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The Write Look
TAoN No. 130: Journal as noticing tool. Plus a new Missing Word, and more
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A number of educators I know (or have simply heard from) use The Art of Noticing book with students — sometimes directing them to write in response to specific prompts, sometimes inviting them to pick out the prompts they find most useful or inspiring. This is great: noticing as a necessary tool for better writing.
But lately I’ve been thinking about the reverse: writing as a tool for better noticing.
What got me on this track was a recent post from the indispensable Subtle Maneuvers newsletter from Mason Currey. (If you’re not already subscribed, do so!) Mason, a friend of TAoN, wrote about poet Bernadette Mayer, and specifically her “famous” set of writing prompts, for students.
Not familiar with them? Don’t feel bad: neither was Mason, and neither was I. But nevermind! The point is we all know about them now — and here they are.
It is, per Mason, a delightful barrage of ideas. (Again, read his full take here.) I recommend looking the full list over at your leisure, it’s way too much for me to summarize or respond to here. But as I read through it, I was particularly drawn to some of her ideas for unusual journal prompts.
I confess that I’ve never been good at keeping a journal, because I always feel like there’s both too much and too little to say. But some of Mayer’s ideas offer a slightly different frame. It’s less “write about what you’ve noticed,” and more “make a concerted effort to notice these things, and write about them.” I’ll cherry-pick the examples that fit this frame I’ve invented:
city design ideas
beautiful and/or ugly sights
people one sees
life's everyday machinery: phones, stoves, computers, etc.
round or rectangular things, other shapes
daily changes, e.g., a journal of one's desk, table, etc.
Mayer has lots and lots of incredibly inventive prompts aimed more squarely at the art and craft of writing creatively. But I think there’s a lot of possibility in these simple attend-to-this nudges.
Imagine spending a week or a month focused on each of these journal-prompt frameworks — and then, inevitably, inventing your own variations.
I’ll mention just one of Mayer’s other ideas that I think might be fun for educators: “Create a collaborative journal,” for example — one with “two [people] writing about the same subject each day.” Sounds promising!
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 me, Rob Walker, the guy who writes this newsletter that you are presently reading. :)
Sometimes when I’m reading a novel (or perhaps narrative nonfiction), I’ll realize that I’ve crossed over and become totally immersed in the book’s world and I can’t wait to get back to it. But of course my reading experience never starts that way from page 1. Is there a particular, somehow unnoticed, moment that it happens — when a book-length story truly hooks you?
Just wondering. Obviously this doesn’t happen with all novels or books, and I’m the type who will give up on something that’s not working for me. But I had this feeling when reading The Glass Hotel recently — I was a little lukewarm on it at first, but then at some point I realized I was all in.
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
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IN OTHER NEWS
Stormtrooper White. Speaking of color as a prompt: “The COLOR CODEX series — to which SEMIOVOX has invited our semiotician colleagues from around the world to contribute — explores the unexpected associations evoked for each of us by specific colors found in the material world.” Great first entry in what promises to be an excellent ongoing series, courtesy of friend & collaborator of TAoN Joshua Glenn.
Tyre Nichols was a gifted photographer with a great eye. Tragic.
Improv Everywhere documentary.
Paintings from Nathan Walsh: “Recently, he has further honed ideas around perception and the way the built environment presents uncanny optical illusions in the interplay of people and objects, light, and reflections.”
Robots performing Hindu rituals.
More on clutter.
And just in case you’ve missed: Rotating sandwiches.
Finally, there’s been a lot in recent days about the anniversary of “Blue Monday,” often linking to the radio edit. The 12-inch version is really defintive, don’t you think?
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: email@example.com. 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. Send me mail!
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