Listen. I get distracted easily.
1. One of the great blessing-curses about moving back to the North Shore is reintegrating into the bargain grocery blitzkrieg known as Market Basket. And while I sing its praises regarding otherwise hard-to-find items such as orange blossom water and sambal oelek, there are whole aisles dedicated just to artificially-flavored water, and wire baskets full of individually-wrapped pancakes that miraculously have no need for refrigeration.
Honestly? It can be overwhelming. The beeping. The clack of crooked wheels jockeying for a more advantageous spot to order black forest ham. And as you wait in that metal caravan of a line, those beige floor tiles seem to rise like a wave in your periphery—a vertiginous linoleum tide cresting up to your neck until all you can see is this one box of mashed potato flakes with the words ROASTED GARLIC beaming off the front, and you know with absolute certainty that nothing in that box has been, or will ever be, roasted, and you think: This is how we usher in the apocalypse.
2. I am trying to write something concrete about distraction, and instead I’m staring intently at the trees lining the far edge of Coy Pond. Distractions have pushed me to a constant state of deep focus, but it shifts with each twitch of an eye. We seem to think that when we do focus, we’re focusing on the wrong thing—that there is something better out there and we’ll find it if we keep up the frenetic switches. The problem then becomes that nothing ever gets finished, not even unimportant things.
The trees look like quilts at a state fair, and I can’t shake the thought that perhaps for once the leaves aren’t dying, they are just getting too distracted by the ground.
3. I keep staring at the bookshelf. I need to find a book I’m supposed to teach on later in the week. I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’m astonished how much I discover every time I re-read it. I scan the shelves that Natalie has arranged by spine color, thereby making it exceptionally difficult to find anything that isn’t that brilliant shade of antique turquoise. I look back and forth as if the bookcase were a dense paragraph I can’t bend to my will. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention the first ten times. Maybe it’s hidden, maybe it’s in plain sight and I’m trying too hard, but maybe it’s that I keep moving on at just the moment prior to The Discovery.
4. At this point, reader, do you feel you may have missed something?
5. I’m in the waiting room. The people around me are in different stages of waiting—some, like me, are about to be called into the endoscopy unit, others read newspapers while their loved ones lie on the other side of the door, slowly swimming away from the floodwaters of anesthesia. Natalie and I are feeding our son Cheerios in an effort to comply with the vow of silence the rest of the room clearly agreed to before we arrived. He drops one, and like the vacuum I’ve become, I reflexively scoop it up, and finding no trash can, pop the cereal into my mouth. This is the efficient ballet-machination of parenthood we’ve learned over the last year. I’m not eating so much as recycling.
The anesthesiologist doesn’t see things quite this way, and I’m sent home for “breaking my fast.” I am told to return to the same waiting area the following morning, and it is here that I realize that waiting is the anesthesia, and distraction is the inconsequential mess on the floor, without which moments of discovery become impossible.
bryan parys ’04 works and teaches writing at Gordon College. His son actually doesn’t eat Cheerios, but rather an organic brand slightly sweetened with pomegranate juice, because it seems to mildly transcend the fact that cereal is just a way to fill our kids with packing material. But that really is another article entirely.