But don't be deceived by the neatly bounded rectangle of the above close-up: Sammy's web is wide, extending across the width of window from the left side to the right side of its outermost frame, the track that's reserved for one of the storm windows. The web is far enough away from the window screen that when the wind blows, it billows and waves. It's strong and delicate both--but not so strong as to have ensnared my neighbor's car, as the picture on the right might lead you to believe.
So much is about perspective and purpose. Knowing from where you're looking in time and space. Knowing why you're looking, what you're so keen on seeing. What's interesting to me is when focus and purpose actually limit seeing. It happens all the time in television crime dramas** when a robust but incorrect theory of "who done it" blinds detectives to elements of the crime scene photos that point toward the real perpetrator. Until there is someone to charge with the crime, the job of the investigators is to zoom in while never losing sight of the periphery, just in case.
As a longtime teacher, I think about this a lot, especially given the current passion for criterion-referenced assessment of both students and teachers. In my educational book, tunnel vision is never a good thing, even when the tunnel is built out of very thoughtful performance criteria. As educators, we need to move deftly between our zoom lenses and our wide-angle lenses if our intent is not only to judge what our students have learned and how well they've learned it (always important), but to support them in furthering their learning, and in constructing the authentic individual and group identities that can help them realize their potentials as learners and people.
That's why the Reggio Emilia notion of "a pedagogy of listening,"*** which bids teachers to listen and see both widely and deeply for the sake of learners and learning, resonates so strongly with me: it makes students visible to themselves during the processes of learning and helps them determine and execute their next steps. Experiences of successfully directing and redirecting their own learning propel them towards agency in their lives both in and beyond school.
But as Reggio Emilia educator Carla Rinaldi cautions,
Listening is not easy. It requires a deep awareness and at the
same time a suspension of our judgments and above all our
prejudices; it requires openness to change. It demands that we
have clearly in mind the value of the unknown and that we are
able to overcome the sense of emptiness and precariousness
that we experience whenever our certainties are questioned (81).
Photography has helped me to understand the fragility of my perceptions of what is certain and there. For a while, I've been conscious that my camera often sees what my mind's eye doesn't register--namely reflections in the water of objects or scenes near the water that have caught my attention. For example, recently, I took several photographs of the rays of the sun shining through broken cloud-cover.
But only when I looked at the photos a couple of weeks later did I realize that one of them captured not only the sun's commanding rays but the reflection of whole variegated gray yet sun-splintered sky in the waters of Black's Creek. I would have thought that by now, I would have noticed the almost-symmetry of the scene I was beholding and would have taken the photo because of the bonus mirror image of the sky's spectacular arrangement. But I think I know what blinded me: I had begun playing with the exposure because I so wanted my photo to capture the drama of the light-dark contrast above me. In retrospect, my determination to "see" and capture one arresting aspect of the scene before me prevented me from registering that other arresting aspect.
All of this interest in seeing, widely and deeply, into and beyond, has me wondering about the relationship between reflection and realities of all kinds. Over the last five weeks, I've been purposefully reflecting, especially in conjunction with Simon Jacobson's 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays.**** But it's been difficult; I've felt haunted and disconnected as often as I've felt encouraged and connected. It's as if the more I look, the less certain I am of who I am and what I see. Frankly, it's not an easy place for a Jew to be right in the middle of the 10 Days of Awe. According to the book, the King is no longer in the field; He's entered the palace. For some reason, though, I'm still standing in the field. And it feels like the only place I can authentically be. Maybe next year, something will be different. Meanwhile, out here in the field, I am watching the changing season, and I'm terribly grateful for it.
I'm also incredibly grateful to my husband Scott, who gives great advice that I generally don't follow. While he totally respects my 60 Days process, he's been encouraging the "out in the world" me to to stop trying to figure out my future and to get busy doing anything that appeals to me without worrying about whether it's "the thing I should be doing"--essentially to come to know by doing, not thinking. And he doesn't get angry at me when I keep thinking and not doing. Because on my most unsettling days he somehow manages to remind me of who I am, I asked him if he was doing that intentionally. No, he said; he wouldn't deliberately try to reflect me back to me because he doesn't feel he knows me better than I know myself. He then offered the possibility that the affirmation that I was experiencing was less about who he knows me to be, and more about how much he feels for me as I struggle genuinely--and how much he believes that I'll get to where I should be going.
I've been thinking about things that one can't see or experience directly, that one can only apprehend somehow reflected. I began thinking about this because early in 60 Days, Simon Jacobson retells the story of Moses' being allowed to see G-d's shadow rather than G-d himself. Soon thereafter, Andrea Barrett's short story, "Servants of the Map," part of a story collection by the same name, came to my mind and sent me to my bedroom bookshelf. First of all, the story's main character has an unusual talent for perspective-taking: when he recognizes that he is evolving importantly through his experiences in a fascinating, beautiful, dangerous unknown part of the world, he almost immediately recognizes the likelihood that his wife and children are on their own courses of change and might be also be worrying about how their changes will affect the family's collective life once he returns. Second of all, the story is about using what we know to know what we don't know: the men executing the Grand Trigonomentrical Survey of India use triangulation to measure the heights of towering Himalayan peaks that they can see but never scale. It's arduous, excruciatingly lonely, and often exhilarating work.
As the surveyors' triangulation method suggests, it may be that triangles of vision are more useful than lines of vision for helping us to see, to understand, to know. If reflection is attached to one angle of a triangle that one might use to know the unknown, to apprehend truth and reality, either within us and beyond us, then what ideas or entities might be attached to the other angles? I began drawing triangles, experimenting with assigning various knowns and unknowns to the vertices of an array of triangles. I imagined the lines of sight heading in two directions, and in so doing, defining a field of vision, upon which perhaps, I or someone else could gain some footing.
I don't know if this drawing helped me at all to see more clearly or to feel more connected, but it did give me something to do. Now as I look at the triangles, having had that conversation with Scott, I am wondering if a genuinely useful triangle needs "love" or "compassion" as one of its vertices. Scott's constant, attentive presence allows me to tolerate--and sometimes even confront--my sadness and fear as I'm struggling to see. Reflection is different--in my case, far more intimidating--in the absence of love and compassion.
Recently, I took the picture at the right not just because the sky's reflection in the tidal channel was so beautiful, but because the man in the white shirt and red hat seemed to be so thoroughly enjoying this vast, beautiful reflection, and the sea beyond it, as if they belonged to him. I can almost hear him exhaling. I envy his calm contentment. I think I also envy his red hat.
During the last two weeks, my personal reflection experiences have left me feeling more like an insect caught in Sammy Jr.'s voluminous web than like that red-hatted man. But that spider web is an amazing, beautiful thing as long as you're not an insect ensnared in it. Which I'm not. Here******, it's sunlight-reflecting dew-drops that make visible another spider's magnificent handiwork. Yes, sometimes, it really is all about perspective and reflection. But other times, looking and doing, moving and hoping, are just what's needed for knowing and seeing. So I end this blog post determined to keep up my 60 Days reflecting--and to follow Scott's advice. I'll need a zoom lens and wide-angle lens for both, I think.
* Sammy Sr. and his web blockaded the path to a seldom-used bench overlooking the stream on our property in Berlin, New York.
** Screen shot from <http://thebacklot.mtvnimages.com/uploads/images/svu0304b.img_assist_custom.jpg?quality=0.7>
*** Carla Rinaldi’s definition of this can be found in the chapter entitled “Documentation and Assessment: What is the Relationship?” in Project Zero and Reggio Children (2001): Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.
****Jacobson, Simon. 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays. 2nd Revised ed. New York: Kiyum, 2008. Print.
***** Screen shot of <http://www.pestproducts.com/images/orb-spider-web.JPG>.