My daughter had that teacherly look about her.
"I think you're addicted to your iPhone," she said sternly. "You're always
checking your email. You're even checking it when you're with Wyatt at the playground."
"I am?" I was about to offer a robust defense, but stopped to ask myself a question: would Anna say such a thing for any reason other than that she had observed it to be the case? No, she would not.
I also remembered that, in fact, I do always have my phone in my hand when Wyatt and I are at the playground. Always. I'm not talking to anyone on it -- I'm not much for phone conversation. But I'm checking email or texting.
"Why do you need to check it so much?"
"Well, when people respond to an eMo I need to write a little something back. Just something short. But something."
"Okay. How many of those are there?"
"It depends on how good the eMo is, I think. A really good one, maybe fifty or sixty responses. Could be a hundred, usually not. A normal one, maybe twenty."
She pulled out her laptop and started making a calendar. "What do you need to be doing on Mondays?"
"And then there's Let Us Bless The Lord," I continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "I send out 'Let us bless the Lord!' when I've finished morning prayer, and they send back 'Thanks be to God!' whenever they've finished."
"How many of those?"
"Maybe two or three hundred on a day." Anna pursed her lips a little, so I added, "but all I have to do is delete them. I don't have to re-answer them. If they have something they want me to read they put a P.S. In their subject line."
"And what else?"
"Well, if someone wants me to come and speak somewhere, it would come to the Farm's email. And then when an engagement is close, I usually ask them to switch to my AOL account to discuss arrangements. But sometimes they forget."
"Why do these need to be answered right away?" Anna pulled up Monday on her calendar. "Because they don't. People can wait a day. You need to set a time for answering them and not do it any other time. Now, what do you need to do on Mondays?"
Something about this whole exercise made me feel a little panicky, but I decided it was just the looming spectre of impending decrepitude and the subsequent utter loss of all my autonomy -- no big deal. I would hang in there until the panic passed. Soon we had created a weekly calendar that had me checking email twice a day and answering it in several large time slots each week, leaving me abundant time to do the things I really need to be doing, like writing. Because the truth is that I haven't written a book in several years. Just the eMos. I have been hiding from a significant piece of my vocation under an avalanche of electronic communication.
Now, I honestly believe that my multitasking multiplies my effectiveness. But then, for a long time I honestly believed professional wrestling was real, so I may not be the best witness here. The evidence seems to suggest that the opposite is true.
It is so hard to be guided by others, especially when the others are people you used to guide. Hard, even when you know they have your best interest at heart. Hard to learn that you are not, anymore, exactly who you have been, that you are not even who you think you are. A seemingly attentive grandmother with a secret iPhone life. An author dodging the risky discipline of publication. One charged with the care of souls, but driven away from fellowship by her deepening hunger for solitude.
Oh, why must who we are be so much more fluid than we thought it was? We thought we were rocks, permanently formed, and it turns out we are still so plastic, still becoming. Even now, after all this time -- we are still not finished.
Once a year, the Geranium Farm asks readers who are able to contribute to its modest expenses to consider doing so. Here is what they are: $200/month to Matt the Web Dude, who keeps the site and all the eMos moving through space, $100/month to reimburse the Internet expenses of the HodgePodge, More or Less Church and Ways of the World, and $900 each quarter to pay for my pension, in case I should ever decide to retire. The Farm also hosts an event every three years at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which costs some money, and once in a great while it reimburses travel if a church cannot afford to bring me on its own.
Besides this annual appeal, the Farm happily receives donations from people who come to me for spiritual direction. Spiritual direction, though not a sacrament, is a pastoral office of the church and, as such, should be offered free of charge. People do sometimes want to offer something for it, though, and that money also goes to the Farm.
If you are able to help, my colleagues and I would be most grateful. There are lots of Farmers, so it has never been necessary to ask more than once a year. No one who cannot afford to help should even consider it, but if you can, visit www.geraniumfarm.org and click on Donations, or send a check to The Geranium Farm, 387 Middlesex Avenue, Metuchen NJ 08840.