unplug the computer, and plug in at home

by Whitney on December 12, 2010

Not so many months ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I liked our house, old and small and quirky. It felt hip and appropriate for our stage in life. Our youngest child was increasingly independent, enabling me to take on some fun freelance work. In between interviews and drafts, I connected with my local web community, rich with inspiring like minds. It was invigorating, and addictive. I was almost giddy, working from home, meeting interesting people, finally beginning to feel interesting myself, getting out of the house (at night.in heels.) and coming home to my beautiful, adorable, intoxicating family.

And then.

I wanted so badly to be with my kids and foster my fledgling career that I jumped on assignments that, while exciting, necessitated quick turnarounds that I couldn’t possibly meet without prioritizing the work above all else.

So, we endured crumb-coated floors and counters cluttered with the vestiges of takeout and half-sorted mail. I had stationed myself in the midst of our playroom with the belief that I could switch gears paragraph by paragraph (play, write, repeat), but the chaotic environment made me less efficient and more stressed. Hunched over my laptop, I mustered only an occasional nod and ambiguous affirmation when spoken to. The initial endorphin high at getting back in the race began to wear off as I opened my eyes to my trashed house and neglected children. I had believed I could do it all, but finally I confronted my mortal reality. Uh-uh. Not at once.

I suppose new hormones were also at play in this realization. Before I even had the chance to choreograph a new balancing act, I got a plus sign, nearly miscarried and went on bedrest. Between the supplemental hormones and recumbent parenting, I was exhausted. I could hardly type.

I silenced my social web presence and stopped accepting assignments, but I kept my laptop at arm’s reach, lurking my way around the web. I weakly pecked out a few words into google, then lazily scrolled through one site for a while, getting to know it intimately. I found cammaraderie and commiseration, useful tips and inspiration and laughter. hulu. I learned and escaped, and I didn’t go crazy.

And then.

Life and death. Just as I was emerging from the newborn fog, and gearing up to use my one free hand to purge backlogged sentiments and introduce myself, my computer died. It was in the shop for months, and the void was immense. At least when I couldn’t type I could take in the web’s offerings. My cosleeping nursling made phone chats impossible and putting pen to paper an exercise in frustration, and we don’t have a tv. I had nothing; no outlet, no input, no connection.

I was in hardcore withdrawal, mourning, even, for a while. A good while.

And then.

I got over it, and got stuff done. Even without online tutorials and constant affirmation from my tweeps. I got more done. In real life.

The vast pool of options and opinions can be paralyzing; not having them forced me to make decisions and get on with it. After so many months of mainlining blogs authored by the enviably organized, patient, creative, and stylish, it was difficult to stop coveting others’ perfections and start creating my own. At times I craved Simple Mom’s advice on toy storage, Better Homes and Gardens’ slide show of picture perfect laundry rooms, or Playful Learning’s list of quality art supplies.

But I didn’t have a choice. Unable to search for the perfect playroom shelves, I found a way to make the most of what we had. I cleaned out closets and hung forgotten art and mended well-loved books. Decidedly unglamorous tasks, all, but small improvements that largely impacted our everyday routine and enjoyment of our home.

Unplugged, I plugged in.

The web has saved me at times, freed me in many senses, but I let myself burrow too deeply in its trenches, and I had to get out. Of course, addictions are hard to break. I ignored the whispers until they grew deafening, then silent.

That was almost two years ago, now, and little by little, I’ve crept my way back online. In some ways, I’m more entrenched than ever, with my own little plot here that, like freelancing, allows me to write about my interests and to interact with fabulous people. Especially at this time of year, when there is so much living to do, so much pulling me offline, I am reminded of my ongoing dependence on the web. It calls to be in so many ways, many of them worthwhile, but still distracting from my priority of finding fulfillment in mothering with compassion, creativity, and consciousness. So I crawl through this new frontier, and give thanks for those keeping a slower, steadier pace alongside me.

For those still sprinting, I encourage you to consider taking your own digital sabbatical, in whatever form works for you. In contrast to my ugly crash course, social web guru Gwen Bell sets a good example in mindful severance. For tips on avoiding web burnout in the first place, visit Experience Life.

Have you found a way to balance life on and offline? Still searching?

Linking to {inhabit} at The Little List.

Gina asks,

How are YOU… capturing time, filling your table, making memories, weaving rituals, creating warmth, encouraging deep roots, nurturing creativity, being fully present, and learning to fully inhabit the space you call home?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Dakota Gal December 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Wow. So much of this resonated with me. Exactly. For months I’ve been trying to find a balance between blogging about life and living said life. I can vaguely remember a time when blog-reading and -writing was a treat, a fun way to escape the drudgeries for a while. And then somehow it became one of those drudgeries. Suddenly my to-do list included blogs to read, posts to comment on, posts to write, emails to send. One day I looked at my to-do list and realized that more than half of it required me to be on the computer. Whoa. Time to re-evaluate my priorities? I love this blogging community — it’s so wonderful for me to be able to have conversations with adults when I otherwise might not be able to leave the house. And being on the computer is a way I can escape while still holding/nursing a baby in one arm. But sometimes my head spins trying to keep track of when I last commented where and replying to comments and such. Sometimes I waste all my potential-crafting time looking up craft ideas online. So some days I do just have to make a conscious decision to leave the computer off. I’m definitely still working on finding that balance.


Whitney December 15, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I know what you mean about the drudgeries of communicating on the web. I’ve gotten caught in the trap of obligatory back-and-forths before, but this go round I’m very conscious and intentional about where I spend my time online. I have much more to say on this, so I will comment again in a bit, or maybe a Part II is in order. For now, let me just say that I am honored that you choose to spend some of your limited time here. Thank you also for your thoughtful comment; it adds so much to the discussion.


Sofia's Ideas December 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Aaahhh! Whitney, you’ve left me nearly speechless with this one! Would you believe that the post sitting in my drafts for tomorrow shares this exact sentiment!?! I was already glad we “met” but now I know for sure that I am meant to learn something from you…

Thank you for this amazing piece, this wisdom, and encouragement…


Whitney December 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Thank you, Sofia, for such kind words. I am certain that the current of learning flows in both directions, and I look forward to reading your post.


Kayte December 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm

One of my favorite things about the blogging community is that I usually stumble upon something I need to hear at just the right moment. :)

This online world is still somewhat new to me and lately I’ve been trying to find a way to balance this new medium. Just this week I have wasted precious free time looking up new ideas instead of getting anything done. While I love the abundance of inspiration out here, I find myself wanting to go in too many directions at once. Which only leaves me standing still.

Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s helping me get my head around my own balancing act at the moment.


Whitney December 16, 2010 at 9:53 pm

“While I love the abundance of inspiration out here, I find myself wanting to go in too many directions at once. Which only leaves me standing still.”

Exactly, Kayte. Well said. Good luck finding your balance. I’m so glad this found you at the right time.


Scratch.Love December 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Oh my goodness, I just found your blog after you left a comment on mine. Your writing is fantastic! I really enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to seeing what else you have here!


Whitney December 17, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Thank you! I share in your passion for real, nourishing food, so I’m eager to explore your place more as well.


Denise @ Creative Kitchen January 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Found you through your comment on Scratch.Love. Love this post. I think the balance btwn our online and offline life is one we can all relate to. I recently had to take a self (or rather God) imposed 6 month hiatus from my food blog & the social media related to it. It was a BLESSING, and like you I am just starting back…hoping I can strike a balance this time without obsession.

A key thought you shared was being “more deliberate” about where I spend my time (which blogs, which tweeps to follow etc). I will be keeping that in mind as I figure out how much time to spend commenting on other blogs.

Thanks for sharing…I look forward to perusing your blog at leisure ;)


Whitney January 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Thanks so much for this, Denise. It means a lot to hear that my thoughts resonate with someone who’s been to the crossroads. I’m now keeping a much slower pace, for sure, and sometimes I want to put the pedal down, but this way I know I’ll make it to the end, and enjoy the scenery along the way. (My apologies for the cheesy metaphor.)

So glad you made it back; good luck with the balancing act. I look forward to getting to know you (and your food)–over time, of course!


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