Pay Attention

I like that phrase: pay attention. It acknowledges that attention costs us something. In order to pay attention to one thing, other things must be shut down, closed out, put away. In order to pay attention, we have to pull over, stop our routine, and focus.

I admit that I want to experience much more than I have the time or energy to experience.
  • I want to read every great new book when it comes out.

  • I want to write reviews.

  • I want a radio show.

  • I want to travel more.

  • I want to do every science experiment in this new book, whether my kids will keep doing them with me or not.

  • I want to invent stuff.

  • I want to tell stories about inventing stuff.

  • I want to tell stories about the stuff I didn't invent but claim I did.

  • I want to create worlds.

  • I want to read poetry to my children every night.

  • I want to be smarter and wittier and I want to take more and better pictures.

  • I want to spin. For no reason. Just because I'm happy.

  • I want to write a sonnet and not just free verse.

  • I want to write a villanelle because. . . well, who wouldn't? Villanelles are cool.

  • I want to chew nine packs of gum in one day because I'm an adult and these are the kid things I promised myself I'd love about being an adult.

  • I want to climb trees and sit on my roof---and leave my fear of heights inside under the desk.

  • I want to sit behind the wheel in a parking lot and pretend I'm driving and make loud beeping and crashing noises.

  • And sometime I should crawl out of a car window again---because I got in trouble the one time I did that when I was ten.

  • I want to stand in the middle of a cheering crowd and close my eyes and pretend they're cheering for me.

I don't always do such a great job of focusing.

I do actually spend a lot of time spinning from one marvelous thing to another.

I even sometimes complain about this in adult language that makes me appear more responsible. (I have to get this book done for my agent and shuttle the kids to book club and work on their curriculum for the next few months. Look at me. Grrr. I'm responsible.)

But the truth is I'm really soaring through worlds of my imagination, rushing to a place full of stories and intelligent, amazing people, thrilling to the sounds of my kids singing and laughing and story-telling. I'm sitting on the floor with goo and glue and even glitter and wondering at the stars and this amazing new album and maybe quantum physics. This is such an amazing life I lead.

And at the end of the day, that small voice wants to assess. What did I produce? How many pages? How long did it take me?

I hear myself saying, "Pay attention, Johanna." I hear an owl hooting in the predawn morning and I close my eyes and still myself and I listen. And that keeping-track voice cuts into that time and says, "You just lost half an hour. Pay attention to what you're doing."

And then the next day I write an owl into a scene.

I stop everything to talk to my kid about potential energy and kinetic energy and we make bows and arrows out of bamboo skewers and rubber bands and play doh. And I have this internal voice that tells me I should plan things more efficiently so I won't spend so much time digging through recycling for building supplies.

And then the next day I write a rocket ship that looks suspiciously like empty toilet paper rolls with marshmallows smucked to the side (smucked there with spit because I could not find the glue).

And I'm starting to think that I really should pay attention to that voice a little more. I should stop everything, pull over, and really focus on that voice. And maybe if I do that, I'll see. I'll see that it's a pestering, horrible voice that takes the delight out of everything. It puts hurry-up ahead of slow-down; it puts eat-this over taste-this; it puts read-this over savor-this.

It's not so much that paying attention is a bad thing, mind you. It's just that we have to be mindful of what we're giving our attention. That voice? It's going in the recycle bin. Maybe we'll put it in the rocket and send it to the moon. But first I'm going to sprinkle it with glitter.


  1. Johanna ... it's fun to be back after two weeks of no Gem State gals! Before, during and now after my break from blogging, I had the time to put my rocket ships in storage. Funny? Maybe not so funny. Still, putting the things that distracted me where I can't see or concentrate on them and starting another book is what I decided would be my best project. My list was as long as yours, so I've been there and done that. All I want now is to put one thing on my list. It's the only thing I need and it turns out it comes with glitter built in and glowing :)

  2. Johanna, you never go wrong with glitter. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. My thoughts exactly Johanna and Janis - life is always better with glitter!

  4. I went through a stage of disliking glitter because you can never really get it all cleaned up. Then I realized: that's what's so great about glitter. I hope the random sparkles from this time in my life are just as persistent.

  5. Johanna, I'll say it again - you're a genius - ok, maybe I've not said it on the blog, but the thought crosses my mind everything time I read your perspective on the world. I swear reading what all of my fellow GSWers write keeps me sane and, in some kind of weird cosmic timing, is exactly the right thing at a certain moment. I hope other people can read your words and give themselves permission to 'pay attention'.

    And one more thing . . .I know I'm betraying abysmal ignorance here and should probably just look it up, but claiming ignorance is authentic and part of my new years resolutions. What's a villanelle?

  6. This sounds exactly like how I experience life, and exactly what I love best about it. Brilliant :)

  7. Liz--I agree completely about asking questions. And even if you can look it up, how much more fun is it to hear an explanation from someone who is excited about the topic?

    The villanelle is a 19-line poem with a complicated rhyming pattern and repeated lines. It's a word puzzle that appeals to me somewhere deep in my cell structure--and it's so much more difficult than it looks!

    Writing one at all leaves me dizzy with words. Writing a good one? I'll let you know how that feels if I ever do it.

    Probably the most-recognized villanelle is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas. I have yet to read a description of the form that doesn't pull out that poem.

    I was fascinated by a group of bloggers who took on the form a couple years ago. I love love love this poem written by Liz Garton Scanlon (First Date On The Railroad Trestle):

    For a great description of the form (much better than the tired descriptions that read like textbooks), see Liz's blogmate, Kelly Fineman:

  8. I had to look up villanelle also, and just now spell check tried to make it be "Neville" or "Evansville", neither of which is even remotely close to what Wiki said it was, I'm doing it, aren't I?

    I Am paying attention, I Am, and being (sometimes) mindful too. It's just not the stuff I *should* be according to The Voice.

    Oh wait, that's what you said, innit?

    Thanks for this, Johanna, it's good to know, once again, that We Are Not Alone.

  9. I'm giggling over Neville and Evansville. Those would be interesting poetic forms. In the Neville one, every third line has to rhyme with Longbottom.

    And yes, you are paying attention to the good stuff. :)

  10. I'm loving this post. It's exactly how my mind works. Too many fun things to do and too many fun things to write about. And not nearly enough time.

  11. Johanna, thanks for reminding me about the fun stuff in life. I've been listening to the voice until I quit everything. Then a few weeks ago, I decided to find what I wanted to do and do it. I'm 60 years old and I'm not waste another day doing something boring. I want glitter everywhere.

  12. This made me laugh because it's so me. Especially the glitter.

  13. Johanna, I sure love your blog posts and am so glad you are one of the gems. My voice is too loud, and wins often, so it was good to read about the things you want to do. There's a few things I want to do, too.

  14. This was absolutely lovely, and just what I needed to hear today :) I've gotten better at managing my time lately, but then when things get off from that the voice you speak of kicks in and freaks me out. Time to savor, time to glitter!

  15. So many things to do... The adventure is squeezing it all in. I believe in you. I believe you can do what you set your mind to.

  16. Ahh! So glad I'm not alone in this. :)

  17. That voice can be incredibly harsh. Sending you lots of glitter. *~*~*

  18. Hooray! There really are a bunch of us, aren't there? Whoohoo!

  19. Here's to doing a bunch of those things in the new year! :)

  20. Absolutely! The funny thing is that I think I'm more productive when I shut away that voice. Constantly measuring and analyzing progress takes a lot of time.

  21. Thanks, Lynn. Amazing how much difference it makes when someone believes in you. I believe in you too! *hug*

  22. Johanna, I am always in awe of all that you accomplish. I like to think of those paused moments as thinking time. I know they'll show up in my writing sooner or later.

  23. You are truly amazing. I don't know how you do it all. My motto is always follow the glitter.

  24. Pay Attention: Thank you, @JohannaHarness ! I always pay attention to YOU! :)

  25. Aw thanks, Marian. You're the best. :)


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