Casey Schwartz writes a memoir and social history mash up in Attention, A Love Story. She’s a thirty-something woman who started using Adderal, a drug to treat ADHD, in college. But she took it without being diagnosed. It’s just one of those things college kids do, right? Then, ten years later, she was still addicted to the focused and invincible way it made her feel. And yet, kicking it also made sense. This memoir is her struggle to pick a side.
Schwartz uses her research skills to find references in literature and history about attention. The ability to pay full attention is what she craves. And she knows she’s not the first person to analyze why it’s so difficult to actually focus intently. So she reaches back into the works of writers like William James, David Foster Wallace, and Simone Weil.
Alternatives to prescription medication, like ayahuasca or psilocybin mushroom, might be an option. And this thinking leads Schwartz to the works of Michael Pollan and Gabor Maté. In fact she interviews the latter and attends a few of his workshops.
As a child of the digital age, she delves into screens and Silicon Valley. No surprise, she discovers that people developing technology don’t like using it. And through it all, Schwartz shares personal experiences from college to career to family.
First and foremost, this is the memoir of a privileged woman. She the daughter of accomplished parents who attends an Ivy League college. And she’s not sure she’s good enough. Hence, the attraction of a boost. It will help her conquer the feeling of inadequacy. But in the end, knowing her focus comes with an addiction outweighs the benefits.
As she writes this book, her primary job is journalism and writing. Both of which pay sporadically and poorly. Yet, Schwartz travels the world in pursuit of attention. As much as her experience and research were interesting, I can’t divorce the book from my feelings about privilege. And Schwartz doesn’t come out on the winning side.
After recently reading the excellent Catch and Kill from Ronan Farrow, Schwartz’s #metoo story fell flat. Farrow chronicles harrowing experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Schwartz discovers that her dad’s long-time career is derailed by vague accusations of impropriety. At least that’s all she shares in her book. Yet she uses that experience as her trauma when attending a Maté workshop. Not equivalent in my view.
However, if you’re curious about Adderal, attention, and alternatives, give Schwartz’s book a try. I readily found a copy on my library’s digital shelves.
Pair with Know My Name for a compelling first-person #metoo story. Or check out Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind for an exploratory journey into hallucinogens for psychological and medicinal use.
Watch a Crowdcast book tour stop with Casey Schwartz on replay.