When I was in ninth grade, I was sitting in biology class, mind wandering, when I noticed one of the buttons on my teacher’s shirt was unbuttoned. Let’s be clear: this wasn’t a sexy thing. She was a middle-aged woman with a dark brown bouffant who once made us use the biology concepts we had learned to explain why a handful of Far Side cartoons were funny (because nothing makes a cartoon funnier than having it explained to you in scientific detail).
The button was obviously an oversight on her part, hardly at the level of “wardrobe malfunction” that would cause my classmates to pay any mind. Even so, I noticed it, and a thought struck me. I’m not sure what sparked it, but I told myself in that moment, ‘I am going to remember this.’ I resolved to focus on this insignificant detail and remember it for as long as possible. I would remember it was a Thursday, and the rebellious button in question was the fourth one down. (I made no such resolutions to remember the content of the class, which is, predictably, totally lost to me now.)
It was an experiment I set for myself in a moment of boredom, and for the most part, it worked. Every so often, even more than fifteen years later, the memory of that lone button comes floating to the surface of my mind. While it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, the intention behind it somehow does. I can’t remember why I set myself the task of remembering, and I’m not a hundred percent confident that I have the day of the week or the location of the button correct, but the general memory remains in tact.
It’s a curious thing to me that something as insignificant as a button could be so easy to recall, and yet twenty-five percent of the time I walk into a room I can’t remember why (though a safe assumption is that I’m looking for snacks). And more often than not, the brilliant ideas I know will stay with me forever vanish into smoke the next time I try to recall them. I definitely can’t remember what the lesson was on The Day of the Button, nor can I remember most of what I learned in fifteen-plus years of schooling.
But the button remains.
I’d like to think I have the same capacity for focused intention that I had back in that moment in ninth grade. That if I really, truly wanted to commit something to memory I could do it. Fourteen-year-old me was not yet subject to the distracting twenty-four-hour tyranny of screens, so perhaps she had a strategic advantage when it came to remembering things for more than six seconds. Still, the potential for focus is surely buried somewhere in this jumbled mess of sensory input and occasional original thought I call my mind.
It may require throwing my phone out the window or feeding it to a bear, but I’d like to carve more time out of my life to commit to the practice of focus and intention. In a world of constant stimulation it can be hard to sit still; my eyes ping-pong inside my head all day and have gotten dry from staring, and almost every tidbit of knowledge I Google in a moment of curiosity is forgotten a minute later. When journaling, too many times I find myself unable to form a complete thought, much less write a complete paragraph, and in fits of frustration I think, ‘There has to be a better way!’
If that button is any indication, there is a better way. I just have to get back to it. I just have to get quiet, even bored, again. And from there…F O C U S . Make a point of it. Continue the experiment.
And, of course, remember to check my buttons before leaving the house.