Friday, January 20, 2006

Try This At Home: A Few Exercises in Engagement Through Observation

For Those Who Work for the Unenlightened, Here Are Things To Try On Your Own

If remaining curious is a priority, there are ways to work at it. There are mechanical means when all else fails. Remember how to listen to what's around you. Focus on something you've always taken for granted outside yourself -- anything -- the wallpaper, a crack in the floor, the texture of your desk.

Force yourself to notice one surface of an object, look closely at all the details, and then move onto another. Touch them. Smell them. This is all a form of listening to what you ordinarily take for granted.

Take the object out of context. Consider, for example, something you rarely otherwise notice as a piece in a museum exhibition. How would you consider its meaning, color, texture then?

Once you've got surfaces mastered, start paying attention with a little wonder to faces, to expressions, to body language. Count the number of times someone uses a particular gesture, a particular word, and wonder about it. More on the success of this sort of exercise in a future post.

Put unlike things together to create similes for which you also create meaning. Like a chair in a blender. Like a dog in a drawer. Find two things that just don't belong together and create a meaning, a reason, a purpose for their connection. After a while of concentrated effort, you'll begin to see connections between event the most unlikely pairs of ideas and objects. It's a way to remember how to make new connections.


Remembering requires as much discipline as mechanical means of wondering. Who were you before you took your first job? What did you like to do? What made you curious? Some things will resonate, and some won't, but explore the former again. And wonder what could take the place of the latter, and cultivate those interests by making time to engage in them.

And simply be curious by slowing down perception. Wonder about ideas and expressions you otherwise take for granted.

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