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Nudging life in the right direction

Published March 12. 2011 09:00AM

It's late morning, on Saturday, and I'm relaxing in the well-worn recliner in our library, my MacBook resting on our hefty tabby, Albert, who is snoozing on my lap.

At 13 years old and a good 20-plus pounds, Albert enjoys the warmth generated by the laptop as much as being on my lap; he curls and then stretches his paws, purring as he naps.

The interlude is one of my breaks in what is typically a day of household chores and home maintenance projects.

How I spend this free time has changed over the years, depending upon the level of technology in our household.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, when our two daughters were young, we had no television. We did, however, have our library and books in every other room of the house. On Saturday mornings, we would be awakened early not by the raucous, scripted dialogue of cartoon characters, but by the soft voices of our children as they talked to their dolls and improvised conversations among them.

The late-1980s saw our first computer, a Macintosh Plus. We watched in amazement as a line-drawn ball rolled from one side of the slice-of-bread-sized screen to the other.

Still no television, though.

While we all used the Macintosh and its later versions, most of our free time was spent outdoors, gathering and chopping wood for the stove that heated our old farmhouse, reading, or, on Sunday evenings, listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio.

After the girls grew up, I lived alone, just me and the cats, without a computer or a microwave.

Still no television.

While some might perceive my low-key life as boring, it was a time of tremendous spiritual and emotional transformation for me. With few distractions, I developed what Scranton-area native and author Dean Koontz calls a "quiet heart."

The phrase is from Koontz' book, Bliss To You: Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life. "Written" by the late Trixie, the Koontz' beloved Golden Retriever, a retired service dog with Canine Companions for Independence, Bliss To You is a dog's guide to life. It's one of my favorite books, and one that has helped me nudge my own life in the right direction.

"Dogs live most life in Quiet Heart. Humans live mostly next door in Desperate Heart. Now and then will do you good to live in our Zip code," Trixie writes.

She's right; it is a nice place to dwell. But while I was content in my little world of home and immediate family, my seclusion fed my recluse tendencies: I'm as agoraphobic as one can get while still being able to leave home for work and other necessities.

A little more than three years ago, my life was ready to branch out again. I acquired the MacBook, a microwave (heat leftovers in two minutes! Who knew?) and ... cable television.

Now, my breaks still lead me to the library. I still read every day. But, along with the well-worn volumes, the technology also leads me to socialize with far-flung family and friends via Facebook. The cable television brings the world's tears and laughter into my home.

I find myself taking more and more breaks. The lure of joining the virtual coffee klatches on Facebook is almost hypnotic in its power. The television offers an astounding casino buffet-like array of fascinating shows.

Will I find the self-discipline to be able to keep my Quiet Heart amid the attractive distraction of electronics?

I glance out the window. The green shoots of daffodils are poking through the sodden brown carpet of leaves by the steps. I long to grab a rake and start cleaning up winter's debris. I want to hike back into the woods and sit beneath my favorite tree by the stream, listening to the birds and watching the trout.

It's going to take some effort to find the balance between electronic immersion and a Quiet Heart, but I believe I will.

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