One of the things lifelong wearers of corrective lenses learn early on is that good vision, like soft cheese, doesn’t last forever. Not only that, but corrected vision too has its expiration date and the cycle begins again from painfully sharp focus, to functional but transitory clearsightedness, to life literally going by in a blur.
I got my first pair of eyeglasses at age 10, following a family tradition of nearsightedness often attributed to our noses always being in books, but probably due to some sort of past genetic commingling with bats, whose nocturnal ways and preference for black attire I also share. As a foursome in the 70s, we were unmistakably of the clan of dork, our eyeglasses the size and weight of snorkeling equipment. Over the years, styles changed and technological advancements allowed for lighter less obtrusive frames and eventually contact lenses that only fooled keen observers briefly. It’s not hard to recognize the strangely facially naked look of a former wearer of glasses; once bespectacled, always bespectacled. But throughout many changes of prescription strength and fashion statement, two dependable truths remained, as unalterable as the twin depressions on either side of the bridge of my nose – there’s nothing like a new pair of glasses to prove how much you’ve been needing them. And the day you get used to your new glasses, you are probably well on the way to needing new ones again.
It seems to me that much the same can be said for less literal ways of perceiving the world. All of us at one time or another have moments of clarity that are in such stark opposition to the vagueness we’ve previously tolerated, our heads spin. We ask ourselves, not so much how we could have been so blind, but how we could have taken so long to correct it. And then with the passage of time, we once again become accustomed to what we see and how we see it, and think all is well, a sure sign that our vision needs some adjusting.
In more ways than one, I’ve needed a prescription change for quite some time. In the literal sense, I know this because with more and more frequency, and fewer and fewer sputterings of exasperation, I seem to be taking my glasses OFF to see things. When the soft blur afforded by my naked eye is preferable to the view through the lens, the lens is obviously not doing its job. But on the more figurative side, if I, as an artist, am willing to put up with any kind of diminished capacity to sense and interpret the world around me, then I am probably not doing my job either.
My current glasses are of the perverse category known as “progressives” which is an optical phenomenon whereby someone who needs different glasses to see different distances can spend even more money on one pair of glasses with several focal points through which they can see all distances badly. I’ve been tolerating this situation for years, but a few months ago I finally went to an eye doctor for a new prescription. And today I actually got around to ordering a new pair of glasses to fill this prescription. They are traditional bifocals, which means I will be given two choices for vision, near and far, and two choices of vantage point, bottom and top. I am greatly looking forward to not having to search around the entire undemarcated circle of the inside of my lenses, moving my head in the manner of a periscope, to find the one focal point that corresponds to the thing I am trying to look at. This sort of slowness once put entire species out of the evolutionary picture. For my part, I’d just like to be able to read a book and then look out the window without getting a migraine.
Things are Looking Up
How odd that in an age where any image can be captured in or corrected into perfect focus, there is now a trend in photography towards the soft edges and distortions of toy cameras and cellphone captures. Certainly, the element of blurriness that would normally be considered a liability creates an interesting dreamlike effect in these images, intimate and unguarded, as if seen through the eyes of a nearsighted woman with her glasses off. As I wait for my new glasses to arrive, I remember every time I walked out of an optical shop seeing the world in almost unbearably sharp focus, my former all-embracing comfortable fuzziness replaced by stunning knife edge clarity, wondering both how I managed before without this crystal clear perspective and what I will now do with the responsibility of engaging a world I can no longer ignore. It is a moment of equal joy and sadness, and I can’t wait.