Jenny Odell on How to Watch Out: Life Kit: NPR

Written and illustrated by Connie Hanzhang Jin, this comic is inspired by a Life Kit episode starring Jenny Odell and hosted by Andrew Limbong. You can listen to the audio at the top of this page.

Do you know when you go on vacation and notice every little detail of the place you visit? The statues! The billboards! The flowers are bursting through the cracks in the sidewalk!

People do pretty much the opposite when they’re in familiar surroundings, going on autopilot, and not noticing the little joys of home. It doesn’t have to be that way. Artist and author Jenny Odell shares tips on how to practice paying attention and appreciating what’s right in front of you.

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Andrew Limbong is a man with a mustache, glasses and a hat over short hair. "You know how pop punk bands always sing that they want to leave this city?" he asks into a microphone. "I get it, but... there's something to be said for appreciating the world that's just outside your door," he adds, staring at a bird outside.

It's easy to take things around you for granted.  Paying real attention to these things is probably something you only do when an out-of-town friend comes to visit and your tourist plays with them.  Andrew and a friend stand on the sidewalk and look up at a small bird statue above the window of a house the friend pointed out.

Enlarge this image

It's easy to take things around you for granted.  Paying real attention to these things is probably something you only do when an out-of-town friend comes to visit and your tourist plays with them.  Andrew and a friend stand on the sidewalk and look up at a small bird statue above the window of a house the friend pointed out.

"We have a natural curiosity and it's just a shame that the structures of life and a lot of different factors kind of mask that and you have to find ways to rehabilitate it," says Jenny Odell, author of

Here are some tips to help you find new things in old spaces.  Try a new lens first.  Focus on observing a particular aspect of a place.  For example, learning about the history of an area or focusing on how a place smells or sounds.  Andrew closes his eyes to listen to the sounds of a busy sidewalk: cars honking, wind blowing, footsteps and someone on the phone.

Enlarge this image

Here are some tips to help you find new things in old spaces.  Try a new lens first.  Focus on observing a particular aspect of a place.  For example, learning about the history of an area or focusing on how a place smells or sounds.  Andrew closes his eyes to listen to the sounds of a busy sidewalk: cars honking, wind blowing, footsteps and someone on the phone.

Go on a walk with someone unfamiliar with your space.  A fresh look can point out details you've missed.  Andrew and a friend walk along a path along a lake, with trees and houses in the distance. "Wow, look at that barn!" the friend points. "Huh, I've never noticed that before" Andrew responds.

Enlarge this image

Go on a walk with someone unfamiliar with your space.  A fresh look can point out details you've missed.  Andrew and a friend walk along a path along a lake, with trees and houses in the distance. "Wow, look at that barn!" the friend points. "Huh, I've never noticed that before" Andrew responds.

Paying attention to one thing can reveal more information over time.  Four comic panels show a full-size statue of an Easter Island through the seasons.  In the fall, the grass around it becomes sparse.  In winter, the statue is covered with snow.  In the spring, the grass comes back to life, while in the summer it grows thick enough to partially obscure the picture.

Take public transport.  Take a new form of public transport and pay attention to the people around you.  Connect with a sense of community by noticing your fellow passengers on your shared journey.  Andrew stands in a crowded bus and takes in the other passengers.

Jenny steps forward on a walk.  As she steps, her surroundings change - from a sunny day to pouring rain to a brisk breeze. "Your simple walk through your neighborhood is complicated in many ways.  Some of them can arouse amazement.  Some of them can cause despair," she says. "But I think I'd rather pay attention to all those things than just wander around the world a little bit."

Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.

This episode of Life Kit was produced by Andee Tagle. This comic was edited by Beck Harlan.

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