I’ve been making crazy art projects lately, collecting found objects from the seashore and winding, gluing, hammering them together to create forms and creatures. Most of the found objects are from nature – fragments of shell, softly shaped driftwood orbs or coins of seaglass that started out as man-made but turned into sea-smooth treasures.
The process of collecting is as satisfying as is the making, but curiously, I’ve found that when my conceptual “creature” feels bird-like, the shells I see on the beach are all shaped like feathers. If the shape of my base is reptilian, limpets seem to be everywhere I walk. And if I’m feeling like crafting a tiny, detailed gem, pink Pupu O Ni’ihau shells that are the size of the head of a pin somehow flash at me through the grains of sand. Of course, all of those objects are on the beach at the same time, but what I see is influenced by what I’m looking for.
I now know that scientists have a name for this strange hyper-focus: they call it the “pop-out effect.”
It’s a phenomenon where a unique visual “target” can rapidly be detected, even though it sits within a whole bunch of distracting and different objects. I’m looking for “feathers” so I see feathers; looking for “gems” so I see gems.
Which leads me to think about what I look for and what I actually see as I go through life.
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I’m not proud of it, but if I’m feeling insecure, I notice the most beautiful woman in the room as a point of comparison.
If I’m feeling distraught about the state of the world, the validation of my dismay pops out in the form of the headlines, statistics and Youtube footage that catches my eye.
When joyful, the saturated color of new-fallen leaves or the glow of the moon through passing clouds feels like a sign from a higher being; bigger and more encompassing than they are in the context of the world.
So I guess my question is whether there is a way to harness this pop-out effect for good.
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My father, known to our family as Pop Pop, died this week after an extended illness and 25 years of physical suffering. He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known, and I think the pop-out effect defined the way he lived his life.
Renowned for his exaggerated explicatives about glorious things that stood out to him: the most beautiful work of art or the most captivating new friend, the most special community park or the softest sweater he’d ever worn; the things he loved stood out and took on disproportionate weight for him. They motivated him to seek more, create more, love more and acquire more. Objects, people and experiences carried him through the pain, the worry and the frustration.
If the glory of the “high” wasn’t carrying him along, the issues and systems that needed change popped out to him instead. He was equally passionate and active in his engagement with the issues that validated or violated his principles. He marched against inequity, fought discrimination and ranted about leaders who might be pulling us into hate-filled worlds.
Even in the midst of the worst of the worst of times – the pandemic which threatened his already precarious health, the “stay in place” that kept him from his precious parks and prevented him from turning strangers into friends, he saw, he loved and he dreamed.
For him, positivity and potential always popped out.
We all create our realities, seeing the things that we want to see. As long as we take the time to check in with ourselves to make sure that what we see and seek is revisited, re-evaluated and re-aligned so that it isn’t used to validate our preconceived notions and to prove ourselves right, the pop-out effect can be a force for good.
What a legacy he left behind.
To our family, he was known as Pop Pop. I think I’ll call this phenomenon of seeing the good, the beautiful and the cherished pop out beyond the world’s weight, the “Pop Pop effect”.
He would have loved that.
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I shared a lot today and I usually ask that if you feel some truth in what I write, that you share it with others in intimate and broad ways. This month, I just ask that you hold the people you love deeply in your heart and tell them they are there.