November 1, 2009

What do you see? My friend Sue loves the natural world, capturing her observations in what she calls her “semi-scientific journals,” little miracles of learning and connection, filled with art and poetry and artifacts that illustrate some of the things she is drawn to. I love nature, but while Sue is attracted to the natural world, I find myself drawn to the un-natural, to what I call my oddservations. I am particularly attracted to the strange and quirky artifacts of human production, and to the puzzling things I see and can’t explain. What do you see?

When I was teaching high school, I began an oddservations collection with my students that I called The Amuseum of Un-Natural History. In it, we included human-made creations about which we wondered why, like the yellow plastic curved banana cutter that wasn’t really one-size-fits-all and would be impossible to clean or the shot glass made of peppermint candy sold alongside other children’s stocking stuffers. (Shot glasses for children? Could anyone actually use it anyway? Was it really for adults who would need it after putting together a bicycle?) The Amuseum collection lives on in my office and at home and was probably one of the reasons that the fire marshal said that my classroom was “the most unprofessional environment” he’d ever seen. What attracts you?

You can learn something new about other people by asking them about what they see and what attracts them. Although I’ve known my husband for many years, here’s something I just found out two years ago when he told me, “I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by how people hold their cutlery. Every time we go out, I’m looking around. Most of them look so uncomfortable, especially with knives for cutting.” I’ve never paid any attention to knives, forks, and spoons. What I notice is how people hold their pens or pencils. What do you notice?

Here’s a fun exercise that provides some exercise too: Take a walk with a friend—or more—and separately record what you see. Include “environmental print”—found text from things that you see (I saw a sign on a 7/11 that said “happiness sold here” and I certainly wanted to buy some); things that strike you as odd or interesting (someone left a teddy bear under the tree in the park—were they coming back or was it a gift to the universe?); or other things that tickle your fancy. The point is to begin paying attention rather than just walking obliviously through life. Find at least ten things each.

If you really want to make this into an exercise, share what you’ve seen. Or you could combine your oddservations—alone or with others—and turn them into poetry, art, writing, or something else. But definitely, think about what you recorded and what those things might mean. Our lives are built around the things that matter to us, clues to your creative spirit reside in your noticings, and finding those things can help you choose directions as you make your way through life.

What do you see? What attracts you? What do you notice?

Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.
• Robert Wieder


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