In a thread at Jonathan’s about procrastination (or whatever not-working is), Profacero said “one needs to feel one has the right to concentrate, and to the time that goes into struggle with material.”

If one doesn’t naturally feel that, one needs reminders, internal or external.

I don’t think I had trouble concentrating, or feeling that I had a right to concentrate, when I was in elementary school, high school, or college. My parents emphasized that school was my job, and let me do my homework in peace. So at least for me, this is not an early trauma (I don’t think), but one that developed during a particular un-peaceful time in my life, which was also a difficult time for my mother.

Between college and graduate school, after several months living in another country, I returned to my parents’ house. My mother was needy and possessive. She had missed me. She was going to miss me more. Although I didn’t know this at that time, my parents’ marriage was particularly rocky at this point. I was very anxious, waiting for acceptances from graduate schools, working several part-time jobs, studying Latin in my few spare hours, because I knew it would be important for my graduate work and I had exaggerated my competence on my applications.

My mother interrupted me frequently when I was trying to study. She did not respect my time. She no longer thought, apparently, that school (or preparation for it) was my job. My job, in her eyes, was looking after her. I was 22 and I thought I was all grown up. I wanted to be compassionate. I was somewhat flattered that she wanted me to be my friend, although I also wanted to live my own life and have her live hers. I tried to answer her patiently and compassionately. I always wound up furious and then self-reproachful for losing my temper.

I wasn’t even trying to write, just to study. I still find studying languages soothing and I think I am less likely to self-interrupt when reading in another language or working on vocabulary than I am when researching and writing. But when I read Z’s comment, that was the time in my life that I immediately zeroed in on as a source of my intermittent sense that I do not have the right to concentrate, that I am to be at other people’s disposal. I’m not sure how to get back that earlier sense that studying is my job, but I wish I could feel that way again, as a regular thing.

This may be a silly idea, but perhaps it could come via clothing . . . long ago, maybe at one of Dr Crazy’s blogs, there was a discussion of writing costumes (special writing outfits, whether super-comfy or dressed up). Maybe if I dressed as my teenage self or even my childhood self, I could sink into that happy, absorbed “now I am doing my homework!” feeling. How much do external cues help? I would hope that the more I access that self, the more accessible it would become, without costume.

(I am so tired of dealing with my mommy issues. It seems to be the case that when my life changes in significant ways, the issues that seemed to have been resolved come back for another round, and the “new me” has to work through them again.)

8 thoughts on “The right to concentrate

  1. Very interesting. I too enjoyed a long studenthood during which I and everyone around me assumed that school was my job. And concentrating was something I enjoyed and did naturally and well all through high school and college and (part of) grad school (except for an interlude of clinical depression, during which I eventually couldn’t even read).

    For too many years now I’ve been trying (or at least wanting) to get back to that state of being able to concentrate without letting myself be interrupted by other people’s demands and expectations (or my expectations of their expectations). And just recently I’ve also been feeling nostalgic for the way I dressed back then, when I saw myself as having a “style.” (Since then, whatever style I had has devolved into a jeans-and-T-shirts variety of blah.)

    I’m intrigued by the idea that those two things I’ve felt a desire to get back to might be connected, so that maybe cultivating the one (clothing) might actually help me get closer to the other (“selfish” concentration). I like it!

  2. I went to the library to get the Perceval and every edition they had was crumbling. And we even have an Arthurian romance specialist, who has a library budget. What edition do you recommend in modern French?

  3. My kids, husband, and CATS especially, always bother me when I’m trying to concentrate. If I go to the office, even with my door closed, people bother me. Same with my university library. I haven’t tried the public library yet, but they are often noisy around here. Suppose I could bring earplugs…. But as of now, I have no space where people don’t bother me. I cannot stand it. I sometimes fantasize about running away, but I doubt I’d need to concentrate so much if I did that, as it implies I’d leave everything, including my job, behind. Argh!!! So frustrating!

    1. This sounds like my life story if you add a dog to the mix. I have occasionally found nooks and crannies at the university where I don’t get interrupted, but then somebody texts me with an urgent issue and I’m back at my distracted life!

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