The Art of Noticing No. 10: Spot the Filigree (Somewhere Boring); Eating Objects; Mapping Lost Love

Hello again,
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday (coming in May, but available for preorder: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf) offers 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. Spot The (Surprising) Filigree. In a long but spirited essay for Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson argues, basically, against the minimal and in favor of the ornamental. Evidently he lives in New Orleans, a good home for fans of ornament! Here's a passage:

What’s wonderful to me about well-placed ornamentation is that it gives viewers an endless number of things to look at. When I walk through the French Quarter, I am constantly noticing little things that I never saw before. ... My friend Oren and I sometimes play a game we call “spot the filigree,” in which we look for little decorative touches we hadn’t noticed.

Robinson's essay is titled Death To Minimalism, and goes on to contrast the French Quarter with a Target parking lot; a colorful bazaar with a bland mall; etc. I live in New Orleans, too, and I agree that the French Quarter is a wonderful place to look around.

But it's also an easy place to look around — because, yes, it's full of an "endless number of things to look at." But your phone gives you an endless number of things to look at, too: Things designed to be looked at, and that insist that you (and everyone else) look at them. So while I really enjoyed what Robinson had to say, I wonder about a version of "spot the filigree" (or the "little decorative touch") in a Target parking lot, or a bland shopping mall. Maybe you'd have to look harder, for longer. But maybe, sometimes, that's the point.

To be clear, I'm not against Robinson's game at all. I just think it might be worth trying to play it in more surprising/challenging/unlikely places, too.
[Thx to E for the pointer.]

2. Icebreaker of the Week: "I've found people surprisingly enthused about this one," writes McKinley Valentine, who has a newsletter called The Whippet:

If you could safely eat any inedible object, what would it be?

"In my experience," Valentine adds, "you need to give your own example for the other person to get what you mean by the question. For me it's a lit lightbulb. They seem crunchy and like they would fill you with goldenness."

I love this one so much.

3. Random Endorsement: "The City of Lost Love," by Kaitlyn Greenidge. There are several personal-map prompts in The Art of Noticing, so naturally I was excited to read this essay, on the secret maps of our lives we all passively create.

If you live in New York long enough, and date and make friends here, you have your own secret map of the city and the places that make you nostalgic, that make you wish it were 10 years ago, that make you thank the powers that be that time doesn’t stand still.

True well beyond New York, obviously. But a really nice piece of writing. I was not familiar with Greenidge; now I'm a fan.

4. A Personal Note: I have a feature in Bloomberg Businessweek about Make It Right, a very ambitious social design experiment founded by Brad Pitt in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina that has, it seems, run out of steam, and into problems (or at least criticism). I also did an interview with the laudable site Common Edge about the story, here.

On another personal note, shortly after that story closed I was waylaid by an unplanned dental procedure that currently has me operating at about 60% capacity. That's why this note is both short and late. With luck I'll be back to normal next week.

Okay, that's it! 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). Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading!


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