How to discover your home

 

How to “travel” while sheltering in place

The best thing you can be doing as you shelter in place is to find new, creative ways to stay connected with others.

The second-best thing is to learn how to not go nuts at home. And one way to do that is to get to discover your home.

Umm… Discover your home?

I know: How can you discover something already so familiar that you can find your way around it with your eyes closed? Because conceptually, that’s what you’ve been doing your whole life—going through your home without really seeing it. So here’s the idea: Use this downtime to discover your home, or perhaps rediscover it, in a whole new way.

In my new book, Hidden Travel: How to Discover More (set to hit the shelves later this fall, assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t push it back), I look at how to explore places in ways that are meaningful to you. Basically, how to discover what matters to you. Anywhere.

And yes— even at home.

But first, let’s start with an obvious question.

Why bother?

Glad you asked. If you’re like me, you’re already sick of seeing your furniture and walls (or family members). So the simple answer is: taking time to discover your home in more detail will make you feel better. And who doesn’t want to feel better?

The longer answer:

  • Because you’ll appreciate the space you live in and the people you live with more,
  • you’ll discover wonders you never knew existed,
  • you’ll be reminded of joys you’d forgotten and best of all,
  • you’ll be learning the skill of how to discover.

Anyone who’s played hide and seek knows how to discover. But only to a certain level. We see, but not really. We don’t think about expanding how we engage the world. Even the world you know really well like your home. So consider the following hints, exercises and prompts to expand your discovery chops so when you once again can return to the world outside your home, you’ll be better equipped to uncover even greater wonders.

Do try this at home

Okay, ready? Read through the following list and then chose at least three of these to practice so you can discover your home in a whole new way. I’ve grouped these discover-your-home exercises into categories. Start anywhere with whatever applies or appeals most to you.

Discover your space

  • Start with just one room. Explore it in detail using the exercises below. Then go to another. And another.
  • Measure. Do a game with a house mate or with yourself where you guess the size of a room (or couch or bookshelf or lamp or…) and then you measure it.
  • Make a map. As long as you’re measuring things, jot down your findings on a map. It can be like a blueprint or more imaginative, perhaps recording key events from your life or meaningful memories in different areas through your home. X marks the spot.
  • Look upside down. Yep. Lie down on the floor or couch or do your best yoga pose to invert your head and view your room upside down. If you hold this pose long enough, you start to believe you can walk on the ceiling. If you hold the pose even longer, I’m guessing you’ll black out from all that blood rushing to your head. Don’t do that.
  • Rearrange your furniture. Or objects. Move things around. Heck, no one’s coming over any time soon anyway, so go hog wild. Treat it as your staycation retreat setup. You’ll discover your home in new ways when you have to navigate around furniture in unfamiliar places.
  • Explore at night. Discover your home with only a flashlight. If you have kids, they will love this. If you don’t, you’ll love this if you do it like a kid.
  • Determine which area of your home smells best. Describe the scent. Note that some places smell better at certain times (kitchens after cooking certain foods but not others), bathrooms after a bubble bath, etc. You choose your all time, overall favorite smell spot.
  • Listen to your house. You can do this as part of the Pay Attention in Love exercise (noted below) or separately. Sit or lie down in a room. Close your eyes. Then don’t just listen for any sound (e.g. cars outside, neighborhood kids yelling, planes overhead, your spouse asking why you’re lying there, etc.). Instead, listen to your home. Creaks, groans, clicks, etc. Or, as I just discovered last week, a woodpecker tapping on our chimney.

Discover your stuff

  • Find one thing you’ve never noticed before. Not necessarily a whole object but one aspect of an object: What’s on top of a top shelf, what’s behind a painting or poster, new growth on a plant you barely realized you own, a bookmark in some forgotten book buried on a shelf, etc.
  • Catalog your treasures. This relates to my article on souvenirs and how useful it is to write down the provenance of each item noting where and when you obtained it, etc. Or go practical and take photos for insurance purposes of any item worth more than say, $100. Back these photos up to the cloud should the item be destroyed or stolen.
  • Look under things. Beds, shelves, jars, drawers (a good place to see something you’ve never seen before), shoes, tables, etc. Look especially under seat or couch cushions. You’ll either walk away richer by a few cents or be totally grossed out. Or both. And avoid looking under pets. That gets, well, awkward.
  • Count the number of items in one room. Then, after recovering from the shock of how much you really own, call Marie Kondo or do your own exercise of cleaning out drawers, closets, shelves, refrigerators/freezers, etc. You’ll be amazed at how many things stopped sparking joy years ago.
  • Get crafty. With whatever materials you have, make a new display of a favorite object in your home or create some new work of art to display using items around the house. If it works, make some others. If it doesn’t, no one else will see.
  • Read a book. But first, find one on a shelf that you’ve never read. And yes, kid’s books, comic books and other picture books count.
  • Explore a closet. From the inside out. Yep. Get inside. Close the door. See what you can identify only by touch. Then use a flashlight or open the door to see what else you can find that is novel or treasured but forgotten. When you’re done, look for something you haven’t used or worn in ten years and donate it.
  • Do a scavenger hunt. Yes, you do need other house mates for this, but especially if you have kids, have them track down a list of objects you believe you own (meaning, you may not even know where they are of if you still own them). Here’s the kicker: Keep track of where you found the items so you’re more aware of your space and where you store things.

Discover your family

Most of these exercises are geared toward discovering your home with those currently living there. But you can also do some of these exercises and share them via phone or video conference with family who have moved away. Memories are memories and it can help those not living there to connect with home in new ways.

  • Change where you sit. For families or anyone with house mates, change where you normally sit or recline for meals, for entertainment, or for relaxing. Mix up your usual locations and see what you notice, not just about your space, but about the person who normally sits there.
  • Say thank you. As you’re going through your rooms, certain items will stand out. If they were gifts, use this as an excuse to write to the giver a belated thank you. That works well for distant family and friends. But do something closer to home, so to speak. Gather everyone under your roof one evening and do an affirmation circle where everyone takes turns saying one thing they appreciate about each person there. Prepare for initial resistance and ultimate laughter and tears.
  • Make a top five list. If you have family at home or house mates, have each person secretly write down their five favorite items (however they choose to define “favorite”). It’s harder than you think to limit it to five! Then come together and share one at a time your list and why the item is meaningful.
  • Review old photos. Either ones on display or ones hidden away in boxes or scrapbooks, take time to look at family photos, preferably together. You’ll uncover old trips and experiences that will spark memories to keep you going during this sheltered time at home.
  • Sleep in a different room. For families, swap rooms or choose unique locations (though there’s a reason you’ve likely never slept in the laundry room). Then jot down or share what you learned about the person who normally sleeps there or what you noticed: sights, sounds, smells, feelings and maybe, tastes. Or, maybe not the tastes.
  • Name your favorite room. Have each housemate or family member write down a list of ten reasons why a particular room (or area of a room) is meaningful to them. Then share the results with others.

Discover your food

  • Find your food. Do a hunt of your home to find any traces of food outside your kitchen or dining area. Be prepared for both a fun and an “Ewww!” response.
  • Make a three-item meal. Choose any three ingredients in your home. Then challenge yourself to create something (preferably edible and even appealing) from those three ingredients. Bonus points for using unlikely combinations or restricting yourself to only items in your fridge.
  • Best meal ever. If you’re with family or housemates, gather together and share what was their favorite meal ever in your home. Then, if possible, try to recreate it together, possibly taking one dish from each person (appetizer, entree, salad, dessert, etc.) to create a new feast.
  • Expiration Exploration. Find every expired food item in your home. You know what to do.
  • Clump. This means to rearrange your pantry or storage areas so that all like items are stored together. You don’t have to go all OCD for this, but do it more to really understand what food items you actually have.
  • Choose a recipe. Have each person (or yourself) randomly open a cookbook or cooking magazine (if you have either) or go online and randomly select a recipe. Then try to make it. If you don’t have all the ingredients, see what you can substitute with what you do have. This one is a bit higher up the culinary difficulty scale, but hey, why not try!
  • Inventory your gear. Go through all your cooking utensils and eliminate any duplicates or those gadgets you never use.
  • Label look. As you’re going through your food items, make a contest, with others (either at home or connect online) or with yourself to find the following:
    • The most beautiful label.
    • The most unique label.
    • The label of a food you’re most ashamed to admit having in your home.
    • The label of your favorite (or one of your favorite) foods.
    • The item with the longest ingredient list, and the one with the shortest. Guess which one is probably better for you.
  • Take a course online. If all of these are making you realize your cooking skills could use some help, go online and take a course or find a recipe and give it a shot.

Discover in time

  • Linger and stare. Find an object you’ve not noticed for some time. This could include a family member. Then stare at it/him/her for at least five minutes. Or more. I guarantee that the longer you look at it, the more you’ll see (and the more weirded out your family member will get). Make a list (even mentally) of all the details you’ve never noticed before. Time and attention reveal much more than you’re used to seeing.
  • Pay attention in love. This is one of my favorite exercises from the upcoming book that I got from the book Awaken Your Senses. Sit comfortably in one room for at least five to ten minutes. Don’t rush this. Then write down three things you see, smell (if possible), taste (probably more difficult unless food or drink are nearby and if so, describe the flavors), feel (like your seat cushions or a breeze) and hear. Pretty basic, right? Now the fun part. Do the same thing through the eyes of love. Find three examples, if possible for each sense, but this time do so through a lens of deep appreciation and gratitude. You may see an apple you ignored before and this time, you’re incredibly grateful for its taste, nourishment, color or maybe appreciative of all food. Seeing through the eyes of love will change both what you see/sense in your home and how you see/sense the items.
  • Write a story. Choose an item or section of a room and write the real or imagined history of that object. Or make up an entire story that uses it. You’ll never look at that object the same way again.
  • Remember why. Think back to why you moved here, why you still live here, why you like some aspects but not others. Share your memories with others.
  • If these walls could speak. Find a particular wall and then think about or share stories of what that wall would have heard if it could hear. This will force you to rethink your space, as well as how the same space changes with time.

Discover your creativity

  • Hunt down your works. Do a scavenger-type hunt of every item in your home that you have made. This will force you to appreciate all the things you have made (and be generous: leftovers represent a meal you’ve made). Best of all, this exercise will likely spur you to want to create more. Do so. 
  • Learn something new. With all the courses available to you, there’s really no excuse not to learn a new hobby or expand on one. The hard part is getting started. Try this: Commit just 15 minutes to it for the next week. All you have to do is say, “For this 15 minutes, I will learn something new.” Then do so. Start with a wild idea like, “I want to learn how to make videos.” Google that. See where it leads. Bookmark the sites for tomorrow’s session. You’re on your way.
  • Do an inspiration audit. You’re stuck at home. But how can you make your home more inspiring? As part of the above exercises, as you go through your home, determine which space makes you feel most energized. What could make it even more inspiring? Think also in terms of time of day: When often affects your where. Use your inspiration zone to spend the above 15 minutes of creative time. Not sure what to work on or learn? Consider something to make your creative space even more creative.
  • Play. You did it as a kid. You can do it now. Hide and seek (really challenging in a small apartment but made more fun with a 60 second time limit), tag, or any physical activity can be fun. Try board games, card games or any game that appeals to you. Go online for ideas. Mostly, just play. Research shows how much play can help you creatively.
  • Reflect. One of the greatest aids in creativity is distance from and reflection on the work at hand. You have time now for this. So in addition to trying new projects, make a list of ones you’ve started but haven’t finished. For each, ask yourself:
    • Why haven’t I finished this? Then, once you’re done with the fairly weak excuses, try to figure out the deeper reason.
    • How could I make this better?
    • How will I know when it is finished?
    • How committed am I to this work? Am I better off focusing my efforts elsewhere?
  • Collect, Connect and Share. This definition of the creative process can become a game, either for yourself or for added fun, with others. Here’s a general outline. You can modify it as you like:
    • Collect: Select five random items from around your home, preferably small ones you can use or modify like different types of paper, cups, bags, straws, old toys, fruit, all those rolls of toilet paper you’ve been hoarding since the onset of the coronavirus, shoelaces, some of those leftover cables or chargers that go with something but you don’t know what, etc.
    • Connect: Individually or as a team, choose what it is you want to create: A vehicle? A building? An animal? An abstract work of art? Then go for it. Set a time limit if you want.
    • Share: If you do this individually working in different areas, come together and have the others guess what it is you created. Share ideas, techniques and mostly, the sense of accomplishment and fun you’ll have experienced. You’re not only discovering how familiar items can be used in new ways, but you’re likely discovering some amazing creative abilities from your family members or housemates. 

Final thoughts

In all of this, remember to be thankful not just for all the stuff or even for family and friends, but for a warm, safe place to live and sleep. Many people out there right now don’t have that. So as you huddle up in your home — house, apartment, RV, whatever — use this isolation time to realize how blessed you are and to think about how you can help others. Both now and after we return to normal.

It may be a new normal, but that’s OK. Because if you practice these exercises for how to discover your home, you’ll come out of this coronavirus time with new eyes and the ability to see just how much beauty, goodness and love there is. Not just in your home. But in our shared world.

You’ll also have learned that sometimes the best things to discover aren’t the unknown areas no one else has ever seen before, but the things that are most familiar that you’re truly seeing for the first time.

Look the other way: Budir Black Church, Iceland

Budir beach from aboveLearn to see more of your trip

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tripper (tourist) sees what he has come to see.” This quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Autobiography takes on new meaning when it comes to travel, photography and Instagram.

Choose any popular spot around the world and it is mind boggling how many people are there to not just see, but photograph a particular landmark or site. All well and good, except they do so in pretty much the same manner. They come mostly to get their own Instagram shot, to claim membership in that club and to check off that experience.

That’s not a bad way to travel.

But it may not be the best way to travel. While you may have the bragging rights of capturing “the” shot, you’re likely missing so much more. In fact, you may be missing out on the best part of the place —or your trip.

Today I begin an ongoing series called, “Look the Other Way.” In it, we’ll explore numerous possibilities to do just that, to look the other way. That may mean looking up, down, from a different viewpoint, behind you or just from a different mental perspective. Today, let’s start with a rather obvious aspect: Look around.

Budir black churchAn example from Iceland’s Budir Black Church

I recently returned from Iceland (and several other Scandinavian countries). One iconic image you see of that windswept isle is of this lone church, black in color (because its wood is coated in tar for weather protection) and usually shot with the coast or nearby mountains as the backdrop. Pretty much like the shot above only, because it was a bright, sunny morning, the black is looking a little faded here.

I did a quick search on Instagram for Budir Black Church and this is the top page of results.
Instagram images of Budir

You see it in all seasons, day and night, with or without people, but with only one exception, it’s a similar shot of just the church itself.

This lemming-like phenomenon isn’t limited to Instagram. On virtually every travel blog or site I went to before visiting Iceland, I saw the same image. Here’s what a search on Google using the Images filter reveals:

Google images of Budir

Lest you think the results are limited because my search term was Budir Black Church, an expanded search to just “Budir Iceland” resulted in pretty much the same results with a few shots of the nearby hotel added.

Using images to plan your trip

I tend to plan trips visually, reading about places that sound interesting first, then doing image searches or using Google Earth to provide a fuller sense of what the place is like. Google Earth works well for understanding what’s around the site but it isn’t the best for capturing the beauty of it. Here’s what I mean with this destination shown in Google Earth:

Google Earth of Budir

Thus, based on the cursory search I did for the Budir Black Church, I assumed there’d be a small isolated church worth maybe a five to ten minute stop since it was on our way.

But look what happens when you look the other way, in this case looking around the area.

There’s always more to see

Budir Black Church and cemetery

First, I realized there’s a cemetery next to the church. I didn’t know that before.

Second, I had no idea there were these beautiful moss-covered tiny hills and valleys around the church that you can explore.

Budir from above

Third, I never realized that right next door to the “isolated” church is a lovely hotel.

Budir hotel and inlet

Fourth, the setting is as impressive as the church. The beaches, the water and the mossy volcanic landscape around the church and beyond the hotel make for a gorgeous environment you can wander. The conical and other mountains in the background make for a nice backdrop as well.

The road into Budir

Fifth, while many of the photos I’ve seen of Iceland show some lovely scenes, photographs cannot capture how beautiful many of the places are. The scenes just don’t translate well because the Icelandic experience is about being out in the vast natural environment there. You can’t capture in an image how the sun (rather rare), wind, scent of the sea, the intricate details of moss and small flowers and the expansive landscape all around you merge.

Why some images show up more often

Budir grass

For example, in the above photo, the scene itself when I was there was brilliant. It was a wonder to just wander amidst the grass, rocks, moss and sea. But honestly, I think it’s a rather boring photo because there’s no real subject, just the expanse.

Compare it to the following:

Budir hotel and church

I love this image because while it captures the rocks, grass and beach, it has a focal point on the hotel and distant church.

This lack of subjects to ground your photos explains in part why most people take the same shots of the same places in Iceland. Iconic subjects are simply fewer and farther between there.

It helped, in my case, to have a drone to get some of these shots from above. That added a level of interest you might not behold at ground level.

Budir water and coastA great photographer, however, can find a worthy subject anywhere, particularly when the right light and weather work together to make even an open expanse of field and distant mountains appear magical. But on a dull rainy day or a bright sunny one with no clouds like what we experienced, most of us need some subject to stand out in our photos. Hence the church or a handful or other iconic shots you see so often.

Don’t settle for what others have seen

Budir Black Church

That may explain why you only see the church in photos of Budir. But hopefully the above images reveal that there is so much more there in Budir than than just the church, both to photograph and most of all, to experience.

In any location, when you look the other way, looking beyond the iconic sight to what lies behind or on the other side of the popular subject, you discover an entire world that may be more wondrous than the one you came to see.

 

 

 

 

Get more from a museum by getting less

Museums: HuntingtonHow to enjoy a museum more

Museums, particularly art museums, overwhelm me. And the bigger the museum, the greater the feeling of being thrashed by a wave of sensory overload.

I want to see it all. But in museums like the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid, I simply can’t. Not at least in a few hours. And if I go beyond that, fatigue tends to mar even the best viewing experience. So, what’s the solution to getting the most out of an art museum in a short amount of time? Here are three solutions I’ve found that work well.

Choose your battles carefully

Museum: bust of insane man

As this and the following head shots show, art museums have interesting characters.

The same strategy that works for parenting works for visiting museums. Knowing you can’t see it all, choose only a few sections and concentrate on those. Forget the rest. Maybe you can come back later. Maybe not. But many museums now put their collections online so you can see what you missed when you get home. You’ll at least have seen in person those works of art that seem most interesting to you. I pay special attention to visiting exhibitions knowing that these will be the hardest to see again.

Play reconnaissance

Intentionally go fast just to see what stands out. No one said you have to appreciate every single artwork. Zip your way through until you find something interesting. Then, move into the next approach.

Go deep

Chinese sculptureStop and stare. Then stare some more. If you’ve found something you like, take time with it. This New York Times article from a few years ago recommends essentially the same thing. Peruse the paintings or sculptures until you find something that speaks to you. Then really look at it.

Here are two additional approaches I’ve found to help you do that even more effectively.

Sketch it

I’ve recently resumed an earlier attempt at drawing. I’m still no good at it (if “good” means capturing the image in its exact proportions), but that doesn’t matter. The very act of trying to sketch something helps me see it so much better. You literally see things you miss with a cursory or even extended examination. It’s like learning anything. You learn best when you teach others. Drawing is like that as well. You see best when you have to translate it into a different medium line by line, shape by shape, color by color.

Museums - The Five Senses - Sight painting

There’s a lot going on in this painting, The Five Senses – Sight by Jan Brueghel the Younger (1625). It’s a great candidate for looking more closely at the details.

Snap a detail

Can’t sketch? No worries. Try this. Take a photo instead. You can shoot the whole painting, but lately I’ve found a greater enjoyment of the whole work when I concentrate on just a part of it. Taking a photo of just one section that appeals to me is again, another form of translation. But instead of translating what I see onto a piece of paper, I’m translating what I see into an emotional experience.

Museums: The Five Senses - Sight: Detail

Here’s a detail of the same painting. There’s plenty to keep you interested in this one small section.

Let me explain.

Unless you’re an art historian, student or critic, you’re likely going to an art museum simply for the delight of it. I know this is hard to imagine if you don’t like museums. But somewhere along the line, we picked up this notion that art museums were all about culture and appreciation. They are, but that’s not all.

Let your jaw drop

Greek SculptureArt museums are, to me, places of wonder. Sometimes I’ll come across a work that staggers me. It is usually some piece I’ve never heard of before. Something that isn’t bogged down in expectations or hype. Other times — and this is where the details exercise fits in — I’ll see a piece and I may like it. But if I spend time with it, I find that there is some element that speaks not to my head about technique or lighting or the historicity of the piece, but to my heart.

With these small sections of details, my reaction isn’t to tuck the ear piece of my glasses in the corner of my mouth and nod philosophically. Instead, it is to smile. Maybe even sigh in a happy way. In those moments, I’m completely disarmed by the beauty of that one detail. It triggers something inside me. It connects to some inner longing or interest. I may try to figure out what that connection is. Or maybe not. Often, it is enough to just stand there and be enchanted.

Go slow and small

Roman sculptureSo if art museums tend to overwhelm you, don’t “go big or go home.” Instead, slow down and go small. Find the artworks that appeal to you, but also focus on the small sections or moments within those. Take a photo (where allowed) and capture that section as its own work of art. Some artists hate this. They feel you should appreciate their work as a whole. And quite often, you will. But other times, take the opportunity to find what matters to you in their work. Treat each piece like a “Where’s Waldo?” book or poster: find the secret gem within the bigger whole that resonates with you.

One aid in doing this is my guide to seeing the right details. Check it out if you want to get better at noticing and capturing details, either in photos or in writing.

However you do it, finding the works or even the details of the works that resonate with you will enable you to walk away from the museum happier, more energized and more inclined to visit other museums in the future.

 

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Museums: How to get more by getting less

Museums: Get more by getting less

 

How to make your writing more interesting and memorable

How to make your writing more interesting: Image of The Gatteaux Family by Ingres

The Gatteaux Family by Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres

Want to make your writing or your art more interesting? Want it to stand out and be remembered better? Want readers to be able to visualize with great clarity what you’re writing about?

Add details.

There it is. Details. That’s the big secret, or at least one of them for crafting more interesting fiction and non-fiction and adding layers to your art.

As Steven Pinker points out in his excellent book, The Sense of Style, which sentence can you mentally picture (and thus likely retain) better:

“The set fell on the floor” or “The ivory chess set fell on the floor”?

Only two words differentiate the two sentences, yet that detail makes the second sentence more concrete. You can picture the ivory chess set better.

The ways in which you present details are as diverse as the types of writing you might do. But here are two considerations.

First, for fiction, use details to add depth and clarity to your descriptions. “It was a dark and moonless night” doesn’t make you feel the night as well as, “The darkness oppressed her, like the blackness of a cave, complete and unyielding.”

For non-fiction, wherever possible, use examples (as I just did above). Examples offer details while also providing an analogy the reader can relate to.

Details are your friend. But how do you go about making their acquaintance? You can rely on your imagination. But your imagination will grow if you learn to collect details and stockpile them for later.

Travel helps us in this regard. When we go out into the world with our eyes open and our notebooks or cameras or sketchpads at hand, we can see and then capture details we’d otherwise miss. We then bring back these small treasures to our studios for use in our work. Anyone can do this, but it helps to know some shortcuts and techniques. And where might one find such helpful tips?

I just completed a new paper, just for you, my guide to capturing and collecting details. It’s a free resource here if you’ve signed up on the site. I call it Come Closer: The Novelist’s Approach to Collecting Details because the basic concept came from an interview with a novelist I read many years ago. He described traveling to a city, for example, where a scene for his next book would take place. But instead of writing all the details about the whole city, he would find one interesting street corner and then document that thoroughly. He’d then have some great details he could throw into his descriptions that provided authenticity and made the scene more compelling.

I liken it to an Ingres drawing. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the 19th century French painter, is considered one of history’s finest draftsman. His drawings, such as the one above, are exquisite, but what I appreciate is his isolated use of extreme detail. In the above image, the background is a mere suggestion. Even the clothing is rendered with the minimal lines needed to convey meaning. But look at the faces. They are meticulously drawn. Ingres used details where they mattered and didn’t waste the effort in areas where they don’t. And so should we.

If you want to make your writing more interesting, check out the guide to capturing details. The beauty of it is that you’ll learn tips and techniques that will not only make you a better writer or artist, they’ll improve how you travel as well.

 

Discover hidden worlds in your own backyard

Snail drinking water: a discovery of a world in your own backyard

I ran across this thirsty little fella in Rothenburg, Germany, but it could have been in my own backyard…if I would simply take the time to pay better attention.

How many hidden worlds lie in your own backyard? More than you may realize.

Literally, if you were to pay close attention to all the details of your home or backyard, you’d be amazed by what you find. Xavier de Maistre did just that.

Journey around your own room

In 1790, de Maistre wrote a book, Journey Around My Room. According to Alain de Botton in one of my favorite books, The Art of Travel, de Maistre engaged in a different form of travel. No baggage, carriages or ships to deal with. Simply the decision to observe what was all around him but rarely noticed.

Locking the door to his room and donning a pair of pink and blue pajamas, de Maistre began to see the familiar in new ways, discovering hidden worlds in his own bedroom. De Botton notes that:

… de Maistre’s work sprang from a profound and suggestive insight: the notion that the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mind-set we travel with than on the destination we travel to. If only we could apply a travelling mind-set to our own locales, we might find these places becoming no less interesting than, say, the high mountain passes and butterfly-filled jungles of…South America.

That mind-set is essentially one of being receptive which is easy to do when we encounter the new and exotic. Less so in our own backyards. As de Botton comments,

Home, by contrast, finds us more settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about our neighborhood, primarily by virtue of our having lived there a long time. It seems inconceivable that there could be anything new in a place we have been living for a decade or more. We have become habituated and therefore blind to it.

It starts with actually seeing what you see

Paying better attention and truly noticing the wonder in your own backyard is one way to overcome this blindness. Another is to seek out new places in your own neighborhood that you’ve never visited or observed closely before.

If you live in our near a large city, you’ll likely find many neighborhoods you’ve never explored in depth. Living near Seattle, one such area for me is Seattle’s Chinatown and International District.

This neighborhood is one of those places I normally just pass through on my way to some other destination. Or on the few times I’ve wandered through there, I’ve felt adrift, desirous of some new discovery but usually unsure of what to look for. At times, through no hostility but more a sense of disconnection, I’ve felt like I just don’t belong there.

All this changed for me a few weeks ago.

A glance at an article in our local paper started a chain of events that helped me to discover the hidden worlds in my own backyard so much better. I’ll explain more about this over the next few entries here. But for now, think about what it means for you to discover hidden worlds in your own backyard. It may be a neighborhood you’ve never visited before. Or it may mean opening your eyes — being receptive, as de Botton notes — to what surrounds you every day.

And no, you don’t need to don a pair of pink and blue pajamas to see it.