Writing with a Magniscope

I never told you about Hakone. I never told you about the wind up there in a gondola or how our dear friends came careening in from Florida, touching their salty, tropical toes and rolling suitcases into our neck of the world, into a nether continent. How they adjusted their sleep cycle well in advance, or how they bought out all the candy in the world for us, enough to stuff two piñatas. They threw up a sheet and came in like hang gliders, just trusting currents and the season of reacquaintance, trusting in G-d, trusting in love.

I am still not delving into their visit. I’m not even fully unpacked from the season of Visitors in our little Tokyo Campus of a narrow three story. I will tell you that I used a new metaphor in writing. It is called applying the magnifying glass, holding up a thick, important lens to see little important things.

In front of seven brilliant Japanese young ladies, in my school, in my round English Lounge of a class, I stood on tiptoes. On tippy tippy toes, fourteen bold, inquisitive eyes peering at me, I held up a picture. It was so far from them, breaking the rule of “Hold art up at eye-level”, that they had to squint. I asked them questions. “What do you see? Who is it? What are the shapes? What is happening?” They squinted. They tried to see. “Two girls. Sisters? Friends? Short hair.”

“What color are their eyes? Can you tell if one is angry? Where are they?”

I brought it down and sauntered over, magazine picture in hand. What is this? We looked close, making wrinkles in our noses, wrinkles in our brows. We pretended to even look through a magnifying glass picture I had prepared. We went over what it does, this magnifying glass–mushi megane in Japanese. It is a lens used to study bugs, to count fuzzy legs on everyday creatures, making the “not so interesting” more mysterious. (Have you ever seen butterfly wings up close, under a microscope? Truly, G-d is in the little things like cells and scales, iris, and retina). There is beauty in looking together.

hakonr 9

So. We looked closer. They wrote and wrote the details that warm the writer. Not just a dress–velvet with belts of ruffles! Not just red, but wine red, merlot red, deep red! Plum! These second-language learners, these wise translators and inheritors of the freedom of English, recorded the Beauty of Detail! Not just short hair, but golden ringlets! The younger sister, hmm, maybe age four, is cutting a paper chain of children! They are under the dining room table, and look at all that Berber! (It happened to be that these are the girls of Brooke Shields, the setting, their sprawling, gilded home).

We got it. Beauty in Details. We then looked to their last assignment–writing about where they went during their summer vacation. It was mostly painted with broad-strokes, mostly pictures like postcards found in swiveling airport book stands. No magnifying glasses, no record of rich detail.


They chose the place they’d lay down that magnifying lens. So you went to Okinawa! What was in the water? What shade of blue? Tell us about the dappled light streaming into the Kyoto bamboo grove! Apply that lens to make us FEEL how nice the people were in Chang Mai! Because if you have beauty, people want to know!

What if I said we went to a petting zoo, but I failed to tell you just how odd it was to see a pelican cohabiting with sheep and goats, iguanas stretched-out near the feet of alpaca? Details just beg you to speak!

petting zoo


Here is the first Hakone shot. It is like the canopy over a rainforest. How much light is let-in? What animals are there to swing? How about down, down down to the damp earth floor–what snakes do slither there? Tell me, before I swim–are there sharks, whales? Minnows? Plankton? Give me the fine with the broad. I can take it.

Hakone 1

hakone 6

And my girls, these burgeoning writers can take it. They want to relive; they want to recall, and then find the adequate words in English. Words which call to the soul. There is beauty in recalling details. It is not enough that he proposed! How did he do it? With what manner of words? On one knee? Was their grass and was it wet?

I can look closer, gaze deeper and find individual trees, berries and leaves. I can find inhabitants. My husband and children, giggles, and a song.

hakone 2

hakone 3

hakone 10

Even if their many extra details become changed or even deleted later, there is power in the art of looking-in. Within the craft of writing, the very exercise of magnification and focus is so so so so good. Sometimes, when counting the legs of some whatever-bug, or wondering what exact flower was it that dotted the hedged landscape, we find our calling to be a rememberer, an artist, scientist, and lookout.

hakone again

That afternoon, with some crappy clip art printout of a magnifying glass, a torn-out magazine picture (thank you, Brooke Shields), and a starting paragraph, we had all that was needed to discover a richer beauty, the velvet in a dress, azaleas and piñon trees. We had a big of magic, magnified.

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