Inspired by her popular Twitter account, a new book by Miranda Keeling is full of observations about the quiet beauty of the everyday
Having a rough day? Then picture this: ‘A man walking along Caledonian Road falls over on to the huge roll of bubble wrap he is hugging, perhaps for just this sort of situation’.
Or this: ‘A woman glides round Tesco in blue flip-flops, gold socks and a red dress, her basket entirely full of tinned tomato soup’. Or even this: ‘Man on the tube: “I’m tired”. His wife: “Oh, we’re all tired, Brian”.’
Whatever your mood, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, ping, up pops a tweet like these from a day in the life of Miranda Keeling and somehow your own experience can begin to feel different. More textured. Less grey. More alive with potential.
An actor, coach and silent meditation aficionado, Keeling has been noticing the small things in life for as long as she can remember. She’s not picky about what she observes. It could be the complex hue of an autumn leaf or the crumpled sadness on a stranger’s face. Jewels lurking in the everyday, in short.
“As a teenager, I used to cross the Thames on the bus and I remember seeing all the people who, even when they were with friends, just wouldn’t look up,” recalls London resident Keeling. “I guess I’m just one of those people who, when I get a window seat on a bus, I have to look out of it.”
All her adult life, she has scribbled down her day-to-day observations in a notebook. Then, 11 years ago, as a newcomer to Twitter and unsure of what to write, she took to posting her jottings.
Many of the vignettes are very funny. Like the woman cycling along the towpath with a small, portly pooch chugging along behind: ‘Woman (over her shoulder): “Keep up, Death Star”.’ Others lean towards the surreal or profound. Think, a discarded sofa: ‘Its insides spilling out, like secrets after too much wine’.
Fortunately, the general bias of her 35,000- plus tweets (a selection of which have now found their way into a heartwarming compendium) tends towards the positive. Not because Keeling walks through the world wearing rose-tinted glasses. (Life, she readily admits, can be “really dark”.) It’s more because the tiny shards of beauty that pepper our days are what lift her spirits – and, equally, “what people go to me to see”.
Speaking of audiences, Keeling confesses to being “always amazed” by the responses she receives from her 20,000 or so Twitter followers. She’s had people write to identify themselves as the pilot, for example, of the hot air balloon she once saw flying overhead. Others write the opposite, to explain that they dress in outlandish clothes in the hope of being spotted by her, but as yet to no avail.
More remarkable still are the number of people who send her drawings inspired by her word stories. “Woo, this is cool,” Keeling says, remembering the first time she received a picture. “Then, they just kept coming.”
We’re in this astonishing, visceral, tangible place. Just to be there, just to feel it and see it, is something inimitable
She doesn’t invite them, nor do any of the artists know that there are dozens of others like them. It’s evidence, in Keeling’s view, of the “creative collaboration” that everyday observations inspire, and that online platforms can facilitate.
Why her love of noticing? It might not seem it on a grisly morning commute or when staring out of the window at work, but look hard, and you’ll see that we live in a world of wonders. Not always gobsmacking, fall-off-your-chair marvels. But things of quiet beauty, that, for a second or two, make us stop, and think and feel.
“We’re in this astonishing, visceral, tangible place,” enthuses Keeling. “And just to be there, just to feel it and see it, is something inimitable and I’d recommend it highly.”
The Year I Stopped to Notice, by Miranda Keeling, is out now with Icon Books
Photography: Sam Bush