TAoN No. 61: Hunting for Feelings

Missing words (finally) revisited. PLUS: A genuine milestone, and a new icebreaker

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 I finished the book. ****Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com.****

Hunt the Unnamed (Part 1)

Back in TAoN No. 58 I mused about “a dictionary of missing words” — a dictionary with no terms, just definitions. This was tied to a prompt (slightly modified here):

Pay attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be.

I got a lot of feedback, and promised to follow up. This is (finally!) that follow-up. There were so many useful suggestions for further reading/inspiration:

  • Three readers pointed me to The Meaning of Liff, from Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. Reader Marion Boddy-Evans explains that the authors “took UK place names (of which there's an abundance and which just loiter on signs pointing at things) and assigned them to things English didn't have a word for.” More (with examples) here, and here. (Thanks also to Kostas Theoharis and Alex Hallatt.)

  • Reader Michael Palko pointed me to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a site and forthcoming book that “defines neologisms for emotions that do not have a descriptive term.” Creator John Koenig invents the words, but partly bases them on “research on etymologies and meanings of used prefixes, suffixes, and word roots.”

  • Coincidentally, reader Erin-Lee Laurence sent me a note citing a word that actually comes from Koenig: “Sonder — a word I never really knew existed, but certainly a feeling I had had in the past — the realization that every random stranger has their own unique story and is living a life as complex as your own.” (A very TAoN sentiment.) More here.

  • Also coincidentally, friend/hero of TAoN Mark Frauenfelder recently quoted The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in his kick-ass newsletter, The Magnet, citing the invented word kenopsia: “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.” (Subscribe to The Magnet!)

  • On Twitter, @Anthropologal brought my attention to an AI-driven Scrabble variation called BLABRECS: “Real English words aren't allowed! Instead, you have to play nonsense words that sound like English to the AI. These nonsense words are called – you guessed it – BLABRECS.” (More here; it’s fun to try to invent nonsense words that get accepted.)

  • Reader Karla Strambini raised a point that I’d pondered but didn’t raise earlier: “Sometimes you can find wonderful words in other languages for concepts that aren't adequately named in English. My favorite is a French idiom: Esprit de l'escalier. It means a witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs. (From In Other Words by C.J. Moore.)”

  • Finally, I got several useful comments from astute reader Megan Arnold, including one directly relevant to words that exist in other languages: Check out this Brainpickings post about Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World from writer/illustrator Ella Frances Sanders. (Example: gurfa, an Arabic word that refers to “the amount of water that can be held in one hand.”) Great!

  • Megan also mentioned sniglets — defined as “any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should” — a series of bits and books originating with Rich Hall starting back around 1980. I actually almost brought sniglets up in my earlier post; the Wikipedia entry includes even more word-invention precedents.

  • And last but not least, I love this final tip from Megan, a book called The Lost Words, from Robert Macfarlane, who, as this helpful post explains, “discovered that a new children's encyclopedia had discontinued some words to make way for others” and with illustrator Jackie Morris “sought to conjure and reclaim twenty of the ‘lost words.’” Lovely.

Phew! Okay, so big thanks to all — the smarter-than-me readers of this newsletter have basically generated an amazing syllabus for a whole course on missing words. And I love the connection to attention. So if you implement such a course, please let me know so TAoN readers can attend via Zoom ;)

But meanwhile….


Hunt the Unnamed (Part 2)

… as noted in my earlier post, what really interests me isn’t actually invented/inventing words, it’s the practice of noticing and attending to feelings or sensations or occurrences that lack a name. (Again: imagine a dictionary with only definitions, no terms.)

Another relevant prompt in The Art of Noticing is “hunt for a feeling.” This was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s gripe that most people neither truly listen nor truly observe. He argued that a writer/artist/etc. “should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.”

Setting aside Hemingway’s macho-challenge tone, what I find useful is the idea of working to pay attention not just to the conventional (what we see, what we hear) but also to the unnamed (the felt, the in-between). And I’m pleased to say that a half-dozen or so TAoN readers also sent me examples of exactly that. This is what I was hoping would happen!

So I’m going to introduce a new recurring feature to the newsletter, called (for now) Need A Word For … The first installment is just below.

And in a related development: I’m now encouraging responses (both reactions and new submissions) in the comments. You can still email me, but to be honest the email has been a little overwhelming lately. Which on one level is great and please keep it coming etc, but on another level makes me want to figure out how to make comments (which I have never previously encouraged) a viable and valuable addition to TAoN. Let me know what you think — in the comments!

Leave a comment


Need A Word For …

  • Need A Word For … 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. This week’s submission is from Nick Kinling:

When I'm walking on a straight path and see people ahead of me, there is a moment when I can't tell if they are walking toward or away from me. I'd like to name this brief moment when I am utterly unsure of their direction.

I totally know this sensation/phenomenon! Thanks, Nick!

If you have a response (maybe there IS a word for this?), leave it in the comments. Or submit your own Need A Word For…, in the comments or via email.

Leave a comment


My Modest Quest: A Real Milestone

Last issue I endorsed the “modest quest.” And not long after, I made one myself.

My inspiration was this article about the history and significance of Elysian Fields, a thoroughfare here in New Orleans that runs five miles from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, and used to link those destinations via the Pontchartrain Railroad. That train ceased operation in the 1930s, and the tracks were removed by the 1950s. But one trace remains. The article explains:

“On the neutral ground by North Roman [Street’s intersection with Elysian Fields] may be found a stone slab etched with the Roman numeral ‘I,’ meaning one mile from the river. This is the last of the five milestones along the Pontchartrain's tracks, and now stands as a sort of tombstone” for the departed rail line.

That’s right: an actual milestone.

Ever since I read this article back in 2018 I’ve wanted to go check this out. It’s about a 30-minute bike ride from where I live, and on a recent weekend I finally did it. That’s my first modest quest of 2021:

Okay, okay, it’s not much to look at. But, c’mon — a real milestone! Totally worth it!


Icebreaker 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 reader Karla Strambini:

What is your favorite compliment of all the compliments you've ever received? 

Karla (yes, the same Karla cited in the missing words roundup above!), adds: “It's too easy to hoard hurtful insults, so as an antidote, I try to collect compliments instead. (I'm thinking of turning them into labels & stitching them into my clothes.)” I love it. And what a nice note to start the new year!

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


In Other News

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!

Thanks for reading …
rw

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

Share

Twitter | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

Unsubscribe Here if you wish.

Leave a comment

TAoN No. 60: A Modest Quest

Plus: Calendar Challenge & Other Year-End Updates, and a New Icebreaker

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 I finished the book. ****Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com.****

A Modest Adventure

An interesting article in Elemental the other day addressed boredom in the context of coronavirus restrictions. While TAoN (the newsletter) has for months explored at-home and in-neighborhood activities, The Art of Noticing (the book) has a whole section on “going places” that has felt like something to look forward to rather than dwell on. But there was a passage in the Elemental piece that offers more immediate inspiration.

Writer Kendra Pierre-Louis’s subjects include a guy in Minnesota named Greg Swan, whose family has begun to engage in “socially distant day trips.” Pierre-Louis writes:

Each weekend, the Swan family travels to an attraction within a 60-mile or so radius from their home (close enough to minimize the need for things like public restrooms). To amp up the anticipation, he doesn’t tell his family where they are going ahead of time; instead, during the week he doles out clues.

So far the family has visited dozens of sites, from Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, Minnesota, where you can watch heavy machinery at work from the comfort (and distance) of your own vehicle to a corner of Lawshe Park, in South St. Paul, Minnesota — the first place where women in the United States voted after the ratification of the 14th Amendment.

“I hear from my co-workers they’re like, ‘Man, we sat at home and watched Blue’s Clues this weekend, and you went on this adventure,” says Swan.

“Adventure” might sound hyperbolic. I mean, this isn’t a week in Rome. If someone described these destinations a year ago, I would have yawned.

But that’s sort of the point. If there was ever a time to be really open to and creative about taking a day trip, this is it.

In fact, don’t think of it as a day trip. Think of it as a (modest) quest — an adventure, an event.

Adapt to your circumstances; if you’re in a household with others, take turns picking the destination. Treat all constraints as creative challenges. The destination doesn’t have to be fabulous or mind-blowing. It can be modest, even silly. This is about the journey.

Want to be less bored? Get more adventurous about what might be interesting!


[Quick Programming note]

I’m going to fill most of the rest of this issue with year-end updates, but I will have to do a separate installment on the missing words feedback. Stay tuned. I can’t thank you all enough for all the feedback and contributions lately! More next year ;)


Worthy Binge Update

In last issue’s main item on the worthy binge, I mentioned that I intend to listen my way through everything on this old list of 50 classical recordings picked by the public radio show Performance Today. (The idea being to start a slow and thoughtful “binge” that will outlast the final chapters of the pandemic.)

In a delightful surprise, reader stephanie.h.thompson subsequently tweeted: “Thanks for the NPR Performance Today 50 list. I built a Spotify playlist of it for my mom and thought I'd share for any interested followers. Here's to forgetting why we started.”

And in a second delightful surprise a couple of days later, constant TAoN inspiration Austin Kleon (you’ve heard of him) told me he, too, had put together a PT 50 playlist, with a few substitutions for recordings not available on Spotify. (Semi-related: See also Austin’s recent Beethoven birthday post.) So take your pick and join in the binge! Thanks Stephanie & Austin!


Neighborhood Calendar Challenge Update

Earlier this year I announced my neighborhood calendar challenge. Basically, take occasional pictures around your neighborhood, with an eye toward compiling enough (12) for a calendar, ideally exploring some theme you’ve observed.

I suggested a variety of possible parameters, and noted that I was making one of my own. I shared one image to see if anyone could guess my subject. A couple of you did immediately. But now I can reveal to all that for months I’ve been documenting . . . all the bollards in my neighborhood.

Ridiculous, I know. But settling on something that nobody wants me to notice is always a goal of mine because (per a main theme of the book) it helps me reframe the world. Anyway, it was an incredibly fun and satisfying project. (I ended up with too many pix — if you’re curious, I uploaded a selection of contenders to Flickr.)

Along the way, a couple of you shared your own calendar projects (as noted in prior TAoN issues) or tips about printing options — thank you for that! If anybody else carried out this project and wants to share, speak up. I’m already thinking about my 2022 calendar subject. Revisit that earlier post for ideas if you want to join in this time.


Caring + Attention Update

In TAoN No. 55, as part of a riff on caring about what you pay attention to, and paying attention to what you care about, I shared a notebook doodle on that theme, and suggested it would make a cool sticker. I’m thrilled to report that E surprised me by designing and making a set of stickers as a recent gift:

Obviously a major improvement on my doodle! I’ll figure a scheme for giving these away in 2021. Stay tuned. Thank you E!


Icebreaker 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 reader Mikah.

What are you looking forward to right now?

This suggestion came in a few months ago, but you can imagine why it jumped out now. The question “seems to center the conversation on hope,” Mikah wrote. “It's a good way to find things to celebrate and move toward in our lives.” That seems particularly salient now.

If you use this icebreaker, push beyond the obvious — of course we’re all looking forward to the pandemic ending, so seek specifics about what your icebreakee (just coined that) most looks forward to when that happens. Thanks Mikah!

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


In Other News

Okay that’s it! Next regular issue in two weeks. Happy New Year!

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.

Thanks for reading!
rw

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

Twitter | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

Unsubscribe Here if you wish.

TAoN No. 59: The Worthy Binge

Plus: Transformative Listening; Cracks; 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 I finished the book. ****Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com.****

The Worthy Binge

Sorry I’m a couple days late with this issue; I have really good excuses, I promise. But meanwhile, here we are, looking at a surprisingly hopeful post-vaccine future. And yet: between us and that future there’s a winter of rising cases forcing many of us to remain much more isolated than we wish. Hopefully this is the home stretch, but it still looks like a challenge.

Past issues of TAoN have explored pandemic-friendly ways of attending to the home environment, your neighborhood, and (via the icebreakers) other people. But maybe a personal, inward-looking strategy is most helpful now.

Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to promote this terrific essay by friend of TAoN Oliver Munday. (He did the illustrations in the book.) It’s about his “epic quarantine reading project,” tackling Proust’s thousands of pages In Search of Lost Time cycle. Here’s what Oliver wrote that grabbed me:

“Soon after beginning … I realized that I craved a reading experience like the pandemic itself: one with an ending so far off as to be inconceivable. Proust released me from the typical pressures of reading. Unconcerned with finishing, note taking, or retention, I stopped tracking my progress and let go of any expectation of what I’d read next.”

I totally get this. I spent years intermittently reading Zola’s 20-novel Rougon-Macquart cycle, totally “unconcerned with finishing,” as Munday writes; I had no goal in mind at all, really. But — as with Munday and Proust — that ultimately meant that the work crept into my life in a more natural way. I think about it all the time, and I believe that’s partly because I never intended to think about it again.

This strikes me as a particularly useful form of culture-binge for the months ahead: a culture consumption project that’s a challenge (not simple escapism), but an open-ended one, with no specific goal in mind. Something big enouogh that you’re not concerned with the idea of when, if ever, you’ll finish. (Notably, Munday, who has a lot of interesting things to say about what he’s learned from Proust, still isn’t done.)

And now seems like a good moment to start such a project, faced as we are with a future that’s both hopeful and challenging. It’s a way to mark this time, and beyond, on your own terms.

Obviously it doesn’t have to be Proust — or even a reading project. In fact, after some reflection, I’ve decided to start a listening project. Years ago I set out to explore classical music (which I know little about) through a list of 50 CDs recommended by the public radio show Performance Today. I didn’t get very far; it seemed too big a task, without enough payoff.

But inspired by Munday’s essay I recently tracked down the list I rememebered, and I’m determined to work my way through it. I’m streaming the works this time, not buying CDs, but it’s still going to take a while. And I’m happy about that. I’m taking my time with each listen, because I want this project to last. I want to give it the attention it deserves.

I hope that by the time I finish, I won’t even remember the circumstances that inspired me to start.


Missing Words Update (Soon)

There was quite a bit of excellent feedback to last issue’s item on “missing words” — so much that I’m still processing it all. More on that soon.


A Sound Shot Lesson

Here’s a brief anecdote about someone (not me) noticing a taken-for-granted element of the world — and completely transforming it.

A few weeks ago, I took the ferry from downtown New Orleans to Algiers Point, across the river. I paused to sit on the levee and look at the skyline. Something caught my ear, and I took this “sound shot”:

Now, I’d heard this sound before — it’s the steam-powered calliope on the Steamboat Natchez, a tourist riverboat — but not in a long time. And I’d certainly never thought about it any serious way. Until now. That’s because Kara Walker once heard this sound, really paid attention, and ultimately transformed the way I and many others hear it.

Back in 2016, Walker (no relation) visited Algiers Point, which was once the location of a holding area for slaves who would be sold in New Orleans. A cheerful calliope sound caught her attention. A New York Times story explains:

She started researching the instrument, which had its heyday just after the Civil War. (Calliope is the mythological Greek muse of epic poetry.)

“I started thinking about music and mind control — happy music being a way of keeping a certain level of peace, placating everyone,” Ms. Walker said. “The more I looked into it, the more it piqued my interest.

This led to the creation of an amazing and immense calliope installed in a wagon structure featuring Walker’s well-known silhouette aesthetics, playing music of “Black protest and celebration,” and briefly installed in Algiers as part of an art festival in 2018. E and I witnessed this, and it was amazing. It’s too much to explain here but check out this Art 21 feature/video.

So … back to my recent journey to the Algiers levee. Most likely, I would scarcely have noticed that steam calliope sound that I’d heard before and never pondered in any meaningful way. Except that Kara Walker transformed what I was hearing.

I knew that was true when E and I experienced her actual work — but in a way I really knew it two years later, listening to a version of the same sound she heard, and marveling at how much she made of this everyday thing that the rest of us hardly noticed.


Something To Notice

“Something To Notice” is a simple suggestion for something you might want to make an effort to notice in the weeks ahead. That’s it. This week’s suggestion comes from this essay by M.H. Rubin, via Peta Pixel.

Cracks

Back story: “A good crack is an enormously satisfying thing, like a lightning bolt or a branch of an old oak tree,” Rubin argues, and he has been photographing them for many years. And thinking about them too. His essay ties in Zen aesthetics, fractals, and more. “They’re so ubiquitous they’re invisible. But not to me. They’re part of my photographic mantra to slow down and pay attention.

Have a suggestion for Something To Notice? Tell me: consumed@robwalker.net


Icebreaker 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 reader Prado.

What would you write on a gigantic billboard?

Responses that Prado got on Twitter are here. As a side note, I can’t remember the exact details, but this reminded of reading a piece that asked various artists what space they’d most like to work with, and one of them said “all the billboards between two towns.” I think about that on every road trip I take, to this day. Thanks for sending this one my way, Prado!

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

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


In Other News

@ayalazarfjian, @judy_andrews_, @alfs_photos_

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.

Thanks for reading!
rw

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

Twitter | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

Unsubscribe Here if you wish.

TAoN No. 58: Toward A Dictionary of Missing Words

PLUS: My pet container ship, a new icebreaker, and 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 I finished the book. ****Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com.****

Hunting for Words We Need

When we learn the name for something, we become more aware of it. There’s an item about this in The Art of Noticing book. It begins:

“I see many more holloways now that I know what one is,” says Nicola Twilley, the writer. “And I spot crown shyness now that I know it as a named phenomenon.”

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of things we don’t seem to have a name for. Definitions without terms. It’s a theme that keeps coming up.

A couple of issues back, for instance, I shared a reader’s suggestion for “Something To Notice” — the lone shoe, a category of object that somehow implies a hidden story. Another reader, Jet Dominic, endorsed the idea of noticing things that “appeared/arrived off the back of an interesting story.” Jet continued:

“I collect these sightings. I once saw a dozen peach pits lined up neatly on the sidewalk. Did someone eat 12 peaches in one sitting!? I need to know! Is there a name for these mystical items? I think we need one.” 

Totally separately, but around the same time, I sent friend & hero of TAoN Austin Kleon a note thanking him for a kind reference he’d made to this newsletter that led to a flood of new subscribers. I joked that there would be surely be a flood of unsubscribes after my next issue. Austin joked back that anyone with a newsletter knows the feeling, adding:

“They should make up a term for how you feel when a bunch of people unsubscribe every time you send out a newsletter.”

Ruminating on these examples of things we need a word for reminded me that for a while now, I’ve felt we need a word for this:

A group of three or more people are talking, and in the course of conversation the need for an elusive fact comes up, and nobody can quite remember it. It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. After at least 30 seconds of stalemate, somebody gives in and reaches for their phone. And the second the phone comes out of their pocket, someone else remembers the fact.

And then, as I was ruminating, I got a note from writer and super-friend of TAoN Anne Gisleson who has been using The Art of Noticing book with her students at NOCCA. One had zeroed in on the idea of the “infrathin" — Duchamp’s poetic notion of sensations or qualities that fall outside the traditional five senses, or “states between states,” as Kenneth Goldsmith has put it. (More here, and more still in the book.)

“I hunted down an example of infrathin or a ‘state between states,’” the student wrote, “and decided that the windup right before a sneeze is infrathin.”

Somehow up to this point I had never quite drawn the connection between the infrathin and the the idea of the “named phenomenon.” Or maybe I should say: phenomena that could be named.

So to connect those dots, here’s what to think about, and look out for, in the weeks ahead:

  • What are the other phenomena we encounter — sensations, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be?

  • For what else do we seem to need a word?

To be clear: I’m not suggesting you spend time inventing words, per se. Simply search for and identify what lacks a word.

Imagine, in short, a dictionary with just definitions.

By all means please tell me what you come up with! consumed@robwalker.net

PS There are perhaps other examples in this video that I linked to last issue.


Random Endorsement: VesselFinder.Com

As I’ve mentioned more than once, I live near the Mississippi River, and my bike rides often involve the levee. I enjoy looking out for ducks and pelicans — but I really love checking out the ships and boats and tugs and barges and other commercial vessels.

These sightings remind me of something most people overlook: New Orleans is known as a city of leisure, escapism and hedonism (which is all true) but it’s also a significant hub in the global economy. The Port of New Orleans is one of the busiest in the country. Thus NOLA is, in its way, actually a city defined by business.

Anyway, I am most excited when I happen to spot a container ship, like this one the other day:

It happens that in the course of researching something for work not long ago, I came across a site called VesselFinder.com, which publishes arrival and departure times for ships from any given port. I bookmarked it to explore later, and returned to it to type in the name of that container ship (visible on its hull), Gulf Bridge.

To my delight, it turned out I could learn not only learn the ship’s basics (built in 2011, 336 meters in length, flying under the flag of the Marshall Islands) but where it’s headed and even where it is right now.

When I encountered the Gulf Bridge IRL, chugging along the Mississippi, it was bound for Miami. In the screen shot above, it’s out in the Gulf, where that red box right in the center indicates. On the actual site you can zoom in on the map for a clearer look, but I screenshot the wide version because … look at all all the other vessels! Much that you take for granted — the food you eat, your everyday household objects — almost certainly depends in part on this astonishing web. It is a classic example of something vital that nobody particularly wants you to notice.

So if you live near a port or a river (or even if you don’t!) give VesselFinder a look to see what’s coming and going near you.

(A final aside: At the height of my dorky excitement about this stuff, I had a sudden flashback to being bored by dad’s endless fascination with maps — and realizing just how much I am his son after all.)


Contemplate Things As They Are

“The contemplation of things as they are, without substitution or imposture, without error or confusion, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.”

— Francis Bacon

(Dorothea Lange kept a note with this quotation pinned up in her darkroom. Via.)


Icebreaker 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 reader Clare Robinson, in Belfast:

What random stranger from your life do you think about or (even talk about) regularly? 

“Mine is a guy on a street in Tokyo who grimaced with his entire face and did the most dramatic, overblown sneeze I've ever heard, and then two more after it,” Clare says. “Whatever you are imagining, I promise it was even more ridiculous. He was walking with his partner (I guess?) and she didn't even blink.”

There are several prompts in the book that have to do with strangers, so naturally I’m very into this one. And as Clare added in subsequent correspondence: “I always wonder if I've ended up the stranger in someone else's story!” Indeed; we are all someone else’s random stranger, are we not? Thank you, Clare!

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

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


In Other News

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.

Thanks for reading!
rw

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

Twitter | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

Unsubscribe Here if you wish.

TAoN No. 57: Eat The Marginalia

PLUS: Book Giveaway!! (Not my book.) And a new icebreaker, and 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 I finished the book. ****Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com.****

Flavor in the Margins

A recent exchange with very dear and longtime friend of TAoN Amy C. Evans got me thinking about cookbooks — and about marginalia.

Amy had a genre-defying cookbook published earlier this year. A Good Meal Is Hard To Find is her remarkable collaboration with chef Martha Hall Foose, featuring Amy’s amazing paintings, linked to Foose’s recipes by charming stories they created together. Deeply grounded in the food (and characters) of the South, it doubles as an armchair journey.

Just the other week, Samin Nosrat wrote an essay for The NY Times about cookbooks as a means of escape. “The best cookbooks are so much more than recipe collections,” she wrote. “They’re oral histories, documentaries, time capsules, love letters, geopolitical texts, nature guides.”

That is a particularly appetizing idea these days, especially if you’re facing down a long winter at home. This seems like a really good time for a new cookbook.

But … maybe it’s an even better time to revisit an old cookbook.

Yes: connecting food and place, a cookbook can intentionally send you on a journey. However: a cookbook can also transport by accident. For example, Amy told me about a cookbook that belonged to her grandmother, who wrote out several recipes of her own in its pages, and left a laundry list tucked into the book — “time capsules,” as Amy put it.

Similarly, Foose, in an introduction to A Good Meal Is Hard To Find, writes of finding a lock combination jotted in an old cookbook — the kind of random discovery that sparks a certain kind of imagination.

That jotted combination, in fact, is a classic example of what makes marginalia (that is, notes and marks written into the margins of a book) so appealing: It feels like a clue. Others have written about such scrawls as revealing something about the scrawler (David Foster Wallace drawing fangs on the author photo of a Cormac McCarthy novel), or about the text (making a print object “interactive” on some level).

My favorite thing about stumbling upon marginalia is that I know it wasn’t meant for me. That’s why even the most innocent or nonsensical words or marks in some random used book, left behind by someone I’ll never know, can be intriguing. It feels almost illicit.

In fact, I would say this is not just a way of looking at a book. Seekinig out “marginalia,” defined broadly, can be a way of looking at the world: It’s the habit of directing your attention toward the “wrong” thing (like an old laundry list). It’s spotting things idiosyncatically or even accidentally inserted into environments, serving as quiet commentaries on their surroundings.

Those are the discoveries that make any journey memorable, even a vicarious journey.

Always seek the marginalia. And when you find it, savor it.


Book Giveaway ! (Not my book — Amy’s)

As it happens, I ended up with two copies of A Good Meal Is Hard To Find, and instead of being a hoarder, I’m aiming to give one away — to one of you TAoN readers!

Here’s the idea: Please share images of cool drawings/writings/notes/marginalia/etc. found in the pages of a cookbook you own, posted on Instagram and tagged, #cookbookmarginalia. (I also follow #theartofnoticing, so you can double tag if you want to be sure.) Amy and I will pick a “winner” (at random — neither of us wants the pressure of a full-on contest) in the next two weeks.

Caveat: Instagram has temporarily limited tag-driven search options because of the election; that shouldn’t affect this, but it might. You can email me about other options: consumed@robwalker.net

And of course you can also simply buy the book, which is absolutely gorgeous and very fun. You can even jot your own ideas, reactions and safe combinations in its margins!


Something To Notice

“Something To Notice” is a simple suggestion for something you might want to make an effort to notice in the weeks ahead. That’s it. This week’s suggestion comes from Lisandro Gaertner.

What statues are “looking at”

Back story: “Here in Rio de Janeiro, where I live, we have a lot of street-level statues,” explains reader Lisandro Gaertner. “I wondered what these statues were looking at. So I took pictures of them — and of their point of view.” Results from this notcing adventure are here and here; the write-ups are in Portuguese, but the pictures tell the story. “Maybe,” Lisandro adds, “this can be a fun noticing activity to share in the newsletter.”

For sure! And I’d say even if you aren’t lucky enough to live in Rio, or some other place with a lot of public statuary, just think in terms of any inaminate object with eyes: a yard statue, an ornamental gargoyle, one of those owl-shaped bird repellents, even an advertising poster or, I don’t know, Bob’s Big Boy. And if there’s something with eyes too far above ground level for you to see exactly what it’s seeing, use your powers of deduction.

Very fun, Lisandro — thank you!

Have a suggestion for Something To Notice? Tell me: consumed@robwalker.net


Icebreaker 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 reader Candice Serafino.

What famous masterpiece painting or sculpture would you like to own?

“I am a career advisor/administrator at a university and sometimes we use various icebreakers in workshops or staff meetings/retreat,” Candice explains. That includes questions about your little-kid career dream, and the famous person you’d most like to have lunch with. She hasn’t used this quetion above, but I think it’s pretty great! Thanks, Candice!

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

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


In Other News

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.

Thanks for reading!
rw

P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

Twitter | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

Unsubscribe Here if you wish.

Loading more posts…