Me and a Magnolia Tree (Why I’m Going Back in Time)

Twenty years ago I was a junior in high school. Pearl Jam was huge, flannel was in, and around that time, in a great act of rebellion, I started parting my hair down the middle and I got my ear pierced.


Photo Credit: Synwell via Compfight cc

In 1993, my first car was an old Buick Skylark and I had to travel sixty miles to have a technician replace the in-dash audio cassette player with a CD player. The visor in my car had a sleeve that held the ten CDs I would listen to over and over again. Digital music was inconceivable.

In 1993, a cell phone was a status symbol owned by people who were either rich, important, or both. An “app” was something you ate, not something you downloaded.

In 1993, personal computing technology was still in its infancy. My family had a desktop computer with a dot matrix printer. The computer ran MS-DOS. It was essentially a massive, really expensive word processor.

We had one game for the computer—a golf game contained on seven floppy disks. This is how it worked: you would hit a shot, and then you’d have to wait several minutes for the program to redraw the scene for your next shot. And then you would do it all over again. The game couldn’t be saved, so if you wanted to complete a round, it took longer than an actual trip to the golf course.

I sat for hours in front of that golf game, but I mostly just stared out of our home’s front window, waiting for the program to redraw the next scene.

No Facebook to check while I waited.

No texts to return.

No Amazon to shop.

No library of iTunes music to browse.

In 1993, there was a huge magnolia tree in our front yard. I would look at that magnolia tree while the computer worked. That was twenty years ago: me and a magnolia tree.

Now, twenty years later, there are a million different ways to abandon myself. I know myself better than I did as an awkward teen, but in some fundamental way, I think I also know myself far less. Because I spend so little time with myself and so much time with my technology.

Free Therapy Courtesy of Louis C.K.

When a comedian gets completely serious and his words still go viral, we would all do well to listen in. Louis C.K. is hilarious and exceedingly crass, but in September, during an interview on the Conan O’Brien Show, he got really honest about why he hates cell phones:

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something…that’s what the phones are taking away, the ability to just sit there…because underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty, that forever empty…sometimes when things clear away and you’re in your car…it starts to visit upon you, just this sadness, life is tremendously sad just by being in it…I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for the phone and I said, ‘You know what, don’t, just be sad, just stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck’…I just cried…I cried so much…and it was beautiful…sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments…and then I had happy feelings…because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness, so I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true, profound happiness…because we don’t want to feel that first little bit of sadness…you never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kind of satisfied with your products and then you die…”

Free therapy courtesy of Louis C.K.

An Experiment

So I’m disconnecting.

For seven days.

And not just from the blog. From all of it. For a week, I’m going to live like it’s 1993. I’ve made hard copies of my ten favorite CDs and that’s all I’m going to listen to. The cell phone is staying at home. I’m turning off my WiFi—my Macbook is about to become a really hi-tech word processor.

No emails. No texting. No Google—I’ll just have to sit in the mystery of my questions for a while.

I decided to undertake this little experiment while I was on a walk this autumn. I’d left my cell phone at home and during a fifteen minute walk, I reached into my pocket for it five times.

Five times. Once every three minutes.

And that’s a problem.

What do I expect to discover in the midst of this experiment? I don’t really know. But that’s kind of the point.

I do know our current next door neighbors have a magnolia tree, and I can see it from our front window. I do know I’m going to spend some time looking at it. No distractions, except the world happening around it, and the world happening inside of me.

An Invitation

If you are reading this, and you’d like to try this experiment with me, you’re invited! Over the next two weeks, take a few hours or a day or a few days—whatever feels right to you—and disconnect. Spend some time reminiscing about twenty years ago, and then live like it’s 1993. On January 1, my blog post will describe my own experience, and I’d like it to be a place where anyone can share their own experience with the experiment. If you write about it on your blog, send me the link and I will share it in the post. Or just come on over to the website that day and share your experience in the comments.

Let’s go back in time, and let’s meet ourselves there.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Preview of Upcoming Posts:

  • December 27: “The Top Ten UnTangled Posts of 2013”
  • January 1: “When I Partied Like It Was 1993”
  • January 8: “A New Year’s Resolution That Will Solve 90% of Your Relationship Problems”
  • January 15: “Words from a Father to His Daughter (From the Makeup Aisle)”
  • January 22: “The Key to a Man’s Heart (And Why He Gets Road Rage)”
  • January 29: “Why Egalitarianism is Emasculating (And Why That’s a Good Thing)”

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

DisclaimerMy writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

14 thoughts on “Me and a Magnolia Tree (Why I’m Going Back in Time)

  1. I completely agree with the idea of just being sad and then letting happiness rush in. People should not be afraid to do so. Although my life does not allow me to be without my phone I can say I feel pretty disconnected because I don’t participate in social networking. I feel like most of those sites just distract from real potential to enjoy life and meeting quality people. People have so many friends yet constantly post about how lonely they are. And most people just let it happen and will do nothing about it and then Just die.

    I am grateful for my gadgets and use them when necessary. However, nothing beats fresh air and hanging out with my family.

    • Lidin, you make a good point: not everyone has the luxury of doing what I did, because some duties don’t permit it. I had the good fortune of being away from the office for a week!

  2. I couldn’t agree more somewhere along the line we have lost ourselves and other people to our gadgets. I know when I go to put my granddaughter on the bus every morning my daughter doesn’t converse with me but is constatnly texting or doing something online. I am so tempted to yell out “Hello is anybody home” “i’m over here can you see me”. The value of just sitting and doing nothing is a lost art. Have fun on your discovery trail and since you won’t be checking this next week I will wish you and your family a blessed Christmas and new year. As for me it will be a challenge not to use my computer-can’t wait to see how it goes-even if I only make it one day that would be something.

    • Karen, let me know in the comments on Wednesday if you were able to get any time away from the computer. So glad you found us here at UnTangled this year!

  3. Yes, yes! My heart is moving in this direction. I don’t know when I will unplug or for how long. For now, I need to remain plugged in because I have a daughter and her family moving to our area, then I will continue to remain plugged in as she nears her due date. For now, I’m trying to limit my facebook time as it’s my biggest distraction. Facebook as been a necessary connection for me as I have moved so much and needed a place of connection. As I have lived in one place for five years now, I am feeling the need to connect in this way less.

    I know that you will enjoy your time unplugged, and I look forward to reading about it.

    • Carrie, I have family in Germany and after my week away from technology, I have new appreciate for the wonders of Facebook and FaceTime, amongst other things. Technology is a double-edged sword, but one of the edges is fantastic!

  4. Enjoy! I really think that you will.
    I am 30 years old, but have never joined facebook and never plan to. Unfortunately, I have to sit in front of a computer all day at work but I am working on a degree to change that, so hopefully in the future I will be spending my working hours helping people face to face instead. I rarely get on the computer when at home and will go days without even checking my email. My husband and I share a cell phone and he carries it with him 90% of the time. I only like to have it when I’m travelling or when we are travelling together. I love living as unplugged as I can!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Looking forward to reading about your experience.

  5. 20 years ago, I spent a lot of time with the pets on our family farm, I went to bed at night sneeking the cat through my bedroom window and falling asleep with her purring ontop of me instead of collapsing on my pillow when my eyes cant stand to read another facebook update. I would wake up in the morning to feed the horse enjoying the sight of the snowflakes sparkling by the moonlight and the crunch of snow and a soft whiny from a hungry animal ready for breakfast rather than candy crush. When I was sad I loved to spend time with the dog, he understood, I would sit on the porch and he would put his paw up on my knee as if to show his support, I would hug him and cry in his fur and sometimes tell him what I was angry or sad about. I explored all the time, my goal was always to find an oasis or wonderland spot in the woods were I would then sit for a long time to enjoy the beauty of it, instead of loose myself in google for two hours. I woke up in the mornings and when I was disciplined enouph I would go for a run or read my bible, I figured these activities would make me better somehow and I think they did. We had a computer but the modem was to loud to use if anyone was sleeping, it was unavailable if someone else was using the phone and it took way to long to bother unless it was important like a homework assignment that had to be typed. I spent a whole lot of time being creative, drawing, doing art projects or putting random baking ingredients together in hopes of creating the next best recipe, those always failed. I played a lot of solitare with real cards, uno and go fish, our monoply and checkers boards were stained and battered from constant use. Our best evenings were spent lauphing our heads off around the kitchen table after dinner or sprawled on the couches in the living room chatting about our days. I had the best child hood ever, I was free to be myself and wild and happy and healthy. I could benefit by going back to my roots, I want that life for my kids, it hardly seems possible now days. We need to move to a farm I guess.

    • Leanne, this was lovely. My wife and I both grew up in rural areas. Several years ago we visited one for an extended stay and returned to the suburbs vowing to “live rural” in the midst of the commotion. It’s a struggle at times, but well worth it!

  6. I just returned from a family trip to NZ during which we travelled around and had limited access to wifi etc. I agree: every once in a while its good to disconnect.

  7. Hi all, I’m back and looking forward to sharing some of the experience with you in this Wednesday’s blog post! For now, I’ll reply to some of the comments below. Excited to reconnect and head into this new year with all of you!

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