I recently watched The First Monday in May on Netflix. At one point, filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai spoke this post’s title to the Curator of the Met Gala’s accompanying exhibition. He was referring to the exhibition itself and cautioning not to make it “too busy,” because “seeing too much is seeing nothing.”
What a line! Immediately scribbled down in my notes, that thought stuck with me more than anything else in the film (although it was quite a beautiful documentary, and well worth the watch). It got me thinking about the sensory overload we are all subjected to on a daily basis, which only impairs the increasingly difficult task of focusing on, and fully experiencing, one thing at a time.
This is something I have been working on.
There is anywhere from 10 to 30 webpages open on my computer at any given time, which I cycle through, giving each a moment of attention before quickly moving on to the next. Articles are left halfway read, blog posts are abandoned in their second (or sixth) drafts, and emails are opened, but not read or responded to entirely. Images are expanded into a million layers in Photoshop and left for later. Spotify playlists are left to their own defenses. How did I end up on that song?
Maybe this all sounds familiar.
I justify this mess with the productive-sounding label of “multi-tasking.”
I will get to everything. Eventually.
This approach can work, and does work for me a lot of the time (there is a method to my madness!).
But is my procrastinating/multi-tasking nature bleeding into other areas of my life, preventing me from really seeing, experiencing, and giving my full attention to any one thing?
I have tried to rectify this distraction-driven habit recently with some experimenting. Putting rituals around things has helped, as many of them require me to pair down tasks and execute goals within personally applied parameters.
Other successes have come from deciding that when I start reading something on the internet, I’m going to finish it, no matter what. And setting a timer before diving into something has been a fruitful pursuit, because I can give anything my full attention for 20 or 30 minutes.
But are any of these experiments enough to make a real change?
I dream of my life mimicking the experience of walking through the Met’s exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass (the subject of the documentary that spawned this post). Each room seemed to engulf the visitor with utterly inspiring visuals, and also set a unique tone for a specific emotion. By demanding your attention, visitors couldn’t help but focus on what surrounded them.
But life is not an immersive art exhibit (as much as I would love it to be).
More importantly, though, life is definitely not an immersive drowning
in social media, emails, advertising, and the like.
From my ever-optimistic stance, I believe there can be a balance.
The word “curate” has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, as people over-applied it to things like their Instagram feeds or playlists (myself included), which trivialized the work that actual curators do.
But what if you maintain curate as a private mindset for how you navigate through your own life? Perhaps it can take on a different tone.
Curating my life to match the intention of seeing and feeling and experiencing everything, with the undivided awareness it all deserves, looks something like this:
- Giving whatever is in front of me (article, friend, performer, movie, etc.) my full attention
- Shutting down my iPhone and laptop often, and forgetting those worlds entirely
- Getting outside and into the deep depths of nature where there is silence and overwhelming beauty
- Daily meditation practice
- Making food from scratch – the ultimate task that demands full attention
- Along the same lines, creating art by hand – I am currently back in the ceramics studio weekly, creating some exciting new things
- Visiting places like museums, bookstores, etc. where contemplation, inspiration, and provocative thinking comes with the territory
- Drastically editing what I am subscribed to, following, and subjecting myself to on the interwebs
- Taking the time to clean up my spaces, respect my belongings, and cultivate a sense of beauty in and around my home
Each of these activities have served me well, and inspire me to seek more of “less.”
I often feel as if I’ve reached peak internet, merely circling around the same spheres of “content” where there seems to be a lot happening but in actuality, there isn’t. I’m sure you can relate.
As active as I may seem within this space and on other social media platforms, I am consciously detaching from them more and more. I focus on the creation stage intensely, then retreat once the finished piece has been released. Restructuring my time so that more of it is dedicated to the art of real life has been quite a fulfilling endeavor.
The black hole of monitoring likes, followers, and stats only serves to distract me from what is real, adding to the cloud of nothing, which can be disguised as a hell of a lot.
As we head into the weekend, maybe this thought will stick with you as well.
Are you seeing a lot,
but not experiencing any one thing fully?
It’s worth the contemplation.