My wife Jean and I live In LA. She acts, I write, and we both do a couple of comedy shows a week ... whatever. We're pretty lucky that we get to spend our time doing what we love and even luckier that we get paid for it. But like all careers, it takes a lot of time and effort to keep it going. We basically freelance from gig to gig and a good deal of our time is spent trying to get that next job.
So, our days often end with us in bed staring at our phones: checking emails, texting 'contacts' -- formally known as friends -- and feeding the endless monster of social media, begging it for validation and proof of relevance. And that is what it is. It's fine. Hell, I even kinda like it.
I know a lot of people talk about being addicted to their iPhone -- as if that's a bad thing -- but I always think, I'm not addicted to it. I don't need it, I WANT it. I want it to help me when I'm awkwardly waiting by myself somewhere and don't know how to act. I want it to help me fall asleep. I want it after a 4:30am earthquake wakes me and I use it go on twitter and read what other comedy friends have written about the hilarity of almost dying in a natural disaster.
I want to be connected. Or, at least that's what I though I wanted. Until I recently -- accidentally -- went though iPhone withdrawal.
One of the advantages of my 'job' is that every so often I get to travel. I get to do shows for enthusiastic crowds, stay in nice hotels, and eat crappy food without my wife knowing about it. Over the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to do two shows with The Moth Storytelling Series; both of which were in beautiful, natural paradises: Aspen and Big Sur.
The first was at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which was incredible. I got to hear speakers like attorney Theodore B. Olson and our next president, Hillary Clinton. So cool. Then at the Moth show I was in, Arianna Huffington told a story about almost working herself to death. Literally. It was about how one day she passed out, cracked her head open and ended up in the hospital. The doctors knew something was wrong but weren't sure about exactly what it was. Finally after a bunch of severe tests and scary scares, they came to the conclusion that what she suffered from, simply put, was burn-out disease.
My first thought was, I have wasted my life. When I think of people who work so hard that it's dangerous, I feel lazy. Like I said, I write glorified fart jokes and tell narcissistic stories for a living. I am in no risk of burning out. Not to brag, but yesterday I woke up at noon, ate some candy, watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy and then took a nap.
After Aspen, my wife, Jean, and I drove up to Big Sur where I was hosting a show at the Henry Miller Library. When we got there we met Magnus, the charismatic and awesome floppy-haired Swedish dude who ran the place. Magnus and his uber-cool wife, Mary Lu, were nice enough to put us up in their farmhouse for a few nights. After he showed us the loft where we could crash he asked us to NOT plug our phones in. Turned out the house ran on solar power and charging the phones while we slept would've drained too much of their energy reserve.
So there I was, in a house straight out of a coffee-table-book, with luscious gardens of fresh fruit and vegetables, surrounded by thousand-year-old trees and empty beaches and I was thinking, Who the hell can live like this?!
To make it even worse, it had been hours since I checked my phone and the battery was dead. Jean and I got into the loft bed but I couldn't sleep. I needed my phone. I needed to post pics of Big Sur. How would everyone know where I was, what cool things I was seeing? I needed to post some of the genius thoughts I had about my day and collect favorites and likes. I needed those likes. How the hell was I supposed to end the day and fall asleep before anyone had validated me!?
In the morning, Jean and I went for a hike through the Redwoods that ended on a rocky ocean cove. Whatever, it was breathtaking. I had more important things on my mind, I needed to get my phone turned on so I could post about the hike through the Redwoods that ended up in a rocky ocean cove. We jumped into my car and went on a quest to find somewhere that we could charge our phones and hopefully get service. We were tweaking like a couple of meth-heads in need of a fix as we drove around winding ocean cliff roads, barely glancing at the perfect views around every turn.
We ended up at a café, eating outside by a creek. We both sat silent, hopped up on free WiFi. I was in paradise. I'm not talking about the paradise of being steps away from a freshwater brook or having a delicious grass-fed burger on my plate, I'm talking about the fact that I had the most new emails I had ever had before. And even though most of them were junk, seeing the tiny red circled 64 simultaneously gave me anxiety and a sense of being important.
After we left the café, we were back off the grid. Once again we were forced to detox. The second time was easier. We accepted it. We relaxed and saw the trees and the stars and the ocean and we talked to interesting people who have incredible lives. I think it's the dirty hippie version of being 'connected'; we were connected to other people.
But then, just like that, a few nights later we were back in our own bed. We were using again. Liking and posting until we passed out. In the morning I felt relapse shame.
I realized that it doesn't matter if I'm Type-A or Type-Zzzz. It doesn't matter if I work 80 hours a week or only work once every other week. I may not be one half of a self sustaining Big Sur power couple or the President and Editor-in-Chief of a media group. None of that matters. No one -- besides prostitutes, John Lennon and Yoko Ono -- should work from their bed. Everyone needs time off. Everyone needs to relax.
For the past week I have instituted a no-using-my-iPhone-at-night life policy. And even though it's only been one week and I have fallen off the wagon twice, it's made a huge difference. I have managed to read a great book -- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I totally recommend -- I have cooked some great meals instead of ordering them -- lamb chops and pierogis, who knew? -- and I've managed to find the time to write this blog post.
I'm not suggesting going cold turkey... maybe just cutting back. Because by waiting to check my phone until after morning coffee, I've missed absolutely nothing. The sad-joy I get from seeing what some dude from high school had for lunch or the weirdly cathartic feeling that comes from Facebook jealousy-hating friends who are more successful than I am, is still there waiting. And there's been no opportunity for work that's come in after 7pm that wasn't still an opportunity at 7am... Okay, that's a lie, I never get up that early.