Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mitigating Distraction

I leave my apartment this morning in a hurry, my hair still warm from the blow dryer. Reaching into my bag to check for my keys and phone, I say a quick goodbye to my roommate as I run out the door. Instinctivly, I reach for the buds of my iPod headphones, and select the morning's first song as I make my way down the stairs. I've recently discovered that Led Zeppelin made some surprisingly good walking music.

As I shuffle down the street towards the subway entrance, my hearbeat quickens. I up my pace and glance at the streetlights to make sure I don't cross Clinton on red. I pass teenagers walking to school, mothers taking their children to day-care, shopkeepers waiting for their first customers, and locals chatting on streetcorners, outside of bodegas. I don't actually look at any of them this morning, but I know they're there.

I'm about to break a sweat as I fumble for my metrocard at the Delancy Essex platform of the JMZ. Fighting the crowd coming from the recently departed J, I hop down the stairs to the F train. Though my iPod is blasting an electronic beat in my ears, I hear the familiar sound of the cars approaching, and walk as quickly as I can towards the tracks. In the moments it takes for the train to come to a full stop, I pause for a sartorial examination of the passenger waiting next to me. And as we stand clear of the closing doors, I realize she's the first person I've actually taken notice of since leaving the apartment.

What am I doing, listening to my music all the time? Am I blocking myself off from some part of the world? I don't know what I'd do without it, to say the least. I recently spent time crafting a new iTunes playlist, exclusively for the purpose of commuting, and have been addicted to it since. I can't describe its contents, as it varies from Miley Cirus and Daft Punk to Otis Redding and the Notorious B.I.G. I do know, however, that the songs keep me moving.

So as I'm standing in the F train on the way to our next stop, it hits me. I don't listen to music to distract me from the nasty, brutish and overwhelming energy of the city. I listen to music to prevent myself from getting distracted by it. Because I'm not just an ordinary space cadet. I'm the captain of my own fleet.

When I'm walking in New York, I'm painfully susceptible to wandering, both mental and physical. But by listening to targeted music, I remind myself that I'm going somewhere, and that I need to be there soon. When I'm just walking for fun, I go soundtrack-free, and when I forget my iPod, getting where I need to be - on time - is difficult. I simply think too much to let myself function.

My natural state seems to be distraction, and I'm slowly coming to terms with that. The most difficult project I'm facing at the moment is learning how to sit at my cubicle desk for 8 hours straight without working myself into a fit of existential anxiety at the end of each workday. My bosses are happy with what I'm writing for them, but I spend about half of my day reading anything and everything online, planning the next two years of my life, and contemplating the components of a meaningful existence. So yeah, still working on that whole taking-control-of-my-mind thing...

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