Friday, August 14, 2009

Paying Attention

I've come to feel that almost everything we fail at we fail because of the quality of attention we have paid to the thing in our lives at which we are failing.  

Because there is a disconnect, sometimes, between what we say we want and the amount of attention we are willing to give to the thing we say we want, we find ourselves in a constant state of desiring and failing at achieving the thing we say we desire.  Losing weight, for example, and maintaining that weight loss takes an almost radical, obsessive and unending kind of attention to life style that few are able to muster.  So too, writing demands a special quality of attention.  It's not enough to say I want to write, and here's the few hours a week I'm going to write.  I think you have to create a lifestyle of writing; every choice you make has to contribute towards nurturing your life as a writer, and it has to be a priority--in the way that losing weight might have to be a priority if that's what you wanted--in order for it to happen regularly and successfully.

I recently visited Eden Hall Farms, the gorgeous 388 farm that Chatham University owns.  For years before Chatham took over the farm (last year) the area was not managed or attended to in any significant way with respect to animal populations.  For a while there was deer hunting, which meant the bucks in the herd were severely reduced.  Then the hunting stopped.  Because the farm is surrounded by suburban growth (including homes, a school and a golf course), the deer population is trapped in this relative island of wildness.  As a result they've become inbred and the population unbalanced.  It's estimated there's about 7 females for every male.  Because of the inbreeding the deer's antler presentations are sometimes odd; some have misshapen heads.  The coyote population is also huge because there's so many deer.  Attention needs to be paid to the deer in order to reach a more balanced situation.  I'm interested in the deer for lots of reasons, but in large part what draws me to this situation is that it is such a potent metaphor for what happens in any situation when you don't pay attention. 

In my darker moments I can see areas in my own life that I've let become unbalanced: the sick, uncontrolled deer are wandering around, wanting me to look at them, wanting me to take stock, look at them, really look at them,  give them my complete, utter, undivided attention.