The Main Focus

When did we stop paying attention to the world around us?

A teenager cruises through an intersection on a bike, one hand on the handlebars, eyes focused only on the cell phone in his other hand. An office worker charges off an elevator and into a tray of hot coffee, her eyes never lifting from the tiny screen. A distracted businessman steps onto the crosswalk on a red light and a car with the right-of-way narrowly misses him.

I’m not surprised, but I am bewildered. When did our handhelds become the main focus of our lives?

Nobody can doubt or discount how beneficial our mobile devices have become to society. We have access to information, essentially, wherever we are. We can communicate, share photos of our pets and partners, seek advice, and get directions to wherever we are going. We can shop, do our banking, and we can be entertained by social media.

It is wonderful, yes.

The thing is, we are forgoing what used to be considered regular, everyday, activities and allowing our cellular phones dictate what we do, and how we do it.

We are, quite simply, spending too much time staring at our screens. I did say we because, I know, I am doing it myself.

I’m trying to cut back. I should have snapped a photo of the careless teen, but my phone was stowed away in my messenger bag; I’m making a point of putting it away when I don’t need it. I decided I was needing it too much.

I’ve sat down for lunch with coworkers and instead of talking about weekend plans, politics, sports or art, each of us was catching up on whatever was on our phone. We didn’t share what we were absorbing. We even tried to converse between bites of a sandwich or salad, but the content of our discussion was about as meaningful as most of the stuff I was catching on my newsfeed.

Do we need to take frequent breaks from real life to watch the latest nonsensical soundbite emanating from the floppy jowls of the reality television performer we call now President of the USA? Or do we need to read, right now, the ramblings of an ordinary guy who believes we all spend too much time gazing at hand-sized screens?

Couldn’t it wait until later? Like maybe when you sit down for your next bowel movement?

We are missing out on what’s really happening. I have seen people miss transit stops, or walk by an intended destination, because they were too busy reading or watching something that has totally taken control of their mind.

What’s so important that you can’t take the time to walk down the street and actually look up to see the latest fashions in the windows, flowers in the park, the artwork of a fabulous tattoo, or all those smiling strangers (those who aren’t face down and blindly stepping forward) passing you by on a glorious summer day.

We haven’t simply become addicted to our devices; we are being controlled by them.

We’ve been manipulated into watching content and commercialism that algorithms have determined will be of personal interest. All social media platforms are programmed to distract you. Service providers, browsers, and platforms, are all collecting data. If you click on a travel site one day, soon you are flooded with offers, suggestions, and other destination opportunities. If you do a little online banking on your coffee break, and you’ll soon get hit with credit card offers, payday loan proposals and interest rate alerts from other financial services.

It does not stop. Each click, each time you move from site to site, little bytes of information about you and your viewing habits are being collected. We are being manipulated into looking, seeing, and buying. Our reality is being hijacked.

What are you missing out on?

p.s. This ordinary guy thanks you for reading my ramblings – I do appreciate you taking the time.

Prove The Possibilities

I’ve got to buy myself a guitar.

Acoustic or electric, it doesn’t matter (I play like shit anyway… or did when I did decades ago) but I know I need a guitar. I’ve been considering the purchase far too long.

I have words, poems (lyrics, I suppose) that seem to need more space than a page can provide. I can’t (or won’t) call them deep, but feel they need the depth a melody can provide.

I want a guitar.

A guitar, to me, symbolizes pretty much everything there is to know and love about music. With its six strings, it can thrash out anger and joy or gently weep heartfelt sins and sorrows. Even years ago, as a drummer, I knew, and respected, the guitar is the backbone of rock and roll.

I stare at the walls of guitars in music stores and wonder, or adoringly gaze at photographs of musicians playing Martins, Gibsons, or Telecasters. I always have. Really, any guitar. I stand outside streaky pawnshop windows and see instruments that once had value to someone, yet were pawned for quick cash. These are guitars that have lived a life, have some worth, and are waiting for another set of hands to prove the possibilities. This is the kind of guitar I need.

I’m probably not responsible enough to trust myself with a new instrument. I know I’m hard on things and something with a few well-earned battle scars is far more appropriate, for me. I’d feel a little less guilty as I know I’d carelessly make my own mark.

For so many months I’ve been telling myself I need a guitar. Last year I came close when the exact model I yearned for as a teenager was hanging in a cluttered window. I was sure, at first, this was fate presenting itself cheaply and easily as a hundred buck option.

For a few days, almost every day, I would stop, look at, and think about, this absolute thing of beauty.

Still, then, I couldn’t separate with the cash, even as this recurring dream came whispering to me. I had other things going on, so many things to do, and I simply couldn’t justify the time it would take to learn, or relearn, to play the guitar.

Thing is, I still have those other things on my mind. I still haven’t completed what I had to do. And I still want a guitar. I still have words; in fact, more words now than then.

I have hundreds of poems, even more unfinished phrases and thoughts to be set to music. The themes are as vast as they are vacant; including all those songs about falling in an out of love, wanting love, and finding love. I am no different than anybody else. We are all fragile. We all disappoint someone else.

We all fall in love sometimes. A song seems to set it right.

If music is therapy for the soul, who needs this therapy more than a man who has lusted for many, but trusted so few.

I suppose I need to trust myself with a guitar.

Many times the poetry I write finds a rhythm, even a melody, as I scratch out the words. Music has always inspired. Music speaks to me. Would my words, my poetry or thoughts, speak to others differently if framed within a musical scale? I’m still unsure. I’ll only know if I trust myself with guitar. Then I’ve got to trust myself.

Until then, the page is all I’ve got. The words are there. The melody remains unwritten.

© 2018 j.g. lewis

At My Own Speed

I no longer ride as fast as I used to. It’s not that I can’t; I simply choose not to.

As far back as I can remember, whether it was on my third-hand lake bike at age nine, finely-tuned road bike at 19, or sturdy mountain bike at 29 (and every version, model, or style of bike in between), the lure of a bicycle has always been speed.

To get anywhere, I chose to ride as fast as I could. I was seduced by speed, a habit that continued as my youthful legs pushed a single-speed cruiser, or the muscular teenage frame took a 10-speed to its limits.

Accelerating was always exhilarating.

Of course there were many (many) accidents along the way. Physical injury should have been a warning, and should have held me back, but it wasn’t my way. Skinned knees, sprained wrists, full-leg road rash, and broken bones could not stop me.

I kept pushing. I darted into traffic, challenged myself to pass cars and navigate through traffic without care or caution. I didn’t wear a helmet; I didn’t need to (I thought). Among the many feelings you have when you ride a bike is one of immortality. Eventually you learn that is not the case. It begins to sink in as you mature, or grow older.

I’m different now.

I started cycling again this summer, an activity I had put off for a few years. Yes, it does come right back to you. . . indeed, like riding a bike. I even had a few scrapes and bumps on my first few days back in the saddle (just like old times).

I ride differently now.

Now I check the-rear view mirror. Now, I study cross-streets before entering an intersection. Now I use hand signals. I act responsibly (or as responsibly as a somewhat irresponsible individual can be). I, now, wear a helmet; I now see the purpose.

I ride slower (most of the time). I watch, I look around. I notice more. It’s no longer a case of getting from here to there, but enjoying the ride along the way.

My bike is now a little more comfortable; the tires are wider and there is a little more padding to the seat. I have (and appreciate) fenders, and a basket. I use a bell to warn fellow cyclists I may pass, or I ring my bell to signal injustices along my route (Hey, cabbie, get the hell off the bike lane!).

I gear up, and down, more frequently now in a more efficient use of energy and movement. I’m also a better judge of terrain and traffic. I anticipate bumps in the road, and adjust my style when I get too close to other cyclists, pedestrians, or cars. Rolling stops are pretty much a thing of the past.

I’m not overly cautious, but I am mindful of where I want to go. I’m learning to plan a safer way of getting there. The ride is no longer considered a separate act of transportation, but rather a part of my journey.

I still enjoy the speed, and the cool breeze of speed, but it is not speedy like it was before. I tend to move at my own speed. I can’t be rushed, or I don’t often rush.

Life is, many times, like riding a bike.

© 2018 j.g. lewis