My Fragmented Days

All I wanted to do yesterday afternoon was sit down and watch a movie. I’d picked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because I’d been listening to John Le Carré’s new memoir and thought it would make for an interesting pairing. The movie isn’t particularly long. But it took me something like five hours to get through it. Kelly had taken the two older kids to the movies, and I was home with the baby, and so of course there were interruptions. I’d pause the movie, and take care of the baby, then return to the movie.

All of this gave the film a disjointed feel that had nothing to do with the filmmaker’s intentions. Some of the pauses were brief—five minutes to change a diaper. Others were more extended—half an hour as I took the baby out for a walk so that they’d calm down a bit. Each time, I’d resume the film, with less and less attachment to it. Each time, I’d come back with less and less interest in what was happening.

It occurred to me at some point during this process that I cannot recall the last time I watched a movie straight through without interruption. If I had to guess, I’d says it’s been years. Even at the rare times I get to the movie theater, the kids are usually with us, and one or both will inevitably need to use the restroom just as things are getting exciting.

I was struck, at some point yesterday afternoon, with the sudden desire to see a movie straight through without interruption. And I felt a bit of momentary despair at the thought that it would not likely be possible for some years to come. In many respects, I’ve accepted this. In my writing, I’ve adapted to it. I’ve learned to be able to write surrounded by noise, and constant interruptions. But still, it would be nice to be able to put on a movie and watch the whole thing, end-to-end, in a single sitting.

This helps describe part of the reason I rarely watch shows on live television anymore. It’s not so much that commercials bother me—many of them are, in fact, very clever. But commercials are like the fragmentation grenades of story-telling. They make hash of the storylines. Their strategically placed interruptions in the story are thwarted by their increasing length. Sure, I want to know what happens next. But after four minutes of commercials, I really don’t care that much about that story.

Interestingly, this interrupt-driven annoyance seems to apply mainly to television and movies. Consider, for instance, reading a novel. That is almost equally interrupt-driven—at least for me, since rare is the time when I can read a novel cover-to-cover in a single sitting. But I do read them, sometimes just a few pages as a time, other times for hours. The kids will come by and ask for things. I’ll stop reading to take them to soccer games, or pick them up from school. Usually, I can pick up and resume where I left off without much fuss. Unlike with television or movies, I don’t lose interest in quite the same way.

But even with reading, I find the interruptions can spoil the enjoyment on occasion. And rarely can I find the tie to read for more than 30 minutes at a sitting without some sort of interruption taking place.

Often times the interruptions are delightful. My kids want to show me something, or the family is heading out for some activity. But these fragmented days do take their toll on my ability to draw enjoyment from something as simple as watching a movie.

Given the choice, I’d rather be out doing things with the family than sitting at home watching a movie. But every now and then, it sure would be nice to be able to sit down in front of the TV, and put on a movie, and watch the whole thing, end-to-end, without interruption.

I have a feeling those days are mostly behind me now.

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