Tuesday, November 10, 2015


In the same way some persons tend to be accident prone, you are distraction prone.  To set the proper tone here, you do not believe this admission is a coded or even euphemistic admission of you having Attention Deficit Disorder.  Distraction, in its own way, is quite enough.

One proof of your claim can be seen in the number of times you've worked at a project through the afternoon hours, well past your normal dinner hour of seven, only to look up at about nine, taunted by hunger pangs. Another proof resides in the number of times when, either at your desk composing or your reading chair, reading, you become aware how the transiting sun has caused the day to take on darkness, without your awareness.

Even when the mosquitoes of ADD buzz about you, you have strategies for sending them into the other room or, better still, out into the night, in search of other victims.  The point here is that you damned well know ADD when you see it and have a supportive sensory awareness to inform you when you are being distracted from one focal point to another.

When the symptoms of distraction begin, you're aware of a lifting sensation, often followed by an emerging spread of euphoria through your lower entrails, seeming to fizz upward, leaving deposits of alertness and curiosity to tantalize you.  Your inner jester stirs awake, alert for possibilities of mischief.  You begin to think you can hear yourself, speaking in a not at all  unkind way, saying, "Here we go. Again."

At the present moment, you are aware of two distractions, lingering like the marine layers of June and July, each heavy enough to remind you of how vulnerable you are to them, how in their thrall you've become, thinking of them during portions of the day already spoken for.  One of these is a booklength project that has not behaved well at all, jostling and forcing its way to the head of the line of projects.  As it progresses into an advanced provisional draft, it has found yet newer ways of wanting your attention.

The design of this project allowed you to pick the one hundred novels you believe you've learned the most from as study guides and inspirations to story writing.  With all the books about writing you've read, edited, and written yourself, these hundred novels have taught you more, inspired you more, distracted you more.  After considerable thinking and list making, you arrived at your list of the hundred titles you'd choose, then settled on the approximate number of words you would allow yourself to write about each.  

With six hundred words allotted to each of the hundred novels, and a rigorous ten thousand words for front matter and a final essay, you're seeing seventy thousand words, not a bad length if each word is chosen well and carries its own weight.  But in recent weeks, you notice another novel has begun distracting you, wanting to sit at the grown-up table, meaning the title changes to the hundred one novels, or that one of the chosen ones is disinvited, perhaps relegated to a list of also-rans in the back matter.

So far as you are concerned, distractions have a mind of their own.  Yes, that sentiment is a demonstration of the pathetic fallacy, where human qualities are attributed to inanimate objects or concepts.  Yes, you will allow it to stand on the grounds of the concept buttonholing you, engaging you in animated lobbying, reminding you of a favored photograph of Lyndon Johnson, when he was Senate Majority Leader, badgering and cajoling some unwary senator to cast an otherwise uncommitted vote to a measure still in debate.  Distractions do seize the opportunity to catch you when you are off balance.

You have been lobbied away from a project under way in which you discuss and demonstrate how techniques used by actors to enhance their portrayal of a role can be adapted to show fiction writers how to develop quirky, memorable, and skilled characters for their own stories.

And what of the second project?  You are at the stage of life where your interests and pursuits have less to do with material things and the attraction of people and more to do with things you have referred to as abstractions when dealing with students or clients.  Don't speak to me of a character wanting wisdom or happiness, you complain.  

Give me characters in quest of a specific scientific formula or a specific equation or a tangible ability, say to run a mile in three minutes, forty-five seconds or to be able to dance the lead role in The Firebird or Swan Lake, or to be able to pick up a tenor saxophone and replicate John Coltrane's spirited rendition of  his composition, "Giant Steps."

To the contrary notwithstanding, you are giddy with distraction about someone, at once enjoying the giddiness and welcoming it back into your life and hoping it will remain with you in full force in order to portray it in fiction, expanding the stage of your imagination yet again as all distractions expand the stage on which lives play out.

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