Method Three "Interpreting What You See" describes techniques similar to those we've been practicing on Fantasizing Fotos Fridays--but footnoting a summary of "Interpreting What You See" to a FFF felt like it would run counter to the non-verbal practice we do then.
I decided we would all get more out of "Interpreting What You See" if all three methods described in "How To Observe People" were given in the same blog entry. The first two methods--while not directly related to imagination or creativity-- do serve as foundations for Method Three.*
Extracts from "How To Observe People" begin about halfway down this entry.
First, some reminders from past entries--and some advice.
Observing is not the same thing as Imagining.
We can be just as inspired by the swirl of hair in a horse's coat, the facade of an old building or the remnants of its garden, a few notes from a half-heard tune, or an undefined scent, as we can when studying a person.
Do you remember the field notes list titled "How to Be An Explorer Of The World ? That how-to guide offered thirteen suggestions to anyone who wished to explore parts of their world. These were:
1. Always be looking. (Notice the ground beneath your feet)
2. Consider everything alive and animate. (I love this suggestion because it validates something I do automatically.)
3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.
4. Alter your course often.
5. Observe for Long Duractions. (and short ones)
6. Notice The Stories Going On Around You. Followed literally, this bit of advice may or not be useful. If we're making a cognitive/conscience effort to see a pattern, we may gather just surface information. Once we allow our imaginations freedom to create stories based on observations, our stories will obviously be far more creative i.e. unique imaginings rather than video.
7. Notice patterns. Make connections. Noticing patterns and making connections are two activities in which our imaginations excel--as long as we don't try to force connections.
8. Document your findings ("field notes") in a variety of ways.
(examples: notes, brief audio recordings, sketches.
9. Incorporate Indeterminacy. (Wikipedia characterizes Quantum Indeterminacy as "the apparent necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system".)
For our purposes, remember that no matter how much you stare at a person, study a photograph, try to analize a strange sound or scent, or otherwise seek to document -everything- while "exploring the world", you will inevitably miss something. Quantum physicists doubtless find this frustrating.For those of us who are strengthening our imaginations and developing our creativity the gaps in our observations are a gift!
10. Observe Movement.
11. Create a Personal Dialogue With Your Environment. Talk to it.
12. Trace Things Back To Their Origins.
You could search for the kind of seed from which an unfamiliar plant sprang.
Or, more to our purpose, trace origins with exercises similar to the following:
A. Imagine why a past generation chose to build a narrow path and then hem it with a rough stone wall on just one side. Grass and weeds have taken over most of the road & vines the wall. Why is it rarely used now?
B. Study a "repurposed" building with which you are unfamiliar--anything from a very old one to one built within the last decade, as long as you don't know its actual history. Envision the reasons why it fell out of use for its original purpose, and who studied it and envisioned in what way it could again become useful.
C. Wonder why one elderly person smiles frequently while another frowns. Envision several reasons for each.
13. Use All of Your Senses In your Investigations. Keep in mind that our amazing multi-tasking brains regularly observe details using all our senses.
Bits of advice from that list may prove especially useful while reading the second half of this entry. Especially: 6. Notice The Stories Going On Around You; 7. Notice patterns. Make connections; 9. Incorporate Indeterminacy. 12. Trace Things Back to Their Origins.
Observing is the foundation of creativity but it is no more than that. In many cases, while we're still "observing the stories" going on around us, our imaginations are simultaneously inserting selected details from our memories, dreams or personal interests into our half-envisioned scenario, and doing so even though we haven't finished our observations! There can be no stopping our imaginations some days, short of a focused and determined effort to rein them in. But far better to have this problem than the reverse one!
Not every sensory observation will find its way into our current imaginative creations. Unused bits & pieces of any observation will still be accessible, ready for our imaginations to make use of them next time we feel the creative impulse.
"There are a lot of benefits to being more observant. Observing people and putting your findings to use could help you land your next job, catch someone in a lie, get people on your side in an argument or win the romantic partner of your dreams. People are constantly (unwittingly) putting out telltale signals about who they are and what they want - you just have to know what to look for. If you want to learn how to make sense of people's body language, facial expressions and communication styles without letting on that you're watching, see Step 1 and beyond."
"Walking down the street, riding the subway or moving through any public setting gives you the opportunity to practice being observant. Don't just look right through people - look at them. Notice them. What do you see?"
"If you walk into a party and are immediately concerned with finding the coolest person to talk to, getting to the bar ASAP or finding the closest exit, you're not giving your brain the space to observe people...focus on the other person - you'll learn a lot more that way."
"Don't stare. People will notice that something's up if you keep looking them up and down..."
"Be inconspicuous if you're trying to observe someone from afar.** If you're at a party, for example, don't stand in a dark corner tracking the person your'e interested in observing. Or if you do decide to be a fly on the wall instead of participating, make sure you're in a spot where no one will happen upon you and decide that you're being creepy.**
"Sit on a park bench or at a cafe table with an open newspaper in front of you, and take time to look around at others around you."
"If you find that you have a lot of room for improvement in this area, practice focusing on defining people's emotions. For example, when someone smiles, don't automatically assume "happy." Look for subtleties that can help you find the deeper, truer emotion. Is the person smiling with his or her entire face (including the eyes) or just the mouth? The former might be an indicator of elation, while the latter might be an indicator of mile amusement."
"Studies show that reading more literary fiction can help you develop greater empathy, which results in a greater power of observation."
"When someone's breath quickens, it could indicate that they're feeling nervous or stressed out about the topic at hand. Heavy breathing may be a sign of health problems. It could also mean they're feeling attracted to someone - possibly you . . ."
"First take note of the obvious: a person wearing an expensive business suit is probably a white collar worker; a person wearing a cross around her neck is probably Christian; a person sporting a Grateful Dead t-shirt and Birkenstocks is probably a hippie - you get the picture.
"Look more closely for details about a person's life: the white hairs coating the cuffs of your coworker's black pants. The dried mud caked on the bottom of someone's shoes... What do these subtle details add up to?"
Method 3 contains several warnings about making sure your deductions are accurate. Making correct deductions when observing someone is far more important to a policeman or a psychiatrist than it is to an artist or author. Or to any of us who want to become more creative no matter our motivation. If you're using these techniques to stimulate your imagination and creativity, then your interpretations don't have to be "right". They just need to make sense to you--and potentially to others if you choose to use what you've imagined in some creative way.
"If you're people watching, it can be fun to make up stories about people. That man you see riding the train every morning - what's his background? Based on what he wears and where he gets off the train, what can you deduce?
"It's fun to use your imagination to try to figure out where people are coming from, but if you really want to understand people, you need to find out if you're right.
"For instance, if you observe that someone begins to talk faster and sweat when you ask her about her future plans, why do you think she reacts in this way? Could she be anxious about failing at something she's trying to achieve? Might she be lying about something?
"Narrow your theory down by asking pointed questions or observing the person more carefully.**
"Put the pieces together. Once you have a theory in mind, determine whether your other observations support it."
"Let's say you've been noticing that your friend smiles broadly when he's talking to you, his pupils often look dilated, and his hands tend to get a little sweaty. (Plus he wears blue every day because you told him it looks good with his eyes, and he waits for you in the afternoons after class). You've taken the evidence into account and concluded that your friend is nursing a crush on you. Determine if your deduction is correct by flirting with him and observing his response - or you could just ask him if he has feelings for you."
* While reading, I underscored bits of advice I thought useful to those of us who are honing our imaginations and seeking to spark our creativity.
** A bit of advice they omitted: Don't mimic a stalker!
*** Summarizing Method Three, #2:
"You already have ...your observations. The ...next step ... is to figure out why something is true."
Our unique thoughts, our individual imaginations, supply the "why" aka the hidden pattern which draws select shards of observation, memories and dreams into a coherent and satisfying whole. An impression, a scenario, a story that didn't exist a moment earlier does now. It may not yet be in its final form but in some way we would find hard to explain to someone else the product of our imagining is "true" because all the fragments "fit".
**** Or, your imagination may want to get on with it, a'ready!