For most of my life I have been able to concentrate quite fiercely. Whether in class, or doing homework, or playing a game, or watching three movies back to back, or talking to a friend, or coming up with something really horrible to say to my family, I was a lean, mean concentrating machine. Even now I can get so completely engrossed in the morning papers that sometimes, as I read and munch on muesli, I absently also begin to munch on the box the muesli came in, though that’s only because the flavours are indistinguishable. It’s an established fact that every box of muesli is just filled with another box that has been cut up into tiny little pieces.
The problem with people who can concentrate is that when they find something to do they can also keep doing it ad nauseam in a behaviour pattern that isn’t really obsessive-compulsive disorder, but looks a lot like it. It can be a substantive, life-impacting problem if it is a renewable or ever-evolving activity, like Boggle, or playing pool, or gambling. I spent the salary from my first job almost exclusively on pool table charges, transport to get to the pool table, and beer to console myself after the many pool games I lost and celebrate the few that I won. Currently I’m a slave to the morning Sudoku, which I feel I must finish to preserve my self-esteem, but am very bad at, which means I spend a very long time doing it.
The down side, predictably, is overdose. Whenever I stumble on a nice new song I listen to it on a loop until I can’t stand it anymore. When I find a good dish I repeat it until the thought of it makes me want to hurl. And now, quite tragically, this seems to have happened to me with books. Having read through most of my life, pausing only to eat, sleep or say something mean to my family, I have suddenly gone off the stuff. It’s been almost two months since I read anything just for fun, and even longer since I bought a book. Worse, the other day when I was standing in the kitchen trying to remember what I was doing there, my new bookless avatar suddenly sneered to itself, “Books are for people without bodies”, which is hostile and completely untrue and may be just because a physical trainer has been putting me through hoops that leave me unable to actually support the weight of a book in my hands.
This state is new to me, and frightening, and I hope to be rescued from it by the impending release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is JK Rowling’s latest novel in the ninety-one part series.
The catch is that if you concentrate manically on many things, you end up in a state of total distraction. It’s a paradox that plays itself out on my desktop everyday, as I turn with complete dedication to whatever happens to pop up at any given time—Skype, Google news, email, Facebook.
About this last: I am completely confused about why you would need to communicate with people with whom you’re already in communication via email and the phone, through yet another mediator. However, it does put your friends’ lives on a ticker tape and is an excellent way to generate and propagate gossip (which scientists recently declared was the human equivalent to picking lice out of your fellow ape’s hair—a necessary and bonding thing). Like the best substances, it is addictive in addition to being useless. My only hope is that overdose should kick in soon.