A funny hand signal a college friend came up with became a huge inside joke among my writing group, then a regular column on a friend’s writing blog. How? Why?
Meet Focus Fox.
I’ve always been a lone studier. Throughout middle school and high school, group studying was usually brought on by a necessity, rather than a motivated plan. And why would it be any different? I’m an only child. Studying in my bedroom literally meant a quiet oasis of my own thoughts and my own independently controlled environment. I thrived in that world.
Then college blew it all to pieces for two simple reasons.
- You have roommates in college. Even if you hole yourself up in your room to study, there’s typically someone else there. Even if that other person is quietly studying as well, they’re still just there. Sometimes, that’s a comfort. Sometimes, if they’re sound asleep and you have 2 more hours of reading to do, it’s annoying. And it’s human nature, at some point, to talk when someone else is around. So you go to the dorm’s common room, where there are also people. Then you go to the library, where there are more people. I had to learn how to study around people, because there was literally no other option.
- In college, I loved my friends a little more than I loved my grades. Was studying with my friends the most efficient way to study? Almost never. Would I have been slowly cropped out of the friend group if I never ever did anything with them ever because I was always studying by myself? Possibly. Would I have gone crazy? Definitely. Some of my best college memories happened at 2am on finals week when we crammed ourselves into a room and whined at each other over our textbooks.
While making those fun memories, we did (at least occasionally) try to focus. To “help” with that, somewhere along the course of my freshman year, one of my friends introduced us to Focus Fox.
I never probed her about who taught her this gesture, where it came from, or why. At that point in my life, I still assumed that everything that everyone else knew was required knowledge for living that I’d somehow missed (and the things I knew were just uncool and irrelevant). So I blindly went along with focus fox– the hand gesture observed above, which we would shove in each other’s faces when we got too far off topic. We’d laugh about it, go back to work, eventually start talking again– wash, rinse, and repeat.
Fast forward four years or so, and I’ve landed in a new writing group in a new state with new people who think my bubbly naivete is just fascinating (a point that I was duly self conscious about, I assure you). They knew a lot of things I threw into the “required knowledge for living” category, partially by nature of them all being 10-30 years older than me. Surely I had nothing to really offer . . . until one day, one of my writing friends asserted that we really needed to focus that night. And I, loopy from caffeine and sleep deprivation, drew my index and middle finger to my thumb, brandished my hand at her enthusiastically, and proclaimed, “FOCUS FOX!”
Little did I imagine that the hand gesture would become an instant hit. I was badgered about where I learned such sorcery. I was again surrounded by people flashing Focus Fox at me when I got off topic– complete with a new sound effect that English letters can’t really do justice. Every time one of us says the word ‘focus’ now, my hand reflexively comes up. I make the fox with my fingers. My writing friends make it back. We are a focus fox tribe of focusing. Does it actually help us focus? Well . . . that’s debatable.
The biggest advancement from this interaction, however, was its adoption into my good friend’s writing blog as a “guest blogger” column.
She came up with an entire backstory for Mr. Focus Fox, who, as it happens, is not the least bit focused himself. His specialty is in taking famous quotes about life, writing, and anything in between, and getting a bit lost in the retelling. Did we ever stop to consider that perhaps Focus Fox wasn’t there to help us focus, but rather, that he was the force pulling all of our focus away? That brandishing the hand gesture in the faces of my friends was a condemnation of his sly abilities?
…Wait, what was I talking about?