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Jordan Gamble | Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I used to have extraordinary concentration. The summer after second grade, I sat on my bed and read an entire set of American Girl books in one go, from “Meet Felicity” all the way to “Changes for Felicity.” Then I would carry on the story with my Felicity doll for hours afterwards.

When I was older and too old to chain-read five books about a spunky, spritely girl growing up on the eve of the Revolutionary War, I was writing elaborate historical fiction of my own. I would type away at the family computer for hours, delving into all kinds of preteen angst set in pioneer times or Victorian England, until my mom kicked me off so she could use the accounting program.

My transformation from single-minded, streamlined completion machine to a lazy whiner surviving on haphazard fits-and-starts began in freshman year of high school, when our home internet connection became fast enough to make procrastinating effortless and instantaneous. Whereas I used to just power through my moments of writers’ block or boredom, I started taking those little windows of brain inactivity and shoving them full of Internet junk food.

Now? I can barely get through The Observer, let alone an entire novel. I suffer from a compound affliction — delusionally confident in my ability to cram and a crippling fear of actually starting anything because I know I’ll probably end up having to stay up to 5 a.m. to finish it. I doubt I have ADD — I’m just utterly incapable of conjuring up motivation.

In the marathon of college coursework — reading and writing and analyzing and synthesizing — I’ve convinced myself I don’t have the endurance for full-length, full-attention anything anymore, so I slow down from my laborious, stumbling jog (attempting a thesis sentence), sit down on a park bench (pull up Twitter) and let myself settle back into consumption without activity.

As I went into the month-long winter break (my last such respite, since I’m a senior and will forever abandon school calendars in May), I had every intention of reading like a maniac. I haven’t read a book for fun since the summer, so I went into the Tippecanoe County Public Library in my Indiana hometown and pulled out 12 books of varying lengths and topics. With four weeks of freedom ahead of me, I thought for sure I’d at least get through seven or eight of them.

Eh, not so much. I finished “Resurrection,” about Ara Parseghian’s first season, and “Hungry,” a memoir by the model Crystal Renn, in a flash, but mostly because I was stuck in the Denver airport for 29 hours during Christmas travel with nothing else to do. But once I got back to Indiana, I never did get past the first few pages of the other ten library books.

I really need to get a handle on this attention-span thing, since I’m diving into the real world of journalism soon and probably need to be able to focus on earning a paycheck and all that.

Maybe I’ll be okay if I can somehow only work out of the United terminal in the Denver airport — it’s a veritable incubator for concentration. I could have written a senior thesis on the American Girl books in that hell hole.

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Jordan Gamble at [email protected]