When I turned forty I was self-diagnosed with Short-Attention-Span Disorder, a condition
that persisted for one full year. I have never seen anything written in the medical or
psychiatric literature on SASD (including the research on ADHD. with which SASD is not
The neglect of the disorder -- which we are certain to see expressed much more fully in
Generation "M" -- makes it an "orphan disease." Its sufferers must thus pursue the
treatment and cure of SASD alone.
It is for them that I write this article.
The Etiology, Onset and Duration of SASD
Although there were a number of environmental conditions that contributed to my own
lengthy struggle with SASD, it is clear that I possessed a familial and genetic
pre-disposition to to it --including, most prominently, all of the natural character traits
and weaknesses of the Irish.
The environmental conditions triggering the onset of my own bout of SASD included
career stress followed by job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and the break-up of my last
relationship with the type of artist to which a substantial percentage of SASD victims are
attracted -- the painter, sculptor, poet, photographer and writer with Creative-Block
(CBS is another "orphan" disorder, ignored by medical science because its sufferers are
largely unable to make a living that effects the Consumer Price Index in any way. But that
discussion is for another time and place).
It is quite possible that I suffered from SASD for slightly more than a single year. Those
who would study my case can estimate its duration by making a timeline of the following
events, all of which I missed due to my inability to focus on television broadcasts of any
duration -- George Senior's Iraq War, the one preceding the more recent Iraq invasion
and post-war occupation; the destruction of the Berlin Wall by the people of East and
West Germany; and, the lone student facing down Chinese tanks in Tienanmen Square.
The Poetry that Saved My Life
All conventional treatments failed, including those suggested by friends and family,
including but not limited to getting more exercise; eating better; cutting down a little on
the drinking; joining a bowling league ("thanks for the advice, Mom"); chanting nam yo
ren-ge kyo; acupuncture; homeopathy; and, psychoanalysis, to name just a few.
I was about to despair of ever concentrating on anything other than the blade of grass I'd
been twirling in my fingers for many months when my friend the writer Richard Wirick,
mailed me the Collected Poems of Robert Creeley.
Because this Collection of Creeley poems was . . . . well . . . if not complete, pretty darn
comprehensive, I was able to quickly locate the first few written communications I'd been
capable of concentrating upon since the day of my 40th birthday (which went
uncelebrated due to the curfew imposed upon Los Angeles residents by local authorities in
response to "conditions" in the City, i.e., as I could see from my own balcony above
Sunset Boulevard, it was burning down).
Why Creeley? Allow me to demonstrate.
If you wander far enough
You will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit
for yourself only, in a nice chair,
and all your friends will be there
with smiles on their faces
and they will likewise all have places.
Short, Direct, and, Best of All, Comforting; "Austere" the Critics Say
Creeley's collection was full of gems like this. I consumed them. Then I went searching for
more. As time passed, I found myself able to read poems of three stanzas, then four or
Progression was slow, but sure. The poetry became more complex, layered, and
referential. I began to write poetry, because you cannot read it obsessively without being
caught in its spell, without beginning to take poetic "snap shots" of the vivid, continuous
sensory dream that only the poets seem to know we are all, each of us, living.
I believe poetry began to cure my SASD because it s-lo-o-ww-s things down. It engages
you. You engage it.
Below are just a few of the curative poems, listed in order of ease with which reading can
be done. This is not, I repeat, not a reflection on quality.
Each link will take you to a single poem of each author so you can decide for yourself
which poems are most likely to be useful to you as you commence your own SASD
r.kv.r.y. creative non-fiction winter 2008
the poetry cure for short-term-attention-span disorder
by victoria pynchon