present

Karyn had the epiphany yesterday that I never actually solved my problem.

Over the last couple of years I figured out that I have tendencies for elevated blood pressure, but not a heart attack. I feel internal pain, but no stomach ulcers. Turns out, the psyche can tell the body to turn certain valves, dumping chemical transmitters and firing neural pulses in weird ways. I know many friends who have their own responses, and knowing I’m not alone is helpful. Feeling chest pain, I go on a run and, not actually experiencing a heart attack, I reaffirm the source of the physical phenomenon.

These kinds of things got better, I think, simply due to awareness of what was happening. But Karyn’s observation was astute. I realized the source of ailments and have found ways to bandage them, but I never really treated the source.

None of this is worth writing about except for the fact that I’ve realized my major shortcoming and source of anxiety is due to a swirl of things that tug and sheer at my attention. My office is currently, literally, stacked to the ceiling with boxes for a project with some local teachers. Keeping the boxes at bay is the array of notebooks and grading from extra classes. A list of tasks graces the computer screen. I’ve lost focus because there’s so much in the periphery all the time.

This periphery is what I take home with me.

But I’m not always this scattered. In fact, when I know I’m at my best, when I have clear memory of who I am and where I’m going, I’m explicitly narrow in my vision, clear in my purpose. There are a few places where this happens.

Take, for example, me crossing a voluminous creek in my underwear:

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That water is fucking cold and fast, and it would be up to my thighs in two more steps. The pack is probably 60 pounds before I hung my boots on it. Five of my “friends” are jeering at me in my skivvies. And, yet, smile on my face, foot and pole planted on the rocky bottom, I move forward, not a thought of grading, politics, or task lists.

Running, my most recent endeavor, is an escape as well as a way to deal with multiple sources of the elevated blood pressure. It also requires focus, especially when I’m on a trail or leaping over fences on the race course:

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And then there’s me when I’m in my work. Take a picture of me in front of a class and you’ll see the same focus as in the above photos, albeit with more clothes on. At the conference we created from sheer will and a little bit of vision, I can leave all other tasks behind and focus on the discussion and texts immediately before me:

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This is all reaffirming to me. I can still pay attention to a task at hand, from start to finish. Lately, though, I have to force myself into the situation where the distractions are gone, either because distraction would mean hypothermia and drowning or because I’m thousand of miles away from the stacks of boxes in my office, or both.

It’s no wonder why writing has been slow non-existent lately.

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, when the boxes are stacked in my office and in my psyche, I go home, and all of this distraction comes home with me. I’m inside the walls of the house, but I’m present somewhere else much of the time. I’m paying attention to the conversation and the dog training and the piano playing, but my gaze is not as narrow as it could be. I’m figuring out that my mood is not just a mood, but a list of preoccupations that make everything at home additional noise to wade through. This isn’t the reality, not how I really feel about it, but that’s how it must seem from the outside. I can see that when I step back, and I’m sorry.

Today I went on a run. Anna and I figured out how to classify bacteria and what variable to vary on her science fair project. Grace and I went out with the dog and then worked on our piano duet. We all sat for 20 minutes to watch an old Cosby Show episode and eat cake. I did some other things, but they didn’t matter as much.

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