TAoN #36: Observe A Poem

PLUS: Fake news vs. a momentary pause. 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 | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US. 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.

Observe A Poem

Last year my friends at Fathomers alerted me to a Kickstarter project from Elastic City, an admirable arts group that devises, and encourages others to devise, innovative artist walks. I jumped on the bandwagon and was thrilled to get a copy of the resulting book: PROMPTS For Participatory Walks.

There’s a section with lots of practical advice for dreaming up and organizing your own group walk. And (more to my interest) there are lots of examples of such walks that Elastic City and its many artists collaborators have created and executed, and the prompts those walks incuded. For weeks now I’ve struggled to pick out one cool example to share here. But with the caveat that I might add others later, I’m finally going to settle on a modified (by me) version of one prompt I’ve thought of often since I first read it:

  • In a setting such as a city street or a shopping mall or an airport or anywhere where there is a lot of signage and whatnot, pause and take note of all the texts that surround you.

  • “Using your memory (or use your phone), take three to five minutes to create a poetic phrase or short poem using only words that you see.”

  • Don’t add any words.

  • In the participatory walk version of this prompt, those comfortable are encouraged to share their observed creation with the group. In my solo variation, you can share it with whoever you want, or no one at all.

  • Try this again in a week. Make it a habit.

I have seen or read similar exercises, but I like the way this one is framed in the context of a walk. And in general, PROMPTS is filled with delightful ideas along these lines that encourage fresh engagement with the world. You can get a copy directly from Elastic City.

Icebreaker Of The Week

As mentioned, there’s now a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.

This week’s icebreaker is from the excellent Amy Santee:

What material are you most like? (E.g., plastic, porcelain, dirt, silk, stone etc.)

I’m still mulling my own answer to this one. As Amy adds: “The interesting thing about this question is that it forces you to really focus on one or two or maybe three major qualities of yourself.” And the more you think about it, the more other dimensions might come into play, leading to answers like blue porcelain or 20,000 year old granite or sparkling water …. “We're all so complex,” Amy concludes, “but this provides a fun and challenging exercise." I agree!  

As always:

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

In Other News

Clockwise from upper left: @watermelanies, @e3story, @tejasnirbhavane, @beeleven_11. THANK YOU! #theartofnoticing

An interesting column in The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman suggests that one way to “stop the spread of fake news” might simply be to “pause for a moment.” The argument:

Most people prone to sharing fake news do think it’s important to share only true stories, and are capable of detecting fabricated ones. It’s just that they get distracted – by, among other things, the urge to share the story they’re reading – before they’ve had a proper chance to reflect on its veracity.

I certainly like that sentiment. And a tag at the end of the column points readers to a related listen: “The writer Rob Walker explores how uncomfortable it can feel to slow down in It Hurts To Be Present, an episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast,” which was a really enjoyable interview with the very thoughtful and smart Jocelyn K. Glei (@jkglei.)

Okay, that's it! 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.

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TAoN Extra: The Icebreaker List

Hey folks,

Here’s a quick/mini/extra TAoN notice. Lots of you have asked if I could put all the Icebreakers in one place. I finally found time to do that, in this Google doc. I’ll update it as future Icebreakers appear in the newsletter.

Have suggestions for how to improve the doc? Have Icebreakers of your own to share? Let me know at consumed@robwalker.net.

That’s it! Have a great week, and the regular TAoN will be back next Monday.

— Rob

P.S. On separate note: The AIGA Portland [OR] Design Book Club will be discussing The Art of Noticing at its next get-together, Feb 8. Details are here, if that is where you happen to be. “Combine your love of reading and design with the AIGA Portland Book Club! AIGA members and non-members are invited to join this free, in-person book club.”

P.P.S. If enjoy TAoN newsletter, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.

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

TAoN #35: Trees!

Or rather: Odditrees, and how to spot them. Plus: Faces, 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 | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US

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.

TREES! (Or: Odditrees, and How to Spot Them)

I recently received some truly charming and useful correspondence on the subject of trees — odd trees.

The Odditree Society is an Austin, Texas-based project, revolving around spotting and appreciating, well, “odditrees.” That’s defined as: “a tree whose appearance deviates from what is to be expetected, often in response to external conditions.” For examples, see @odditree_society on Instagram.

Odditree Society founder Ann Armstrong mailed me the group’s absolutely fantastic “Pocket Guide to Austin’s Most Peculiar Trees,” a wonderful print object that includes an “Odditree Lexicon,” which is a typology of sorts (Sidewinders, Incredible Hulks, and other types are defined), plus a map of notable odditrees around Austin, and lots of other fun and useful info.

You can pick up one of these guides at a few spots in Austin, or via mail in the USA; details here. Or you can check out this somewhat abridged but still super-inspirational digital version, here.

But I’m not here to tell you to get this guide, as lovely as it is. I’m here to tell you spend some time looking for odd trees on your own.

You can learn Odditree’s definitions, or make up your own: Just look out for and pay attention to trees that are … different. I happen to be particularly drawn to the way old trees where I live have intertwined with the built environment — buckling sidewalks, wrapping around power lines. But follow your own interests. Make a map of the most unusual or compelling or otherwise notable trees in your neighborhood. (If you like, you might take a picture and tag it #odditrees on Instagram.)

Ann made a point to credit this Urban Oddities Guide as an inspiration. And I’d like to make a point to shout out Tree, by Matthew Battles, an entry in the Object Lessons book series: It’s as thoughtful a meditation on tree-ness as you’re likely to encounter, and is particularly interesting on distinguishing among the wild, domesticated, tame, and feral (ideas that can be applied to other creatures and objects).

Icebreaker Of The Week

This week’s icebreaker is extracted from this icebreaker guide I read on Medium. In general, the guide is a little too calculated and practical for my taste, but it’s worth a look. And this question jumped out to me as a really great one:

If you did not have to sleep, how would you spend the extra 8 hours?

As always:

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

Random Endorsement: FACE: A Visual Odyssey

The amazing writer/designer/artist Jessica Helfand’s new book is a real stunner. Face: A Visual Odyssey is in her words “a Wunderkammer of musings on the power and legacy of the face.” This is true, but modest. Visually lush and seductive and dazzling, the book dives deep into how we can and do and sometimes don’t think about faces, how that thinking and seeing is mediated, and why. It’s an achievement.

In Other News

Clockwise from upper left: @jenniharmon, @rosiegloyoga, @pretavoyager, @productivityist. THANK YOU! #theartofnoticing

Programming Note

As mentioned in a previous issue, I recently signed on as a full-time writer at Marker, a new business publication from Medium. I’m enjoying it quite a bit; my latest is about how Spirit Airlines can be a terrible brand and a successful business at the same time. (Follow me on Medium here, or Marker here, or both!)

This has required some adjustments for the newsletter, which has now become a weekend project. So my new plan is to send TAoN out every other Monday. Starting… now!

Okay, that's it! 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 | Facebook | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links.

TAoN #34: Practicing Melancholy

Plus: Your year in review; a new icebreaker; and a newsletter you shouldn't miss

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 | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US

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.

Practicing Melancholy

My favorite new-to-me writer of 2019 is Camille Bordas: Her short story “The Presentation on Egypt,” in The New Yorker, blew me away, and I immediately checked out and loved her one novel in English, How To Behave In A Crowd (which is actually a couple years old — she’s new to me). Recently she had another story in The New Yorker, and it reminded me that there was a passage in the novel I’d meant to share here.

It involves a character named Simone, a wildly precocious thirteen-year-old who is is practically ready for college. Simone would on occasion “practice melancholy.” Her younger brother Isidore asks her to explain this. The reply:

Practicing melancholy meant looking at everything lying in front of me as if it were already belonging to a distant past. … And making up stories in my head of highly unlikely futures. Trying to remove myself from the present at all costs. It’s like the opposite of meditation, in a way.

This may also sound like the opposite of the engagement with the world as it is that The Art of Noticing is all about — especially when you consider Simone’s explanation of why she calls it “practicing melancholy.”

Because what goes on in your head when you step out of the present is always richer and more satisfying than what you come back to when you’re done. That’s the sad part.

Without spoiling anything, the brilliant Simone isn’t necessarily someone you’d want to be. But more to the point, the passage really caught my attention precisely because I’ve long thought that an imaginative lens on the present can actually deepen engagement with what one sees, hears, etc. So Simone’s specific exercise may offer a thoughtful complication of my belief, and it may trade in melancholia — but I find it delightful. (Besides, much of what lies before us really does belong to a distant past; we just overlook that as we focus on the novel and new.)

So, no, I am not suggesting you start 2020 on a melancholy note — but I do think this practice is worth a try. (And check out Bordas’ work; it’s terrific.)

Your Year-End Review

TAoN isn’t just about attention to the world, it’s also about something more interior: learning to pay attention to what you care about, and care about what you pay attention to. With that in mind: Lifehacker, borrowing from Fast Company, offers advice on giving yourself a (useful) year-end review. For instance:

Most important, what were you most grateful for in 2019, and how can you take that into 2020?

Read the rest here.

Icebreaker Of The Week

This week’s icebreaker comes from reader Becky Terry:

If you weren't doing your current job, what would your dream job be?

Becky, a CPA, explains she’s found this to be great question to liven up networking events: “One guy said he would have been a concert pianist, and proceeded to the piano to prove that it might have been a reality. My dream job?  A National Geographic photographer.”

I love it. (I’d be a radio DJ — although I’d need a degree of freedom that probably no longer exists, outside of public/indie radio. That’s why it’s a “dream” job!)

As always:

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

Random Endorsement: The FEAR ITSELF newsletter

THE FEAR ITSELF NEWSLETTER is a weekly blast of practical strategy, drawn from Japanese traditions of fearlessness - particularly martial arts, and Zen.”

Every Sunday, starting December 29, 2019. Recommended! Subscribe here.

In Other News

Okay, that's it! 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 | Facebook | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links.

TAoN #33: The Adventurous Lunch Hour

PLUS: I have a job! And, of course, 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 | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US

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.

Making Your Lunch Hour An Adventure

A little while back, I got a really cool email from reader Rob Kilner. Here’s the important part:

I've got a noticing project, based around my home town. In my office job lunch hour I used to go on mini-adventures, city breaks. I reframed the day and began to see my swivel chair as a holiday destination, one from which I could act like a tourist for an hour every day.

Here’s Kilroy giving a short 2017 talk about his mini-adventures, and here’s a related piece he wrote last year for The Idler. As he explains in the latter, his practice started out simply enough, just spending his lunch hour off (from a financial call center job in Leeds) walking — “for half-an-hour before turning back, to see how far I could get.” He continues:

I plotted a circular lunchtime range on a map, which revealed an area the size of a small country (the Polynesian Island nation of Tuvalu) at my disposal. And the lunch hours add up. Twelve months of them equate to around two weeks of free time.

Kilner describes some of his adventures, and the ways he’s gotten more ambitious and thinking in terms of a #workerslunchtime movement of sorts, in the Idler piece. But here’s the latest: He’s how developing a (Leeds-focused) calendar highlighting midday events and activities “to encourage organisations to let their employees get outside and be part of the community in which they work.” Check that out here: https://tockify.com/workerslunchtime.

This is all super inspirational — I love it as a simple personal practice, and admire the idea of spreading it thoughtful ways. Kilner says:

I'm looking for advice, connections and feedback. Particularly around research and evidence that activities like these have positive implications for employers. I'd be interested to hear if you've come across any studies.

If you have #workerslunchtime ideas, write to him at: ROB_KILNER_4@hotmail.com

A Personal (Exciting!) Note:

In a development that I certainly didn’t see coming, I’ve taken a job! As of mid-November, I’m officially a senior writer for Marker, a new business-focused publication from Medium. I was already writing a column for Marker; now I’ll be doing feature-y pieces as well.

I’m really excited about it. The people are terrific, Medium’s (ad-free) mission is something I’m totally behind, and Marker is already publishing a lot of great stuff. If you’re a Medium user (you should be!) follow Marker here and/or me here.

Icebreaker Of The Week

This week’s icebreaker comes from reader Lassie:

What thing from nature are you? (Excluding animals. )

“There are so many interesting responses,” Lassie reports. Including: stone at the bottom of a river; a smoldering ember; a geyser; a vine; moss; an unattached leaf. “It really seems to get people thinking hard. I say I am dirt — dirt can take on many different qualities under different situations, and it’s the stuff from which plants grow, so there is an element of creativity to it."

Nice. I’m going to go with “weed” for me. Thanks, Lassie! As always:

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

Random Endorsement:

In Other News

Okay, that's it! 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 | Facebook | Medium | RobWalker.net NB: I use Amazon Affiliate links.

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