The air of belonging

I collect interesting email and letter closings (or is it valedictions?) and immediately made note of this one from Medium, the publishing service: "Thanks for your attention."

We live in the age of attention. Companies clamor for it and business models depend on it. We chase it for ourselves and give it to the people and things we love.

With so many things competing for our attention, and with distractions more readily available than ever before, comes a steady stream of books and articles about how our lives and minds are changing. Where some see empowerment and great potential, others see loss of intimacy, thoughtfulness, and presence in the moment. Many of the Uncommon Reads selections, including this week's, address similar topics.

However you see it, and I suspect most of us are somewhere in-between, what matters above all else is that the choices are our own. We each have an opinion on what is worthy of time and attention, but when I experience regret about that investment, it's not because it didn't meet a standard of quality. The regret is letting the crowd choose for me.

It might be getting wrapped up the outrage of the moment or trying desperately to get access to the new app that everyone is talking about today and no one will remember in a month. It might be a show, a meme, or maybe a must-read book. Often, it's demoralizing advertising and methods that fuel so much of the web.

Unfortunately, there are no refunds on wasted attention.

Our attention is highly valuable and very personal. It plays a huge part in our happiness and outlook. When I notice my perspective has become skewed, inevitably I've stopped choosing my own direction and started coasting on the path of least resistance. Be intentional about how and where you invest yours. Wherever and whatever you choose, what matters is that it matters to you.


Last week's dispatch asked, What is the first thing you like to do in a new city? You will not be surprised to learn that your uncommon neighbors love food and exploring :)

Rachel wrote:

What I typically do in a new city is check into my accommodation, find some wifi, and research the best restaurants (no, that doesn't necessarily mean the expensive ones, I mean just wherever is tasty) and plan my itinerary around that. See, my travel style of late has been the constantly on the go sort, as I just finished traveling Asia and Europe for 10 months and driving around the US for a further two. With that much moving around you don't have the time or energy to research in advance (or at least I didn't), and since food is my top priority, that's what I do. Beyond that, it would be going to a food market or even a grocery store, because it's always fun to see what's available in a new country or region.

Jayne wrote:

Walk, and walk .. it helps me get to that feeling of 'belonging'. As I walk I become attuned to the people, the rhythms and the culture of a place. I discover hidden cafes, vintage bookstores, and food markets. And I have chats with interesting people - even getting invited to lunch or dinner. That's happened a few times.  With places like New York, Rome, Barcelona, and Melbourne I've slotted in very quickly, a matter of hours, if not minutes. It took me a while to warm to Paris though, a good few days in fact. I initially found it rather aloof, though not unkind. Nevertheless I always get asked for directions on my travels, not by tourists, but by the locals, even in Paris. It must be the air of 'belonging'.

Sam wrote:

Find a coffee shop. Some cities are more difficult than others, and sometimes it just pays to be lucky. Yesterday, I was in Kansas City and stumbled into Parisi Cafe in Union Station (which is a beautiful building)... this was one of those "by chance" encounters, of which I was pleasantly surprised to find light roasted goodness served via pour-over. I chose the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and was delighted at it's floral notes and bright finish -- a truly great start to a day of meetings in an unfamiliar city. My i heart coffee map is a work in progress... suggestions/recommendations welcome.

Sara wrote:

When I arrive in a new city, I go straight for the gut. I want to get the flavor of a city, so I seek out the local specialty. In Kyoto, it was delicate tofu; in Paris, buttery, flaky croissants; in Chongqing, crazy spicy hotpot. It doesn't have to be fancy, and it might even be street food. When in Rome I want to eat like the Romans do. And by way of amatriciana, I fall in love with the city that loves these flavors.

Tanner wrote:

I will open a map, study the patterns and geometric logic (or accidental evolution) of the layout and structure of streets and parks and landmarks, then I will walk and walk and walk making impulsive decisions about which direction to take or where to stop and when to pause my attention on some feature of the environment until eventually, hours later, I pull out the map again and watch it come alive with the newfound significance I have just boiled into it, fresh like a summer salad from the backyard garden.

Sasha wrote:

Get coffee, obviously. While a little more technology-beholden than our dear author's practice, I scour for a non-Starbucks nearby and hit that shit up. Whether I'm visiting friends or exploring along, the coffeeshop provides an excellent staging ground for settling in, catching up, and planning the rest of my day / week / any amount of time. Also I'm addicted.

Brad wrote:

The first thing I do in any new city is absorb the local geography via maps. I love maps and becoming comfortable with a new city in my head is one of the most rewarding parts of travel for me.

Lara wrote:

Wander around. The best way to get to know a new place is to see, hear and smell as much as possible. Next is to eat, meet the locals and get some sleep!

Paulo wrote:

When I go to a new town, I like to explore it from the lens of food, as I enjoy it immensely. I like walk from place to place to explore the city’s best food joints, and eat as the locals do. I like to play a little make-believe of imagining what it’d be like if I lived in that place, so I walk around the city, use public transit, and eat local food. Typically, I’ll find out what’s good in advance, make a list of those places, and then, as I sit down in each and the waiter comes, I’ll ask “what’s good here?” and “what’s do people come here for?”.

Cassie wrote:

Load up my phone with good podcasts and music. Drop a pin on the map where I'm staying. Step out the front door and just walk. Walk for hours and hours, with no specific destination. If I'm lucky, I can do this for a whole week straight.

Yinka wrote:

The first thing I like to do in a new city is usually sniff out the artisans.  It's always enriching to experience handmade goods; whether food, art or craft. Even if it is only to eat with my eyes (e.g. in cases of pricy goods).

Ben wrote:

Eat. After getting the hell out of the circus of the airport (typically), and stashing my stuff wherever I'm sleeping, I want to see what food a city can show me. Ideally, I want to find the place that locals go, rather than somewhere the concierge aims all the tourists. I don't really care if it's some crazy gastropub or a greasy diner; I want it to really be of the place I'm visiting.

Beth wrote:

I find the food that’s special to only that city, the food people simply don’t make outside of that particular city. My favorites so far, gooey butter cake in St. Louis and sweet potato cheesecake in Atlanta.

Mona wrote:

I have to agree that taking the bus (or the subway) is a great way to get to know a new place and break through those polished tourism brochures. The first thing I like to do in a new city is to watch their TV. Either the news or a talk show reveals a lot about their culture. Obviously, it's another crafted version of their culture but it's still interesting. Listening to Jack Nicholson's spanish voice over actor say "You can't handle the truth" while in Barcelona is amazing. I even included it in my Barcelona video montage.

Uncommon reads

Rebecca Solnit's London Review of Books Diary:

It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void, and filled up with sounds and distractions.

The Attention Economy by Tom Chatfield:

What kind of attention do we deserve from those around us, or owe to them in return? What kind of attention do we ourselves deserve, or need, if we are to be ‘us’ in the fullest possible sense? These aren’t questions that even the most finely tuned popularity contest can resolve. Yet, if contentment and a sense of control are partial measures of success, many of us are selling ourselves far too cheap.

Your turn

Thanksgiving Day arrives next week. Though Thanksgiving is an American holiday, the heart of it—family and friends gathered around a large table and sharing memories and moments—is very much at the center of Uncommon. I would love nothing more than to pull up a chair at a table filled with people from this unique community.

In that spirit, I thought we'd do something a bit different next week. The replies to this week's prompt will be gathered and delivered next Thursday, a collection of gratitude for the community, from the community. I hope you'll be part of it.

Is there a moment or person you're especially grateful for this year?