TAoN No. 56: Playing With Time
Plus: How To Collect Trees, Calendar Challenge Update, a New Icebreaker, & More
|Rob Walker||Nov 3|| 6|
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.****
Change the (Time) Scale
This is a weird time; you don’t need me to tell you that. (And don’t worry, I’m going to ignore current events: You also don’t need me to tell you to vote!)
But also time itself, as many have noted, feels weird these days (these weeks, these months). And that’s probably going to be extra true as we head into winter and end up stuck indoors again. So maybe this is a good time to play with time.
The other day (or week?), poet (and TAoN reader) Jeanie Greensfelder sent me this issue of The Wise Brain Bulletin, pointing me to the opening article, by Jonah Paquette, titled “Mind Bending Awe.” I was (naturally) drawn to a passage on “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Specifically, this bit:
“Wherever you are in this moment, pause and take a look around. Briefly scan your immediate surroundings. What sorts of objects, items, belongings, and gadgets do you see? If you’re at home, maybe you see some electronics, books, clothing, or artwork. Or if you’re outside, you might see some buildings, cars, or streetlights. …
“Now, as a thought experiment, imagine you’re a person visiting the present day from various points in the past. First, imagine you’re someone from, say, 50 years ago. What sorts of things in your surroundings would be virtually unrecognizable [to that person]? …
“Now, imagine that you’re visiting from 100 years ago. Then 1,000 years ago. Or even a person from the Stone Age, 5,000 years ago or more. … What sorts of things that we might take for granted every day would they find surprising, shocking, or magical?”
It’s a cool prompt (and maybe a fun one to challenge kids). And actually, The Art of Noticing book includes a prompt that’s sort of related, “Change the (Time) Scale.” Abridged:
Look for the oldest thing around you… Now look for the newest. Consider what the venerable and the recent have in common — and what sets them apart. Consider which will outlast the other and why.
To Paquette’s prompt, I would add the following:
Imagine you are someone visiting from just one year in the past. What is different about this space from a year ago? What objects would not have been here (face masks, Clorox wipes?) and what objects are absent? What objects mean more than they used to? Which neglected objects do you look forward to using again?
I hope that addition doesn’t sound like a downer — I don’t think it has to be. Anyway, all these can work in all kinds of spaces, but might come in handy in the months ahead.
Read Paquette’s full essay (an excerpt from his book Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected) here. Also, be sure to scroll on to page 12 to find Jeanie Greensfelder’s lovely poem, “To Meditation.” Thanks, Jeanie!
Speaking of Indoors …
There’s been a rather startling influx of new subscribers lately — thank you, and welcome!
To follow up this week’s opener: You newer readers may not know that in the earlier days of the pandemic lockdown period, I did a couple of roundups of prompts from the book that work indoors. So if you’re in a place where winter is arriving and keeping you (and the kids?) in, maybe there’ll be some useful stuff to consider:
(For even more, there’s always The Art of Noticing book itself!)
Something To Notice
“Something To Notice” is a simple suggestion for something you might want to make an effort to notice in the weeks ahead. That’s it. This week’s suggestion comes from Emily Ford.
Back story: A month or so ago I got a note from reader Emily Ford, in Portland, OR, who recently took part in that city’s Urban Tree Stewardship program, and got a map of all the city’s Heritage Trees — defined as “trees that have been formally recognized by City Council for their unique size, age, historical or horticultural significance.” These are given special protected status — and special plaques!
“I got on my bike today and decided I would try to orient my rides to heritage tree destinations,” Emily wrote. “and ‘collect’ as many of them as I can.” She found her first just blocks away from her house. In subsequent correspondence, Emily tells me other cities and towns have similar programs, though the details and nomenclature can vary. (They are evidently called Great Trees in New York City.)
I love the idea of “collecting” trees — and of having a sort of quest to animate regular rides or walks. (This reminded me, actually, of the fun effort to identify “odditrees,” in Austin, Texas, which I wrote about way back in January.) But if you don’t live somewhere where it’s easy to obtain an actual map of notable trees, I have another thought: Designate your own.
As you walk or ride, try to nominate the most impressive, magnificent trees in your neighborhood, your town. Wikipedia describes the heritage tree as an “individual tree with unique value, which is considered irreplaceable.” Use that definition, and start your own collection: Identify the trees you’d want to preserve — the ones that are most significant, uniquely valuable, or irreplaceable, to you.
Thank you so much, Emily!
Have a suggestion for Something To Notice? Tell me: email@example.com
Calendar Challenge Update
Back in July I wrote that I’d started taking snapshots around my neighborhood with an eye toward compiling enough (12 decent ones) to create a 2021 calendar, and issued an invitation for you to join me:
Make a neighborhood calendar. This could mean personal neighborhood landmarks (spots you’d miss if you moved), or a recurring category: flowers, architectural details, birds, trees, even just a particular color, anything you want. Document all the interesting mailboxes or fence ornaments or store banners or the backs-of-stop-signs or whatever it is — good, bad, indifferent-but-interesting — that you have noticed recurs through your neighborhood.
I got a great note the other day from reader Erica Gibson, who took up the challenge, with “a slight alteration.” She explains:
“I’ve been living in Norway for the past (almost) 4 years and just took a job in Berlin so I decided to make a 2021 calendar with meaningful scenes from my time in Norway. The calendar came today and I love it.
“This is the cover featuring an old phone booth in my neighborhood, an historic farm on a fjord, a stave church, and the Main Street in my old neighborhood at sunset. January is a snowy scene from my balcony of my apartment building’s back yard, complete with snowman. October is a stunset (sic) of the Oslofjord.”
Obviously I encourage alterations, slight or otherwise, and I love this idea — and the execution. It’s exactly in the spirit of the challenge: a simple project that encourages personal engagement. Plus it will pay off for a whole year. And it results in a totally practical object! Wonderful work; thank you Erica!
Here is the original challenge. Here’s a follow-up with the calendar made by valued friend and favorite collaborator of TAoN, Joshua Glenn; there’s also some info in that entry about calendar-making services you can use. (I think I’ll be using Mixbook. I’m almost done!)
And of course I’d love to hear about it if you’re working on a calendar. (And if you haven’t started, it’s not too late! As I said earlier: I like having a goal associated with the end of 2020. Keep me posted firstname.lastname@example.org
Icebreaker Of The Week
Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here. || There’s also an Icebreaker Slack app, here. (Back story on that here.)
This week’s icebreaker comes from reader Diane Burns.
If you went into the witness protection plan what identify would you like to assume?
I asked Diane if I could link to a site or social media account of hers, and she replied: “My best site is my local coffee shop. My favorite social media is a cup of coffee and conversation.”
Also: She actually sent close to 20 icebreakers, this one just happened to be my favorite. (Runners up included: What food would you recommend to visitors to your home town? and If you could only be one of these things, which one would you choose: rich, smart or beautiful? and If you decided to run away, where would you go?, among others.) It was hard to choose! Maybe I’ll surface another one of hers later. Thank you, Diane!
I’m still working through the backlog of icebreaker submissions, but as always, I still want more:
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to email@example.com
In Other News
Above: A project from a close associate of TAoN, NO Lounges: New Orleans bars during COVID shutdown. Recommended.
“We sometimes played a game we called Five Nice Things. It is what it sounds like: You take turns naming things that are nice. Five is the number.” Here’s one response. (Both these people work for Medium, where I work, too.)
Virginia Postrel has a new book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World. It sounds fascinating! More here.
The Art Of Cool As Ice. “Yes, the Vanilla Ice movie. Yes, seriously.” Really good piece about the (great) job done by the (awful) film’s cinematographer — who, two years later, won an Oscar for his work on Schindler’s List. “Even a terrible project can be a good place to practice your craft, so make the most of every opportunity.” This is true!
My most recent soundshot:
Check out my latest for Marker, the Medium business publication I work for, here. (In particular, some of you might be interested in my profile of self-made podcast expert Nick Quah, and a quick follow-up for Medium’s Creators Hub blog for writers. Hero of TAoN Austin Kleon, who has been on quite a tear lately, has very smart related thoughts on getting your work out there asap, here.)
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
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