Knowing What To Look For

I’ve been reading Pilgrim At Tinker Creek over the Christmas break and have been thinking about Annie Dillard’s discussion of seeing and knowing what to look for. She says, “…I don’t see what the specialist sees, and so I cut myself off, not only from the total picture, but from the various forms of happiness.”

I often wonder what I don’t see everyday because I’m not looking for it. Dillard finds that the more she learns about nature the more she can see the little details that are usually missed by people. I can’t help, but feel the same way about life and learning in general. At times I am overcome by the feeling I am getting an incomplete picture. I don’t want to be cut off from “various forms of happiness” as Dillard so puts it. The whole idea of being able to “see” reminds me of something I heard in Gardner’s talk at JMU on Digital Imagination; briefly stated, the students in his class were unable to see the answer to a question they had even though it was right their in the book, they were unable to see it.

I don’t believe it is just knowing that will solve my problem of being unable to see. I know people who have a head full of knowledge, but all those facts sit idly waiting to be called upon by a trivia question in a game show. I won’t stand for just being a container filled to the brim with facts, I want that imagination that will allow me to see what I cannot. To be able to imagine what is not necessarily already explicitly stated.

Dillard states, “Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.” I want to be ready to make connections and not let things just pass me by unseen. I am convinced there is a lot of meaning out there if we care to learn and imagine.

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4 Responses to “Knowing What To Look For”


  1. 1 Steve January 11, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Very thought-provoking post! Sounds like a lesson for life to me. Something we all need to practice more.

  2. 2 Gardner January 11, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    So much to see, so hard to see it. I agree with Steve: a thought-provoking post. And a reminder I need to read Dillard’s masterpiece soon.

    Thanks, Shannon. The new term beckons!

  3. 3 Martha January 11, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    What I think of when I read this post is how often I suddenly find it easy to “see” things that were otherwise hidden to me before. I’m talking about seeing things about myself, really. I’ve worked hard personally for the last few years on becoming more self-aware and getting better at asking myself difficult questions about how I choose to live my life and the choices I make.

    What’s amazing, though, is how it often takes some kind of grand event for me to suddenly, and very clearly, “see” answers to questions that I might have been grappling with for quite some time. The birth of my daughter was like this. In a single moment, I suddenly saw things about myself and my life and I had previously been blind to.

    I find it frustrating — even infuriating — at times that I can’t see those answers when I bid them to come to me.

    But I’m also struck by the notion that perhaps I see some things when I’m meant to see them. There is something magical and poetic about that approach, and it speaks to the part of me that trusts wholly in the universe to show me what I need to know when I need to know it.

    The struggle is finding a way to both give yourself up to that trust but not to avoid the grappling. The commitment to seeing (whether or not the truths are always visible) is as important as the seeing itself, perhaps.

  4. 4 sehauser January 14, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    @Steve – Thanks

    @Gardner – Definitely a piece worth reading, you can borrow my copy when you get the time. Maybe after you retire? ; )

    @Martha – What a thoughtful response to my post. I definitely agree with you that sometimes things don’t become visible until a big moment or just until it is the right time for them to be revealed. Felt I had a moment like that over break.


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