what you pay attention to dictates your life
There’s a secret I keep about my apartment. Every night around sunset, I put on my shoes, walk up a few flights of stairs, push open the worn door with a threatening “alarm will sound” sign. Emerging from the haze of bright overhead LEDs, my world opens up to blue, growing darker and deeper by the moment, and then a gradient of orange, stretching down to meet the skyline of San Francisco on the horizon. There’s a concrete walkway lining the edges of the roof and a large bed of rocks filling in the middle. I peer over the left edge and see a line of cars, flashing their hazards, waiting by the local elementary school, a chaotic choir of lights. I see the horde of traffic streaming over the Bay Bridge—people returning home or going into the city for a night on the town, or merely passing through this enclave on the bay. I look towards the dark hills in the distance: Bernal Heights, Treasure Island, Marin Headlands; past moments in those spots drift by, and I picture a speck of my old self staring back at myself.
I love being up here: pacing, sitting, hanging with the gulls. It feels like my own secret hideaway despite how many live in this building of 16 floors. I’ll bring a mug of tea, a puffer jacket, sometimes headphones to dance with the wind, among the clouds and birds.
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I make homes by sprinkling meaning throughout, until there’s a sufficient density of personal affect that makes a place feel like mine. I love being intimate with little slices of a city off the beaten path. They don’t all have to be hidden away on a roof (although rooftops are certainly a favorite). Often, they are secrets in plain sight. Like the intersection near my first house in SF, where the 14 took me to work, that I used to run to in the mornings in various states of readiness, hair in a jumble, shoelaces haphazardly tied, backpack clacking along to my steps. Or the little outlet by the water where the sight of the bridge would catch my breath every time I passed, where I wrote a poem about the dancing waters, where I wondered if everything was really going to be ok. The one intersection on the border of Potrero and Mission where the hill peaks and you can see Sutro Tower on one side and the skyline on the other, where you feel like a peer with the birds for a fleeting moment.
The part I love most about this practice is that it gives endlessly. Reality has so much detail that there are limitless spots open to being impressed with meaning. And there’s no limit to the number of places you choose to make meaning with. There’s no pressure on the relationship, no expectation around what needs to constitute meaning. It’s a deeply personal, spiritual practice of conversing and playing with the world. An act of resistance in the attention arena of the modern world. It’s a practice that reminds us: we can choose to focus on the things that matter to us, no matter how “little” they are. We can stop. Temper the tempest for a moment. We decide what deserves our witness.
We have the power to consecrate our surroundings and relationships. To approach everything with both the sanctity and playfulness that life deserves.
There’s a paradox here. By imbuing things with meaning, we are committing a sacred, prayer-like act. We are saying this, here, matters at some deep, planetary level. However, because this act is infinitely abundant, it inherently feels light and playful rather than somber and reserved. We have not only the agency but the responsibility to decide what matters. We can wield meaning with ease, swing sanctity with deft, spin reverence with play.
What we pay attention to matters.
This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s hard to embody and live out. When you think about what you love, what other voices speak up? I have a tendency to wait and see, to reserve my judgement until I’m more sure, but the urge to save is the signal to spend it now. Life is too short and detailed to wait for the best time to listen to yourself.
What we pay attention to dictates our life, its trajectory and its outcomes. It determines who we spend our time with, what we spend our time on, where and how we live our lives. Our attention is the essence of our will and spirit. Attention is the stuff of manifestation. In the same way that looking at something while you’re driving takes you there, paying attention to anything (a field, an attitude, a person), will drive you uncontrollably toward it.
“Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to dreamers, particularly people who action on their dreams. Because they really look for ways to turn it into a reality.” — Nicole
Robert Irwin dedicated his life to attuning people to their sense of perception because of his belief in its ability to change everything: “The ordinary, could we but see it is just as extraordinary as the highest consciousness imaginable.” Rather than staying in the realm of ideas and thought, speaking of the theoretical and the metaphorical. Irwin urged us to pay attention to what we experientially felt, to embrace our instinct for meaning and resonance.
My secret places are small, but essential, acts of meaning-making in a world that demands every moment of my attention and more. I’m practicing the art of attention, tuning my sense of what I value, becoming intimate with the world through mutual resonance.
What do you pay attention to? What do you want to pay attention to? What do you want to see more of? What kind of world do you want to imagine? Give yourself permission to dream big, to want what you want, to search for what you’re compelled by. You have the power to find what you seek if you just let yourself look for it.
hoping everyone has a cozy thanksgiving week ❤️
I have been feeling some amount of grief towards what is happening with Twitter. It changed my life (dramatic but true) by giving me space to express myself, share my creations, and bring me into community with so many friends, co-schemers, and inspirations. I am endlessly grateful for its presence on my life and hope that it can still be a space for that going forward, although I have serious doubts given the prevailing attitude there now.
In other news, I’m wrapping up on a landing page for tiny internets (particularly on my mind lately given the implosion of our social digital spaces) and will share a more formal announcement soon. You may have noticed the “tiny internets” section on my newsletter as I’m planning to start separating out my personal essay content from my future of computing content so you can control your notifications for what you’d like. By default, I’ll subscribe all current subscribers to both, but you can always tune it in your settings for this newsletter (or just reply if you’re having trouble and want to change).
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