I've been so busy lately. If I'm being real, I've largely been busy resenting the idea of being busy, but it all feels busy nonetheless. I have been promised many things by capitalism—alienated labor, unpaid reproductive labor, the enshrinement of racism, ideological support for heterosexual family units even as those units will not save us, and efficiency and productivity to the point where we all have to work less, not more. Most of these capitalist dreams have come true, but the productivity thing seems like it has created more work for all of us, at even lower rates of pay. I'm starting to wonder if maybe capitalism is part of the problem.
But I digress. My busy is a lot like the busy of many of us—endless emails popping up on my personal telephonic device, demanding my attention at all hours of nights and weekends because I'm basically hardwired at this point to need the reassurance of that tiny glowing screen. I know, I know, I could take my work email off my phone, but I haven't done that. I'm an academic, and it's hard to remember that just because they told us in school that this work is our life, it's also work. Until I make the leap to disaggregate work email from personal email, I'm going to keep feeling the sensation of Busy every time the tiny light flashes in the corner, an alert that there's another email—usually about work or about selling me something I already bought.
It is hard to make myself put the phone away, turn off all the screens, and be silent. I know I'm not alone in this. I was alone on this week's field trip attempt to do that, though—a trip to the otherwise-empty FLOAT Annapolis, located in a circle of tiny businesses in a part of Annapolis I didn't know about until I borrowed the ladyfriend's car for a drive in search of a few moments of silence.
I heard about FLOAT Annapolis as one hears about these sorts of things—Groupon. I've got the app on my phone, and it's always sending me notices about weird things I can buy for cheap as it banks on me forgetting to exchange said Groupons for the weird things they've offered. I've left a trail of unused Groupons—whiskey tours, yoga classes, horseback riding lessons—but I would never let pass a trip to a sensory deprivation tank. Ninety minutes in that thing might be the only way to keep me from looking at my phone long enough to relax a little.
I spent the summer after my dad was killed in Twig Harper's sensory deprivation tank in West Baltimore, as far west as you can go on Pratt Street. Twig, if you didn't get to know him, is a truly spiritual dude who built a tank in his house, rented out as Be Free Floating to folks like me looking for a little enlightenment. I loved biking over to his place on streets I didn't normally ride, getting good and sweaty, and then spending an hour or two locked in his tank room with its stone shower, black toilet, and good vibes. Afterward I'd get to hang out with Twig for a bit in his living room, chatting about what I'd seen inside my own head when left alone with it. He always had an insight or two about his own mind, gleaned from time in the tank or in some other tank offered by recreational drug use or meditation. My dad would have loved Twig.
But then Twig closed down the tank and moved to Brooklyn to pursue what's next and I was left tankless. Bummer. The closest float tanks are, according to my research, in Annapolis or Frederick, and for a person without a car and with a job, that's just out of reach. But then there was a Groupon and I reserved the ladyfriend's car for that empty September Thursday on my calendar, and maybe I could get another minute being free, quiet in the face of all this capitalist demand for productivity. If I couldn't buy that maybe this whole system really is a sham.
But here's the thing: FLOAT Annapolis just isn't Twig's place. It's a spa. In a strip mall. In the suburbs. That you have to drive to.
I scheduled my appointment for 12:30 and made it with 20 minutes to spare. I was so hungry but didn't want to eat lunch yet, because the last thing you want is to have that lunch come up when you're floating in a warm, dark box filled with salt water. So I did the next best thing: I bought some Utz cheese popcorn from the liquor store next door, choked down half the bag, and then tossed some mints in my mouth before heading in.
I was the only one there, as far as I could tell. The young woman at the desk pointed me to my room—"You floated before?" Yes, I answered, she pointed out the bathroom, told me to get out when the music started playing, and then I was on my own. I took a shower, smeared the included tube of Vaseline on my lips, and climbed inside.
I closed the door, eased myself down, and settled in to watch my mind jump around with nowhere else to go. I felt each inch of skin, dragged my wet hands over my belly and above my head, stretched and twisted as I tried to get comfortable letting go. And then there were moments of void, nothing there, a quiet I just can't seem to get anywhere else. It was punctuated by the noise of a mind that can't believe it's at rest: What would I do next, what if I was in the wrong room and the music wouldn't start and I would never be able to leave, how does time work if you don't have a clock, what if I'm trapped in here. But I let it go, the music played, I took another shower, and then I was gone, grateful for the minutes of freedom from myself by being with myself.