My friend Monica shared something so delightful recently: that the word attention means to stretch towards.
“I found out recently that the word ‘attention’ comes from the latin attentionem, meaning to stretch towards.”
Cue this rather cute video of snail that my then-nine-year old took last year around this time. I imagine my attention as something like the snail’s eye unfurling out out out of its shell, its probey antennae-y thing, out into the world, its environment…
Lately, I’ve been struggling with a sense of time famine and not getting enough time to read all the things. (Okay, it’s not a new struggle.) My inbox has become an alternative to twitter, as a portal for interesting things to land. I threw out a welcome mat and it’s gotten out of hand. I used to skim twitter when I felt a need to get up to date (too often), clicking on what was relevant, opening more tabs than I would get around to reading, but when I protest-cancelled my twitter presence, I subscribed to a handful of substack email newsletters from various thinkers who I had appreciated now and then. Now, my inbox bloats, and I am overwhelmed at the amount of worthy things that show up relentlessly every week clamouring for my finite time and fragmenting attention.
Thinking about this as an experience of being asked to stretch towards something, like I stretched my mind towards the great bird I saw soaring on a thermal when I walked out my house this morning with a cup of tea in a to-go mug, is helping me think again about whether or not I really need all those subscriptions coming in.
I couldn’t tell from its silhouette what kind of bird it was – huge winged, circling, but I stopped and noticed and nodded appreciation, greetings, and it felt as though a gossamer thread of my attention lifted up up up in its direction, stretching towards more airy things than the dandelions at my feet for a moment, rightsizing me in my body and my concerns in the grander scheme of life.
By comparison, why would I relentlessly expect myself to stretch my attention in the direction of these dozen thinkers. What about the ecosystem they find themselves in, commentating from, will expand and deepen my experience in the ecosystem I am part of? If I am attending to 10 different people’s emails and writings, I am allowing myself to be stretched in so many disparate directions, little wonder I feel a little fragmented.
Instead of subscribing to things based on the question “what do I not want to miss out on”, I’m considering reframing the question: “what do I want to stretch towards?”