My Distracted Brain
Old and Happy

On Concentration (Again) and Handwriting

category_bug_journal2.gif I’m intrigued by some comments on yesterday’s post about the possible causes of waning concentration. (And no, this isn’t a test today.)

Darlene wrote:

“It is not only in reading that I find myself getting antsy, but in nearly everything I do. Dusting is done in short bursts because I get bored quickly now and have to quit for awhile.”

Chancy of driftwoodinspiration agrees:

"Where I get distracted is in doing housework or straightening up my home. I find myself flitting from one task to another without finishing one completely. I might get distracted and wander out on my porch or sit and read something in a magazine or make a phone call or whatever."

Me too. Even if I discount the inherently mind-numbing nature of house cleaning, which I can easily abandon in mid-task, I’m less capable these days of making the concentrated effort to finish.

But it’s not just the boring chores. Especially in warm weather, dinner is often what a friend and I years ago named “gorilla salad.” Some of anything hanging around in the refrigerator gets thrown in and it’s not uncommon for there to be 15 or 20 ingredients: vegetables, fruit, a left-over piece of chicken or fish, some crumbled cheese, and so on.

I enjoy preparing food in all its aspects, weighing the combination of flavors, textures and colors as I go and, in the case of gorilla salad, contemplating what dressing I might concoct this time. However, a couple of evenings ago, part way through the preparation, it seemed more boring than I could endure to wash, dry and cut up the radishes, so I put them back in the refrigerator. But really, what's so onerous about prepping a radish or two?

Other times, on shopping trips, I’ve skipped the final stop or two, even for what I need, because there is suddenly something I’d rather do at home. And it’s not unlikely, when I get there, that I become otherwise distracted and never get to it.

This boredom with ordinary tasks feels similar to the attention deficit we discussed yesterday, but I don’t know for certain that it is.

Pamela left a note about preferring a handwritten journal:

“I thought about this topic recently in the context of keeping handwritten v. electronic journals. It's occurred to me now that the reason I prefer the former is the lack of distraction and time to contemplate, unlike sitting in front of a screen and agitating about other things to do on the PC.”

I had kept handwritten journals until I got my first computer in about 1988, when I happily switched to electronic because, for me, handwriting is too slow. My mind often moved faster than my hand and I’d lose the thought. Typing, I can keep up with my mind, but Pamela reminded me of a related issue:

Now that there is so little that requires pen and paper (I don’t even need to write checks anymore), I’ve discovered that I can barely write at all. I’ve lost the motor skills needed to make handwriting readable and I sometimes struggle to translate my own notes.

Elderbloggers may be the last generation that was taught to have a “beautiful hand.” Remember the loops we practiced in school above and below the line, large ones and small, round and oval? I recall that it took a long time for me to create a capital T that satisfied the teacher.

Good handwriting, in my youth and young adulthood, was a point of pride. People commented on it – admiringly or otherwise. Before the advent of ballpoint pens, care was taken to select the proper fountain pen and nibs for different purposes. Ink color mattered and engraved, personal stationery was a social asset.

No more, at least as far as I can tell. Condolence notes may be the last kind of message that is gauche to send by email.

It feels like we may have lost something in ditching handwriting for a keyboard. But, the world turns, technology advances and things change. All-in-all, it probably doesn’t matter.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Granny Annie recalls the miracle of Little Owen.]


Oh m'gosh! This is exactly what I needed to read to lift some of the guilt and self-blame I've been berating myself with for the past year or so. Maybe I'll gradually get on with some more actions I need and want to take, but I surely do enjoy endulging myself with whatever distractions suit my fancy.

I have a friend who has told me she prefers written mail after having given email a try with me. I think faster than I write, as you mentioned, so can use Word. She has spent a lot of time in and out of hospital with husband, and likes to have my letter to read there, often starting a reply that may have several days, or weeks entries before it gets sent to me.

My husband wrote letters, but got so used to printing quite rapidly that he said he forgot how to write cursive. Another male family member who didn't like to write letters claimed he forgot how to write cursive also.

Ronni,your comment about fountain pens reminded me that when I was in grade school we used nib pens, dipped in inkwells. (One pupil in every class was appointed 'ink monitor', with the job of keeping all the inkwells topped up).
When I got to high school, I graduated to a fountain pen. Felt very grown up! Ballpoint pens had just been invented but we were totally forbidden to use them. The teachers told us they would ruin our handwriting. Sadly, they were right. Mine has been getting sloppier ever since I left school.

Penmanship was never my forte so I welcomed word processors when they became available. It is so much easier to high light and delete a mistake than to make a messy erasure.

The cursive writing that I must do now (the note on a greeting card, for example) looks more like Egyptian Hieroglyphics than English. I can't decipher it and wonder what the recipient must think.

I remember reading that one way a doctor can tell that you are ill is if your handwriting changes. I must be very sick.

Thanks for the sharing. Now I do not feel there is something wrong with me.
I love writing and receiving a hand written note.
Seems more personal.
Like to hold the letter in my hand and reread a special one sent to me a number of different times.
Have several special pens that I use to write special letters.
Also have always kept hand written journals.
I am finding that I write in them less and less.
Seems a chore and I cannot sit still very long.
Or rather I can sit still but my mind wanders and I am thinking of something other then my journal entries.

Interesting and what I wonder if is this the way it is for all of us, not just elders, but the whole country? They say politicians have to use 30 second sound-bites to get voters to remember anything. News programs rarely go into long exposes on anything. The blogs that build the largest following are said to generally be short and to the point.

For those of us who are old, we might remember how it was, but what is this doing to our children if this isn't just a product of aging? What kind of culture is it creating? Is it purposeful or just a product of living in a complex world and looking for every place possible to simplify it?

I can still stick to something when I have a reason. If I am reading something (book, article, letter) and it seems to be repeating itself, I will start skimming ahead to get to its point, but I always did that even when young.

Even as a "young" tech person (34), I share many of the same feelings.

Tired of the distractions of most word processors, some writers I know have taken to ultra-simple editors that purposefully lack features. For example, Writeroom (Mac) and Darkroom (PC).

I agree with Pamela about keeping a journal. The time it takes to write, and the lack of distractions, generally forces me to think harder and stay focused about what I write.

After watching "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" last night, I can only imagine what it is like to write a book when you have to spell out each letter by blinking...

My handwriting is also bad, which is especially sad considering that I was a calligrapher for many years.

Life has become a series of shortcuts for us all it seems.

Maybe it's because we overload ourselves in every aspect: 40+ hour workweek, keeping a house and yard that competes with the Joneses, 2 or 3 cars to maintain, children in expensive schools and a million activities, committees, clubs, the gym, church, caring for elder parents, email, blogs, internet, ipods, cell phones, television, and the list can go on.

The list above more accurately reflects the lifestyle ages of 25 - 50, but perhaps that "programming" carries over into our retirement years; we cannot seem to find the ability to "coast" for a while.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Capitalism at its worst (or best, depending on your $$$ viewpoint)?

No wonder so many of us seek vacations that take us away from this beehive life. And some of us, myself included, would rejoice if the opportunity came along to just chuck all these trappings and adopt a more slower pace of living.

Like Ronni and other TGB friends, I find myself unable to complete easy tasks without distraction or taking a seemingly unexplained detour. I get frustrated with myself, but the more I try to stay focused, the more I fight it.

The only time I can truly decompress is late at night, with the household quiet and asleep. The electronics are mostly all turned off, the pace of life is revved down, the neighborhood is dark and quiet, and I can curl up in my favorite easy chair with a good book.

Then for an hour or so, I can escape.

And it has to be with a traditional book. Sitting at the computer reading just isn't going to do the trick. And I imagine using one of those electronic book thingys -like the Amazon Kindle - wouldn't work, either.

I tried to do long division today. Gave up and used the calculator. ;^)

It's not that we're distracted, it's that their are easier ways to do things.

And who cares anymore if the house is dusted? Nobody is running around with the white gloves on...

And I hated penmanship class with a passion. Although I did enjoy my technical writing class in college, where I learned to write like an Engineer. That was fun.

There are a couple bloggers who blog by posting their hand-written notes. But I find them hard to read, really.

Still, when you get a personal, hand-written letter these days, wow, it's a big deal. One of the reasons I really miss my mom... she was pretty much the last person I knew who still wrote me real letters.

I suppose I can cancel that appointment I made with the doctor recently.

I was going to tell her that I couldn't concentrate as well as I used to. I read the same page of a book 4 or 5 times then blame my husband for coming into the room and ruining my ability to grasp what I am reading. You've let me know that the same thing is happening to most of you.

My checkbook which used to be a model of efficiency is now riddled with the entry ESP. When I get my statement from the bank, if it doesn't agree with my figures I just subtract the difference and put that amount in my book with the notation ESP. Curious? So was my accountant when we did our taxes this year. I explained to him that it was the answer to everything. ESP means ERROR SOME PLACE. It balances my checkbook very quickly each month.
It's the answer to my prayers. Feel free to try it; you'll love it....

When I visit my internist I alway bring a list of handwritten questions along. I notice that when he has answered my questions he puts the notes in my folder.
(maybe my hand-writing tells him something)

Before I leave the house for the doctor's office I sit down and carefully write out my questions. When I write reminders to myself I scribble them but when someone else has to read them I am more careful.

I am aware that my handwriting has changed. If I didn't have the computer I would not be writing about the past and present the way I do now.

It's much easier to type than to write!

I'm not the first Pamela Ronni was referring to, so I'll log in as Pamela 2 :-)

But let me share that I was downsized and had to take a lesser admin position with another company after many years of being an exempt employee (it's pretty ugly out there for the over 55 crowd looking for work). I'm now expected to take meeting minutes! What a tedious ordeal. I absolutely hate it worse than anything else they make me do.

I think the era of computers has led to the muscles in our hands that help us write becoming atrophied. Taking notes for meetings is physically painful and mentally mind-numbing. Oh how I wish I could retire.

Very rarely will I take the time to prepare a meal that takes more than a few minutes. I joked once that I was the master of the 15 minute meal as 30 minutes was too long.

What i don't understand is why it feels like it takes longer to do anything. There are lots of chores I used to be able to do quickly and now they seem to take up most of my time. I feel that it takes me longer to read a newspaper or magazine. i don't have any objective evidence just my subjective experience.

Elderbloggers may be the last generation that was taught to have a “beautiful hand.”
......Perhaps it would be more correct to say: "Elderbloggers my be the last generation that was taught to have a Beautiful Mind."

Maybe many elders are using the "Adult"(read Dr. Thomas's book) measuring stick to beat themselves up with. The mind/body knows it's an elder and we don't "have to" do what we did before and/or we do don't have to do it "on time."
As for you, Ronnie - you are very productive with this blog-job. Taking a relaxed aproach to other tings only makes sense. That's balance.

...and that's what happens when you're too quick to hit the button and you get "post" instead of "preview" to correct spelling!

Yesterday's and today's blogs have given me such a sense of relief. I was convinced that I was developing ADHD. Thank you for sharing your stories and for everyone's comments. I feel so much better!

Ronni, Loved your last two posts (read them all the way through)and feel they provided much food for thought.
I'm in my 70s and don't have trouble concentrating on anything I really enjoy and want to read, but don't you think that as we age we have less tolerance for dumb, boring things? If we're not enjoying a book, there's no reason not to put it down. We aren't going to be tested on it!
As for household chores, "life is just so daily." We've done these same mindless chores so many times that they become intolerable unless we can think about something else or listen to music.
Most TV now is horrendous, but we news junkies do like to keep up with events. I notice that as the hour becomes later, commercial breaks seem to get longer and more frequent, so if I can't sleep I keep that remote handy and might flip between two programs to avoid ads.
Love newspapers, some mags and books, but don't read too much online--it's much harder for me to see words on screen than to read printed material. Too much time online produces a headache. Couldn't do without a few favorite blogs, though, and yours is at the top of my list.
I don't waste much time cooking anymore, either. Prefer quick, simple dishes. Life is so short and there are more interesting things to do--write, paint, garden...

We are a technical contradiction at our house. We make most of our living online, and buy most of what we buy, online.

But my wife still carries the old fashioned date book. We write all meaningful appointments on a big calendar in the kitchen. When we travel I carry a little black notebook to log things of interest. All these tasks could be done on one of our 4 pc's.

I'm a diabetic and my glucose meter will talk to my computer and do all manner of fancy things, but I continue to handwrite all my tests and additional data in a little notebook. It works, and satisfies whatever need to hand-write that I have.


Ronni, You hit a nerve with the handwriting segment on this post. In recent years my hand writing has gotten so squiggly looking, almost weak seeming. So one day while reading a note one of my elementary age grand children had written and noticing my daughters' and son's handwriting which looks almost like printing; I decided to practice writing in lower case printing. I had a notebook with the alphabet printed on the outside so I copied it and started to write notes and stuff that way.
This new (to me) way of writing seems to slow me down and I am pleased with the results.
I have not gotten up the courage to sign my checks this new say. I am afraid the bank might come and arrest me for forgery;)

Well, obviously, I'm in favour of handwritten journals! And sitting outside with an A4 journal to do a first draft is an important part of my writing process, even if I don't use the notes. Sometimes it's just about emptying my brain.

But I can do this online too. I close down unnecessary applications so that I only have a small notepad open where I do my lists and my writing or my drafting or whatever. I use a tabbed editor written by a friend but I'm not sure the processor really matters.

There are programs available for PCs and Macs that will block out the rest of your PC so you can concentrate on your writing or even stop you accessing the internet at all for pre-set time periods. I haven't resorted to one of those but I do have a friend who says it makes a big difference to her ability to concentrate.

Nowadays I make it a conscious choice to write to each of my friends a long-hand letter during the year regardless of what my handwriting looks like. A print out of an email will never have the emotional/personal impact that a handwritten card or letter does.

As far as writing books or journals, even 10 years ago I remember hearing a radio program about English lit researchers expressing their dismay that they could no longer "see" the creative process because so many authors used computers and word processors and what was left at the end of the day was always the "final" version.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)