A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 5 September 2013


I don't know about you but I find, if I'm not careful, I'm easily distracted. And, of course, distractions can be fun, and a necessary break from the altogether more earnest (though not always more enjoyable) concerns of work, maintaining a relationship, maintaining a household, puzzling out the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics and navigating one's way around the Argos catalogue.

If there's anything slightly difficult to do, I'll find excuses to postpone it. Isn't it so much easier to make a cup of coffee rather than rigorously edit that piece of writing? To check out that exciting iPhone or iPad rather than finish War and Peace? To see if another inconsequential email has pinged through instead of meditating upon and honing one's philosophy of life?

Seriously though, I find it rather frightening that one may look back on one's life and find that it's been a long series of distractions, a stop-start frenzy of superficial and instant gratifications, an endless surfing of hollow pleasures. A little bit of denial, a little self-control, some willed assertion over one's hedonistic instincts are essential, I think (and I know I run the risk of sounding a killjoy here).

I've idled away many an hour learning not very much on the Internet.  I've wasted much time watching utterly forgettable TV programmes. I like a joint, metaphorical or otherwise, as much as the next person.

But the other evening, while staying in a B&B on the Viking Way, instead of drinking wine in the local pub then drifting into a fuzzy euphoria before watching some rubbishy TV (as it's so easy to do), I drank a non-alcoholic drink, read a book in my room and listened to a Bach oratorio. And it felt so damn good.

I don't want my life to be a distraction. On my deathbed I don't want to recall trips to Sainsbury but trips to Samarkand.  I want to really live. Intensely, madly, deeply. And I want to do it now.


Susan Scheid said...

And I say amen (even though I'm not in the least religious). It's terribly hard, isn't it? When I finally sit down to a great book, a great poem, great music, I tell myself, why didn't I do this in the first place? It's very hard to strike the right balance. Very hard. Reading Gogol's Dead Souls now. Just started it, but it's already a sumptuous feast. So, now, back to my music, book, and cup of tea, following your fine example.

Grizz………… said...

Solitary, my friend, your worries are groundless.

Yes, you likely are easily distracted and no doubt waste a fair share of time. Dawdling and procrastination are easy traps, and we all fall into them more than we might if we could only change our ways to buckle down and focus on the important things. But really, honestly, if you do retrain yourself to eschew all things superficial, to forego instant gratifications, and regularly turn your back on those hedonistic pleasures—if you thereby carve out the time to (FINALLY!) finish reading War and Peace, will you be the better man for having done so? Will your life be better? Will you have lived more deeply, more intensely…more adventurously and usefully? I assure you, Tolstoy's ghost will not bother you.

By all means, choose Bach over Benny Hill…most of the time. But not exclusively. Just don't forget that we all need our distractions as much as we need our challenges. Books AND beer, or wine, or gin, or that metaphorical or otherwise joint. Whatever. Life lived well is life well balanced. Instead of fretting about honing one's life philosophy, give yourself the leeway to live fully, with wonder and joy, in the moment. That's where you'll find those memories for the later years.

No one who has written so very, very well—both in poetry and prose—about so many things, and shared them as you have with the rest of us…no man who has done that need ever worry about whether or not he's wasting his time. I'd say you've found your life's perfect métier.

Wendy said...

This would be exactly why my blog is called Wander-Bird. :-)

Oh heavens, that would be why I'm commenting here instead of working on planning the next act of my story.

o_O (little rolly-eyes emoticon attempt)

Ruth said...

I agree with you .... I agree with Grizz ...

Maybe we just keep whittling away, getting a little bit more focused, choosing more ... less ... more ... less ... in alternating waves, and finding meaning where we can. I definitely need distractions ... or may I call them resting places? Your choice at the B&B is inspiring. When I'm beat, I don't have to watch TV. I can listen to music, close my eyes, and just be. Stimulation is not what I need when I'm tired, though I sometimes think it is. It's like eating something, when really, I am just thirsty.

Susan Scheid said...

So what do you think happened since I posted my comment here? I took a "quick peak" at Facebook, where a friend had posted a great interview with John Zorn, which in turn led me down the path of searching for music mentioned in the interview. Then I thought I really wanted to track down an Emily Dickinson poem a friend had noted to me, and the box by Joseph Cornell that related to it. All of this was stimulating and satisfying, but then I decided to hunt down a Pushkin and Bizet reference related to Shostakovich. All of that was interesting and satisfying, too. But there went Gogol, and I was really enjoying that simple, focused act of reading a great book. I've vowed to try again today . . . after our walk, as it's sunny and cool, perfect walking weather . . . So the days go, no matter my intentions. Ah, well.

The Solitary Walker said...

Gogol, Google, what the hell! Susan, it sounds like you're having a great day, no matter what.

Grizz, I delighted in your generous and beautifully expressed comment. Thanks, as ever, for your wise and balanced words.

Wendy — back to work! Immediately!

And Ruth, I like 'resting places'. It's just that sometimes I rest too long, and go to sleep, and wake up in the middle of next week!

Wendy said...

I've got a post on the same topic that I took down for site renovations - then I got distracted and never put it back up... maybe sometime soon it'll show up.

the good news is I DID get back to work and got a lot done! Thanks for the nudge :-)

Cris M said...

"Attention Deficit Disorder" used to be neurological/mental disorder some years ago, at least that was what we were taught at University. Nowadays, the amount of distractors is so huge and they are so available and widespread, and this joins to the "lesson learnt" that we don´t need to wait long to have our mind demands satisfied -which has driven our tolerance to wait to almost zero-, that now, neurologists and psyquiatrists talk about "adcquired attention deficit disorder", to diagnose those who... are driven by today´s life!

It is wonderful to have so much information available, and to be so inter-connected (in the end, this is how I reached to your blog), but I feel sorry because we would probably no longer have any more people dedicated to a life-long project as to paint the Sixtine Chapel... as we would have our time stolen by the so many distractors in the middle...

(I don´t think distraction is bad! we indeed need it! But I just have all the time the feeling that it is too much, and takes my time without me willing to!)

Thank you for the chance to review these thoughts!
Warm hugs from a cold morning in Buenos Aires,
Cris M

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, you make an important point, Cris — the fact that we seem to have more distracting temptations now than at any other time. For most of human history people were either non-stop at the grindstone (no time for distractions) or were the lucky landowning /aristocratic few who could lead a life of relative comfort and leisure.

I've noticed how most people nowadays are completely unable, say, to sit on a seat at the railway station and wait for a train just meditating and looking around them — they HAVE to fiddle with their phones and tablets. Even when walking down the street too. And even at mealtimes, God help us!

Thanks for your long and interesting comment.

Dominic Rivron said...

Is there a middle way? One could experiment with wine plus Bach, or herbal tea plus Bargain Hunt.

And, talking of internet distractions, this post started life as a 500 word essay - only to be reduced to the above sentence.

George said...

I'm just returning to the blogging world, Robert, but I wanted to comment on this posting of a couple of days ago. I know from whence you come, my friend, and I want to assure you that the questions you now ask yourself will only intensify with the passing of the years to come. Whether one is your age or mine, there is so little time left in the great scheme of things. There is certainly no time to waste on anything that does not free the soul and edify the spirit. Whether people admit it or not, much of our lives are spent with distractions, and I, for one, admire anyone who has the courage to at least attempt to simplify life, to strip away the superfluous and concentrate on what truly leads to a deeply satisfying life.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, those questions do get more urgent year on year. There is little mortal time for any of us. I suppose it's time to adopt a different attitude to time, to redefine it, perhaps to banish it in some philosophical way. Yet every birthday makes us all too conscious of it.

'Whether people admit it or not, much of our lives are spent with distractions, and I, for one, admire anyone who has the courage to at least attempt to simplify life, to strip away the superfluous and concentrate on what truly leads to a deeply satisfying life.' YES...