Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fully Engaged with John Green



"[Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451] is about what happens when people choose distraction over engagement..."  -- John Green

I've never read Fahrenheit 451 despite the fact that every cool person I've ever known loves this book.  I guess I've just been too busy being engaged in other obsessions.  Like John Green videos.

It's as if Mr. Green is inside my head.  It's both freaky and comforting.  Just yesterday morning, before I had seen this Vlogbrothers video, I was contemplating this very subject on my own, at my kitchen table.

I sat alone, eating a sandwich.  The house was quiet.  Will was at work.  Katie was at school.  I had the windows open and I could hear birds singing outside.  I sat and chewed my sandwich and listened to the birds in peace.  I thought to myself, because I could hear myself think, "I love a quiet home."

I grew up in a noisy home.  Not just because I had so many siblings, but because my mom is a TV junkie.  She's the kind of person who walks into the house and turns on the TV.  Not because she has any intention to sit and watch it, but for the background noise.  She grew up in a quiet home.  They didn't get a TV until Mom was a teenager.  She did listen to her favorite radio programs.  But for the most part, Mom was expected to be still.  Her mother had an abundance of health problems and demanded quiet in their home.  Mom was often lonely.  So I can understand why Mom likes the constant company of the voices on TV.

I, on the other hand, sought out quiet.  Since quiet was a rarity in our house, I discovered something similar: the constant hum of the attic fan.  My favorite place to nap, not even to sleep but to lie around and think as a young child was in the middle of the hallway under the noise of the attic fan.  Lying there, I found peace.  I couldn't hear the TV blaring in the living room.  I couldn't hear my dad yelling at my brother.  I couldn't hear our lonely dog barking in the back yard because Dad refused to let him inside with the family.  I could just lie there, my thoughts to myself.  A luxury for the youngest child of a big, boisterous family.

Mom was always great at multitasking.  My favorite story to illustrate this point is the one where she scored two points higher than I did on an IQ test I found in a book at the library.  I sat in a quiet room, completely focused on the test when I took it.  Mom was busy watching her show on TV and embroidering a pillow project she had been working on, so she agreed to take the test only if I'd just ask her the questions and score it for her.  I did.  And I got confirmation that, yes, my mom is an amazing multitasker, as well as a genius.  I somehow did not inherit her abilities.  I can only focus on one thing at a time, and all my IQ score shows is that I should have done much better in school than I did.

After watching John Green's video above, I feel less self-conscious about my need for quiet so I can focus.  It's not that I'm too much of a spaz to do more than one thing at a time.  I just prefer to fully engage in one thing, rather than dabble in activities that consume less of my attention.  When I watch TV, I watch TV.  When I eat, I eat.  When I take tests, I take tests.  When I have a conversation with Will, I have a conversation with Will.  When I write, I write.  When I play with my kid, I play with my kid.

Warning: extreme parental judgment approaching:  You won't find me at the playground with a phone on my ear while my kid is growing up before my inattentive eyes.  Life is too short to ignore our kids.

Unless I'm watching a John Green video.  Then Katie must leave me alone for a few minutes.  And if she must interrupt, at least the on-demand feature of YouTube videos allows me to be a more attentive parent.  It's not that parents are becoming more compassionate these days.  We just have better technology than our parents did.  The best advice I can give parents today: Hit the pause button.  It's a gift from the technology gods so we can fully engage with our kids.