I See…

Wolf In Specs

As of a week or so ago, I became the owner of two pairs of (different) prescription eyeglasses and one pair of contact lens. I also have a set of non-prescription reading glasses. My life is defined by which of these I wear when, as well as by how many cases, bottles of various fluids, and the like I need to remember when I’m doing whatever.

Sheesh!

I’m not complaining. (Okay. I’m complaining, but only a little). I mean, I live in a day and age when my vision problems can be corrected. My vision is so bad that if it couldn’t be corrected, I’d be joining the ranks of “Blind Lemon Jefferson” and all those visually-impaired musicians whose career choices were often dictated by their inability to see.

No wonder so many of them sang the blues.

An interesting side-note is that in a day and age before affordable prescription lens, “blind” didn’t always mean “total inability to see” as is the case today, but what we would call “severely visually impaired.”

I started wearing glasses when I was eight years old. It was a traumatic experience. I went from a mental image of myself as someone who could do anything anywhere, to being the kid in glasses. I remember being told to be careful what I did or I would break my glasses. I guess I must have broken them one too many times, because there are a lot of pictures of me with glasses mended with tape.

For a while, my eyes grew worse year to year, making me wonder how long before I didn’t have any vision left.

Moreover, as anyone who has ever read fiction knows (and even at that tender age, I had read a lot), the kid in glasses is always second string. Harry Potter is the first glasses-wearing kid I can think of who played lead. All the rest were seconds: the clumsy kid, the bookish best friend, the sincere but not very attractive girl who organizes the school events but never gets a date.

Wearing glasses recast my mental image of myself – and not for the better. When we went swimming, I couldn’t see the balls and frisbees being tossed around, so I didn’t play those games. Sports? Forget it. No one picks the kid with glasses. Even gym teachers sneer. Jump-rope was really popular. I couldn’t see well enough to jump in and out.

When I was fifteen, my parents offered to get me contact lenses. Despite the limitations – there’s a special agony involved when you get sand or dirt under a hard contact lens – I was thrilled. The change couldn’t have come at a better time, since high school is when dating becomes a big issue. Everyone knows that, as Dorothy Parker said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” I didn’t want passes, as such, but I sure didn’t want to be a wallflower.

Contact lens took me out of a prison of my own mental making. I didn’t wear glasses for the next couple of decades. If I couldn’t wear my contacts, I just felt around. I’m a whiz at navigating by memory.

Then age conspired to put me back in the cage. Somewhere in my forties, Jim noticed that I was having trouble wearing my contacts for as many hours at a time. He coaxed me into getting a pair of glasses for late hours. I finally gave in but, seriously, I would have rather walked into a lion cage stark naked than start wearing glasses again.

For years after, how comfortable I felt with a person could be defined by whether I’d wear my glasses in front of them. I’ve gotten better about it. You no longer need to be a blood relation to see me wearing glasses.

It doesn’t help my unwillingness to wear glasses, rather than contact lens, that glasses don’t correct my vision sufficiently for me to want to wear them for many activities. I have so little peripheral vision I wouldn’t drive wearing my glasses unless it was a matter of life or death.

This last year I’ve begun to edge into the bifocal zone. The impairment isn’t bad enough that my doctor wants to do bifocals proper, but I need separate glasses for distance, mid-range, and close-up. Joy! For a variety of reasons, eye surgery isn’t an option I want to entertain until I have no other choice. It’s tempting but, with new improvements coming every day, I think I’ll wait.

How very nice to have the option. How very, very nice to no longer feel I’m destined to someday be “Blind Jane.”

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9 Responses to “I See…”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    I’ve worn glasses since my early teens, though I’m pretty sure I needed them for several years before I finally got them. It was all a bit of a struggle…

    “Why are you failing your exams?” demanded my father. “You used to be top of the class!”

    “I can’t see what the teacher writes on the blackboard,” I explained.

    “Well sit nearer the front of the class then!” he thundered.

    “I already sit on the front row,” I said. “But I still can’t read what’s written on the blackboard. I think I might need glasses.”

    “Nonsense,” said my father. “I don’t need glasses. Therefore no son of mine could possibly need glasses!”

    There matters rested for a while until eventually my mother nagged him into having my eyes tested. To nobody’s surprise except his, I proved to be very short sighted. Glasses were obtained, and my exam results started to improve again.

    “Just a coincidence,” insisted my father, and nothing would ever persuade him otherwise.

    For the next forty years or so I wore my glasses all the time. Occasionally I considered the idea of contact lenses, but the thought of actually putting something onto my eyeball was so revolting that I always rejected the idea out of hand. Contact lenses were the stuff of nightmares as far as I was concerned. And anyway, I thought I looked rather handsome with glasses on.

    And then, round about age 50, I noticed something strange. When I was reading a book, I found that I was having to hold the book further and further away in order to bring the print into focus. Eventually the day arrived when my arms were not long enough for me to be able to read the book at all. So I took my glasses off.

    Problem solved! I could read the print again as plain as day. But perhaps I ought to have this new found ability to do without glasses checked out…

    Back to the optician!

    “Perfectly normal,” he said as he wrote me an enormous bill. “It’s one of the very few compensations for getting older. I could give you a prescription for multifocal lenses, but you seem to be compensating very well by just taking your glasses off. So I suggest you carry on like that.”

    Therefore, ever since then, for the last umpty ump years, I’ve almost given up wearing glasses. I still need to wear them when I’m driving and I wear them in the cinema and sometimes to watch TV. Otherwise I just don’t bother.

    But I still think that my face looks really odd without glasses on it. However I’m sure my father would approve. And it only took about half a century to prove him right…


    -Alan

  2. Paul Says:

    Like Alan, I’ve found that my eyes improved slightly with age, too. I wore glasses for reading (especially the blackboard) in high school, but now I have to wear them only for reading under artificial light late at night when my eyes are tired. They are indeed bifocals, by now. I got my first bifocals the same week I tried to put “brown” for my hair color on my driver’s license renewal and was gently reminded that, no, it was more white now, and also the first time a restaurant cashier asked me if I was a senior citizen (I wasn’t, quite, then). However, men do make passes at girls who wear glasses. Ask my wife (who wears glasses).

  3. janelindskold Says:

    Sadly, I’ve already gone by the point where the far-sighted balances the near…

    I loved Paul’s final sentence. Jim also assured me I was being Very Silly.

    By the way, the wolf wearing the specs in the picture also howls when hugged. The specs are mine. The wolf was a gift from Steve (S.M.) and Jan Stirling. It resides on the bookcase next to my bed.

  4. Dominique Says:

    It was a strange thing to read your post. I have always been envious of girls in glasses. Without trying to sound self-pitying, I grew up always being judged by people as well – but in the opposite way. I always thought glasses made people look intelligent. People took their wearers more seriously. I never fit in the popular crowds because I didn’t like the girls who made up these cliques, but my whole life I have always been lumped into these groups (at least at first glance anyway). Even when I found a group of nerdy girls in high school with which I finally fit in with, I was always considered the “normal one” by outsiders, which made me feel alienated. I am certainly nerdy and odd, so the only reason people would say this is because of my appearance. I actually own a fake pair of glasses that I considered wearing for a long time to prevent these misconceptions. Now, being in a career dominated by men, I find myself in the same situations again. I still get the urge to put on my “glasses”.

    So you see Jane, I envy you. ( I honestly had about 3 eye exams in one year in undergraduate, just hoping to get glasses) I think we always want what we don’t have. The truth of the matter is that people will always have misconceptions of you if you let them. That’s why we have to work so hard at being true to ourselves…

    This was really awesome post Jane. You really got me thinking (about something other than school). Thanks 🙂

  5. Alan Kellogg Says:

    That “improvement” is called presobyopia, and it means your lenses are getting stiff and unable to focus. In the long run it’s a bad thing. Calling it an improvement is sort of like calling a fresh print of Plan From Outer Space an improvement on the original release.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    I appreciated the “late” comments technical (Alan K.) and otherwise…. Just to let folks know, I always check “backstage,” every week or so, so it’s never too late to comment.

    Dominique — That’s fascinating. I agree, judging people by appearances is useless, but it does happen.

    The novel (not movie) of HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones deals with this is a thoughtful and yet humorous fashion.

  7. Susan Bannister Says:

    Wait until you reach my age, 65, and you can’t read small print on computers without bi-focals! Enjoy your sight and rejoice because it could be worse. Give my regards to your mother for me!

  8. CBI Says:

    As a guy, I must admit to never agreeing with Dorothy Parker’s dictum.

    Thinking back to my teen years, I have to really think hard to remember which of the females I was attracted to wore glasses and which didn’t. In many cases, I can’t recall! (Hmph. That may say more about my success at the dating game than anything else.) I do recall that at least a few were fellow members of the Order of the Four Eyes.

    In any event, a pleasant or, more likely, *compatible*, personality was the key. Perhaps a *few* other, er, physical attributes were, um, desirable –. but not really deal-breakers.

    Speaking of Dorothy Parker: a few years back I chanced to read her collective short stories, more-or-less simultaneously with a short biography of her life. It was so sad; here was a woman writer of great talent whose life was messed up — and she knew it, but didn’t know how to escape her god-forsaken (or God-rejecting) state. “Sad” is the word which best comes to mind.

  9. janelindskold Says:

    It’s funny how much emphasis we’re taught to put on physical attributes when courting. I remember my sister and I spending quite a bit of time sketching out the ideal combination of hair and eye color, for example.

    Yet if you’re looking for a life partner, all those ephmerals will change over time…

    Including, perhaps, whether or not they wear glasses!

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