There is something soothing about the scrape of a rake,
the rhythmic process of pulling dead leaves,
bending to pick them up, dumping them
in curbside lawn bags,
something soothing about the way the sun
warms your hair one of these last
seventy-degree days as you labor past
soreness in your arms, until you forget
emails to send, reports to file,
take-home work you left at the office,
until you forget the splendid mums will shrivel,
the tree that sheds now will wear nothing soon,
and you will curse the cold.
~ Brian Fanelli from Waiting for the Dead to Speak
© NYQ Books, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
I learned an important lesson the other day. Already feeling a little bit stressed from the week, (the continuing unknowns, the weird balance of feeling as if I’m doing nothing and everything all at once), I threw on my running clothes, grabbed my headphones, and headed out the door for a much-needed evening run. I think that running in the fall is one of the best things of the season. It’s absolutely perfect weather – not too hot, not too cold – and you get the crisp smell of fall in the air and leaves crunching underfoot.
I took my phone with me as a new habit whenever I’m running solo. In high-school and through the majority of college (unless I was running in a new place or wanted to chart my run), I would just carry my purple i-pod shuffle. A Christmas gift dating back to middle-school years, I admit that, yes, I still have it. And yes, I still use it. A friend once joked to me, “I can’t believe you still have that thing. It’s considered an ‘ancient’ relic now.”
“Ancient” or not, I love it. It’s the perfect weight and size for running, doesn’t depend on data or cell service, and if I had one complaint, it would be that it doesn’t take pictures. But lately, I’ve taken to carrying my phone because, as much as I don’t like the idea of having technology with me always, it is useful for charting my distance, keeping track of the time, and the occasional picture. Not to mention, it is a good safety measure to take.
However, there is that one issue: I feel attached to technology during a time that I have set aside for exercising the body and the mind away from technology. I view that hour or so of running as “my time” away from everything, when I can mull over problems or let my mind rest and focus on my breathing pattern or stride. It’s a time that should be sacred, in my opinion. But I didn’t succeed at that the other day when I left for my run.
My mind was already in a hundred different places, worrying about this and that – the news, waiting to hear back from places, bigger future decisions, thinking about the lessons that I taught that afternoon, and so on. When I reached the halfway point to my normal loop, I stopped to stretch and took out my phone to check my emails. Habit, I guess. But it was completely unnecessary, really. Especially when the two new emails in my inbox consisted of a reminder for my lessons the next day, and the other – a rejection letter. So now I was extra stressed for no good reason, and as I pounded my way up a hill on the way back, my phone rang. Immediately, I stopped and answered it: a call regarding a meeting for orientation. Could I come in at 11am on Thursday? Slightly out of breath and not in the right frame of mind, I answered, “Sure, should be fine. I’ll see you then.” Right after hanging up, I realized that I had scheduled myself to be in two places at once, as per my usual style, and I would need to figure out how to move something around.
At that point, the whole purpose of my going for a run was moot, and I arrived back even more stressed and frustrated than I had started off. In a world constantly in motion, expectations for communication are so much higher, and I often feel inundated with information. Sometimes, I’m stressed by the idea that communication should be instantaneous. However, hypocritically, I feel frustrated depending on my side of the situation. “Why,” I question, “has so-and-so not replied yet? It’s been three hours already.” Or on the flipside, as I text a friend back, “I’m so sorry I took so long to reply. It’s been a crazy afternoon, and I didn’t have my phone on.”
So what’s the solution here? I don’t know if there is one solution, or even if a solution needs to be found. Every person is different and has a unique way of balancing life and technology. But for me, I realized that I need to commit to a strict promise not to check my phone, read emails, or answer texts or calls while running (or during a time that I have set aside for exercising or resting the mind and the body). It’s an hour, I tell myself. An hour to concentrate or to clear the mind. An hour without technology and no expectations.
I think that this time is so important in life, whether we realize it or not. I’m still learning how to balance the presence of technology in my life, especially as my relationship with it expands and changes to reflect the dynamics of it in the world today. Technology has positively impacted our lives in so many ways, but it also holds the potential to detract from certain aspects of living, one of them being the ability to focus in the present moment without distraction.
That’s why I love Fanelli’s poem so much. He manages to capture the magic of living in the moment, without any of the cliché. He is frank without being pessimistic, descriptive and realistic. I hope that this week you’ll be able to find time for yourself to live in the present moment, devoid of too many distractions and perhaps even technology-free. I’ll make it a goal to do the same. Happy Monday!
For Breakfast: The Best Banana Bread
Adapted from The Flour Bakery Cookbook
1 ½ cups of whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of canola or safflower oil
3 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
2 Tbsp crème fraiche or vanilla Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup of walnut halves, toasted and chopped (optional)
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper (or butter the pan.)
- Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for roughly 5 minutes, until the mixture is light in colour.
- On lower speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. The process should take about a minute, and you can add the oil in several additions. It’s important not to deflate the batter.
- Add the bananas, crème fraiche or Greek yogurt, and vanilla extract. Continue to mix on low speed until combined.
- Fold in the flour mixture using a spatula. (Optional: fold the walnuts into the mixed batter).
- Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top, and bake for 60-70 minutes. Check on it at the 30 minute mark, and cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil if the top of the loaf begins to burn.
Song of the week: Silver Lining by Rilo Kiley