Bored and Brilliant challenge 6 is to go somewhere public and stay for a while: a park, a mall, a gas station, a cafe, the hallway at work.
Once you get there, hang out. Watch people, or anything that strikes you. No need to sit on a park bench for an hour. It can be as short as you like. If you really feel uncomfortable lingering in a spot to observe, you can do this exercise while walking. But it should have a different quality than challenge two (to keep your device out of sight while in motion). Here I’m asking you to pause and imagine what a single person is thinking, or zoom in on an un-inventable detail. Just make one small observation you might have missed if your nose were glued to a screen. I’m asking you to notice—because noticing is the first step in creating.
I’ve done this a couple of times. Just sat somewhere for no particular reason, but I always forgot what I was supposed to be doing there for the challenge.
Yesterday I tried it again, and again forgot the bit about imagining what a person was thinking, but I did try and look for things I might otherwise have missed.
For reasons unnecessary to explain, I found myself in New Town for an hour last night. It was dark, it was cold and I am trying to get over a cold. Not an ideal time to wander around so I decided to do this challenge once and for all. I mean, it’s been a month since I did the last one. I need to get this finished!
I went to the local shopping centre (mall—check) and sat outside Kmart for half an hour (stay somewhere public for a while—check). I’d like to tell you I didn’t look at my phone the whole time but that would be slightly untrue. But I didn’t sit there and scroll instagram or facebook at all. I mostly didn’t look at my phone. Apart from a couple of messages I just sat and looked around.
It actually felt less weird than I thought it would have. Random person rugged up in arctic wear (did I mention it was cold?) sitting on a bench outside Kmart not looking at their phone. What are they doing then? I think I was pretty much invisible. Good.
It was also less boring than I thought it would be. When I found out I’d need to do this, I couldn’t imagine anything I would less rather be doing on a freezing Tuesday night than hanging around in New Town for an hour. But the time went surprisingly quickly and I found I rather enjoyed just sitting in a fairly quiet space that was warm and had just enough going on to maintain my interest. Put it this way, it was more enjoyable than waiting at the bus stop for 10 minutes afterwards.
The shopping centre at 6.30 is fairly quiet, compared to in the daytime, with a slow but steady stream of people making their way into and out of Kmart. I’m not sure I would have liked it quite as much if I’d been sitting there in the middle of the day with all the noise and the much greater numbers of people. I think that would have overstimulated me and I would have felt very uncomfortable.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to notice.
What sort of people go to Kmart at 6.30? All sorts really. Parents with young kids, couples, singles, older people, teens with a parent, schoolgirls, people who had just finished work . . . And what do they buy? Clothes, kitchen appliances, blankets, cushions, mirrors, coat stands, lollies . . .
What did I notice?
Well, there were fewer people in ugg boots than I had expected to see. I had been wearing ugg boots all day until I went out and I imagined I’d see a lot of them at Kmart. Wrong. I saw two people in ugg boots. There were more people in thongs than there were in ugg boots. (Take note, aspiring film makers, if you ever want to shoot a scene in Kmart. People wear thongs not ugg boots. And flats, and runners (lots of Nikes and lots of non-Nikes) and workboots and walking shoes. Not ugg boots.)
I had no idea that DVD rental vending machines were even a thing. (I clearly don’t visit shopping centres very often.) Today was $2 Tuesday (or in old school language, Tightarse Tuesday) at the vending machine and I saw two people get DVDs from the machine. I also saw one person play the prize grab teddy machine (and fail).
I looked at the floor tiles and realised if I did weird things with my eyes I could make the floor move and wondered if I could make myself go into a trance if I blinked my eyes fast enough for long enough by looking at it. (I couldn’t, but it was fun trying.)
And there was a section of floor where the tile pattern was broken and I couldn’t stop looking at it because it was WRONG!
I am not sure if I was supposed to have come away with anything profound from this exercise. I didn’t, other than a nagging feeling I had missed something from a statement on my website and that I wanted to change the font. Hardly profound. But I liked the experience. I didn’t get bored and I didn’t feel the need to scroll through social media because there was nothing else to do. It was nice to be able to sit, watch what was going on around me without judgement* and just let my mind take in whatever it wanted to.
I’d like to do this challenge more often.
*Okay I made one judgment. This girl in her 20s with a granny trolley and these massive headphones that she stopped outside to set up. She looked very cool and very happy.