Spark·PERSONAL ESSAY

How I stopped my nightly doomscrolling by putting down the phone and picking up pastels

Over the past month, Spark Senior Producer Michelle Parise decided to change how she'd spend the few hours she had to herself late in the evenings. And the shake-up was more revelatory than she expected.
I've spent evenings trying to learn to draw and use pastels, copying from mid-century modern illustrators I love. (Michelle Parise)

At the beginning of October, I noticed a pattern. It had been seven months since The Time Before. And, like many people, I was spending hours (and hours) every night scrolling through social media—the mudslinging, the partially-formed thoughts of anyone with thumbs. The really funny memes and the not-really-that-funny memes.

By the time I'd go to sleep it was midnight, or 1 a.m. I'd wasted my few precious hours of "me time"— sometimes informative, often important, but mostly, it was just scrolling, following endless divergent paths to an emptiness.

I had to change the pattern. Put the screens away and do something tangible with my hands. I wanted to make something— not something to promote or debate, just ... something. Because sometimes it's good to just sit there and waste time making a thing with your own hands.

The first week, I learned how to draw. Each night, with my phone completely off, I played with charcoal and pastels and watercolours. I botched all concepts of perspective. I didn't know what I was doing! But I lost myself in the effort. 

I made plant hangers out of old yarn and embroidery thread, so the cat won't eat the plants I've brought in from the balcony. (Michelle Parise)

And each night that week, instead of falling asleep after hours of scrolling through strangers opining on the weight of the world, I fell asleep after giving myself the space to process the weight of the world in the quiet of my own head. 

And then of course at the end of the week, I posted it all on Instagram. Save the scroll for morning. I wrote. The news will always be there in the morning.

The response was incredible. Not for my artistry! But for the idea that we could take back our time, carve out space in our lives and our cramped pandemic quarters, and cultivate meaning in a self-imposed hush. A quiet. Idly doing something that has nothing to do with a phone or a tablet or a laptop or a TV.

I made a tiny school locker out of an old cell phone box, cardboard, glue and paint. (Michelle Parise)

"Nightly Doom Scroll Avoidance" is an actual thing now! For me, I mean, it isn't sweeping the nation or anything. But I dunno, maybe it should.

Over the past month, as well as learning how to draw, I've learned: how to bring my balcony plants in for winter without killing them; how to crochet plant hangers so the plants don't kill my cat; how to do a puzzle all evening for no reason at all; and how to cheer up a bummed-out 7th Grader by making her a tiny school locker out of an old cell phone box, cardboard, glue and paint.

Are these things frivolous? Yes.

But it was an active frivolity. I connected very deeply with myself and was better rested. I made a bummed-out 7th Grader smile for a second. Each night, I'd allowed my brain the space and time to process all that was going on in the world, and as a result, I was better equipped to process all that was going on in the world.

The news *is* always there in the morning. So tonight is the perfect night to turn your phone face-down and see what else you can do with your time.

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