What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.


What I Don’t Know About Miles Davis

Back in the early 90’s I got involved in live poetry readings.  ‘Poetry Slams’ were trendy then, and I was at just the right age, with just the right influences and just the right artistic neediness to fall into that scene for a bit.  I wrote some terrible stuff as well as a couple of pieces I continue to be impressed with, but the actor in me especially liked the live delivery of emotionally loaded, supposedly clever mini-monologues.  Even then I recognized how self-indulgent the whole thing was (those were self-indulgent times), and now I can enjoy the memories as the pitifully funny experiences they were .

One of the most irritating things about listening to other self-indulgent would-be poets then (although I would bet good money the practice continues), was hearing nearly every one of them mention Miles Davis and/or Charlie Parker in at least one of their poems.  Ugh.  What did they think, that they were actually Beats?  Trying to buy some credibility by invoking the jazz heroes?  I’d roll my eyes, tune out, and pride myself in never resorting to that embarrassing tactic (although I had no trouble, apparently, squeezing Lou Reed and Dostoevsky in the same horrible piece.  Ouch.).

Unfortunately, those idiot poets actually made me less interested in jazz, and especially Miles Davis.  How stupid of me to be so judgmental.  Maybe I’ve finally learned to not be influenced negatively by losers (there’s room for a separate post on this topic), but now that I’ve actually listened to Miles, on my own terms… well… I get it.

Miles Davis was a genius.  Maybe not everyone who felt the need to record that they were listening to Miles in their amateur poetry was as incredibly gifted, but there is no denying that Miles Davis is one of a very small number of artists who actually changed the world of music.  Plenty of other people have written eloquently about the subject of his greatness.  From my perspective (it is my blog, after all), I will admit Miles does indeed inspire, in a way too few artists can.  Great art, to me, whether music, movies, literature, or any other form is art which immediately inspires me to be creative.  If it moves me, it (I hope) moves others, too, and leads to new methods for doing things, new ways to see and think about things.  And that’s what Miles Davis accomplished over and over during his lifetime.  It’s what he does to me now.

So I can understand now how Miles – and Charlie Parker, and some of the other namechecked jazz giants – really may have inspired poetry.  Even bad poetry.  While I still believe some of the folks who tortured me with their bad lines (in return for me treating them with my own) may not actually have connected with Miles Davis, or even ever listened to his work at all, I am willing to think that at least some others might truly have been moved to do something to express themselves by the inescapable provocation the creator of cool couldn’t help but give.