what we attend to shapes us

Labyrinth Habitat mural by Johanna Poehig;  I wake up from layered and complicated dreams. There are things I want to tell you about, but it’s not time for them yet. The alarm goes off at 4, and I think, I could just snooze for a little bit, and then I forget to press snooze, and now it’s after 5.

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The Fall writing workshop series begins next week — Write Whole: Survivors Write starts on Monday, and we do still have a couple of spaces left! Friday is the last day to register — if you have been thinking about joining us and giving yourself and your stories a regular, weekly writing time, please do contact me.

Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture; a good time for me to go through recent notebooks and find a story that I want to work more with. Have you seen the  call for submissions for Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology? If you’ve participated in this latest round of the erotic reading circle (since about 2006), we want your stories and poems!

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We’ve started leaving the door to the puppy’s kennel open at night, so she can get up and come out when she’s ready in the morning. So far, she seems to stay in there all night, only getting out after I’ve been up and at the computer working for awhile. Right now she’s here with me in the office, digging behind the office door for something. All I hear is snuffling and claws scraping carpet, not hard, but persistent. I say her name, and she stops. She’s ready to go outside, but it’s still dark out. When she first came home with us, it was light at 4 or 4:30, and we could go out then. The earth’s rotation is thwarting our early morning walk.

There’s something about putting the work we believe in the most at a centered place in our day. How does that work for you? For me, it means writing first — whether that’s journaling, morning pages, blogging, freewriting on a story. Not editing, but generating new words, first thing in my day.

A message I heard this weekend talked about this idea that what we pay attention to, what we attend to, reveals what we love, and shapes who we’re about to be:

Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.

What is the center of your life? Carefully examine where you spend your attention, your time. Look at your appointment book, your daily schedule. These things – these meetings, errands, responsibilities – this is where you dedicate your precious days, hours, and moments. This is what receives your care and attention – and, by definition, your love.

We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, this is the kind of person you will eventually become. Is this what you want?

— Wayne Muller

When I was listening to this message, I was thinking about how I shoved what I loved most to the far edges of my life, for years, in order to protect those things: writing, femininity, deep connection with other people. What I actually paid attention to was my stepfather’s desires, how he wanted me to be in the world, the work he expected me to do. That, plus I paid attention to his moods and emotions — I did these things, attended to these things, for my own survival. So, what did this reveal about what I loved? That I loved him more than writing? That I loved his moods more than my mother’s or my sister’s? I certainly gave his more attention —

I understand the core of this message, this idea: what we focus on shapes our days, shapes what will come for us. If I spend three hours writing today, I have that writing to work with tomorrow, and I am closer to having something to submit to an anthology next week. If I spend five minutes today attending to the state of my own body, I may be beginning a pattern that will let my body know that its states of being matter to me — what does that mean? I mean, if I pay attention to my body today, by next week, I might be sitting or moving differently because I paid attention to what my body needed. Every small action toward or in service of what we love builds up that place in us. Think about a ball of rubber bands: begin with one tiny band, add one more and one more, do this over a period of months, and you end up with a baseball-sized collection. Small actions, small attentions, add up to big ones.

Let this be a write for today: what aren’t you or your character attending to that you want to be? Take 10 minutes for that part of yourself today, and write about it. Or write about how you make space for what you love by attending to it. Just turn your attention to a part of yourself (or apart of your character) that you want to grow, and let the writing flow from there. (This could be a good morning for a love letter to the body, if it’s the body that needs some attention.)

Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. And be easy with you, ok? One small step, every day, that’s all. That’s powerful beginning.

Thank you for your attentiveness, your witness, your awareness, your tender ferocity. Thank you for your words!

One response to “what we attend to shapes us

  1. Love the picture!

    I also appreciate the peice on attention that you’ve added here. And, holding it up next to the statements and questions concerning your step father, I’m inclined to note the difference between ‘attention’ and ‘intention’.

    A school teacher now an immagrant In foreign land must pay attention to how she handles to sharp hoe used to pull weeds and food from the land. Her attention is on her safety and efficiency so she makes her quotas. Her intention however is to make a connection somewhere that can help her land a job in a school, hopefully working with or as a teacher.

    And sometimes it’s more complicated than that. If one intends on being successful but mostly pays attention to their failures, can they still succeed? Yes, and it will take a lot longer, I imagine.

    I’m thinking now of the slaves in the fields (today and yesteryear,) when freedom comes those with the intention on freedom run. Everyones attention is on doing a good job and not being punished and for some that’s all they see/want.

    Maybe attention is a doing thing, not bad for all the reasons you stated; writing more brings more writing… And intention is a dream thing

    And it’s possible the rules apply totally differently to children/teens.

    Thanks for letting me wake up on your wall. Lots to consider.

    Now for coffee and a puppy walk!