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What's the Question?
TAoN No 145: Interrogating the everyday, every day. Plus a new Missing Word, and more.
Recently, this randomly encountered sign caught my attention. As I wrote in a subscriber post the other day:
Specifically, it made me chuckle: What exactly had led to the need for such a sign? Were drivers smashing into the bollards? How often? Aren’t bollards themselves cautionary objects? So isn’t this like a sign saying “Caution: Warning Sign Ahead”? Were these bollards particularly hard to notice? Isn’t that kind of a design fail? What happened here?
At the time I even texted the picture to E, who replied: “Must be some badass bollards.”
All very silly, I admit.
“We often take for granted that the physical world, and especially, the built environment, just sort of happened out of nowhere,” [Lukas] says. But actually, everything has a backstory — from a skyscraper all the way down to the doorknobs in the offices of that skyscraper.
The resulting prompt in the book was: “Identify one thing that you’ve taken for granted your entire life and ask how it got that way.”
Taken (semi) seriously, this silly bollard sign suggests a related prompt, one more geared to zeroing in on new, different, or curious things as we move through the world. Be open to the questions they raise. See if one question suggests another. Be open to that, too.
On your next walk (or ride or commute or whatever), come back with five questions — even if they’re all about a single weird/funny/puzzling thing. If you aren’t asking any questions, maybe you’re not paying enough attention! In short:
Keep an eye out for things that raise questions. Ask those questions — as many as you can. Maybe try to answer some, too. Might lead you somewhere interesting!
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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 Jennifer K, in the comments:
I need a word that describes the moment when I am listening for the next sound. I have particularly noticed this moment when I hear a bird call and then I am waiting for the next one, that doesn’t always come.
I love this one! Thank you!
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
IN OTHER NEWS
Writer/journalist Susannah Breslin — a friend of TAoN and contributor to Significant Objects and Lost Objects — has a fascinating reported memoir coming out (I enjoyed an advance copy this weekend), investigating the decades-long psychology study she was enrolled in as a child, and how it has threaded through her life. The book is Data Baby: My Life In A Psychological Experiment; more here.
Objects, Vincent Liota’s charming documentary about the human relationship to, well, objects, is now streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube Movies, and elsewhere. (Joshua Glenn and I make brief appearances as experts of a sort.)
Showing art by museum employees.
The back story on Stop Making Sense. Probably the best thing I’ve read on this topic.
Carolina A. Miranda calls for an end to the likes of “Taco Modern” and other unfortunate “fiesta fonts” and aesthetic tropes hauled out for Hispanic Heritage Month. She also has suggestions for how to do better.
“Let’s say art is in the jangly intersection of intent and reception.” Okay, let’s! Here’s a guide to 10 underrated, overlooked, sometimes stealthy pieces of public art in NYC. NYT gift link.
Not sure what put it in my head but I recently re-listened to Joe Jackson Live 1980-1986. Such a great album — including three distinct versions of “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”
And finally: Do not miss Café Anne’s excellent account of her experiment with giving up multitasking for a week — there’s even a TAoN cameo!
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults directed at me, not at anyone else, 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 …
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail!
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