Rob Walker is a journalist who covers design, technology, and other areas. I learned about him when Jason Kottke linked to his forthcoming book, The Art of Noticing, a compendium of exercises and practices to “spark creativity, find inspiration, and discover joy In the everyday.”
Or, as Verlyn Klinkenborg would say, “notice what you’re noticing.”
I’m looking to see how we might incorporate Walker’s ideas at Duke, and his representative sent me a review copy of the book. I’m liking it, and I’m sure I’ll read through it page by page over the next week or so, but I also have the sense many of these practices will be part of my next decade of observation or listening or awareness (or whatever I end up calling it).
I subscribe to a newsletter from Walker with ideas and links related to his book and ways to practice observationn. In the latest edition of his newsletter (#13), Walker writes about an iconic New Orleans po-boy restaurant and how it’s a landmark by which to direct others.
Brooding over this later, I got nostalgic for the days of giving and receiving oral directions: “Stay on that road for about a mile, until you see a place that obviously used to be a Shell station but now isn’t anymore, and turn left just after that.” Nobody has to say things like that — “Look for a place to park as soon you see the big pink po-boy restaurant; you can’t miss it” — because everybody just expects that everybody else will let their phone tell them how to get wherever. I really can’t remember the last time someone said “You can’t miss it” to me!
Ah, but we still use a landmark to help people find our house in the woods. When friends come to our house, we tell them to look for the sign that says “Keep fighting, love will win.” The sign is on the side of a busy road and makes it easy to find the gravel road that brings you to our house. The sign became even easier to spot last month, because the artist who lives in the house with the sign added a row of red hearts to the top.
Last summer, during our 48 hours on Paama, we walked with the family up to see the gardens. Redy and Priscilla and Yannick and the kids knew every coconut tree and hillside and kava plant. At one point, a tree had fallen across the path, and we stopped to have a discussion about whose tree it was and how recently it would have toppled (the previous night) and when the yams nearby were last planted. I noticed their attention to the details of their island and their community, and that’s reminded me to look more closely to what’s on our four acres here in Chapel Hill. If you drive up the gravel road some weekend afternoon, you might find me out back, swinging in a hammock. Just look for the dead cedar tree nestled between the trunks of two oaks.
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