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Life As an Observer May 26, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Other Arts.
Tags: , , , ,

While in Okinawa, I got in the habit of always carrying a camera, an audio recorder and a notebook. Even a 10-minute trip to the convenience store usually warranted something worth documenting. I became hyper-aware of unfamiliar surroundings and sensations, wanting to share everything “strange” with people back home.

So, I have hundreds of photos of plants, architecture, artwork and geography. I have dozens of recordings of the monorail, the beach, the bugs, the birds and the music. I have pages of notes of history lessons and song analyses.

But, as much as all those have taught me about Okinawa, it taught me that there are things worth documenting anywhere in the world — including, most importantly, at home. We get so used to our everyday surroundings that we forget they might not be “everyday” to someone else.

So pay attention! Look up and around you when you’re walking instead of down at the ground! Take those earbuds out of your ears! Take your time eating! Slow down and enjoy everything!

This will sound dumb, but it really bothered me that I couldn’t record smells in Okinawa — sweet-smelling dusk air, salt that smelled more like the ocean than the ocean smells like the ocean, peculiarly good-smelling bathrooms. But we have equally fascinating scents at home: railroad tracks, the Rainbo Bread factory by my house, the kettle corn vendor at the Davis Farmers’ Market.

As a full-time observer, I learned so much about the island, but I learned more about how to enjoy day-to-day life. I hope you can take some of that away too.