TAoN 44: Icebreaker Special
There's an Icebreaker Slack app (!). Plus bricks, rocks, Flower Friday, and more.
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. 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.
Icebreaker Special (and Slack App!)
Normally I open with some prompts, and close with an icebreaker. But I’m flipping things around, one time only, because I’ve got some fun news.
A couple of weeks ago I got a very surprising email from reader Stephen Chisa, who caught my interview on the Hurry Slowly podcast, checked out the newsletter, and became a fan of the icebreaker series. He wrote:
I built a Slack app that lets people shuffle through a list of icebreakers and post those icebreakers so their whole team can give their answers. It's been a fun project, I've always loved icebreakers, and they seem extra relevant now when more teams are trying to preserve their water cooler conversations in a remote setting and trying to find other things to talk about than the pandemic.
He sent along a “super short video snippet" demonstrating how it would work, and asked if it would be okay for the app to draw on the TAoN icebreaker list, with credit. We had a short back and forth. After all, most of the icebreakers have come (with credit!) from you readers, so my first instinct was to be protective. But Stephen is not trying to profit off this — it’s free!
Plus he’s spreading a message that, obviously, I believe in: These icebreakers are an enjoyable way to connect with others, and connecting with others is central to a whole section of The Art of Noticing. Also, connecting with others may be harder and yet more vital than ever right now. And I never would have thought of Slack as a venue. So: all good! I hope you agree.
You can read more about & download the free Icebreaker Slack app here.
But one more thing: Stephen mentioned that he was also including his own favorite icebreakers in the app’s mix. So I asked if he could share a few with TAoN. He did, and they’re great, so here goes:
What was the first R-rated movie you saw? How old were you? “I enjoy this question because it creates many different points of possible discussions: the movie itself, your parent’s parenting philosophy, and the rating system in general,” Stephen explains. “The first R-Rated movie I saw was Starship Troopers in a random motel in Wisconsin when I was 7. We were on a family vacation to visit my Mom’s aunt. It was the first time my parents let us purchase a movie at a hotel, which only added to the occasion. Yes, I did have nightmares but no I have no regrets.”
What was your first concert? How did you get there? “This question is often asked by hosts at Sofar concerts but it always sparks some great nostalgia, sharing of what parents were like, and maybe even some devious ways of getting there.”
What is your favorite body of water? Why? “It’s interesting to hear why people pick what they pick—maybe it’s historically interesting, childhood vacation nostalgia, or maybe even because it has a lake monster and monsters are cool.”
I really like these! Big thanks for sharing, Stephen. Nice work!!
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to email@example.com
There’s a central collection spot for all the TAoN icebreakers to date, here.
Again: You can download the free Icebreaker Slack app here.
Take A (Virtual) Brick Tour
Earlier this year I had a very enjoyable email exchange with reader Rosalie Schultz, who gave me several great tips and thoughts that I planned to write about back in March. But as you know, other things came up.
Specifically, she first wrote to tell me about a guide in Chicago, Will Quam, who “gives tours of bricks.” She wrote:
He takes us on a stroll through a given neighborhood, and points out the different kinds of bricks used in the buildings there. … [He] has us notice these different kinds of bricks, feel them, observe the patterns in which they are laid, look at the mortar holding them together. … Looking at bricks, really noticing them, gives someone walking through a city a whole new perspective.
Obviously this is my kind of thing! And I was particularly drawn to the fact that the brick tours involved not just looking at the bricks but touching them. I love tactile prompts. But that said … the height of a global pandemic is probably not the best time to wander around touching strange surfaces. And I assumed these tours were on hiatus anyway.
But finally checking back, it turns out that Brick of Chicago is offering “virtual tours”!
Coming up on Saturday, May 23rd I’ve got A Brief(ish) and Exciting History of Brick in Chicago. Then, on Sunday, May 24th I’ve got a tour of Rogers Park, a neighborhood that showcases Chicago’s brick history in the roaring brick-filled 20s.
More at: brickofchicago.com. Whether you take the virtual tour or not, make the humble brick a subject to notice on your next dog walk or mind-clearing stroll*. Thanks again to Rosalie for the prompt — check out her (very observation-driven!) blog, Stops Along the Mobius Strip.
* But probably keep on keeping your hands to yourself, for now. Even if, like me, you identify with this:
Here’s my open call to join me in new ritual. Every day, unless weather forbids, I spend some time out in the world and look around, listen, try to notice new things. But on Fridays I’ve lately made it a point to look, specifically, for flowers.
That’s it. That’s the ritual. You don’t have to take pictures or upload or hashtag anything if you don’t want to. This Friday, wherever you are or wherever you go, just look for flowers. And that’s the Flower Friday prompt.
Seek Food-Like Rocks. (Uh, What?)
I do not remember how I came across this. But not long ago artist/educator Hope Ginsburg posted on Instagram about an assigned walk, with students assigned (as I understand it) to choose some prompts from a list to address while walking. Several of the prompts are totally worth stealing for your future wanders.
In particular, I like “Collect a stick that looks like a relative,” and “Collect a rock that reminds you of your favorite food.” Both are attributed to Emily Leary, who I assume is a student? Anyway, great stuff. Below is one student’s discovery: a rock that looks like a sandwich. More here.
In Other News
Friend of TAoN Ellen Rose posted this set of seven “creative warmups from @ideoorg,” and I like the last one best: List three household objects, and three convenience store objects; then “pick one item from each list and pitch a hybrid (IE It’s a pain-relieving showerhead!).”
Make a List of Demands. Even if you know they’ll never be met, it might be cathartic. Plus it’s an interesting form of writing — I might use it with students. Inspired by this totally charming Farhad Manjoo column in which his kids threatened to "declare war on the parents,” unless their demands (“control bed time”) were met.
@tape_measures is an Instagram account documenting design efforts to enforce/encourage social distancing … with tape.
Okay, that's it! Next issue in two weeks.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 Unsubscribe
P.P.S.: Last minute bonus content: Newish from Speed Levitch, who is featured in the book, a Virtual Tour of the Chelsea Hotel. Fun as always …