In the months since I’ve started writing this column, more than one friend has asked me, in earnest, how’s it going – the whole internet thing. The whole, giving it up, cutting back, social media thing. My presence online hasn’t changed much from the outside, I don’t think, so it must look as though nothing has changed. I write a missive every week about some tiny notch of progress I’ve tried to make, some new understanding I’ve come to – but I’m still tweeting, still locked-at-the-eyes with Youtube, still staring into Instagram like maybe if I look hard enough I’ll turn into someone I want to be. I still haven’t bought the flip-phone. I still will not log off. I started this column on a kind of a quest for information – on a deep dive, on the idea that maybe I could live a better life with less internet. Less internet kind of translates to less stress, less abject fear, less time inside my head. How do I feel better, is the question I was asking. How do I give myself a happier life? A less tethered day-to-day?
There have been a few big changes, in the background, as my screen-time fluctuates and my e-mail buzzes like an ambient threat. Two, notably.
Firstly, and I’ll only mention it briefly here because I’m still working out how to talk about it – the slow-heart tablets I started to take two months ago. I often felt like the anxiety I was suffering wasn’t necessarily just in my head, it was in my body – it was in my ears, my chest, my stomach. I used to joke about having given myself cortisol poisoning: I was so stressed, so consistently, that my body had transformed under the siege. I’ve been in talk-therapy for almost four years, and pursuing therapy has been the best choice I’ve ever made for myself, but what was happening to my body from stress was outside of what processing and mindfulness could control. I am still working out how to write about it, how to tell other people the story of what brought me to my family GP, nauseous and shuddering, chest tight, without sleep, tinnitus as usual. How asking a doctor for help is my nightmare – because in the past, like many women, I have been denied medication and support under the apparent suspicion that I was exaggerating my symptoms. However, I was prescribed beta-blockers for my surging blood pressure and the things that were going all wrong inside my body and from the first days that they got to work, my life has been different. I’ve been lucid, and that is the word I keep going back to. I feel less like I am dying – most days now, I don’t feel like I am dying at all. And that absence of the death-feeling makes me reach for support far less – and the thing that gave me a sense of control, in a way, was the internet. In this new clarity of steady heartbeat and almost no unprompted terror at all, I don’t really want to be online all that much. Or at least, not in the same way I was. I do not know how to measure the change. I am still working it out.
Secondly, early on in this column I wrote about making zines. Initially I thought I was going to do a few to give myself a little cheer-up, but I have found a sense of wholeness from the making of them that was kind of unprecedented. I loved making them back when I lived in San Francisco, before the books, before anything really – I loved the feel of ink and the methodical snip of paper yielding to scissors. And now I love it more, not less. Now, under the coffee-table in my living room there are three little shoeboxes full of envelopes, stickers, stamps, elastics, and folded zines. My notebooks are scattered with tiny diagrams, plans for future tiny editions. I feel my writing can be bolder within the zines – because only fifty people, tops will read them, and they will read them because they want to. Writing for the internet, as I am here, is a strange thing: excavating oneself for the digital landscape is at once routine, but deeply vulnerable. We’ve had it carved into us that the internet never forgets – and at any moment the tide of this space could turn. There is more vulnerability, for me, in writing for the internet than there is in writing little tiny folded zines and sending them out to people, messages in bottles. Sending out weekly-ish zines is a commitment, certainly – and covering the cost of printing by charging readers a little for the packages holds me to that. But it isn’t one I balk from. It’s one I’m excited by. Here, for less than the price of a pint let me send you something true. I had gotten so used to churning out my best gags and takes for the serotonin-currency of likes and retweets that I had to relearn the pleasure of letter-writing. Of hey, this is just for you and the tiny crew who wants to know what I have to say about hotels, or dolphins, or whatever.
I wrote about the slow-heart tablets in a zine first and wasn’t afraid. I made a tiny poster with the words SLOW HEART on it and folded it into the envelopes – like a free poster of a boyband from a magazine in the 1990s – a two word celebration of a newfound freedom. It didn’t feel crass: it doesn’t feel crass. It feels like, making something true and giving it to the people who choose to see it. Folding the paper with my hands, writing thank you notes and addresses on envelopes – the quiet method of it is the opposite of the scroll, of poxy Tik-Tok, of angling my jaw for a selfie. I think it is the best thing I’ve gotten so far out of this interrogation – taking the writing and the truth offline. I mean, certainly, the internet is where people come to sign up for the things. But at home is where they get them. An envelope in the door.
Today, a large envelope came in my door. It contained hundreds of printed stickers of my cat – the large mountain animal that lives in my home. I initially got some glow-in-the-dark stickers of him printed as a freebie with a last set of zines, but I decided to keep doing them. Tactile, hilarious things. It is one thing to post pictures of your animal online and get the likes, the RTs, but turning them into tiny stickers feels sweeter, or something. His brilliant, Muppet-like face on holographic foil. I don’t see why the things that make us happy on the internet have to just stay there. I want to live in a world where the things that make me laugh, or think, don’t come from a screen, where I can touch them. My head is clearer, my heart is slower. My house has more paper.
I’m going to buy that slow-phone soon. None of the answers have fully arrived yet, but they’re coming, and I’m glad for the ones I’ve found.