Slow motion bullseyes

The first bookstore I worked at was Dawn Treader Books, a classic, all-topics used bookstore (with a particularly strong showing in fiction, especially science fiction). I was 17, and I had also recently started volunteering at WCBN, the community radio station.

This was the late 90s, and while I had done some internetting, it was still a remarkable thing to be surrounded by stacks of media. We were still more than a decade from being always within reach of a device with the ability to drown us in content. So these huge collections of books and records and CDs were magical in a way that’s kind of hard to remember. Also, I was 17 and basically an idiot, so there was lots to discover.

Something kept happening at the bookstore or the radio station that made them seem extra magical. I’d somehow stumble across a book I had just read about in the last book I was reading, or an album that turned out to be the first project by members of the last band I really got into. Things like that.

It took me a while to realize that, while I wasn’t looking for these, I was very actively rejecting other books and records literally by the thousands. Simply by scanning the fiction section, being paid minimum wage to shelve new arrivals, browsing the records at the station, I was not picking up thousands of titles every week that didn’t grab my attention. And then I was picking up dozens or maybe hundreds of other titles that didn’t hold it. So this created this tremendous negative pressure that caused the important things to bubble to the top.

My career in used books ended when I went to art school seven years later, but I was into this idea enough that I consciously employed it in note taking and research for my dissertation. Or half-consciously, I guess – you can’t really do it on purpose.

Can’t say I’ve had a name for it this whole time, but it’s an idea that feels solid to me. So if I’m gonna write it down let’s call the phenomenon a slow-motion-bullseye.

I think it’s a nice motivation to stay curious – keep up the curiosity and who knows how many perfect things to read or listen to or see are slowly approaching the bullseye of your attention from all angles!

featured mind-things
Links to this page: