My wife and I were watching an episode of The Good Wife last week. Towards the middle of this episode character Will Gardner was hand writing a list on legal paper. Certainly not unusual. But what was odd is that while he held his pen with his left hand (there seems to be a disproportionate number of lefties in the show in general – accidental or by design?), he held it like he was right handed with his thumb wrapped around his index and middle finger. Then in an aerial shot the pen was in his right hand. But the way he held the pen was the same in both shots and very natural.
It turns out that the actor in mention, Josh Charles, is in fact left handed and writes with what is known as a closed web space handwriting style, common with right handed people. So why the strange aerial shot? Noticing an actor’s dominant hand is not designed to dismiss or point out a flaw but rather to raise a curiosity. What was the purpose of two different hands holding the same pen? What purpose or problem did this fix?
I recently started reading On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes, by Alexandra Horowitz. The book chronicles a series of walks she has taken around New York City with a collection of experts from geologists to calligraphers. On each walk she experienced a world around her that she was oblivious to previously, all while filling in the reasons from a neurological basis.
It seems that experts are experts at seeing one thing. In a hyper-specialized world we can only process so much. But to experience the same situation with new eyes is to, in a way, become more awake.
Interestingly enough the first expert she brings is her toddler. His height and underdeveloped attention made for a clever companion on a simple walk around the block. Kids learn to see and hear everything before learning to tune out some parts versus hearing others.
A baby might early on learn to ignore the sound of a news anchor on the screen but will clearly hear a mother’s voice. Ms. Horowitz’ son wasn’t looking for street signs and shop logos but saw shapes all around him. That openness to stimulus placed him fully in that moment, focused not to an internal monologue or list of to-dos, but in the center of a moment looking at every gate and piece of trash and bird that came across his path.
Where I do not think attention to everything is possible – we are blessed and cursed with a limited ability to process stimulus – I do think there is something magical about seeing what is in front of us for what it really is. Sometimes its helpful and meaningful to tune out the monologue or shut off the constant music and simply notice what is around us. Even the most well walked stretch of pavement between two points is full of what we do not yet know.