Dumbing it down: How to vacation with a burner telephone
Summer vibes without a vibrating cell
The standing fan is on “oscillate” mode. Every time the air hits my side of the bed, the hanging line of photographs that runs from the ceiling of my mother-in-law’s apartment to the floor flaps against her bookshelf. It’s three a.m. in the morning. Eight a.m. in the morning. Suddenly, it’s ten a.m., an hour I never reach as an early riser until—and unless—I’m on our annual trip back to France.
I’ve never been able to sleep on airplanes, so whatever time of day we finally arrive at in Paris finds me in another world, time-wise. On the ride out to my mother-in-law’s apartment in the 14th arrondissement, I fall into the first of many sleeps. We have arrived; I can let my guard down. I’m rocking in the comfort of the next days to come.
There was a time, maybe seven years ago, when my French husband and I still had a lot of friends in Paris. Today, most of them have had children, and/or have had it with the high prices and go-go-go mode of life in a metropolis and so they’ve moved away. Not so long ago (or else a life, as E.E. Cummings wrote), our first days back in Paris were filled with seeing X and Y, jammed up with trying to make everything fit, make everyone feel valued, make sure that we spent an equal amount of time with my husband’s parents as we did with our friends.
Today, my mother-in-law A. spends most of her time in her vacation home in Brittany on the Atlantic coast, where she sought refuge during the pandemic, and continues to enjoy the cooler air and vaster space for her and her British shorthair cat. My father-in-law, G., stayed in Paris during the entire pandemic, at first, because he was forced to by the government, and then because he was forced to by his health—he has been fighting like a boxer against cancer this past year. We will visit with “Nono G.” and return to our favorite restaurants, but after four days we will leave Paris for Brittany where we’ll spend the rest of the month.
Our trips back to Paris are special: of course they are, it is unarguably one of the world’s most beautiful cities. But they are no longer urgent. The Frenchest thing about Paris is that it doesn’t really change. The restaurant you loved as a tourist ten years ago is probably still there—the bartender might be the same person who served you a Chablis on your last visit. The little basket on the side of the kitchen doorframe that’s holding up a small stuffed bear that I bump into and knock down and yell at every time I’m at my mother-in-law’s, that basket is still there. The hee-haw of the sirens, the plastic shush of the green brooms the sanitation teams use to clean the roads. It’s familiar, and it’s lovely, and I no longer feel any urgency whatsoever to rush out and do “all the things” when I’m in Paris, which is why our first handful of days here are some of the most relaxing I’ve ever known.
But there’s something else that adds to this peacefulness and calm, an upon-arriving ritual we execute when we finally make it to the HLM high-rise building where my mother-in-law lives. My husband gets a screwdriver and takes the SIM card out of my iPhone, then retrieves the burner that has been hibernating in the top drawer of A’s writing desk since our last visit. It is this ritual, more than the first taste of the almond croissants at the corner bakery we’ll purchase just after charging these “dumbphones,” that signals that I am on vacation. A real break this time. For the entirety of our time in France—five weeks for this visit—I’ll have access to the Internet only when I am in A.’s house. Outside of her dwelling, I’ll only have this burner that can take calls and make them (if you can handle the medieval sound quality) and can also send text messages if you have thirty minutes to execute a single SMS.
If you’ve read my second novel TOUCH, you know how detrimental I think smartphones have been to our humanity: not to humanity in general, but to our humanity, which I don’t see as the same thing. (If you haven’t read it, it’s actually a fun beach read and that book’s sales were totally squashed by Trump’s election, so throw “Touch” a book order if you can.) Part of being human is having (or having once had) the ability to relax. Leisure time—the domain of felines— is something that we also have a right to, but it’s difficult these days—and I know you feel this—to truly and profoundly unplug.
I’m a lucky person. I’m self-employed and thus I’m on an extended break where I can work out of someplace beautiful. But I have to say that trading in my smartphone for a dumb one is my smartest move of all.
I wrote more about how smartphones effect our sensuality for The New York Times if you’d like to read on.
What’s in a name? For an upcoming Friday Office Hours, I’d like to help a paid subscriber with their book or an essay title. Here’s what I’ll need:
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Music for these times: Friend, fellow artist, and sitter of our beloved cat, Laura Kerrigan, known in the music world as “Adelaide” has a new album out! You can listen (and support) their new album “dark truths that may cheer you up” via bandcamp and follow all things Adelaide on IG @_adelaide_band_
Need a longer NaNoWriMo this fall? The Queens-based writing community, The Resort, is running a Write Your Novel in Three Months workshop this autumn to help you get to the 2022 finish line with your book. No writing sample is required. The cohort will kick off in September with two classes about novel structure and strategy, taught by writers Emily Stone and David Samuel Levinson who will provide weekly accountability check-ins and Q&As throughout the month. All info here!
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That’s all for now. I’m grateful that you’re here. (Merci!)