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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

quote of the day

"Observing isn’t the same as seeing. Our own research convinces us that educators do not describe what they see during a classroom observation; rather, they see what they can describe (Brookhart et al., 2011; Moss, 2002)."

That this statement is about educators is immaterial to me. Your assignment is to consider this point and comment:

We don't describe what we see. We see what we can describe.


chickory said...

observation is the first tool of both science and art.

in this new twittery age, the skill set has suffered because it takes focus and time.

and why wouldnt educators see what they can describe? their entire world is about quantifying. That is part of the tragedy of the profession.

The very best things to see are indescribable - but not necessarily rare. and then painting is about describing not just what is observed but what is observed and reconfigured into a new thing that delivers more information than what was seen- if youre doing it right.

descriptive writing is some of my favorite. I have a book about the forest in folklore - from the turn of the century. the opening page that describes the forest floor blows me away. its clearly written by a champion of observation -and I may post a paragraph of it for you.

the culture spends so much time lying half the time people dont even believe what they clearly observe and see only what theyve been conditioned to see. and that brings us to the deplorable situation we find ourselves in now.

Aunty Belle said...

"we see what we can describe" is another way of saying we choose our own prison of preconceptions.

The challenge of a good writer(or artist) is to assist the reader /viewer to "see" what is. What is--not what I wish it to be or represent. Not what my culture or profession molds --but to see WHAT IS as it is in the objective order--that is why Flannery was so good. She stripped the ego, the assumptions, the cultural bias from the subject.

In some cases, the writer /artist may interpret what is observed --at least point the way for the reader.

An indispensable book on this topic is Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

"“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery...We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”


"I chanced on a wonderful book by Marius von Senden, called Space and Sight. . . . For the newly sighted, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning: "The girl went through the experience that we all go through and forget, the moment we are born. She saw, but it did not mean anything but a lot of different kinds of brightness." . . . In general the newly sighted see the world as a dazzle of color-patches. They are pleased by the sensation of color, and learn quickly to name the colors, but the rest of seeing is tormentingly difficult. . . . The mental effort involved . . . proves overwhelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. . . . A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair. . . . On the other hand, many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision.”

Czar--I think thas' the nub of it--the description most give to thangs they see is meant to keep the world manageable, rather than to truly look at WHAT IS. Reality, after all, is too frightenin' fer most folks.

Chick9 is dead on wif' the observation about lying--this modern malaise we all drag through is because we are trying to "save the appearances" of stuff we know dang well ain't true. But we's built up elaborate sets, launched puppet spokesmen, corrupted education, etc, to insure that the fiction is maintained. George Steiner: "Words that are saturated with lies or atrocity, do not easily resume life."

grins said...

You can observe a lot by just watching.

- Yogi Berra

GrumpyGranny said...

The Heisenberg principle applies to everything. Not only do we describe what we see, we see things the way we THINK they are or might be according to our home-grown (or life-history-developed) filters. And the longer we observe something, the more we tend to "read" things into it and thereby affect our future observations and descriptions. We like to say "It is what it is" but nothing is. Everything is only what WE are.

Howzzat for philosophical?

czar said...

Chickory: Beautifully written, as I knew it would be. You folks who create (and there are more of you below) instead of just mess with (like me) have to think about why and what they do in a way that gives a particular slant on perception and description that I thought would prove interesting.

The very best things to see are indescribable - but not necessarily rare.

That's beautiful.

And although he gets his knocks, Jack Kerouac can pull off deep description as well as anyone. If you're in a bookstore, pick up Visions of Cody and read through the first page or so.

Aunty: Wow. I know I've grabbed Aunty's attention when it takes her a few paragraphs to get the traction on AuntySpeak.

The challenge of a good writer (or artist) is to assist the reader/viewer to "see" what is. What is--not what I wish it to be or represent.

Now, you're talking about journalism and nonfiction, no? Don't other forms serve other purposes? And isn't "what is" for you different from "what is" for someone else? Or can't "what is" change on a dime? (Sorry, I'm in the middle of a book on Vatican II.)

Although I recently worked on a book about the headmaster of a New England prep school who wrote without adjectives or adverbs. Talk about stripping everything from the subject. He felt that if the writing served its purpose, it didn't need embellishment. I can't argue with him.

the description most give to thangs they see is meant to keep the world manageable, rather than to truly look at WHAT IS. Reality, after all, is too frightenin' fer most folks.


Be back later to address others.

czar said...


"I didn't say half the things I said." -- Yogi Berra


Spot on, as well. A friend sent me a cartoon last year -- the point of which was that even the most ridiculous minutiae will take on great importance when overobserved. Two guys were locked in a room for a month with five hundred pictures of Joe Biden eating a sandwich: "You'll note in number 417 the interesting juxtaposition between mayonnaise at the second bicuspid that's not apparent in numbers 412, 419, or 442."

What comes to mind is biblical criticism. Or The Big Lebowski. I'll take the latter.