Conviction, Crankiness, and Deep Work

Magistra turned me on to Cal Newport and “Deep Work”.  I appreciate that… but it dug into an old sore spot – a REALLY old sore spot, and I wanted to talk it out a bit.  I couldn’t quite decide if this belonged on HRG where I go more personal/casual or here… but this gets a bit meta into gender roles, so here will do.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was an Art major in college, my dad spoke dismissively of Frida Kahlo.  Not because of her aesthetic, but because she was a “dilettante”.  In other words, she split her energies between disciplines, and all of them suffered from the neglect.

I’m a married mother of two.  I homeschoolish.  Well, I have a kid here most of the time, and I have to annoy her into doing her schoolwork.  And correct it, help her along, etc.  And my work – all of my various creative disciplines – suffers because I cannot sink into the kind of uninterrupted focus that Newport describes in “Deep Work”.   I stop, I start, I answer the phone, I have a thousand very different things to do on a regular basis – my life is diverse.

Because I am someone who must create in order to stay sane, I’ve learned a number of creative skills along the way.   I’m decent at most of them – or was when I shelved them.  But am I as good at any of it as I would be if I’d concentrated?  No.  I am, therefore, a dilettante – and there is no getting around that.

Our culture is organized to value accomplishment in male patterns – you go out, you do the job out there somewhere, you are an expert, you bring in lots of money, you win.  Feminism, if anything, promotes women being as masculine as possible.  And that leaves us SAHM sitting in the dust feeling like less valuable members of society.   We’ve lost the value of a matron – someone who had a number of skills, and was expected to have them in order to run a home.

But that makes no excuse for letting the mind get squoggy – and Newport has some excellent (and convicting) suggestions for toning up the mental muscles.    The one that hit me the hardest was using the internet for entertainment.  Ouch.  Yes, I do that…. I do that quite a lot.  I also use it for those times when I’m in between tasks or waiting for time to walk out the door.  I’d be better served sitting outside and watching the butterflies dance.

I’m tempted to throw my hands in the air.  I *want* to be very good at things.  But now, after so many years, I feel sorrow at the thought of picking just one to master.  Regardless, hours and hours to concentrate sounds like bliss.  Well enough – I can do better at the diversity of my to-do list if I make use of Newport’s suggestions about how to keep your mental muscles in tone.

Convicting?  Yes.  Cranky?  Also yes.

And very rambly.  But I wanted to get this out of my head so it would quit babbling at me when I was trying to get real work done.



3 thoughts on “Conviction, Crankiness, and Deep Work

  1. magistratrium

    It’s hard to focus when you have children in the home, especially very small children. I learned that if I wanted good focus time, I would have to get up very early. Fortunately for me, I’m a morning person so as long as I go to bed at a reasonable time, I can get up at 5:00. Night owls might do better to get their focus time at night. However, I think Cal Newport would say at 30 minutes a day of focused time is better than none at all. Keep trying. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon, and I’m sure that you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” one day.

    I’m so glad that my posts helped, even if the book made you a bit convicted as well. 🙂


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