Unspectacled, I see the grey spread of sky and concrete. I see colours. Things move, and piece themselves together, and dredge themselves apart. You are tall: that’s how I recognize you from this distance, that and the black shape of your coat and the vague bulge of your satchel, and the way you walk, with your shoulders forward, the leftward lilt of your head and the awkward little wave on your approach. Your face is a blur: I cannot see your eyes.
My myopia is nothing spectacular. I am something like a minus two, a minus two point three. Bad enough, but not blind. My myopia is a gift from my father, whose father gave it to him and his four brothers. Four uncles and my father sport the same dark hair, fuzzed and thinning, and the same spectacles, thick and thickening with age. I got off lightly, really, because both of my siblings and a good number of my numerous cousins are what my father calls blind ginks like him and wear spectacles of equal thickness, thickening-ness. In contrast to them, I’m in the all-clear.
Still, a confession: I should wear my glasses more often than I do. My optician tells me this after the busily over-intimate ordeal of his looming over my eyes with a torch, as he tries to peer into my brain, his breath heavy on my mouth. Those little red flashes of reflected blood cells spatter over my field of vision. Sight too near: speckled, lurid.
I wear my glasses for driving, for cycling, for lectures, for talks, for films. And the rest of the time I don’t. It has, I admit, resulted in a few missed recognitions. And in a few misrecognitions. It has, I admit, been embarrassing, at times.
I’ve never found the right pair, the pair that doesn’t seem to screen me over or to squash me out. Glasses sit heavy and awkward on my nose. They interrupt the lines of my face, make me less legible. I feel vulnerable wearing something so precarious-feeling, balanced on my nose, ungainly.
But it’s more than that. I like the blur. Little children in hide-and-seek sometimes cover their faces and think they’re hidden from view. The illogic goes that if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Like that image we have of an ostrich trying to hide by sticking its head in the sand. Ostriches, of course, don’t actually do this. The expression goes back to Pliny the Elder who wrote in his voluminous Natural History, Book 10, Chapter 1, that ‘[…] they imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed’. Funny that this misrecognition can be traced back to that hard-going collator of observations, Pliny, the encyclopedist. Funny too that it’s a misbelief we’ve held on to, as if we sympathise with that feeling, with the enveloping comfort of obscurity, as if it isn’t something hard to understand. It’s good to close your eyes, sometimes. It can help you feel.
When I see buildings their contours are soft and fuzzy. At night, stars and headlights spread out in the black and twitch their little tentacles like drops of ink sinking into tissue. In the space between me and those far-away things, coloured patches in the air move, shifting, changing texture, spilling about. There’s something welcoming about a world with fewer contours. There’s something comforting about walking past mirrors and not seeing detail’s intrusion there, as if nobody else can either. It makes everything feel bigger, abstract, less demanding. Safe, in my bubble, I am unseen, slurred.
I think it maybe makes me think more.
Blur is an elision of detail. What is it about skim-reading and
channel-hopping that is more comforting, even sometimes more familiar, than reading for detail, watching a programme in full, or – worse – in jarring slow motion? What is it about close readings of texts that sometimes raises my hackles, catches like grit in my throat? Picking on the valence and the cadence – of – every – single – word – it leaves language feeling like flesh over-exerted and flushed and exhausted and raw.
Of course there’s comfort that can be found in the detail: the tiny kidney-bean mole by your earlobe, the not-quite-imperceptible shudder in your cheeks every time you drink espresso, the bits of cereal that clutter in the corners of the kitchen floor because you, sleepy, have spilled it. There’s nothing more satisfying than those details. A spattered idiom of you. But detail can be harsh, unfamiliar. Detail comes in splinters. What about the first close-up you get of my face? The gape of open pores. The things you never saw before in the thing you thought you knew. The strange in the familiar: the out of place, the unhomely. Recognition doesn’t live in this detail. I recognise you from afar: not by your moles or by your pores but by your shape, your wave, by the vague shifting returns of your silhouette.
Gertrude Stein writes in her 1930 essay ‘Sentences and Paragraphs’ that ‘a sentence is not emotional, a paragraph is’. And maybe I’m taking it too far out of context, but it’s not your sentences that I know. I cannot love you in sentences. Your sentences can titillate me, like lines of poetry, they excite and affect me, leave me thrilling – but it’s your paragraphs that I know. The slow ones that change and return like glaciers or something out of silk or glass, flowing and thickening. The paragraphs that fold me into themselves like bedsheets or thumbed pages, morning after morning’s return.
Return, re-turn. Trope comes from the Greek tropos: to turn. Tucked up ill in bed as a child I watch the same bits of Disney over and over again, getting comfort from the repeat, from the return, returned. Another confession: I have read my favourite book, a children’s book, not a particularly good one, upwards of thirty times. I read it now in times of stress. I thumb you over. Lazily, easily, I skim you. There’s such ease in trope: in the turned-over. The cliché of argument, our points of return. Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.
You have come to tell me. You approach, and all the fuzz solidifies and I can see you smile, but strangely. I see the strap of your satchel and the buckle on your belt and I see that one half of your collar is tucked into your jumper and that the other flops out. I see each part of your face, and I feel my knowing of you. Well-thumbed pages. My fingers twitch. I return your wave, and your smile, and beckon you over. I can see your eyes now.