In my book, Carved In Sand
, I write about our inability to fend off distractions in middle age. One of my favorite research studies dealt with what one scientist called "the neuronal bouncer ? just like the one outside the front doors of a nightclub, handling the velvet rope." The way he described it, in youth, that bouncer does a really good job of determining what is allowed into your working memory, and what is turned away at the door. As you get older, the bouncer goes on more and more coffee breaks, and your mind, left unguarded, is subject to invasions from all sorts of riff-raff. Instead of concentrating on the project before you, you find yourself thinking about what to have for dinner.
I loved the metaphor, and I've used it a lot in radio and print interviews. This morning, just prior to my second appearance this week on Good Morning America, I was living it. Usually ? because I know my neural bouncer quit long ago ? I'm conscientious about keeping my environment as free as possible from distractions. Unlike some people, I don't keep the radio or TV on while I'm doing other things, because they prevent me from thinking straight. I can't even tie my shoes if there's something intriguing on the Discovery Channel ? that's how bad it is.
The producer at GMA picked me up from my hotel right on time, and walked me across the street for hair and makeup. Once in the chair ? TV blaring (even I knew that it would be wrong to ask them to lower the volume on Diane Sawyer so that I could concentrate), the fun began. While the hairdresser crimped my limp locks, and the makeup artist swabbed and sponged away the dark circles under my eyes, producers surrounded me, dropped documents in my lap, and started asking questions about the frontal lobes and the hippocampus ? which was spelled how? Was it correct to say..? My head buzzed. My shoulders ached. I couldn't talk, because my lips were being glossed. I wished to shout: "Did anyone read my book? Because if you did, you ought to know that I can't talk to more than one person at a time!"
That was just the beginning. We tiptoed on to the stage, winding our way amongst the always-present mob of technical crew and talent. A polite young man reached gingerly inside my sweater to position the microphone. Once escorted to my chair on the stage, I tried to compose myself, but this was unlikely: Ms. Sawyer was on the set, ready to talk to me about our segment. Although the noise and bustle level in the room was astounding, Ms. Sawyer spoke in a very soft voice. I leaned forward to hear her, commanding myself to focus on her words, despite the fact that another young man had decided that the microphone had to be repositioned and again had a hand down my sweater. In the split second we had remaining, I tried to remember what I'd said yesterday on the show ? otherwise, I'd be likely to repeat myself. I drew a blank.
Five, four, three, two, one ? all was silence, and then we were on. A miracle: total, in-the-flow focus. No one there ? no one in the world ? but the two of us. I answered her questions. I think I smiled. I might have thrown in a joke. And then, as fast as it had begun, it was over, the stage was abuzz, and I was on my way out the door. I barely avoided the knife-sharp edge of a monitor, aimed at my forehead, on the way out. Everybody congratulated me on a really good two-part segment, and I thanked them, doing my best to carefully pack away, in my treasure chest of memories, all that had happened since Tuesday.
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