Discover more from The Art of Noticing
TAoN No. 43: Indoor Roundup, the Sequel
PLUS: How To Remember, a New (Zombie) Icebreaker, 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.
Indoor Roundup, Part 2
Kayla Adolph, Toledo, Ohio, from CityLab’s collection of Maps of Life Under Lockdown: “This map shows how our space changes by day and night based on our new routine.”
A couple of issues back I offered a roundup of abridged prompts drawn from The Art of Noticing book that might be fun (some for families, some for individuals) during lockdown. As that era starts to transition to some tentative new chapter, here are a few more (mostly) indoor ideas from the book, here in shortened & tweaked form.
MAKE A PERSONAL MAP. There are several map exercises in the book — mapping sounds, sensory maps, etc. But the idea of the highly personal map (partly inspired by the terrific Where You Are project) seems particularly useful in this moment when the pandemic has restricted movement in ways that redefine the personal world. The New York Times has a helpful writeup on “how to make an illustrated map,” and CityLab has an amazing assortment of personal maps from its readers (via Kottke), like the one above. The key is to let yourself be creative about the rules of what a “map” might be. Map the textures of your home; map your cat’s favorite areas; map the sounds of your immediate neighborhood. Map what matters to you now.
WRITE A LETTER. Write to a friend you’ve been out of touch with. Write to an enemy you’re ready to stop fighting with. Write to a hero, a villain, a lover, your parents. Devote real time and attention to the enterprise. Consider what you want to say, and be open to the idea that it may take two or three tries to say it right.
WRITE A LETTER TO A STRANGER. Think about strangers you’ve encountered and still recall. “Stranger” can include people you’ve crossed paths with regularly without really knowing: a certain bakery cashier, a memorable waiter, a lifeguard at the pool you regularly swim at. Write them letters. Actually delivering these letters isn’t important. (Although, when I recall certain strangers in places I used to live, I wish I’d written them a letter of goodbye.) But writing them just might be more important than you realized. (Partly inspired by Hannah Brencher.)
WALK TOGETHER SILENTLY. If you’re sheltering with others, take a walk without saying a word. Only when you get home are you allowed to discuss what you noticed and why. Best noticer gets a prize.
INTERVIEW AN OBJECT. Think of an object that raises questions that only the object itself could answer. List the questions you would ask of that object. Think about what you see and what the object means—to you.
CARE FOR SOMETHING. As I write in the book, one of my favorite responses to a willfully open-ended prompt I give my students — I order them to “practice paying attention” — came from a student who thought he did it wrong. He had made a planter, he explained, for a cactus. He’d done this, he said, on the theory that “by nurturing or caring for something, you pay more attention to it.” And of course he was right! (See also this recent Times Magazine essay making a similar point: “How Taking Care of Houseplants Taught Me to Take Care of Myself.”)
Care about what you pay attention to. Pay attention to what you care about.
How To Remember
A very wise person once told me that if you want to really remember a moment or place for a long time, a good thing to do is to use your senses/body in a way you usually wouldn't. This helps lodge the memory.
For example, I remember getting up early one morning by a lake where I was staying and wanting to remember the moment for the rest of my life. So I kicked off my shoes and felt the warm concrete of the path on my soles of my feet. Somehow the process of doing that, helped to make the rest of the memory (what I could see and hear) stick.
This is wonderful. Thank you, Hannah!
(I’m always happy to hear from readers, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Icebreaker Of The Week
There’s now a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.
While I am still working through the backlog, this week’s icebreaker came in recently. It’s from Ryan Kushner. The subject heading was “Zombie icebreaker,” and I had a feeling it was just what I needed.
If you had to make your own zombie movie, what would your zombies be like? How would they be different from stereotypical zombies? How would they be similar?
“It's fun to hear the different things people come up with,” Ryan writes, “and they always seem excited to get to share some creativity and ideas of adventure. (My answer is always that in my movie, the zombies can get full after a big meal.)”
And he adds: “Hope it helps other people out there looking for some common things to think and laugh about." Agreed! Thanks, Ryan.
As noted, I’m still working through the icebreaker backlog, but I’m happy to hear more new ideas! So as always:
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to email@example.com
In Other News
“I started drawing my dish rack every night. I now have more than a thousand renditions of my dish rack.” Terrific essay by John Donohue on the value of drawing, even (especially?) the mundane.
“Perhaps the coronavirus is forcing us to have an extended performance of John Cage’s 4’33,” the groundbreaking 1952 work that epitomized his every-sound-can-be-music philosophy.” More. (Had to highlight this because — I just realized — 4’33” is my new personal theme song.)
“The National Gallery is hoping viewers will experience one of its most popular paintings, Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway in a richer way when it releases its first slow looking tutorial as part of a new digital programme during the lockdown. The five-minute film encourages people to clear their minds, to really look at what is in front of them and experience the painting as well as see it.” More. Thanks Piers!
“This infographic has 9 suggestions for focusing your wandering mind. A couple of them I’ve never heard before, like taking 1 minute to doodle to help cognitive performance, and a yoga hand trick to reduce stress.” From the indispensable Recommendo.
& finally: Thanks to Otto for getting me to pay attention to the backs of stop signs. :)
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!
P.S. If you enjoyed this, share it and/or sign up here: robwalker.substack.com.