#159: Techno-Shabbat

For a few weeks now I’ve been doing a kind of technological shabbat. It’s an idea I’ve heard of in various forms, most recently in this interview with Tiffany Shlain. For me it means this: Friday sundown all screens go off, and stay off, for 24 hours.

Some shabbat days are already so filled with activity I hardly miss the internet. I write down directions to places ahead of time. Ask friends to text other friends to see where they are. The first week I did it I told people my battery had died. Now it’s simply, “I’m not using my phone right now.”

It’s the open-ended days, though, that jolt my sense of time. It’s like lobbing a patience grenade into my week, and this week I had to postpone my new ritual by a day – I turned in my manuscript on Wednesday and in the post-deadline loosening I forgot to do the prep necessary to not need my phone on Saturday.

So this morning I make coffee and sit on the porch, like usual. Unlike usual I journal on paper. I think about what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. A mockingbird sings a car alarm and the sun filters through elephant-skin clouds. It’s going to be hot later.

I come back inside and read Guy Delisle’s graphic novel travelogue about Pyongyang.  Delisle was working as an animation director at the time for a French studio outsourcing to North Korea, and his position and the comic medium put him in the ideal position to tell the stranger-in-a-strange-land story. If he were a journalist he wouldn’t have had as much access; if his drawings were photographs, many would surely have been confiscated. I read the book cover-to-cover. By the time I look up it’s not even noon.

I bike to Johnny Noodle King. Their pho is a little muddy, too savory and sour. The seaweed salad is perfect, though. Next it’s Downtown to Campus Martius Park (kind of like Madison Square Park, for you New York friends) where I sit under trees with fernlike leaves (walnut?) and draw people looking at their cellphones. A girl behind me is reading Pilgrim on Tinker Creek. A beautiful lone pigeon – really gorgeous – pecks at crumbs by my feet. The bird has markings on its back that look like black dragonfly wings flanking a needle-thin cone of white, but when I try to draw it it looks like a butt.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do next.

On my bike again. Woodward’s closed – they’re doing construction on the light rail – so I ride up Cass to Midtown and almost head back to the apartment. Then I decide to get ice cream from Treat Dreams (yup). While I’m eating my scoop of lavender-honey-mint I see a flyer for Cinema Detroit about their Iranian Film Night, which I’d RSVPed for on Facebook but forgot was tonight. It’s two blocks away, and starts in a half hour. I decide it’s worth breaking the no-screen rule for a one-time event where I do not own the screen.

Before the film starts I sample some Iranian soup and a delicious eggplant dip, and meet a couple of veterinarians who just moved here two weeks ago from Virginia. We walk into the lone screening room (imagine plush theaters seats plopped into an unfinished warehouse space) and watch Offside, about a group of Iranian girls who dress up as men in order to get into Tehran’s stadium for the 2006 World Cup qualifier between Iran and Bahrain. It’s fiction but shot documentary style – portions of it during actual soccer match – and the characters are all so brimming with life and passion; they fill the screen both literally and figuratively. The film unfolds in near real-time and is paced around the events of the match, kind of like a rougher-edged and more naturalistic Birdman. I’m in tears by the end.

I say goodbye to my new friends, and tell them I’ll find them on Facebook later. I ride back to the apartment, read a little more, and fall asleep on the couch waiting for the sun to set.