Paying Attention Compilation


I read Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometimes” for the first time in the summer of 2020 and this stanza below is one I haven’t been able to stop thinking about ever since. 

Pay Attention. 

Instructions for living a life: 

Be astonished. 

Tell about it. 

    Mary Oliver 

The reason I keep seeking to read more Mary Oliver and more poetry in general is because of how it leads me to pay attention more intentionally. The very act of paying attention awakens me to the depth of humanity, to the beauty of creation, and to the magnitude of life. It leads me to laugh more often and to cry a bit more too. It brings me into awe. And, it brings me out of my head in a way that is healing. There is a cost with paying attention, however I believe that the benefits outweigh the costs every time we choose attention.

This past year was my year of reading books on writing. Each author essentially shares the same advice: pay attention. It is everything. 

This is a prompt I hope to always be exploring and I hope it encourages you to explore it too.

These pieces below exemplify why paying attention is worth it. It is rich. It is beautiful. It is healing. 

As always, thank you to the writers willing to share their words! There is always great beauty and courage in doing so. And, to the readers, thank you for reading. May these words meet you and bring you into deeper attention.

Like a tree I find myself clinging to old blessings-
failing to believe there’s beauty to come. 
Have I not watched the Autumn leaves fall each year
simply to be replaced with the hope of new green? 

What do I do when I know is not what I’m experiencing?
Will your promises of abundance be enough when all I can see is my barrenness?
Will I trust that this winter will end too?

I will remind my soul what I know to be true,
I will rehearse joy knowing I will taste it someday soon. 
New seasons bring new mercies,

even here,

your loving kindness still surrounds me. 
You hold my very being together. 

I will let this winter do its work in me,
knowing it is carving out spaces in me to hold a depth I never thought possible. 
Thank you for the winter. 

Caleb Burke 


Libros de pasaje con Abby, Katie, Ethan, y Trevor
Baked goods for breakfast by Mercedes’ sister
Mercedes singing
Tango class
The nice pharmacy man looking up pepto bismol on phone
Argentine folk not being condescending about my Spanish
2 hours of yoga and massa at Ory
The loud frogs in Baxley
Getting to listen to North Point live on the way home
Jam and Maddie and Annie and Seth and Malon and Rachel and Elif
Finding a time for the girls to hang
CFA with Macy and Rose
Grocery with Becca
This swing bench
Coming downstairs yesterday to the array of valentines things on the table from roomies
Talking to Cal on the phone
Lady putting extra jellies in the Cracker Barrel fresh hot biscuits
Taking Audj to class
Running into ash as we secretly put valentines in everyone’s rooms
Will getting me lavender that Toole picked up
Everyone cooking in the kitchen
Car swap
Emma in Business 4000
Holmes having an English accent
Last first day of school pic
Taq with Will
Hanging at dirty Lump
Waking with no alarm
Driving Will to class
La making me breakfast
Caro stopping by
100 on quiz
Visiting Leita
Sitting on bean bags
Bailey coaching
Feeling good on flights to CO
Kelly picking us up
A pretty drive
Arriving earlier than anyone expected
Having our own house
The views
Seeing the sunrise
Wedding day chill-ness
Hot tub
Pay attention
Lindsay Lowery  


“Notes from Scotland”
This is what I’ve noticed in my paying attention:
It’s the seemingly ordinary moments, the wildly insignificant 
	that has grabbed my attention as I settle my mind and focus.
Those moments, in fact, have become significant.
What I’ve seen and captured on my camera
	begs for a second look at the supposed sacredness.
When I look again, I see it clearly now.
It would seem magical to move to a new country with building older than your own,
	but these photos show mundane life lived extraordinarily
Despite what you may think
	People live here
	They go to work
	Go to school
	meet friends for dinner
	grocery shop
Here - a pub is just a pub
	and winter is cold
	and the sun rises in the morning
I’m finding that it’s not the location that makes a life full of joy
It’s the small routines - the ebb & flow of your day
It’s the ordinary turned sacred in the moments you choose to stop and pay attention to.

Emily Heyduck


are you happy? 
I remember the way it felt to sit across the table from my very best friends. 
the ease and freedom that comes so easily with them. 
are you happy? 
I think about walking home from dinner, a consistent plan, my favorite kind. 
the air is cold on my skin as I make my way down the most familiar streets ive ever known
piano rings through my headphones, a new song that a good friend showed me earlier in the day. 
are you happy? 
I open my door - see the first home I have ever lived in alone 
memories from the last two months overwhelm me. 
the space I’ve always desired, has slowly been brought to life. 
are you happy? 
I wait for him to walk through the door, to greet me with a kiss 
he is patient and steady, exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it 
always ready for whatever I throw at him
are you happy? 
all I have to do is look around - the answer is all around me 
I don’t have to think very hard 
Savannah Shaw 

Another Sunday Afternoon
It’s the feeling when you read a cryptic post
that you thoughts was a birthday message on a Sunday afternoon.
Only to realize,
it was a post to memorialize a life of a friend who passed
and a phone call to share the news.
It’s familiar and fresh yet years-old-sadness.
The week following brings perspective,
overdue friend check-ins,
motivation to start over…
Death reveals the beginning again and the reminder of
how selfish yet natural it is to make it about me.
A comfortable wing to hide under
And channel all my other sorrows.
Maybe, pay attention, instead, to those sorrows
in between this and the next inevitable passing.
And the next one won’t be so much about me.
It never was to begin with.
On a lighter note
All of their faces
the lines that frame her smiling eyes
the folds that deepen his loving smile
the nose crinkle that gives company to her joy
the gait that their walks share— making them family
the tap of her wrist against her hip when she’s giddy
the wiggle of his arms before he hugs
the glitter in the corner of their eye—left over makeup from a night of being themselves
I’m paying attention
because they are, those whom I love,
the glimpses I reach for in my mind
when I hope to feel at home.
Kelly Mowry 


Paying Attention to the Way We Value
When you know the work that went into something, you value it more. 
It’s morning and it’s raining. 
I hold my cup of coffee close to my face as I stare and get lost outside that window. The steam from my cup rises up and I begin to enjoy this coffee before I even take a sip. I think about how good it is and how I’m thankful to have it…all before I even tasted it. 
This strikes me. 
What if it’s a bad cup of joe?! Haha

Last week I sat here drinking instant coffee. I drank it, but I didn’t enjoy it. I kept thinking, if only I had real coffee. 

And on this morning I sit here with that real stuff. Moments before I stood in that kitchen heating water, measuring the grounds, letting it steep, waiting, then pressing it through the filter. I was an active agent in creating this hot cup before me. 

I knew what it took for it to become what it is. 
It was a process. 
It wasn’t instant. 

Perhaps this is the very reason why I enjoy it so much. 
I value it because I know the work. I know the work, so I know the worth. 

And I guess that’s why I use this mug each morning. It’s not a perfect mug by any means. 
But I made it. I look at it, and I know the transformation from mud to clay; from drying to firing; from glazing to firing again. The weeks of work and waiting. 

This mug isn’t perfect but I don’t want anything else. I love this mug. And nothing can cause me to question its worth. For I am its creator. And I know. 

Oh God, my Creator. Is this how you look at me?
The very one who knit me together in my mama’s belly. 
The one who knows my whole story. All my days. 
Who has made me new and makes me new. 
Who calls me “mine”, “my precious”, “my beloved”.

Is this how you look at me God? Never, not once questioning my value?
Oh wow. This is. I breathe this in. I give in. I love you, too.

-written Fall 2019. Grady, Alabama
Rachel Gamblin


The Beauty of Dying Accessories 

I wonder if the trees can see 
The beauty of their dying accessories 
In the same way that we 
Anticipate the yellows, reds, and oranges 
That cloak their soon barren arms -- 
Stretched out for all to see 
The sharp beauty of the stripping 

I wonder if the trees can see 
The beauty of their dying accessories 
Sometimes it seems 
That they are completely confident of these things 
Perhaps they notice the dying and prepare for new life 
By wearing their beautiful new hues 
With courage for which it is due 
As they eagerly wait 
For Spring to make them new 
I wonder what it would take for me to see 

The beauty of my own dying accessories 
The things the Master Gardener lays to rest 
As He strips and prunes as He knows best 

Perhaps the trees 
Have a lot more to teach me

An Old Friend 

Hello again old friend 

You’re the last person I want to see 
But you are always the first to arrive 

It’s strange how you work 
And slip your way into my presence 
When I least expect it 


Your presence feels like a deep ache in the center of my stomach 
But at the same time 
You offer a gentle reminder - 

You whisper to me 
“You’re not as alone as it may seem”

I wonder about this for a while.

Hailey Hawkins 


The scariest thing you could possibly do
It’s more terrifying than the conversation you’ve dreaded for years
It’s harder, takes all of you that you can give in that moment
And it won’t work half-assed, 
It sniffs out that you still have more to give and demands. 
It’s demanding. 
Requires this, and more 
you must be diligent, a fighter. 
It’s not for the faint of heart, 
Paying attention. 


In March, friends new and old spoke about it
And the invitation lingered in the air all year long
What started with the demanding process of paying attention 
To needs and pain and myself. 
Changed into the greatest joy. 
My life, this world around me, as it is
And not as it should be
Is worth seeing. 

Katie Lynch


“A dazzling, delicious life”

It was early,
to shake with joy,
with astonishment.

But what is morning, if not
a glorious window,
an invitation to possibility?

Pay attention to who walks you home to yourself
Do not be startled by the shy desire to believe something is true
What if we are worthy of what is golden and new?

Let me dream up a dazzling, delicious life:
is it not simply a handful of ordinary miracles?

Spinning in the rain
Asking strangers their names
Letting someone hold your pain

Two, three, or four glasses of wine
Riding the carousel one more time
Cherishing someone you swear is divine

When you crumble into hands fit for wonder
An obesity of love between palms
What else could hold you again?\

Leita Williams 


When will I realize? 

Encounter the light 
Close the curtains 
Listen intently 
Forget spontaneously 

The cycle never ends 
Highs to lows 
Mountains to valleys 
Found to hidden. 
What is missing??


Now we can begin again 
Tears could never surface 
For breaths were never taken 
The only cry is of the deepest of breaths 


Questions left unanswered 
Never enough time 
We realize 

Exhaustion unfolds from the lonely searches for answers 
That is the answer 

I was made to breathe.
I was made to be. 
I was made! 

Can someone hand me a tissue? 

Austin Frederking


Pay attention
To the soft whisper 

Be soft with her, 
really listen in. 

You’ll come to see, 
your body, 
She speaks. 

Be kind to her, 
really lean in. 

You’ll come to hear, 
Your advocate 

She’ll tell you 
It’s okay 
To slow down 

She’ll remind you 
It’s okay 
To listen 
To yourself 
It’s okay 
To show up 
just for today

You don’t have to 
Figure it all out 

You don’t have to 

You don’t have to 
Be a stranger 

You don’t have to be 

You can 
In your body. 

with your body 

Your body. 

Bailey Frederking 


Paying attention
Most of my days are spent with the young people,
The ones who aren’t fully formed into who they are going to be one day
(although when you look closely we are all this way).
They are just trying on identities, words, friends
Just testing out each new outfit to see if it’s “me” for them
They carry the heavy loads of all of these “try-on’s” like the heavy backpacks they wear around school
Except these are full of “what if’s” and “why’s” and “who am I’s” and “can you even see me’s”
And I pay attention to them
I have to
To who they are beneath the layers of
Insecurity and inauthenticity
The fear is striking out
And the fear of missing out
And I see such depth
Such growing wisdom
Feelings that matter
Maybe teenagers are just misguided angst
Or maybe, if we look closely, they have hope spilling out of each acne-clogged pore.
I learn from them each day. It’s the most humbling part of my life.
One teaches me the beauty of unbridled and untamed passion, even in the face of rejection.
Another teaches me that the world, no matter what it says about itself, does not honor weakness, not like we need it to sometimes.
One tells me (quite forcefully) that some smiles are earned rather than freely given
And that we must work to see the softness that lies in each human being.
All of them in their own perfectly unique ways, teach me patience.
It’s a hidden gift how much they add to our world just by existing and continuing to exist.
If only we are willing to pay attention.

Caroline Beltrami 


Lessons from Fagliano
There's a difference when you pay attention to the answers of a crossword puzzle, instead of merely maneuvering your way to a victory. I've learned the hard way as every once and a while NYT Mini maker, Joel Fagliano, will repeat a clue. If I wasn't paying attention the first time, I'll feel it in my gut the second. A lot like lessons. Hearing something for the first time comes with the grace of no knowledge base, but lessons are learned in the practice of paying attention. You see, I can tell you now that a Jib is a name for a triangular sail and that the Colts won the Superbowl in 2006, but there are also hundreds of hints (and hundreds of lessons) in one ear and out the other.
The dirt will keep collecting until you leave the shoes at the door. The strain will keep you limp till you start moving with your core. The differences will be dividing till you listen more.
I'm learning a lot from Fagliano. He likes to bring up French culture, moments in history, and words less commonly shared. But one of the biggest things I'm learning from him right now is that there is a difference between filling in blanks and bringing what you know to bear. Lazio is the Italian region whose capital is in Rome. We'll see if I remember that in a few months when I look at the dirt on the floor and decide to put off sweeping by pulling out Fagliano's mini.

Carson Travers 

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