I’m reading for work. My work is often reading. Dense, thick jargon, each word a purchased piece of real estate in a shrinking and ever more competitive tundra. Heavy laden with value, cultural meaning, references to past classics and past mistakes – it’s not far different from poetry. For the same reasons that many find Blake, Keats, or Eliot incomprehensible, do they likewise find academic literature ridiculous. The same false nonchalance rings with each tossed off erudite reference – to Biblical verses, to Classical demigods, to long forgotten historical footnotes; the author parades their knowledge in order to make their work beautiful, or in academia, ‘grounded in previous science’. In doing so, the deaths uninitiated are charted up to collateral damage.
It’s bad enough that when I reach a reference, I often stop and think – wait, should I scroll down and check the reference or should I do it later and keep reading? That’s one interruption that reoccurs. But the real interruptions are the worries.
Worries stop my train of thought abruptly and secretly. They draw a curtain over my eyes and let my ocular muscles keep going without my brain processing the information from my retina. I bet my eyes go back and forth for ages, like a typewriter hitting the space bar on loop. It can take ages for my senses to return to me, and then I have to figure out where I stopped receiving information from the page. The worries snicker in the background, waiting for their next opportunity in five minutes.
The worries ramble and argue and demand my attention. They ruminate, over and over as ruminants do, chewing stones and gravel and speaking with their mouths full. Sometimes they force me to take action, write out their nonsense and diagram their plans – after slaving to their whims for half an hour, forty five minutes, two hours, who knows, I try to go back to work and have to begin from scratch.
These are not distractions. Distractions are flies. Distractions buzz, suddenly snagging your ear with sharp tugs, but they can be batted away. Worries are like a white mist, chilling my skin and sapping my strength, lingering for days. Worries are more patient than distractions. They are old, cruel creatures, with the most intimate knowledge of your soul. They always know how to stage a visit, and they always know how to time it so that a coffee turns into a dinner turns into a night turns into a fortnight. They know how to guilt you, how to play you. Distractions are Odysseus’ sirens; worries are messages from the gods that Penelope is dead – there is no journey home anymore, for there is no longer any home.
I spend each hour exhausting myself with the effort to stay on task. I have done and redone and redone and redone every budget, every phone call, every plan, every panic, every terror. They will never be at peace inside me. Each day the worries crust over my eyes, and I accomplish no more. Bit by bit, my sight is growing cloudy with cataracts of worry. Eventually, I will have to give up.