So off I go to bed last night feeling pretty chuffed about this “project” Melanie and I have agreed to embark on this summer. Through the night, however, I woke up with a start and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I made a cup of hot chocolate, and sat in front of the fire in a half-awake, half-asleep stupor. Suddenly it hit me. Holy crap!
What I’ve done is conveniently put everything in a box somewhere in my mind … adding ideas and storing it there until we start the July project. What was I thinking? Come the first of July I’d suddenly be attentive? Instantly, be ready to take risks and reveal myself? Magically become more human? July was going to be marathon month. Not in terms of travelling physical distances perhaps, but the internal journey would be huge. Did I think I could simply walk in cold without rehearsing a bit or doing some warm ups?
Already I had started a list: spend time in a soup kitchen; invite myself on a swordfish boat; take part in some village socials; accept the invitation of a friend I’ve not seen for ages to come visit (she lives in an old house that was Yarmouth’s first hospital.)
I might find a secluded beach and swim in the nude. Or climb into a church belfry and ring the bells. I’d love to walk around one of our towns between midnight and 3 a.m. and see what’s going on and who’s around to chat with. Not your regular “touristy” things, but great fodder for a travel writer!
Then a little voice in my head piped up: Yeah, but those are action items: places to go, people to see, things to do. Doing “different” things is not the same as approaching things differently. That’s part of the deal. You promised to do things differently.
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I took a couple of deep breaths and let that wee “aha” moment crystallize. Congratulations old girl. You’ve just had your first lesson in paying attention. I finished the hot chocolate, went back to bed, and slept like a fish. (That’s what daughter Margo always said when she slept well because her gold fish never seemed to move during the night.) So I’d say the journey’s begun.
PS. The photos posted tonight are from Birchdale. One of my favourite places on earth, and only 30 minutes from where I live.
Oops. And I meant to ask, what does paying attention mean to you? I need to add some tools to my “pay attention” kit. Please hop aboard and join in the discussion!
Sandra, this new adventure you’ve taken on sounds life-changing. I hope it leads you on a similar journey to the one I’ve been on for about five years now. In my case, my journey started by attending a local event about social organizing. I didn’t know what I was getting into! Several of us got together to create a green committee which became a Transition group, and that led to an urban agriculture coop. Meanwhile, my business was starting to feel kind of stale, so I took up coaching with a fellow who motivates social entrepreneurs, including writers, massage therapists and a series of other people who want to change the world. Now I’ve combined all my interests into a single vision of living seasonally on the planet by writing in the winter and gardening in the summer and bizarrely, that’s enabled me to reexamine my business model and change how I do almost everything. It all feels so brand new! Along the way, I’ve connected to the most extraordinary people and reconnected to the amazing people I’ve always known, like you. One woman has spent the last few summers interviewing local seniors to create communities that help eliminate the isolation caused by bad health, poverty or distraction. She’s turning that into a series of oral reports. Thanks to Janice Hamilton, I also joined a group of genealogists working to write about their ancestors. These people are as obsessed about historical details and compelling writing as I am! It’s so much fun getting together once a month. And it all began by beginning to think about how nature works from the perception of this one place. When you think that way, you can’t help but see how small you are and yet at the same time, you get this awesome grateful feeling about the extraordinary gift that one life is.
Tracey, what a thoughtful, dear reply. I love your story and the transformation you’ve portrayed. And, how wonderful that you paid attention long enough to attend that local event about social organizing … followed by getting engaged with like-minded spirits! I’m thrilled you’ll be keeping tabs on “the project.” I may reach out if I feel like I’m getting de-railed! Thanks again for popping into view!
Hi Sandra, I loved reading your blog. I am in Germany and have embarked on a project that was inspired by the situation I have found myself in. When I came here I imagined myself working on one or two of the six writing projects that I have on the go but instead life sent me in a different direction. As you know I have lost several family members in the last 3 years. I’m sorry to say that another one died unexpectedly just 4 days after I left Canada (a massive heart attack at 52). He (Wayne) has lived with my brother for about 30 years and was like a brother to me. I had stayed overnight with them before leaving and they drove me to the airport and he died a few days later. I found myself walking around the city, feeling invisible because I have no one to talk to except Dieter and I began writing a novel (or it began to write itself). Its working title right now is ‘The Invisible Life’. I feel so disconnected from everyone in Canada right now. Usually we have internet here but this year we don’t for reasons that I won’t go into- not important, (we should have it again this week) and right now we don’t even have telephone – the phone company that our new internet will be through disconnected our phone so the the new connection can be installed but I am having trouble (not being able to read German) doing our part of the installation. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, life has conspired to leave me stranded here with my only contact with home at the moment being through the internet of a cafe. I have written close to 30,000 words so far. There’s something to be said for no distractions. I am having fun in my imaginary world. What do people who don’t have crazy imaginations do?
Jennie, you are making lemonade out of lemons as that old cliche goes. Wow. I don’t know who Wayne is, but feel sad that he left this world so unexpectedly. You’ve had so many losses. And it must feel a bit bizarre (and lonely?) to be so cut off from everything. On the other hand, news of you writing a novel is simply fabulous! Keep me posted about the progress of “The Invisible Life.” Sending cyber hugs!
The photos that you have been posting on facebook are absolutely stunning. They almost (ALMOST) make me wish we had snow here. With any luck I will have managed to get the internet hooked up today. Nothing is easy when you don’t speak the language.
However, my novel is so bizarre it never would have been conceived under any other circumstance other than the coincidence of half a dozen weird things. Fun.
I’m thinking about your question, ‘What does paying attention mean to you?’ An image of a tethered goat comes to mind. The central thing to pay attention to is near the pole the goat is tied to. The mind wanders to the outer edges, chewing away at everything within reach, but never able to move too far off topic. As the goat chews the grass down things are revealed in a way that wouldn’t have been if the seemingly unrelated action hadn’t been allowed.
In other words, I pay attention by not paying attention. I stay near the thing I want to observe hoping to get a glimpse of it with the peripheral vision of my mind.
Great analogy Jennie … love the notion of “staying near … getting glimpses … peripheral vision.” I think some of my best writing in the past came from “shadowing” people/places/events … being “near” but tuned into the edges, and seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling what’s revealed close to the pole as it were. I’ll be thinking about this a lot as I try to get back into that “attention” mode. Funny how I gravitate to my camera to “see” things and have less problem discovering things not normally evident through my viewfinder. More of a challenge when humans are involved. Thanks a bunch. Lots for this old goat to chew on. haha
Hi Sandra, Congrats on your July project and I’ll be riveted to see what comes from it. Who knows? As for “paying attention,” to me it means “breathing, taking time to take one or more deep breaths, feel peace, then look around. Take time to record all five senses and how they react.” It basically means to slow down, focus, then think and feel. Take time to notice the details, and your reactions. It’s what my mother always use to tell me, “TO slow down please and pay attention!” Fortunately, we still have time to do that…
Can’t wait to see what you and Melanie will come up with!
Great to see you pop into view Kate! And, yes, it’s so important to slow down and pay attention as your mother advised! Need to get all senses in gear. Keep coming into view Kate. Love hearing from you!
Paying attention means to me, Listening with both ears, looking at what is present, body language and keeping my big mouth shut, if need be…some times I wished I could do just that…but mainly being present!
Sweet of you to comment Elaine, and I couldn’t agree more! But need to practice all this more and MORE! Great to have you as part of the conversation. Thanks, and keep it comin’!