Good distractions, contrary to common opinion, don’t happen every day. No, often you have to work for weeks on end with only very bland, boring, lackluster excuses to sustain you, until one day – POW! – out of the blue, with all the dramatic fanfare of a squirrel falling down a chimney (true story, don’t ask) – there’s a prime specimen of distraction to work with.
With care, you can get several days to a week out of a really good one.
It’s important to nurture your distraction. The key is, don’t waste it. Don’t waste a distraction on a day you already have nothing to do. Wait to enjoy it when you have far too much to do and more on the way.
That’s the perfect time to spread your wings, embrace your freedom from reality, and freefall straight into a gravity well of discovery.
The key is to find something that, like introspection, is endless*. You’re looking for something that other people before you have already found to be endlessly fascinating. If these people felt moved to write articles, develop blogs, or otherwise leave a trail for others to follow down the rabbit hole, you know you’ve chosen wisely. Your goal is to follow them as far and as fast as possible before the deadlines catch up to you.
For example, a shortlist of 2019 “Best Of” distractions: from January to late April, it was Stardew Valley**. In May, it was the stock market. In August, it was home organizing, and by late August/early September, it was perfumes and pearl earrings (perfume criticism is practically its own genre of writing. Luca Turin is the Elder Statesman of the bunch if you want a book, but there are some really fantastic blogs like Bois de Jasmine). From mid-October to early December, it was learning Spanish (again). After that the sheer terror of schoolwork kept me busy until I finished classes. All in all, a very good year.
It’s not just about the distraction, though. It’s also about what you’re distracted from. I can honestly say none of the above would have been possible without a steady stream of commitments, responsibilities, deadlines, and goals.
And sometimes, if you manage it just right, you may even discover that what you’re running from turns into what you’re running to.
I started this blog as a distraction from the problem of figuring out what was important enough to talk about. That’s a shortcut of an explanation, but today it will suffice. It turns out it was the wrong problem all along – and it took this particular distraction for me to realize it. It isn’t a question of figuring out “what’s important enough” to talk about. If it’s important to you, you’ll find the words. Rather: if it’s important, the words will find you. In fact, you won’t be able to stop them. They’ll come creeping into your brain and out the corners of your eyes, fill your mouth, and take over your lungs. You’ll see them lying in wait wherever you turn, and when you don’t see them you’ll know they’re plotting.
A good distraction doesn’t make itself. It needs something looking over its shoulder; it’s defined by what’s behind it. The business of getting words on paper is similar. When you find what’s looking over your shoulder, the last thing you do is run away. Just stay still. Remember, it knows where to find you. And, like your shadow, you aren’t going anywhere without it.
*”The problem with introspection is that it has no end.” Phillip K. Dick
**THAT. GAME. Gaming will be good for you, they said. You could use a hobby. Well, they gave me a hobby BUT I FOUND AN OBSESSION, I TELL YOU. Now if you’ll excuse me, my dinosaurs need feeding. Oh, and here’s the complete soundtrack: really good to work to.