The scene description goes like this:
Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.
“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.
“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.
The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.
I really want to like this. I do. I even want to believe it – that the things we pay attention to are the things we love. And it may even be true – if you happen to be neurotypical. But I’m not.
And because I’m not, my attention is not rationed out in proportion to my love for things, but in a haphazard spray of chaos, driven by random neurons in my brain that follow their own path. As a result, there are people I passionately care for and would die for that I routinely neglect to call or text, and instead finding myself reading articles or watching YouTube videos from someone whose ideas I abhor.
No, ideas like this just make room for more shame in my already shame-filled mind, one that makes me convinced that my brain sabotages all that is good in my life, that is secretly convinced the teacher in 8th grade that said my diagnosis wasn’t real and was just an excuse to not pay attention in math class, that my absolute inability to focus on things that do not interest me is just my own inherent laziness and that, if I wanted to, I could keep my checkbook balanced, my tires rotated on schedule, and never miss a deadline, no matter how arbitrary.
Of course, my rational mind knows that none of these things are true. My ADHD means I work harder and more than most folks to do seemingly ordinary tasks, not less. What’s more, my ADHD brings gifts that make some things in my life possible that neurotypical people struggle with. If you are neurotypical, I guarantee you I can out dream you, I can come up with more out-of-the-box ideas than you, I can learn in ways you cannot, and I see things that are invisible to you.
What I probably can’t do, at least in ways you recognize, is pay attention to you. At least, not without some help.
So I set notifications on my calendar so I remember to text people that matter to me.
Other attention=love hacks:
- I have a list of people on Facebook, so theoretically I see the things those people post more often, and these are people I just default “like” everything they post. If my friend J I was in love with in elementary school posted her favorite recipe for a bowl of Cheerios, I am going to *like* that thing. Because in our social media driven world, things like that show we are paying attention, and she is one of the people in this world I love, even if I have not seen her in years. (Actually, there are two women whose name starts with J who fit in this category, and I love them both dearly, so if you are reading this, J, yes, I mean you).
- Set up a Google alert for their name or company.
- Find out their birthday and put a reminder in your calendar app.
- Set an appointment time in your calendar, and during that hour, text or message everyone you can think of you love.
- Set standing dates: For 8 years I had a weekly lunch date with a friend. I miss that a lot.
- Have a “drop everything” rule: When someone you love pops in your mind, give yourself permission to drop whatever you are working on and text or call them.
There are more, but you get the point – if you have a brain like mine, you have to remind yourself to pay attention to the people you love. Not because you need it, but because they do.
My writing has taken a hit over the pandemic. Some of it is the exhaustion we all feel, some of it is depression, and some of it – a large part, actually – is losing my routine as everything ground to a halt and we had to rebuild from ashes. But at my most honest moments, I feel like I have lost my voice. Of no longer feeling like I have stories worth telling. Of losing my stories.
I do not like this feeling. Words have been my friend as long as I can remember. They have been where I go to hide, where I go to make sense of the world, where I go to relax, and where I go to work. At the darkest points in my life, my words saved me.
I have to find my words again. I need to find my stories.
I wrote something yesterday.
It wasn’t very good. But it could be, if I massaged it a bit. If I worked on it. The writing I do for money I work on hard. I may rewrite it 5 or 6 times as I try to get the words just right. But my writing on my blog, in my newsletter, on Facebook – that is a bit more spontaneous. More stream of consciousness.
But the thing I wrote yesterday was just a bunch of words around a central idea, but no heart, no movement. Underneath it all, I’m not a writer – not really. I’m a storyteller. And the thing I wrote yesterday didn’t have a story under it. So I shelved it.
I have a big folder in my Dropbox account called “Writing”, with various subfolders like “Sermons” and “Newsletters” and “Blog Posts”. And yesterday I made a new one, called “Possible”. Because the thing I wrote yesterday didn’t have good bones, but it could have. It was possible for it to. If I worked on it.
And while I was in there, I poked around a bit. I saw things I had written years ago – 2014 and 2015 were very prolific years for me – and I missed the guy who wrote those things. Some of them could have used some more work, but the story was there. Its heart was in the right place. They were stories worth telling.
Lately, things have felt different for me. It has felt a little like the stories are coming back. Like a high school athlete now in their 30’s, long out of training, but who feels the urge to run again. I don’t trust this feeling, so I don’t want to make any promises.
But I feel like writing again.
Once upon a time, we humans mostly did work that fit into discreet time periods. Land was measured by the amount a man could plow in a day. Craftspeople worked on one piece at a time – if you were a furniture maker, you made a table, and you worked on it until you were done, and then you might build a chest of drawers or a cabinet. Days had rhythms to them that were dependent upon the amount of daylight available to you, and at the end of the day the sun went to bed, and then shortly after that, you did too.
We don’t really live in that sort of world anymore. With the advent of electricity, we can work around the clock, and sleep is a biological necessity rather than part of the rhythm of the day. Because of technology, I can work for a person in another state, interact with her daily, and never have seen her in person, or know anything personal about her. We have close friends who live all over the world, and yet we do not know what shoes they prefer, whether they have bad breath, or if they have dandruff. I am emotionally close to people whose legs I have never seen.
And our work has changed as well. Many of us work on projects that, if they have endings, are long in scope, and when they are done, there is nothing tangible to show someone. If you make soap for a living, you can show your mother the bar of soap you made yesterday. Not so much with a database. For those of us in the helping professions, there is all of this, but more so. Jim was an addict yesterday, and will be an addict at the end of the day today when I go home, and will probably be an addict tomorrow. It’s hard to point at a finished product and say, ‘I am done.”
It all feels like a treadmill, endlessly turning, and because it feels like one could hop on or off at any point without changing the outcome, it is easy to feel disconnected from the world around you, and to feel as if you are not needed, and would not be missed. Because who the hell understands what you actually do, anyway?
Which is why I like making things in my spare time. When I set out to make something like a cutting board, I know it will take me a few hours, and then I will be done. I make one of them at a time, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I can finish one before I go to sleep at night. Even if it is a bigger thing like a table, a thing that will take more than one day, I still can look at the work I have done and it has obvious progress – I can point to the pile of materials that is smaller than it was at the beginning, and the table carcass that now has turned legs and a glued up top waiting me to plane it.
I get the same feeling from gardening, which ties me to the seasons and the environment, or cooking, which ties me to people and pleasure, and which allows me to make low-risk bets that teach you something, usually in less than 30 minutes.
So if you feel disconnected from the world right now, I encourage you to carve out time to make something. Maybe a table, or whittle a piece of wood, or maybe just an omelet for yourself or someone you love. Something that has a beginning and an end, something that when you are done, you can point to it and say, ‘I did that” and that you can know would not have come into being apart from your work.