Distractions

I know that many social critics these days, and many educators, complain that there are too many distractions in human lives. Social media, pop-up ads online, brief click-bait “articles” and screamer headlines, visuals that cause decreased attention spans, too much audiovisual stimulus brain noise.

I think I agree with them, but there are days I need distraction. My distraction tends to be of a non-electronically-mediated variety, but it is distraction all the same.

~

Diversion

It’s the hawk crying
or the crows vying
for territory
in the overstory,
maple trees and ash
and pine awash
with pollen and dew.
It’s the long view
the ache that underpins
what some call sins
as though pain’s earned.
Unconcerned
with absolution
the birds have won
my attention–
birds, and one
ray of sun.

redtail

 

National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for day 17.

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Inconvenience

When people need to make decisions about tools or skills or behaviors, they tend to “default” to one of several modes: do what society and/or their peers are doing, do what’s most familiar, or do what’s most convenient. Sometimes the decision modes all point to the same conclusion.

Then there are those of us who are a bit unconventional, or even contrarian.

When I decide not to follow the crowd, I make certain I have a logical reason for bucking the cascade. Herewith, the reason I do not possess a “smart phone.”

~

First, an aside on what initiated this post–the reactions I get from colleagues, students, and friends when they see my cell phone. Said reactions range from astonishment to hilarity to well-meaning advice.

Yes, it is a “clamshell” model. Yes, it has a phone-style dial pad.

No, it is not connected to the internet. It has a camera, but why bother? The jpg files are minuscule, and there is no scrolling function.

This outmoded tool seems inconvenient. Why do I not update my phone?

~

I am a creative writer, even though my everyday life is not particularly structured to enable full concentration on my “art.” Because I already have so many responsibilities to my family, my job, my home, and my community, my responsibility to writing poetry feels squeezed. The way I see it, a mobile device that I carry with me constantly and that I can use to tap into the internet, my email, my Facebook page, or my blog is just one more means of keeping those responsibilities and distractions with me at all times.

Writers such as Gary Shteyngart notwithstanding, that is not generally a method of existing that feels conducive to the writing process (though perhaps the writing process will change as society changes?).

No distractions. (photo credit, click on image)

~

To think, to imagine, to reflect and mull and ruminate, I need time to unplug, disconnect, and disengage from my duties to others. Walking out-of-doors with no beeping or ringing or buzzing in my pocket lets me take in the immediate environment. The birds and the wind offer noises more random and are less insistent reminders of whatever-it-is-that-wants-to-be-urgent.

Indeed, I find it useful to inconvenience myself in this way. When I am not at a web-ready device, I have to turn to a book if I want to find the answer to a question. A dictionary, an encyclopedia, a reference text not only can answer my initial inquiry but may invite me to explore the topic more deeply. I may “get distracted” by another, unexpected entry in the book, read a chapter I hadn’t planned to read, or learn a new word or the etymology of a word that leads to…

…further imaginative exploration and thought (poems!).

Thus, inconveniencing myself is a worthy pursuit.

To be sure, the fact that I turn off my cell device or leave it at home may occasionally inconvenience others–people who expect me to pick up the phone and answer a call or text, on their time. Oh, my beloveds! I do value you and I respect your time; but your time and my time do not always need to coincide. [Truly, the decision on which ice cream to purchase can wait, or be accomplished without my input.]

Why tempt myself into further distraction? My clamshell model’s only good for one or two purposes, so it is easy to forget about it, to turn it off. One less nag. A chance to listen to something else. The last cricket of autumn. The rustle of a buck in the undergrowth. Hens murmuring in the chicken run.

~

Eventually, I may have no choice but to upgrade; but I hope that by that time, my habit of turning off the social networking tool will be firmly in place and my desire to inconvenience myself will trump the advantages of immediate availability a smart phone can offer. This kind of reasoning works for me.

Pro+crastination

procrastination (n.) Look up procrastination at Dictionary.com
1540s, from Middle French procrastination and directly from Latin procrastinationem (nominative procrastinatio) “a putting off from day to day,” noun of action from past participle stem of procrastinare “put off till tomorrow, defer, delay,” from pro- “forward” (see pro-) + crastinus “belonging to tomorrow,” from cras “tomorrow,” of unknown origin.

This, thanks to OE, the Online Etymology dictionary, a favorite site of mine. What I was hoping to find is some aspect of “pro” as in Latin’s for, ie, the positive side of putting things off until tomorrow. Surely there are times when a bit of delay works toward the desired goals. The more leisurely approach to accomplishing a large task allows a person time to think things through and avoid some of the risks that the jumping-into-the-lake-all-at-once method contains.

At least, that’s my rationalization for putting off the next set of tasks I have set for myself regarding my writing.

~

Delay can be fruitful, if it’s the right sort of delay. Procrastination that arises from distraction, however, tends to be of the less productive sort. When putting things off because of distraction ends up being somehow beneficial, it’s usually just a lucky strike.

~

~

distraction (n.) Look up distraction at Dictionary.com
mid-15c., “the drawing away of the mind,” from Latin distractionem (nominative distractio) “a pulling apart, separating,” noun of action from past participle stem of distrahere (see distract). Meaning “mental disturbance” (in driven to distraction, etc.) is c.1600. Meaning “a thing or fact that distracts” is from 1610s.

The drawing away of the mind. What a perfect description. Just how it feels.

~
 
But the mind can be drawn into the tasks at hand, a Zen-like or Taoist middle-way approach. The steps to the goal neither hard nor easy. The delay can be a time of focus and serendipity, a way to establish equilibrium before proceeding on what appears, initially, to be a daunting project. What belongs to tomorrow is not here now–live the day.
 
My three-month project is to send out two manuscripts, revise and organize my current work, submit new poems for publication, compose an essay and a couple of reviews. But it turns out there are a number of other tasks I had to accomplish before heading into the larger project. It’s all part of the process, during which I have discovered some poetry drafts I had forgotten about and revised older work and found a cache of images and ideas I had filed away “for later.” And I realized I had not finished transferring my poem files into new digital folders… It all needs to be done, but it follows the same general path.
 
Not distracting, exactly. A different form of–positive– “mental disturbance.” The pro aspect of procrastination.