Monday, April 01, 2002

Off-Site Insight II
So I went to Maine this past weekend. Rose relatively early Saturday morning and headed to North Station to catch the Downeaster, a new train straight to Portland. The commuter rail station at North Station isn't as interesting or as comfortable as the one at South Station, and there's not a whole lot to do while waiting for your train except grab some food at a Dunkin' Donuts or McDonalds, sit on a bench missing a couple of slats on the seat, and avoid scary, whiskey-drunk homeless people. I don't mind homeless people, but it concerns me if they're intoxicated, aggressively talking to themselves, or confronting others in their vicinity. Saturday morning, I was a snail in my shell.

The train ride was wonderful. As we headed north, Boston's overcast skies gave way to a semblance of clear skies and sun, and the scenery was excellent -- water, woods, and the in-between, behind, and beside spaces you often miss while you're walking around a city proper. The graffiti along the tracks wasn't that good or interesting, but I did see one good depiction of an angel Krylon'ed on concrete. Nice.

Once in Maine two and a half hours later, I was surprised that the train station was on the edge of town and because of the highways, not really within walking distance of anything even close to downtown. Similarly, I should have better researched my lodging, as the comparatively inexpensive Howard Johnson's I'd booked a room in was also on the edge of town (away from the train station, to boot), at least a $12 cab ride from anywhere interesting, sharing space with a Friendly's of all restaurants, and across the street from a strip club.

So I grabbed a burger at the Friendly's -- which was staffed some of the least friendly and energetic waitresses I've ever encountered -- and then holed up in my room to nap, watch the sun set in ribbons of pink and gold, and do what I went to Portland to do: seek solitude and time away from my life in order to think through what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, and why.

I'm not going to go into the whole process I followed to think things through, but I did do three things that might be of interest or use by other Media Dieticians.

  • I mapped out the spheres of activity and involvement in my life, drawing a Venn diagram of my "life loops" -- to show what I do and how those activities and personal and professional investments relate to each other. Without actually sharing the diagram, which ended up looking like a pregnant snow man, I depicted how my involvement with family, friends, work, the Anchormen, zines, and Media Diet correlate. Family was the only thing that didn't really touch my other activities. And there was a pretty drastic gap in the Venn diagram -- a romantic relationship or lover.
  • I made a list showing the current prioritization I was giving these spheres -- and the preferred prioritization that I'd like to achieve. This turned out to be a rather radical upending of priorities, so I took some to think through what I might do to achieve that re-prioritization... and what elements might add up to a new potential profession or career if my current work isn't what I want to do.
  • Lastly, I considered how I spend my time every day, using my daily activities, habits, patterns, and rituals to develop ideas about some things I could and should change. These elements addressed some pretty mundane things: sleep, my diet, personal habits, laundry, dishes, taking out the garbage, shopping for groceries, going out and hanging out with friends, cleaning my apartment, spending money, and other life practices. The changes I outlined included things I could and should start doing -- as well as stop doing. And I took into account how the changes fit together so I could determine whether a change should be immediate or enacted over time.

    How I put this plan into practice won't be perfect, I'm sure, but I'll do my best. And so far, it's going pretty well (easy to say after a day away).

    Sunday, then, was my walking around day. I grabbed breakfast at the Friendly's -- meeting the nicest, cutest waitress I'd seen there (and wearing bunny ears for Easter to boot!) -- and then called a cab to drop me off at Monument Square downtown. The city was sleepy and silent, given that it was off season, a Sunday, and Easter, but I poked around uptown for a brief spell before heading into the Old Port, which is the part of Portland with the most charm. I first headed to the water and braved a No Trespassing sign to make my way to the end of one of the wharfs to look out at the water, lobster boats, and far shore across the bay. Then I did my usual city stroll -- trying to take in as many centers of the city as I could: city hall, the post office, the library, the exchange building or financial district, urban parks, a high school or two, and several book stores, record stores, and comic shops. I find that even if you only hit the town hall, bus station, post office, main library, and a school, you'll see most of a city's major sections.

    The only shops that were open, though -- it was Easter, remember -- was Books, Etc., a tidy little shop complete with a friendly dog, and Longfellow Books, which sported an enormous McSweeney's display and had a nice selection of design magazines. By this time, I had to go to the restroom, so I poked around the basement to see whether the shopping center had public bathrooms -- a no go, literally -- and then when I left out the back door of the building's basement, I saw the opportunity to have a little adventure.

    There, to my left, was a chained-off staircase going down into the dark. I wondered what was down there, so I ducked the chain and proceeded down the stairs, ignoring a sign telling me not to do just that. Rounding the landing and spotting the darkened window of whatever shop or restaurant used to be there -- with a table and some stools stacked against the glass -- I set off a motion detector or something. Woot! Woot! Woot! Shocked out of my wits, I zipped back up the stairs, ducked back under the chain, and proceeded to walk nonchalantly away from the siren and alarm as though nothing had happened. I turned a corner. I turned another corner. And -- after deciding that it was more harm than help to go back to the shop and fess up to my innocent trespass... and less than wise to stick to main streets near the scene of the "crime" -- I made my way back to an Irish pub I'd passed earlier in the morning: Brian Boru's.

    There, I sat out my feeling of guilt and slight thrill about being on the lam, indulged in an Easter pint of Guinness, and filled the rest of the early afternoon before calling Debbie the cab driver to go back to the hotel to pick up my bag and head to the train station for the Downeaster home.

    Then I hung out with Alex. All in all, a fun and productive weekend. If anyone from Longfellow comes across this, I apologize for setting off the alarm and not fessing up to it. And if you ever feel frustrated about what your life's like, a personal off-site might be just what you need. We'll see what kind of effect mine has.
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