TAoN #29: Crate-Dig Reality
Plus: Speaking at Cranbrook; 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. Reminder: I’ve switched from Tinyletter to Substack for sending out these newsletters. Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com. Concerns? Reach me at email@example.com.
‘Art of Noticing’ public talk at Cranbrook
I am super excited to be visiting the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where I’ll be doing a workshop with Carla Diana and her brand new 4D Design program — and giving a public talk about The Art of Noticing. If you are in the area you should come. It’s free! I’d love to meet you.
Please spread the word! Thank you…
When I was writing The Art of Noticing, I kept thinking I’d find a good spot to cite the 2001 documentary Scratch. But I never did. So I’ll do it here, because there was a passage in that film that really influenced me.
The documentary is about DJs and hip-hop turntablism, and the passage involves “digging” — meaning spending endless time patiently digging through crates or stacks or just heaps of records, looking for treasures that everybody else missed. As Z-Trip succinctly puts it:
Of all these records of shit . . . there might be that one diamond in the rough. . . . You’re digging all day and you find that one record — aahh! It’s the end of the crate, and you’re dusty and you stink. . .
. . . and it’s worth it. Cut Chemist:
When you find that one that nobody else has found, you just kinda remember: This is what it was all about.
This is vividly illustrated in a bit with DJ Shadow, talking about poring over over the surreal selection of sounds, many of them rejected or forgotten, in a record store’s basement. The important thing to remember is that this basement isn’t packed with treasure. It’s packed with junk. You have to spend the time to sort through the junk to find the treasure. There is no shortcut. There is no algorithm. There is only time, attention, noticing — digging. Shadow says:
There’s the promise in these stacks of finding something that you’re gonna use. And in fact most of my first album was built off of records pulled from here.
He talks about the “karmic” element, finding this or that by chance. (He also observes that there is something humbling about this hoard. “It’s a big pile of broken dreams, in a way,” he observes. I could write a whole separate essay on that riff, and maybe some day I will.)
I like to try to apply this spirit of crate-digging to everyday life. The only way to find the good stuff, the special stuff, the genuine moments and the true inspiration, is to first engage with the everyday, the mundane, the seemingly useless, the things nobody else seems to care about. So engage. There is no shortcut; there is no algorithm. If all you do is track what’s trending, then all you’ll ever know is exactly what everyone else already knew. To discover, you have to dig. One more from Shadow:
People that dig, don’t stop digging, cos it’s part of who we are. People that don’t — you don’t have to.
Icebreaker Of The Week
This week’s icebreaker comes from an anonymous friend of the newsletter, who credits a sample question from a college admission interview process. (I’ve tweaked a bit.)
Imagine you could devote a year to researching someone’s biography. Who would your subject be?
I think my answer would be P.T. Barnum. (And yes, I know about the existing books.)
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to firstname.lastname@example.org
In Other News:
I was honored to have a turn on Cool Tools, with hosts Mark Frauenfelder and Kevin Kelly, a podcast I’ve enjoyed for years. I was also really nervous, but they made it easy. Fun.
New ‘Off Brand’ column for Marker: “In other words, this is an example of a particular kind of deal that could be shorthanded as ‘Thing You’ve Never Heard of Acquires Thing You’ve Heard of Your Entire Life.’ It’s not the first example. And it definitely won’t be the last.”
My regular collaborator Joshua Glenn and I are launching a new series of essays about LOST OBJECTs as part of our ongoing PROJECT:OBJECT enterprise, over on Josh’s site HILOBROW. A killer lineup of writers and artists, more here.
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: email@example.com.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.