My 16 year old daughter was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder and then, at the age of 57, so was I. A lifetime of struggle was placed into a context that made sense of a lot of failure and frustration. This blog documents and celebrates what has happened to me since.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Subtract, don't ADD

The word "focus" has been surfacing in my thoughts, recently. I have so many things going on and I am having trouble making progress with them. Classic Attention Deficit Disorder.

The cycle is as old as I can remember: take on tasks, make lists, figure out when things will get done, add more tasks, make room for them on the list, procrastinate when something comes along that looks more interesting than what is on the list (procrastinate meaning "figure out a time in the future when you could do what you should do now and then decide to do it then"), add more stuff, take more time away through an impulse or accommodating an unexpected task or just to escape the pressure of getting all this stuff done and--voila!!! I am completely overwhelmed and it comes tumbling, in way or another, down.

Impulse underminng Focus.

Impulse. Focus.

Aside from the mundane, quotidian things in front of me (keeping the house going and in order, doing laundry, getting the children where they should/want to be, getting the cars serviced, the yard taken care of, the dogs and cats to the vet--and there's a lot on tht list that needs a lot of attention at this moment, at any moment), I have several other projects on my list that are calling my name, right now. In so far as I actually deal with them it is most often in a haphazard way, determined by which is the closest to sending me over the edge; where is the most pressure coming from at the moment.

When I was young there was a juggler I used to see on the Ed Sullivan Show. He would spin plates on sticks on a long table on the stage. The plates were balanced on the top of these sticks and they would go until their momentum was exhausted and then they would fall. Well, they would have fallen if he had let them, but he didn't. He got many plates spinning at the same time and would go from plate to plate, spinning the sticks between the palms of his hands to keep the plates going. As one plate needed more of his energy he would go to that plate and give it attention. There was one on the end of the table that he would neglect (on purpose of course) until the audience was screaming at him to spin it. He would get there on the last possible wobble, of course, just before, for lack of his attention/energy, it would crash to the floor.

I have often compared my life to that collection of spinning plates. Sometimes one or more--sometimes almost all--of my plates have come crashing down for lack of ability/energy (and skill) to keep all spinning.

I have never been good at limiting the scope of my activities. And I have never been particularly good at most of them. I have always tried to do too many things to be outstanding at any one of them. I have, most usually, tried to do so many things that I was never even very competent at any of them.

And I have serial enthusiasms. I am interested in something for a while--to the exclusion of other things in which I am interested or should be doing--and then I lose interest and move on to something else. Often I go back to one of these interests but I will move on, again.

There are so many interesting and attractive things to do, in this life. There are so many things that have distracted me, in this life.

My energy gets scattered in this way. A big chunk of it is invested in novels that will never be finished. Another chunk can be found in a baseball card collection that is in dissarray and will never be otherwise. The latter activity goes back to my childhood, the former to my adolescence. There are a lot of other artifacts of my energy around.

It is not all gloom. I can see things into which my energy has gone and much has been accomplished. My relationships with my children and with Lynn and with (some) other people, my legal knowledge and expertise, my teaching skills, my spiritual development. Yet, even in these things the pattern holds true, to some extent.

Focus. Impulse.

There are some things I want to get done, both in the short and the long run. (And at 58 there isn't such a long run, left). I am realizing that it's going to be about taking things out of my life, now, and not adding any more. Or, if any more is added then some things have to be taken out.

The spiritual tradition of the Society of Friends is of that type. The simplicity that grows from that kind of direct and transformative relationship with God/Spirit is the result of recognizing things that conflict with it and removing them from one's life. It is the work of the Adversary/Devil to keep one's life so complicated that we are out of right relationship with ourselves, those around us, what's going on around us, and with God. Confused and exhausted and frustrated by complication we are lost and we are unable, and convinced that we will never be able, to do (let alone see and understand) the work that God has for us to do.

Medication, the process of being matured and transformed by God/Spirit, worldly experience, reasoning and sorting things out over time--put it all in a jar and shake it until smooth. The product is a realization that I have to focus, in big ways and small. Whether it is laying down some project altogether in favor of another or just not picking up a magazine on the way to the bathrooom to prevent myself from getting getting interested in an article and taking an hour away from the project upon which I was working, the point is to focus, to eschew the influence impulse, and don't take on as many tasks/interests/activities as I can remove from my life.

Just say no, is, the phrase that comes to mind. Say no to others, say no to myself, say no to the demands of the momentum/intertia of my life and the things I am carrying through it. Simple, but not easy. ADD wants to add things--things that crowd out other things until those things, in their turn, are crowded out and until all of the energy put into all of them creates little, if anything, that endures beyond the moment of its release.

Simplicity gets a good Quaker boy to Harmony.

Subtract, don't ADD.

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About Me

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I am a convinced Beanite Friend, a member of Bridge City Friends Meeting, Willamette Quarterly Meeting and North Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Notwithstanding the doubts of some who claim the name, I am a Christian who does a Buddhist practice and believes that God talks to everyone, all the time. I have worked in the judicial branch of government, as well as being a trial lawyer, a public school teacher (counselor and coach), a kite merchant, and a Marine Corp Sergeant. I am currently working as a consultant to public and private agencies on issues of child welfare, juvenile justice, and substance abuse treatment courts.