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Focus on the Need for Focus

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"All of my time and attention are spoken for—several times over. Please do not ask for them."

I took my advice and decided to finish Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which I had started twice but abandoned because it’s written at a sophomoric reading level.

I’m glad I did. I’m almost halfway through it and learning a lot.

Perhaps the biggest thing: It’s necessary to carve out time for yourself.

Newport writes about the ways people engage in deep work. Some go to extremes, like the science fiction writer who wrote an essay that explained why he doesn’t engage in customary human interaction, at one point saying:

Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail . . . All of my time and attention are spoken for—several times over. Please do not ask for them.

That dude employs what Newport calls the “monastic” approach to focus, which is basically, “all focus, all the time,” and Newport emphasizes that it’s not for most people.

Me? I like that monastic approach, but I have to admit it’s not for me either. My station in life and temperament don’t fit it.

But I do like that sci-fi writer’s bald honesty: “all of my time and attention are spoken for—several times over.”

That’s precisely how I feel. I have friends and family that I enjoy; I have a profession that keeps me occupied; I enjoy focused extracurricular activities, especially reading and writing. All of my time and attention are spoken for—several times over.

If anyone wants any of my time or attention, they’re taking away something that is valuable to me in exchange for . . . what? Because I amuse them? That’s not a great exchange on my part, to put it lightly. Of course, there’s a chance I could benefit from the exchange and, in fact, might benefit greatly, but that just elevates the transaction from stupid to a gamble.

The problem, of course, is that, at some point, you become a real dick. It seems safe to say that the sci-fi writer crossed that pubic threshold when he asked people “please” [like that softens the dickishness] “do not ask for” my time and attention.

I’m not that brave. To make it worse, I’ve never been able to balance, allocate, apportion . . . whatever . . . my activities versus what everyone else wants me to do. If I had my way, I’d allocate 100% of my time to my activities, with hope that my family and a few select friends would receive me once or twice a week for social activities.

If society had its way, it would allocate 100% of my time to its demands, with zero qualms if the demands destroy my happiness or even physical health. (This is one reason we should be hesitant to think or write about “society”: it's not a person and it’s incapable of acting like one; if you try to analyze or reason with “society,” you’re wasting your time.)

I’ve never found a comfortable space between my activities and society’s demands, but Newport so far is offering a lot of insight. If nothing else, he has convinced me of the importance of carving out an hour two every day. I think that, if I just do that part, the rest of the day will kind of take care of itself.


Reading

Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe.

Philippe writes in this book that, if you always feel stretched and put upon, it’s because you don’t love. Love, of course, is the sine qua non of being a Christian.

That, of course, means I’m screwed. The thing is, I don’t understand why, if a person feels oppressed by relentless obligations, that means he doesn’t love. Philippe says he’ll explain it. I’m sufficiently intrigued to hear him out.

I was even more intrigued by his statement early in the book that sometimes it’s necessary to set aside time for oneself. Here’s a guy who is counseling readers to accept the crush of activities and obligations, but also says, “Yeah, but sometimes it’s just too much”

Re-enter Cal Newport and his emphasis on setting aside time for focus.

I suspect that Newport, combined with Philippe, might be a good one-two, secular-religious, punch.


Listening

My Halloween playlist on Spotify (“Halloween” by “eric,” if you care to track it down).

Three hours of good tunes, though a few, like the Halloween Theme and The Twilight Zone Theme, need to be deleted. They’re spooky, but more “spooky noise” than “Halloween music.”

The list contains a lot of songs that people don’t associate with Halloween: Witchy Woman by the Eagles, Season of the Witch by Donovan, Devil Woman by Marty Robbins and by Cliff Richard, Thug by ZZ Top, Somebody’s Watching by Rockwell, and others.

There are also some relatively unknown songs that I really enjoy. Two in particular: I Walked with a Zombie and Creature with the Atom Brain, both by Roky Erickson.


Quote

Leftists believe, with the Jacobins of the French Revolution, that the goods of this world are unjustly distributed, and that the fault lies not in human nature but in usurpations practiced by a dominant class.” Roger Scruton, summarizing the core principle that animates our brothers on the Left.

Rightists, for the record, believe that the goods of this world are unequally distributed by nature and the fault lies with no one.

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