Next, and on the joys of myopia

There will be another post on Flamenca, coming up this week  later. [Update, April 2015: still coming up and now separated into two threads, one with offshoots and re-entanglement into something bigger. More in May-June.]

I was rereading and thinking about Amors. I’ll probably start out the new post with where my thinking had got to at various points, from several years ago onwards. I think I’m now at the stage where I can see at least one of the things I was getting to back in 2006, what I was glimpsing out of the corner of my eye. It’s still in peripheral vision, blurry, and not yet entirely in focus.

On the other hand, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I have myopia (in the -9 area, and I have been down to -10 to -11 when working a lot online a few years ago). In my natural state, without glasses, the absence of clear sight means that my “seeing” is mostly interpreting or reading. There’s a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines. Basic survival means remembering where things are or should be expected to be, coupled with wary scepticism as I know that’s just an expectation and not to be relied on. My “seeing” has a lot of “looks like”, blurriness that’s open to several interpretations; where navigating one’s habitat means making considered judgement calls, and making sense of everything all the time.

The resulting world has to be slower, and it is more allusive and metaphorical. This is, I’m pretty sure, very good for creative reading and other work in “cultural studies”, broadly construed: humanities, arts, etc. It also helps your mood.

When you see visual puns everywhere, when your world is made out of them, you find them elsewhere too, in all that you see and hear and read and watch; and I challenge anyone to find me a pun that is not fun. Even if it makes you groan. Groaning can be pleasant too; who doesn’t enjoy a really dramatic full-body groan, stretching out to one’s full extent, while sounding like a small bear interrupted from hibernation or Chewbacca on a melancholy hair-day? Groaning is so vital that one can neither relax properly nor start an activity without having a good stretch and groan first.

So: the joys of groaning aside: there may be something fuller at a later date on seeing, writing, and reading myopically-metaphorically. I have, after all, been thinking about short-sightedness for a while, well admittedly for most of my life seeing as how this is a major part of it. This is a Thought that’s in no rush.

In the interests of basic survival, I wear glasses most of the time. If I didn’t, I would be run over by the first car that came towards me. Drivers aren’t exactly renowned for their slowness or for looking at the world around them in a slow, careful, considered, metaphor-seeking way. I am a flat-footed pragmatist when it comes to juggling the needs of an artistic short-sighted life, and a life that is hopefully not short. I am, after all, an animal with survival instincts like any other and I have to live in the real world like anyone else.

I do still spend some of my time speckless, because short sight offers a great advantage. Part of the condition of myopia, you see, enables you to see very well up close. I can see things that other people can’t, or not without a magnifying glass. This is brilliant. It is a tremendous asset for looking at Medieval manuscripts, at brush-strokes in paintings, at insects crawling on leaves. Laze around on a lawn or the beach on a summer day, and you’re transported to the world of Antz and suchlike. This looking closely, in detail, in slow motion, is another myopic factor that is a bonus for creative reading. When doing very close-reading work, I will spend some of the time–several readings, at intervals–up close and personal, in narrow focus on the words. Even on shapes of letters. Being able to zoom in and out and round about lets you see text at different angles, from different points of view. Helps you see, read, construct the bigger picture.

I’ve worn glasses for much of my life and I like them. I’ve worn contacts (hard, soft, dailies) from time to time, and if my vision stabilises enough I may be a candidate for laser eye surgery.

There are practical reasons for deciding against contact lenses, and for choosing either glasses or Lasik: lenses and their paraphernalia can be expensive; and they and their upkeep are less environmentally sustainable. Glasses offer good ethical options: for example, my current frames and their two predecessors are made of sustainable cellulose acetate and were hand made by fair labour. Glasses are recyclable, and there are a number of charities to whom one can donate old complete glasses as well as frames and lenses, so that others can benefit. Buy good solid glasses, plan to wear them for a decent length of time, and plan to pass them on afterwards in a useable state, for a long life and to make others’ lives better.

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Chad McCaill, “wealth is shared”; from the food shelter clothing fuel series, 1999; from http://www.chadmccail.co.uk, site copyright 2007.

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Contacts dry the bejeezus out of my eyes, and discomfort aside, I feel weird with them. I realise how many of my mannerisms are from moving my head around a lot because, with glasses, I don’t have full vision in about the outermost quarter concentric circle of the whole visual field circumscribed by an entire eye-roll. Because of the high index lenses, there is a limit to their size. Otherwise the curvature reduces possible visual field, plus they’re heavy; non-index lenses would be even heavier and have a field of vision about the size of a quarter / 10p piece in the middle of the lens, right in front of the eye. If lenses are too small, I have a greater area of “natural” vision outside the frame; with the smallest pair of glasses I had, I ended up with neck-ache from moving my head around too much. I’ve had a few favourite pairs–including those I’ve now had for a good year or so–that were a Goldilocksian Just Right.

Now, you might think that contacts would be a great improvement, once I got used to not moving my head around like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Not to mention appearing normal, no longer a specky four-eyes. But why should I disguise a disability, and why should I feel societal pressure to do so? And the same goes for laser eye-surgery.

You see, whenever I’ve worn contacts I’ve had a sense that being able to see “perfectly,” “normally” is a marvellous thing. That’s the problem: it’s a marvel. It’s not me and my sight. Seeing doesn’t feel like I’m the person seeing. Even when I’ve worn contacts for longer–a month or two–I’ve abandoned them in the end because this feeling of not being “me” anymore was too perturbing.

This new vision being “perfect” is an associated problem. Aside from the political problems of normativity, this “perfection” means that vision lacks the “imperfections” that made my vision mine, as that way of seeing the world was tightly knit with my being in the world, with who I am, and with what that world is. “Perfected” vision erased my other vision, the one that doesn’t count. Wearing glasses preserves that other vision, as I always have a sense of things going on in the blurriness beyond the line that demarcates one’s two kinds of vision. Disability can be ability, at least insofar as this comparatively minor one is concerned; I am in no position to comment on others.

So that’s the background to what I’ve been thinking about, around reading the world differently through myopia.

The offshoot train of thought is about the effect of wearing glasses, especially those whose frames have a visible edge/rim. My hunch is that’s a factor leading to bespectacled myopic creative readers (researchers, literary critics, theorists, creative artists, and so on) showing an interest in frames and framing, liminality, marginality, and maybe even other worlds. The latter might be stretching things: suggesting that awareness of those margins and acceptance of them, dealing with them all the time, might lead to greater contact with darting ethereal figures in the blur, fantastical marvels and marvellous phantasmagoria…

On which whimsical note, here are my beloved current glasses. I am sure that they help me “see” “better,” in many ways, ways unbeknownst and novel to ophthalmological science:

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Also available with false eyelashes:
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Be out and proud about being as blind as a bat. And do it in style: with wit, verve, and panache. Make the world a better and more cheerful place for others around you. Make it a more punderful place.

Another reason to like Caroline Abram, the maker of these marvels, is her appreciation of wise witty stylish elder women. I have a sense that she might also appreciate that the phrase “wise witty stylish elder women” is pleonastic. Through the publicity shots below, she is going beyond standard talk of tolerance for diversity, and embracing an important human aspect of ecological preservation:
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