I’ve come to understand that, in most cases, there is just one thing that is supposed to hold our attention. It’s usually the most obvious thing, and far more clever folk refer to it as “the thing right in front of you,” or “the task at hand.” Yet it could be anything. Whether we’re clipping off body parts and storing them in freezer bags, or filling our tax forms with bizarre scribbled figures, we know where our focus is supposed to be.
Even so, it’s difficult for me to lose myself in the moment. A given situation may be worthy of my attention, but time and time again I find myself distracted by the meta situation. The vaguest notion is likely to set my mind to recondite contemplation, and I soon lose track of things completely, like an autistic child distracted by a shiny button. A good example is my stepfather’s watch. When I was a child I had a stepfather who sported one of those auto-winding watches. I was fascinated how it whirred when he moved his wrist, which was usually when he was gesticulating at me during one of his tirades. A tirade is something you’re meant to pay attention to, otherwise why bother? But my mind was on that little mechanism with its flywheels and gears and… I didn’t actually know what was happening inside the watch, but by the time I emerged from thought it was already too late, and that watch was a hornet around my ears.
I go into each new situation with the best of intentions, determined to behold, consume, appreciate, without falling prey to the seductive analytical noise that whispers from somewhere close by. Sometimes I think I may even succeed. For instance, I recently managed to enjoy several sets at a local tennis event. It was during a slow weekend, and I had no pressing matters to attend to, so by all accounts I should have been able to surrender my attention to the little yellow ball. But that’s just it: the entire audience had already surrendered to the ball. Once the syncopated swivel of their sprinkler-like heads became apparent to me, any hope I might have had of being engaged in the rest of the match was lost.
The attendees were oblivious, and to a person, hopeless. I fancied I could hear their vertebrae grating against each other like granite blocks, and feared that their synchronized movement would generate eddies of air that, cumulatively, might soon suck down the roof of the stadium. At the same time I became very conscious of my own head movement, and the thought of joining mindless consensus gentium was out of the question. In fact I didn’t turn my head for the rest of the weekend, and spent the remainder of my leisure as if my spine had been fused.
Though my life of seclusion offers some respite from distraction, I still find myself occupied over things I shouldn’t notice at all. Very recently I’ve been hearing newscasters breathing. To be sure, any given news program consists primarily of actual news, recited by a photogenic crew, fleet of tongue, and authoritative. But the sheer volume of words involved in such presentations requires a precision of breath control matched only by the hurried inhalations of synchronized swimmers.
Unfortunately, once I’ve become attuned to the scantily camouflaged snort of an anchor’s inhalations, it’s all I can hear for the rest of the show. The rest of the monologue becomes a vague chatter, which is punctuated by a continuous chain of thunderous billows. I understand that the news staff must continue to feed oxygen to their respective brains, but must they allow the atmosphere to whistle through their teeth like a turbo prop?
Am I thinking about something, or thinking about thinking about it? The question occurs to me with increasing frequency, and I fear there may be no end to it. I wonder how self-referential this sentence will be, and if I’ll know when I’ve made my point. I’ve become an outsider in my own head. I’m just pretending, merely going through the motions even now. And if it’s true what they say, that in the end you are who you pretend to be, then maybe in the end I’ll be no one at all.