I’m still not even sure how it happened. I was sitting on a very small deserted piece of beach in Puerto Rico. I was taking pictures and warming my soul. And then: my phone was gone.
How? Honestly I don’t know.
Did the ocean demand a sacrifice? Was it dropped into quicksand and pulled to the center of the earth? Did it get sucked into some sort of vortex and is now living in a parallel dimension?
I may never know.
the last picture I sent to a friend before…
And yes, of course I scoured the beach over and over, ad nauseam, at multiple times of day and multiple tide levels. Asked the few passersby, checked the solo tienda, used the Find My Phone application from my computer:
Your device is offline, it said. No location possible.
Radical acceptance is not my forte. And yet here I was being forced into a radical acceptance/letting go situation. I didn’t like it! I just wanted to chill on the beach and relax, not have a life lesson. I guess when you aren’t paying attention, the universe has to get louder and more dramatic.
What would it mean not to have a phone for a week while traveling alone in another country?
- No GPS. How will I get this rental car back across the island? How will I ever navigate through crazy town San Juan?
- No camera. Not ideal, but do-able….
- No texts or calls. I realized I only had TWO people’s phone numbers memorized! (Note to self: memorize your important people’s numbers)
- No clock. No alarm.
- No compulsively checking the weather, which apparently I do a lot.
- No banking or budgeting apps…
The only thing I really needed was that GPS to get home. The rest of it I could actually manage old skool style. And I could certainly still write, which was the point.
So that’s what I did. I went for the better part of a week without the phone, by myself, in Puerto Rico. And I wrote. And I slept in (no clocks). And I didn’t reach for the camera with every pretty sunset (I managed to get a few in before at least!) And I didn’t answer texts because…I didn’t get any! I did no Wordle. I just sat.
So what does this have to do with writing?
I think two things:
The obvious lesson, of course, is to unplug. Like really unplug. We don’t allow ourselves enough space to think deeply for extended periods of time, to get lost in the crags of our minds–and the deep work, the profound work, always requires that we get still. Losing my phone forced me to quit the churning inside and get still. And that was what my writing needed, too.
And of course…surrender. Yes…that lesson we are so good at avoiding. But so often when we find ourselves stuck in writing or in life, it’s because we’re holding onto something too tightly: the past, the good idea that isn’t working, the way we think this is supposed to go. We assume that we’re in charge, and that’s the point: we are never in charge. How many times have I heard a writer say: I didn’t want to write about that (mother, childhood, etc.), but that is what is coming out. When it’s going well, the writing should surprise us, take us in new directions in content or even form. The work always has its own blueprint.
But, sometimes we have to let go of the ONE thing we REALLY don’t want to let go of–maybe it’s the original concept, the first line, the last line. The ending we mapped out years ago. Remember: the work is always smarter than we are, and we are not in charge of anything. I’ll say it again: we are not in charge of anything, really, in art or life. Illness always arrives unannounced. Pandemics happen. Sometimes the stars align and, honestly, sometimes they don’t.
But we always have the choice to lean into the discomfort and see what lives on the other side. Perhaps inspiration. Perhaps liberation. Perhaps the very thing you need in your writing or your life waits on the other side of surrender. Perhaps we’ve been knocking on the wrong door all along.
In Puerto Rico, I was eventually able to purchase a burner phone with GPS and get myself home. But losing my phone continues to provide a potent metaphor in releasing the old and stepping into the role of a beginner again–as a writer and as a human. And let me tell you: on the other side of surrender is a glorious field, vibrating with possibility.
So…what have you been holding on too tightly to? What would it be like to let it go and begin again?
To your continued brilliance and creative inspiration, no matter how unexpected the source.
P.S. AND, for the brave, just for fun, try going 24 hours without your phone. Report back!
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