VICE's most online writer is currently disconnected from the internet in a small town outside of New York City. She will be logged off for five days, during which time she will chronicle her adventures in nature through daily dispatches. Her third correspondence is below, and you can read more about the project here.
I began my third day of technological isolation by eating the perfect breakfast at a charming old-school diner—bacon, eggs, buttery toast, and home fries, cooked to perfection—and started chatting with the owner about my Polaroid camera. He pulled out his phone to show me pictures of his second house farther up the Hudson, which he rents out to vacationers, and I lamented the fact that I wasn’t staying there, because it would’ve been a more perfect spot for my week in the woods. A common theme of my week away from the web is how often I end up scolding myself for not doing things better. It’s almost like I’ve taken on the burden of all my online haters for my week without them, to ensure that no matter what, I feel like I’ve fucked up.
“Does everybody hate me?” I asked my boyfriend after my dispatch was published yesterday. “Does everybody hate me?” I asked again.
After breakfast, I journeyed up Main Street to a woodsy enclosure next to the local McDonald’s and made my way up a big hill. The bottom was littered with hamburger wrappers and empty forties, but at the top, I was finally freed of the human trash, alone with nature’s garbage—dead leaves and moss. I sat on a rock overlooking the Hudson, comforted by the familiar sounds of the Metro North below, gazing at the light sparkling atop the water, enjoying the warmth of the sun, noticing how beautiful moss can be, and wondering if I was supposed to be having profound thoughts.
My editor asked me to write about nature in this post, which is hard for me. As beautiful as I find all the gifts Mother Earth has blessed us with, the whole thing is kinda boring to me.
When I was a kid, I liked to make it known that I despised nature shit, probably as a reaction to my mother, who grew up in Australia and enjoys the great outdoors. When I was forced to go outside for recess in preschool, in the not-so-naturey Tompkins Square Park, I would wrap myself in my coat and sleep under a park bench until I was finally allowed to go inside again. To this day, sleeping under a park bench in lieu of socializing or playing is probably the best portrait of myself.
When I found myself in nature, I remember enjoying pulling the moss off rocks, obsessed with its texture—it was satisfying like pulling out an ingrown hair. I remember feeling immense guilt when I learned that moss takes hundreds of years to grow (is that even true?) like I’d messed with something bigger than me that I shouldn’t have. I worried about the moss, and how long it would take to grow back. I’ve spent a lot of my life worrying about dumb shit, even before I had a smartphone.
Peering out at the river today, I was periodically interrupted by text messages from my mother, sending me paragraphs as she tried to plan a hike for us tomorrow, and I, again, got to thinking that maybe throwing my phone in the Hudson is the only real way to liberate myself from this techno-world. But I didn’t. Because my mother would worry. Because I love my phone, even though it’s been conspicuously silent as of late. Because I ultimately love that my phone lets me connect with other people.
“The mass of men lead quiet lives of desperation,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden. “What is called resignation is a form of desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”
I feel that. The desperate anxiety of having nothing to do without my precious screens is real. The fear that without constant distraction, I’ll be stuck alone with my wretched thoughts. That “the games and amusements of mankind” only exist to shield me from the torture of simply existing in our late capitalist hellscape.
Feeling small is good—if you can do so without aspiring to be big, you have a lot less to worry about.
Last night, I was consumed by a typical feeling of melancholy derived from insecurity—What if I actually suck? What if I’ve tricked everyone into thinking I’m smart or a talented writer? What if I get found out for the fraud I am? Are these fears good? Do they help me become a better writer, or is it just narcissistic self-loathing that holds me back from doing my best work? If I had the internet, I could have quieted this vexing internal monologue by looking at someone’s shitty tweets, celebrity Instagrams, or catching up on the latest Trump news, which I presume is not good.
Both nature and the internet are good at making you feel insignificant. The mere vastness of nature reminds you that you’re small. The internet is similarly boundless, a place where anyone can post infinitely, where you’re just a songbird, tweeting swear words and dark thoughts into the abyss of the jungle—even if you feel big for a moment, someone else is always bigger, more viral than you. Feeling small is good—if you can do so without aspiring to be big, you have a lot less to worry about.
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