I am near-sighted. I’ve worn glasses for over forty years. Without them I am at a considerable disadvantage. I can’t even read expressions, so when I smile at someone it’s similar to spitting in the wind: you just don’t know where it will land.
As a near-sighted person, I have made some spectacular miscalculations. I have mistaken a pail for a cat.
But there are times when poor eyesight can be an asset. I was thinking about this when I was in Catalina, last December. To me, the Christmas lights that wrapped the island in illuminated tangles weren’t tiny bulbs fastened to strings of electric wire. Instead, they were bright smears of color—vibrating in the mild afternoon, frozen into the sharp evening air. Lights from the illuminated Casino were reflected deep into the water, as if holiday festivities were being held in some submerged coral grotto.
At night, in the hills, Christmas trees—yellow-orange like Clementines—grew. I couldn’t see the hotels or houses that kept them lit. So I took it as a fact that they were living, radiant things growing out of the fancy of an ancient holiday.
Yesterday, I was reminded once more to appreciate the pixilation of my vision; to enjoy a world melting into an impressionist’s canvas.
I was walking to the market—and it was a fine neighborhood to walk through: the houses were old and statuesque, glazed with tiles: terra-cotta, dusty green, pale weeping blue. I was enjoying the architecture and peering into the gardens to study the twisting foliage, the uprooted exoticism.
I looked across the street—it was just far enough for the details to lose their clarity and recede into softness and color. The trees were in thick blossom. And because I was not wearing my glasses that afternoon, they could not disrupt my reverie; and so the flowering became expansive, profuse…rather than with tiny flowers, the branches seemed to be heavy with snow. The bare vines plastered against the garden wall were like veins reaching through stone, like a cartographer’s painted tributaries—they interlocked like the initials from the Book of Kells.
Now, I don’t like it when I trip down the final step because I couldn’t make out the separation between stairway and sidewalk; it’s annoying to catch my shoe on a stone audacious enough to be invisible—I hate stumbling through my daily travels. But when my world suddenly dissolves into light and color and shadow; when art suddenly appears—growing from the earth, floating in the sky, glittering like stars in the trees—I have to be grateful for the internal lens that obscures my surroundings and makes them gently withdraw into a painterly imagination.