To many Americans anyway, traveling to Canada does not seem like a big deal. It’s America’s connected northern neighbor, and it’s not like you have to travel around the world on a 13 hour Lufthansa flight to get there. Because of this, Canada isn’t usually given the same amount of attention or thought when considerations come to “traveling abroad.” But, when I journeyed to Canada, specifically Toronto, Ontario in 2014, it was a major moment in my life.
When I returned home from Egypt in 2013, six months prior to my Canada excursion, I didn’t think I’d be traveling anywhere again, let alone with a wandering renaissance gypsy woman. We didn’t plan to meet some of the most honest, hospitable people in the world and stay for six months, learning about art, spirituality, ritual and Shamanism. It all simply happened that way.
Another reason why traveling to Toronto was such a major moment in my life was because of the many life lessons I would uncover on this journey. One in particular stands out and continues resonating with me the more I continue to age. This particular life lesson was imparted unto me through a cherished friend and amazing, otherworldly artist by the name of Darinka Blagaj. The art that Darinka creates, sometimes through her art lab, The Smile Office, are sublime and heart opening on so many levels and dimensions. It’s extremely worth checking out whether you are passing through Toronto on the physical or digital plane.
There was an immediate connection I had with Darinka, partly because of a blue streak she had going on in her hair. I almost always tend to gravitate to someone who dyes their hair to some degree, partially because there’s a certain self confidence in people who do that, you know? It’s like a tattoo in that a statement of some sort is being made. But it wasn’t just some sky blue strands that struck me. It was her overall demeanor and her penchant for living each glorious moment through a certain artistic lens. Also, the fact that she knew of my favorite poet, Bob Kaufman was just icing on the magical, iridescent cake.
At that time, when I traveled with Mali (before I met the goddess), the three of us found ourselves spending a lot of time together. We enjoyed each other’s company because, I think we often inspired and conjured some truly creative thoughts together. I still have flashbacks to our silly performance art day where we watched a random squash wash up on one of Toronto’s downtown rocky beaches.
But, I believe this one thought in particular was something that had been gestating within Darinka for a while. If I recall correctly, I think we were in the hippie Kensington Market area at the time, though I can’t remember if we were drinking a healthy and organic smoothie of some sort or just sitting somewhere watching a crowd of people pass through.
I might be mistaken, but there’s a chance Mali and I were counting some of the money we had on us at the time, since we didn’t have much in the first place and occasional busking was necessary, which prompted Darinka’s following statement (though there’s a possibility it could have been unprompted as well),
“You know, money is now the old form of currency. Attention and presence are the new currency.”
Darinka was always full of insights, but this one in particular continues to grow and illustrate itself the more I continue living my #poetrylife. And just in case you were wondering what happened to the old currency (aka money), don’t worry. A month or so later, an Ayahuasca Shaman’s apprentice would change how I understand money. The Cliff’s Notes version is that it’s more akin to voting through casting multiple paper ballots that essentially decides who or what can continue flowing/moving on their path.
Please note, I understand how strange it sounds upon admitting to have taken philosophical & spiritual advice about currency from an artist and the apprentice to a person that doses others with a hallucinogenic compound so said people can purge some past trauma or mental blocks. But, the way they explained these complex subjects gave me bountiful food for thought.
However, while I remember taking in this passing thought, I don’t think I took the time at that point to really chew on and savor this little morsel of artistic insight.
To give you an idea of how long it took for me to fully digest this food for thought, the idea fully crystallized when the goddess changed the way I interact with others in 2018. That’s a four year period. Must have been a large helping of mental gristle to nosh.
The Evolution of the Attention Currency
During that four year period, I slowly began understanding just how valuable my time and attention really are. Granted, this is not a new concept.
In the early days of entertainment, even before multiple televisions made their way into almost every home, radio programs in the United States were subject to what is now known as Nielsen ratings through Nielsen Media Research. Naturally, once TV’s became a big deal, Nielsen Media began providing ratings for television shows. To this day, these ratings purportedly measure the audience size and composition; aka attention and who is giving said attention. One could argue that the Nielsen ratings are a demonstrable model for how advertisers and media companies compete for our attention. However, thanks in part to streaming services like Netflix, the ratings system is considered outdated by many. Despite this, many TV executives still continue to chase after ratings, which, several critics bemoan played a major role in the 2016 Presidential Election. Part of this is due to the fact that broadcast and cable news channels gave Donald Trump 2–5 billion dollars in free media coverage, mostly due to the ratings he brought in. I wish I was kidding but there are quotes of media owners and reporters talking about the ratings Trump’s rally’s brought in. Now, there have been and continue to be moral and philosophical debates surrounding how much news broadcasting should be subject to the scrutiny of ratings.
But now, with Nielsen ratings facing scrutiny and slowly fading to obscurity, social media and streaming sites don’t mind filling in the gap and simply cutting out the middleman. In case it wasn’t obvious, social media and streaming sites totally figured out how to monetize attention years ago. These metrics are being continuously refined to the point where, at least in Youtube’s domain, they are purportedly comparable to Nielsen ratings. To make a long explanation short, streaming sites and social media execs don’t even hesitate to call attention to the fact they are vying for all of our attention all the time. A quote from Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix reveals how ingrained this mindset of monetizing attention is in various business models.
“At Netflix, we are competing for our customers' time, so our competitors include Snapchat, YouTube, sleep, etc."
— Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO
Again, this isn’t a new concept, especially in the worlds of advertising, sales, and entertainment. I should know, I worked in advertising for a short time. Everything about my job as a copywriter was create or gain more attention, either from brand loyalists or those with brand apathy (depending on the task assigned). But, even before then, way before I was born, before computers, TV’s, radios, and even newspapers, vendors in markets had to rely on their wit and showmanship to lure potential customers. The difference being, back then attention and presence were merely used as keys to walk into the door. Today, those keys are the currency!
All of Us Are Trading and Paying with Attention and Presence
I believe this concept goes beyond sitting in front of a computer, TV screen or managing to get free TV time during a presidential election. I see it now in how people are interacting with each other. Hell, thanks to the nudging of Darinka and the full shove by the goddess, I am now dealing in this sacred currency as well.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize the value of my time. I didn’t always. I think in the past I felt if I earnestly gave my time to everyone that they would do the same. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way on several heart-breaking occasions. But those are stories for another time.
Suffice to say, as mentioned in a previous blog post about how I interact with others; I’ve essentially come to see myself as a hotel. Now, everyone I interact with I view as patrons I’m allowing to stay. For the time being, I do this because thinking of myself as a hotel allows me to set up concise boundaries with others so that I may clearly pursue my writing and poetry careers, in addition to honoring the tenants that enable me to be the best me I can be.
Perhaps my age may have something to do with this crystallization of thoughts as well. I’ve noticed that as I slowly move through the ancient ages known as the 30’s, it’s become more challenging to keep up with having so many different passwords; credit card, bank account and phone numbers; email and physical addresses, account numbers and people’s names. The point is, I’m starting to feel the weight of the continuous glut of words and numbers stuffed into my brain throughout the last 31 years of this life so far. If my brain is a hard drive, all this data I’ve been downloading over the years is finally starting to slow down the RAM.
This is partially why I’ve been taking time to reflect and not spend as much of it around people, as a way to re-calibrate and search through my history as a way to implement better (firewall) boundaries, and delete what is no longer needed.
I’ve been learning, mostly due to past experiences, I can only put so much attention and presence (aka time & energy) into interacting with negative and/or mentally/spiritually unhealthy people. Therefore, in putting up barriers, I am also allowing myself time and energy to put my attention and presence into other areas of my life, like writing.
You can consider my newfound mental outlook a microcosm of a much broader macrocosm, because, at least on paper, many millennials also appear to be through with putting their attention and presence into people and brands that no longer serve a greater good. Now, millennials would rather engage and interact with brands that have a purpose and practice cause marketing.
These days, my patience is paper thin when it comes to interacting with people who drain me and/or waste my time by breaking or ignoring the boundaries I set up for myself. With all the writing projects I’m working on, not to mention my job and my relationship with the goddess, I just can’t put out the same amount of energy and attention into those kinds of people and their broken record puzzle loop patterns.
By acknowledging how valuable my time is I no longer subconsciously undermine myself via putting insatiable needs of emotionally unhealthy people first, while ignoring the havoc they wreck on my ability to practice what inspires me. If I’m going to be inspired by self-expression and the courage to live life on my terms, I can no longer have people in my life that hinder the pursuit of my own happiness.
If time and attention are the new currency, then I no longer pay places or people that have abused my patronage. I’m taking my time back and investing it in people and places that respect my time and presence.
If you enjoyed this little travelogue thoughtgasm, feel free to leave some claps or check out some other lessons learned on my travels around this wild blue planet.
Also, show some love to the website and socials of Darinka Blagaj. She’s got many amazing projects going down.
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