The Art of Noticing No. 6: Just You Wait. Plus: The other Noticing newsletter you should follow, too!
|Rob Walker||Jan 17, 2019|
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.
1. Wait For It. Earlier this week a work-related appointment left me in the lobby for almost half an hour past the time we were scheduled to meet. I found myself thinking about an interview I heard the other day with Jason Farman, director of the Design Cultures & Creativity Program at the University of Maryland. He has a book out that I'm interested in called Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting From the Ancient to the Instant World. (Useful WSJ review.)
Farman made several interesting points in that interview. We associate waiting with powerlessness: losing time to someone or something beyond our control. But maybe sometimes, he suggested, we should consider those moments when we are forced to wait as being made up of time that belongs to us. Also: anticipation and delayed gratification can be a really positive thing, so in a way, under the right circumstances, waiting builds value. Farman further noted that although we tend to hate waiting, it also happens to force us to "live in the moment," which many of us are always claiming to want to do.
So, stuck in that lobby, I resisted the urge to burn time by flipping through Instagram or answering email, and instead declared myself temporarily unreachable, and took a tiny vacation — studying the room and eavesdropping on the staff ("I've never tried pho; it looks like a bunch of worms to me") and just letting my mind wander. It was a nice break. When I was finally summoned to my appointment, I was in a good mood, instead of the resentful one I'm normally in when forced to wait.
Next time you're forced to wait, try to see it as an opportunity. Make the most of it.
2. Icebreaker of The Week: Last time, I mentioned my fondness for creative or unusual icebreaker questions to help when I'm meeting new students (or anybody else). I asked for your icebreakers and got several good replies. Here's one from Emerson Dameron (who in turn credits someone he dated years ago): "If you had unlimited resources, what frivolous thing would you collect? Not books. It has to be frivolous."
(My answer, by the by, is old patent medicine/snake oil paraphernalia & ephemera. I love that stuff. Keep sending your icebreakers!)
3. Questioning The Rules of Public Spaces. Steve Portigal points me to an artist I wasn't familiar with but whose work is another terrific example of seeing what the rest of us took for granted, and transforming it so that now we see it, too. Colossal says:
Octavi Serra uses the structures and symbolism of public spaces to question the systems we live with and find humor in their details.
(I chose the above example because I'm obsessed with security cameras!)
4. "Dead Ringers." Another obsession of mine: defunct payphones. Thus I love this photo roundup in The Guardian: "Amy Becker seeks out decommissioned payphones hidden in plain sight and photographs them with her iPhone – the very invention that turned them into unwanted relics."
5. More Noticing! I've been reading Kottke.org since its founder, Jason Kottke, was based in Minneapolis -- and that was a long time ago! So I panicked around this time last year when I saw that he was starting a newsletter called ... Noticing. (The book was already named by then, and I knew I wanted to do a "noticing" newsletter but I didn't want to seem like I was ripping him off.) I got in touch and of course he was terrific and assured me there was no cause for worry.
In a super-nice newsletter item & post about all this (thank you!), Kottke quotes from his intro to his Noticing newsletter's debut, referencing Walter Isaacson's biography of Leonardo da Vinci:
One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.
Emphasis added, because I strongly agree. You should really really subscribe to Kottke.org's Noticing, which is often written by or with Tim Carmody. And you should follow @kottke and (my favorite method) visit kottke.org itself regularly.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
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