I look around the Asian style longboat, some travellers are reading, some just staring out, many are asleep on each other, heads in laps, collapsed together like rag dolls. Time stretches like the sun’s rays across the teak boards. Time. I have found you again. Welcome back.
My destination is nowhere, a two-day ride on a slow boat up the Mekong river, just for the hell of it. The sound of the water rushes against the boat making a peaceful swoosh, the mountains glide by like multiple layers of a theatre diorama. Heavy jungle, wild banana trees, waterfalls, the occasional hut or tiny village appearing on the river bank. Every now and then a rock mountain appears mid river, rising out of the water, gliding right past the boat like icebergs drifting past the Titanic.
I shake my head in disbelief. Just a few weeks ago everything had been so different. My life was being held to ransom.
By what you ask?
My email, like some evil deity, had control. Or to be honest, I was in a battle to control it. Yet it was only briefly appeased. I made constant resolutions to stay on top of it, only to lose control when I turned my back for 2 or 3 days. Saturdays, Sundays, the wee hours, annual leave, it never stopped. Three hours, four hours, five hours a day lost to feeding the beast, feeling success, until the next day rolled around. I no longer had a choice but if I could control the flow I felt good.
Except, I mostly felt like a failure. I began to steel myself as I opened the lid of the laptop each morning, praying to only have 80 new emails. Anything less than 100 unread at the end of the day was measured as a good day. Eventually I took to just avoiding the email folder altogether, or I’d flick through the flood of emails coming in but couldn’t bring myself to answer half of them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love to hear from people, they make my heart glad with their emails. This wasn’t the fault of others. The fault lies with me. I have come to realise that one can never appease this ‘Email God’. Worse, the appearance of control is so reinforcing – if I can just keep the unread emails down I am in control. Wrong. Control is the problem here.
‘Fear of one’s inbox’ is indicative of a problem. So I made the decision to step away. I closed the lid. Set up an auto reply – “I’m gone, your mail will not be read.”
Then I changed contexts. To Asia, where the world is vibrant, loud, full of people who see the world differently. New contexts help when one is wanting to change, it gives perspective and distance on the familiar.
Life has opened up into a big expanse of days. I am now choosing, not following. I have time to pause and reflect. Life here is not just slow, it is peaceful. I am sure my heart beats slower. My health is returning. I have sleep, good food, and I pray I will survive with little money. I think about the people I love, I have time to miss them now, and that is a good thing. There are no new deadlines, no imposed pressure, no work other than those of my choosing; a new writing project, delicious because it is mine.
On the Mekong now it is Saturday. I smile writing that because I no longer need to know what day it is. I realise calendar time does not matter, only a life with time is a life. Life with time and with others. Every now and then, my inbox beckons. The addictive hit of opening and checking mail, like every addiction, lasts a long time. Even worse, a sudden fear will strike that I might be missing an ‘important’ message. I take this behaviour as a sign, I have not been gone long enough.
Perhaps it is as simple as this – vitality won’t be found in my inbox, just appetitive reinforcement for seeing the numbers go down. In the end, I would be quite happy for my epitaph to read, ‘she was shite at managing email’.
My inbox is not a friend. Is yours?