TAoN No. 60: A Modest Quest
Plus: Calendar Challenge & Other Year-End Updates, and a New Icebreaker
|Rob Walker||Dec 29, 2020|| 5|
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.****
A Modest Adventure
An interesting article in Elemental the other day addressed boredom in the context of coronavirus restrictions. While TAoN (the newsletter) has for months explored at-home and in-neighborhood activities, The Art of Noticing (the book) has a whole section on “going places” that has felt like something to look forward to rather than dwell on. But there was a passage in the Elemental piece that offers more immediate inspiration.
Writer Kendra Pierre-Louis’s subjects include a guy in Minnesota named Greg Swan, whose family has begun to engage in “socially distant day trips.” Pierre-Louis writes:
Each weekend, the Swan family travels to an attraction within a 60-mile or so radius from their home (close enough to minimize the need for things like public restrooms). To amp up the anticipation, he doesn’t tell his family where they are going ahead of time; instead, during the week he doles out clues.
So far the family has visited dozens of sites, from Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, Minnesota, where you can watch heavy machinery at work from the comfort (and distance) of your own vehicle to a corner of Lawshe Park, in South St. Paul, Minnesota — the first place where women in the United States voted after the ratification of the 14th Amendment.
“I hear from my co-workers they’re like, ‘Man, we sat at home and watched Blue’s Clues this weekend, and you went on this adventure,” says Swan.
“Adventure” might sound hyperbolic. I mean, this isn’t a week in Rome. If someone described these destinations a year ago, I would have yawned.
But that’s sort of the point. If there was ever a time to be really open to and creative about taking a day trip, this is it.
In fact, don’t think of it as a day trip. Think of it as a (modest) quest — an adventure, an event.
Adapt to your circumstances; if you’re in a household with others, take turns picking the destination. Treat all constraints as creative challenges. The destination doesn’t have to be fabulous or mind-blowing. It can be modest, even silly. This is about the journey.
Want to be less bored? Get more adventurous about what might be interesting!
[Quick Programming note]
I’m going to fill most of the rest of this issue with year-end updates, but I will have to do a separate installment on the missing words feedback. Stay tuned. I can’t thank you all enough for all the feedback and contributions lately! More next year ;)
Worthy Binge Update
In last issue’s main item on the worthy binge, I mentioned that I intend to listen my way through everything on this old list of 50 classical recordings picked by the public radio show Performance Today. (The idea being to start a slow and thoughtful “binge” that will outlast the final chapters of the pandemic.)
In a delightful surprise, reader stephanie.h.thompson subsequently tweeted: “Thanks for the NPR Performance Today 50 list. I built a Spotify playlist of it for my mom and thought I'd share for any interested followers. Here's to forgetting why we started.”
And in a second delightful surprise a couple of days later, constant TAoN inspiration Austin Kleon (you’ve heard of him) told me he, too, had put together a PT 50 playlist, with a few substitutions for recordings not available on Spotify. (Semi-related: See also Austin’s recent Beethoven birthday post.) So take your pick and join in the binge! Thanks Stephanie & Austin!
Neighborhood Calendar Challenge Update
Earlier this year I announced my neighborhood calendar challenge. Basically, take occasional pictures around your neighborhood, with an eye toward compiling enough (12) for a calendar, ideally exploring some theme you’ve observed.
I suggested a variety of possible parameters, and noted that I was making one of my own. I shared one image to see if anyone could guess my subject. A couple of you did immediately. But now I can reveal to all that for months I’ve been documenting . . . all the bollards in my neighborhood.
Ridiculous, I know. But settling on something that nobody wants me to notice is always a goal of mine because (per a main theme of the book) it helps me reframe the world. Anyway, it was an incredibly fun and satisfying project. (I ended up with too many pix — if you’re curious, I uploaded a selection of contenders to Flickr.)
Along the way, a couple of you shared your own calendar projects (as noted in prior TAoN issues) or tips about printing options — thank you for that! If anybody else carried out this project and wants to share, speak up. I’m already thinking about my 2022 calendar subject. Revisit that earlier post for ideas if you want to join in this time.
Caring + Attention Update
In TAoN No. 55, as part of a riff on caring about what you pay attention to, and paying attention to what you care about, I shared a notebook doodle on that theme, and suggested it would make a cool sticker. I’m thrilled to report that E surprised me by designing and making a set of stickers as a recent gift:
Obviously a major improvement on my doodle! I’ll figure a scheme for giving these away in 2021. Stay tuned. Thank you E!
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 Mikah.
What are you looking forward to right now?
This suggestion came in a few months ago, but you can imagine why it jumped out now. The question “seems to center the conversation on hope,” Mikah wrote. “It's a good way to find things to celebrate and move toward in our lives.” That seems particularly salient now.
If you use this icebreaker, push beyond the obvious — of course we’re all looking forward to the pandemic ending, so seek specifics about what your icebreakee (just coined that) most looks forward to when that happens. Thanks Mikah!
I’m still working through the backlog of icebreaker submissions, but as always, I want more:
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to firstname.lastname@example.org
In Other News
I’m flattered to have been asked some engaging questions by Writing Routines, a cool “once-a-week look at the lives and habits of writers.” Lots of great folks in the archives. My Q&A is here.
Locked down in his downtown L.A. loft, photographer Brendan Lott “began to pay attention to the goings on in the apartments he could see from his window.” Some of the results — “street photography when no one is in the streets”— appeared in his recent gallery show Safer at Home. He’s also on Instagram. There’s clearly a voyeuristic element here that reminds me of photographer Michele Iversen’s “Night Surveillance Series.” But see what you think; Lott’s results are fascinating! (Thanks here to friend of TAoN Virginia Postrel for the tip; check out her latest book, The Fabric of Civilization.)
BBC: “Belle Chen has spent the pandemic making music inspired by ambient sounds from around the world.” Soliciting home-made audio, she’s used what she’s received to “improvise pieces of music to share online for her Sounds from Home project.”
Friend of TAoN Jenna Sherry: “Here's a short video of the joyful ending of the Brahms Sonata Op. 120 no. 1, which seems a fitting way to celebrate sending out this crazy year!” (Check out Jenna’s recent Sonatas for Violin and Piano – Brahms: Op.120 Nos.1&2, Dohnányi: Op.21.)
Okay that’s it! Next regular issue in two weeks. Happy New Year!
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!
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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