Reining in my Brain – Part I

This is a departure from my usual writing style. I can’t seem to focus on a story or topic but I feel the urge to write, so I’m just going to write what pops into my head.

I’m working on our Trouts Farm Latest Photo Album for October this morning and looking out our office window at the bird feeder hanging from the remaining poplar. There are piles of lumber between the house and the bird feeder and a large step van parked over to the left, in front of goldfish pond.

Our neighbors Lyle and Arlo came over yesterday and toppled the other poplar. They cut the tree into logs which Bob moved to the back yard while I was next door selling vegetables with Maggie at Edible Earthscapes’ Inaugural Rice Sale.

The organically grown Koshihikari rice that Jason and Haruka grew represents all that is right with our local community. Every step involved community support and collaboration, from the ninety-some people who volunteered to dig rice paddies, to the RAFI grant, to the weeks of harvesting, threshing and dehulling. This beautiful and highly nutritious short grain, brown rice represents food security in every sense of the word.

Pretty soon, Stan and Tim will arrive to do some more work on our house. They are rebuilding our front porch and putting a new roof on that porch and the house. It’s all a little chaotic, but in a good way. Winter is breathing heavily on the other side of the door. The winds of change can be unsettling, but we’re doing our best to keep it together.

We had our first light frost two nights ago which had Bob scrambling in the twilight after work to cover up our gardens. Both Jason and Lyle had banana trees to dig up and bring inside. Any day now, we’ll have to run an extension cord from the house to the well so our water doesn’t freeze.

So there’s a lot going on. But that doesn’t quite explain why I’m feeling so out of control. I think there’s more going on here. I think my inability to concentrate is more than symptomatic of the change in weather. I’m worried that even after the overhead construction project is complete, I will still be unable to string a complete round of thought together into something readable.

Worse, I’m noticing that I’ve lost the ability to feel a sense of closure at the end of the day. My days just seem to run together in an endless stream of undone To Do List items and I want it to stop. I want to be done or at least ‘done enough’ at the end of my day.

I’m not alone. Bob has the same concerns as do most of the people I’ve mentioned this problem to. We used to be able to concentrate and now it all seems to run together. Kind of like the muddy color we’d get when we were kids and got our water colors all mixed together.

To a person, we don’t remember feeling this way ten or fifteen years ago. As far as we can remember, we didn’t feel this anxious, this over-taxed, this challenged and spread out. But then, I don’t trust my brain like I used to. Still, we are inclined to conclude that while some of these feelings are understandably seasonal, most of it is due to the increase of communication technology in our lives.

Thirteen years ago I didn’t own a computer. I worked when I was at work and only at work. I wasn’t writing emails to my co-workers after dinner. I didn’t open my browser every morning before brushing my teeth or making the bed.

Ten years ago, Bob and I had yet to buy our first cell phones. Our phone was hooked to the wall. We couldn’t talk on the phone when we were outside unless we passed the cord through an open window or door. I never found myself reining a horse with my left hand while talking on my phone with my right. We certainly never talked on the phone while driving.

But here’s the part I have trouble understanding. Even when I walk away from my desk without my phone, my mind is racing. I often wake up with the nagging fear that there are things I’ve forgotten and stuff I won’t be able to get done. I don’t know how I can blame my computer and phone for my inability to concentrate.

At the library the other day, I enjoyed a good discussion about this phenomenon with my friend Molly. I had gone in to post a flier and spotted a copy of Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows – What the internet is doing to our brains.” So I checked it out and found out that Molly is suffering from the same sense of unease and is pretty sure she didn’t feel this way ten years ago. I’m hoping Carr will shed some light on my growing sense of unease, my inability to focus. These words from the front dust cover flap look promising:

The Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption – and now the Net is remaking us in its own image.

My neighbor Haruka spends most of her day outside working in the fields. She doesn’t drive or carry a cell phone but she does use her computer a fair amount. I wonder if she is feeling is as overwhelmed as I am.

After I finish posting this blog, I’m going to walk next door and ask my friend what she thinks. I’m sure she’ll have some good advice. And even if she doesn’t, just laughing together in the sunshine will make me feel like I have a better handle on things.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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