The Art of Noticing No. 13: Places You "Can't Miss"; Police Reports as Inspiration; New Icebreaker

Hello again,
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday (coming in May: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf) offers exercises and prompts and 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. This newsletter offers related news and ideas that have come along since I finished the book.

1. Chart Your Personal Landmarks: E & I live in New Orleans, and I'm pretty sure we're not the only ones here who felt a certain sense of alarm upon reading that Gene's Po-Boys is for sale. It's not that we would miss the food if Gene's went away; I'm sure it's tasty, but we've never eaten there. (There are a lot of po-boy spots in New Orleans; I've got my favorites already.)

What's alarming is the possibility that this big ol' screaming-pink building, its old-school signage, its in explicable vibe, might get bought and turned into something bland. Or worse: something tasteful.

As E pointed out, Gene's is a true landmark: When you see it, you know exactly where you are, which way is the river, which way is the French Quarter, which way is the lake, and which way is St. Bernard Parish. Plus it's been a constant in a city that's changed a lot, and changing still.

This is an interesting relationship to a place: We've never been inside, but it's part of our existence just the same. We started naming other places that served a similar function in our lives (the memorably purple Manchu, for instance.)

Brooding over this later, I got nostalgic for the days of giving and receiving oral directions: "Stay on that road for about a mile, until you see a place that obviously used to be a Shell station but now isn't anymore, and turn left just after that." Nobody has to say things like that -- "Look for a place to park as soon you see the big pink po-boy restaurant; you can't miss it" — because everybody just expects that everybody else will let their phone tell them how to get wherever. I really can't remember the last time someone said "You can't miss it" to me!

Catalog your personal landmarks, the spots that you can't miss. Consider mapping them. Or just using them to give directions.

2. Well Noticed!: Police Reports, Animated.

Animator Michael McCurdy enlisted residents of Port Townsend—a city in Jefferson County, Washington—to read out a handful of notable police logs over his animations of the events in question.

Charming. Precisely because police reports are so flat and deadpan and not intended for a general audience, they can be accidentally delightful. In fact, I once co-taught a class on writing nonfiction comics, and had an assignment that involved adapting police reports; really fun.

3. Icebreaker of the Week: Mark Lehman points to something he saw from @aedison on Twitter:

If you could say one sentence to your pet and know they would understand it, what would you say?

(Coincidentally, a few days after I got this suggestion, I heard a Radiolab podcast with a story about trying to determine if dogs can be "racist". Toward the end, they talked about what you'd say to your dog if you could understand each other for two and a half minutes.)
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether made it up or got it elsewhere) to

4. Random Endorsement: Recursive Plaque. "By reading this plaque, you have made a valuable addition to the number of people who have read this plaque." Via BoingBoing. Reminiscent of the "most photographed barn in America" from Don DeLillo's White Noise, no?

5. Personal Note: New Human Resource column for Lifehacker: How to deal with an oversharing colleague who treats you like his personal therapist. Plus: reader ideas on working with jerks. Read it here.

*** N.B.: I'm out next week. The next Art of Noticing newsletter will be two weeks from now!

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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