For a bunch of reasons, some self-made some circumstantial, I’ve been so busy since the start of the month. Work has picked up suddenly, and I’m trying to get it done before I take off on holiday again for the last ten days of this month.
On the home front too, things have caught up with me. Rather, I’ve caught up with the home by sheer dint of being around. Since my mum and dad left, and with no sister in close proximity to go to (boohoo!) I’ve been having a regular life again. Waking up in my home, cooking myself proper, full meals, planning my work around things that need to be done, having a routine that includes some chores and some delegation and overseeing too.
And I’m trying to stay on top of it without losing out on having a life too. So in between all of this there have been outings to catch up with friends, working at coffeeshops, an anniversary dinner and watching Hamlet The Clown Prince.
Things have peaked, and despite the overwhelming busyness of it all, it has been such a good time. But, it’s been six days since I picked up my kindle, I realised. Instead, the pockets of time I’d otherwise dedicate to reading have been spent staying on my phone for inordinately longer than usual, and watching a lot of Netflix*. I have genuinely not had much time for TV this year, sticking to only my absolute must watches, like OITNB and waiting for This Is Us. I did watch the odd thing like Wild Wild Country, She’s Gotta Have It and Nanette, when the hype around it made it impossible to miss. But for the most part I’ve missed out on a lot of TV.
My whatsapp DND time has also gone out of whack with all the travelling, when I go easy on the self-imposed time out. I haven’t been strict enough with myself to enforce it again once we returned. More recently though, with my mum in the states, I find it easier to just stay available during the hours she’s awake.
This has meant a lot more screen time than I’ve been used to these past 10 months. So, it was natural and only a matter of time before I noticed that it was not a mere coincidence that a natural spike in my busyness saw a spike in screen time.
This is probably my pattern. When my brain is over-stretched, few things help me numb it out than mindless screen time. And no matter what the nature of what I am watching, or how scintillating the conversation on whatsapp is, I know that I turn to screens mostly to shut my brain out.
Here’s the thing though, it feels like a numbing mechanism, but it is anything but. If anything, it activates my already spread-too-thin brain some more. And instead of stripping down the number of thoughts, adds to them, thereby contributing to an overall restless feeling. Which is all very well for a weekend or a few days here and there, I suppose. I like a good mindless binge-watch every now and then, but last weekend, I suddenly realised I was missing the quiet in my head. The silence that that made it possible to put my phone down and actually forget all about it for hours on end because the book I was reading had me rapt. The silence that encourages me to read, even when I am tired because it soothes. I realised this when even though I had finished my tasks for the day, sent out my work, met my deadlines, my mind wouldn’t stop racing. I didn’t have anything else left to do, I could have picked up my kindle, but instead time after time, I turned to my phone. Or laptop.
Shit hit the fan when VC took this picture of me on our anniversary. I’m not one for big, outlandish celebrations, but I would certainly have liked to keep my face our a screen. And I’d have liked to spend the entire day, and not just the evening, really together, minus laptops and phones.
In a flash, it reminded me so much of my years spent in long hours at work. TV was mostly the only thing I could manage to do to unwind then. The idea that my brain had been occupied for 10 hours a day at work, almost warranted the binge-watch before bed, to just stop my brain from thinking thoughts.
I’ve come a long, long, long way from there, so to slip back momentarily and have those same feelings of restlessness and chatter in the brain surface was a bit unsettling.
The other non-coincidence was that the week of extreme phone usage happened to be the week I re-entered Instagram after nine whole months. I went in to retrieve some images and writing from last year that are locked away on the app. But the cheeky little thing that Instagram is, it wont let you deactivate immediately anymore. One needs to now wait a week between deactivations. It’s a tactic to make you stay and lure you in, I’m sure. And let me tell you, it works, for the most part. I didn’t get lured back in, but in the knowledge that I had a weeks worth of access, and once the literal anxiety and breathlessness I felt to see the feed (and how much it has changed, in form and content) had passed on day 1, I was back watching and watching and watching and watching. Till I could watch no more.
I’ll say it again, it’s not the app. It is entire me. Us. And the way we allow the apps to draw us in, but there is an undeniable link between the quality of the way I spend my time, the state of peace and calm in my head, and being on or off social media (Instagram and Whatsapp, in my case).
It was eye-opening to notice the difference. But it also makes it easier to acknowledge a pattern and reconcile with slowly slipping back to normalcy. I’m trying to wrap up my work at a sane hour rather than let it slip into the evening and night, just because I have the luxury to do that. This is another interesting space to test boundaries and reclaim space for myself, and so I’m trying it out.
Reflecting on the whole experience the other day, wondering about what drew me in, even though I know and have lived a whole, full life and realised that I’m absolutely not missing even the good stuff I thought was keeping on Instagram, outside of it. It’s the very nature of the application. And in some way, maybe it is in fact a reflection of the nature of the world itself. Aptly described in this quote from Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive that I read earlier this year.
THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.
*What I watched:
- To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix): it was so sweet and light and lovely. Perfect for a Friday night.
- Bareilly ki Barfi (Netflix): was really, surprisingly good. I’m a blind supporter and fan of all of Rajkumar Rao’s work, and even though he isn’t the central protagonist here, he steals the show. Ably supported by excellent work by Ayushmann Khurana and Kirti Sanon who I had hitherto dismissed as just a pretty face.
- PadMan (Netflix): was terrible. Lazy, convenient, disastrous way to tell an important story about a real man, and turn it into an outrageous story that doesn’t even so much as acknowledge the man whose life inspired the movie. Again, maybe I’m not the audience, but the way in which everything was dumbed down I wonder if it even did the trick for the audience it was aimed at. Also made me wonder when Sonam Kapoor will figure she cant act and that she should probably try production or something.
- Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (Netflix): light, simple kiddie rom-com, worth a watch even though it was problematic in parts and gave me a lot of thoughtssss.