Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Focus

I'm been thinking lately a lot about FOCUS. It's my New Year's Resolution. I try to come up with one word that says it all to me. One word because then maybe, just maybe, I'll remember what it is. Once in a while it's a phrase. But it has to speak to me and usually somewhere around December 30 it just comes. Last year it was ENJOY (as in, life can bring you hard times, so you really should enjoy the good ones!). The year before it was INTENTION (as in, be truly present for every moment). Each year I don't give up the one from the year before because, theoretically, anyway, I should have figured out over the course of the year how to follow that resolution, and so each year I'm adding on to the ones from the years before. This is the goal, anyway.

So this year's resolution and goal is FOCUS. As in--keep your eye, your heart, your mind on what you have set out to do. Be a bird charting your own course, not a bird who is buffeted this way and that by this breeze, or that change in the wind. Sometimes when I say it to myself I add Hocus Pocus. Focus Hocus Pocus. Because it sure is going to take some real kind of magic to focus, isn't it?!

Focusing in 2012 is not so easy.  There are so many distractions, both external and internal. I know this is true for writers and other artists. I know it's true for teachers and librarians as well. We have so many demands on our attention and our time. We have way too much input from media and social media and supervisors and guidelines and trends and children and parents and readers and it's just so hard to....


That's my arm, by the way. It's a temporary tattoo my friend Rebecca gave me because she knows my resolution. She gave me two. I might have to order some more. Because this is going to take a lot of reminding, and some real Intention. I have a huge nonfiction book to research and write, another one to finish, and a novel that is calling me and demanding I pay attention to it (and I want to!). I have a new book coming out in August, which will mean a lot of external input threatening my focus. Before that I have to update my web site. And then there's life. 

As I write this I know that every single person who is reading this feels the same way. The particulars may be different, but the problems (and I imagine the occasional moments of panic) are the same. 

I'm writing this on Friday morning, and was inspired to write it right now because of an article I read in the New York Times. Did you see it? The story about a cell phone disrupting the last, beautiful, very quiet measures of Mahler's Symphony No. 9? 

Can you imagine? The man was sitting in the first row, and his cell phone went off--the marimba alarm tone. When you read the article, you'll learn that it was a new phone, an Iphone, that his company had given him, and he had silenced it, but he didn't know that his alarm was set. (Yes, your alarm goes off even if you've silenced your phone. I know this from napping. If you do it on purpose, it's a good thing.) 

There are a few things that I like about this story. One is that the conductor, Alan Gilbert, stopped the performance. That sound was disrupting his focus, the focus of his musicians, and, of course, the focus of the audience. We were in London in 2005 at a performance of The History Boys, and the same thing happened. Front row. Awful noise. A crucial scene. Third time. One of the actors, Richard Griffiths (a large and scary man at this particular moment), furiously stopped the scene and said, "I can't compete with these electronic devices." He ordered the man to leave and we all applauded. He then started the scene again, he said, for the second and last time. It was a memorable play and a memorable experience. I imagine the Mahler the other night was, too. I don't think Mr. Gilbert yelled, but he did stop the performance and ask that the phone be turned off. He respected the need for focus, and for the purity of art. 

According to the article the man whose phone it was felt just awful and didn't sleep for two nights.  Venom was spewed at him all over the internet. According to the Times he was a 20-year subscriber to the New York Philharmonic, and has often been irked by noises in Avery Fisher hall--coughs, people who clap at the wrong time, and cell phones.  "It was just awful to have any role in something...so disturbing and disrespectful," he told the Times. When someone from the Philharmonic called him the next day (having figured out who he was) and asked him politely not to do it again, he agreed, of course, and asked if he could apologize to Mr. Gilbert. They talked by phone and the conductor said to him, "I'm really sorry you had to go through this" and accepted his apology. Don't you love it? 

But what I also love is what Patron X (as he is called) said. He said that this underscored (pun intended?) "the very enduring and important bond between the audience and the performers. If it's disturbed in any significant way, it just shows how precious the whole union is." 

So I read that this morning and I thought--same here. If we let cell phones and other "electronic devices" get between us and our focus on our art--whether we are writing, reading, researching, or teaching, then we are violating a sacred bond. 

10 comments:

Melissa Stewart said...

Great post, Deb. I'm going to have to look of rsome of those tatoos. I'm in the midst of the biggest, longest book I've ever written, and focus is one thing I really need.

Deborah Heiligman said...

Thanks, Melissa. I'm trying to focus today. It's hard when you post something. Slap me. Thanks, I needed that.

Jen Bryant said...

I read this first without knowing who wrote it, and yet as my little eyeballs skimmed along, I knew it HAD to be you! We've talked about this challenge almost every time we've seen each other in the past several years, haven't we? (after the family update, that is)--and the ability to really FOCUS just keeps getting more difficult, doesn't it? This is yet another perfect illustration of how, even in an environment where everyone is doing their utmost to be intentionally focused, technology intrudes!!! All the more reason to re-commit ourselves to the ideal, I say . . . even if we have to don robes and climb into the hills of Tibet, we need to find some way to own our own mental space. Thanks for such a great post, Deb--and I hope this comment does not interrupt your focus:)

Joyce McDonald said...

I suspect everyone who reads your spot-on post will think you wrote it for them personally, Deb. I did. It couldn't have come at a better time. Thank you!

Barbara Kerley said...

Loved this post. I would have texted to tell you, but...

Pam Swallow said...

Amen!!!
From one who wrestles with focus every day.

Pam Swallow said...

Amen!!!
From one who wrestles with focus every day.

deborahfreedman said...

Yes, yes! The bubble must be electronics free.

SMACK.

Annalisa said...

distractions...fleeting things!

lost cell phones...more distracting mentally than alarms ringing externally!

here's to solid progress in 2012...cheers!

Loreen Leedy said...

Speaking of noise ruining focus, I get a lot more done when the incoming mail sound is turned off. Good post!