Take notice and be inspired

I like bookstores – wandering around, opening books and turning the pages. Glancing through and seeing new ideas is much more fun than simply ordering a book online.

On a recent trip to Books-a-Million, I did not find the book I went to buy, but spotted a new, perfectly wonderful little book – the only copy in the store – perched on a stack of unrelated books as if challenging me to pick it up. 

The Art of Noticing: 131 ways to spark creativity, find inspiration and discover joy in the everyday, “offers exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do to stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing” according to the author, Rob Walker.

In each of the one or two-page concise directions organized in five categories – Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others and Being Alone, Walker credits original sources from books, magazines and newspapers, websites, research papers and personal interviews.  

Below is a small sample of his 131 activities to encourage paying attention. 

  1. Walker suggests that you narrow your view by finding “portable windows” such as alleyways or rows of trees to bring a single image into focus. Or make a frame by holding your hands together in the shape of an open square or cut an opening in any size from paper or cardboard.
  2. Unitasking or monotasking is a “one-thing-at-a-time antidote to the endlessly hyped noticing of multitasking,” according to game designer Ian Bogost. “Once you’re willing to train yourself to be able to find something delightful in laundry and dishwashing, you train yourself to be able to find it almost anywhere in almost anything.” 
  3. Artist Marina Abramovic insists you must slow everything down and appreciate the importance of solitude.  “Stay for long periods of time at waterfalls, fast running rivers … as well as taking lengthy looks at the horizon and at the stars.”  
  4. Matt Green’s project named “I’m just Walkin” is one man’s attempt to walk every street in New York City, not to see the big sites of the city but whatever is observed as it is passed.  One variation on this practice from Roman Mars’ podcast series “99% invisible” and website readtheplaque.com is to stop and read each plaque and monument that you pass to learn a lot about your surroundings.
  5. Poet Marie Howe gives her students an assignment to record 10 metaphor-free observations they notice about the actual world during the week.  They don’t need to interpret anything.  “Just tell me what you saw this morning, in two lines.”  She explains, “To resist metaphor is very difficult … no abstractions or interpretations…. just noticing what’s around.” 

After reading Walker’s 131 suggestions, I suddenly began to notice more examples of others’ special interests such as “Things People Say to Their Dogs” in the New York Times (8-4-19) by Alexandra Horowitz, director of Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard.

Horowitz began her collection of conversations between dog owners and their pets years ago after overhearing a woman talking to her two dogs. “I pulled an envelope out of my bag and scribbled down her words.” 

Rather than command their pets to “sit,” “come” or “get the ball,” most dog owners she overheard used endearing phrases when speaking to their pets such as (Woman to dog not going anywhere) “You can sit all you want when we’re home” and(Woman to her Goldendoodle) “You’re so cute and so smart. And worth money! I could marry you.”

Over a hundred years ago philosopher and psychologist William James claimed that “Our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”

Or as the late-writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal suggested:

“For anyone trying to discern what to do w/ their life:
Pay Attention
To What
You Pay Attention to.
That’s pretty much all the info u need.”

Susan Hendricks leads guided journal writing groups as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Journal Therapist and Certified Dream Group Leader.  Learn more and contact Susan through  www.susanhendricks.com and www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com

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