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!

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