I'm reading
See your world
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
See your world
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
See your world
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
16 December 2015

See your world

Reclaim a curiosity in your everyday environment with this guided walk around your block.

Written by Nathan Scolaro

This story originally ran in issue #41 of Dumbo Feather

Something special happens when we move to a new street or arrive at a new destination. We become wide eyed. We become alert to the various ways this new environment both differs and bears likeness to the place we have grown accustomed. When we walk an unfamiliar block we become observers of the ordinary—all our senses are activated and time seems to slow down. We pay attention.

But once we’ve walked the street a few times we start to switch off to what’s going on around us. All those details we once took in—the untucked shirt of a man walking by, the way the sun lights up the leaves, the sweet melody of a magpie—are no longer noticed as the focus shifts from the journey to what’s going on in our heads.

It’s this inattention that psychologist and writer Alexandra Horowitz addresses in her book, On Looking. Curious about the things she was missing on her everyday walk around her New York City block, Alexandra set out to take the same walk 11 times, each with a different “expert”—letting them and their inquisitiveness lead the way. On one journey she goes out with her 19-month-old son, whose world is not yet organised by identifiable objects. On another, she is with a sound designer, walking entirely for the purpose of listening. With each walk, Alexandra sees her ordinary block in a completely different way. Her perspective is widened. She knocks herself awake.

“What allowed me to see the bits that I would have otherwise missed was not the expertise of my walkers, per se,” she writes. “It was their simple interest in attending. I selected these walkers for their ability to boost my own selective attention. An expert can only indicate what she sees; it is up to your own head to tune your senses and your brain to see it. Once you catch that melody, and keep humming, you are forever changed.”

It was her dog Pumpernickel that opened Alexandra’s eyes to the incredible backdrop of life. With the curly- haired canine sniffing the path out, walks around the block took her up hilly villages, along sides of highways and down narrow forest paths. She realised they were having completely different experiences of the same neighbourhood. “What I saw and attended to was exactly what I expected to see; what my dog showed me was that my attention invited along attention’s companion: inattention to everything else.”

GIVE IT A TRY

We’re inviting you to reclaim that curiosity in your everyday environment, to become aware of the things you do and don’t see. We’re not suggesting you go to Alexandra’s lengths, but maybe partner up with some “outsiders” on your next few walks and tune into the things they observe.

Take the walk on your own. Begin by looking for one kind of thing: types of trees, people’s gazes, where shadows fall. Keeping the lens narrow at the start makes it easier to knock yourself out of the complacency of walking in a familiar place. As you grow more curious on the walk, invite questions that will help widen the picture: How much movement is going on? What are the expressions of people walking by? What noises do you hear? What is behind the gate? Record your observations.

Take the same walk with someone you know. Ideally someone whose background or expertise is different than your own, invite them to open up about what they notice. Let them investigate the block in a way that feels natural to them. Follow their curiosities and learn about the world they see. Record their observations.

Compare your notes. Consider all the things you didn’t see on your initial journey. What shape did the other journeys take? How did your way of seeing change?

Take this renewed perspective with you on future walks around the block. Keep looking, and when your mind starts to switch off to the things you’re used to seeing, narrow the lens and look again.

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Nathan Scolaro

Nathan enjoys getting elbow-deep in sentences, pressing and pricking them like a Chinese doctor until the blood is flowing just right. He hails from Western Australia, where he first experienced the joy of putting together a magazine, and now indulges his love of thoughtful, life-giving storytelling by bringing Dumbo Feather to life once a quarter.

Feature image by Amandine Thomas

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