I like it. Book is fun.
I was contacted by a promoter about doing a review of this book and I agreed. I like reading and writing, so why not? When I got the book, though, I remembered that book recommendations from other people are a complicated business. You see, being a writer and writing teacher, having degrees in creative writing, I’ve developed a sensitive aesthetic when it comes to books. Sort of the way my wife, a musician with a highly trained hear cannot stand the blues because of all the note bending, so do I have a sensitive ear for language—the other night at the poetry workshop I go to, for instance, I had to explain at length why I loved a poem except for the word “imaginary” that stuck out like a wrong note and ruined the whole effect for me. Yep. I’m that guy.
So this business of “oh, here’s a book you might like” is a precarious situation. I read many many books, but I cannot read every book I start. If something in the writing puts me off, then I’m done. It’s like being set up on a date by your parents. Or when my wife’s uncle and I first met; we’re both English professors, so people assumed we would hit it off (we did, eventually; I can almost get past his specialty in 18th century British literature, when everyone knows the 19th century is where it’s at).
So I received Kevin Roberts’ book Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD with this trepidation. Roberts is a writer and stand-up comedian and ADHD coach, and I automatically think hmm, too many job titles, a jack of all trades and master of none. Even though I fancy myself an English professor, blues guitarist, poet, blogger, publisher, woodworker, yoga-meditation-contemplative educator, and, well, okay, maybe three isn’t so many.
I was also wary of the cover. It seems like the other 1,001 self-help books out there, promising hope that only if you read this book, you will fix everything in our lives. My Buddha self bristles at that; the only real problem (that voice says) is our own desires, created by the same media-advertising complex that created the self-help industry in the first place, and that little (or great) feeling of unease that we all have is called suffering and the Buddha says through meditation and mindfulness we take on the desire directly, rather than the impediments to fulfilment. Were he alive today, his book would be The Buddha: How to Eliminate the Self and Achieve Nirvana in Eight Easy Steps.
Anyway, I start reading, and my English professor/literary self starts to get a bit critical. Too many linking verbs; cut the word count by 5%. I read a lot of memoir as well and am a humor addict, so I have a high standard there (like, David Sedaris). So some of the humor’s not working for me at first.
But then I read the most apt description of my own experience with ADHD I’ve ever read:
Procrastination, although an often annoying and self-sabotaging behavior, can serve to increase cerebral arousal. ADHDers often talk about needing intensity in order to get motivated to work. While it may always seem like an unproductive behavior, leaving things until the last minute creates a crisis, which then creates the level of neurotransmitters and cerebral arousal needed to stimulate the brain enough to focus on the task. This is why many ADHDers function well in jobs that require crisis and intensity.
This quote puts together what I’ve read about ADHD neurospychlogy with my experience. If I had this explanation ten years ago then maybe . . . . It also explains that although I started this review a month ago, I only really got going last night. Okay, early this morning. Okay, like 10:00 this morning.
This book is, like most ADHDers, a combination of many things: memoir, humor, psychology, and self help. There are bits of science intertwined with stories of therapies gone well (and wrong) as well as the adventures of growing up with undiagnosed ADHD in a house full of similar minds: “my family made me seem normal, despite a stream of negative messages from the outside world.”
For instance, here’s my favorite joke from the book:
If, when you ask your kid, “How many times do I have to tell you,” she answers, “Forty-five,” she might be ADHD . . . and a smart aleck. And, by the way, she is actually correct.
I am reminded of the number of times my wife has told me not to leave the freezer lid open downstairs . . . I better go check it now.
I am also frequtenlty reminded of myself reading this book. For instance, he writes that ADHDers are attracted by get-rich-quick schemes “because we value our independence and bristle at authority . . . . We prefer to be on our own, but often lack the skills that we need to be independently successful.” This week I am on my own with the kids because my wife is visiting her mom on the East Coast, and I encouraged her to go and looked forward to the opportunity to get some solitude (after the kids go to bed). I imagined all the things I would get done!
Instead I am reminded how difficult it is to stay on schedule without another grownup around (I just get done with the dishes with the last meal—after stretching out the task taking too many Law and Order breaks—and these kids want to eat again!) and I have wasted my “alone” time playing Bioshock. Another quote: “I, like many ADHD adults, used to hide in front of my computer screen, playing games, not answering my phone for hours on end, and disengaging from the world.” HAVE YOU BEEN SECRETLY FOLLOWING ME AROUND, KEVIN ROBERTS??? No, that’s first-person-shooter paranoia. (Have you seen Bioshock, though? It’s Art-Deco meets The Fountainhead meets Night of the Living Dead. Three of my favorite things: aesthetics, overconfident philosophers getting their comeuppance, and zombies.)
So I realize that my initial reaction of, eh, too many things going on in this book was actually rooted in jealousy, in that I wanted more of it to be about me. He offers advice to parents, spouses, and teachers of children and adults with ADHD. Some of it seems radically simple, but good. For instance, he has a chapter titled “Do The Opposite” which begins thusly:
Trying to help an ADHDer create lasting change can be a thankless task, if not an exercise in futility. . . . The first mistake most people make is thinking ADHD folks are just like them. If ADHDers could conform to accepted behavioral standards, armchair wisdom holds, their troubles would be over. Many of the choices we ADHDers make seem counter to logic and reason . . . . Often, the more [people] try to help the ADHDer, the more they succeed in pushing that person away.
The result of a long conversation I had last week with my wife—rather, a long argument—was a brilliant solution she came up with. When she wants me to get something done, rather than ask me to do it, and then reminding me later that I agreed to do it, and then getting fed up with my excuses and further promises, she decided instead that she will “hire” me for jobs, just say “can you work for me from one to three on Saturday,” and she will tell me what to do then. I actually get a lot done when I can focus on something, such as pulling weeds from the side bed. I need to get started. When I go outside I see the weeds, and the brush pile that needs to go to recycling, and the old television antenna that needs to come down, and paint that needs to be repaired, and the driveway that needs to be replaced, and the stump that needs to be pulled, and the garage that needs to be cleaned out, and, and, and. So although I seem to resist being told what to do, I instead resist piling a job on the could-you-get-this-done-soon stack. Just having time set aside to focus on a task (with another grownup around) is relief.
I’ve also tried the “do the opposite” strategy with my kindergarten son who shows signs of ADHD. I realized, after reading this chapter, that no matter how hard I try, I cannot make him hurry, unless I physically move him or get him dressed or whatever. And, he resists changing activities most of the time; every night, he resists going to bath time, even though he loves to have a bath. So, this opposite strategy means that in order to make him move, I have to make things a game, a joke, silly fun time. For the attention-typical world, that would be a delaying strategy, but it makes things go faster and smoother with him.
Furthermore, one of his pieces of advice is to create the sort of intensity ADHDers need to get going. There are many strategies for this, but they are less crazymaking than the usual procrastination/crisis strategies ADHDers seek. In order to finish this review, for example, I created all sorts of bad mojo in my life, but here I am cranking it out, getting juiced by the creative energy, the sparking assoications (I have a friend named Mojo and he’s a nice guy), feeling energized and a sort of calm even though I felt raving and stuck last night. He has strategies for creating that creative intensity without all the self-flagellation and constant disappointment.
So, in order not to risk giving away the whole movie in the preview, I’ll stop there. And I’ll go re-read this book. In fact, even though I got the free copy, I’m buying it for my Kindle, so I can re-read and re-highlight it. And stop spying on me, Kevin Roberts!