Pax (funcrunch) wrote,

What I did while I was offline

From June 15-24 I housesat for a friend in San Jose (the previously "undisclosed location"). I wanted a complete break from my normal routine, so I challenged myself to the following:

- No Internet
- No TV
- No videogames
- Prepare and cook all meals (save one)
- Play music every day
- Run every weekday

I met my goals nearly 100%, and am proud of this accomplishment. (The tangential goals of no nonessential phone use or texting were easily accomplished, as I desired uninterrupted solitude.)

No Internet

This goal was the hardest to meet, as I predicted. I normally spend many hours a day in front of the computer, and much of it is not only unproductive but actually counterproductive to me, wasting a lot of emotional energy on endless threads on discussion forums and Facebook, among other things. I really missed having instant access to Google and Wikipedia to look up anything that interested me in that moment, but staying offline there prevented me from getting into a rathole of coming for one thing and finding myself still clicking from link to link for hours. Often educational, yes, but for me it was bordering on obsessive at times.

I did end up going online for a few things, none of them strictly necessary. I had printed out maps beforehand, but still used Google Maps on my smartphone, partly to see if I could find a vegetarian restaurant for my one meal out. I also had the Weather Channel app running on my phone, which was useful even though I had access to a daily forecast via my friends' newspaper delivery. It was much hotter than I'm used to for most of the trip, and as I was running a lot I wanted to make sure I dressed and hydrated appropriately.

The one piece of information I deliberately looked up on the web was the exact time of the summer solstice, as I like to do a short observance at each of the quarters of the year. I should have looked this up before my trip, and did look for it in the newspaper, but it wasn't printed until the day of, so I might have missed it had I waited.

Finally, I started a series of audio Spanish lessons, and I wanted to continue the series without missing a day, so I went onto Audible's web site to download the next set with one of my credits. (Lesson One is free if anyone wants to check it out; a number of other languages are also offered.) I took Spanish for four years in middle and high school but decided to start from square one to focus on conversation, as my verbal skills lag far behind my reading comprehension in this language.


I met this goal 100%. I did not turn on my hosts' large flatscreen TV at all, nor did I watch any video on my smartphone. In fact, at the end of the trip I realized that I had not looked at any monitor or moving picture screen of any sort for the entire time. It was quite a nice break, especially as most of the TV shows I'd been watching lately were crappy reality shows (all via Hulu; I've long since given up on trying to get reliable reception out of our antenna).

Instead of TV and web surfing, I did a lot of reading and listened to music and the radio. I finished two books I'd already started: Sistah Vegan by Breeze Harper (via Kindle app) and Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki (via Audible app). I listened to two more audiobooks I'd already downloaded: the radio play version of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase (as awesome as expected), and Eric Idle's wonderful narration of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I read the first two books from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, which I'd borrowed from a friend, and immediately wished I'd had the luggage space to bring all six; can't wait to read the rest. Finally, near the end of the trip I started on one of my host's loaner books, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, an eye-opening first-person account of the Spanish Civil War. I didn't quite finish this one.

I listened to three Giants baseball games on the radio, the first on a whim, and thus was earwitness to Madison Bumgarner's memorable debacle of giving up 8 runs to the Twins before the second out of the first inning. Fortunately we won the remaining games of that series. Brought back childhood memories of listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates on the radio while lying in bed at night...

No videogames

I wanted to make sure I didn't subvert the spirit of the no-Internet and no-TV rules by spending the whole trip playing Nethack and/or Angry Birds. Succeeded there 100%, including on the Caltrain ride to San Jose. I did play Angry Birds on the train ride home, as two talkative people decided to sit next to me and have a conversation for nearly the entire time.

Prepare and cook all meals

I'm quite proud of this accomplishment. I did all of my grocery shopping on the first day, buying the staples I'm used to like brown rice, oats, beans, potatoes, and whole grain pastas as foundations for my meals. I needed to replenish only soymilk during the trip. I brought no recipes, deciding to rely on the knowledge I'd gained from cooking at home. I made lots of oatmeal, several kinds of burritos/wraps, stir fry, pasta salad, and a number of other dishes. After the first day (when I wolfed down a bowl of Cheerios with apple juice shortly after arrival), I used none of my hosts' food other than salt, pepper, a few herbs and spices, and a couple of tea bags to supplement the stash of loose-leaf tea boyziggy prepared and sent with me. Not every dish turned out equally tasty, but it was enough to keep me full and satisfied.

I planned to treat myself to one meal out, and was fortunate to find a vegetarian restaurant for the occasion. It was a three-mile walk in 80 degree weather, but it was worth it when I arrived and found it was actually an organic vegan restaurant (one of those "Supreme Master" places similar to Golden Era and Golden Buddha in San Francisco). My dessert of a single scoop of cherry-chocolate chip soy ice cream tasted like the best thing I'd ever eaten after a week with very little refined sugar, and was especially welcome on a hot day.

I had no beverages other than tea (the main use of the sugar, 1-2 tsp per cup, 2-3 cups per day) and water. I drank gallons of water. I completely drained my 45-oz Camelbak on nearly every run, and could have used twice that on the hottest days. It was very important for me to stay hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion.

Play music every day

My hosts had a freshly-tuned piano, and I took full advantage of it, playing every single day of the retreat. I brought my electric bass along as well, but didn't use it much. I had a variety of sheet music with me, but ultimately settled down to learning a beautiful but difficult Brahms piece* I'd toyed around with since high school but never learned (and still haven't). I also transcribed a couple of popular-music songs that I hope to perform someday.

* Intermezzo in Bb minor, Op. 117 No. 2. At least in this edition (Schirmer Piano Works Vol. II, copyright date illegible but likely older than me), there are so many accidentals the key signature seems almost superfluous. Hopefully this will be less of an issue once I have the piece memorized.

Run every weekday

I noted that my hosts live about two miles from the Guadalupe River Trail, and so mapped out a couple of routes toward and along its length. I found out that construction detoured the trail in one direction, and so ended up not running as far that way as I'd planned, though I did walk the length from downtown one day. I ran every weekday after my arrival date except for the day I went out for lunch, and that day I walked over six miles, including a walk through the San Jose State campus.

My exact distance was impossible to judge as I'd given up on getting accurate readings from my cell phone's GPS, and did enough looping and backtracking around the Heritage Rose Garden trail entrance that my pre- and post-mapped distances are only guestimates. I also spent quite a long time stuck at traffic lights, especially at a busy intersection near the trail entrance, which was especially unpleasant in the strong sunlight. But I am trying to boost my Vitamin D levels naturally, and now that I'm several shades darker (I wore no hat, and stripped down to my running bra on the hottest days), I look forward to my three-month retest next month to see if I was successful.

I also did stretches and crunches each day I ran except for the day I went home. I still hate doing these, so having audiobooks and Giants games to listen to really helped pass the time.

On the Saturday of my visit, when I'd planned no run, I packed a lunch and walked over five miles roundtrip to go downtown for the Juneteenth festival I'd noticed in the paper. I was surprised at how empty the city seemed compared to how it would be on a warm sunny day in San Francisco. But then, I suppose South Bay residents are used to the sun!

I didn't end up sticking around for the festival, as it was late getting started and the first artist was a rapper; I was hoping for some jazz or R&B, and I'm sure there was such music later, but I decided to explore the area and walk back along the river trail instead. (I was also trying to avoid the temptation of the many vendor booths; I didn't want to spend money on anything other than groceries and my one restaurant outing during this trip.) I stopped briefly at the Tech Museum to check the hours and tentatively planned to come back and visit after my lunch out the following week (I figured the $10 admission would be worth the expense), but ultimately decided not to as I was enjoying being out in the sunshine too much.

The Sunday of my visit was also a rest day, and I only did a bit of slow walking around the Municipal Rose Garden and the grounds of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, both in my friends' neighborhood. I also enjoyed just sitting in their backyard and listening to the birds singing, a luxury I haven't experienced in quite a long time.

This private retreat was very worthwhile. Only time will tell if it was truly lifechanging, but I'm already altering my daily habits, particularly with regard to Internet use, based on my experience.

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