seems to be moving slowly and creatively, but it’s nevrerf a once for all experience of having arrived 🙂 Something comes along and disturbs it again and we have to get creative again – breath, slow down all over again. But we presist 🙂