Creeping to the end of another school term, my inability to hold focus has started to irritate me. Even on one of my ‘good’ days, Dorey (‘Finding Nemo’) would be sharper than my good self if we were to race each other around the goldfish bowl of life. (Forgive me for not adding a hyperlink for Dorey here, but I fear losing you to the Disney Channel in the first paragraph of the blog. It is so easy to get distracted).
Now, what was I saying? Ah yes, all I can do right now is, ‘just keep swimming, swimming, swimming,’ towards the half term break and hope that someone is kind enough to furnish me with a Dryrobe so that I can at least look like I know what I am doing.
I really cannot keep blaming the menopause for my inability to hold focus – I can not even remember if I have blamed my hormones for this in the past. School is always going to be a goldfish bowl of random events because of the bonkers nature of working with young people, so I cannot blame the job. Thankfully my research tells me that I may be able to make an argument to blame the pandemic and/or technology for my flibberty gibbet manner. So, if I can hold my focus long enough, I intend to outline these two lines of thought.
The first argument is easy to explain. We are all so exhausted by the pandemic, and two years of cancellations, #stayhome and bleugh that we have had too few Red Letter Days – if any – to fire up the synapses which would engage our brain; we now just run on autopilot and flatline on a regular basis. We look surprised if someone reminds us that we were due somewhere or have missed a deadline. Now, if our brain sees something pretty and shiny, it get distracted by it, understandably. We are designed to walk/run up hill, not keep to the flat for mile after mile – it is too monotonous for us to fire up our memory bank. In my case, Mistress Memory refuses to remember key dates etc because she doesn’t trust me not to shake a positive lateral flow test in the direction of the calendar, or Boris to remind us that parties are for his inner circle only.
The second line of argument is trickier, because I am still in self-denial about it.
I come across this line of thought on a podcast as I pootle up the M6, intent on slapping Argument One around the chops with a wet fish (not Dorey); I have engineered a Red Letter reunion with a dear university friend (UF) and know that lunch will require me to fire on all synapses as we reminisce about the student flesh pots of Aberystwyth circa 1982.
On the M6, I am stuck in traffic, but feel strangely calm about running late (perhaps my brain has not really computed the appointment ahead). I find myself listening to Johann Hari (author of ‘Lost Connection’ and ‘Stolen Focus’ and he speaks so much sense. I haven’t time, or the intellect to explain all he has researched, but I promise I will buy his books after listening to this podcast – I just need to stop procrastinating about whether I should go for Audible or print. Anyway, I digress, Johann does highlight the distractions caused by social media.
Initially I take a smug approach to his discussion and find myself pitying the ‘Youth’ for whom ‘Tik Tok’ is like crack cocaine. However, as the traffic inches forward, so does my realisation that I am just as addicted to the AI suggestions that my phone throws at me, and can readily lose an hour or so (more??) distracted by a new collection that has just dropped at Zara (thanks for the notification), or a prompt to revisit those running shoes that I browsed earlier in the week. My novel will not write itself and social media will not write it for me. It is a distraction; it is not my friend. It wants to stop me connecting with real people because if I put my phone down long enough to connect in real life then all that targeted advertising will go to waste.
Fortunately I do have a real date in my diary and UF is focused enough to wait for me at our cafe rendezvous even though I am running late. We spend over three hours of free-flowing, undistracted conversation. I know it was undistracted for the following reasons:
- I was so engrossed in our conversation that I let two cups of coffee go cold.
- Neither of us looked at our phones for the duration of our meet up – ah, apart from using them to share some photos of our children (all of them are lush, by the way). The only photos UF and I retain from our uni days are those from our graduation; we are grateful to our graduation robes for hiding any risk of a Madonna-meets-‘Dynasty’ guest appearance, if you get my drift.
- From the annals of our student life we manage to name all the people that we once knew, but then lost touch with. We comment that our own children are so much better at connecting and keeping in touch, that perhaps they are not as distracted as we are. Suddenly Friends Reunited seems less retro.
- UF’s grey matter reminds us that because we both opted for self-catering halls from the outset, we immediately bonded – and lost a lot of weight/saved money – by perfecting a regular supper of scrambled egg and sweetcorn on toast. Thankfully there are no photos of this fare for I fear that it would translate as a grey congealed sludge. Perhaps we were able to polish it off so regularly because there was always the promise of a couple of McVities Digestives for pudding (we scrimped on no brand names in our student flat) before the siren calls of the Student Union would tear us away from the shared kitchen and the pile of washing up. No surprise that UF enroled for a cordon bleu course in London as soon as we graduated. I applaud her stomach for sticking it out so long.
- Speaking of which, in the course of our conversation we remember that it is a miracle that UF ever got to concoct this recipe for she had wanted to throw in the undergraduate towel at the end of her very first week on campus; she threatened to pack, leave and then drive home (readers, she had her own transport so her threat was perfectly viable) – all of which she duly did. Our tutor was having none of it, and kept his retention rate high by driving to Leeds and persuading UF to come back. The plot spoiler alerts above will have pointed to the fact that our tutor (grrr, can’t even remember his name) was more than successful and that I have so much to thank him for. Perhaps I need to track him down on Facebook – I’ll get round to it when his name comes back to me. Lovely man – beard, kind eyes, historian – any ideas?
Driving back from my meet up I am feeling buoyed. I have experienced a Red Letter Day and I feel that some of my memory is back working again. An added bonus is that my facial muscles seem to have morphed from a rigor mortis glare into an unfamiliar smiley stance. I tell myself that if I keep practising, and can stay off my phone for a decent length of time, there may yet be some hope. As my good friend Dorey would say, ‘When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do, just keep swimming’.
I need to think about this, but in the meantime, I had better get on Whatsapp and let UF know that I got back home safely and that I am swimming into my goldfish bowl – with a smile on my tired, scaley face – ready for the week ahead.