Discover more from The Art of Noticing
The Poetry of Distractions
TAoN No. 124: Another way to pay attention to what grabs your attention. Plus, a new Missing Word, and more.
Well, we’re closing in on the year’s end — a time for thinking Big Thoughts about the 12 months ending, and the 12 beginning, right?
Unfortunately, I don’t have that in me. I’m exhausted!
“Do you think a writer is a writer when they’re not writing?”
She goes on to describe a bout of not-writing: “I have thought about writing, but other things jostle for my attention. … My attention darts from one thing to the next — sometimes to it’s a poem fragment or a podcast revisited, other times a daydream or people-watching session.”
For the record, I would say yes, absolutely, not-writing (and specifically, paying attention to the world, to other people, etc.) is part of writing. But I do understand the conflict Shanna describes — buckling down to do the work of putting words together vs. exploring and experiencing.
But what I was really struck by was her partial list of recent “distractions.” Her words:
late fall sunlight glinting off the azulejos
a convocation of pigeons queued up for a bath in the Praça do Bocage fountain
tiny wild strawberries still hanging on to their patch of soil in the crux of a tree trunk
I liked this so much I wanted to bolt out the door and take notes on everything that “distracted” me!
Seriously, setting aside the whole question of writing, being a writer, producing work of any kind — it struck me that making a list of what “distracts” you is an interesting spin on paying attention to what you pay attention to.
In this instance, I think Shanna’s attention is basically creating poetry, so, you know, keep going!
But I can also imagine discovering that what’s distracting me isn’t so wonderful: a social media slapfight, rumination about some past mistake, the latest Elon Musk antics, someone on the internet being wrong, whatever. That’s a good signal that I need to adjust my attention: Caring about what you pay attention to helps you pay attention to what you actually care about.
So that’s hardly a thunderous year-end/new-beginning message, but it’s what I have to offer: Examine your distractions, and learn from them. Worst-case scenario, you’re more aware of the distractions you need to tune out. Best case: You’re recognizing, attending to, and maybe even documenting what matters!
Thanks for the inspiration, Shanna! Subscribe to life: examined.
This is (probably) the last full/free TAoN edition of 2022, but I have a few topics I hope to cover in the subscriber-only edition: two cheers for social media; more on everyday poetry; and how quickly do we exhaust our sense of awe?, among other things.
In other recent subscriber-only issues I wrote about musical rabbit holes (revisited), unpopular culture, doing as arguing, and the best compliment you’ve ever received. For access to past and future subscriber-only posts, discussion threads, and more, support TAoN with a paid subscription.
THE NEXT FREE MONDAY EDITION IN TWO WEEKS — THAT’S EARLY 2023 YIKES!!
Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.
This week’s missing word is from reader Ann Booth, via email:
As I watched the leaves rain down on my yard today, I wondered if there is a more specific word for what the falling leaves are doing. Leaving, reaving (raining leaves), fleaving (falling leaves)?
I haven’t published a Missing Words entry in months, and although I had a few saved up, this one came in recently and caught my attention. Ann further explained that she lives on the Gulf Coast, where seasons kind of run together, and wondered, “maybe I just haven’t heard the word before.”
As always, I’m not actually that engaged in either finding or coming up with an actual word, I just like the very carefully observed distinction Ann is making between “falling leaves” and leaves falling in a particular (rain-like) way, specific to a time or a moment. Maybe I’m into this because I’m on the Gulf Coast too (and I would add the sound of plummeting acorns to the mix), but it strikes me as just the sort of thoughtful attention to the world that this series wants to capture.
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
I’m excited to report that TAoN has recently passed 25,000 total subscribers! And incredibly, it is now “recommended” by 148 other newsletters, which has really helped signups! Thanks to all!
But just so you don’t think that means I’m making a fortune here, I am not — vanishingly few subscribers pay anything. I get it; times are tight! And trust me, I love this readership no matter what! That said, I would absolutely love to be able to afford to spend more time on TAoN, so here’s the regular reminder:
TAoN is a reader-supported publication. A paid subscription helps keep it going — AND makes a great emergency last-second gift for your curious friends, family members, students, and colleagues. More about gift subs here.
IN OTHER NEWS
For my BRANDED column in Fast Company, I wrote about the fascinating BrXnd project, which uses AI to let you generate the brand mashups of your dreams (Clorox X Mountain Dew, Cap’n Crunch X Oscar de la Renta, etc.), and explores what AI “knows” about brand aesthetics. (Thanks Tim!)
This interview with artist Maxim Zhestkov about his adventurous work includes this passage: “I recently read The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker. It’s about the idea that beautiful and terrible things are happening everywhere, at every millisecond, but we develop shells that filter these signals. My work is aimed at breaking these shells to allow people to see and feel the smallest things.” That’s one of the best descriptions of the book I’ve ever read! (Thanks LJ!)
Very excited to see that Café Anne has made a 2023 Weird Trash Heaps calendar! While I no longer issue the Calendar Challenge, this is exactly what I had in mind, and I still love the idea of calendar-making as an all-year attention prompt. I still make my own every year, so I’m covered for 2023 — but … maybe she still has some available? Anyway you should be reading Café Anne!
Mundane Archaeology: “Artistic research on symbolism and human artefacts. Collecting objects from market and preserving them on the cloud.” (Thanks AQ!)
When I was 15 or 16, I got hit square in the nose with a plastic cup full of water flung from the stage of Numbers by the singer for The Judy’s, during “Guyana Punch.” It was fun read this random post and watch this mini-doc about the band. (Molly B. are you out there? Brian, Jodi, Amy? And how about you, Esteban — you were there, calmly pointing out that my nose was bleeding!)
Reminder: If you buy the new book LOST OBJECTS (co-edited by Joshua Glenn and me) directly from the publisher, TAoN readers can get a 20% discount off the retail price, through 12/25, by using the code LOSTOBJECTS. Here.
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, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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