Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Alter-vision

I've lost my glasses, somehow. And it's odd how not-seeing-clearly changes everything. I feel a little disoriented, off-balance, half-expecting objects to take advantage of my fuzzy vision and rise up and trip me. Is the floor tilting? I wouldn't actually know. I'm really quite blind, got my glasses in fourth grade and have clung to corrective lenses ever since. And yet...

Before glasses I had none of these troubles. Things far-away just had less detail, that's all, and here's the rub: I think I lost something when I began to see with eye-crutches. When I look at the mountains and the trees today, and remember not to panic because, dang! I can't see anything without glasses, I can see their beauty as well as ever. Better than ever. Weird. I see the shapes and colors and the way the rain has washed the browns deeper, and the reds brighter, and the greens greener, only now it's like looking at an impressionist painting. I take a deep breath to calm myself, and I see the whole landscape as a work of art. Funny, all I'm missing are the small ugly things, like the rubble and dirt on the sides of the roads, left over from gravel-dumping during the winter ice. The rest of the world is still there. I can't see what that is that's growing between the cracks in the garden wall, instead the wall is a snaky whole, with a tangle of greens growing in a tumble over the edge. Lovely. So why am I in such a panic?

The first thing I said to my mom about my brand-new sharp glasses-vision at age 10: "The trees have leaves!" I was awed that I could see each and every one. I think I've been so focused on minute detail ever since, I forgot that leaves do actually make up a tree. I step back today and feel I've gained distance on the world. No, I can't see the leaves, but I can see whole trees. I can't see dust in the corners, but I can see the whole room, the lightness of it, the shape and feel of it, its Feng Shui perhaps? better than yesterday. I can see broad-field impressions better, and ugly details not at all, and the overall effect is greater beauty. Maybe with glasses I've forgotten to see beauty because I can see the ugly things, and when you see the ugly, you sometimes forget that's not all there is.

How much of what I see is really what I see, anyway? Aldous Huxley made a good case for the mental side of seeing. Some of his ideas were based on crazy science by a quack, but Huxley's own horrible almost non-vision drastically improved when he followed techniques he believed would help him. (By the way, I've tried those techniques and nada. They don't work.) My mother-in-law, before she went completely blind, was convinced she saw palm-trees and skyscrapers from her childhood in L.A. while I drove her down a rural Utah road, where, I guarantee, were no palm trees, and no buildings of any kind. She was as surprised to see them as I was to hear about it. How do we know what part of vision is real?

I miss my glasses. I don't mind not seeing the dirt for now, but I am, after all, allergic to dust. I need to be able to see it to get rid of it. I can't drive, which is wretchedly incovenient. I'm going to have to find those glasses of mine somehow, or dig out an old pair. If I could see minute detail maybe I could actually find those dratted things. I did need new ones, actually. Maybe I'll head off to the optometrist.

But I need to remember to take my lenses off once in a while, step back and get a little perspective. The world is a beautiful place, even with the little uglies. But for today, I'm going to enjoy not being able to see the dirt. By tomorrow, one way or another, I'll be back to glasses-vision. But I wonder, which is more real?

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