A few weeks ago, my eyes hurt every time I looked at anything within three feet of my face. They ached and burned and generally felt awful. I had to put in eyedrops every fifteen minutes just to function at work, and even then I had to figure out things to do away from my desk so that I could look at things from a further distance. I wanted to take time off from work to rest my eyes but it occurred to me that almost all of my leisure activities involve doing things close-up. My idea of a good time looks something like this: - Run intervals on the treadmill (while watching TV)
- Read for fun & work
- Write in journal
- Edit essays
- Update music on my ipod
- Organize online photos
- Do a puzzle or crossword
- Talk to people at close range
.... and on and on. And this particular week, the weather was still bad, so there wasn't really the option of taking these activities outside.
Now, it will probably surprise no one, but around this same time I developed a constant, tickling level of anxiety. Partially fueled by the frustration of eye strain, I was worried about my ability to finish what I had started and to live up to the very high expectations I have for my life. I really shouldn't even put that in the past tense-- I am worried about those things.
I have been badly near sighted since I was ten years old. My first memoir was a six-page work about the truly dramatic and tragic topic of getting glasses. Chapter 1 was entitled "My Eyes Hurt" and I believe the opening was "Mom, my eyes hurt." I recall the excitement of those words printing out on a junky dot-matrix printer on the top floor of my elementary school, and I remember tearing off the strips of hole-punched ladders from each side. As always, I made a little accordion out of those useless paper ribbons, and played an imaginary tune to kick off my literary career, and got back to the computer.
Since then, glasses and the rabid pursuit of short-term goals have been two lenses through which I see my life. I have no idea what I want to be doing in ten years, but I do know that within twenty minutes I hope to be done with this blog post. I want to finish reading a book this weekend and send back my Netflix movie tonight. I want to finish up some essays and send them out by Friday. I want to do a good job at work today.
I used to be dreamier. I used to swim in the ocean and look out and try to figure out how far away that boat was. I used to look at a lot of horizons. I used to love large things, things that were hard to see all at once, like planetariums and arboretums and used bookstores. I used to count up (this is the fifth time I've jumped a horse) instead of down (twenty push-ups to go).
To deal with the eye strain, there were two things I had to do. First: I had to look at things farther away, like the things outside of windows, or people across the room, or the idea that if I did not finish these things today it would be better for my eyes later.
Second: I took my glasses off. I cannot see more than eight inches in front of my face without my surroundings looking unclear. I had to remind myself that without the glasses, I'm not blind-- things are just a lot fuzzier. They are still there, and I still trust the world. I sat in silence and unclarity, and occasionally closed my unsleepy eyes, unleashing my unfixable gaze on the backs of my eyelids, remembering how I used to imagine them as outer space.