A MESS OF CONTRADICTIONS; OR THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOLITUDE

Coming from the chaos of my layover in Washington Dulles, the Burlington, Vermont airport is strikingly low-key. Not that it’s not bustling. But by some wizardry the droves of people interact with an efficiency so calm I almost want to stay there. Listening to the bluegrass music floating down from somewhere, idling in the wicker rocking chairs and watching the beautiful people walk by wearing so. much. flannel.

I’m delighted because all the stereotypes I’ve held about the place are playing out right in front of me, and at this point I haven’t even seen all the Suburus in the parking lot.

There’s even a lactation station for breastfeeding moms.

Actually, most of this feels familiar to me, kind of like home, having lived for most of my adult life in Asheville, NC, (the cesspool of sin).

So Vermont is a welcome break. Not just because my dearest friends are congregating here at one time, which, as I’m sure you know, is no small feat in grown-up land, but also because my new home, for its many varied virtues, feels overwhelmingly conservative, small, and at times unsettling to me.

(I’ve learned that in eastern North Carolina, my truth, Oh, I actually don’t go to church in the traditional sense, is absolutely not an acceptable answer to the often-posed question, Which church do you go to? Or anyway, I understand now that if I want to be honest I'd better be prepared, because apparently, them’s fightin’ words.)

But that's a tangent for another day. Vermont feels like a magical new land but also like home, which is really the best type of vacation.

And because I’m spending the week with the sister-friends who challenge and love me the most in this world, deep layers of life that are hard to talk about with strangers and acquaintances surface all week, one after another.

We have a conversation over pizza one day that really gets me thinking. It’s about the elusive balance of technology and, well, whatever you want to call the opposite of that. Or anyway, that’s how I interpret the discussion: New Ways versus Old Ways; “screen time” versus eye contact and intimate conversation.

Only of course it’s never that simple, and those “opposites” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

One friend says she’ll never get a smartphone because it would be in direct contradiction to the way she wants to live. This makes perfect sense to me, because she is a farmer. Her work is tied to the rhythms of the natural world. But I think it is hard for her to understand why other people seem to cling to their devices. She sees them staring blankly into their phones instead of having conversations or letting moments of stillness exist instead of filling them idle texting or email checking.

Fair enough. I've been guilty of that.

I concede her point, but I say that maybe being outside looking in doesn’t paint a full or fair picture. Maybe they’re reading the New York Times or coordinating their calendar. Or maybe they're Snapchatting.

Regardless, I say, what's it to anyone else, really? Who cares?

Still, she presses. What about silence and quiet contemplation? Do people always have to be scrolling? For the good of the future of the human race? And I can't help but agree that moments of solitude seem critical for mental health. Or at least for mine.

But I argue that the technology itself isn’t inherently bad: it's a temptation. It calls for personal awareness and knowing your own boundaries. You don’t have to demonize it or denounce it entirely to have a healthy life, I say.

Another friend, who is in grad school for art therapy, points out that actually, technology addiction is a very real, serious, and fast-growing sickness of sorts that people seem increasingly vulnerable to. Which makes me recall this infographic I recently read that says that the average Millennial Consumer checks her smartphone 43 times a day.

At the time, I think I am making a convincing and balancing counter-argument, and it's not until days later I become conscious of those truths I did not say or even realize then: that I "check" my phone many more times a day than necessary, that my flip-phone using fiance has, at times, gently requested that I take a break from Instagramming our meals, and that sometimes, the very first thing I do when I wake up is check my email. On my phone. In bed.

So when you're inside looking out, I think you can lose perspective, too.

I feel a mess of contradictions.

I pick and choose from past and present ways. I find so many paths worthy of incorporating, but I can't say I actually know how to balance them all. I have my paternal grandmother’s deep appreciation for antiques and my maternal grandfather’s Kennedy-Space-Center-working, progress driven mind. For me, they make sense together. I need Wendell Berry and Miranda July. I love my record collection. I love my podcasts, too.