City Mouse needs to chill
August 16, 2010 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me relax and enjoy a long weekend in the country. The lonely, no cell signal, no internet country...

Every few months, plus extra time at holidays, I leave my urban existance behind to visit my grandmother whom I love dearly. She lives in the house she was born in, outside the small city where I grew up. The old homeplace is out of cell phone range (except in a corner of the east meadow on a clear day. Really.) and there is no internet. The pace of life there is slow and each day is much like another.Most of my family reckons it peaceful but for some reason going out there makes me really antsy. I'm a voaracious reader & I do embroidery so electronic entertainment is not required but for some reason knowing I can't get online/text/make a call etc. makes me feel trapped for lack of a better word. It bugs me & embarrasses me that I can't chill out and enjoy it.
Possible underlying factor: my family, typical of the region, ranges from conservative to very conservative. I am usually on my guard a bit when I go since some members of extended family sometimes want to pick little fights under the guise of friendly chat or "gentle teasing". Ugh. Help me with some coping strategies? Thanks!
posted by pointystick to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Write letters to the outside world. Pen and paper (and maybe colored pencils and crayons), envelopes and stamps, and a walk or bicycle ride to the post office. You'll need an address book, stationery, stamps, etc. A dictionary if you are lost without a spell-checker.

This will let you vent while isolating yourself from anyone who's annoying you. Don't do post cards unless you want to risk people reading what you write.
posted by pracowity at 11:00 AM on August 16, 2010

When you return home from these trips, make a note of what you missed by not being connected for weekend. You will see that it is all non-sense and noise. Anything really important will find you.
posted by Flood at 11:10 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Techy-electric-gadgets seem to have become our sole conduits of expression! There is such a need to be busy and do many things at once that it is pretty overwhelming.

I agree with pracowity, and my solution to similar anxieties is to simply write! Do whatever that means to you- random strings of words, lists of childhood friends, fiction, personal journaling...

Try your best to be patient with your family and remember it was a choice to visit! If you have to, bite your tongue and gripe on paper. It is a temporary situation, something you should constantly remind yourself of.

Good luck! Have a great time.
posted by maya at 11:10 AM on August 16, 2010

Go find some rocks. No, really. Ramble in some large direction, preferably in the woods, and then observe rocks. Yesterday, I came across a very large rock, covered with various growth. After picking branches and leaves off of this half-ton hunk, I noticed another rock near. From the outline, it looked as if this rock had split off from the big one, and sure enough, the lichens and whatnot had not had time to grow into the cleavage, despite covering all other surfaces. I concluded that the split was relatively recent. I laid on the rock for a bit and it wasn't precisely comfortable but it wasn't bad, either. I could not move the rock in the slightest. The cleavage displayed some neat composition. What is that streak, anyway?

I spent some time looking for spiderwebs. Why here, spider? Then the always fun game of, "Can I make a spider think an insect is trapped in the web?" If played non-destructively, this can provoke some insights. Or just go looking on the ground. Snail shells. Small rocks. Various leaves. Branches in different stages of decay. Where did that branch come from? How many different kinds of trees can I find? This one has a large woody vine hanging from it, thicker than my wrist.

Bang. Two hours gone.

Meadows are generally not as interesting as woods, but the outdoors has a lot of very interesting things to examine and think about. Wear some sunscreen, bring some water, and take a plastic bag for any odd trash you come across. Very pleasant to simply be out there when you'd rather not be in and around people.
posted by adipocere at 11:16 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Play games--card games, board games etc. I'm always surprised at how long I can be entertained by a game of horseshoes when I'm stuck at the cottage with my annoying stepbrother.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:21 AM on August 16, 2010

For the 'gentle teasing' and fight-picking, I suggest liberal use of the phrase "Oh, let's just have a pleasant visit" to attempt to deflect conversation away from that. Bonus points for following it with some other topic, like "How are $RELATIVES-NOT-PRESENT doing?" or "Have I shown you this embroidery I'm doing?" (Unless you're embroidering a picture of Karl Marks angrily scolding the Baby Jesus, in which case perhaps some other topic might be better.)
posted by rmd1023 at 11:31 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have the same situation, no internet, no cell phone. I get over it in two ways. One I use the POTS line to call friends. Always works better than text anyway. Two, I watch TV. I have access to satellite TV. Or watch a DVD. Surely they have tv and phone where you are.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:36 AM on August 16, 2010

Depending on the severity of the "teasing" and the personality of the teaser, a couple of possible responses:

1) Walk away, go into the woods, and disengage. This one works a lot because people tend to notice than when they intentionally needle you, YOU JUST DISAPPEAR. This is especially good for people who won't take you seriously when you say, "Please stop saying those things to me," or similar (hello, my dad).

2) Say something like, "You know, that kind of comment really ruins my visits up here to see grandma and the family, because I feel like I'm always coming up here to be made fun of. I'd love it if you'd stop saying things like that to me."
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:39 AM on August 16, 2010

Your part of the world will always still be there when you get back. You go home to your comfortably non-conservative life, your friends still love you, and the Internet is still marvelously on. You know this to be true, so just let go of all that for a spell. Don't fret about that corner of the meadow where you can chat with the satellites. Forget even what time it is and just enjoy your self, enjoy not being harangued by the whole noisy world.

Practically speaking, I like long rambling walks/bike rides for escaping irksome family. It's good fun and no one much argues with you about them, and the people you're staying with will usually understand that you're out enjoying part of their home/lives.
posted by teremala at 11:40 AM on August 16, 2010

I used to dislike trips to see family in distant locations because I felt that once I arrived, I was just at their beck and call and I felt that not only was I out of their element, I was expected to just show up and wait around to hear what other people wanted to do. At some point I decided that I would show up with my own plans and work them in around everyone else's plans.

So, I agree with other people that I think it would be nice to concentrate on a few things you'd like to do and have some of them be solitary and some of them be things you could get other people to do. So for solitary things, I agree that a walk outside [take photos, sketch in a book, press flowers] or writing to friends who maybe you haven't communicated with might be nice. Maybe you have a scrabbook project or a "rip all these CDs to iTunes" thing going on. For other people activities, board games or maybe a trip to the library [where I bet they have some internet] or some sort of exploration of the region with some info you got from Googling about beforehand.

And I agree with Medeival Maiden, just refuse to engage with teasers. "Please do not make fun of me" or "I do not want to discuss my political views with you" in a flat no-drama tone is a good way to keep people from pursuing those avenues with you. You can't make them stop, but you can definitely make them seem like they're the ones who are putting a damper on the fun and not you for having your differing opinions but keeping them to yourself. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 11:48 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go for long walks. Or bike rides, if a bike is available. The exercise might help burn off some of the "antsiness" associated with your techno-isolation, and as teremala points out, going out for an hours-long ramble is a great way to get away from anyone irritating. If that seems too obvious an evasion, maybe jump rope in the front yard or something so you at least get the benefit of exercise.

Reading and embroidery allow the mind to wander and wonder what's happening on the internet. Is there a more attention-demanding project you could engage in, perhaps enlisting the teasing relatives and promoting an atmosphere of collaboration? Construct a tire swing for your (hypothetical) niece? Clean out and organize your grandmother's (hypothetical) overstuffed attic? Make jam for everyone from (hypothetical) local pick-your-own produce?
posted by Orinda at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2010

So I mentioned in another post how to sniff for spiders. No really. Stick with me on this one.

You're going to find a small flashlight. LED's work, just make sure it's a highly focused beam. The light du'jour of my childhood was a Mini-mag focused as tight as it would go.

You're going to wait till dark, whatever that means. You can start at late, late light, later is better, but you do NOT want to try this if there's a lot of dew on the ground, as you'll get too many false positives.

Anyway, you're going to start in a field, ideally near where you are staying.

Put the butt of the light to your nose, so you're basically looking down the barrel. Look where the light hits the ground. Now, slowly sweep the light left and right, moving in lines away from where you are standing. Soon, probably surprisingly soon, maybe even 2 feet in front of you, you'll see a shine not unlike a deer in the headlights.

Sometimes they're green, orange, blue, whatever. They shine BRIGHTLY. Like super brightly. Sometimes you'll see a whole bunch at once. Sometimes they're HUGE shines and sometimes they're TINY. Anyway, once you find a good shine, hold the light still and walk towards it, keeping the point in the center of the light. Walk right up to it.

It's possible the spider will move when you come, but he'll just turn around. You may lose the shine, but so long as the light's still where it was, he'll be there. Walk right up to him, look down, and there will be a spider. Sure as god made little green apples.

And then you do it again. Maybe look back by where you were. Look along obstructions like fences, rocks, or houses. Look at all the colors, be amazed how tiny spiders make big shines and vice versa.

Don't bother them though, they're hunting and doing you a service. Be amazed that you'll see sometimes DOZENS in a single square foot.

This is an awesome activity for kids too, because you need to be concentrated, fairly quiet, and observant, and it's a way to point out things that are ALWAYS THERE that you really never see. You can do this in town too, but a good nice open space, or a woodsy area is really best for seeing bazillions of critters.

Have fun!
posted by TomMelee at 12:14 PM on August 16, 2010 [243 favorites]

As others have noted, it sounds like the big problem is feeling trapped, being out of your chosen element, and having family needle you.

YMMV, but for me it came down to doing everything I could do to connect to my non-family self even without the technological connection to my city friends and interests. So give yourself permission to go further afield than the east meadow, even if it's to visit a made-up friend or the grocery store, or visit a library or even just to go find a good cell phone reception hill.

I give myself permission to go out and buy a drink regularly to help me deal with the stress of family visits. I go get exercise, even if it's weird to see someone jogging around there. I bring a New Yorker magazine or something I've been discussing with a friend back home. You may be physically in that place you wouldn't otherwise choose, but you're still yourself, and not trapped there for long.
posted by ldthomps at 12:58 PM on August 16, 2010

The tricks I used as a conservative kid when my uncle would try to pick fights about Rush Limbaugh? Bring up old family stories, leave the room, admire a funky sculpture in the dining room, ask him about work, inquire as to how the re-tarring of his roof was going, offer to sit down and watch M*A*S*H with him, dare him to beat me at basketball one-on-one. Some of these strategies may work better for 13-year-old girls with 50-year-old uncles, where everyone has a fond connection to Alan Alda and funky sculptures are on display.

When I first moved back to Ohio from Los Angeles and had no internet for a bit, I wrote letters to all the friends I left behind. That filled close to two days. I also like the wandering idea. You might want to consider doing some tape-recorded interviews with your family members, asking about their childhoods and such. Even if you aren't interested, it's the sort of thing many people in your family will remember and love you for, years from now. Also consider using this time to scan all your old family photos. When you get home you can burn them on CDs and give one to everyone - Christmas/etc. solved!
posted by SMPA at 1:09 PM on August 16, 2010

There's a perception that "this is how people lived in the olden days," but that - believe me on this - is completely untrue.

Sure, people didn't have the internet, or the SMS protocol, or cell phones, or even electricity. But they also didn't sit about rocking on the porch and getting on each others' nerves. They worked their ASSES off, from sunrise to sunset.

I suggest picking some projects, and bringing materials ahead of time. Or just get the biggest book of woods lore you can find, and bring it with you. (When I moved out here to the woods someone gave me Storey's Basic Country Skills as a joke. It turned out to be incredibly useful!)

Some random things you could do with little experience but a lot of time and some basic reference and materials:

* Pickle stuff. Any vegetable can be pickled, and quite a few oddball things like watermelon rinds. Refrigerator pickles are ready to eat within 12-24 hours, and don't require a big production with the canning pot. Just add stuff and stick in fridge.

* Canning. If you want to make a big day-long project, buy a ton of whatever looks good at the nearest produce market, a canning pot, and some jars. (Read up on technique for this one.)

* Make a rock wall. Collect rocks, and fit them together into a wall. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box to reference.

* Prune stuff. Surely there's a shrub overhanging a path? Or a path you want to make? Or just something you can snip at idly, far away from the annoying drone of family voices.

* Birdwatching. Get a bird book, possibly a pair of binoculars, paper and a pen. This gives you an excuse to wander off into the woods alone.
posted by ErikaB at 9:24 PM on August 16, 2010

A pleasant walk along a country road, a burlap sack, a gentle breeze; and returning home with roadside debris (or near absence of) always makes me smile.

Especially when I get to dump the glass, plastic, paper, and bottles into the appropriate recycling bins.

The bending down to retrieve makes for a good stretching exercise too boot.
posted by buzzman at 2:29 AM on August 17, 2010

Thanks, everyone. Some really good suggestions here. I will bring some blank postcards & my sketchbook for sure. She's a birdwatcher so that's good too and maybe she'd like to look at spiders. I do tend to stay indoors keeping her company unless she wants to be out and a lot does depend on what she's up for, and I think that's part of my issue - sometimes she's up for errand running or making pickles or being outside which is great and I can help but sometimes it's a "sit quietly" kind of day which I do much less well. I'm going to work on my zen for those times.
posted by pointystick at 6:26 AM on August 17, 2010

Addendum: TomMelee I am kind of arachnophobic but this sounds like a gentle, not threatening, get to know spiders exercise so i may try this to help with my fear :)
posted by pointystick at 6:29 AM on August 17, 2010

The spider story gives me little thrills -- this is one of my favorite things to do when I take the dog out at night! It's one of the little awesome things I tuck away to think about when I'm sad. I'm glad someone else sees spiders too!
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:56 PM on August 17, 2010

I did the spider sniffing trick as a kid (camp counselor trick), too. Bear in mind that one will also find moths this way-- certain types of moth have eyes that reflect red. In general, spiders tend to go to the green/blue spectrum.
posted by norm at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2010

Thanks for this spider finding thing. I really like spiders. More ways of observing them is a Good Thing!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:19 AM on August 21, 2010

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