Virginia’s room

Nearly a third of the sample identified attentional overload as a serious problem. […]Nearly two-thirds of the students showed disruption of concentration in response to a threat in the writing environment.  —Kellogg, The Psychology of Writing, p114, 115

I’m operating solo this week. There is only a 5% risk of interruptions. I can indulge my focus all I want; I can write or stare into space (a frequent writing precursor) wholeheartedly.
When other people are in  the house, I am everlastingly tensed up against interruption. Against disruption of concentration in all the forms it takes, including attentional overload. But these days, it’s mostly interruption.

When I sketched my rubric statement, the first of my six rubric elements is relationship. The third is writing, where I deploy laser-like focus and (try to) shut out relationship. I may have mis-ranked these, or ranked them out of common wisdom rather than my deepest intuition. If I had to choose, had to choose, I would choose people over writing. But I suspect I would be profoundly unhappy. I know I was wistful during the full-court press of our lives with preschoolers, which amounted to almost the same thing.

I would like not to choose between attention to relationships, attention to God, attention to writing. To keep them co-equal. But that never works at the moment-by-moment level; the aggregation only happens in statistics. In the moment I’m writing, I can’t be relating, too. I know. I keep trying.

In this my solo time, I’m confirming that I prefer to write in our living room: on the sofa, in the wing chair. The living room, however, is a huge open space in the center of our house and holds our only television. I don’t like to write in the middle room; it’s not comfortable, though it has A DOOR and so the option to set myself apart. I’m okay with writing in our office; I like the sun, warmth of wood, and glass wall—though my brain’s bias when I sit there is toward life management rather than creative generation.

So is it a multi-faceted problem, this tension I have between Element 1 and Element 3, between sustaining deep focus in writing and affirming my loves by responding and relating? It probably is; if it were easy, I would have handled it already. And I do want to handle this: I want to gracefully move between writing and My Sweetie. And not push him away from the TV!

So what is it about living room over the others, interruption-prone as it is? About office as more comfortable than middle room? About front room as better than middle room but just barely?

I think openness and light are a major part of it. Our living room has windows at each end, plus skylights; our office has a wall of windows on each side. The front room has the possibility of open curtains on large windows, but feels more closed/cozy due to shut curtains, loft beds, intensely-colored walls. It’s A & B’s room from middle to high school, and still officially theirs in my mind. A’s sofa, though, has made a good refuge in a pinch.

Which brings me to what may be my other design need: a comfy chair. I have been composing Anywhere-But-Desk for a long time now. The kitchen table is effective, though it also implies eating and/or newspaper-reading. But despite the dubious ergonomics, I seem to sustain my concentration very effectively with a keyboard in my lap and a single-tasking screen nearby.

The middle room is our smallest room. It has our smallest window. It has no comfy chair; in fact, a comfy chair may be counter-productive in its larger purpose as a room for my sons (or guests) to use. But oh, that door… . A door would make signaling so much easier!


When I sat down today, I didn’t know whether I was writing about the practical difficulties of tactfully sustaining deep focus in an open-plan house or the emotional contradictions inherent in caring for/about others and doing deeply focused work that by its nature requires ignoring others. I really did think I would write about the latter, and about the corollary difficulty in prioritizing this unpaid, little-recognized, relationship-denying effort over more socially-approved and tangibly-rewarded activities.

But that topic is hard work. Requires deep focus, with time to get all the way in and then come out again. It will likely take more than 800 words. It will take pointing out that I am aware I am operating in a place of extreme privilege and warm support. It may even have required writing this piece. Maybe I have to think about my physical room before I can build a metaphorical room of one’s own.

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