Squirrel! Just kidding. But no, seriously, a pretty butterfly!
That was my whole childhood experience, and to be honest, also my whole adult experience. It doesn’t have to be an animal, or something pretty flitting by. It can be a speck of dust floating in the air, or a scratch on a desktop. Don’t get me started about the music in my head. It draws my attention away from my task at hand.
I’m not alone in my dearth of attention. Many children and adults deal with similar challenges. For me, it started when I was in elementary school, or that was probably just when it became obvious. It was the late 1970s, and I was in fifth grade. I had broken my arm ice skating over winter break, and was pretty preoccupied by my limitations. Mr. K. was talking about geometrical shapes, specifically the octagon. I was re-wrapping my ace bandage around my splint. Mr. K. made a comment about there being an octagonal shaped church on the corner of Salsbury Street and Kadidawapa Way. He looked right at me and said, “right, Debby?” I looked up, baffled, and responded, “What? Oh, yeah.” The whole class laughed at me. There was no Kadidawapa Way in my city, and Mr. K. knew I wasn’t paying attention. Everyone laughed at me. That kind of hurt.
In sixth grade, I stopped doing Math homework, and only did other homework at the last minute. I still got A’s and B’s. In eighth grade, I finally got called on my behavior, and got an F in effort in Math class. I was mad, and I mouthed off to my teacher. But it was kind of a wakeup call. As we get older, our teachers start to pay more attention to our behavior. But I didn’t.
I squeaked through high school doing the bare minimum and relying on my procrastination and natural ability to retain information. I somehow made it through college. And grad school. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that a medical profession finally suggested that I might have ADHD.
What would have happened if I had been born in the 2000’s? I probably would have been evaluated at school, maybe by a developmental pediatrician, and diagnosed young. I probably would have been started on Ritalin, or some other stimulant medication. My teachers would have been made aware. They might have dealt with me differently. But as it was, I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. The only kids that got attention for not paying attention were the ones that were disruptive. They were usually boys, and they were usually ridiculed by teachers and other students. We were told to pay no attention to them. They were just trying to get attention. Girls would just grow out of their daydreams and pull it all together someday.
One thing that I could concentrate on back then was writing. I loved to write. The ideas popped into my head unprovoked. Characters would develop in my subconscious and start dialogs in my brain. Some of them I wrote down. The stars of my stories were me as a Boston sportscaster, always married to a famous Boston professional athlete. Hey, I had a type! I found one of these “novels” not long ago. It wasn’t bad, for a twelve-year-old.
So, it makes sense that when I finally got serious about writing as an adult, I created a character who is a lot like me in some ways. A character that struggles with schoolwork and gets very scattered. She has no verbal filter, and sometimes her friends find her to be all over the place. Her story mimics my story in some ways, but she is not me. Her experiences are different. Isn’t that what we do when we write? We take our characters and put them in different situations and see what they would do. Sometimes, it’s different than what we would do ourselves, but it’s always a good story. Sally has some good times, and she has some struggles. But they are not my struggles. But we all have struggles, unique to ourselves.
My book, May I Have Your Attention Please obviously deals with attention, but we all know, there are many definitions of attention. And they all apply. Make up your own mind about what it means. Now you know what it means to me. I hope my story ends up meaning something to you, too.