TAoN No. 64: Consider the Gifts

Plus: A One-Object Time Capsule; Another Missing Word; A New Icebreaker; & More

The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday offers exercises, prompts, provocations, games and things you can actually do to build attention muscles, stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Knopf. This newsletter offers related news and ideas and noteworthy projects that have come along since the book.

Consider the Gifts

I didn’t know much about the artist Roni Horn, but as I skimmed a recent Q&A with her, this exchange stopped me:

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

When my niece was quite young, she made this olive tree out of pipe cleaners, wool and glue for me because I’d been away for six months and she was looking forward to seeing me. It’s just the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, but I absolutely love it. And it appears in the “The Selected Gifts” (1974-present), which is a photo installation that I made by going through my life and pulling all of the gifts given to me.

What really jumped out was the part her answer that I’ve bolded — her documentation of “all of the gifts given to me.” (Here is her related book.)

This is such a great idea! In The Art of Noticing book I have a couple of prompts related to compiling personal “inventories.” Like designer and researcher Paula Zuccotti asking subjects to document every object they touched in a 24-hour period. Or artist and educator (and TAoN pal) Kate Bingaman-Burt, a master of the inventory project, having her students list and draw personal inventories such as everything they are carrying, or everything they own that they want to get rid of. Or designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg’s list of “Things I Didn’t Buy” — a kind of anti-inventory. Creating an inventory can reveal something about you.

But conducting an inventory of gifts received strikes me as really resonant right now. Stopping to observe and reflect on what we’ve been given — and by whom, and why we’ve held onto it — is not only a cue to feel gratitude, but a source of connection in a distinctly unconnected time. Maybe it’s even inspiration to reach out to a gift-giver we’re missing.

The occasion of the interview (which I went back and read all the way through) is Horn’s current project: the culmination of 14 months making one work per day — a stretch that overlapped with the onset of the pandemic. This is also fascinating, and I’m excited to learn more about Horn’s work. But meanwhile, her thinking about a gifts is itself a gift.

Bonus prompt: The Art of Noticing book also includes my suggestion to always ask about the weirdest thing in the room. It often yields a great story.

A One-Object Time Capsule

After resisting the idea of the “cool mask” for nearly a year, I have now seen a mask I can’te help but admire. It’s the “Wearing Mask On Bottom of Chin Illusion” mask, from Maskalike. “It looks like you’re wearing your mask wrong (aka being a “chin masker”),” reads the product description. “But it’s actually on right! Wear it to surprise and amuse people around you.” I wrote a bit more about the mask as an object here.

Now, I totally get why someone might not be “amused” by this object at all. In real life, chin-maskers are stressful at best. But something in the dark humor and astute observation here makes me admire the object anyway. If I had to make a time capsule of this era I might choose this thing — and maybe nothing else.

  • What would you put in a time capsule to sum up this past year?

PS: Maskalike was founded by Danielle Baskin, a really impressive artist/designer with an eye for the absurd in the everyday. You can also read about her recent Blue Check Homes project — a prank that pretended you could get a physical variation on Twitter’s “verified” symbol mounted on your house to confirm your notability and authenticity to passers by. See her site for other smart and funny digital and physical creations. What a hero of noticing!

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Dictionary of Missing Words

  • Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.

  • This week’s submission is from Bret B, from the comments.

Need a word for the when you enter a Zoom room all by yourself. Do I have the wrong room? Do I have the wrong time? Is Zoom down? Am I alone in the universe?

Thank you Bret B.!

If you have a response (maybe there IS a word for this?), leave it in the comments.

Or even better: share your own example!

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Icebreaker(s) Of The Week

  • Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here. || There’s also an Icebreaker Slack app, here. (Back story on that here.)

This week’s icebreaker comes from friend of TAoN Jenna Sherry.

What activities, realizations, or new ways of doing things will you (try to) keep from this past year?

“It's a question you could ask any year, but it is particularly interesting now when there is so much focus on things we are missing being able to do,” Jenna writes. “It seems to spark a moment of reflection about what we have learned about ourselves in a challenging time, and as well as a reflection that some new habits might have come out of necessity, but contributed to better quality of life.”

It’s such a valuable thought; thanks so much, Jenna! (Bonus: Here’s a clip of her performing Brahms’ “Sonata in E Flat Major Op. 120 no. 2, II. Allegro appasionato.”)

As usual, I’m still working through the backlog of icebreaker submissions, but as always, I want more:

Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to consumed@robwalker.net

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Okay that’s it! Next issue in two weeks.

As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, and your icebreakers: consumed@robwalker.net. Or use the comments!

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