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Staying focused: Joseph Cardillo.

Be More Attentive

Hudson Valley Community College English professor Joseph Cardillo begins his third book, Can I Have Your Attention?, with the story of how he came to the central idea that would frame his next 200 pages. It involves his then-3-year-old daughter pirouetting in a pink ballerina tutu before Cardillo had had his morning coffee.

“Delighted by her spunk and happiness,” he wrote, “I stopped what I was doing and bid her good morning. I complimented her dance moves, and then added that she should look out for a large toy that her younger sister had left parked on the floor.”

She didn’t seem to be listening to him, instead remaining enthralled with her own dancing. So, he repeated himself, this time adding, “‘Isabella, may I please have your attention?’”

She told him that wasn’t possible, and then, when pressed, explained: “Whispering,” he wrote, “as if she was letting me in on a big secret, ‘my attention is mine, so I can’t give it to anybody else.’ ”

It was a memorable thing to say, the kind of charming childhood truism that parents become accustomed to hearing from their sometimes surprisingly wise children. It was a concept that he marveled over. Was his daughter right? Is your attention something that is yours and no one else’s? Something that is co-opted by teachers and marketers and bosses as you age and compromise? And if so, what are the implications of this compromise? How do you regain ownership of your attention? How do you learn to better master it? Coincidentally (or maybe not), Cardillo had been mulling over writing a book about consciousness and these questions, this concept of ownership of your attention, stuck with him.

His first two books, Be Like Water and Bow to Life, are memoirs that explore the lessens that Cardillo was able to glean from his years as a martial artist and apply to life.

Can I Have Your Attention? is not a memoir, although it maintains Cardillo’s easy prose style and pleasurable voice. What his latest book is, he says, is a “dynamic piece of science journalism,” written equally to entertain with a first-person narrative, as well as to educate.

He interviews scores of scientists, researchers, and doctors to form a vision of what attention is—mentally—and how a person can master it. And while the book never trails off into the self-help genre, it does conclude it its final pages with some useful tips and exercises to hone and sharpen your attention skills.

—Chet Hardin

Joseph Cardillo will be holding a discussion and book signing for Can I Have Your Attention? tomorrow (Nov. 20) at 7 PM at Borders at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland.

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