Christopher Ireland, the person who inspired me to start this blog, suggested I read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. It's a wonderful book. I'm only 31 pages into it but it's rekindled my love of travelogues. I really enjoyed reading various of Jonathan Raban's books some years ago, but after a while the insistent description/sub-text combo wore me down. Least Heat-Moon is telling a story, too, but his language is so poetic that one could dip into any few pages just to savor the words.
In Chapter 9 he quotes a contention of his father's, William Heat-Moon: "[A] man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make him and remake him."
A little further, in Chapter 15 (they're very short chapters), he quotes Madison Wheeler, a man who lives in Nameless, Tennessee: "Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep farmin', although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important."
I realized recently that I wasn't looking outside my head enough. I had thought the problem was that I was too wrapped up in the world, spending all my effort on other people's priorities; I thought that I needed to turn inward, to find my own creativity. I was wrong. The problem was that I was living inside my head, and not paying attention to the world. I had forgotten how hard, and how invigorating, it is to simply look and keep looking at the clouds, or a tree, or another person. It's so easy to spiral into self-absorption.
Being self-absorbed isn't the same as being centered. I struggle to sit quietly for more than a couple of minutes. I think I'm running away from the possibility that I have something important but unwanted to say to myself. Learning to attend to the world outside is hopefully an intermediate step in attending to the little voice inside.
The little voice likes the quote about becoming what one does. It's not sure it likes what I'm attending to, or what I'm doing. I'm not sure it's right, but we're going to have to talk about it, sooner or later.