Instructions for Imaginary Acts
TAoN No. 121: Lessons from Yoko. And more.
Cleaning out my office the other day I found an article I’d set aside, about Yoko Ono. Among other things, it mentioned her 1964 book Grapefruit. While largely text, it’s an art book, a collection of provocatioins and directions — “instructions for imaginary acts,” as the article I’d set aside put it.
So I got a copy, and given how much I am obviously smitten with the assignment or the prompt as a form, it’s a little shocking that I am just now getting around to discovering this book. It’s wonderful!
And yes it’s true, many of the prompts are more acts of imagination than perception (let alone creation). At the very least, they are often far-fetched. “Borrow a cannon,” reads one line of the instructions for “CANNON PIECE.” Many are on these lines:
Decide not to use one particular syllable for the rest of your life
Record things tha happened to you in result of that.
Here’s another — in its entirety:
Okay. But, still, some of the “instructions” are, even if improbable — and certainly more poetic than practical — not totally imaginary. More than a few speak to the idea of perception and engagement; they poke you to experience everyday reality in new ways — imaginatively.
A few of my favorite examples:
Collect sounds in your mind that you have overheard through the week.
Repeat them in your mind in different orders one afternoon.
Step in all the puddles in the city.
PAINTING TO BE CONSTRUCTED IN YOUR HEAD
Observe three paintings carefully.
Mix them well in your head.
Carry a bag of peas.
Leave a pea wherever you go.
Draw a map to get lost.
MAILING PIECE I
Send a sound of a smile.
TOUCH POEM V
Feel the wall.
Examine its temperature and moisture.
Take notes about many different walls.
I mean, some of these are assignments I can (ahem) imagine giving my students. Even when they’re not strictly doable, there would be something to learn from trying, or figuring out some way to resolve the challenge.
But the bigger lesson here (for me) isn’t about any single Ono prompt. It’s about the spirit of attention Ono deploys here. She’s engaged in the world — via imagination. And inviting us to do the same. So I’d suggest a meta-prompt:
Imagine a set of instructions that makes others perceive the world in a new way.
OK I’ll mention one last one from Ono — in honor of Halloween!
Wear a blank mask.
Ask people to put in wrinkles, dimples, eyes, mouth, etc., as you go.
A new icebreaker next time!
In forthcoming Thursday paid-subscriber-only editions: A silly observation game I played at the airport recently; a “notebook” post; a look at a new book about social media chaos; continuing to explore the theme “other people;” and more.
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IN OTHER NEWS
Big thanks to my publisher for sending copies of the Vietnamese translation of The Art of Noticing book! They sent five copies, so if you know somebody who would appreciate one, write me at email@example.com.
For Fast Company I wrote about a “protest plushie” — an object-as-argument in the form of uterus-shaped plush toy.
Here’s a great roundup of this year’s “mundane” Halloween costumes in Japan. (Such as: “That person who showed up for the free trial lesson.”) This is an annual phenomenon that TAoN has noted before. I still love it! (Thanks, Josh!)
“Language, Please — a free, living resource for journalists and storytellers seeking to thoughtfully cover evolving social, cultural, and identity-related topics.” From an entertaining episode of No Stupid Questions about swearing.
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. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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