The Art of Noticing No 4: Celebrate the tallest weed; some advice from a 6-year-old; etc.

Happy New Year! I took last week off from this newsletter, because I assumed you had better things to do. Hope you had a nice holiday break.

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: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf) 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. Celebrate the Tallest Weed. I’m a big fan of artist Michael Pederson, who does all sorts of super-clever street/public interventions in Australia, under the name Miguel Marquez Outside. I really dig the latest project he’s posted: The Urban Weed Awards.

As you can see: Here is an award plaque/ribbon for the “tallest weed” in some particular local:

There’s a bit in The Art of Noticing about “annotating the world,” and this is a really charming variation on that idea. Pick something that’s generally regarded as residing somewhere between “not exciting” and “a nuisance.” The weed is a perfect example, but maybe cracked sidewalks or potholes or power lines or whatever you can come up with. Now look for superlatives: The deepest pothole; the most picturesque sidewalk crack, the most rococo power line arrangement.

Come up with variations for suburban drives, office environments, or anywhere else. Dream up the criteria that makes it fun to identify the most notable examples of ordinary things. Find the tallest weed.

2. 10 Things That Scare Me. “A tiny podcast about our biggest fears.” I was a little unsure about this at first, but it’s an interesting thought exercise. What 10 things scare you? Here are some answers, from Rebecca Traister, Paul Feig, and others. (I haven’t listened to the Anthony Scaramucci episode yet – I’m scared to.)

3. How To Get Ideas: Radiolab producer Latif Nasser writes and talks about tactics for finding surprising stories. What’s most notable is how wildly inefficient and seemingly unproductive his methods are. He sets up Google alerts on near-random phrases that intrigue him. He reads totally random Wikipedia articles. He talks to strangers. He reads boring trade publications. To me the key is that he then follows what catches his attention — he notices what he notices. What he is doing is exactly what real curiosity looks like.

4. "What I Learned By Logging Off and Reading 12 Books In A Week." By Lois Beckett, in The Guardian.

In future, I may take the well-informed lurker approach, and tweet less. I keep hearing Sigrid Nunez’s dry little aside: “If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.”

That's not the conclusion I was expecting, but I'm interested in it. We usually talk about the "digital detox" in terms of cutting back on what we take in, not what we say. (Although actually there's an exercise in TAoN about "practicing digital silence.")

5. Random Endorsement: Gifaanisqatsi. "GIFs tagged with 'slow motion' or 'time-lapse' are pulled from Giphy’s repository and looped over a two-minute selection from Koyaanisqatsi’s soundtrack that is used in the film’s trailer." Via Motherboard.

6. "The six-year-old has some advice for everyone." During the research phase of the book, so many people suggested one key to better noticing is, basically, to try to see the world from a child's viewpoint. So I was charmed to see this on Austin Kleon's blog:

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!


P.S. If you enjoyed this, I hope you'll share it and/or sign up here

Twitter | Facebook | Medium |