Distracting Boredom

I’ve been thinking a lot about distraction lately. Specifically, how distraction connects to boredom, procrastination, and attention span. I’m not sure I can or want to dwell on the genealogy of this train of thought. That might be a distraction in itself. But I think it comes from being dissatisfied with my own shortening attention span, and the way distraction—and the ease with which I fall into it—breaks my concentration and generates anxiety, which, perversely, then leads to more distraction. It’s a recipe for spiralling into all kinds of unpleasantness.

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Bloor Viaduct at night

I think I have forgotten how to be distracted well. And I don’t mean that in the kind of funny, quirky, distracted professor, “I’m thinking of such elevated things, I can’t be bothered to pay attention to the shit I’m stepping in, or passing on to other lesser humans to deal with” stereotype.

Good distraction means getting bored.  And it’s so hard for me to allow myself to get bored. I had forgotten about boredom altogether until I started hearing my kids invoking boredom as the worst state to be in. I have not been bored in a good long time. I miss it. I want to get bored, but I don’t know how.

Partly, it’s because I’ve gotten used to internal motivation through years of graduate school and learning how to project manage my own research, and now my own writing. There are always six different things I want to be writing at the same time, and about fifty books I want to be reading. And I’m not talking about a TBR pile. At any point in time, I have about seven books that I’m reading or listening to.

It’s not a good habit.

I want to stop. I want my to-do list to be so empty, I will get bored.

It’s not going to happen, and it’s not only because of the culture of productivity around us. It’s also because of an internal drive that makes me feel perpetually behind. I blame social media. Well, no, I don’t actually think social media is the problem, but rather my injudicious use of it.

And this is how we get back to distraction. You see, when I stumble over something that gives me pause when writing or reading, instead of taking that moment to let my mind wander, I jump onto Twitter or Instagram to check what other people are doing. I purposefully distract myself, and it’s not good.

You know why? Because Kerry will be parading a new and interesting book that I really have to read right then; because Vicki will be quoting from #todayspoem, and I must, I simply must seek it or its author out; because Sarah posts another short story that I want to read, too. And on and on it goes. And that’s the beautiful part of social media, but mostly, I get sucked into all the nasty things that keep happening around the world, fuelled by bigotry, sparked by hate-speech, and fanned by viral contagion.

My Twitter runs on outrage. But while it is necessary to expose, discuss, and counteract those toxic waves, I find it more and more difficult to take it in, let alone contribute to the conversation. “There’s nothing new I can add to it, except for more outrage, and that’s not useful or productive,” I tell myself. So I stop before I hit tweet, or before I even type up the words. Which means I’m left to process the emotions on my own. Hence, increased anxiety, etc. The cycle resumes in even broader diameters.

Anyway, I want to get back to boredom. I want to stare into the middle distance and not think of how shitty the world is, or what I still have to do that day, or how to be even more productive. I want to let my thoughts wander with my legs (instead of listening to that audiobook). I want not to care that even if it will take me months to finish my WIP, and then, if I’m extremely lucky and if the writing is exceptionally good, and if the market has interest, and if all the constellations align, months upon months more—who knows how many years—until it will find a way into the world.

Is that too much to ask? How do you feel about boredom/distraction? (How) Do you achieve it?

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