Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Distraction

photo source: www.writersrelief.com
I heard the other day that Victor Hugo, when faced with writer's block had a unique method for getting back on track: he ordered his servants to remove all his clothing from his room, essentially hiding it from him so he would be forced to write naked to avoid all distractions. I know that most people think that writer's block is the worst malady a writer could suffer from but I would like to propose that distraction is worse. And unlike Victor Hugo, who might have been distracted merely by his clothing, writers today would have to hole up in a lead box with only a typewriter to avoid distraction altogether!

As a working mother, a product of the '80s and '90s, I was the great multitasker. I could change a diaper while talking on the phone while getting dinner on the table while starting another load of clothes while helping another child with his science project while balancing the checkbook. This was born out of necessity: there is no way that the millenials could have survived to become the greatest critics of the baby boomer generation without mothers who could make a sandwich while driving the gang to soccer practice. And, sorry dads...it was the mothers who did all the multitasking. This is entirely the fault of Revlon's Enjoli commercial, launched in 1978. I hold the ad executives who created this commercial solely responsible for at least two decades of suffering by young working moms. Because of them we all felt that we should be able to "...bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever, let you forget you're a man..." And so, we did...at least we tried. I'm not sure about the last phrase but I did my share of bringing home bacon and I definitely was the one, more often than not, that fried it up. Along with completing every other household chore. So for me, to not multitask meant more than failure to live up to an ideal; it was my gender imperative.

Now, of course, brain experts will tell you that, in fact, the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time and so in truth we cannot really multitask. For that you would need a computer, which is where the term started. But mothers of the latter part of the 20th century will tell you differently. We did multitask and we did it actually pretty effectively. I mean, my children got their homework done, dinner was tasty and edible (translated: not burnt), bills were paid on time, the dog and cat were fed, the garden weeded, the volunteer calling done, and that was after putting in my 8 hours on the job (and sometimes during that job). I mean, it nearly killed an entire generation of women but look at the great generation of kids that came out of it!

Now here's the rub: the problem with learning to multitask is that it's even more difficult to unlearn. And technology has not been our friend in this. Instead of computers making our lives easier they have succeeded in making them more cluttered. I remember the day my husband excitedly unwrapped his new IBM 8086 computer and announced to me that his friend, Don (the closest thing to a computer nerd we knew in 1984) was going to give him lessons in how to use it and that I should join them. I also remember thinking he was insane (and probably told him that). I had just given birth to the second child in 2 years, had a large house and yard to take care of, ironing, washing, cooking, etc. and had absolutely no time left over for such silly things as a computer!

Wow was I naive--about a great many things but especially about the infiltration of technology that would quickly take over our lives, rendering us helpless without it and creating within us a powerful addiction. Fast forward 31 years and here I sit, in front of my HP Pavilion dm4 laptop with 64-bit operating system, 6 GB of installed RAM, and a 2.20 GHz Intel Core CPU (already outdated the minute I removed it from the box about 6 years ago). And I'm now connected to the world through Facebook (where I have control over 11 pages, have more than 400 personal friends, and like/follow more than 470 pages), Twitter (where I follow more than 225 accounts and have more than 135 of my own followers), Instagram, Outlook email, Gmail (where I have/control at least 5 accounts), Blogger (where I personally have at least 10 blog sites) , online newsletters, subscriptions to other person's blogs, etc. And then of course there's Pintrest, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, Skype, YouTube, and Messenger. And then there's my iPhone with texting and phone calls going on all day. Suddenly multitasking has taken on new meaning and dimension. And so has the problem of distraction.

To exacerbate the situation, I use my computer to write. I mean, who doesn't? The very act of sitting down and turning on my computer provides me with a plethora of opportunities to multitask and a multitude of distractions, even if I'm just innocently using Google search to do research on what I'm writing. Suddenly I find myself brain-deep in the "rabbit hole"of the internet, two hours have gone by, and I haven't done a lick of actual writing. If writing was difficult in the days of Victor Hugo because of distractions, how much worse is it now and does it have the capacity to get. Today writer's block can't hold a candle to the internet.

Mr. Hugo: I meet your wardrobe and raise you one computer connected to the world wide web.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Birthdays and a Funeral

Against my better judgment I was headed out this morning to walk the dog. It was cold and windy and my fibromyalgia is really acting up. Needless to say, it's probably a good thing I have a dog who needs to walk to do his daily duty or I would spend more mornings holed up inside rather than getting a meager amount of exercise. Anyway, we were just starting out when our neighbors and good friends, a couple who live two doors away were also headed out in their car. They paused en route and she rolled down the window to greet me. As if to answer my predictable question before I uttered it, she "responded" with "Birthdays and a funeral." "I'm there with you," I said, thinking about the memorial service I'm supposed to go to this afternoon. And then they waved good bye as they drove off.

Birthdays and a funeral. I pondered this phrase as I walked down the street. Birthdays and a funeral.
commons.wikimedia.org
Bookends to life. Birthdays--the day we enter this life and then the subsequent celebrations of continuing to reach those days yearly; funerals--"celebrations" of life we euphemistically call them now. Both happen every day. It's just ironic when one encounters them in the same day. Or perhaps not.

Birthdays and a funeral. Beginnings and endings.  Yin & yang. Every day we experience beginnings and endings. We start a book; we finish a book. We start a task; we complete a task. Life ends; life goes on. There is a natural order to things and life is full of beginnings and endings.

But I know that one of the birthdays my friends were going to celebrate was that of one of their granddaughters who just turned 19. And the funeral was for someone much older. The memorial service I was going to was for a teen-aged boy--not much younger than their granddaughter--who took his own life just last week. There is a natural order to things and that is not the way it is supposed to be. It is widely accepted that you just don't jump to the end of a book. You're supposed to start at the beginning and gradually work your way through it. We consider it cheating when someone reads the end first. Young people aren't supposed to die, particularly by their own hands. At 17 there is, conceivably, more life to be lived, more of the story to be told or revealed, more birthdays to celebrate. We should not be "celebrating" the life he lived but rather celebrating with him the continuance of life until some other much later time. Until the task is finished, until the book is completed.

The book doesn't end when we always expect it to and sometimes it has a surprise ending. Birthdays and a funeral.

Friday, March 6, 2015

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...*"

(From my MamaCamel blog)
Oh, dear William, here we are again. "the blast of war blows in our ears..." and so we "...imitate the action of the tiger.” or else we'll "close the wall up with our...dead"* weight! I've been at this long enough to know that this might just be another unsuccessful skirmish but what's a veteran of the weight wars to do?

The last time I wrote in this "journal," some nearly 6 years now, I was focused on an entirely different concern: the safe return of my eldest son from captivity in Nigeria and the subsequent news on fate of the film that put him in harms way. That was a different sort of war, one of mostly words--and tears and prayers. But that crisis is behind us now; he is safely ensconced in the democracy of the new world and not, luckily, in any imminent danger of being detained except perhaps by his 4-year-old son.

No, this is a battle of a different sort; the battle to free the more slender version of me from the captivity of this prison of obesity. I know I'm still in there somewhere and I'm trying once again, as Shakespeare admonishes me, to "Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage..."*

And so, this time I am trying a version of a diet, in which I follow a strict protocol of what to eat (easier than listing what not to eat!) and take natural supplements including HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) drops. Apparently you can get the HCG in an injection (ouch!) but I personally like the play on words provided by "drops." As in, I plan to "drop" enough "drops" so that I "drop" the fat/pounds/weight before I "drop!" I know, I've read the stuff on the drops--the good and the bad--and frankly, the truth is that like King Henry V, I'm desperate and will try just about anything as long as I lose weight in so doing.

The first two days of the "diet" (Phase 1) the soldier is supposed to stuff herself, primarily with carbs, primarily to store up stores for the body to retrieve as on day 3 (Phase 2) the rations will cut dramatically. We are even told we should plan to gain significant amounts of weight in those first 2 days (and not to worry). Can I just say, I stuffed myself and gained a grand total of 1 (one) pound?! (also, not to worry) I wonder what this means? But while I wonder, I have to confess that as in most human endeavors (it seems to me anyway) the breathless anticipation of actually having to eat (No one heretofore has ever told me I MUST eat. I'm not sure why...) far exceeded the banal activity of actually doing so. I found myself not wanting to eat, to actually being nauseated by the very thought of having to stuff more food into my satiated stomach.  And this was not because of the culinary options! I made sure to provide myself with fattening foods that I love (apparently a lot) and all the alcohol I could consume safely. And it all Made. Me. Sick.

What evil cunning and deceit is this, designed to make me nearly desperate to abandon all my favorite foods and drinks so that I want only the meager and plain foods of this diet! I couldn't wait for my "loading" days to be over! And so, they are. And so begins Phase 2.  Ah, chicken breasts, garlic and spinach I love thee!

*William Shakespeare, Henry V"

Collector of Words

I am a collector. There. I said it. Not a hoarder, mind you. At least I hope not. My mother was one long before they had a term and a TV show about that particular malady. But while I take after my mom in some ways, I eschew clutter; and while I am prone to letting it get away from me at times I am also constantly fighting it off.

When I say I'm a "collector" I mean that I have several small collections of random things. Well, not random to me. Perhaps to others. The things I collect I do so for, I'd like to think, a reason or two. I collect(ed) lighthouses, for instance. I add the (ed) because I'm officially done with collecting those and am happy with the collection I currently have. I think there is a reasonable limit and I feel I have achieved it. I have lighthouses--both those that just stand at various sizes and colors and those that can be plugged in to cast a little light--, lighthouse candles, lighthouse books, lighthouse frames, lighthouse paintings and photos, lighthouse Christmas ornaments, lighthouse placemats, lighthouse pillows, a lighthouse blanket. I even have a faux-lighthouse at the top of my stairwell (otherwise known as a cupola). I think that is enough lighthouses. I started collecting lighthouses because of a speech I heard years ago at a fundraiser luncheon. The speaker used the metaphor of the lighthouse to demonstrate how people can help others in need. Her presentation really spoke to me and I saw lighthouses in a, well, new light. So my lighthouses remind me daily of that.

I also collect some things because I just can't help myself. Like beach glass. This sort of collecting probably more resembles that of a hoarder in that it is no longer just a hobby. It has become an obsession. And the beach outside my door is the enabler. What more can I say? Someday I may actually do something with the literally tens of pounds that we've collected or maybe we'll sell them when the value hits $10 a ton. Although...I find it hard to part with a single piece.

Today I realized quite by accident that I am also a collector of words. Every day www.Merriam-Webster.com deposits a new word into my email. I read those emails pretty consistently unless I see in the "feed" that they are words that I feel pretty confident that I know well. Some of them are pretty benign; others are actually quite comical. On occasion the word is one that I just can't quite delete. I noticed my growing "collection" today as I moved the daily word email to my folder in Outlook labeled "Word of the Day."  

Perhaps I think these words could come in handy some day when I'm writing something, like my first novel (an "opusculum"). These are words like "importunate," "frowsy," or "ennui." I imagine myself in the middle of a sentence and trying to choose just the right word (or "mot juste"). I go to my word collection and voilĂ !

Other words in my collection are there to help me feel smart ("cerebrate"). Just by virtue of them being in my collection I feel a tad more erudite. These words include: "quotidium," "force majeure," and "abjegate." Still others seem to fit ("portend") my mood  at the time: "weltschmerz," "eolian," or "lodestar." And then there are those ("sockdolagers") that inspire me : "virescent," "conversazione," and "sea change." Lastly there are those words that are just plain silly sounding that make me giggle inside like an adolescent (or "retronym") hearing a potty word: "argy-bargy," "frog-march," and "grok."

There ought to be a word for word collectors. After all, by virtue of my sand collecting I am an arenophile. My hubby is a "helixophile," as he is intrigued with the art of corkscrews. But alas, I have found none yet. As much as I love collecting them, there is apparently no "word" to describe me!