May | Notice | A Lesson by Ashlee Gadd
My yoga teacher, Sarah, loves to start her class in Savasana.
In case you’ve never been to yoga before, that is also called corpse pose. Sexy, huh? You basically lie on the floor like you’re dead for a few quiet, glorious minutes (fellow moms who spend their days lifting kiddos in and out of car seats and wiping butts know how amazing this feels.) I read an article recently about how Savasana is actually the hardest yoga pose to achieve because people are unable to command themselves into relaxation. They also get very distracted.
Yoga Journal describes it like this: The essence of Savasana is to relax with attention, that is, to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease. Remaining aware while relaxing can help you begin to notice and release long-held tensions in your body and mind.
Once the class lies down in Savasana, Sarah continues with instructions.
“Pay attention to how your body feels right now. What is it telling you tonight?”
She tells us to melt into the mat, to ground our shoulders, to soften our hips. She calls out different body parts, instructing us to let go of our muscles and limbs one by one.
Then she says this: “Notice your jaw.”
Even though I’ve taken her class before, that command always catches me off guard. 10 out of 10 times, my jaw is clenched when she says this -- tightly, as if I’m on an airplane bracing for landing. My whole body has softened into the mat, but my mouth remains full of stress.
Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure my jaw is clenched a lot of the time (even when I sleep!), but I only ever notice it during yoga when I am explicitly asked to.
This month, I want you to consider me your personal yoga teacher.
(No need to laugh and point; I know that visual is hilarious.)
Don’t worry, I’m not going to take you through a vinyasa flow. I am certainly not qualified to lead anyone in any type of physical exercise. But what I am going to do is give you permission to lay on the floor in corpse pose. I’m going to ask you to notice your jaw and the way the light flickers on the wall when the tree branches sway outside your bedroom window each afternoon. I’m going to ask you to put your cell phone in a drawer for 10 minutes a day and pay attention to the details of your real life, in real time. I’m going to ask you to notice the beauty and wonder happening all around you, and I’m going to ask you to document what you find.
One day last October, my son Everett emerged from Quiet Time and noticed a handful of candy wrappers sitting on my lunch plate on the coffee table.
“Mommy!” he exclaimed with wide eyes, “Did you eat that candy?”
Busted. This quickly became a new habit for him: every day he walked out of his room at the end of Quiet Time searching for evidence that Mommy had eaten some kind of treat while his brother was napping and he was quietly assembling jigsaw puzzles.
Four-year-olds notice everything.
Sometimes, this can be a bad thing. You see, I am not one of those moms who keeps every piece of paper my kids scribble on. Which means that a fair amount of “art projects” end up in the trash. You can imagine the look of horror on my son’s face the day he went to throw away his empty applesauce pouch and saw his latest preschool masterpiece sitting atop a discarded banana peel.
Like I said, four-year-olds notice everything.
On the other hand, sometimes this can be a good thing. My son is the first to notice when I am wearing lipstick, when I am wearing a new dress, when my nails are painted, and when I've cleaned the house. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I find a great deal of confidence in having my four-year-old squeal in delight, “Mommy! Your lips are RED! They look BEAUTIFUL!” or "Mommy! The house is SO CLEAN! You did a great job!"
Kids are good at noticing stuff. They're also good at narrating what they notice.
This can be humorous at times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the privacy of your own home, and mortifying at other times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the middle of the grocery store (while pointing, naturally).
I’m a firm believer that our children can teach us as much as we can teach them. And when it comes to noticing, I believe there’s a lot we can learn from these little observers under our roofs.
Young children have not been plagued by the distracted and busy nature of adulthood. They’re not concerned with paying bills, climate change, or tensions in The White House. They are not mentally distracted by dozens of worries and anxieties each day. Most of the time, children live in the moment -- fully and freely and innocently as can be, noticing whatever exists in front of their face.
They wake up, they notice things, they ask questions, they go to bed, they do it all over again the next day.
Obviously as we grow older, we're exposed to more information, we take on more responsibilities, we learn more about the world (for better and for worse) and gradually our brains get fuller and fuller and fuller with to-do lists and deep thoughts and Big Feelings and more.
Stopping to smell the roses, or even notice the roses, doesn't come as easily as it once did.
I'm aware of this fact every time I take my kids outside for a walk. As I push them around our neighborhood in the double stroller, my children joyfully point out every single thing they see: birds, dogs, airplanes, leaves, clouds. My four-year-old makes actual observations about those things, sometimes asking thoughtful questions. My two-year-old simply points and calls out objects, proud of himself for knowing the right words.
And me? While we’re walking, I’m mostly making to-do lists in my head. Don’t forget to respond to that e-mail. We’re almost out of hand soap. And coffee creamer. Can you order coffee creamer subscriptions through Amazon? Research that later. Did I RSVP to that birthday party? Don’t forget: the towels are still in the washing machine. Don’t forget: the ground turkey will go bad if we don’t cook it tonight. Don’t forget: send a thank you card to Aunt Rebekah for the pajamas she sent the kids.
Sadly, my inner voice sounds like this more often than I'd like to admit. When I'm cooking dinner, I'm thinking about responding to e-mails. When I'm responding to e-mails, I'm thinking about what to cook for dinner. Optimists would call me a multi-tasker; realists would call me ... distracted.
So, what do we do with this problem? Close all the tabs and do one task at a time, for the rest of our lives? I think we all can agree that would be both impossible and inefficient.
But ... perhaps we can occasionally lie on the yoga mat and notice our jaw. Perhaps we can take a minute to stop and pause and check in with ourselves. Can we dedicate 10 minutes a day to noticing beauty and wonder all around us?
This is what I want us to do: I want us to put our phones in a drawer, close our laptops, stop unloading the dishwasher, and quit writing grocery lists in our heads.
What do you notice?
Where are you? How do you feel? Where is the light? What do you hear? What do you smell? What’s going on in your heart at this very moment in time? How’s your jaw?
Maybe you’re at home, and maybe you feel tired. Maybe the light this time of day is shining through the kitchen window, illuminating the dust floating in the air. Maybe you smell coffee; maybe you smell sunscreen. Maybe you hear children running down the hallway in their footie pajamas, or maybe you hear the dishwasher growling.
Maybe you feel grateful. Maybe you feel bored. Maybe you feel resentful, or confused, or ecstatically happy. Maybe you feel invisible. Maybe you feel content. Lean into it. What do you feel today?
Are there any stories floating in the air? Something you could catch and write down? Is there anything worth documenting in this moment? What are you noticing right now? What are you becoming aware of?
As your unofficial substitute yoga teacher, I want to end this class in Savasana. I want you to lie down on your yoga mat or living room rug or bedroom carpet or backyard grass, and I want your body to melt into the ground as I present you with this gentle reminder. Your personal writing is made up of two things: 1) your voice, and 2) your observations.
Do not ever underestimate the power of what YOU notice.
After all, that's where all great stories begin.
“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” ― John Lubbock
1. Our creativity exercise this month is to notice the beautiful stories unfolding all around us, and to practice capturing them. Click here to read Ashlee’s guide to Mobile Photography, and then photograph a day in your life using some of these tips. Notice the light in your home, the shadows, all of the things right in front of you that are ordinary but beautiful. Use #ccyearofcreativity and #yocnotice if you share any pictures on Instagram!
2. Anne Lammot writes in Bird by Bird about the magic of carrying index cards in your pocket. Try this for a day! Use them to jot down notes, a scene, a stitch of dialogue, whatever. When you sit down later to write, use your index cards to jog your memory.
Okay friends, remember that one time we talked about vulnerability? Videos are not my favorite. Alas, my PDF was already long and I knew if I went into great detail about my editing secrets, it was going to be straight up obnoxious. Enter: this video. I did this in two takes (umm.....yesterday by the way, #procrastinator), and I did not go off a script or an outline, which is why you get to hear me awkwardly laughing at my own jokes. I tried to give you a general overview of how I edit my images in VSCO while keeping the photography lingo relatively simple. If you have any questions about anything in the PDF or in this video, ask away in the Facebook group! I'm not a pro, but I know a few things. I'm happy to tell you anything about my personal process. Enjoy, and thank you in advance for not making fun of this video. The password is yocnotice. Disclaimer: this video plays better on desktop, not mobile. Oh the irony.
I will never forget the day I was standing in the driveway cleaning out my car during one of my monthly (see: hormonal) purge fests. I was in a mood, let me tell you. Everything in my life felt out of control and something had sent me over the edge, like realizing we had not one, not two, but three can openers.
I set my toddler up in the driveway with a bucket of chalk and went to town on the car. One yoga mat, three pairs of shoes, two sweaters, an umbrella, forty Halloween candy wrappers and six sippy cups later, the backseat was relatively clean.
And then I saw it: our Ergo carrier.
It was twisted under the seat, abandoned next to a single sock. Everett’s feet pitter-pattered behind me—the sound alone a reminder of his age and size. My baby wasn't a baby anymore. I stood in the driveway clutching the ergo to my chest for a full five minutes while I allowed my mind to wander down memory lane: strolling grocery store aisles, walking through airport security, climbing mountains. I had to think hard to remember the last time I had worn Everett in the Ergo. It was a weeknight in September and we had tickets to a baseball game. Something came up and my husband had to work late, so I (somewhat bravely) took Everett by myself. We lasted until the sixth inning, at which point I strapped Ev back in the Ergo for the long walk to the car, his feet dangling well below my waist. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him tight and he laid his head on my chest, an unusual (but always welcome) occurrence. It was a normal, average night. I’m almost positive it was a Monday.
You never know when something is going to be the last time, do you?
One minute something is part of the routine and the next it’s just a memory. You go from giving your baby two bottles a day to one a day, to one once in a while, to never ever again. Sometimes you phase things out strategically, like bottles and pacis. Other times, the last time is a Very Big Deal, like the last time he breastfeeds or the last time he sleeps in the bassinet before you give it away. But often, perhaps even most of the time, these “last times” are slipping right through our fingertips unnoticed, overlooked until the minute you pull your Ergo carrier out from the backseat of your car and wonder, now how did that happen?
That night at the baseball game, I had no idea it was going to be the last time I'd wear Everett in the ergo. And had I not allowed myself to stand in the driveway holding it, grasping for memories, I never would have even noticed.
This month, I want you to walk around your house. I want you to look in your car. I want you to open drawers, jewelry boxes, closets you haven't explored recently. I want you to look for the object calling out to you -- maybe it's an old necklace, maybe it's a shoe shine box, maybe it's a book or a recipe or a faded t-shirt.
Find something worth noticing, and write the story it's begging you to write.
Artist Interview with Tara Whitney
1. Tara, we are such huge fans of your work! It was only after we asked you to do this interview that we saw you have this line on your website: "I will notice what makes you special." Can you expand on this? How does the art of noticing play a role in your work?
Everyone wants to be seen and understood. If I start there, that means that noticing is the most important work that I can do. More than anything else, more than knowing how to use light and angle and posing - it is actually the act of paying attention that creates the connection that I need.
2. When you show up to a photoshoot, what is the first thing you notice?
When I show up to meet a group of people for a session, the first thing I notice is how they are feeling. I immediately get “the vibe”. I can tell who is excited, who is bored, who is shy, who doesn’t want to be there. I look for who needs space, who wants my attention. I learn what makes them laugh. I can see a lot, pretty quickly. Paying attention to all of these things helps me decide how to connect best to each person I work with. I can lighten the mood if needed, I can bolster confidence if needed, I can create excitement and energy if needed.
3. How has motherhood influenced or inspired your photography?
Becoming a mother inspired an even deeper urgency to record, collect, and remember. My children were born and of course I, as their mother, thought them to be magic. I had all of this LIFE happening around me every day, a whirling dervish of four children, each about two years apart. (They are now 21, 19, 17, 14.) I started documenting them, differently than the snapshots of my youth. I sat back and watched, often using a telephoto lens so as not to disturb their natural play. At the time, I had little knowledge of documentary photography, only a desire not to bother them and also capture them as naturally as possible. When I became a photographer, I used that same motivation and strategy to capture other people’s children. Which, at the time (somewhere around 2004), was a new idea for commissioned family photos. I went about my work as if I was photographing my own family, my own children.
4. This month we’re exploring the idea of noticing beauty and wonder all around us, which can sometimes be difficult to do with young children at home, piles of dishes in the sink, and laundry all over the couch. Where can mothers find beauty and inspiration among the mundane, often less-than-glamorous work of raising kids?
Experiencing beauty is necessary to fulfill our senses, to allow us to feel something real. Seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting things we find to be beautiful actually brings satisfaction to our lives. I was a stay at home mom for ten years before I became a work from home mom, and my oldest daughter has severe neurological delays and violent behavior issues. I know that as caretakers we are often depleted. Searching out beauty is one way to fill yourself up.
I’ve been a “noticer” of small things since I was a child, although maybe at the time adults might have called me “nosy”. The more I understood the importance of my curiosity the more I searched to understand what I found to be meaningfully beautiful. It’s not always a big grand gesture like the sun setting over the ocean, because who can get to the ocean every night when it’s time for homework and dinner and tucking in? So, you must be curious, and seek beauty innocently, simply to experience joy and connect to your body. Just like a child might. What will I experience today? What can I do to remain open to receiving?
As far as getting past the mundane, I think it’s almost like a game. For me I can come across something as mundane as a weed growing in the corner of a parking lot with a shadow playing on the cement wall behind it. Something about it grabs my attention, I guess maybe the surprise of something beautiful where I didn’t expect it, and I am just stupidly grateful to be alive to see it.
5. A photographer and a non-photographer walk into a room. What does the photographer notice that perhaps the non-photographer wouldn’t?
Light. And possibly, who they would want to photograph.
6. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?
“Let me listen to me and not to them.” Gertrude Stein
7. What or who inspires you: as a wife, mother, human and artist? Who are your favorite photographers?
Vulnerability, spontaneous joy, wisdom, meaningful conversation, water, light, shadows dancing, pink skies, bravery, confidence, rocks, filling my senses, innocence, good trouble.
8. Have you ever gone through a dry spell with your photography or creativity? How do you get out of that rut?
If they happen, you first have to decide if it’s a dry spell or you just hate it now. (Whatever it is.) Sometimes you just hate it now, and that’s okay, and you can move on to something else. Sometimes it’s how you pay the bills, so you keep at it, keep working, and it passes. I don’t give much attention to dry spells.
9. You recently hit a milestone birthday, the big 4-0! How has the gift of time changed what you notice? Does 40 year-old Tara notice things that 20 year-old Tara may have missed?
Forty year old Tara is very much more aware of her limited time on this Earth, and what that means regarding how she wants to spend the time she has left. Also the way her eyelids have dropped, and the wrinkles on her chest.
I am happy to be forty. The alternative is quite unsavory. Being forty is also terrifying, because I know I am in the second half of my life. There is just more urgency to experience things I haven’t before, and to fulfill my potentials. That means learning (another form of noticing) as much as I can about myself, all of my faults and my strengths. It’s crazy that after forty years of living with myself I can still be surprised with what is inside of myself.
Twenty year old Tara was treading water with a newborn and a one year old. Twenty year old Tara didn’t even think she’d make it to forty. So this Tara is certainly paying attention with all her might and every pore.
10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a piece of advice, what would it be?
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a phase. Do what you can with what you have, and don’t make things harder on yourself than they have to be.
Don’t forget, you are their mother but you must also become your own mother, and take good care of yourself.