some notes on observation

by s.

I woke up yesterday morning, took a shower and a careful examination of my whiskey-soaked brain, and tip-toed past a sleeping bearded stranger on my way out the door for coffee. He woke up as I opened the door and waved excitedly. “HI!” Two hours later, I found myself in our kitchen watching very, very Europop videos on YouTube and laughing my face off as he danced along. “Flynn,” he said, slapping my knee, “you are all right.”

Later I went to a party full of strangers, which is my favorite kind of party. A friend had driven from Philly, and she and I sat on the couch for a while and watched everyone break off into clusters and talk with animated beer-wielding hands. “I miss this,” she said to me. “I need to come back because there aren’t parties like this anywhere else.”

In the last year, I have lost five of my closest friends, mostly to other cities and one to another country. This means that I am better than I used to be at showing up to parties full of strangers, and also that I am good at missing people. It was hard not to miss one of these people last night; the party had been hosted by a mutual friend and everyone there had spoken highly of the friend who moved away. “It is hard,” I said, “because I can’t sit next to her in a bar with a Jameson and figure things out. She is my person, you know?”

When I got home I emailed her, and we have been since back-and-forthing on the merits of this city versus that one and the benefits of loneliness. She used to walk around this city with a camera and come up with a million fantastic art projects. When you spend a lot of time with artists, you start to notice how they notice things about the world around them. They go to the parties full of strangers and you sit on the couch with drinks and you know who will leave with one another, who’s avoiding who, and who the best people in any room are. There’s something really beautiful about noticing the things that other people notice, and when you’re around the kind of people who notice everything, it sort of starts to change the way you see things yourself. I miss that, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until now.

It’s scary to think about the things that go unnoticed and the kinds of people who fail to see things in other people. It is really easy sometimes to get lost in looking at your own life. It is really weird spending time with people who notice many things about themselves and very few things about other people. They can spend a whole night lamenting the way they feel about something without ever finding out your thoughts on the subject. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, and there are no “right” ways of noticing things, but I think it can be argued that the differences in how people notice is what makes up a great deal of art.

Noticing is also certainly what informs some of the best collaborations. It seems really important to be able to bank on this, and even more so going into the winter and feeling the loss of people whose presence I had, to be honest, also banked on. At the same time, it’s important to notice that sometimes you wake up and meet people who start telling you stories before they’ve even learned your name. You can bet that the things they notice are totally worth it.