This story is by Alan Kennamer and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sometimes, my thoughts stay focused on the task at hand. I want to find a solution, want to solve the struggle I face. Yet each step I take pushes me further away. A simple two-word search reveals over 11 billion results. I can’t sift through all of them; I must narrow the parameters to reach my goal. Two words, yet the results contain actions and remedies unrelated to my dilemma. I glance at the clock on my computer screen: 2:45 P.M.
The room has been designed to eliminate distractions: pale blue walls, one window with the curtains drawn, the sunlight blocked from bathing me in its warmth and comfort, yet some light crawls along the walls. Except for the laptop and a pen standing watch on my notepad, my desk is bare, like the words on the page. The screen mocks my inability to create an aphorism or an effective acrostic with my writing.
One definition contradicts another, so I wonder if either one will help me. Each ‘solution’ is subjective, none a one-size-fits-all approach. Guidelines. I need strict guidelines, then I will succeed. Onto the next recommendation. This article looks promising, but the misspelling of the word suffer (sufer?) in the first sentence makes me doubt its ability to guide me. I can create reason after reason for not doing something; why can’t I do the opposite?
Perhaps I will take notes, highlight the phrases or actions that can solve my challenge. Maybe I will combine the onslaught of definitions into something that makes sense to me, a way to go forward and not allow the distractions to overwhelm me. Yet to solve my initial problem, I must learn how to address two other problems. So now I have three problems! The simple solution is elusive, but I continue the journey.
Possibilities abound as I search, click and scroll. Each word related yet many create a journey to a new location, away from my planned destination. The colors on the screen flash, the Influencers try to make me want to be like them, the ‘hashtag this,’ and ‘wow is that trending,’ assault me. Social media permeates so much that I must add filters to narrow my focus.
Rewards can be fleeting, like mist on the moors. “Sign up for this and receive…”, “Watch this video for a chance…”. The ads never cease, yet they are comforting in their variety. Each one attempts to solve my plight, and my current ordeal prevents me from looking away. Keyword matching they call it, yet my keyword isn’t listed on this page.
Often times, I wonder if something or someone does this to me on purpose. What better way to drive me mad than to subject me to this onslaught of images, colors, and sounds. Their purpose can’t be to make me crazy, as they want something from me, more than I am willing to give. However, each link and each click drag me deeper into oblivion. Where, contrary to its meaning, oblivion is not empty; it is filled, overflowing, never ending.
Can I take what they give me and make it into something better? Perhaps, yet the choices are staggering. A mask of contradiction, each promises to solve some challenge, tailored to my profile, yet how can they know? I click on the link, hoping this time the solution will present itself, yet based on past experiences, I doubt its sincerity.
‘Recreate the perfect memory, one that is guaranteed to bring you happiness.’ Some ads are obvious in their transparency; how can they guarantee happiness? If I am not satisfied, what is the return policy? No matter, other sites are less intrusive, yet don’t have exactly what I need either.
Alone in my head, my thoughts my own, I don my headphones and play some smooth Jazz to drown out the external noise. Car horns blaring mixed with disjointed screams from beyond my window, and the occasional, “Act now!” bellows through the speakers on my computer. Blotting out the noise will help me focus. I close all the tabs and start again: still 11 billion results.
Splitting my time between distractions and my goal, I continue the journey. Yet new explanations and more complications appear that overwhelm my psyche and force me to make choices. Does this solve my problem? What if I postpone clicking on that link? Will I ever get that choice again? Or do I ‘Act Now’ as the pulsating popover says? I must focus and not let the diversions overwhelm me.
Time, fleeting and finite, and once gone cannot be regained. The sun leaks through a crack in the drapes, a sign it is late afternoon. Have I been at this for 4 hours already? I look at my progress so far and see my paper filled with scribbles and disconnected phrases. Perhaps in the maze of words I can find a solution. I underline a phrase: delaying tactics. Yes, that will yield results.
Inside I go, down the rabbit hole, looking for the elusive answer. But wait, what’s that? “Click here for a free eBook!” Yet once I do, another window opens, asking for information, my personal details. Next! More and more data, yet not what I need right now. But I’ll come back to this one later.
Nothing can stop me, not this time! I stumble upon a clean site with all the right keywords. This might be it. I read the description: “Do you search for solutions yet find none? Are you distracted by the unending barrage of useless insights? We can help!” Ugh. Another advertisement.
A simple article about the Large Hadron Collider and a new discovery catches my eye. An unbeknownst particle was discovered that could revolutionize space travel. Oooohhh. I am intrigued, and as I keep reading, the cracks of sunlight around my drapes disappear. More time wasted; I’ve got to get back on track.
The light in my room automatically clicks on, sunset the trigger for that action. The artificial yellow glow of the bulb bathes the walls, changing their pale blue into a weird, greenish color. Another thread unraveled and I wonder if I can spend just a few more minutes searching for that logo I saw the other day, hoping to discern its meaning. Random topics, yet in the moment, each one as vital to me as my original query. This article says to follow the 7 steps to a better me. Well, I do want to be a better me, but better how? More focused or less focused? More choices or fewer? Each click takes me further from my goal.
I slap my cheeks and rub my hands over my face; the vigorous movement will help me stay on track. Didn’t I need some razors? The scruff on my jaw wasn’t long, but maybe I should research that service that will deliver them once per month. Maybe, but after I solve my main problem. After.
Night falls. My stomach growls, but I swear an oath: no food until I have written at least 1000 words on my topic. Setting deadlines and rewards are common solutions. I can do it. I create a new blank document; the cursor blinks at me with a rhythm that says, ‘I’ll be here for you, waiting for you to guide me. I am in no rush.’ Mocking, my mind says, but I decide not to listen. Yes, that blinking cursor will help me, will allow me to remain on course.
Gripping my head with both hands, I close my eyes. The words bubble in my mind, each one connected to the last. I blink to clear the haziness and begin typing. No more web searches, no more distractions. It’s time to complete this assignment. In a matter of minutes, I finish. The word count at the bottom of the pages stands at 1363 words. I sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. I scroll back to page one; the title reads: Stop Procrastinating. I review the beginning of each paragraph: a successful acrostic to boot! Time for bed now; I can review all the other insights I discovered today during my journey tomorrow.