Everyone is guilty of it at one time or another. Drifting. Daydreaming. Mind wandering. Life is short but there are things that are tough, things we need to just “get past” or “get through.” We complain that there aren't enough hours in the day. We wonder when this day will end. It's a state of supreme paradox. I drive better when my mind wanders, when I listen to the radio or think about work or things I have to do, when I'm not thinking. When I do, as with this morning and tonight, I get odd panic attacks. I get really tired. My pulse slows down. It seems like I've stopped breathing, but I'm probably hyperventilating without realizing it. It was a rough ride home after a good workout, which is odd because exercise usually perks me up, and I had the best treadmill run I've had in months, although during cool down mode my pulse dropped from 173 to 64 in record time. I don't know if I can trust the instrumentation on those things though. I can't rule out the psychological factor of seeing the number 64 and subsequently feeling weak. I drove home without pulling over, without giving in. There were many stretches of road in which I realized I was driving without concern or symptoms, only to induce them upon the realization. It's definitely an uphill battle.

I was in a fog before I went to gym though. This morning I had a meeting, and those always mess up my brain for the rest of the day. Once a month I meet with my team to show them printouts of the catalog I'm working on, as well as discuss what they want for the next issue. Generally exhausting in themselves, the meetings also leave me with the big question of “What Do I Do First?” upon returning to my desk. It seems to get worse as I get older. I'll decide to work on one thing at a time, but constantly change in the middle. After the meeting, I saw that several illustrators had e-mailed me sketches for book jackets I was designing. These had to be forwarded to my editors with my thoughts and subsequently when they added their feedback, I needed to reply to the artists. Several times I started writing one e-mail, had another one come in, and forgot I had the e-mails sitting open and unfinished. Then there was a phone call about a new jacket I was commissioning. The artist was unavailable but his agent had e-mailed me samples from other clients. I had to review those, and suggest alternatives to my editor. Suddenly, it was lunchtime. An excursion to a friend's home to play video games seemed like a good diversion at the time, but possibly only made things worse.

By 4:00 I was utterly bewildered. I hadn't even touched the catalog we had discussed in the morning, not one page. I had revised a logo on ONE JACKET DESIGN that my boss had asked me to fix shortly after the meeting. I had no idea where the afternoon had gone. I had typed up a request for missing images to submit with a layout to our prepress department, and then forgot it was in the printer. Several times I launched a program only to forget what I was about to work on. I was continually distracted by the sounds around me and had difficulty focusing. The woman across from me was very loudly yelling at her teenage daughter on the phone, that “NO IT IS A BIG DEAL!!!! A ‘D' IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!! WHY AREN'T YOU DOING YOUR HOMEWORK?? BECAUSE IT'S HARD? YOU STILL HAVE TO DO IT!!!” She slammed the phone down and exasperatedly related the tale to her cubicle neighbor, who in all fairness probably had pieced the story together as I had from the mother's half of the conversation. She suggested checking the girl's homework, or calling the teachers to check when the kid comes home and says she doesn't have homework. The mother was not hearing it and complained she didn't have time for all that. It was a rare moment that I was glad my parents had time to check my homework, and be skeptical when a teacher didn't give me any or I had less than three hours worth of assignments at the end of the day. I was never an ‘A' student and I never became rich from my chosen profession, but I can't say I ever brought home a D.

The woman in the cubicle next to mine is contagious in many ways. All afternoon I was listening to her hacking and coughing, and telling friends on the phone how her cold “just comes and goes.” She was also telling everyone in sight how overwhelmed she was, and how she just wasn't being productive. It made me question my own struggles. Were we inefficient, or was it just too much work? This woman was frantic because she was taking a single vacation day and though she had a freelancer coming in to cover for her, still wasn't making the progress she wanted to make. Around 6 PM one of our in-house illustrators passed by, wearing a jacket and hat and clearly headed out in to the cold. He joked with me that I could go home and he meant to tell me that earlier. In the middle of our conversation she just started talking to him about assignments she needed him to do while his supervisor was out, and he mentioned that he was swamped and probably wouldn't get to anything before Monday. It was in one ear and out the other as she continued and explained she was out the rest of the week and wanted to be at peace knowing something was getting done. He continually told her they'd discuss it Monday but she simply started explaining what she wanted him to do verbally. He obviously wasn't taking notes and wasn't going to get to her artwork in the next day and a half, and though it was late and he was leaving, she was in another place, a work-induced fog. At one point she complained that she'd have to come in tomorrow or Thursday to pick up a package because she had ordered gifts that hadn't arrived yet. She used the work address because she was “never home.”

So I looked at the folders I was organizing, at the torn cover sheets that I had filled out and trashed when I realized I'd used the wrong ones, and thought about the ugly fog in the mirror before me. I shut down my computer, turned out my lights, and just let it all go. It's too much. All around me people who HAVE spouses and children and lives surround themselves in this fog that they don't seem to see. Only by seeing others in it could I see myself in the same fog. At some point these people must have had more than work to have gotten married and had kids, two things I never did. What the hell was I doing there at 7 PM in a daze, doing crappy work because it was too much and I was mentally and physically exhausted? Fueled by a sudden clarity, I went to the gym and had an awesome run. I still had a rough ride home because I think the damage had been done already, and one exercise session won't mend accumulated stress and fatigue.

Kevin Spacey had a great line in American Beauty which I watched tonight, about feeling like he'd spent most of his life in a coma and was suddenly waking up. The Fog is a dangerous and seductive trap, and many of us have rare escapes from zombie-like states. I like those moments of clarity, when I feel like I'm fully breathing and my head isn't in a vise. I like being aware and alive. I have to figure out a way to experience those times more frequently than I do. I hope it's not a natural numbing that occurs with age. Spacey's character explores radical and dangerous solutions to achieve his state of truly being alive, none of which I'm inclined to try.

I will say this; writing is one of my solutions. Organizing my jumbled thoughts into rants and rambles like this often helps me to focus and break through the fog. Ironically, work clears my head too, when I'm not tired or overwhelmed and I'm getting things done. Like most things in life, I guess it's just a question of balance.


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