“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton
I play little mind games with myself, either when time is hanging a trifle heavy or to keep myself from focusing too intensely on some unpleasantness or other which can, as we all know, occasionally arise in our day-to-day lives.
One of my games is ‘Who Are You?,’ a simple game which involves me studying (hopefully not in a creepy way) a stranger on the subway or bus and determining what high profile personage– historic or contemporary– they resemble.
Another game I like to play is ‘Where Am I?’ Or, my absolute favorite, ‘Who Am I?’ I know I am beginning to sound a bit like a far progressed Alzheimer’s sufferer who has wandered far afield from the familiar but fear not, there is a point here….drum roll…!
‘…wandered far afield from the familiar…’ The art of seeing for me (when I choose to stop and really ‘see’ something) most always involves my love of history (Where am I?) accompanied by my very slight empathic abilities (Who am I?). This union is a sort of vision quest, if you will; an attempt to see, in my own way, more deeply.
For example, I might imagine–while staring out at a filled-to-the-rafters Yankee Stadium—what it must have been like on the day of Nero’s ascension to the Roman Imperium, the games held in his honor, the sound of tens of thousands of voices thundering out “Ave! Ave! Ave!” The air thick with the fear rising up from the cells below the arena’s floor. I possess an almost primal urge to reach backwards and forwards through time to more clearly identify who and where I am now.
I invite you to allow yourself to travel back a couple of thousand years when you go to view the astounding Brooklyn Masonic Temple in Ft. Greene, located at 317 Clermont Ave (and Lafayette Ave), which was actually built in a recent past, 1907.
Try, if you can, to eliminate from your field of vision the gobbledegook of competing architectural styles around the building and play ‘Where Am I?’ Jerusalem in King Solomon’s time? A temple to Zeus in Sicily? An unaccounted-for wonder of the ancient world in a long gone city like Antioch or Tyre or Carthage? And maybe who YOU are is a high priest or a visiting king or a conquering general or a carpet dealer. Trust me, these new identities subtly change your experience of the building.
Imagine yourself to be, for example, a sheep herder come to one of those ancient great metropoleis on what could be your one and only trip into the city from your home in far away mountains. You have nothing to compare this edifice to. Think about gazing at a building like the Masonic Temple; think about the effort to wrap your unschooled mind around the colorful terra cotta designs, the massive stone base, the repeated columns, the sheer massiveness of the structure in comparison to the grouping of huts where you will most likely live out the rest of your allotted 27 or so years.
Maybe on the subway on your way home, you will also play ‘Who Are You?’ identifying the face of someone sitting further down the car as well suited to have been stamped into an ancient coin—Phoenician perhaps, or one of Agamemnon’s warriors from Mycenae gone to die in Troy.
Grant yourself daily—in whatever way YOU find—some way into your unfathomable gifts of imagination.