He looked out from the cliffs at the pink remnants of sun setting over the Pacific in famously scenic La Jolla and said, “You know, if this was a video game, it’d be a lot more beautiful.”

I had been dating this boy for about a month when he said those words to me.  I stood there, racking my brain as to how I had missed it till now.  Cleverly disguised as a musician, he had actually been (a term I had never known existed before) a “gamer”.  Not familiar?  It’s the term people who are comfortable with their obsession with video games use for themselves.  A “gamer”.  My previous interest in athletes and musicians left me without the radar for this type of person.  How could anyone choose to play games on a screen instead of real life?  A “gamer”.  Let’s be honest, the rest of the world’s word for that is “nerd”.

Now, almost nine years later and working on anniversary number five with this same boy, I have the full story behind the situation.  Unbeknownst to me, when I met Jaron he was in the middle of a sort of self-revolution.  He was intentionally ridding himself of screen-based entertainment in an effort to get reacquainted with the real world.  The less pretty, more challenging, and far more rewarding real world.  Where climbing a hill makes you sweat and war doesn’t have a restart option and pretty women have souls.  His self-examination had an effect on me, too, and we spent the first years of our marriage sans internet, cable, and fancy cell phones.  We went to the beach instead, seaweed, sting rays and all, and have real, salty, cold, sun-burnt, exhilarating memories from it.  I wouldn’t trade them for Wii surfing no matter how much more convenient it is.

But recently I was reading Annie Dillard, in preparation for a conference we’re attending, and was struck at just how far I’ve let myself sink away from real life again.  It is so easy to give more thought and attention to my iPhone than to my dinner date or the expensive food he’s just bought me.  My attentiveness is so lax, in fact, that I can’t even keep my phone in my pocket while watching TV.  But in The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard spends an entire book describing one valley.  It’s rich and adventurous and scary and beautiful.  She sees things that are incredibly special in that year.  Disgusting things like a preying mantis eating its mate, intricate things like a freshly-woven spider web, exotic things like a Giant Water Bug.   Notably, though, in the Blue Ridge Valley of Virginia, these things are routine.  Her ability to see them comes out of her desire to see them, to be engaged with the life that surrounds her.

The attentiveness she describes flies in the face of the life the majority of us currently lead – where we are enslaved to debt production, visual entertainment, the false luxury of “checking out” of our lives on a regular basis.  We spend hours every week disappearing from ourselves and the world around us, only to resurface with nothing changed except eyes that are a little more blank than they were before.

What happens if we play the designated role for a modern day consumer?  Will we wake up at 45 with a mortgage on a cookie-cutter house with a big screen, a passably maintained lawn, and a career as a professional sitter?

Jaron and I have been pursuing simplicity, mostly in spurts, for the last few years.  I’m convinced that the most difficult and most important tool in that pursuit is the ability to really see.  Whether it’s ancient ruins in Greece, or a single blade of grass, or that “lone drop of water making its weary way across that perfectly waxed surface“, we want to feed our ability to be present with our ears, in our words, and especially, with our eyes.

So, as step one, with an admitted bit of fear as any good addict would have, and sad to have fewer excuses to put “i” in front of words superfluously, after two years attached at the fingertips, I’m saying “good-biPhone”.

Anybody want to buy it off me?  🙂