borrowed words.

June 18, 2019

…What was missing from that surreal and terrifying torrent of information and virtuality was any regard, any place, for the human animal, situated as she is in time and in a physical environment with other human and nonhuman entities. It turns out that groundedness requires actual ground…

When I realized this, I grabbed onto it like a life raft, and I haven’t let go. This is real. Your eyes reading this text, your hands, your breath, the time of day, the place where you are reading this—these things are real. I’m real too. I’m not an avatar, a set of preferences, or some smooth cognitive force; I’m lumpy and porous, I’m an animal, I hurt sometimes, and I’m different one day to the next. I hear, see, and smell things in the world where others also hear, see, and smell me. And it takes a break to remember that: a break to do nothing to just listen, to remember in the deepest sense what, when, and where we are.

An excerpt from Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. I finally bought this book last week and started it on the subway ride to pickup a sweet young friend at the airport. I got a few pages in and immediately set time limits on my social media apps. I got one chapter in and started listening to the birds as I lay with Faye in the evening while she falls asleep. I suspect I’ll be rereading sections of this book for years to come.

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  • Reply LaTonya June 18, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Stopping into Greenlight to get this now. Needing a new book. Thank you.


    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 18, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      It’s so good!

  • Reply MA June 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    I really loved her article on Medium that I think is part of this book. Now I strive to be a “deep observer” of the world. Need to check out the whole book. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Reply Susan Crane June 18, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Another good one in the same vein is The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker!

  • Reply Amanda S. June 18, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    I just finished this book last weekend. It had a lot of nice reminders that it’s okay to not have “plans” and to just sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and cool breeze. I usually strive to stay productive, but I think I also need downtime in order to stay grounded and remember how wonderful and lucky we are to be on this earth.

  • Reply Sophia June 18, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    I had the same reaction after reading “Before the Internet” (Emma Rathbone, The New Yorker). Can’t wait to read this book!

  • Reply Nicole June 18, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    I’m not a highlighter, and never make notes in books…but seriously regretted that I was reading a library copy of this, and not my own. I need a copy to mark up for once! So, so good!

    • Reply Helen June 19, 2019 at 10:45 am

      Do it! I usually get library books too but I think you’ll come back to this one…

  • Reply Helen June 19, 2019 at 8:14 am

    This has been a powerful read for me and I’m still savoring it. The liberatory potential in letting go–and the added perk of thwarting consumer capitalism–is much more compelling than the other reasons one typically undergoes a “digital detox.” I was really struck by her point that we don’t let go of these modes of digital accounting for our lives because it will make us more productive; in fact, the whole point is just letting go and living. Anyways, I’m still going to read your site (which I love), but I too have created some real limits on my social media consumption and am fighting an email addiction. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Reply steph June 19, 2019 at 11:31 am

    adding it my summer non-fiction (full list here:!
    i’ve been doing this for years and i will say it’s the ultimate path to happiness , serenity, etc. i feel like a kid because every thing awes me. right now the bullfrogs alternating between gurgles and deep violin sounds, the sunset exploding into a pastel painting, the fireflies, the full moon rising. so much magic and all of it free – it is my meditation, my self-care – i’m part of this giant life-filled orb and it’s a part of me. getting outside and noticing every little thing always cures any negative emotion i might be feeling. other free ways to “do nothing”/treat yourself this way:

  • Reply Catherine Cox June 20, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you so much for recommending this book – I started reading it today, and keep nodding to myself… I love how much deeper she goes than a peremptory “delete Facebook” vent, and her radical, yet hopeful “resist in place” really resonates!

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