Confessions of a (recovering) non-visual person

Yes, it's a pine cone

Do you see that pine cone sitting here on the top of this blog?  Do you really see it?  If you do–if you’re looking at it deeply–even noticing the needles and branches, I would say you are a Visual Person.

 The purpose of this blog is to explain a dirty little secret.

 Are you ready?

Some of us don’t primarily perceive the world visually.  

Dried tansy?

 Up until recently I would enter a room and absorb it like a landscape without noticing details.  Unless the details held energy, or contained meaning.  That’s the best way to describe it.  A visual assessment that took in the whole rather than the parts.

 (Which may mean that some of us are wide-angle visual people while others of us are detail-oriented people.  In which case, forget the primary assumption of this blog.)  

Outreach of an icy spruce branch

For years, when I opened magazines or newspapers I literally did not see the photographs.  They held no interest.  But the words!  The words zinged and whistled and yelped and caressed and sang and danced.  The words rock ‘n rolled.  The words spoke to the heart beneath the heart.  And if someone said, “What did you think of that photo?” my response was usually, “Photo?  What photo?”

I loved writing from a tiny age.  Wrote my first poem in 3rd grade, my first book in 4th grade.  But I was not interested in painting pretty picture words.  Not interested in writing as a way of accentuating or describing the landscape, the environment, the path through a visual world.

No.  Writing sang through the cells and pores because it described moods, feelings, energy.  It dipped and dove through cobwebs of not-knowing and made sense of the seemingly senseless.  It illuminated.  It lit a candle in a dark and dusky recess of the brain.  The words gave life!

Photos?  What were those?  How could they give life in the same way?  How could the visual world ignite the soul in the same way as syllables and sentences? 

Single spruce branch

In 1987 the Anishinabe (Ojibway) of the Upper Peninsula began to teach me of their beliefs, traditions and ceremonies.  The first thing I noticed was  the intertwining of dreaming and nature.  I opened my eyes.  Saw the eagle in the sky and thought “Awareness!”  Glimpsed the mouse scampering by and thought “Detailed vision!”  Watched the bear cross the road and thought “Dreamer” and when the deer clumped his hooves on the ground thought “Wisdom.”

The world now appeared magical and I looked around, astounded, at an environment now rich with spiritual meaning.  I truly saw, for the first time.  What a gift!  Spent summers learning the name of wildflowers, plants, trees, seed pods, animals.

The eyes opened wider.

Fingers of tree branches in sunlight

Last year I learned to see through the eye of a camera.  For a mostly non-visual person, this was interesting.  I had no attachment to the photos, and only took them to add zest to the outdoor blog.  People began to say, “I really like your photos” and I thought, “What?  What do you mean?  Photos?  Huh?”

Cataloging the 10,000 photos I took in the last year takes an hour or two each day.  I  now stare mesmerized at the pictures, not looking at the blog-words.  Ponder the landscape, look at details, peer in strange nooks and crannies.

I no longer insist that the visual world needs to contain meaning.  Instead, finally, the world seems simply “as it is”.  Itself.  A pine cone is a wonderful pine cone.  A spruce is a spruce.  The tree is its beautiful self.

I am almost…almost…a visual person. 

 Except, sorry to say, I probably will not notice your haircut, your clothing or your remodeled house. 

It’s gonna take some time.  Please have patience.  🙂

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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15 Responses to Confessions of a (recovering) non-visual person

  1. Martha says:

    Your photos have ALWAYS been so beautiful (ever since I noticed that you were posting lovely photos), that I can’t imagine that you weren’t always a “visual person.” Truly you are Seeing. But do you KNOW that you are seeing? 🙂

    I’ve tortured myself with stupid questions throughout my life. The one I played with in Jr. high (If you could only be one of these, which would it be: a nun or a whore?) (I thought that was my original question.) turned out to be not only in agonizingly bad taste, but also quite pertinent to several gender insights of our era, which would evolve later. (In case you’re wondering, unless I was in a particularly rarefied mood, I would always vote “whore.” I thought they would have more fun.) Another question I’ve continually tortured myself with: If you had to lose one of these, which would you choose?: Sight or hearing. I usually vote to lose the hearing.

    • Kathy says:

      Martha, what a fascinating question to have asked yourself in junior high! Ever since you posted this comment, I can’t stop thinking about your ponderings. And laughing about the nun versus whore dilemma. As for sight versus hearing…like you, I probably would vote to lose the hearing. But let’s hope we don’t! Just think of all the bird song we would miss! As for KNOWING that I’m seeing, yes. But it still feels like strange sometimes. Like “who IS this person who is taking photographs? Am I related to her?” LOL!

  2. Lucienne says:

    Interesting and surprising blog Kathy,

    Surprising because it made me realize once more how different we perceive the world. Eventhough I consider myself to be a poetic soul of feeling nature and also loving poetry (those things are not necessarely the same) I also consider myself a visual person. So from the perspective of being a visual person myself it’s easy to asume others are too.
    Interesting because you say “I no longer insist that the visual world needs to contain meaning. Instead, finally, the world seems simply “as it is”. Itself.”
    I love that.
    Eventhough I do very much appreciate the native way of relating nature to concepts as a great tool of insight, I think your statement somehow reveals the birth of real perception.
    Love you lots,
    Lucienne

    • Kathy says:

      Lucienne, you described exactly why I wrote this blog. I suspect we think others perceive the world in the same way that we do. I always thought others perceived the world in the same way as I did…what a shock to realize we were taking in the world in entirely different ways! And most people, it seems, are visual.

      Barry was the one to suggest adding photographs to the blog. As a newspaper editor, he always counsels his reporters, “Add photos. That is what draws the reader in.” So, even though I was not a visual person, I decided to take his advice.

      Like you said, I think being able to appreciate something for what it is (rather than seeing simply interconnected meaning…although that proved the journey toward sight) is “real perception”.

      Thank you so much, dear Lucienne! So often I remember dancing in your house in the Netherlands that day. And I can even visually “see” the layout of the house, surprisingly! Love, Kathy

  3. Kathy says:

    A funny thing just happened! This blog had its first “search engine” hit. And guess what they were looking for? “Beautiful landscape photos.” ha ha, how timely…wonder if they found any?

  4. Cindy Lou says:

    I love both your words and your photos! They have a wonderful way of weaving in and out of one another to create such a beautiful whole…. 🙂 And I truly enjoyed your description of how words ‘speak’ to you – that they zing and zang off the page, draw you in….the things you do with words, woman!

    • Kathy says:

      Oh Cindy Lou can you feel this big hug coming from ‘way across the bay? The hug is building velocity and whizzing across the icy waves and dashing through your front door and embracing you in the biggest hug you’ve had all day. Unless of course Johnny hugged your first. LOL!

  5. flandrumhill says:

    We’re so lucky to have so many senses with which to take in the natural world.

    I’ve always been equally drawn to words AND pictures and could never decide which one I liked better. My high school principal (a nun) used to tell me that instead of deliberating which one to choose, I should just put them both together. So many decades later I’m beginning to realize how right she was.

    • Kathy says:

      I’ve always admired people who could draw. And to think that you were equally drawn to both modalities at such a young age. I like her advice of putting them together. Which is what you do so beautifully now.

  6. P.J. Grath says:

    I suspect that your camera has had more of an effect than you realize on your seeing. My own life history has been much like yours–always words first–but looking through my camera viewfinder has magic for me precisely because it has nothing to do with words. I can take a mini-vacation from thinking! Take time to see things I would probably miss otherwise. Some people disdain the camera as coming between perception and world like a barrier; to me it is more of a conduit.

    In the winter, when we go to Florida, I carry more than a camera. Pencils and sketchbook REALLY slow me down and let me take in details. THE ZEN OF DRAWING and ZEN DRAWING, ZEN SEEING, both by Frederick Franck, are books I highly recommend. I think you would really love them. The theme of Franck’s approach is “seeing as meditation,” which I know would ring true for you.

    • Kathy says:

      Pamela, I suspect you’re right. I’m only glimpsing the edges of this seeing. So much to learn about this! Those books sound absolutely fascinating. My friend Emma has challenged me to draw a leaf…and have been putting this off for days. I WILL get at least one of these books as “seeing as meditation” might somehow bring this all together more.

      You know, until last year, I was one of those people disdaining the camera as a barrier between perception of the world… Having to eat my words now.

      Oh my goodness, doesn’t life keep teaching us??

  7. Gerry says:

    I remember the sudden flash of insight when I realized that the Lady Alicia (beloved of Rob the Firefighter, and an accomplished architect) does not experience the world the same way I do. She sorts, filters, organizes, interprets, in shapes, colors, actions and spatial relationships. I . . . can’t seem to make sense of a thing until I can name it. Mind you, she can hold her own in conversation, too, but her default approach to understanding is deeply visual. (Together it is entirely possible we could rule the world, but fortunately for the rest of you neither one of us is really into that.)

    • Kathy says:

      Yes! Yes! You have stated it EXACTLY. I can’t seem to make sense of a thing until I can name it. (Although the other non-verbal skill seems to be getting better as time goes by.) And I can get things much easier if they come in the form of written words. For example, someone can give directions and they are impossible to follow/remember. But if I read them…wa la! It’s like the brain processes the written word and acts on it much surer.

      My son’s way of viewing the world involves a spatial understanding of the world…it is fascinating to contemplate that none of us are looking at the world in the same way. Although we so often assume that we are.

  8. Dawn says:

    Thank goodness for your photos – that’s how I found you in a tag surf here at WordPress!

    Yeah for visual interpretations – they cross spoken language and make a concept available to all who wish to see.

    • Kathy says:

      Dawn, I so often hesitated tagging these blogs “photography” during the early days. So very very glad I did if it brought us together! I have learned so much just looking at YOUR photographs…you are a very inspiring photographer.

Although I don't reply to every comment on every blog, I do read all comments with mesmerized interest and try to return the favor by visiting YOUR blog or at least sending you heartfelt well wishes.

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