The Art of Noticing No. 9: The Case for an Enemies List; Half Houses; New Icebreaker

Hello again,
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. The Upside of Enemies? Alex and PJ, the hosts of Reply All, one of my favorite podcasts, had a chat about new year's resolutions in a recent episode. PJ was explaining how he wanted to have fewer feuds, and in the course of doing so it became really clear that he holds grudges forever. And Alex accused him of being the kind of person who has an enemies list. PJ said: Of course! PJ: You have to have an enemies list. ... The reason to have an enemies list is it tells you who to not care about. Like an enemies list isn't so it gets super long. You get an enemies list, you keep it short. And then when somebody does something that bothers you, you're like, "Are they on my enemies list? No? I don't care." "This is the most insane thing I've ever heard," Alex replied. But actually, it it kinda makes sense to me! I ask students to list their "heroes and villains," and they're often a bit shy about villains: They don't want to be negative. But figuring out what you're against and why can help clarify why you're for something else. While you don't want to wallow in negativity, sometimes there's value, even opportunity, in noticing problems, mistakes, outrages, villains, enemies. It can be more productive to grapple with the negative than to simply pretend it doesn't exist.

2. Icebreaker of the Week: Dave Sandell suggests: "I love asking 'What are you into now that you never thought you would be into?' and conversely, 'What’s something you used to be into that you’re not anymore?'" (He speculates that he may have picked these up from someone else. Whatever the source, I like 'em; thank you Dave! Send your favorite icebreakers to

3. Hero of Noticing: Photographer Austin Hodges.
Hodges "takes photos of derelict structures in run-down sections of Philadelphia and Chester in Pennsylvania, as well as nearby Camden, New Jersey," Core77 says. "His favorite are these standalone structures, which were once part of entire blocks and, in some cases, larger houses with half of them removed." I love these half-houses so much! There's a good roundup and interview with Hodges at Messy Nessy.

4. Random Endorsement: Re:Sound #267 Kintsugi Whipped Cream. This is actually a triple-shot endorsement. Re:Sound is an excellent anthology-style podcast that has introduced me to so much great audio/podcast/radio work from around the world. This episode features a story by Natalie Kestecher, an Australian audio creator whose super-original work I'm totally crazy about. AND it picks up a story from the great podcast The Organist: a long Clive Desmond piece about radio advertising that is an absolute tour de force. Phew, that's a lot of names and links! Just devote your next available listening hour to this terrific episode of Re:Sound.

5. A Personal Note: New Lifehacker column. I am very excited to announce the debut of my new work-advice column for Lifehacker, Human Resource! Here's the announcement, and here's the first column, "How To Get Fired." I'll actually start answering reader questions in a week or two, they're coming in now and there are some great ones.

Okay, that's it! Happy Valentine's Day; be good to yourself. 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

Another personal note: I got a little behind on correspondence, if I owe you email you'll hear from me in the next day or two I promise!

Thanks for reading!


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