Hello, Darkness by
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(48 Stories)

Prompted By Attention Span

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I have always been easily distracted. Mom used to joke that I had “the attention span of a gnat.” Later, when I was studying aquatic biology, I decided that mayfly was more accurate.

Mom used to joke that I had "the attention span of a gnat."

I think it’s becoming more pronounced, although quantification is impossible and it’s easy to blame one’s shortcomings on creeping senility. Or the internet. Computers. The media. Kids These Days. Or maybe it’s the near-constant drumbeat of ominous developments under which we all operate now; who can stay on-task when something terrible might suddenly crawl out from under the bed?

I don’t know. But I do remember the joy of spending hours immersed in something enjoyable. I actually remember the first time that I noticed such immersion as a phenomenon in and of itself.

I was a photographer and occasional reporter for our college newspaper. As such, I had keys to our darkroom in a house off campus, back when there were darkrooms. I learned some rudimentary techniques, and processed my own photoshoots. But one winter Sunday morning, I decided to use the paper’s darkroom to develop and print a roll or two that I had shot for myself. For a few hours I would immerse myself in the world of developer and stop bath, safe lights and enlargers, masks, dodging and burning. I’d forget about organic chemistry, Teresa, calculus and my precarious GPA.

When I emerged, it was full dark. The stars were out. I realized that a few hours in the darkroom had somehow become the entire day. I’d skipped both lunch and dinner and never noticed being hungry. For the rest of my time at college, the darkroom was my sanctuary, my chapel, my refuge.

Immersion.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre

A lot of things have happened in my life, but now I am mainly in it for Gina and the mountain biking.


Tags: concentration, flow, immersion, attention, refuge
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Dave, I can relate to all of this, and, while I’ve been too appropriately scattered to work on my story, I thought of having a photo of a gnat as a featured image. Your analysis of our shortening attention span is right on. I love how you found sanctuary in the darkroom and used it as a safe and wonderful place.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    This does sound like true ADD, Dave – you can focus forever on something that truly captures your attention, but not on anything that doesn’t. Your description of your time in the darkroom is awesome!

  3. Wonderful story and memory Dave and beautifully told.

    Despite Covid and all of the ills of today you’ve listed, may you continue to find joy in meaningful endeavors!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I well remember the darkroom—spent many hours during college photography class. The process of nursing the film into the result you hope for is a true creative effort, reflected in how the time just flew by when you were having fun. I suppose manipulating the digital image through photoshop or other software is also a work of art, but it doesn’t have quite the same analog satisfaction.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Khati, digital “darkroom” work indeed does not, for me at any rate, have the same intensity or fascination. I can speculate on a number of possible reasons, but one might be that the darkroom was physically a refuge, sanctuary and lair. One had to go to there, shutting out the rest of the world and its myriad distractions. Digital processing can be done anywhere.

      Also, I am extremely scent-oriented. The assorted smells of the photographic chemicals, mingling into one unique darkroom aroma, told my brain that I was in a special place, quiet, safe and removed from the mundane.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I really enjoyed your story, Dave, especially your experience in the dark room. Feeling immersed in something that interests you is a true joy. I felt that way working on my book, tacking photo book projects, and sometimes researching a topic that interests me. Sadly, most of the time, like you, I find daily life pretty distracting.

  6. Suzy says:

    I like the idea of the darkroom as a refuge, where you could immerse yourself for hours. And it makes sense that a digital darkroom wouldn’t have the same effect, not only because of the smells, but the actual darkness of a real darkroom.

  7. The final paragraphs were very evocative, even inspiring. A reminder of the pleasure of full immersion in a meaningful activity and how even the rest of the world feels harmonious (out to the stars) when one has had that kind of immersion. A welcome contrast to the woeful tales of lack of attention identified in your story and others this week.

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