The Art of Noticing Newsletter No. 1: Thank Somebody

Okay, no more beta testing. This is it! This is the newsletter I'm officially writing in connection with the forthcoming book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday. As you can see, I even have a snazzy title banner now (thanks, Knopf), so, obviously this is for real. Thanks so much for the warm and helpful response to the test issues; I'm sure things will continue to evolve and your continued feedback is welcome.

If you're new: The Art of Noticing (coming in May, but available for preorder) is a book that presents a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed.

The book is finished, but I keep coming across new and relevant ideas -- either for prompts you can try, or interesting or inspirational projects or writing you can check out. That's what this newsletter is for.

1. Thank Someone. George H.W. Bush wrote a lot of nice little thank-you notes. I remember reading about this ages ago, but his recent passing has brought it back into the news. I was never sure what to think about it: authentic gesture, or just careerism masquerading as such? But maybe that's the wrong question. Either way, “he carved out time most evenings to write cards and thank-you notes,” Sarah L. Kaufman, writes in The Washington Post:

Nothing was too small, too personal or too easily overlooked to merit a handwritten thank-you letter from George H.W. Bush. … [He] was one of the modern era’s great letter-writers. This old-fashioned virtue became his hallmark, an endearing practice and a pragmatic one as he fostered warm connections with world leaders, potential allies and even his opponents.

There are a couple of prompts related to writing letters in The Art of Noticing, but now I like the idea of, specifically, thanking somebody. And maybe my uncertainty about GHWB's motives should just convert to a parameter:

Think about somebody you should thank, but who can't do your career any obvious good. You see what I'm getting at? A non-"pragmatic" thank you, a thank you that expects no payoff, a pure thank you. Think of that person; write that letter.

2. Dept. of Delightful Feedback: Pavithra N, writing from India in response to an earlier edition of this newsletter, shares a personal noticing strategy: Imbuing what you see with life and/or emotion:

"Oh this tree looks sad. Ah this bird looks like it's regretting something. These buckets seem like old ladies waiting for the bus,' etc. I do it more purposefully when I feel I am mind-wandering, to bring my attention to my surroundings.

I love it. Trthe next time you're bored somewhere: Give every object you see an emotional back story. (Thank you Pavithra!)

3. "Meet the anonymous artist installing bus benches at neglected stops on L.A.’s Eastside." In The L.A. Times, the excellent Carolina A. Miranda hangs out with a masked man who takes note of really unpleasant bus stops where there is nowhere to sit — and installs benches that he builds himself:

Over the past 11 months, the artist has surreptitiously installed more than a dozen wood benches around the Eastside, and he has it down to a science: He props a ladder next to the bus sign, slips a handmade wooden bench over the pole and proceeds to screw, hammer and glue it into place. In about 15 minutes, the stop has a brand-new bus bench.

A pleasing example of Changing Is to Could Be. Sometimes the most useful thing you can possibly notice is what's missing.

4. The French typeface that became synonymous with Asian restaurants. To me, that's the actual (fascinating and weird) story that you eventually get to in this NYT piece about Choc. What's Choc? "You’ve already seen it, probably repeatedly, like a stranger you recognize from your morning commute," writes Rumsey Taylor. It really is a classic case of something I'd seen a million times and never given thought to. Pleasing.

5. Random Endorsement: Barely Maps. "Every map has an illustration that subtly refers to a defining feature of the city," writes Liz Stinson in Curbed. "Deciphering Gorman’s colorful illustrations require intimate knowledge of a place, which makes knowing the answer extra satisfying." I love the one for Savannah, where we lived for years.

6. "The more plaques the better, I say." In The Guardian, Henry Eliot writes about the proliferation of historical plaques around London, derived from a variety of sources, some more official than others. Some people evidently complain about all the plaques, but I'm with Eliot:

Plaques expand the imagination and animate the street. They concertina time. Reading a plaque, you become aware that you’re sharing the same airspace as other human beings, albeit separated by decades or even centuries. It’s particularly thrilling when you come across more than one plaque in quick succession. Their stories begin to interweave and the paving stones ring with the footsteps of a growing cast of characters. Your experience of the mundane city is transformed.

As Roman Mars likes to say: Read the plaque. (Yes, that's a prompt in the book.)

Okay, that's it! I always value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), and your tips or stories. Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading!


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