What do you mean, “Just do it!”?

The warrior needs to concentrate and focus.

In societal terms, we’ve spent decades messing up our ability to concentrate and focus. Sound bites, the fast-cut montage ad, video games, multitasking, call waiting, the list goes on and on. The lauded children’s programme “Sesame Street” was consciously modelled on the fast-paced format of advertising, on the theory that such a format would keep the kids’ attention. Works, too.

I’ve noticed that when I go to a movie theatre there are always people texting or talking, or getting up six times during a two-hour movie. Isn’t the movie interesting enough? Or is the problem an inability to keep the mind on one thing for an extended period? The latter, I think, and it means I’m less and less inclined to go to a movie theatre..

The world around us mitigates against concentration, silence, focus. It pulls at our attention with telephone calls and email and things-to-do. One study concluded that the steady interruptions of email at work disrupt concentration more than if you slipped out to smoke a joint and then came back to your desk. Dude!*

Art, however, requires concentration and focus. Silence may not be obligatory – although I prefer silence or instrumental music when I’m working – but the artist needs to have control of her focus. When I studied printmaking, the professor said he could tell when we were really working because we stopped talking to each other. He didn’t forbid conversation, but he saw our silence, correctly, I think, as a sign of our focus on the art.

There are also pulls on our conscience; requirements for family, friends, community. Volunteer work is a huge distraction, particularly for women, who do the bulk of small-town volunteering. (I once worked for the United Way, and the campaign chair told me that men like to serve on boards, but women do most of the hands-on work.) Guilt is a powerful distraction. The demands of housekeeping, cooking, laundry and so on can sap energy and focus. Even if you’re not doing them, the little nag in the head says you should be. “What will the neighbours/your mother/the PTA think?” she whines.

And what about the social calendar? Where does it say that if someone invites you, you have to go? Can’t you say, “I’m sorry, I have to work”? Oh, wait, I forgot – art isn’t real work!

That may be the most damaging distraction of all – the repeated assumption, outer and, unfortunately, inner, that writing, pottery, painting, sculpture, dance or any other art is not a real job. When I folded my pottery business to go into my husband’s pet store, family and friends (not all, but some) said, “Well, now you have a real job.” This in spite of the fact that my work had paid the bills for years.

“Just do it!” isn’t always helpful. Starting in the next post, I’m going to explore some of the tools I use to keep my own focus.

*Mandatory disclaimer: this is not to be taken as tacit approval of marijuana smoking – a subject outside the scope of this blog – but rather as a warning about the hazards of the ubiquity of email.

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2 Responses to What do you mean, “Just do it!”?

  1. Elizabeth,
    What you say about artists and writers also happens to consultants-by-choice. The whole world assumes you are hanging on until you get that *real* job (poor thing). It is not helped by those who fall out of work and bill themselves as “consultants” (in your world, “working on my poetry”, “getting my sh*t together”) who are actually languishing between the only types of job they consider real (All cubicles 9-5, baby).

  2. Amen, amen! “Working on a novel” is also taken as a code for “unemployed”. I mean, novels, right? Everyone’s writing one!

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