Attention

As I write this, I’m listening to Santogold, writing a curriculum for a youth workshop for 826-LA, reading Barbara Jane Reyes’ blog, searching for an affordable apartment, a decent-paying job and watching my green tea grow cold.

Always, ALWAYS, I’m thinking about writing.  No, it’s not the same thing as writing itself, but at least it’s on my mind, right?

I recently heard about this book called Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher, but haven’t read it yet.  It seems like a good idea; using your full, undivided attention to get what you want in life.

Here’s an interesting excerpt from Amazon:

“Since writing Rapt, I’ve come to believe that we now face a fundamental psychological challenge of a different sort: How to balance your need to know—for the first time in history, fed by a bottomless spring of electronic information, from e-mail to Wikipedia–with your need to be? To think your thoughts, enjoy your companions, and do your work (to say nothing of staring into a fire or gazing dreamily at the sky) without interruption from beeps, vibrations, and flashing lights? Or perhaps worse, from the nagging sense that when you’re off the grid, you’re somehow missing out?”

I find myself almost always finding out about breaking news late. My cheap Target cellphone doesn’t have a fancy touchpad that requires thumb-to-index action nor does it instantly update me through a newsfeed.  I was probably the last person to find out that Michael Jackson died (two hours later!) while visiting NYC (one of the densest cities in the world.  Why didn’t I hear people yelling it out on the street?).  However, the internet distracts me.  Maybe it’s more than distraction.  I feel as though I’m receiving the breadth of what’s going on in the world, rather than any sort of depth.

How do writers and poets and artists who constantly promote themselves, their work, the work of their artist-poet-writer friends, submit their work, WHILE doing the ACTUAL work?  AND obviously live, maintain relationships, make money, and the rest of it.

At every Author Evening we had through our fellowship, one of the EV Fellows, Marissa, always asks: what is your schedule like?  And gleaning from the responses, I know that there isn’t one way to do things, to live an artist life.

How do you do this though, when you’re broke as hell, and it’s NOT Paris or New York in the 1930s, but Los Angeles in 2009?  City of fame and poverty.  City of highrises on Wilshire Corridor and cardboard communities in Downtown.

How do you create your focus and balance in a city that embodies the complete opposite?

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2 Comments

Filed under writing process

2 responses to “Attention

  1. Hi Rachelle, I’ve been meaning to respond to this blog post here, since time and energy management btwn poetry, community, and life continually challenge me. I realize now that I try to answer your question that I honestly don’t know the best way to go about it. I do know for sure that we have to take care of our lives first. I’ve known too many artists and writers whose personal lives, home lives, family lives, financial situations, mental and physical health have fallen into disrepair as a result of being unable to balance all that we want to do and are expected to do.

    A lot of Fil Am students (perhaps aspiring artists themselves) ask me how my parents feel about my being a poet, since many us of Fil Am’s come from families that really want us to be successful by their definitions of success. I respond that as long as I can hold down my job, pay my mortgage, and feed myself, they seem pretty cool about it. Some students react pretty badly to this at first, until I explain that my family simply want me not to starve, not to be homeless, they want me to be able to take care of myself as I am an adult, et al. I don’t think these are offensive or negative expectations.

    Finally, I interpret the above in the vein of Virginia Woolf: a woman writer needs a room of her own in order to write. If we take care of ourselves then we can find or carve out that room.

    Hope this helps.

  2. racruzzo

    Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for the response!

    I definitely agree with this, “If we take care of ourselves then we can find or carve out that room.”

    As much as I love the work that I’m doing right now, I wonder about this mythic “starving artist.” We’ve met a lot of writers through the fellowship who’ve enumerated their part-time jobs, summer gigs, temp spots, etc. in order to write. The hustle is what you have to do sometimes. I’m a firm believer of not letting a JOB rule my life and world, however; it’s hard when the balance is tipped to the actual starving part.

    I guess I’m just trying to figure out my own balance, while negotiating my willingness to starve for writing.

    But why starve, right?!

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