On Staring Off Into Space

These thoughts are in response to a great piece on distraction from the New Yorker. Clicky.

Full disclosure, everything I've ever written was born from distracting thoughts that emerged from boredom, so I may be a little biased. On the other hand, every other distraction seems to tear me away from writing and override all the creativity sloshing around my brain space. So, how do these two opposing views of distraction fit together?

Maybe they don't.

To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Now this is not to suggest that my intelligence is of any rate higher than functional, but I can't deny that the connection is there. No, I'm highlighting this bit of wisdom because I'm not sure we need to reconcile these changes. Still, I'll try to parse out the difference between productive and non-productive distractions, if only to prove that my intelligence is, well, my own.

The difference between productive (creative) and non-productive (passive) distractions might be that when your distraction is making art, writing, or finger painting you're still escaping yourself, but in healthy (or healthier way). If instead of turning to ephemeral comforts, such as flipping through your phone (where does this phrase even come from? No one ever flipped their phone other than to open it. And why I have I chose to include it instead of correcting it?), you made a doodle in a notebook or made up a story about tailless squirrel across the street, would you feel better?

These moments of distraction can but aren't always moments of insight and creativity. They're moments just for you. In some ways, it's a quiet rebellion. Every time you make, even if just in your own head, you're pushing back against the messages and values that are so deeply entrenched into our culture of commodity: sit back, eat this, watch this, buy this, stay distracted. Stay passive.

I'm not saying that the happiness gained from creating is not also temporary. The tragic life of David Foster Wallace and a hundred other brilliant artists whose misery calcified into depression and/or suicide certainly tells us that art is therapeutic but not a perfect, 100% fix for all of our needs. Turns out nothing is, but I think there may be something to a productive distraction. Being unstimulated and undistracted by exterior sources allows our inner (dare I say infinitesimal and unrivaled) imagination to grip us and in our effort to share this experience art is made. 

You may use art to escape yourself, but unlike checking your email for the fifteenth time, you might just learn something about yourself each time you allow yourself to slip into internal distraction. Or you might just space out and that's ok too.