This Sunday will be my final performance in Sunday in the Park with George here in Vancouver. It’s been an incredible experience. Not only is this one of my favourite shows, but I have a wonderful cast to perform with. It will be a bittersweet final show on Sunday afternoon, and I will be sad to see it go.
For those who don’t know the show, it’s a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine about French painter Georges Seurat. Although little is known about Seurat’s life, Sondheim and Lapine created a rich backstory for the artist. They envisioned a temperamental, tortured, difficult, and driven artist. This is a character who repeatedly tells himself “connect Georges, connect.” As I’ve been involved with the show this phrase has stayed with me. I’m even a little embarrassed to admit it’s something that I’ve started saying to myself – minus the George part. But, just so I don’t come across as totally unhinged, let me explain why.
In my experience there are a lot of creative people out there who place somewhere on the ADD and ADHD spectrum. As someone who often has struggles with putting my full attention into one thing, I know how difficult “connecting” can be. If I were to ask you to put all of your attention into just working and thinking about one thing, say just writing an email, could you do it? Could you, from start to finish, write the email without turning your attention to anything else? I imagine for many of you this seems like a mind-bogglingly easy task. For others, like me, we wouldn’t even make it 10 seconds.
I bounce around from task to task to task like a squash ball in a cubicle. I complete things at a rapid fire pace, but without a lot of focus. The problem is of course that sometimes we need to focus. There is some evidence that multitasking actually helps with creativity. In a 2010 article for Newsweek Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman remarked “Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas.” So maybe my lack of focus isn’t so bad after all?
The problem of course is that being frenetic all the time isn’t always helpful. If you’re trying to finish a draft of a book on deadline, is it helpful to constantly be distracted by the Internet? What about if you’re trying to practice music, but your phone keeps buzzing? What if you’re on stage performing, but you’re thinking about the lighting? (I’ll admit to being a culprit of the last one). It’s these moments, that a verbal reminder to “connect” can be rather helpful. A kind of mantra reminding ourselves to put our full attention to something.
Now, everyone is different, we all get distracted by different things. I find I can have music playing in the background while I work, but I shouldn’t have my phone next to me. I also have an app called SelfControl installed on my laptop that blocks social media when I really need to focus. One of the biggest benefits I’ve noticed in my ability to focus has come from meditation, and I try and meditate for 5-10 minutes daily. Everything is personal when it comes to focus, the important thing is to know what distracts you, and how to remove it when you need to focus. That’s one of the reasons I like reminding myself to connect. It brings me back in the moment, and stops me worrying about everything else.