When I think of the word “focus,” I see camera flares dancing across my line of view in little sparks of coral pink and electric yellow spheres. I see binoculars hanging from my neck and headphones resting on my ears as I press my head against the shaking, dirt-splattered bus window. In front of me is an empty page, a thick pen.
Then there’s a solitary bench, facing a diorama in my favorite place in the city, the Museum of Natural History, and I’m sitting there, eyes peeled open, gazing at the unmoving whale and giant squid. My mind has tunnel-visioned until all I see, all I am aware of, is the darkness in the corners of the display and the scratchy texture of the animals’ skin. For a moment, I lose myself. I am entirely focused on this one image in front of me, and I’m liberated by the lack of distractions, by the sole image that has possessed my mind. I am able to dissolve into the atmosphere. For the first time in a long time, a strange sense of tranquility washes over me.
Sometimes, I find myself thinking too much. In school, between worksheets and quizzes, there’s always a few minutes that can be filled in a multitude of ways. If I’m not talking to my best friend or jotting down my homework on my phone, then I’m lost in my thoughts. I get that odd tunnel vision as if I’m sitting in the Museum of Natural History, staring at my favorite diorama, and my mind seems to twist its figurative zoom until the world around me blurs into one big mesh of background noise. Unblinking, my eyes stare at a particular point across the room, and my vision becomes cloudy. I am swirling in a stream of consciousness.
I like to believe that in these moments, I come up with my best ideas. It could be a premise for a new story, a blog post, or a play. It could be a method that’ll help me finish that project in under two hours. Maybe, in that lapse of communication with the universe, in that series of moments when all I am is a mind and an unbroken string of thought, I finally come to terms with something that’s been plaguing me for far too long. Maybe I realize what TV show that song stuck in my head is from. Maybe I begin to understand what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant in the closing lines of one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Whatever my mind is intently focused on, I relish those moments of absolute solitude. Again, that strange sense of tranquility overtakes me, and I am at peace.
I like to attribute these moments to my introversion, to my tendency to retreat into my head sometimes, to the inclination I have for thinking before speaking, and to my love of getting lost in a sea of thoughts rather than the sea of the world around me. As my favorite author Ned Vizzini once said in his novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story, “I don’t owe people anything, and I don’t have to talk to them any more than I feel I need to.”
I think of this quote often, when I need to remind myself that it’s okay to put on my metaphorical binoculars and utilize my brain in the way it was hardwired to be used. That’s because when I disappear into the camera flares of focus, a whole new world (cue Aladdin music) opens up in front of me. I can dissolve into my own head and feel no guilt for I’m creating something brilliant as ideas become tangible realities. And if I channel this focus into writing a story, finishing a project, preparing for a test, recalling a vivid dream, or remembering the exact plot and character arc from a movie I love, then I finally feel I’m doing something right.
When I return to the real world, I’m a bit more intact as if another puzzle piece has floated into the correct place—as if the (perhaps unsolvable) enigma of my life is one step closer to being solved. And that sense of serenity may disappear, but the product of my moment of solitude will, somehow, stay with me forever.