Thursday, June 1, 2017

What We Notice


The first thing I saw when I woke up on this first day of June is the little throw rug next to the bed. Strangely, it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. And I thought: “If I was being interrogated and my life depended on a right answer, could I have answered the question, ‘What’s on the floor beside your bed?’” And the surprising answer; “I don’t think so.”

If you think about it, it’s extraordinary how much is in front of our eyes and ears that we don’t see or hear. I’ve driven pretty much the same route to school for some 35 years, but I don’t think I could name all the streets I pass. And why not? Simply because I don’t need to. The information is not important for my survival. But if I suddenly started to be a Lyft driver and didn’t have a GPS, I’d be meticulous in my study of San Francisco Streets. In short, we notice what we need to notice to survive—or at least get through the day with moderate success.

But we also notice what we care about. Driving to school, I did notice that listening to Bill Charlap playing Blue Skies, he modulated twice to a different key while improvising and the bass player was right there with him. If my family was in the car and I pointed it out, they would have said, “Huh?”

And of course, we notice so much less of the world that we used to before i-phones. With our heads-down texting to the same people or reading the news we think we want to know, we close the door to interesting encounters with strangers or watching the heron fly to and from her nest. 

And we also don't make the effort to remember because we depend on the machine. GPS has killed attention to directions, Google has killed the slow process of searching and discovering and retaining the important information we want to remember, our math minds have grown flabby with calculators and who even remembers phone numbers any more?

So in part, at least, we are what we notice. The hints about which multiple intelligence tends to be our default setting comes from going to the movies with friends and one talks about the visuals, another about the soundtrack, another about the film technique, another about the nuances of relationship and so on. Being around diverse people who think and notice differently from us is one of the ways in which we can enlarge our small slice of humanity. 

And isn't that the whole deal? Who we are without any effort to change is too small, too narrow, too wasteful of life's possible glories. I can't think of a single solution to a real-life dilemma or challenge that doesn't include growing larger, seeing further, understanding more deeply, hearing more clearly, noticing the things that there are no aps for. At the beginning of June, with summer coming around the corner, enlarging the conversation of engagement with the world is a good intention.

And it all started with my little bedside throw rug.

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