The Area 54 Project
Six summers ago, I began to pay attention. It wasn’t exactly voluntary.
Helpful and clever people constructed a little proof for me, a series of logic statements designed to show me that if I didn’t start paying attention, bad things would happen. Exhibit One was that bad things had already happened. So I listened.
Twenty-one days is said to be the minimum time required to form a new habit, most of this based on a dusty idea (“Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz) and now pretty persuasively debunked. Habits are hard to come by, particularly if they’re ones you’re not all that excited about. It can take longer, in other words. It took me about a year.
But at the end of that hilarious year, during which I lurched and bounced and baked and thought a lot, I’d developed some attention-paying skills. I became a third-person secret agent, spying on myself, watching what I did.
And then I decided to take my new talent for observation into the real world to make changes. I started to gradually exercise, something that had been pretty theoretical for years. I managed to drop pounds. Other things. And I did this mostly in an old-fashioned way, a way that would have inspired Benjamin Franklin to coin the word “duh.” I wrote stuff down. I tracked stuff. I reviewed it, altered it, projected it, and did it. All of it worked out well, or I changed strategies until it did.
On June 20, 2011, aware that some of those lost pounds had found their way back home, and using my new iPhone with its magic apps, I started another round of paying attention. I tracked calories in and miles walked, minutes spent cycling to nowhere. I got rid of the weight over the summer, but the ease of having a little electronic notebook in my pocket kept me tracking. Through the fall, through the winter, through the spring.
And on June 20, 2012, I thought, huh. I’ve been keeping a record of trivial statistics for a year now. Cool. What next?
Since June 20 was also the first day of summer, and since we’d been told to expect a somewhat nicer summer season than in the past couple of years, I thought maybe I’d start keeping a daily record, just notes on the weather, memories to sustain me in November when we return to black and white. Or maybe just memories, because after all these years of writing about my particular uninteresting life, there’s one thing I’ve learned: It’s not how you remember it.
But weather didn’t seem like enough, so I added other trivia that might one day be interesting to dissect for patterns: What time I woke up, my overall mood, etc. I journaled, in other words, something I had not much enthusiasm for, and the consistency of that felt like just one more thing, another routine to relieve the chaos, not a big deal at all. Little notches made in the calendar, not to mark time passing and not to seize the day, but to save it. I want to save the day. Like Mighty Mouse. If a little less ambitious.
And then I grasped my theory about being 54, that I was quickly moving into statistical insignificance, and here we are. I’ve decided to blog my Last Meaningful Year.
There’s no plan here, understand. And of course this is self-serving, a way to restart the engines, warm up the fingers, find a phrase. Blogging is starting to feel archaic, or at least quaint and weird, but I still have affection for the form. I’m not changing anything, mood or style or attitude, either. I don’t want to save the world, just the day, as I said. This is an experiment in retention only, in paying attention, knowing the alternative. Here we go, then: 364 left. I feel better already.