Focus Training Day

I did it. I spent the entire morning completely unplugged. I woke up around 7:30 AM, turned off my phone, turned off my computers, made some breakfast, wrote in my journal, and then read through two full, honest-to-Sagan, paper books.

No computer screens. No teevee showing a binge of YouTube or Netflix. No taking breaks every few minutes to see what was trending on Facebook or ¬†Twitter. I didn’t even really know what time it was, exactly; the only clock I have that isn’t also a computer is on the microwave in the kitchen, and I only went in there to get more coffee.

I woke up and wrote a page in my journal, longhand, just organizing my thoughts. I haven’t written in my journal since October last year.

I’ve felt distracted and despairing that I would ever be able to read a book in a reasonable amount of time ever again. Every time I’ve tried, recently, I get nervous and distracted and eventually give up, even on “easy” reads. Even on short books.

I’ve had Charles Bukowski On Cats on loan from the library since August last year. I’ve renewed the damned thing over and over again. It’s barely 120 pages, and it’s poems and short-short stories and vignettes and drawings. And still, I haven’t been able to finish it. This morning, I read through it while making breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, garlic hashbrowns, English muffin, coffee), and then while I was eating breakfast and then finishing it.

I finished it. And it was still early. I had planned to stay offline until noon, if I could manage it. I sat in my office and looked out the window and felt the pull to turn on my computer, if only to update Goodreads, tell the world I’d finished this book.

Instead, I got up, put the sheets in the laundry, and pulled down another book on my “to be read” pile: Hunter Stockton Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sat down on the couch and started reading. Got to about page 40, flipped ahead to see that the whole thing was only 200 pages, realized I could put a serious dent in this before my self-imposed screen jail time had elapsed.

When I reached the end of Part One, almost exactly halfway through, I got up, stretched, pulled the sheets out of the dryer and put them on the bed, and noted the time: 10:30 AM. I could finish this book in one sitting. Like I’d done in the distant past. I actually had the focus, the drive, the attention span to read a whole novel in a few hours.

I can’t tell you what a revelation and what a relief this is to me. Once I got into HST’s prose, I stopped worrying what was trending on Twitter. I no longer cared what arguments were happening on Facebook. I did, briefly, wonder if my friends or family were trying to reach me, but I allowed myself to feel that anxiety, then kept reading. I’d be available all too soon. I can catch up. The world can wait for just a bit longer.

And I have returned. I feel calmer and less stressed. Reading is meditative. Having the words of someone else in my brain lets me soothe the fears of my own inner voice. I’m recharged, and ready to return to the global consciousness.

Take a break from the Internet from time to time. It helps.