Boy, Twitter is awful lately, isn’t it? And not just awful in the way that we’ve been used to and talking about for what feels like forever, but newly and especially awful. I know it’s not just me; in the past month or so I’ve had a number of conversations with Twitter friends who have had to take breaks because it’s gotten to be too much.
It’s not unexpected, of course, or it shouldn’t be. After nearly a year of isolation we’re all (or as close to all as to make little difference) feeling like Bilbo at the beginning of Fellowship, “like butter scraped over too much bread.” Compounded tension and stress make everyone more brittle, more prone to fight or take out our distress on others. With vaccinations ramping up, case rates dropping significantly, and scientists starting to admit cautious optimism, it seems like some kind of normalcy is starting to become visible, even if it’s still months away. You might think that would be a boost to people’s spirits, and perhaps it is for some, but often the release of long-standing tension also comes with an emotional breakdown to one degree or another.
People talked about similar phenomena around the time of the inauguration last month (criminy, was it really just last month?), for example that long-standing anxiety doesn’t just go away, or that Twitter was likely to get more agitated as we reckoned with what we’d been through. I remember seeing one thread (which I can’t find again now) talking about how often it’s only after a trauma has passed that we feel safe enough to finally fall apart. And, of course, in many ways we are still being traumatized. We are still having climate disasters, children are still being imprisoned at the border, the President is still ordering drone strikes. It’s not nothing, though, that Trump is finally out of office.
I think it might be more than just a release of tension, though. I can’t help but think that the past four years have trained us to fight, even when we don’t need to. One of the most-shared things I’ve seen over that time has been the line from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel speech in which he says we must always pick a side. It’s a principle that has a lot of applicability right now—there is a lot of injustice in the world about which we must not be silent. But not every disagreement rises to the level of the torment, oppression, endangerment of human lives, and imperilment of human dignity that Wiesel was talking about, and something I know from experience (and from working with a therapist) is that having experienced abuse or trauma can leave us unable to distinguish between what is and isn’t actually dangerous—our bodies respond as though we are in mortal peril either way.
I’ve been thinking lately about Seamus Heaney’s poem “Punishment,” about his speaker who would “connive in civilized outrage” but also understands “the exact and tribal, intimate revenge.” I read this poem as Heaney processing what he saw and experienced during The Troubles, but perhaps also reckoning more broadly with human nature and the way that justice and revenge intertwine, how our motivations aren’t clean and separable, how a propensity for violence lives in all of us, no matter what we might think of our own ideals or sensitivities. I think perhaps something that has dismayed me lately is not just that we don’t admit that we’re looking more to inflict our suffering on others than to protect people or heal. Rather, what unsettles me is that some of us do admit it and call it virtue.
It isn’t for me to decide what is and isn’t virtuous, or to tell other people what to value or how to behave. And, truly, I want to give people a break. All of us have limited mental and emotional resources, and when those have been spent it’s hard, even impossible, to keep being gracious or compassionate towards others. Lately this mostly means spending less time on Twitter in general.
Ultimately, I’m not sure whether social media is sustainable for me—being on it often makes me feel more anxious or depressed. On the other hand, spending time away from it makes me feel disconnected and lonely. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to find a way to stay engaged in a way that feels healthy, but I do know that right now it’s not feeling good to be there.
Thinking About Regret
All weekend and continuing this morning, my Facebook feed has been full of people mourning our friend Paula. Two things are consistent throughout: Paula was an amazing artist, and Paula was a kind, enthusiastic, wonderful person. I have often wondered what people will say about me when I go. If I could choose between people saying I was good at something—art or writing or my job—or saying that I was a kind person, I’d much rather the latter. So many of the people leaving comments on the mourning posts have been saying things like “Her work will live on.” And this is a comfort, to be sure. Paula cared deeply about art, her work deserves to be seen, and I want it to keep being seen. Still, though, I’d rather have her.
I can’t help thinking, too, what a shame it is that so often we don’t say these wonderful things about people while they’re still alive to hear it. I hope Paula knew how loved she was by everyone. I hope people told her what a bright light she was. A little over a year ago I spent an hour talking with her about her work for my show. I certainly complimented her work at the time, and have done many times. But I can’t remember if I ever told her how much it meant to me that she was so nice to me.
By now I have lost what feels like so many people I’ve cared about, and every time I have been struck with regret for what I didn’t say to them while I could. And this keeps happening, even though I keep telling myself not to let it happen again. Perhaps this is just how it goes. Perhaps there’s just no way to say it all. There isn’t time, especially for those of our friends and loved ones who we don’t see often. I mean, it is nice to imagine that kind of openness but there is always more to say, and eventually you’d want to talk about something other than just compliments. After all, it’s mostly those other conversations and interactions that form the foundation of the relationship. And I do think that there is something to be said for the idea that we can know a person’s love and regard through their actions toward us. That in many ways that may be a deeper intimacy. But still, it’s good to hear it out loud, too.
Every time I lose someone, I can’t help but think of every other person I’ve lost, and how though this list feels long already, I know it will only get longer. When I was a teenager I hoped to live a life without regret. I am sure now that if I get to live to an old age, I will have accumulated more regret than I will be able to count. And yet, in a way perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Regret comes from not doing that which you wished to have done. But the wishing comes from a happier place. I couldn’t regret the things I didn’t say to my loved ones if I hadn’t loved them in the first place. New love does not fill in the hole left by a loss, it doesn’t make us forget the pain. And perhaps every new love means a new future regret. But new love does grow us. If loss erases something from the canvas of our soul, new love gives us new space to paint anew.
I don’t know that a post like this needs to end with a call to action but if there is to be one it would just be what I always say: if there’s someone who matters to you, whether for their work or their personality or the way that are in your life, I hope you’ll tell them.
Scattered, vol. 6
- It’s been a hard week.
- We said goodbye to our dog, Cooper, on Monday. Today, I learned that my friend Paula died from cancer.
- It is a strange thing about life that when you have a loss—or even a happy change: a birth, a new relationship, what have you—the world and even your own life just continues on. You still have to buy groceries and wash your clothes, your bills keep arriving and demanding to be paid, your neighbors keep having parties in the middle of a pandemic. It is both frustrating and comforting, by turns and all at once.
- Weirdly, I haven’t been drinking much. In fact, the past year I’ve been drinking a lot less than usual, not because of any effort to cut down but just because I haven’t felt like it. I realized this afternoon that, whether I’m alone or with others, I usually only drink when I’m feeling happy or celebratory or peaceful.
- A lot of my thoughts lately have been starting with “It is a strange thing” or “Weirdly” or “Oddly enough.”
- Last night I had to wipe up a spill under our washing machine and I found some of Cooper’s hair under there. I asked J today how long she thought it would be before there was no trace left of him in our house. “It’s only been four days,” she said.
- I have spent the past several hours scrolling through Facebook, reading the outpouring of grief and memories and praise for Paula. Paula was a brilliant, meticulous, intelligent, and groundbreaking artist. She was also one of the warmest, most enthusiastic, energetic, kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Everyone loved her.
- I took a break from writing this letter to check the mail, and found a sympathy card from our veterinarian. This was very kind of them, but also I had already been crying off and on for most of the afternoon.
- When you lose a loved one, the hole they leave in your life is bigger than their physical size. How does that work, exactly?
- I’ve been to a lot of funerals, starting from when I was eight or nine, I can’t remember exactly when. Up until shortly before I turned 30, I’d been to more funerals than weddings. I don’t know when the next time I’ll go to either one will be.
- Over the week, a lot of friends, family, and coworkers have contacted me with condolences about Cooper, sharing memories of him. I took him to work with me every day for many years, so he got to meet a lot of people. He was here to see each one of our kids come home for the first time. He was always very patient with them. Everyone loved him.
- I told J the other day that having experienced loss before doesn’t make this time around less painful, but it is helpful to know the shape and patterns of my grief. It is useful at least not to be surprised by what I do or don’t feel, and when, and for how long.
- Is it weird that I have spent so much of my life wondering what my own funeral will be like? Is it weird that I have been thinking about what I will say or write about my loved ones if I should outlive them? I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s weird that everybody doesn’t think about these things.
- It always feels strange and selfish to turn inward and think about myself when I lose someone. But if death is the end then they don’t know the difference. And if it’s not, I think they must understand. I hope so, anyway.
- If you live long enough, you cannot help but lose people you’ve loved. The thing that is amazing is that as much as is taken from you with every loss, there is always more the next time.
- No matter what you subtract from infinity, the remainder is infinite.
- Is what we are subtracting, and subtracting from, love?
- In fact, there are whole infinities that you can subtract from infinity, and still be left with infinity.
- Oh, I don’t know.
- It’s been a hard week. I hope next week is better.
- For you, too.
All We Can Do
(CW: animal mortality)
There’s no good way to say this. My dog is dying.
On some level, we’ve known this was coming for a while now. I’ve even been saying that it’s coming for a while now. He turned 14 years old in October. It’s been getting harder and harder for him to walk or even stand in some parts of our house, and his energy and mind have been declining for months. This week we got the diagnosis: cancer. We are doing our best to make his last days or weeks comfortable, but it is hard to know that our time left with him is short. Somehow, part of me still thought we had more time.
The kids have each been taking it a bit differently. Our middle child was shocked by the news. Our eldest took it more stoically at first, having expected it, but he cried later that evening. Our youngest goes in and out of paying attention, sometimes sad that he has to go, sometimes looking ahead to getting a new dog. This is all normal and natural given each of their ages, I think. They’ve all known him for their entire lives.
Cooper—that is his name—is the first living thing that I was ever fully responsible for. My family had cats when I was growing up, but although I loved them they were mostly my parents’ responsibility. For fourteen years, J and I have cared for Cooper and loved him, and we’ve done our best. Now we have to be responsible for the end of his life, too.
I knew in the abstract that we would have to make this decision some day, but now it is here and it is even more difficult than I expected. He’s not as strong or fast or steady as he was, and he gets confused or forgetful. But we still see glimpses of his old self each day. He can’t walk very far anymore, but he still wants to go out to smell the fire hydrant and the neighbors’ fences. He still has good days, or at least parts of good days. I want for him to have as many good days as he can. I want for him not to suffer. I worry that we will make the wrong decision, either too early or too late. I already feel terrible guilt over it, and it hasn’t even happened yet. I feel guilty for wanting him to hang on as long as he can. I feel guilty for wanting him to go quickly.
(I’m not looking for advice. I hope that is not ungrateful of me. I appreciate you letting me work through this with you.)
Wednesday night after we got the diagnosis, when I was putting the youngest to bed she said “I don’t want Cooper to go.” I put my hand on her head and stroked her hair. “I know,” I said. “I don’t want him to go either. But all we can do is try to enjoy the time we have with him.”
I’m trying my best.
Scattered, vol. 5
- Last night, J asked me, “Can you believe it’s already New Year’s Eve?” and I answered, “Yes.” She smiled and rolled her eyes, “You always believe it is the day it is.” I suppose that’s more or less true, but on the other hand sometimes I get so distracted by the weirdness of existence that I can hardly believe in days in the first place.
- After a couple of years of seeing people I like and admire talk about how much they love their Hobonichi planners, I broke down and bought one a few weeks ago. I’d been excited to start this year’s journal, but this morning as I sat down to write in it for the first time, I realized that what I actually wanted was a notebook, not a planner.
- I started off this year thoroughly insulated with a thick layer of “wearable blanket,” fluffy to the point where my arms don’t even touch my sides when they’re at rest. I feel like there’s some kind of metaphor here but I can’t quite decide what it ought to be.
- J and the kids and I played the cooperative board game Pandemic last night, losing the first two games almost immediately before finally winning a third game pretty easily. I can’t decide if this is on-the-nose or just a non sequitur.
- Usually by now I’d have decided on some goals for the year but somehow it’s just not feeling terribly pressing, at least not yet. I think there’s something hopeful about setting goals or picking a word or intention for the year, and I’ll get to it. For now, I’m feeling content just to be where I am.
There’s a thing that people say sometimes about writing as a way of finding out what you’re thinking about. I’ve known for a while that photography is like that for me, I take pictures every day, almost entirely on instinct, and it’s only in looking back over what I’ve been photographing over weeks or months or years that I discover a theme emerging. I hadn’t realized that writing could be that way for me as well, but the exercise of writing a weekly newsletter is showing me my patterns. Looking back at the titles of my last few letters—“Not If, But When,” “Irrevocability,” “The Party of Stasis”—it seems I’m on a bit of a theme here, and of course today is no different.
I spent part of my Tuesday morning pleading with my Congressman—a centrist who continues to rise in the ranks of the Democratic establishment—to use this term to push for bold changes. My fear, I explained, is that unless people see real, meaningful changes in their day-to-day lives, 2024 (and maybe even 2022) are going to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, one that this country might not survive. He, unsurprisingly, used that as an opportunity to talk about rejecting socialism. Even on climate, supposedly his number 1 issue, he downplayed the urgency of the situation, saying on the one hand that we only have ten years to get a plan in place (a misleading statement—decarbonization needs to be in full swing by then, not just beginning to ramp up) but saying on the other hand that we need to work with Republicans to pass what we can while also recognizing that people are still going to drive to work and cook on gas stoves. This is a man who claims to have read the IPCC reports, which lay out in great detail the necessity for dramatic changes to land use, agriculture, and every sector of the economy, but who still found time to scold climate activists for scaring off centrist voters by telling them that they wouldn’t be able to have on-demand commercial air travel in the future. It’s all the sort of thing that manages to be completely unsurprising while still also managing to shock me.
Yesterday morning I listened to the latest episode of the podcast Reply All. The episode was called “A Song of Impotent Rage,” and the first ten minutes or so was basically a deep dive into one of the hosts’ anxiety and depression about climate doom. This was, as you might imagine, not great for my own climate doom-related anxiety. Later, during my lunch break, I got to record a wonderful conversation for my own show, a discussion about art and poetry that was both intellectually stimulating and affirming of our shared humanity. It was lovely, but as has been happening more and more often lately, afterwards I found myself wondering how much longer I’ll get to do this.
Podcasting as a medium cannot exist without our massive technological infrastructure, of course. The way my show in particular is structured, most of the conversations are recorded remotely, with my guest and I often separated by thousands of miles. I keep the video stream disabled in order to save bandwidth, so most of the time we don’t even see each others’ faces. In a lot of ways, the show has been a lifeline for me, and not just during the pandemic. Before my show, I rarely got the opportunity to talk about art or literature at all. More recently I’ve been able to make more connections locally, so I could in theory access some of what I get from the show. But I wouldn’t be able to reach nearly the same range of artists if not for my podcast and all of the electronic interconnectivity that enables it. Already people smarter than I am are talking about a world without things like cheap, fast transportation or round-the-clock electrical power—which, admittedly, already describes life in many parts of the world. Surely in such a future, art and literature and conversation will still exist, but I have trouble imagining podcasts will.
What I mean to say is that I understand the desire to hang on. I have always had difficulty with change. Even something as simple as moving to a new house has been emotionally challenging for me; losing my entire way of life is almost more than I can bear to contemplate. So when I look at someone like my Congressman, who has hung his hat on the idea that things won’t really need to change, I get it. Honestly, I want that, too.
The instinct to preserve is something we all experience to one degree or another, and for the most part it is an instinct that served our ancestors well. Stability for our ancient forebears meant survival; change often came with the risk of deprivation or death. Holding on to our way of life is the most natural thing in the world. But when our way of life is the thing killing us, holding on only accelerates the end. When change is inevitable, it may only be in letting go that we are able to save anything.
I and my colleagues have spent the past four years in resistance. It was the right thing to do. In many ways it still is—there are people in positions of power who want to make things worse, and it’s necessary to prevent them from doing so. But I think the real work ahead of us is not in resistance but in acceptance, and moreover in finding ways to teach others to accept. The world is going to look different whether we want it to or not, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than we’re currently prepared for. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can figure out how to make that new world a liveable one.
On the night of my youngest’s sixth birthday, when the house was quiet and everyone else was asleep, I wrote in my journal, “I will never put you to bed as a five-year-old again.” That was months ago now, but I am still thinking about it. It is in many ways—most ways—a small change, and yet it is one that nevertheless feels profound in its irrevocability. Change is, of course, inevitable, and though in this case I feel the loss of a part of my daughter’s childhood that will never and could never return, I’m fortunate that in return I get the opportunity to know her as a six-year-old.
Though, of course, not every change comes with an opportunity to offset the loss, at least not in a way that provides any comfort. I’m increasingly aware of my good fortune in that, still, no one I know personally has died of the virus. But as I write this, 276,000 Americans have died and more than 2000 are dying each day, a number that is only going to continue to accelerate as we see the effects of Thanksgiving get-togethers, and then Christmas. It seems inevitable that at some point I will lose someone to the virus, it seems just a matter of time. One in 1200 Americans have already died from it, and I have surely known more than 1200 people in my life—I have more than 500 “friends” on Facebook alone, many of whom have, themselves, lost family or friends.
I don’t know what will come. I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. It seems like most people I know want simply for things to get back to “normal,” and, to be sure, there are things I miss that I look forward to doing again some day: visiting family, spending time with friends, eating in restaurants, browsing in bookstores (or even just taking my time strolling through Hmart). But so much of “normal” didn’t work for so many people, whether you were queer or a person of color or a woman or an immigrant or even just working a shitty job. Our leaders failed us, and we failed each other, so often and so profoundly, it’s hard to understand wanting to go back to the way things were.
Of course, I say that, but is it so hard to understand? After all, there’s a part of me, too, that wants to be comforted. All it requires is to look away from that which is discomforting, and that’s such an easy thing to do. And I do, all the time. We do.
But next year isn’t going to look like last year, or like 2016, or 2008, or 1996, or 1960. Those we’ve lost are not coming back. I’m never going to put my daughter to bed as a five-year-old again. Things change, and all we can do is choose how we respond to those changes, choose what kind of people we want to be in a world that so often refuses to give us good choices. I’m doing my best. I’m sure you are, too.
Not If, But When
I roasted a turkey last night for the first time in my life. It turned out much better than was reasonable, considering that I’d never done it before. I used the “Roasted Brined Turkey” recipe from The Joy of Cooking, 7th edition (1997). When I was a kid, I used to leaf through my mom’s copy of Joy, which was always either out or close to hand in the kitchen. I particularly liked the section where it described how to dress small game, including butchering a porcupine. Both J and I were given copies of Joy by our respective mothers—she the Christmas after she graduated high school and I as a housewarming present when I got my first apartment after graduating college—so when we moved in together we had two. We ended up keeping hers because it was in good condition and had an inscription from her mom in it, whereas mine was beat up and not personalized. 18 years later, the dust jacket on our copy is getting frayed around the edges, and some of the pages are warped from having gotten wet. Sometimes I forget that it isn’t the one my mom gave me. The Roasted Brined Turkey recipe was very easy, and the meat was more moist and flavorful than I was expecting.
Last night was also the first time in my life that I ate a Thanksgiving dinner in my own house, without any extended family. We Zoomed with J’s family for a bit in the afternoon, 29 people in 10 households across 4 states. I called my mom and aunts afterwards, and texted my brothers and my dad. I didn’t end up talking to the cousins I’d usually see, or my grandmother.
My grandmother—my dad’s mom—has been hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner at her house since well before I was born, with all of her kids and grandkids in attendance as well as her sisters and their kids and usually a number of family friends. Over time, as we’ve grown up, my generation have started to move away—me to San Diego, one cousin to the Bay Area, another to Seattle, another to Florida. As kids we saw each other all the time, but now it’s just the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas as we switch off between my family and J’s. My grandmother is 92 years old, and though she’s in good health and still lives on her own, it’s been on my mind that I probably don’t have too many more holiday meals with her left. Last night as J and I set the table, our middle child said “It’s like a feast!” And it was, and a bigger one than was strictly necessary for just the five of us. I couldn’t help wondering if my future Thanksgivings would look more like this one than like the ones I remember. Or perhaps not if but when.
So much is in flux right now. Nobody knows what the future will look like, except that it probably won’t look like now. Then again, continuity has always been more of an idea than a reality. There will be a last time my grandmother hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, but there was also a first time. Things change. The desire to hold on to the past can be urgent, even desperate. But eventually change comes, and maybe sometimes letting go means we get the chance to shape what comes after.
Thinking About Kindness (Again)
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness for the past couple of weeks, mainly because I’ve seen so many people talking about the need to be kind, to forgive, to build bridges and extend an olive branch to the people who voted differently from us. As an organizer, I know that it’s important to leave the door open for people who want to find their way into a movement, that it’s important to welcome newcomers instead of berating them for taking so long. But this is key: in this example the new arrival wants to join you.
I know I’m not the only one thinking about this, of course:
A critical part of forgiveness is the injuring party wanting to be forgiven. Forgiving someone who isn’t sorry is unhealthy.— Daniel Abraham (@AbrahamHanover) November 7, 2020
It is also not within one's power to forgive someone for the harm they have done to others.— Leslie What (@leslie_what) November 7, 2020
The thing is, I do believe in kindness and compassion for everyone. I really do. I’ve written about having compassion for my abusers. But I’ve also written about how kindness and compassion are not the same as deference or politeness. I don’t believe that answering cruelty with cruelty is either moral or practical. Moreover, I believe that allowing someone else’s cruelty and callousness to make me cruel and callous hurts me more than anything else—only I can decide what sort of person I want to be, and letting someone else turn me into someone I don’t want to be isn’t okay with me.
But having compassion, being kind, listening, leaving the door open—none of these mean that I’m obligated to continue letting people have the power to harm me, nor do they mean that I should stop advocating for my own rights and protection.
There’s a lot more to say about all of that, of course, but I’ll leave it there. I hope you’re well, or at least as well as can be.
For weeks now, I've been meaning to write a thing about entitlement and anger and the virus, and how the ways people are acting out during lockdown are just somewhat more acute expressions of the same cultural assumptions that pervade our economic and political systems and are ruining everything. And then more recently I was going to write a thing about elections and pragmatism and moral calculations. And every day something new happens that makes both of those things seem more relevant and urgent, but also I feel like those are the things I'm supposed to write about and it all just makes me feel exhausted.
So, instead I'm writing this, which is about attention.
Lately I've been making audio recordings when I go out walking. Sometimes I will go so far as to take my digital recorder with me, but often I just use my phone. I turn on the voice recording app, put the phone into my breast pocket, and then walk. I don't narrate or anything—the only times my voice appears in these recordings is when I'm talking to someone, usually my dog. I just walk. I walk, I cross the street to avoid other walkers, I stop to pick up my dog's poop, I cross the street again, eventually I get home and I stop the recording.
So far I haven't really listened to these recordings, except once or twice to see if the wind or my clothes were brushing too loudly against the microphone. I don't know if I will ever do anything with these recordings, or any of the other ones I've made around the house over the past 37 days. Probably not. I don't even really know why I'm making them, except that I want to. But in some ways perhaps the recordings aren't the point, or at least they're not what I get out of the experience of making the recordings.
Walking around my neighborhood with an audio recorder, I find myself more aware of the sounds around me than I used to be. Cars passing, yes, and dogs warning me away from their yards, and birds—so many birds—and my own footfalls. But other sounds, too. The hum of someone's dryer vent. The way that palm fronds don't rustle in the wind so much as clack. A neighbor frying something, I guess with their kitchen window open. I notice, too, that the freeway a couple miles away is quieter than it used to be. The recorder helps me pay attention.
The same thing happened when I started carrying a camera around with me—how many years ago was that now? Five? Eight? I'm not sure anymore. The camera is part of my way of being now, which sounds grandiose enough that I'd probably roll my eyes if someone else said it, but that's how it is. I seldom carry a "real" camera anymore, just my phone. But even when the phone stays in my pocket, even when it's in another room, I'm still looking now. I'm always looking, looking, looking—looking for pictures, looking for details, textures, spots of light, looking closely, seeing closely. Not seeing more, exactly, but seeing what's there. I'm paying attention.
This is why I've always taken exception when people grouse about photography. "Put the camera down! Just be there!" You've heard this before, we all have. But that's not how it is for me. I was never more aware of my surroundings, more present, more appreciative of the moment before I was actually looking at it, and I wasn't looking until I started bringing the camera with me. It's like that with the audio recorder, too. A year ago, out on walks with my dog or jogging by myself, mostly my attention was on tomorrow, or yesterday, or the thing I wanted to write but knew I probably wouldn't. Anywhere but here and any time but now. At best, during a run the feel of my feet on the pavement and the laboring of my breath might get me to let go of my thoughts for a while, but even then my awareness was internal, inside my body, not around me.
Maybe this isn't how it works for you, I don't know. Maybe you can be fully in the world just by thinking about it. For me, though, it's the act of recording, of trying to take a piece of the world with me, that lets me pay attention. If you're like me, try it some time. Turn on your phone's voice recorder when you go out, and see where your attention turns.