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    Posted March 4, 2015 by
    Fort Erie, Ontario
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

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    Escaping society and my cell phone

    Psychology author Michael Clarkson built a fort in his backyard to escape society, and bring his five senses back to life. He has a harder time escaping his cell phone.

    In the icy grip of winter, Ike my iPhone is hot to trot on a tree stump in my backyard fort, shaking and buzzing. Normally, my phone is in my left front pocket, his charging portal positioned so that lint doesn’t clog his circuits.
    Restless myself, I’ve jumped up several times towards Ike, then sat back down to whittle a block of red pine. For my sanity, I’ve made visits to my fort, Red Pines, a daily occurrence, slowed my pace and changed my identity from Clarky@aol to Hal, my outdoors name.
    For the most part, I’ve escaped the virtual world, Screenland. If only I could escape my smartphone. The other night around a fire, I tried therapy: My name is Hal and I’m a cell phone addict. I haven’t looked at an email in two days. OK, six hours and 20 minutes. Addicts sometimes fudge. His ping! every three minutes gives me a rush.
    Ike is the world in my pocket – the New York papers, CNN, NBA scores and all my friends, family and colleagues on Facebook and Linkedin (sad that we’ve got the w.w.w., but not country-wide co-operation in many things). Recently my wife got a work text from a zoologist on top of Mount Everest.
    He’s also my alarm clock, note taker and companion at a boring party. In a woman’s voice, he tells me when to U-turn in my SUV. Sometimes at home, when my wife Jennifer’s not looking, he sneaks under my pillow. I’ve tried breaking up with Ike several times, but the outcome is usually to upgrade his model.
    Right now, after taking a cool selfie in which I was photo bombed by a squirrel digging in snow, I’m taking my finger off the refresh. I’ve tried limiting Ike for just Google search, Gmail and a site I will not reveal. He’s down to 16 per cent and I’m not recharging.
    I knew I needed to build a fort when Ike was taking the place of people. Deep breaths, Hal, and more whittling. Put him on vibrate. Feed the wild turkeys. Watch wind play with the flag.
    When did we turn our lives over to machines? They wake us up, percolate our coffee, get us to work over great distances in a battle with other machines, tell us the time, store our thoughts and business deals, pay our bills, warn us about storms, seduce us with Sinatra, give us 17 years of Seinfeld reruns, stimulate our lovers and kill our enemies.
    In my life, I’ve talked to more people’s voices than their faces. Through phones, I learned my father was dead, got giddy over my first book acceptance and broke up with a close friend via texting.
    Since I built the fort, and lived in it for up to a month at a time, I feel again. On Google Earth, I’d gone to the Taj Mahal, but hardly to my own back yard.
    The fort is just safe enough, letting nature breathe on me without consuming me. Just safe enough – what a deliciously vulnerable feeling. I kept walls to a minimum, since there are already too many – firewalls; protective walls for our psyche; cultural, social and professional walls, taking us away from our original state.
    A bastion of nature’s throwaways, it’s a little crooked with a dirt floor and a few leaks, but it’s mine. I’ve lived too long inside – in other people’s buildings, in Screenland and in my cranium. I need twigs between my toes, fresh air in my lungs, the sarcasm of crows overhead, and the sun on my cheeks as they crack into a smile (oh, I also feel my toes in below-freezing temperatures; they feel as though somebody hit them individually with a ball peen hammer).
    For decades, my brain has been too dominant, made me ill with stress. Thought is our sixth sense, capable of splitting the atom, but it’s cornered a monopoly over the other five. I need to hear the orchestra of birds, inhale fresh corn on the cob and feel a maple leaf. As a kid, I used to love touching things – a caterpillar crawling up my arm and the seams of old baseballs. Matter now matters again.
    Anyway, I’ve finished whittling the pine – into a display box for Ike. I’m just taking one picture for my family in Europe and then turning him off. Don’t worry, I’ve changed Ike’s response time from three to six minutes. And I’m using a traditional camera as I gear down from machines, taking pictures of nature to slow the rotation of my world, to live life one frame at a time.
    My cell phone’s refresh button was speeding up my life; I could hardly wait for the next email or text. Now I know I can sweat small stuff, watching last fall Mallards and very lost golf balls in a lazy creek. I can think longer than a twitter feed, all the way to the horizon, about life and what death is.
    Sure it’s still wintry in the northeast and to an extent God has left the building, but in the snow I can watch the sun move across the icy floor of the fort in shadows, one foot an hour. When clouds come over, I pretend it’s the refresh button. Soon, I need to get up and feed the turkeys and collect firewood for tonight.
    I don’t need somebody telling me about the whole wide world every few minutes. I don’t need quick, shallow, giddy breathing every hour. I need the crunch of snow under my boots, the sarcasm of crows overhead, and sun on my cheeks as they crack into a smile. I can cook on an open fire. I can survive without Walmart Super Store.
    Besides my cell phone addiction, I discovered other things in my fort:
     I need to know less about celebrities and terrorists and more about my body, my soul, my motivations. I don’t like myself enough. My Facebook image is too shiny. I do things when no one’s around I wouldn’t do when they are. I have too many selfies. I think I might be narcissistic. On the other hand, only while alone do I sing and dance, fish for belly button lint, smoke cigar, slurp hot coffee loud, and tell the truth about people to myself.
     I worry too much. The average person has 66,000 thoughts per day, two thirds negative, but I’m learning to throw out the trash, Removed from distractions, my thoughts are allowed to go to the end of the day.
     There’s zero BS in nature: if you don’t extinguish the fire on a windblown night, the fort burns to the ground. Everything is true. In society, where predators often hide their teeth, not everything is the truth. After a lifetime of study and society, of developing my brain and blogs, I can be reduced to 170 pounds of flesh by a pack of brush wolves yapping around the fort. Animals are often tougher and faster than us. We survive through our safety nets, organization and ideas.
     I’m down fifteen pounds and in better shape with lower levels of sugar, salt and cholesterol.
     From the night sky, I learned the universe doesn’t orbit around humans after all. Even if we nuke our world, the billions of solar systems will keep shining. Activities will go on without me: the shrinking middle class, global warming, terrorism, and my granddaughter’s gymnastic class.
     Many Baby Boomers I know, including me, never connected fully with their parents. Huddled by a roaring campfire with a beer and a box of my father’s ashes, I’m finally having a talk with him. Parents, please share with your children before it’s too late. We know about emotional issues these days and need for intimate communication. Build a relationship with them, and perhaps a fort.
     I’d love a sunset more if I had someone to share it with. I miss people when I’m alone too much. After I lived in the fort for a month, an arsonist turned it into a family pack of Roman candles. But my family and friends, the very people I’d sought to avoid in my sabbatical, helped me to rebuild.
    Anyway, I feel more of a complete person since I balanced my life with nature. Soon the turkeys will come stumbling out of the woods to eat seed from my hand. What a thrill for a city boy, to gain their trust. I should take a photo with my iPhone and send it to my wife in the house across the creek.
    OMG, Ike’s power just died on a Candy Crush Saga request. Grrrr.

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