In a tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver, Maria Popova re-posted in last Sunday’s BrainPickings, an essay Oliver wrote — “Of Power and Time.” In it, she writes about how “creative work needs solitude … concentration without interruptions.” It really resonated with me, because I’m so easily distracted these days. It wasn’t always thus, but it’s been a problem for a while now.
Thankfully, my “paid” work isn’t affected. I have no problem hunkering down and getting client projects and articles written — getting right to them, staying focused and meeting the deadlines. But my personal writing — my blog, my book, essays etc., the writing that keeps my spirit happy, well that’s another story.
No matter how hard I try not to let anything interrupt me, I get distracted. I’m distracted by Facebook. I’m distracted by emails. I’m distracted by an endless barrage of News updates. I’m distracted by a fridge or a pantry that need re-stocking. I’m distracted by discovering I’m out of tissues, or paper towels, or Charmin, or printer paper, or ink cartridges. I’m distracted by the pile of books I haven’t yet managed to finish reading, or the need to get to the tailor or dry cleaner. I’m distracted by life.
You get the picture.
I can’t concentrate.
Popova quoted Jane Hirshfield in the preamble to the Mary Oliver essay: “Concentration,” Hirshfield said, “is indeed a difficult art, art’s art, and its difficulty lies in the constant conciliation of the dissonance between self and the world.”
It seems this is nothing new. Two hundred years before social media, the French artist Eugène Delacroix complained about “the necessary torment of avoiding social distractions in creative work” and a century and a half later the abstract painter, Agnes Martin, directed aspiring artists “to exercise discernment in the interruptions they allow.”
Well, I am here to tell you that it’s easier said than done. And while I may be in good company, I am none the less frustrated with myself. Why is it so damn hard to shut out the world, even for a few hours a day?