A while ago I listened to a Dutch mystery podcast called De Brand in het Landhuis, in which the host tries to find out what happened to an eccentric aristocrat who died feet from his front door when his mansion went up in flames in the early 2000s. The mystery is interesting, but I liked the framing even more: host Simon Heijmans talks about a seamstress in the town of Vught (where the mansion stood) who used to babysit him and his sister. She showed them how to make something out of what seemed like scrap, and how to elevate a piece of clothing into something more useful, more yours. You did it by giving it your time; by turning your attention to it. He goes on to give the mystery his attention, guiding the listener through twists and turns that could never have been uncovered by a person with only a casual interest in finding out what happened. Past events can’t be changed, of course, but what their retelling means to a community can. By telling this story and highlighting different viewpoints, as well as talking to experts, the host transforms it.
I keep going back to the word use in the podcast. Because I don’t read or hear Dutch in my day-to-day life—a fact I keep trying and failing to change—it sticks with me better than English. “Ik heb het aandacht gegeven. Ik heb er tijd ingestopt.” (“I gave it attention. I put time into it.”) The host speaks slowly to keep things dramatic. He makes the act of directing your attention sound intimate.
Maybe it is. Lately I’ve been more cognizant of my own time, as well as who and what I pay attention to. Working a physically taxing, repetitive job helped me feel the value of my time in a way I’d always understood in theory but struggled with in practice. It remains hard to use time wisely when I have it, to be self-motivated and remember how much I’d love to be home working on my own stuff if I didn’t have the opportunity, but I try.
This being said: the quality of my attention varies. I’ve been doing a lot of Healthy Minds meditations, and in learning to notice my thoughts I’ve become aware of the way my mind squirms from the task at hand when I first sit down to write. I used to dismiss this as laziness, but when I sat with the discomfort I realized it was closer to panic. Even though I know nothing bad will happen if I sit with a document open in front of me just looking, that static cursor on my screen makes some switch flip in my brain. It tells me I have to do something now or fail utterly. Having realized how much my mental backdrop resembles a screaming goats video when I try to do creative work, I’m actually more surprised I ever wrote anything than I am frustrated with myself. Go, past me! Write through the pain!
Now that I’m
fully enlightened slightly more self-aware, everything is that bit easier. The start of a session is always hard-ish, but I’m grateful for the ways I’m not fighting myself and the tools I have to calm myself down when my mind wants to do its skittish horse impression. I’m getting better at not letting it run me over. Playlists help; accountability partners help. Thinking “WHY CAN’T I JUST DO THIS EASY THING GOD I’M SO USELESS” does not help. Cort from Healthy Minds would not approve of that last one and if you’re still engaging in that kind of thinking maybe you should download the app too.
I’ll stop patting myself on the back there and finish with an update. Ash and I have been extremely happy to start work with our new agent, Lauren Bieker, and are making edits on our latest book, a magical murder mystery set in high society. My solo project (an esports romcom) is getting little additions here and there but simmers on the back burner. I stopped work at the cafe in June (right before Sean Astin visited during a con—a fact I will never get over) so I’m writing/farming fulltime now. That doesn’t change the fact that our farming exploits have been unimpressive, and we have a lot to learn about planting things in clay. The mushroom logs Shady inoculated in spring are the exception to the rule. They’ve started to fruit, and the harvest has been delicious so far. Grow, tiny children of entropy… feast upon the decay…
Hope this blogpost finds you well, reader, and that you’re spending your time and attention on things and people you care about! And if not, I hope you’re being well compensated. Until next time!