Back in the '80s when I was doing software development at a high-tech company, the young and very ambitious vice-president of my division had, on the wall of his office, a little needlework sampler that consisted only of the word "FOCUS." In that environment, one did indeed need to be able to focus (dare I say "like a laser"?) on one's work, not only in general but on the immediate task. The company was in a frantically competitive market and we didn't have the resources that our bigger rivals did, so we were always spread too thinly, and one's attention and concentration were always in danger of being fragmented to a point where it seemed that no one thing was ever done very well and thoroughly.
A few of us made fun of that sampler. We were not really native to that entrepreneurial and engineering world, and did our best not to take it too seriously. Why focus intensely on some soon-to-be-obsolete technical achievement when there was a whole beautiful and varied world to be experienced, contemplated, and understood? That attitude was an element of my 1990 decision to leave that job--a fairly minor element, but definitely there. As it turned out, going to work as a technical jack-of-all-trades at a small college didn't much help that particular problem: once again, there was far too much to be done than people available to do it, and the obstacles to concentrated attention on any one thing were just as many and just as powerful.
And of course that was just the job--the same basic pattern held for life in general, including the whole raising-a-family bit, which anyone who has done or is doing it understands. Ours is an awfully busy culture, as has often been noted. There was not a great deal of time for other things. My attempt at consolation for this was always "One day I'll be able to retire, and then it won't be this way. I'll finally be able to do all the reading and writing and listening and playing that I've been postponing all these years."
But now I've been semi-to-mostly retired for a couple of years, and it hasn't quite worked out that way. Understand that I am NOT, absolutely not, unappreciative of the fact that I don't have to spend most of every day responding to an unending stream of software needs and problems. I've seen a bumper sticker that says something to the effect of "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work." That's more or less my view of my retirement routine. Yet I've thought of that "FOCUS" sampler a few times over the past year or so, because the problem of focus has become a big problem for me.
I have several artistic projects in the works, and weeks go by with little or no progress on any of them. Somehow it seems that there hasn't been enough time, but that really doesn't hold water. That is, maybe there isn't enough time--I do still have other duties--but there certainly is some time, more than I've had at any other period of my life. The problem is that I'm not making good use of it. I'm frequently unable to concentrate on my work even when I can and should be. And a big component of that problem is that I spend too much time aimlessly jumping from one thing to another on the web. I think most of us are familiar with that syndrome. In addition to the time involved it keeps my mind stirred up and flitting from one current event or controversy to another, and makes it hard for me to concentrate even when I do get down to work. I'm actually afraid to try keeping an accurate record of the time I spend reading miscellaneous stuff on the web every day. I'm sure I would be appalled. That's fundamentally a character flaw, or set of flaws, but the nature of the web feeds and encourages it. So, as I said in my previous post, it's imperative that I drastically reduce that time.
This blog is also a component of the problem. As I also said in that post, I've been considering whether or not I ought to or want to continue it, and part of the reason is that it also plays a part in fragmenting my attention. In the past, especially for the first ten years or so of the blog's existence, I often put quite a bit of work into my posts, especially the Sunday Night Journal entries. I worked at thinking through what I wanted to say and at saying it clearly. But that was the only writing I was doing at the time. I find that I can't keep that up while working on other and larger projects.
But I really don't want to give up the blog, especially the conversations in the comments (though as we've discussed there isn't as much of that as there used to be). So I'm going to try for a while to continue it, but to make the posts shorter and more casual. If I want to write about a book I've just read, for instance, it won't be a thousand or more words of considered reflection, but a few remarks: enough to hang a conversation on, but not much more. I don't plan to change anything else for now. I hope that will be enough to keep things interesting. I'll see how that goes, at least through the end of the year.