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 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.”
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.