The Art of Noticing No. 2: Don't Share A Picture


Reminder: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday (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. Here goes:

1. Don’t Take A Picture. I live a few blocks from the Mississippi River, and often ride my bike along the levee. Usually I do so in the morning, but recently I made a quick ride at twilight – and the light was amazing! The sky, the clouds, the water, the couple of ships and barges on the river, the handful of people and dogs on the levee, everything looked incredible.

Obviously I thought: I should take a picture!

But then I realized I would have to re-frame everything I was seeing, in order to compose a suitable image for other people to enjoy — a shareable image. So instead I decided to keep what I was seeing to myself: I just paused for the minute or so it might have taken me to take satisfactory picture, and simply appreciated the scene itself.

Do this one time in the next week: At a moment when you’re overcome with the urge to take a picture and share it ... don’t. Just see. Consider how long that image lingers. Consider the many images you’ve likely captured with your phone or a camera, and long since forgotten. Decide whether one form of image – captured or un-captured – is more important.

2. Dept. of Delightful Feedback: I meant to pass this along earlier: the incredible writer Matthew Sharpe (check out, among other things, his wonderful Very short stories r us project), who I met years ago through my wife E and later roped into various projects, sent a very nice note in response to one of my beta newsletters, and shared this noticing strategy:

My 4-yr-old son and I sometimes play "who can spot something disgusting?" on our morning walk to his school.

I love that.

3. Random Endorsement: The Guardian has a new series called "The Illustrated City," in which "artists draw a unique view of their home town." The first installment is Liana Finck on New York City -- it's brutal ... and funny!

4. Walking To The Airport. Karrie Jacobs had a fun story in Curbed the other day about walking to the airport – specifically, she and a photographer set out from Long Island City, in Queens, NY, on a five-mile journey to that city's LaGuardia airport. She has interesting points to make about airport accessibility, but I was drawn to the more basic you're-not-supposed-to-do-that factor. “When I first started researching the trip," she writes, "Google Maps informed me it was impossible to get [to LaGuardia] by foot.”

This is great stuff, and it reminded me of a fantastic radio piece from 2007 produced by Pejk Malinovski for Studio 360, featuring writer Will Self walking out of LaGuardia. Definitely worth a listen. (Jacobs also mentions a 2006 NYT piece about Self walking to JFK.)

But it may be that the champion of “airport walking” is Ian Rose, who has walked to or from airports in more than a dozen cities, from Boston to New Orleans to San Francisco. Some of his trips were in the three-to-five-mile range, but on more than one occasion he's walked fifteen miles to an airport. He writes up his findings here. (He has done JFK, but apparently not LaGuardia.) It’s super interesting!

All of this relates to the idea of walking where and when you're not supposed to walk -- a sentiment much in line with The Art of Noticing. More on that in the (near) future.

5. "You are strong, elegant and beautiful. I wanted you to know." Thousands of people are sending "love letters and fan mail" to certain trees in Melbourne. An official there observes:

"One of the great things about it is that people often think technology removes us from nature but actually the opposite can be true. It shows that technology can actually help you engage with nature."

Nice. Via MeFi.

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. Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading!


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