My generation: earbud junkies. Landon pulls them out while we're waiting for or riding the bus. The girl talking on the phone has one in her free ear. The kids streaming across campus hither and yon have theirs securely tucked in, attaching them to the shiny ipods, generic brands MP3 players, or double duty cell phones riding in pockets and backpacks. It all makes me feel a bit left out. Not that I don't have earbuds. I have a really cool orange pair that Landon gave me for my birthday (incidentally, those are the ones that are likely to be found in his ears). And it's not that I don't have an MP3 player. I actually have two – our little black generic model, and my phone that holds a micro SD chip crammed with music and a few podcasts. It's not even that I don't like listening to stuff; I love music, and I have expressed intentions of using “down-time” wisely by listening to educational or thought-provoking podcasts. It makes me feel left out because I can't do it.
I have had a dark secret for some time now. I've suppressed my suspicions of it for much of my life, and my certainty for the past several years. I've been ashamed and confused, struggling with feelings of inadequacy and incompetence. Only recently have I begun to embrace this secret; to hope that maybe it wasn't just a crippling. Maybe, just maybe, it was a nudge towards a way of organizing my life that would be more conducive to my sanity. In any case, coming to terms with it has made my life easier. "What," you may be wondering, "is this dark secret with transformative possibilities? And what has it to do with orange earbuds and listening to music while walking?" Here it is. Marina's secret that makes her unfit for life in the 21st century: I can't multi-task.
I can't knit while listening to a lecture. I can't read a book to a child and keep track of an adult conversation. I can't listen to music while I write anything important. I can't even read a challenging book and listen to music at the same time. I can't (earbud alert!) be present in the outside world while piping Regina Spektor directly to my eardrums. I have trouble cooking and conversing simultaneously. Not to mention concentrating on eating and speaking in equal amounts. Not only do I feel guilty for lacking a much-lauded feminine quality, but I have to admit to using time in a scandalous manner: I do one thing at a time. I know. I'm ashamed of it, too. And I sincerely apologize for all the productiveness that you, the wider world, have been gypped of by my handicap. But honestly? Get used to it. I've fought this long enough. I'm ready to embrace my one track mind.
When I'm walking across the pedestrian bridge, or waiting at the bus stop, or riding the bus I will no longer feel ashamed of doing just that, instead of ingesting music or educational podcasts. Walking around with speakers stuffed in my ears makes me antsy, and gives me a feeling of hiding inside my own head. In addition, the long spaces between events that are a compulsory element of my current transportation modes are proving remarkably effective at keeping me sane. Some people may be able to mainline Switchfoot and have their brain treat it as background noise. I find this impossible. Music grabs my mind and makes it think. It's when I dedicate brain space to nothing more than the background noise of a city going along its business, or to taking in the amazing sight of the variety of people who get on and off the bus, or to whatever lazy thoughts it wants to bring up that my mind has a way of unraveling its own kinks and getting back in working order.
When I'm eating ice cream, sitting on the floor beside Landon, who is busily engaged in his homework, I will not allow myself to think that I need to be reading a book in order to make this time worthwhile. The ice cream and my husband are enough; if I try reading at the same time I won't enjoy those. Seriously - ice cream is its own experience, especially Edy's Rocky Road.
I will never again try to play Scrabble and have a serious online conversation at the same time. I will not allow myself to feel like I have to carry on a texting conversation and a real one simultaneously. I will do whatever it takes to not get sidetracked by conversations that are not my own. I will write down tasks for later so that I can concentrate completely on what I'm doing now. This is for now, that is for later. I will not attempt to listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! while doing anything else.
Since I don't want to appear naive, I have to put in a disclaimer: I'm not sure how long this can last. I've heard often enough that being a Mother (especially of young children), which I intend to be at some point (and they have to start young) is a case study in the necessity of multi-tasking. Even closer than that looms the prospect of working again, and then going back to school (plus working?). But I'm going to hang on to the habits that I'm trying to put in place now: I intend, as much as possible, to declutter my life to the point where I can do what I need to do effectively, instead of doing a mediocre job on all the things that I would like to do. We'll see how this works out.
So, shocked yet? Or is there anyone else who would like to confess to secret inabilities to do two things at once?
P.S. If you love to multi-task, and find yourself to be quite effective at it, please don't take offense at any of my descriptions of behavior that I eschew. I'm not condemning you for your earbuds and multi-track minds, just confessing that I am incapable of following your example. I'm actually jealous, so go ahead and feel superior.