Starting Monday, I’m going to sit in a five-day training class at work. The class will be held onsite, but in a different building than where I usually work. While there, I’ll learn how to administer a large, complicated software package. More to the point, I’ll learn how the administration works so I can do productive, nerdy things with the API.
Fortunately, I’ve been playing around with it so I won’t be walking in completely cold. I’m just a simple boy so I need context for concepts to sink in. The goal is to have a bunch of stuff I’m either confused about or oblivious of to make perfect sense by the end of the week.
That’s certainly doable, but it will be exhausting. You see, I have this problem paying attention for an extended period. In a training class, that is exactly what I need to do. I cannot always be asking the instructor or the person next to repeat what said while I was off in Daveland.
On normal workdays, this isn’t a problem. Within reason, I get to fade in and out all I want. Writing code for a living affords me this luxury. This doesn’t mean I can space out and daydream all day, far from it. I always something on my plate and there is an expectation for me to get it done in a timely manner. This requires focus. It just doesn’t require it 100 percent of the time.
The mental wanderings don’t usually last long. I often listen to music at work when I’m doing something I know how to do. When I’m trying to figure out how to do something, I have to turn the music off so I can concentrate. When the music is playing, it actually helps my overall focus because it helps to drown out the attention whores that live inside my head. When my mind wanders from the code on the screen to the song pumping through my ear buds, it stays just long enough to appreciate D Boon’s guitar, Dennis Thompson’s drums, or Patti Smith’s voice.
Alas, I know of no instances of all three in the same song.
Other than music, my brain’s diversion destination is often a memory that has crawled out of hibernation for reasons that are not always apparent. Other times, the brain veers off toward a story idea or joke I just thought up. In these instances, I will often jot them down so I can give them a full vetting later on.
All in all, these flights of fancy are good for my mental health and that holds true in both directions. I know what it’s like to do nothing but let my brain run wild and the experience can be very unpleasant. The memories that appear can be of things I deeply regret. The stories I think up are sometimes worst-case scenarios just plausible enough to keep me from rejecting them out of hand.
Even music can my get emotional panties in a bunch on occasion. I listen to a lot of punk rock and other dysfunctional stuff, but I usually find it soothing. It’s crazy and enraged so I don’t have to be. The problem creeps in when my own crazy is too intense to delegate. Some years ago, I was at work dealing with a pretty bad case of depression when I listened to the Germs’ “We Must Bleed.” That sent my brain down an ideation rabbit hole that made me hurt pretty bad (“I want out now” repeated over and over was a particular motherfucker). Having work to do actually helped a lot. It gave me something to think about other than my own bullshit.
Fortunately, things have been comparatively calm. Listening to the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” makes me think how lovely it would be to have it playing as my casket enters the furnace during my cremation ceremony. To be honest, any song off that album would work. The thought of it is undeniably morbid, but it is also distant. Dead Dave is a mere abstraction. Living Dave is a busy little bee, living in a here and now that’s really not so bad.
It’s a good argument for keeping an adequate level of focus. Besides, that is what they pay me to do.