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20111130-unplugging-by-lindsey-crittendenFor months, my laptop has been quitting suddenly, flashing inscrutable error messages, and not allowing me to back up. I can be a sudden, spontaneous shopper—especially in the months leading up to my wedding—for shoes, soft sweaters, and a gorgeous silk kimono.

But for items requiring a power switch and a price exceeding three digits? I take my time. I ask around. I stare at strangers’ laptops in the library and at the local café. I wander into the Apple store to poke at the MacBook Pro, stroke the MacBook Air. I ask the Apple Specialists if I can really get by with Pages instead of Word. I run their answers by my tech-friendly cousin, and then I decide.

Friday afternoon, I went in, pulled out my VISA card, and signed on the small screen held by the Apple Specialist. With my finger; you do nothing in an Apple Store without Steve Jobs having dictated that you would do it, and Steve Jobs, I learned from a recent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell, thought styluses were ugly and stupid.

So, if you want to pay with plastic in an Apple store, you must sign with your finger. It’s kind of a fun idea in theory, recalling kindergarten paints and easels, but in practice, it’s annoying. I signed something that looked nothing like my signature, and handed over my 2005 PowerBook to the Data Transfer Specialist who reassured me, patting its sleek metal cover, that he’d take good care of it.

And then I fought Friday afternoon traffic in the lashing rain for two hours, picked up Craig in Berkeley, and headed north for a yoga retreat at a hot springs. (I’m devoted to my yoga teacher, friendly with the other students, and a lover of taking the waters. Craig agreed to come along, although he drew the line at participating in yoga class.)

Wilbur Hot Springs is nestled in a remote canyon. Mineral water leaves the ground at around 145 degrees, gets channeled into three long tubs and an outdoor cool-water pool the color of green Kool-Aid. Surrounding rocks have chalky white deposits, and after soaking for a while, one’s skin turns soft and warm, as though lighted from within.

During the two days we were there, and especially while doing yoga—from sun salutations to draped-over-bolsters restorative poses—I would get an occasional whiff of sulfur, whether from my own clothing, my hair, or the steam from the springs, I don’t know or care.

Over lunch on Saturday—Reuben sandwiches, a surprisingly delightful alternative to the soybean-and-lentil concoctions one might expect at a yoga retreat at a hot springs in Northern California—Craig and I talked to another couple about sabbath.

Not in the way you might think, but in the way more and more people these days are talking about taking an intentional break from the Internet. Wilbur has neither Wi-Fi nor cell reception. And since the place is solar-powered, guests are asked not to bring any electrical devices.

I thought of my new MacBook Pro, at the Apple Store being “data-transferred” in what I imagined was a procedure akin to transfusion: two computers lying side by side as binary code pulsed between them. The result, for me, would be a new, improved system. Now, maybe, Craig and I could download all our wedding pictures without getting Memory Nearly Full! messages.

Now, maybe, I could sit in the living room without a power cord and work for longer than two minutes.

I felt in no particular hurry to do either. Wilbur had forced us to leave behind our connectivity; couldn’t we do the same at home? Already, I rarely go online on the weekends, avoiding email altogether if I can.

But during the week? I pull out my cell phone at a red light, just in case someone might have phoned in the past three minutes and I somehow didn’t hear it. I check my inbox all day long.

After lunch, back in our room, I noticed the mirror, bent toward it to check my complexion. Soaking in mineral water can bring out impurities, after all. But the light behind me was so dim, I could make out only the nimbus of my hair. I was reminded of going camping, those weeklong trips where I bathe in streams and never see myself and feel great. Still, that never meant that when I got home, I gave up on daily hot showers.

Flash forward to Sunday afternoon. I’d risen at seven for Sun Salutations on the deck, eaten a delicious brunch, and soaked in the waters, moving from the 105-degree tub to the 80-something-degree swimming pool. I asked a man near Craig and me if he knew the time, and he did. It was a few minutes before two.

And here’s the takeaway, the thing I’ve been carrying with me the rest of our two hours at Wilbur and the drive home and the stop downtown to run into the Apple Store to get my new laptop and my old one: time slowed down.

I’m convinced that if we’d been at home, the day would have been over by then. But we left Wilbur at 4:04 p.m,, hit traffic sometime around 6:30, and made it home in time for a nice dinner. I did the dishes and unpacked, Craig had some bills to pay and fired up his laptop. It wouldn’t start. It had three updates to install. The sign seemed clear.

Yes, I’m plugged in now, using my old PowerBook. The new one’s in its box, right here at my side, spanking new. I’ll get it going when I’m ready. And when I go out to run errands, I’ll bring my cell phone.

But today, at least, when I stop at a red light, I’ll close my eyes and think of water the color of Gatorade, water so buoyant that flotation becomes imperative; I’ll see myself lying back, cradled by Craig’s arms and thousands of parts per million of chloride, sodium, carbonic acid, and potassium.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Lindsey Crittenden

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