Learning to See

I’ve talked before about how important it is for a writer to be observant. I am working on ways of sneaking observation into every lesson plan I design for the rest of the term, and I think that my students are really starting to figure how to put what they see (or, more importantly, what they think is important about what they see), into words.

I had lunch today with someone very dear to me. MeadMaker and I have a very long history – we broke 20 years 4 years ago – and we very often go to each other for help seeing outside our respective boxes; I’m not sure it’s possible for two people to think more differently, yet still get along as we do.

MeadMaker has decided to go back to school, and has started the process by taking a single Gen. Ed. – psych. – at his community college (not TCC; I’ll never be his English teacher*). He asked me today what he can do to be a better writer.

Did I mention how different we are?

I started out by telling him that the most important quality that writers share is the ability to really SEE things. Notice the color of the water that collects in the old coffee can under the rain spout. See that the waitress has two earrings on one side, but only one on the other. Imagine what happened to the guy in front of you in line at the bank to make him so cranky today. Play with images or snippits of other people’s conversations.

He rolled his eyes at me.

The truth of the matter is that he just doesn’t pay attention to things that don’t directly affect him. We’ve been meeting for lunch at this restaurant every Tuesday for the better part of two months now, and not only could he not remember our usual waitress’s name, but he couldn’t even describe her to the guy who took us in to be seated. We always end up at one of three tables in the same section, and I was able to tell him what hangs on the wall across from us (it’s a TGIFriday’s, so it’s loaded up with things like posters from Charlie’s Angels and Jaws, bits from games of Twister and Operation, a picture of the Kennedy family in their little wooden boats, a Worhol print of Marilyn, a picture of the crew of M*A*S*H and one of Diana Ross and the Supremes, along with a bunch of other pop memorabelia). As I’m doing this, his eyes are getting bigger and bigger. We’ve sat across from these things every week for months, and he’s never even given the stuff a passing glance.

I’m going to send him some exercises to get him thinking like a writer and hope that they help him. He may never put pen to paper with anything I send him – frankly, he’s got enough work to do without my adding more to it – but if he takes some time to THINK about what I ask him to see, I think he’ll find that he notices a lot more than he ever did.

**it’s a damned shame that he’s not going to TCC and that I’ll never be his English teacher, because I’d be the best one he ever had…


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Filed under about writing, Teaching

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