I am not my Instagram
I realize that it has now been nearly 18 months since I moved into “town,” away from the pine forests, out of the trees, off the ridge. No more red dirt on every shoe and tile, no more creaky pine trees in the midnight winds. No more strange silkworms dropping from the trees every year, tangling in my hair as I walk by. I no longer drive up and down the hill each day, watching the grasses and the oak trees change, watching the sky—vast and changing, and so breathtakingly beautiful. I used to pull over at least once a week to take photos of the sky, it was endlessly magnificent. I no longer live in the slow pace one creates in a small town with many trees. Now my life is full and fast, every moment flying by right in front of me. Even I am astonished, and it all belongs to me, this life. This quick-moving thing.
I marvel at the change. Why do things move faster in town? What have I lost? What have I gained? Is it simply because I am closer now to commerce, to school, to community? Do I fill my schedule with needless things? Or is it simply because my child is older now, I am working harder now, there are more things to be done and more places to be? Would it have happened anyway… the speeding up, I mean?
I have no answers for this. Sometimes I miss the slowness terribly. The long winter nights. The slippers and tea. Being at home all the time. The tiny cabin I lived in. The simplicity of a 2 room house. The colors on my walls. My tiny cinder block porch where I sat so many nights watching my small garden change, and change, and change again. The things I planted, the ones that bloomed, the ones that died. The rainbow hammock chair in the tree. My spotty internet that didn’t work when it rained. My tiny stove and tiny skillet.
But here I am, being nostalgic. As Sherman Alexie says, “Nostalgia is always doomed and dooming.”
It used to be that I loved nostalgia so much. I’d spend hours immersing and daydreaming, remembering days gone by (and a much sunnier version of them, no doubt). But the older I get, the more useless I see it is. Nostalgia limits us. It blinds us. It makes us set expectations based on an irrelevant time and place, wishing for impossible things that might never have been that great in the first place.
See, when I get stuck in the nostalgia of my cabin on the hill, I miss out on this:
The two dogs asleep in their beds. The large floors covered in wool rugs. The kitchen filled with food, the kettle and tea, the table my mother made and the cutting board my father made. The garage filled with bicycles, the long flat road to ride them on, the river at the end of the road. The orchards, the walnuts, the peaches. The best taco truck in the world right around the corner. The nice people who own it. The man at the liquor store who sells us Jarritos and tells us not to drink too much, same joke, every time. The small rosebush that I planted last winter, now four times it’s original size.
Nostalgia takes us away from where we are now. It pushes gratitude away and replaces it with longing. It tricks us into thinking we are always one step away from what is right, what is good, what is best.
We have so many options now: This and that, Slow or fast. Town mouse country mouse. Daily we scroll through an endless menu of options, and everyone else’s options. Wait! We think. Should I move to a tropical island and live in wild abandon? Should I move to the big city and work harder than ever to achieve My Dream? Is My Dream the right dream? Should I cook more, craft more, knit more, curate more, camp more? Did I miss the boat? Is there more than one boat?
To ponder it all is stressful, to say the least. I know it’s been said over and over, but I find it to be so important and true: Turn off the phone. Put it down. Turn off your notifications. Don’t let email dings and comment pings interrupt your dinners and your dates. Don’t let them steal your gaze from your children. Don’t let them (the dings, not the children) sneak into your bedroom, between the sheets.
I’ve decided to go analog (ish) where I can. At Goodwill last week I found a small digital alarm clock that plugs in. It has 2 purposes: it tells the time, and it wakes me up. Its numbers glow red, subtle enough that it doesn’t disturb me, the light from the numbers. It’s pre-LED. It wakes me up with a terrible, offensive chirping, like back in high school. And I love it. Am I being nostalgic? Perhaps. But I’m also freeing myself from the burden of social-media induced nostalgia. The freedom I feel without my phone next to my bed is exhilarating. No joke. Now I don’t swipe my alarm and see my notifications before I’m even awake. Since starting this new routine, I’ve actually been forgetting about my phone for a while in the mornings, not remembering until later when I’m out in the kitchen, pouring cereal with kids.
Let freedom ring.
I’m trying to deprogram a tiny bit. To slow down my brain. To let it breathe. Let it remember to first, wake up. Second, sip water. Third, open the door for the dogs. Check the air. Notice the morning mist. Slide on my slippers. Smell the coffee. These things are simple, strong, soothing, and connective. They remind me of the seasons, and of myself.
Nostalgia is a trap, similar to envy, and similar to that social scrolling—only in nostalgia, we envy ourselves rather than the throngs of friends and frenemies on Instagram. In the past there are only stories and lessons; the future isn’t hiding there. The answers aren’t there either.
The answers also aren’t on my phone, I've discovered. Mostly it’s questions, and I’m not sure if they’re helping me: Should I be more spiritual? More fashionable? More mommish? Should I post more? Should I post something else? Who am I?
I am not always sure.
But, I am not my Instagram.
I am not my past.
I am only this one woman, living this fleeting life, clinging to things that make me feel both human and exhausted: The hustle. Productivity. Proclamations. Creations. Identity. And yet, these pale in comparison to the first ripe persimmon, or the pink-fleshed pomegranates from the farmer’s market.
And so I strive, and strive again … for the balance, the secrets, the seeds of the pomegranate, the heart-breaking love of mothering, the humbling act of parenting, of partnering, of step-parenting, of aging. I strive daily to strive less. It is a fascinating paradox.
Yesterday I jogged and now my hip aches. My sheets need to be washed.
There is much to be grateful for.