Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Loss of Loneliness

Loneliness is an option rarely afforded to me anymore. When I was about 25, there was no Facebook. I had no cell phone, no quick text messages. I was occasionally and intolerably lonely. When I was lonely, I wrote. Sometimes I fretted about writing, and instead made pointless phone calls, or wandered about the apartment smoking cigarettes and thinking about writing. I thought that I might die soon, and that I'd better write, or produce something of artistic merit. I had a postcard on my wall that read: "Time marches on. Better get with it before it's gone." It had a photo of a bearded old dude on it. I have about 85 unfinished projects from this time period, and a good number of finished ones, too.

The peril of a happy marriage is that it does not often allow for hours of endless, focused writing--or any in-depth artistic production. One of my former writing teachers praised his miserable marriage for giving him an excuse to escape to his writer's studio, just to evade the harpie he'd married. As a result, he became extremely productive. Not so for me. I'd really much rather spend time with my husband, talking about all the great things we are going to do in the future. We have a fine time doing just that. My latest idea is my new book: 101 Amazing Ideas I Had But Was Too Lazy or Stupid to Execute. I probably have at least 100 of the ideas needed to complete the book. I think I could sit around and open up an Idea Studio, but someone would have to pay me. Plus, I need about 8 hours off a day to wander the garden with my children.

I've been reading an article in New York Magazine about the Defense of Distraction. This is a really interesting piece and you all should read it. The writer purports to defend "distraction" but I came away with a stronger defense of "flow," that ability to really focus on something and sink into it--a joyful experience, whether developing a shitty PowerPoint presentation or an award-winning novel. I didn't buy the fact that multitasking is good for us. Maybe it expands our brains, much as the brains of the apes who first sporked around with tools in the dust. Maybe that's all good. But I much prefer the idea of focus, flow, and turning off the automatic email alerts.

I watch my kids, and although they are distracted from minute to minute they are incredibly engaged in each moment in the thing that they are currently working on. The older one can focus for one, two, three hours on a particular art project. I try to emulate them, and then I find myself clicking on "Stickies" to add a new item to my to-do list. I hate that scattered, ragged feeling. I hear the TV on behind my head. I sometimes turn when the music gets louder. I glance down at the phone in its cradle to my right.

I wonder if my children will ever feel loneliness? Now, if I were to feel deeply sad, I would post a wan little update on Facebook. I would expect 18 comments in as many minutes: "How r u?" "Why so sad?" "awww, i'm sorry!" I would appreciate every one of these remarks. But if there were silence? Would it lead me to further sadness, or to focus more fully on the experience of loneliness? Right here, right now. Sometimes silence is good.

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