Friday, November 20, 2009

Attention Span of a Housefly

My Helm Toys
My Helm Toys
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I suffer from attention deficit split disorder (ADSDO, pronounced “ads do”). This is not a real syndrome; it is not recognized by the medical establishment. In fact, the term was coined by Mera. It is a mental pathology that manifests itself in an inability to do only one thing at a time. When my girls are working on math while simultaneously listening to Weird Al, painting their toenails orange and blue, and finger knitting, they explain that ADSDO is an inherited disease -- they get it from their mother.

The parent in me wants to scream in frustration, “Get your schoolwork done. FOCUS!” However, the unschooler wannabe idealist angel sitting on my other shoulder is smug. The girls are apparently reasonably well versed in the concepts of genetics and inheritance as well as the role of genes in disease. After a brief familial tussle in which I insist all three prove they can spell ADSDO and use it correctly in a sentence, I give up the struggle with only a token intervention in the form of putting towels under the nails.

Actually, my ADSDO is probably an adaptation to a mild form of the real thing -- attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Back in the days before ritalin, bright kids with no ability to focus in class were tracked into either one of two programs: Semi-Permanent Detention or Mentally Gifted Minds. I found it peculiarly appropriate that at my elementary school, the detention hall shared the same room with the MGM program. From the distance of 30 years, I can see that the room should have had a sign warning teachers -- Abandon Patience All Ye Who Enter Here. It was the room for children who simply couldn’t be wrapped up, set in a row, and expected to sit still until recess.

Yet the traits that made me such a miserably poor excuse for an elementary student were also the very attributes of my personality which made me a highly successful manager: adaptive context switching, multi-threading, laser focus for brief periods of high intensity effort followed by intuitive decision making and moving on without regret or self-contemplation. In algebra, they accused me of cheating because I “skipped the steps” and simply wrote down the answer. In college, they took off points for “failure to show your work.” In business, they promoted me and gave me more people to manage... proving once again that academic success is a poor way to identify quality employees.

Problematically, the cruising life doesn’t offer enough things to do simultaneously to satisfy my housefly brain. In fact, traveling by sail for hundreds of miles is proving tantamount to locking me in a small white box, removing all the sharp objects, and playing an elevator version of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I can almost handle the monotony while motoring. I line my toys up on the helm: GPS, radar, chart plotter, cruising manual, anemometer, VHF radio, knot meter, and depth sounder. Then I pull out my iPod chock o'block full of podcasts and audio books as well as a pencil and book of sudoku. Between the steady stream of info bits, the logical complexity of the puzzle at the Avanzado and Experto levels, and a regular scan of instruments and horizon, my brain almost settles into a peaceful steady state.

However, the whole strategy falls apart when the seas are running high. First off, DrC likes to take the helm when we've got big wind and big wave in combination. He does this primarily because he likes to sail. He really enjoys it. He enjoys it more when everything is slightly edgy, big and heavy, weather helm and slop making the auto-pilot a dicey proposition and manually steering pretty much a necessity. So I get booted off the helm and into the salon.

Then we get to the second problem which is with the boat rolling around like a marble on a wooden maze game, my stomach and my head begin a futile tussle for dominance. The longer we're out, of course, the less this is a problem. However, after months in the dock, traveling on land, and in the Sea of Cortez where waves in the anchorages barely top the ankles, my stomach recently has been winning more frequently than not. Which means that the only safe activity I can engage in without the imminent threat of vomit is staring at the horizon contemplating the coming Zombie Apocalypse while slowly chain nibbling saltines.

Key Equipment
Key Equipment
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
And here's the thing about zombies... they are actually quite challenging to kill. So while I sit there staring at the churning seas and listening to my husband delightedly humming along to Dazed and Confused, I attempt to make good use of my time identifying the many ways in which we can remove zombie heads and annihilate the remains in a blazing fire. Lest you think this would be quickly resolved, I challenge you to figure out how to do it north of La Paz where there appears to be not a single flammable plant. There's nothing but rocks and cactus. My daughters burned their school books the other night in order to roast marshmallows. Or how about on the high seas? If you were boarded by zombies, I think you could probably take the heads off with a well aimed fishing knife or a very firm swing of an oar, but what about burning the bodies? Where? How? With what? Note to non-nauticals: Diesel is not flammable.

This important contemplation of theoretical physics consumes my time for say... fifteen minutes... and then I face roughly six more hours till we pull into our anchorage. I swear to god I am going to go out of my fl*in mind.


Unknown said...

Singing Land Cruiser said...

Ok my dear Toast, Lets get serious, you need a job and we need your book! So get to work. Just say the word and we will PRE-ORDER for say $19.95 + S&H. Autographed of course. All the Best, Michael & Christi