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TAoN No. 134: Advice on attention from Kevin Kelly. Plus a new Missing Word, and more.
I had a feeling I would dig Kevin Kelly’s new book Excellent Advice For Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. And I did! It’s a collection of hundreds of bits of, well, advice, in the form of aphorisms, concise observations, quiet insights. I love the seemingly effortless way it’s put together — it’s not overthought, it’s very sure of itself. A pleasure to read straight through, or jump around at random.
You want examples, don’t you? Fair enough! I asked Kelly if he’d be willing to pick out a few bits of advice from the book that relate to TAoN’s themes of attention and engagement. He sent this terrific list of seven:
For a great payoff, be especially curious about the things you are not interested in.
If you are stuck in life, travel to a place you have never heard of.
Art is whatever you can get away with.
Pay attention to what you pay attention to.
Always read the plaque next to the monument.
If you stop to listen to a musician or street performer for more than a minute, you owe them a dollar.
Take one simple thing — almost anything — but take it extremely seriously, as if it is the only thing in the world — or maybe the entire world is in it — and by taking it seriously you‘ll light up the sky.
This is such a good list! I love all seven, but I’ll add a quick note on a few:
Coincidentally, No. 1 is a very clear articulation of something I’ve been thinking about a lot and hope to return to: It sounds weird to be curious about “things you are not interested in” — but I think that’s actually a skill. Probably a really important skill. More on that soon! But meanwhile, take the advice: be alert to what doesn’t interest you, and think about how to get curious about it — even just a little.
No. 3 is an idea whose origins are somewhat debated but that I associate with Marshall McLuhan. (Kelly is clear that he is not claiming to have originated all the advice he presents: “I am primarily channeling the wisdom of the ages.” The project started with him collecting insights to share with his children; in a sense, the whole undertaking is about noticing wisdom.) Anyway, I like that Kelly included this one because it resonates with this past post: make it art.
I love No. 7. Everything about it.
Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.
This week’s missing word is from reader Lisa Peet (of the very cool Bloom), via email.
That tiny, almost inaudible sound we make instead of responding to someone in a way that we know we shouldn't, for whatever reason — an almost silent grunt or exhalation or "mmp," usually with mouth shut, instead of saying, "What a ridiculous opinion," or "That was the most far-fetched thing I've ever heard," or "I'm so embarrassed that you actually said that." It's the smallest release of verbal pressure possible in order to effectively stay silent.
That last line is so well put! Lisa adds: “Here's hoping you have no need for one of those this week!” Indeed. Right back at ya — and what a great missing word! Thank you!
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
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IN OTHER NEWS
The D Crit Summer Intensive (which includes my workshop on writing about objects) is adding an “on-site” option for those in NYC. (My workshop will still happen via Zoom, but there are a bunch of cool extras if you do the NYC option.) More here. It’s a great program for anyone interested in design writing and research!
For my Branded column in Fast Company, I wrote about why it was a mistake for GM to pull the plug on the Chevy Bolt.
Exhibition of restaurant menus.
Sorry this newsletter is a day late. Sorry there isn’t as much “other news” as usual. Sorry I haven’t answered your email. Sorry I haven’t (yet) thanked you for your generosity. I mean well and I’m doing my best :)
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults directed at me, not at anyone else, 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. Send me mail!
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