Monday Night Reflection: Pen and Paper

The problem with reflections is, and I am making a wild assumption that I am not alone, is that events immediately prior to the reflection can dominate the scene. There is no way I could reflect on every day, I struggle to write in my gratitude journal more than once a week, and I am a lot more grateful than I am reflective, so a real-time reflection compiled and released on a Monday is not going to happen.

I would love to remember to take reflection notes, but that is a lot like trying to do a reflection, even on a few lines, it is not going to happen, and it would mean either note-taking on my phone which I do not like doing, not sure why this approach doesn’t work but I fail every time I try it. I could carry a notebook, and I in a previous life, that would have been far too embarrassing or drawn too much attention to me. When I first wrote that sentence, I was going to say, I was no more likely to use a notebook than my phone. Somehow the idea of being seen to be playing on my phone is getting less and less attractive. However, the fact is, it is possible, and I have no idea how likely, that I could use a notebook.

I am moving back to pen and paper, very deliberately. I have found that while the smartphone can be an awesome tool, there are definitely limits to that for me. And, perhaps, as importantly, the world around me getting more and more absorbed into their phones, and sucked into social media. Which I love, especially Instagram, where I am a complete addict, and have built up a tremendously positive feed, I am aware that social media ultimately does not go anywhere. Social media is what we make of it, what we bring to it and a tool we can use in certain ways. To me, I share my life because although I am far from exceptional, I set goals and achieve and I hope that someone, will look and see that if I can do it, then they can as well. And to show that success is not about Ferrari’s and mansions, and happiness is not through parties, Rolex watches and hanging out with the coolest people. You can be happy with all of those things, but you can be lonely and desperately unhappy too, and in my experience of the so-called highlife, loneliness, despair and emptiness are much more common and the “life” is the disguise that hides it.

I am not sure which is driving me more, the promised practicality and utility of pen and paper, or the appearance of it. The fact that pen and paper feels and looks like doing, rather than messing about or playing. It is also tempting to quickly “check” and very easy to disengage with the world. Which is something I do not want to do, and I do not want to do to those who I am with. I tend to do my “playing” alone because when I am with people I want to engage with them. It is the lament of the older generation that “kids” have their heads in their phones, but more and more I see, it is people are more engaged with social media than the person they are sat with. I must admit I am guilty of the food shot, but then the phone goes case closed either away or does not get picked up. I will sometimes check a notification but I am ruthless about whether that gets a reply, and not much is that urgent.

Perhaps, too, this is a nostalgia drive, a lamenting of the so called connected age where in reality we are increasing disconnected, interrupted and disengaged. I feel there is a passivity, from the use of video over text, which I feel is much more passive than reading. I learn better from a book than a lecture. Voice works for outlines not for detail with me.

What exactly am I reflecting on here? It is not about pen and paper, that could be symbolic, however, I am thinking about engagement and more specifically disengagement. Specifically, I have become aware that while on the individual level I can enjoy engagement with people, and I have a desire to ensure that I am present in the moment, something I definitely picked up from mindfulness, I am, on a social level, highly disengaged. I am disengaged with wider society, socially because I live an isolated life, largely picking and choosing social settings and interaction chances, but I am isolated on a more socio-political level too. I do not watch popular television programs, I am increasingly not interested in popular music, I do not follow football or have any sort of passion for what are the current mainstream sports, and I am woefully disappointed with the political situation. I would leave the country were it an option, and I cannot bring myself to positively endorse any of those who stand for office. Not only to I look at the political candidates and personnel and feel revulsion, I am saddened by how the population has been so ready to believe the complete and utter rubbish they get fed. More than that, it is the collective readiness, even desire, to hate that leads me to despair. My desire to move is to go somewhere where isolation is easier, not because I believe the move would improve the situation, it would merely trade one set of despair-inducing circumstances for another.

This desire to disengage on the bigger stage is perhaps driving my desire to be more engaged with the individual. It is also a symptom, if symptom is the right word, of my healing. While I want to be isolated from that which I cannot change, I am now much happier at the individual level. My new life has led to new circumstances, positive reinforcement as opposed to the negative force applied previously, and I have found a confidence. With each interaction that has not had “consequences” or “feedback,” I have in very small increments been able to learn that it is not only ok to talk to people, but that it is encouraged, seen as a positive thing to be doing.

Getting used to the positive change in circumstances is taking a long time. Undoing a lifetime of learning is not easy at all. Moving to pen and paper, an insecure way of recording thoughts, a way that can be stolen, abused, that could invite ridicule and mocking was impossible. To carry a pen and the paper would invite suspicion, ridicule, some derision, while playing on my phone was just playing and messing around and so the insults lesser and the price easier to pay. Moving away from a protective behaviour to another is illustrative of how my mind had become locked into protective patterns. The minimising of threat and potential harm was the default setting. In childhood, I learned to protect, defend, and minimise potential harm. I learned that planning for the worst was always the best option and that hoping for the best was unfounded optimism. The key moving forward is to take the positive forward, the planning and preparation, and to leave behind the negative such as pessimism. Moving to pen and paper, going back to the transitional period between my childhood and my marriage, that time when positive seeds were sown, but that I ran away from those who would cultivate them, and where I sought to block out the world and numb the feelings of brokenness I had been given via drugs and alcohol, and taking a tool that worked.

Rediscovering and taking a confident step in building new habits, utilising new and old in this new setting, ditching the phone. Like the pen and paper, it is symbolic. I am not the phone guy, I am not the technology guy, and I am not the one device super efficient life, slick suit guy. Trying to be something I am not is something I need to confine to the past. I need to make trying to be by living up to an image or what I think people will find acceptable needs to be past tense. My greatest prison is still my mind.

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