Shreds of something sparkling on a fence, slick magazines, cleavage, rumbling belly, shouts, helicopters, needing to pee, televisions, music, bugs, my brain spinning spinning spinning. I’m distracted. Fractured. I’m a bundle of splayed arrows.
And these are distractions I’ve had for much or all of my life. Thousands of tiny weights pulling earthward while I ran from the 1970s to the spaceship Now. And it’s gotten pretty hectic on the ship. Voice mail, email, tweets, likes and invites, funneled into our phones and tablets and laptops. We’re all blooping and bleeping and shit—at the library, in bed, during movies and meals—sound bytes as ring tones filling once quiet spaces. I had a saxophone solo as my ring tone for a while, but every time I heard jazz I reached for my pocket.
Everyone is ADHD all of a sudden. My wife and I can’t have a conversation without one of us thumbing a message, important or otherwise, then looking up and asking, “What?” People can’t even keep their eyes forward when driving, often with horrific results. Life has seemingly become a hands-free Bluetooth conversation with no one around.
I’m distracted by my outrageous availability. My dad used to hang a sign on his door as a teenager that said, really, “Gone Fishing.” No one would find him for a couple days (he was, in fact, fishing for real fish, almost the last thing I think of any more at the word “fish”). I can’t go a couple hours without being found. I am available, cell in pocket, when hiking in the woods.
Of course, I could turn off the phone, which I sometimes do, but I’m conditioned to feel like I shouldn’t. Something vital could come through the line. An emergency, or a nice surprise, a journal acceptance maybe, the hope for which not long ago would’ve had me trotting out to the mailbox a total of once a day.
I even get a phantom buzz in my pocket sometimes. I’m distracted by calls I’m not getting. I hope I’m not the only one who experiences this.
I’m distracted in conversations like I never used to be. Let alone in the comfort of home where I’m less afraid of judgment about cell phone use, I can’t stay focused on what people are saying to me. It seems like every other word of conversation trips a thought wire, a worry, a random connection. Someone mentions leaving work to go home, and I’m thinking, Jesus, did I put Sofia’s homework in her backpack this morning and visualizing her descent into a vagabond future because her parents can’t remember what they’re doing and by the time I surface we’re talking about someone’s pet monkey.
“Awesome,” I say, and the wary look I receive tells me this answer was not quite appropriate.
We think of children as being distracted. We expect them to have short attention spans. But I remember priding myself on my concentration as a kid. My mind seemed like a cool stone, and I felt capable of a stillness that generally escapes me today.
So, it’s the world getting crazier and taking me off my game, but it’s also a traditional life trajectory—an adult piling up of all the things I’ve been and still am, along with all this other crap that just keeps building. The kids, holy fuck, the kids distract. Sofia enters a room, regardless of current conversation, in mid-sentence and at full volume. Isaac, if he senses relaxation, will start to scream “Juice!” The dog is hungry/thirsty/dying/not dying.
And really, I have to admit, that I love being distracted. The realities of life can terrify when looked at too directly. One of my favorite ways to spend the evening involves sitting in front of a baseball game on TV with a guitar and my laptop and a yoga mat. Watching, stretching, playing, a little tapping and I’m joyfully spread out. Nothing matters too much. The doors open and close and open. This is a fertile time, the wisps of thought catching on to bits of something concrete, fresh connections that my earnest and straightforward thoughts miss. I know I will have to get up at four in the morning to achieve the necessary concentration to write anything cohesive. But I also know the distractions make up my real life. I know I just need to relax into the noise, to surrender, to let it wash over and save me.
Lisa Cihlar’s poem, “In the Box of Things Bought at Auction,” dissects the layers of an artifact and its trajectory. In a brief space, we see the detailed objects of a picture postcard, the maker of the card, the experiences of the card writers, the distance of intended recipients, and the poignant expansion through time of what were at face value mere distractions.
In “A Hotdog Love Story,” by Matthew Lang, distraction arrives in the form of a woman seated near Brad Winslow. Written in the third person attached, Brad Winslow is referred to by full name so often one senses his desperation, through the narrator, to assert his existence. Lang’s flash piece is a short, funny, and masterful study on loneliness, crammed with detail and boasting an appealing tragicomic loner in the class of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly.
Andy is married to a brilliant but distracted classical pianist who no longer notices her, seemingly no matter what she does. “Ghetto Fabulous,” short fiction by Michael Davis, takes us on Andy’s crazy trip, her attempts to feel something through the haze of her boredom and pills and irritation. Davis entertains with manic prose and an uproarious feel for dialogue, while somehow also maintaining a resonant sense of humanity.
Photo By: Joeri Borst