Another year (mostly) spent offline

2022 beat my ass. I aged ten years in two weeks, what did you accomplish? Getting offline won’t save you from yourself, that’s lesson one. Nothing will save your from yourself, except maybe death, but then it won’t matter anyway. In the meantime, getting (mostly) offline has made life much better. Compared to what? I can’t say, but it feels better. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving and I’m excited to see where this journey, this little adventure of mine, will take me. There is no looking back now.

1. Writing to save my life, a.k.a journaling

I used to run away from myself. I still do, but I used to too. Some things are easier than others. After eight years of consistent practice, journaling has become easier than running away; less catastrophic, less costly, less devastating.

I spent many hours journaling in 2022. I filled almost three notebooks and ran out of many pens. Life was suffocating me. In an attempt to catch my breath, to feel something other than the terror of waking up to another day, I turned to the blank pages of $2 notebooks; unassuming, indifferent, non-judgmental. I filled each page with longing, hope, love, despair, conviction, loss, pain, fear, hatred, anger. Most days I wrote two pages, other days I couldn’t stop writing for hours at a time. July, I wrote a lot about rotting. I felt “empty, emptying.” I decried my life and begged the gods for peace. I boldly declared I would never want for anything, ask for anything, if only I could have “a little peace of mind.”

It was too late by August, so I got another $2 notebook and titled it Things Fall Apart. By October, the only thing left was to face myself: “don’t lie to yourself because it is easier,” and I underlined it. It would have been easier to hide, to scroll to numb the pain, ignore the texts, pretend nobody cares. Instead, I showed up; the lunches, the fitness classes, the parties, the nail salon, the cute cafes, the small talks, the big, painful, tearful talks. By November, I couldn’t believe my luck. I quickly forgot August, and October too, it was easier. When December rolled around and I felt the courage to face July again, I picked up my old journal and turned the pages carefully, searching the margins for dates, until I reach July: rotting, rotting, rotting. But everyone is happy online.

2. We’re all crackheads for something, a.k.a becoming a fitness junkie

You cope, and then you die.

The only difference between spending your last $20 on booze versus spending $200 on a monthly fitness membership is getting lucky before the going gets tough. It’s only a very short time frame before being young, dumb, and broke with an appetite for self-destructive habits turns real ugly. I got lucky in 2017 and discovered the beautiful world of workout classes before my bad habits caught up with me, and worse yet before I could afford them. But it wasn’t until this year I accomplished a consistent exercise habit. I went to workout classes 3 to 5 times a week for the whole year, minus a couple of weeks here and there. It took five years to get here, and I feel so goddamn accomplished.

(I hate the gym, but) I love fitness classes for many reasons. Vanity is number one, I wouldn’t lie to you. Two, I haven’t found anything so far that beats the sweat-drenched, breathless, beast-mode feeling at the end of a killer class. I chase that high class after class. Three, it’s effortlessly offline. I get to leave my phone, and the internet, alone for an hour or so. Four, it gets me around people and socializing. It’s nice to see friendly faces on a consistent basis and shoot the shit. I love shooting the shit; it’s my only means of passive social consumption without social media. I don’t take small talk for granted. There’s also this beautiful sense of belonging and community; we’re all eating shit together, and will feel on-top-the-world afterwards together.  

3. Amateur reading, a.ka. words you can eat with spoon

Reminder: 2022 knocked me out senseless, flat faced. It choked me out until I gave up a lot of my self-delusions I used to carefully safeguard. I went kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to face myself. I put up a good fight, but life won. I was terrified to see what remained underneath the self-delusions, the lies I repeated until I believed, running away breathless. I started with the questions, about this and that. Why, why, why? Until I was left dizzy with things I didn’t want to know. 

For the past five years, I attempted the #52booksin52weeks challenge. I never got to 52 books, and after the first year, I read less and less books with each passing year. It begged the question: If I want to read 52 books a year, why don’t I read 52 books a year? Got it? It’s simple but takes time. The challenge wasn’t about reading, it was about being the type of person that reads 52 books a year. Obviously, I’m not the kind of person that reads 52 books a year; I would have to read 52 books a year to be that person. It also doesn’t mean I’m not a reader. It just means action creates identity, not the other way around. Without arbitrary, self-imposed rules, I could read 86 books a year, who know. Who cares?It’s exhausting, all these rules. It’s one thing to live by rules so society doesn’t go out in flames, but who is all the self-imposed hell for?

“Do you know where the word amateur comes from?” We’re talking about something important enough to forget. “Mm-hm,” I say and I will never forget: “one who loves, lover.” I want to be an amateur reader; to read with genuine love, delight, joy, to read what Stephen King referred to as ‘words you can eat with spoon.’ So I leisurely walk the aisles of libraries, bookstores, thrift shops, picking up and putting down books until I find the ones that grip me, command my attention, make me want to know more: No Disrespect. I savour each character, I pace myself so they don’t end too soon, before I’m ready to let go of them, and sometimes I confuse them for real-life people: Oh wait, that’s Nate from No Disrespect, and I chuckle to myself. I try to put down books that feel tedious as quickly as possible. If I can only stomach one book every two years, if I can only love one more book for the rest of my life, and so bet it.

4. All good things in life are outdoors, a.k.a get outside

I am saving the best for last. Life is full of excuses to stay home and scroll, but all the best things in life are outside your front door. If you have nothing better to do at home than be on the internet— and you know who you are— get out. I understand the privilege in which I say this, (helloooo Toronto) and having lived in a smaller city I know the struggle, but it’s 2023 and we are done with the excuses. Life is to be lived, experienced, felt. You cannot feel from a tiny screen.

I make every excuse to get out, feel the fresh air, be around other humans doing their human things, and experience life. I welcome the cold, snow, dark days while patiently waiting to feel summer, to know heaven. I never turn down a social invite without a very good reason; usually another social plan, I look up things happening and invite people, I join meetup groups, I plan solo-dates (cafes, libraries, and the movies are my favourite), I add walks to my commute even if the train is convenient, and make sure I have at least one social activity to go to every week. I have no choice anyway. It’s easy to hate going out, hate this and that, when you have hundreds of people’s lives to passively consume from the comfort of your bed. I don’t have that privilege; by choice, and I would choose it over and over again, but I don’t have it. So, I stay out as much as possible. The best part is it feels so much better to get home at the end of the day and enjoy a well-earned comfort and time to myself.

time spent offline adds up. It’s easy to obsess over tiny details, try to force yourself to put down the phone, guilt yourself into reading instead of going on instagram again, and these things are good starting points: You can learn a lot from hating yourself. But I know better now. I prefer to be an amateur instead, a lover of time spent offline. I put on music and pull out my Sudoku book because that’s what I want to spend my evening doing. And when I still feel “empty, emptying,” I get lost in /r/askTO. It gets boring quick anyway because reality, if you are courageous enough to confront it, is more indulging than the endless noise online.

Here’s to another year of plugging/unplugging, connecting/disconnecting, learning/unlearning.

Until next time,

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  1. Amin Avatar

    Action creates identity, not the other way around. Ding-ding. What a line! What you do every day is who you are, not the idealised image in our heads that doesn’t exist in reality.

    And I love the last bit, the constant flip-flopping between states – sums up our experiences through life really.


    1. Mehret Biruk Avatar
      Mehret Biruk

      Reality >>>>


  2. Pavel P. Avatar
    Pavel P.

    Everyone desires happiness. May you be happy, Mehret.


    1. Mehret Biruk Avatar
      Mehret Biruk

      I truly appreciate your kind words. Right back at ya 🙂


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