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Focus and Distraction

When deeply plunged into physical work and remoteness that sometimes comes with rural living : hours spent cutting back greenery; redoing stone masonry, the mind may work on, in a non-focused way. These times of solitude and un-planned focus can be a welcome change from city bustle: one might not see another for days on end.

After a few days thus spent, I'm usually drawn to leaving this self-sequestation, going out and encountering, opening up to random thoughts – being influenced by whatever is going on around. Many people, unfulfilled by or uneasy with a day spent entirely alone, need to see others daily. More rarely, some love to spend weeks as a hermit, delving deeply into their own creative processes, projects or thoughts.

I would imagine that a scientific study on output and contentment after times of deep solitude or of random exchanging, would result in mixed findings, with some overriding tendencies, depending on field of activity ; richness and pertinence of exchange ; accuity, knowledge and experience of the thinker, and other criteria.

One can also focus very specifically on a goal, while exchanging with others, as within a seminar, work group or collaboration. Here, though, I'm thinking about the alternation between working entirely alone ; and exchanging with others relatively randomly, without intention to speak, communicate or act relative to one's focused areas of interest.

There are degrees of randomness. Attending open studios might be less random for a visual artist, than chatting with the odd stranger at a local café. In either case, though, one makes the choice, rather than to plan one's own trajectory of thoughts or actions; to open up to the unexpected.

When free to choose between interacting openly with others; or hunkering down, honing, crafting, researching or otherwise delving into thoughts or activities alone, one (interacting or hunkering down) might be more appealing than the other, perhaps dangerously so. Can a healthy intuition, an innate inner compass, keep things on balance? Need tempered logic intervene at times?

In a major city, deep solitude comes less easily. Stepping out the door, one might be greeted a neighbor. In some cities, the choice amongst even less random options are so numerous that one can nearly constantly be taking in new pertinent information. One evening, one might have a choice between a research seminar, an art opening, and a cultural event, all involving acquaintances, all connected to one's professional path.

Blocking out times for solitary focus in a major city seems to requires greater will than when living in a remote farmhouse. (Though, undoubtedly, for many, the rich cultural offerings of an active city counterbalance the risks of dispersion and distracting busyness.) For collaborative work it may be easier, as an appointment is made, and usually needs to be respected, in order to maintain a good relations. Yet, not all work for everyone can be done collaboratively. Need that change?

This question of dispersion is not limited to geographical considerations. It arises repeatedly for most of us, country-dwellers and city-dwellers alike, relative to internet use. This dispersion, this unplanned online wandering, sometimes leads to useless passing of time. The question of what this does to our minds and lives is a subject of reflection for many at present.

At times, though, through these aimless wanderings, we read or see something or speak with someone, that leads us somewhere fulfilling and hitherto unimagined.

From Circles series, 1996, Oil and pigment on wood, 30 x 35 cm

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