The Art of Noticing No 3: Going to Church (out of curiosity), "attention as resource," etc.


Skip ahead if you already know this: 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. "Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world." This piece by Dan Nixon hit on something I've thought about a lot: the whole "attention economy" paradigm can be limiting:

Conceiving of attention as a resource misses the fact that attention is not just useful. It’s more fundamental than that: attention is what joins us with the outside world. ‘Instrumentally’ attending is important, sure. But we also have the capacity to attend in a more ‘exploratory’ way: to be truly open to whatever we find before us, without any particular agenda.

Nixon argues that attention-as-resource should be supplemented with attention-as-experience.

What we pay attention to, and how we pay attention, shapes our reality, moment to moment, day to day.

Read the whole essay at Aeon.

2. Random Endorsement: Here's an egg carton for 13 eggs — a baker's dozen carton.

I love any project that identifies something we all take for granted (a dozen-egg carton) and tweaks it in a way that makes us take notice.

And this is such a fun and bold example. It suggests a great challenge to design students: If you're going to redesign something as familiar, and frankly effective, as the standard dozen-egg carton, what's your plan, and what's your motive?

I also recommend Beach Packaging's amazing Box Vox blog, definitely among the smartest and most original writing on package design you'll ever read. (Disclosure: the fine folks at Beach are friends now, but my fandom predates that.)

3. Go To Church. Catching up on some things I'd set aside in the pre-holiday crunch: I really enjoyed an interview with (budget) travel writer Seth Kugel on the radio show Think, on KERA in Dallas. Kugel has a book out called Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious.

In the interview, one interesting thread (among several) was Kugel's suggestion that travelers arriving somewhere new might want to "head to church."

He argues there are plenty of reasons to do this even if, like him, you are not really religious. There's the architecture, for starters. But also: “It’s a place where people’s private lives are most public.” Attending mass in a foreign country, for instance, can be calming; you hear the language, people are nice and friendly. In short, he contends: “It’s a great place to meet locals in a very, very welcoming environment.”

The book sounds really useful, and the whole interview is worth a listen. And some day soon I'll say more about how much I dig Think!

4. Dept. of Delightful Feedback: Nonfiction comics creator Josh Kramer sent kind words along with news of a new project that he correctly surmised is in line with the Art of Noticing vibe: "#drawnobvs is mainly a way to get a little practice with phrasing, composition, lettering, colored pencil and watercolor every day." But it's obviously based on thoughtful observation. Check it out.

And a general note on delightful feedback: I have a little more of that than I was counting on, and I'm behind. I will respond individually over the holiday break, but there's plenty I want to share here, so I'm figuring that out! Thanks so much to everyone for responding to this endeavor — seriously. Keep it coming!

Second general note on delightful feedback: In one of the beta newsletters I asked for opinions about frequency. Every week? Every other week? I liked the response from a reader I'll just ID as Matt J. (because I don't have time to sort out details and that's pretty close to anonymous):

More important to me is that you only publish when you have something interesting to say. I would rather skip a week or two than get a newsletter with filler. Alternatively if you have lots of interesting things to say, send them more than once a week.

Yeah. I like that.

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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