Paying attention

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of John Green’s rather delightful The Anthropocene Reviewed, in which he reviews and rates aspects of our human experience, from our capacity for wonder, to whispering, to CNN, to Canada geese. In his introduction, he quotes his friend, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal: “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life, pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.” 

This idea has been stuck in my head since I heard it. I pay attention to all sorts of things – whimsically, I could answer that I pay attention to antique door hardware, the sound of church bells (one of my favorite sounds), and hot tips about hyper-specific websites, like the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. I pay attention to my errors, things I think my sister will find funny, things I love about people I know. 

It’s fascinating to discover that you might pay attention to completely separate things than someone standing right next to you. It can also happen that, once someone points something out to you, you can’t help but see it too. One excellent way people show off what they pay attention to in the world is through maps. That’s been true throughout history, for better or worse; there are of course many examples of maps that further oppression instead of joy. My hope is that a renewed sense of paying attention will expand rather than narrow your view, to build upon what you notice and help you share it.

In the spirit of sharing this holiday season, I’ve collected a few oddly specific maps here to tantalize, to perhaps change what you pay attention to, and to give you some discussion points for the holiday table. Check out the Stanford example above if you like history and logistics.

Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First People’s Poetry – Poet Laureate Joy Harjo created this signature project that highlights and centers Native poets, connecting them and their poetry across time and space. Read through the whole project, or select individual poets to hear their work.

Radiooooo – Take a journey around the world and throughout the past 120 years through music. Select a decade and a country, and find yourself transported.

Community Asset Map – Created by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, this map centers the components of communities, from libraries and ports to walkability and population density. Try out the different layers and see where the state’s resources can be found.

Satellite Map – On a clear night, it seems like you can see forever. Take a look at this map and see how much stuff is orbiting just out of sight above the Earth.

Literary Map of Princeton, New Jersey – Drawn in 1994, this map takes casual inspiration from a traditional street map to emphasize the places that have literary significance in Princeton, including lists of just some of the authors who wrote in those places.

A myopic view of the world serves no one; there’s so much you can miss. This holiday season, let me encourage you to pay attention to what you’re paying attention to, and don’t forget to share the good stuff.

Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash.

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