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TAoN No. 88: A prompt from Anne Kadet. PLUS: Flotsam & jetsam & Susan Orlean; a new icebreaker, and more
I could not be more excited to offer a guest prompt from Anne Kadet, one of my favorite columnists. I was a very devoted fan of her Metro Money column for The Wall Street Journal, precisely because it reflected a very TAoN sensibility, constantly zeroing in on subjects and details that most people would overlook.
I know how hard it is to pull off a regular column that’s business-centric but accessible, and she not only did that but made it consistently fun to read. I guess it’s all behind a paywall but the archive is here. (One semi-random example, but a personal deep-cut favorite, was this story about the business of trophy-making.) She also once wrote (not behind a paywall) about eating nothing but dog food for six days.
I assume most of you just clicked away to that story, but for those of you still here: I advise you to check out what she’s up to now. I was delighted to learn recently-ish that she’s launched a newsletter, Café Anne, and of course it turns out to be an even more impressive adventure in creative attention.
The first issue featured an interview with the author of Good Flag, Bad Flag; the second included a talk with Anne’s drone-flying doorman, and introduced a new series called Weird Trash Heap, which is what it sounds like; the third involves two more new series, Beauty Tips from Nuns and (I think my favorite of all) Pigeon of the Month. It’s charming, it’s smart, it’s weird. Why haven’t you signed up yet?
Anyway, I don’t know Anne personally but we’ve had a few exchanges over the years, so I asked her if she might have a prompt for TAoN readers. Of course she did! Here goes:
“In the city, I like to not only notice what a random person is doing and wearing, but reflect on the fact that this likely represents their best effort in the moment—given the available options—to make themselves happy.
“This is true whether someone is tearing into a whole raw chicken on the subway, or strolling through Union Square in a red track suit, or arguing on the phone about respect. They are telling you precisely what they think they need to do to feel happier, or least get by. It’s touching to consider. We’re all trying so hard!
“The other day I saw a middle-aged lady on the R train sporting black mesh New Balance sneakers, a floral tapestry bag, and a stripey shirt. Her phone case was clipped to a purple and gold-chain lanyard around her neck. Nothing special. But I imagined her at the accessories counter, perusing the rack of lanyards and finally deciding, “Yes! The purple. That is so me.” I peeked at her phone screen. She was playing solitaire. So many people on the train playing solitaire! But that’s their best idea. Maybe I should give it a try.”
The most lovely thing about this prompt is how it reflects what I now realize is one of my favorite things about Anne’s work: in addition to being witty and original, it’s always quietly generous. So, as you go about the week ahead:
The prompt: Consider how a random person you encounter is doing their very best. Appreciate their effort.
I’m also going to take the unusual step of suggesting two bonus prompts, inspired by Anne’s newsletter. First:
Examine a random pile of trash.
I’m embarrassed that I haven’t suggested that one already myself. I examine random piles of trash all the time. You’re going to think this is some kind of troll, but Anne specifically asked me to share her email — firstname.lastname@example.org — “and encourage your readers to send me their weird trash heap pics.” So: do that! (Now I’m embarrassed that I didn’t ask you to send me your weird trash heap pics.”)
Invent an elaborate fictional back story for a pigeon or other bird or small wild animal you encounter.
That one I would never have thought of on my own, but … well, nuff said.
Okay, I’ve stolen enough ideas for today. Subscribe to Café Anne here. Thanks so much, Anne!
Flotsam & Jetsam & Susan Orlean
I’m no expert on Susan Orlean — surely you are aware of her work for The New Yorker and elsewhere — but I was struck by something she said in a recent podcast conversation with David Remnick, largely on the subject of her latest book (On Animals). He asked, in so many words, where her ideas come from. She replied:
“It’s flotsam and jetsam. It’s the sign hanging on a telephone pole. It’s an overheard conversation. It’s a specialty magazine that mentions some odd thing. It’s the burr that gets stuck on your jacket and just clings, and you think, ‘Wow, what is that? I need to know more about that.‘ It can be so random.”
I don’t really have anything to add here. I just found it to be well said, consistent with the TAoN spirit … and kind of a nice complement to today’s main item! Here’s to random flotsam & jetsam.
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.
This week’s icebreaker is from Elias Johnson-Youngquist:
"So I learned a while back that they have figured out how to cremate someone and put their ashes into a vinyl record. So if you had to be turned into a vinyl record, what album or what songs would you want to be on the record?"
“I'm a church worker and I am always on the lookout for unique and good icebreakers for group events,” Elias says. “My favorite morbid icebreaker is this one I came up with. Hope it isn't too weird, but it gets people talking about their own experiences with death and is a light entrance to that. It also lets me know what songs or experiences are important to folks.”
Definitely not too weird — it’s just weird enough! Seriously, this is a great one. Thank you so much Elias!
As usual, I’m still working through the disorganized backlog of icebreaker submissions. But as always, I want more:
Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to email@example.com
This Thursday’s post for paid subscribers: Why I’m a little skeptical about the obsessive quest for “awe,” and some thoughts on how to scale it down to something more realistic and useful in everyday life.
Plus a fresh installment of The Heard, sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.
As always, if being a paid subscriber is not in your budget but you’d really like access to those posts, drop me a line, I’m reasonable. firstname.lastname@example.org. If it is in your budget, then subscribe — that’s what makes TAoN possible :)
In Other News
The newsletter Why Is This Interesting? — overseen by the dynamic duo of Noah Brier and Colin Nagy — asked me to answer questions for their Monday Media Diet series, and I was flattered to oblige. Includes me confessing a puzzling interest in Christine McVie. Here.
"A Loop In Space Is Structure" by Monarchs. “Ambient loops and other structures from Los Angeles, California.” Really good, give it a listen!
Street Wisdom looks interesting, although it’s also frankly a bit confusing. Anybody have direct experience with … whatever it actually is? Comment or email@example.com, I’m genuinely very curious.
Ryan McGinness collaboration with WRV and Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, raising money for the museum’s exhibition and education program. (I’m a big McGinness fan.)
Excited for friend of TAoN Tom Roston’s new book The Writer’s Crusade, “the story of Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse-Five, an enduring masterpiece on trauma and memory.” There are a bunch of online events, follow Tom on Twitter for details.
Exciting update on the Christmas tree telephone pole I wrote about a month ago:
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, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments!
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And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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