How I Struggle to Stay Focused
It’s hard work, going about the business of living. It isn’t enough that my heart beats, my lungs are clear and dry, my legs can still carry my full weight, and that I can chew and swallow successfully and at will. I don’t take those things for granted; there were times when they didn’t function quite so well. I haven’t forgotten my more highly-challenged compatriots, either, those lovely souls that cannot easily accomplish such things and who need caring helpers to make life a bit easier. I can’t physically help them, but I do hold them in my heart and memory.
What I can do
We all have our work cut out for us, whatever form it takes. At varying levels of difficulty, I can reason, recall things, organize a piece of writing, and do research. I can be there for a friend, make merry, and make love. I can better myself, grow, learn, and change if I want to. I do still want that. At 61, I can love young people and learn from them. I have life experience but they have relatively uncluttered minds that are quick, agile and more open so they can often see things I cannot. They are like new oaken vessels that will be filled with the heady wine of life experiences soon enough. Until then, I’ll cheer them on while they’re still light enough to body surf, breaking the waves with the sheer joy of being in the moment.
Robbed of my focus
Being in the moment and staying there is hard work for me. Sudden distractions such as neuropathic burning, sleepiness, and dropping pens from weak, numb fingers are all involuntary, arresting incidents that snap me out of watching TV, conducting a conversation or reading a book. Instantly and without warning, I am abducted and transported to a brain-searing, raw place by pain or loss of function, a harsh reminder that I am not in total control of my life. In the world of federal law enforcement, kidnapping can carry a life sentence. But when my own body takes me hostage and then frees me time and again, the perpetrator is only sentenced to time served, free to stalk me once again. The ongoing trauma of serial abduction committed by me against me can corrode my mental flexibility and rob me of my focus. What, then, can free me?
Freedom in focus
Oddly put, my mind can free me. How? By focusing. It sounds lame to say that the way to get myself to focus is by getting myself to focus, but that’s exactly what happens. It’s like trying to ride an escalator in a department store with its steps rising and falling as it makes its way forward. The only way I can leave the store is by stepping onto the escalator, so I watch the steps and wait for the right moment. Have you ever noticed that you can’t be thinking about anything else when you prepare to take that first step? It’s impossible, even for people who think they’re experts at multi-tasking. Stepping onto an escalator requires focus, precision, and the kind of timing necessary for trapeze artists to grab their partner’s arms at just the right moment and swing them to safety on the platform. If they’re worried about whether they turned off the stove at home before leaving for work, their partner will likely fall into the safety net, if there is one. Likewise, if I don’t completely focus on taking that first step onto the escalator, I’ll risk lurching forward, losing my balance, and have to clutch at the rubber handrails to steady myself.
The same is true with writing
Although that is a safety issue, I assign the same amount of gravitas to settling down in front of the computer and writing a new article. It’s always a struggle for the first 30 minutes. I find excuses to get up for a glass of water, or Google an actor’s bio, or search Amazon for a book until I make myself stay put and concentrate. Soon, everything melts away except for the narrative I’m building on the page.
The payoff for all that energy expended is a finished article. In this case, perhaps the destination is more important than the journey.
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