We all consider certain things in our life as not optional. Sleep. Sleep is not optional. Food. Food is not optional. I’ve just added something to my list of not optional: computer.

My computer has been at the great Apple Repair Store in the Netherworld of Sent-Away. For. Days. DAYS. Okay, I thought, this is no big deal. I was wrong. 

Since being in an MFA program in writing, time on the computer has become intense, to say the least. Between writing for the MFA and my job online (writing courses and teaching “live”) my eye doctor and I figured out that I spend an average of 10 hours a day with my face in a computer screen. (I broke some kind of record for him.)

Before you think me weird, I do have a life. It begins at 5:30 with a chunk of writing, is shifted to kids in the middle, and is then mixed with kids and writing, often until wee hours. We do fun things. We eat meals together. We discuss Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, and Jesus Christ between algebra and biology and Mavis Beacon typing. We drive to dance studios, where I sit and correct papers and write courses while they sweat and grin. We even watch The Voice religiously together (when it’s on). But the truth remains: The computer is attached to me for many hours.

So I’ve asked myself, in this uninvited hiatus from the computer: Am I missing anything? Can I do it any differently? 

I mean, I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I saw Sean Penn pull away from his camera and give up the coveted ghost-cat picture. Is my keyboard and screen like his camera lens?

Yes and no.

The MFA will finish. But there will always be the next book to write.
The class will end. But there will be the next course to teach.
Email will not go away. (It can’t. It’s how I communicate with bosses and jobs.)

The yes: I suspect that there’s a shift in the wind. Ghost-cat-experience moments are on the radar now. Becoming more important. Being without the computer did that.

The no: Life as a writer is life in the screen. It’s part of me — so much a part of me, that the synapses are connected from the brain to the hands to the fingers on the keys. You writers know what I’m talking about. Artists know what I’m talking about (it’s the pencil in the fingertips and the brush in the palm). Musicians know what I’m talking about (it’s the instrument in the hand). The tools of the trade become an extension of us.

But they don’t become us.

Recognize the non-optional parts of our craft. And now and then, pull away from the lens.