Mary Beth Writes

5/24/2023   O is for Observation

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was a pre-telescope Danish astronomer who looked at the sky more precisely than anyone before him had done. He was obsessively careful about measuring what he saw and he studied the sky every night he could. To accomplish what he wanted he reinvented and fine-tuned the sky-gauging tools of his era – sextant and quadrant.

You may have seen these tools in paintings of old-time sailors. They would hold them up to their face, look at the stars, figure out where they were in the world.

This is what Tycho invented! Oversized tools to super-accurately notate where a heavenly body was in the sky, and how much it had changed since last night.

Tycho was the first of twelve kids born to a noble family near Svalov in what is now Sweden but then was Denmark. (My Swedish ancestors came from Svalov!) His uncle and aunt had no kids, so at age 2 his dad and mom let them take Tycho to raise. I guess this worked because they sent him to the best schools available and he said nice things about them. Weird, though.

When he was 20 he got in a big fight with his third cousin over who was the better mathematician. (!) The two guys decided to have it out with a swordfight fought in the dark (how drunk were they?) and Tycho lost half his nose. He wore a metal prosthesis for the rest of his life. If you go to Denmark you can see it in a museum.

Tycho was expected to go into law and politics as was the family custom for males, but he loved science. He traveled to study with the leading northern European scientists of his time and then returned to Denmark. Danish King Frederik II gave him the small island of Hvan between Copenhagen and Sweden on which to build a castle and observatory.

Tycho was a demanding and tightfisted landlord to local families. He required that they support and build his buildings, which he had personally designed according to the architectural principles of Andreas Palladio (Palladian windows, anyone?) He named his castle Uraniborg and it would become the largest early observatory in Europe. A hundred scientists worked there, including Tycho’s first assistant – his sister Sophia. So if you were of scientific mind and training, he was a cool dude to hang out with. If you were Joe Bloke down the street, not so much. I think we know this kind of guy.

At that time most Europeans believed the earth was the center of the universe and all the stuff in the sky revolved round us. Tycho was among the first to reexamine that belief. He said the center of the known universe was the sun – except then the sun revolved around us. Complicated, to be sure, but Europe was still on the Church bandwagon so his observations and writings were extremely useful to those who would come after him.

There are more interesting and weird things to know about this Danish guy, whom I would suspect, was on several of the most interesting continuums of his day and ours. Such as, he had a pet moose that died when it drank too much booze, poor moose, and fell down stairs.

Watch this fast-paced, five-minute YouTube video about Brahe. Good story.

O is for observation.

Careful observation is for the brave and/or foolhardy. If you need a particular answer to make your life work the way you believe it needs to work – you will not be the best observer. You will hedge your bets and warp what you see in order to get the answer you want.

Careful observation is the archenemy of the Status Quo. Which is why too many people are determined not to actually observe why people become addicted to legal or illegal drugs and why poor families so often stay poor and what is a National Debt and what makes it grow, decrease, or bust the world?

Carefully observing what’s going on can destabilize our lives. I did not like realizing I am “allergic” to gluten. I did not like realizing, when I worked in the jail, that I gave in to macho co-workers because I don’t like conflict. I didn’t like realizing early in my adulthood how easily I become hyper critical when I’m tired or jealous. But observing led to better problem solving.

Curiously, observation is also a way to escape. Have you ever been so overwhelmed you just gave up and listened for whatever you could hear? Count how many different noises are outside you - chirps, trains, yelling kids, wind in the trees, inexplicable pops in the distance, dishwasher in the kitchen. Just sit where you are, or walk where you are walking, and turn off your brain and listen and look.  

Observation can tamp down our monkey brains to let us watch, breathe, and maybe describe the foundation of what comes next.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” Listen here. 

Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska animals anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books Boxing Day boy scout Bread breakfast BreakfastClub BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote crime CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering deer democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep distraction dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola Grief groceries Guadalupe Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len lies Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens MineralPoint Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples pizza poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations religion Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites sci-fi ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet St. Louis staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress SUBSTACK Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone Zebra
Ad Promotion