Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Something interesting happened the other day. It concerns a dynamic that has been consistent over a forty-six-year marriage that, for the first time, I saw from a different angle, or, through fresh eyes, if you will. It started as a simple question from my wife in the kitchen. She asked, “Does your clock show the day and date?”
My first thought was: What does she mean by ‘my clock?’ I glanced around the kitchen at the wall oven clock, the coffeemaker clock, and the clock behind me on the wall. So, I asked what I thought was a reasonable follow-up question, “Do you mean my wristwatch?”
“Your clock,” she replied in raised voice tinged with frustration, as if repeating the same words louder would somehow magically add clarity to the question. I began to smile and nod at her, and then I asked as gently as I could, “I just need you to define ‘my clock’. Would you do that for me, and maybe I can answer your question?”
My smile may have been closely akin to a George W. Bush smirk, so I’ll accept blame here when I tell you that she rolled her eyes, tossed her hands into the air and became louder still. “Your clock! Your clock! For God’s sake how many times do I have to say it?”
A boisterous laugh came out of me so fast that I couldn’t stop it. Of course, that aggravated her even more and she whirled around and marched away, which gave me time to think. The only other clocks in the house that I could think of were the wall clock above the television in the living room and the alarm clock next to the bed. Neither showed day nor date. I let the question go unanswered because I didn’t know which clock she was referring to. Maybe I’d forgotten one and, clearly, asking again would probably lead to a divorce.
I thought about her question and wondered why she didn’t simply offer a location for the clock she was asking about. It would have been simple, quick and not at all memorable. That led me to analyze previous contentious conversations when I would press her for more details, just so I could develop an understanding of whatever it was she happened to be talking about. Some of those conversations were important but most were as inane as the exchange I’ve described here. I usually just give up after a couple of shots at getting additional details, nod stupidly and go back to what I was doing.
And then I remembered how often she’ll toss out tidbits of information about one of those conversations days or even weeks later. Of course I’ll deny awareness of it because it usually leaves my mind in a matter of seconds afterward. Her responses are always fairly consistent. They go something like these: “We just talked about that last week,” or “I told you about it yesterday,” or “You never listen to anything I say, do you?”
It occurred to me like a lightning bolt, that she is reserving spin potential for later conversations or arguments, or plausible deniability, because she can later take anything she says and spin it if necessary to win a later argument because she will never button down a statement or question with irrefutable facts. Pretty smart, I’d say. She should have been a politician.
I need to ask her someday if that conversational style is intentional or just a happy accident. But, that’s an argument for another day.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Attention deficit disorder is a common, and commonly discussed, problem these days. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t know what it is, at least peripherally so. It, like phobias, sort of has become the punch line of many jokes. And, it’s certainly nothing I have ever deeply considered and, as it applies to me, never—until recently.
Allow me to relate a quick story that began this thought process. My wife and I were having breakfast with a dear friend and she was telling us everything that had been going on in her life since our last conversation. And, let me say this right now, I was indeed interested. Heck, she was simply responding to my question, so why wouldn’t I be interested? But, as I listened, here’s what happened inside my head: She said something that triggered a thought. I don’t remember what it was. What it related to, I can’t remember that either. I just know the thought was like the cue ball hitting the eight ball and smacking my attention directly into some other universe. It triggered a splay of alternate ways something might play out with various outcomes. When my attention returned to what she was saying, there was about a thirty second gap in what she was telling me. Of course, I embarrassed myself when I asked a question that did not at all pertain to what she had just said.
At first, I blamed it on being a novelist—dreaming up story concepts, plot and sub-plot arcs, characterizations, and all that sort of stuff. It does take a fair amount of concentration, often to the exclusion of things going on around me. But, over the next several days after that breakfast episode, I became aware of all the times in my life that this has happened and continues to happen, up to several times each day. Many of the episodes end with me being mortified by my rude, but inadvertent, loss of attention. I now know this is the reason I became the class clown all the way through elementary, middle, and high school. When the teacher asked a question about what she had just talked about, I had to laugh off not knowing what was going on somehow. Acting goofy was the preferred diversionary tactic. Needless to say, I was in the Principal's office a lot.
I have to admit, though, there is a bit of comfort coming to terms with it. I’ve always had it. I just never thought to give it a name—attention deficit disorder.
But that sounds too clinical. I prefer to call it daydreaming. And, now that my work and my world are wrapped up in writing the best novels I possibly can, the episodes are becoming more frequent and longer lasting.
So, I will take this opportunity to go ahead and apologize to all my friends and family. If you find yourself in a conversation with me and see my eyes glaze over, just know it’s not that I think you’re boring. You just happened to say something that I seized on and, without trying, my thoughts shot off in a different direction. No matter what it is, it will likely wind up written into a story. Now, that’s pretty cool. Don’t you think?