Noticing and attending
I worked for a long time in the area of bilingual education and it was there that I encountered the concept of noticing twinned with attention, and used in relation to becoming fluent and accurate in a new language.
When we learn a new language by being immersed in it, for example when school-aged children come as refugees to a new country, or as I did when I spent two years in Germany, we can quite quickly develop a certain fluency for the activities we need to do. My German is fluent for shopping and using public transport – I even had a long ‘conversation’ in German once with an Egyptian taxi driver about his daughter, stories exchanged through single words, gestures, and good will. For more accurate language skills, especially in writing, using accepted grammar and rich vocabulary, something else is needed – and that’s noticing and giving attention to how the language works, as a language. A light shone on the details and conventions.
We used to do that in school through painful exercises and rote learning. Nowadays teachers try to be kinder, using more interesting tasks and activities. However, the need to notice the specifics and to attend to their detail seems to be essential for learning.
And not just for learning languages, but for learning the world, as we always need to keep doing: learning other people, learning oneself, learning place, learning nature, learning events even as they become history.
When I came to drawing and painting, noticing and attention were absolutely central to the process. In order to learn to draw what was in front of me, it was necessary to give it piercing attention and notice exactly the shapes of forms, the path of lines, the interaction of light and shadow.
This ‘deep looking’ has had a profound effect on how I think about things way beyond drawing, and not only do I now put noticing and attention at the centre of my workshops and courses, but noticing and attending have also become the core of what it means to live a poetic life.
I often use my camera to help with my noticing:
noticing how shells collect on the beach noticing a flower growing in a crack in the pavement