Wednesday, June 18, 2014


How do you know?
How do you know you know?
How do you know what you know?

Story is one way we negotiate our world and communicate our experiences. In story we can meander around the facts and the details. We may even have forgotten the actual details or stretched the facts. We may have completely changed the names and places and conversations in the original event--- yet we can still tell the story-- the true story.

Truth does not always reside in the facts.

During the CAWP Summer Institute, we have been privileged to hear several powerful stories in which the writers readily confess that the words are based on real events, yet not all the facts are accurate.

We still heard the Truth in their stories.

Sometimes we just know.  We cannot explain why and how we know.  We just know.

Women's Ways Of Knowing: The Development Of Self, Voice, And Mind 10th Anniversary Edition, a landmark book first published in 1986,  explores five powerful ways that women come value and to know what they know.   This book considers the intuitive, sometimes metaphoric ways of knowing that differ from the linear ways of our male counterparts, yet are valid just the same.

Deborah Tannen has looked at ways we speak -- our language may also differ in ways that  modify how we share what we know.

Sometimes what we know gets in our way of understanding something wondrous, marvelous or miraculous.  Such is the case in The MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH  by Julius Lester .  His knowledge of eagles their power, and their potential to kill, led him to not trust the knowledge and Truth that his wife had witnesses or what he saw with his own eyes.  The book ends with a tragedy that results from this clashing knowledge:

And that is how murder came into the world.  The man knew too much, because he thought he knew what he had never seen and never experienced.  
 How do we know what we know?
 Does it allow for new knowing?

In Writing and Being: Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language, G. Lynn Nelson uses a river as an analogy for all of our life experiences.  He suggests two ways to know the river. We can observe and measure and number. We can calculate and analyze. We can record the facts and details.

...Or we can jump into the river.  We can submerge ourselves in the wet. We can  immerse ourselves in the ripples, the swirl, the sounds, the floating, the buoyancy.

Earlier this month, READ WAVE posted on  Facebook, a related quote by Dave Barry about the ocean:

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.
Submersion and immersion give us ways to jump into knowing-- knowing by experience, knowing by doing, knowing with your hands and feet and skin.

Like Nelson, Jallaludin Rumi, the renowned Sufi poet, also recognized two ways of knowing, in his poem, Two Kinds of Intelligence.  He distinguishes between the child who "memorized facts and concept from books and what the teacher says" and  the other kind of knowing that is "fluid and flows from within you."

Oliver Wendell Holmes measures are knowing and intellects in stories---not the ones from above but floors in a building. Heather Rader opened a Choice Literacy article on Intellect with his words:
There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors with no aim beyond their facts are one-story people. Two-story people compare reason and generalize, using labors of the fact collectors as well as their own. Three-story people idealize, imagine, and predict. Their best illuminations come from above through the skylight.
How many stories are you?

Context forms and informs our knowing. Context creates the potential for exposure, encounters, and possibilities. Context also limits the same.  We all know the folktale about the blind men who encounter an elephant. Each touches only part of the animal and believe it to be the whole of it. So they come away variously believing that an elephant is a pillar, a snake, spear, a cliff, a fan or a rope. Only the last man moves around and over the animal, encountering more aspects of  the elephant-- enough to sufficiently discover its totality.

Ed Young has created a beautifully vivid version of this traditional folktale,Seven Blind Mice.

What do we know?
How do we know ?
How do we know what we know?
Where do we know? and When?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Write about a time when you knew something that you just knew. You may not have be able to explain why and how you knew. How did your knowing affect other people?  Did your knowledge conflict with someone else's knowledge?

Write a poem about several different ways of knowing or intellects that you use.

Write about a time when context limited or enhanced your knowledge.


  1. Robin,

    As you always do, you've given me some things to think about. You have woven so many different resources and quotes into this post. I especially love Dave Barry's quote. Thank you Robin!

  2. Julie, I love that quote as well. It was one of those unexpected, just-on- time finds. that just fit so well with what I happened to be writing. I love when that happens. We wrote to this prompt in the summer institute this past Monday with some powerful writing as the result. Thanks for you kind words.