Discover more from The Art of Paying Attention
Welcome to The Art of Paying Attention
The Post Before the Post
The Post Before The Post
Welcome to The Art of Paying Attention. This is where I’m supposed to introduce myself and tell you what this racket is all about. Tell you why I’m here on Substack, and what to expect on this newsletter/blog/platform (what is this thing?).
Well, that will be The Post After This Post.
This here is The Post Before The Post, and will involve confessions. Don’t worry, no priests or spiritual gurus needed. But in these confessions, I hope it gives a little context of why this newsletter/blog/community exists. Perhaps you’ll glean from my story, a little of your own story, and realize we’re not all that different.
Confession #1: The Global Dumpster Fire Messed Me Up
Once upon a time, a Global Pandemic ripped through every corner of the earth. Nobody escaped its grip. Many people died, some got sick, and some people have lifelong negative effects from the Virus. Marriages ended, relationships started, schools and companies closed their doors, governments fought with their people, and a variety of social dark spots (especially in America), brought front and center. Some people became experts in virology, and others came under the spells of various conspiracy theories.
And I confess, this Global Dumpster Fire Messed Me Up.
My Pandemic experience started great, like many of us. We’d be back online in a couple weeks, no sweat. Our President said,
“Right after Easter, all will be well.”
I believed the noise, but Easter came and went. Spring came and went. Summer came and went. Fall came and went, and we found ourselves in the same Hell-Scape.
The start of the Pandemic was a needed respite from my normal responsibilities. We took long walks, napped, played with the kids in the yard, and in empty parks. It was fantastic until it wasn’t. When the weeks turned into months, and the months into years, something broke in me.
I couldn’t put my finger on what this breaking was, but looking back, it had to do with a lot of factors. A close friend died of cancer in April, 2021. Not much later, another good friend lost his father from Covid, which we were close to. A high school friend, Covid-death. Another friend lost both his parents to Covid within weeks. Friends and distant friends were getting sick. Some recovered, and some did not.
I’m sure you can relate?
The world was being shattered into a million pieces, and nobody knew for sure if we’d ever recover. I felt this breaking, and it messed me up. It also messed with the perceptions of a community I dearly love.
Part of my work is leading a Christian faith community in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Pandemic didn’t do us any favors. Not only did our community feel the weight of the Global Dumpster Fire, but the broader Christian community in America unraveled.
Followers of Jesus divided over how to handle the Pandemic. Do we wear masks, or not? If we do, are we saying were Leftist Socialist Communists? Many in the faith-tribe took up arms in the fight of politics. If you sided with a certain party, you were the Anti-Christ, or on the Jesus-Team. Hard to tell who was right? I'll save my opinions for another time.
Many in the Jesus-Tribe also became nasty over issues of racial inequality and other social issues. If you care about ethnic minorities, the voiceless, and the beat down… well, well, it appears you worship Satan. If you don’t care, you could also be a Satan-Worshipper. It’s all slippery slope.
This season of unrest and upheaval messed me up, but I can only say that now. The community I loved, which was mostly a life giving tribe, now was killing my soul. I put on the happy face and said the cliches: “we’ll get through this together.” While deep down, all I wanted to do was quit and stay in bed. Every headline, death, upset member of our church, and family conflict only added to the pain in my soul.
I was over it and wanted to escape.
I didn’t lose my faith, but watching other Jesus-People devour one another only added to my dark night of the soul. I questioned everything and wondered how I added to the chatter? How was I the problem? Why did the people I loved so much act so nastily to one another?
It was confusing, and still is. Then something else happened.
Confession #2: I Stopped Writing and Didn’t Care
Let’s jump into the Time Machine for a second. Back in 2004, I started my first blog. It was a fantastic Blogger site (remember, those?) on why the church sucks, and how we can do better, and how I was going to save it. Not my best work. But I was young and full of angsty energy, ready to change the world, or at least the church world.
What I learned in those early days of blogging was less about the impact on my readers, and more the gifts writing gave me. The internet created space to give people a voice and a global reach. I took full advantage of this strange free global platform called a blog.
Blogging was my happy place. A place where I could express what brewed in the unexplored recesses of my heart. A place to work out my pain and frustrations and trauma. Writing and blogging helped clarify what I believed, what I thought, and what I needed to learn. Blogging was a beautiful community in those early days. A place where strangers became friends, and connected, and voiced some of their same pain points. A place to belong. Dare I say, a digital family?
Blogging and writing also became a spiritual practice for me, something like prayer. It kept my heart nimble and my eyes open to my soul and the soul of the world. Blogging and writing became a daily practice and something I rarely missed.
Blogging helped me pay attention… and then things changed.
The Pandemic raged on and the spiritual practice of writing stopped. Not overnight. I had good intentions. I dabbled here and there. A deadline from an editor loomed. But slowly, like a cancer taking over the body, I lost the will to fight.
I stopped writing, and didn’t care.
I tried a Substack newsletter to stay connected to people during lockdown. I’d hoped to be a sane presence in the chaos, and that fizzled. I had nothing to say and was indifferent to it all. My writing prayer-practice, gone, all gone. And I was numb to it. First time in my life.
That may sound a little melodramatic. Who cares? So you didn’t blog or write anything as the world burned. Many people did little during the Global Dumpster Fire. True. But writing isn’t a side thing for me, it’s a central thing, like breathing. It even provides income for my family.
You see, since 2004, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of published words. From novels to nonfiction work, essays, articles, and blogs on a variety of subjects. In 2017, I started a podcast called The Prolific Writer (now called The Prolific Creator), sharing what I’ve learned along the road of writing and publishing, and also interviewed some of the most prolific creators on the planet. I made a course on how to write a novel. I shared and shared, gave tips and tricks, and here I was with my creative engine up on blocks, and rusting out in the yard.
This is not an uncommon tale. We all lose our creative juice in various ways. Everyone goes through some form of the Dark Night of the Creative Soul. If you haven’t, you just haven’t lived long enough. Our lives go through seasons of uncertainty and misdirection, wondering if we’ll ever find a straight path.
A Global Pandemic certainly didn’t help my creative work. It didn’t help my soul, either. But it also revealed other important gifts. One gift in particular.
When the writing stopped, and when I became indifferent to the whole thing, I also stopped paying attention.
Writing is not a play toy you bring out when you’re bored. Writing, at least for me, is woven into the fabric of my life. Writing is a prayer-practice. How I think, learn, consider, ponder, and make sense of myself and the world.
Writing is how I pay attention to the wonder of this thing called life. Writing is like breathing, and when you cut off the air supply, you die.
I confess, when the writing slowly died, I was dying a bit, too.
Let me explain.
Confession #3: The Part About Death and Resurrection
The Jesus Story is centered around death and resurrection. Things have to die for other things to come to life. Jesus died to bring life, resurrection, and every day is learning how to practice resurrection.
We all have to die to some things, let some things go, shed toxic narratives and toxic ways of living, for new life to spring up. Even the seasons are built around death and resurrection. The land goes fallow, things die, and then rise with life in the spring.
I’m having my own season of death and resurrection. Shedding some things, so new life can spring up. Some of these deaths are minor, and some are major.
One of those deaths is my blog. I made a drastic decision and shut down my site and every blog of the past. Poof, gone. Maybe you think, what’s the big deal? You’re not curing cancer. All true. But when you do something for 20 years, it becomes part of you. It meant something to me all those years and meant something to my readers.
Death and resurrection. Some things need to die for new life to spring up.
The writing of the past is the old Ryan. It served for a time and purpose. It helped me and served others. I gained a following, and the blog allowed for some unsuspecting writing projects, speaking gigs, and lifelong friendships. But it’s going away. Nowhere to be found.
Death and resurrection. New life around the corner.
Second, I’m also shutting down social media. Wait, now this is crazy. Yes, crazy, but it needs to happen. I’ve never seen the value of the socials and they are only becoming more and more toxic. They are a wasteland and nothing more than entertainment.
Social media is a detriment to paying attention to what matters most. I had to bail for the foreseeable future.
I will not deactivate my accounts yet, but will not interact with them. The apps are off the phone, and will not be part of my life. If this is writing career suicide, or somehow I’ll never be able to stay in touch with the world, let it be.
Attention is too precious a commodity to be diverted with the socials. I don't need to make things harder than they need to be.
Third, the resurrection part. What the Pandemic did was reveal poor soil that needed tending so better fruit could spring up. Some things needed to die, so I could live.
I’m not sure what resurrection looks like for me, but something is brewing on the other side of much death. I’m keenly aware my writing voice, while still hoarse, is coming back to life. I feel like I have something to say. Something that wants and needs to get out.
What that is, time will tell?
All I know is this resurrected voice will happen primarily on Substack. Is this a blog? Sort of. A newsletter, yes, kind of. A community, most certainly. I hope I’ll find many friends along the path.
I’m still here.
The Art of Paying Attention is years in the making. A sort of coming home. What I realized during my creative wasteland is the work I’ve been doing all these years has been around paying attention.
I’ve written books about helping people pay attention to their souls. My fiction has told stories about families paying attention to one another and the sins that so easily entangle and rip them apart. On my podcast and in my creative coaching, I’ve helped people pay attention to their voice and art.
What I see is what poet Mary Oliver once said:
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
I tend to agree. When we stop paying attention, we miss out on all the various gifts around us. When we stop noticing, we stop loving and stop living.
The good news is The Art of Paying Attention is not for a select few. This is human work, noble work, endless and proper work.
Is this a blog? A newsletter? I don’t know. But I’m going to keep paying attention and see where it takes me. Takes us?
I’m here, I’m alive, I’m typing. This is a fresh start and a new year. It feels good.
Will you come along?
Don’t worry, my posts won’t always be this long. But I’m glad we could get acquainted. Perhaps my story will find resonance in yours.
Cheers to a New Year of paying attention… to what matters most.
Thanks for reading The Art of Paying Attention! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.