Distractions, Distractions, Distractions

I am kind of the worst. More specifically, my brain is.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, and having a lot of technology available from a young age has ruined us, but I find it incredibly difficult to focus on only one thing.

Hi, my name is Erica and I’m a technology addict.

Hi Erica.

I distinctly remember being a young child and going to the public library and reading in the quiet, curled up in a bean bag chair. But in those kinds of memories I’m always very young. And am usually reading a picture book. By the time I graduated to chapters (which was at the ripe old age of six), I had distractions.

I have memories of reading The Baby Sitters Club while Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was on the TV in the background. I remember reading Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown in my room while I played Broadway soundtracks on repeat. I could hear my sister’s Disney tapes through my bedroom wall as I read Little Women. I had headphones on when I finally picked up The Golden Compass.

And it’s much the same twenty years later. I listen to music while I read on my commute. I keep the TV on while I read, volleying my attention between the book in my lap and an episode of Castle. Or The Daily Show. Or Top Chef.

It’s gotten to the point where I go crazy having to read in complete silence.

Years of overstimulation have made it the norm. I need music when I read. Or the TV. I need background noise or my thoughts are just too loud.

My parents’ house has a back porch where they like to sit out year round (even in the deep Connecticut snow) and read. It’s their happy spot. And when I visit, I try to join them out there. I do not last long. Mostly because of the bugs, who find me irresistible, but also because of the quiet. I can’t take it.

And, sadly, this same addiction has spread to writing.

There’s this idealized image of the writer, sitting at a desk or table in a quiet spot, looking out over some sort of inspiring view (a garden, the sea, the Manhattan skyline) and working diligently in complete quiet. Maybe some birdsong, but mostly silence.

I will never achieve this dream.

I can’t. It would drive me crazy. Certifiably, ear-cutting-off artist crazy. The silence would allow too many random thoughts to crowd my head, and while I’d be trying to focus on things like plot and character development, my mind would wander away to ponder the usefulness of toe sneakers or whether I’d be breaking my diet if I had a couple Ritz peanut butter crackers or if I was even hungry for a snack or just bored.

For me, the background music and TV suppress my mind wandering. They distract the parts of my brain that are thinking about pudding and what happens now that X-Men: Days of Future Past rebooted the entire movie history. It’s kind of the same effect of dangling your keys in front of a crying baby. Background music is my shiny, jangly keys.

And I know I’m not the only one. There are other writers out there whose routine consists of plugging in the headphones, turning on the Spotify, or having the news running in the background. Because we’ve evolved to accept this constant technological buzz, almost like they were nature sounds.

So I wonder if, in the years to come, the idealized image of a writer will change. If that Thoreau-ish writer’s cabin in the woods will soon be wired for premium cable. Or if that tiny Paris apartment with the desk up against the window with a view of the Eiffel Tower will also have an iPod stereo dock. Or if all the writers in all the cozy little cafes or less-cozy Starbucks will have headphones in.

And will this new image of the writer at work be as romantic?

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