I’ve always been fascinated with vision. That I can somehow create a representation of what’s out there on an inner screen seems almost unbelievable. And yet, there it is –reality, live-streamed seamlessly into our own personal entertainment center. But is it reality? Just how much editing has been performed on what we see? And how would we know? Only if the result were sufficiently bizarre might we begin to suspect tampering -or others might, if we described it to them. But lesser discrepancies…? Perhaps we have become so used to our own edits, so entrained by them, that over the years, like memories, we have come to believe them uncritically. Come to trust the cameras…
And yet, even though I’ve been using the same eyes for quite a few years, I sometimes think they’re not very loyal to the firm. Like a union gone rogue, they keep asking for shorter hours, greater benefits, and more say in company decisions.
But they’ve always been like that I suppose… Well, at least since I was seven –that’s when they demanded glasses. Or, come to think of it, perhaps it was my teachers. I was already sitting in the dreaded front row in class and that made me the default for a lot of questions nobody else seemed to get. When I’d lean forward in my seat, it wasn’t because I was eager to answer as everybody believed, I was just trying to make out what was on the blackboard. And yet, even after the glasses arrived –big, heavy glasses with butterscotch frames that just begged to be knocked off- nobody in the rows further back would trade seats, so I’m not sure that resolving the blur made any difference to my life. It was then that I began to have doubts…
Put glasses on a short kid, and you’ve crippled him for life –that’s what Russell told me, anyway. He was a boy in my class from South America who always sat in the back row. He apparently had a pet Boa Constrictor in his bedroom, so he said he knew about stuff like that. He never explained; I never asked. But one summer, I saw him wearing glasses. And then that fall, on the Tuesday after a long weekend, he didn’t show up in class and I never saw him again. I never asked about that either.
At any rate, I felt I had to stop my own slow slide toward the precipice and at the grand age of eleven, I discovered a book called ‘Sight Without Glasses’. Like a Rosicrucian, I felt I was in the sure and certain possession of esoteric knowledge that would change my life, and I spent the weekends of a Winnipeg winter bathing my eyelids in sunlight through the storm windows in my bedroom as instructed. But even then, my eyes were stubborn and my butterscotch glasses kept crossing their arms and calling me from the desk.
My mother, sensing puberty, tried to help, and kept a supply of carrots and cod liver oil in the fridge. She even put a copy of ‘Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers’ in my sock drawer, but I pretended not to find it -I didn’t figure an obligate Myopian like me would ever get to use the information. And I came to realize that sometimes an affliction is simply hereditary and intractable; I enjoyed the carrots, though.
Anyway, after Winnipeg, I tried to resign myself to the dualism of a face forever adorned with outrageously coloured spectacles, or an eternity of blurred chalk and improbably fuzzy people. And, although I have to admit I preferred the clarity of distinct boundaries, there always remained the suspicion that it came at a price. Which, I asked myself, was more edited? Which was a better representation of what was really out there?
Of course it might seem intuitively obvious that what is more distinct is more accurately described and investigated. And yet, could it be that this is actually a confirmation bias imposed unwittingly upon the less endowed? An expectation engendered by a majority so convinced of its superiority, that it ridicules any deviance as simply silly? Short-sighted? I resented the inference that I was somehow an unfinished product –that my eyes had just not passed the evolution muster. That to see the world blurred, was to see a different, incompleted world. A Faux Monde.
One day, it all came flooding out. Suddenly imbued with the sort of outrage that gives rise to mass uprisings if not immediately attended to, I decided to test my hypothesis as an anonym -I removed my glasses as I entered a little coffee shop tucked in the dead-end corridor of a downtown mall I’d never visited. I considered filming it on my phone, but then I realized that it might arouse too much suspicion. I was performing an act of civil disobedience, not terrorism. I was making a point and standing up for silent myopes everywhere. I was asserting the right to live in a world denied to most –the unfocussed, nebulous world of the uncorrected eye.
The first thing I noticed as I stumbled through the door was how sight-biased it was. Everything seemed to be identified in blurred letters that obviously pandered to the twenty-twenties (to resort to optometristic vernacular). If I closed my eyes, everything smelled the same; sounded the same; and no doubt –were I able to make an informed choice- tasted the same, but from the moment I reached the head of the line of indistinct people, I felt I was being rushed.
“What would you like, sir?” the blurred face behind the counter said three or four times, each time more irritably.
“I… I’m having trouble deciding,” I said, truthfully. “A coffee, I guess…”
“What kind?” the face said, waving an equally blurred hand at an impossibly fuzzy sign behind her.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I’m also having trouble seeing the sign…” Disguise always works better with a soupçon of honesty, I think.
“Forget your glasses?” she said sympathetically, but obviously buying into the reigning paradigm.
“No,” I replied, deciding to make a stand. “They’re in my pocket.”
She was silent for a moment, but I could see her turning her head to look at the length of the line forming behind me. “Broken…?”
I shook my head defiantly.
“Ahh, I understand. Wrong prescription, eh? That happens to my grandfather all the time.” As she unwittingly stereotyped me, I could see her hand travel to her forehead, presumably to wipe away some errant hair. “I think he’s actually got cataracts, though…”
“No, I don’t think…”
“Tell you what, sir, I’m going to make a choice for you,” she said, proud as Punch, and turning around to fill up a rather small, indistinct paper cup, handed it to me with a flourish. “It’s on the house!”
“Well, I…” But the woman behind me in the line was already gently moving me aside, like one might a strange, lost child. I almost thought she was going to pat me on the head.
“Aren’t glasses a bother?” she asked as she quickly reeled off her order to the cashier. Then, almost as an afterthought as the barista fiddled with her latte, she turned to me again. “Can I buy you a bagel?” And she smiled broadly. “You remind me so much of my father,” she added, and her hand was about to reach out to stroke my shoulder when I shook my head politely and turned to leave.
Although at my age I hate being matronized, I have to admit there are some nice people living in the unblurred world. I just wish they could see what they’re missing, though.