Most people have heard of the term “phantom limb.”
It occurs when an amputee, someone who has had an operation (or an accident) and is missing a leg or an arm, will still recall the existence of that appendage. They feel as though it exists.
I’ve been reading and writing quite a lot these days, largely because there is hardly anything else to do, but also because I’ve thought it a good time to change my habits.
When I was in my early twenties, in 2013 in particular, I was able to read for hours on end and not be interrupted. This is how I got through a great deal of Michel Foucault (though I had no idea what he was writing).
But now I find myself at every ten or twenty minute interval picking up my phone and looking for…what?
What could possibly be happening in the world that needs my attention?
In fact, in today’s world, roughly a third of us are on lockdown.
So now more than ever, there is decidedly nothing happening.
Fear of Missing Out is a term used to describe the idea that there is something fun going on and you are not a part of it. Yet what happens when you still feel this way even when you have definitive proof that nothing is going on?
What exactly was going on here?
I have been trying to explain this feeling to myself over the past twenty-four hours and I largely believe it is the cross between an overstimulated work life as a teacher and the changes of having large swaths of time and little to show for it.
Where before I was in constant motion with 30 students begging for my attention, fracturing my life into seconds, now I have hours.
Suddenly I have been having this gleeful feeling, where finally I can return to a book and not feel guilty about being left alone. What I did not realize was that, at some fundamental level, this was always the case. Some 100 billion people have lived on Earth in its recorded history, and that large of a number either gives you bouts of anxiety or a sort of relief. The kind that states to oneself that the adventure of living is somewhat up to you and largely influenced by the world and to give any credence to the idea that there is something important going on in just these 7.8 billion people is to be naive.
What I am trying to suggest to myself is that there is such life available in the smallest of ways, and to be demanded constantly as a teacher is to give yourself the illusive feeling of importance. Phantom F.O.M.O. is dangerous because it can cause you to buy things direct to consumer when you did not need that thing at all. “Your mental health is important right now,” goes the commercial. “Treat yourself.”
Joyce Carol Oates has said in her Masterclass that the biggest impediment to writing (or any creative task) is not talent, or style, or education, or class. It’s interruptions.
The best way to treat yourself right now is the liberating notion that you might not be on anybody’s schedule, and that is an incredibly promising psychological baptism. Who is going to be the new you who walks into the room?