Monday, February 21, 2011

The Lens and Eye

Before I get started on today's (very belated) post, I do want to apologize for something. On a recent post about stuff I learned in my first con experience, I made remarks about con funk which at least one person thought might have been intended rudely. That was certainly not my intention and I am sorry if it was interpreted as such. I've seen many people comment about "con funk" -- I was just participating in the ongoing joke, as I suppose it to be.

I don't apologize, though, for referring to congoers as weird. Those of you who know me personally can back me up on this. I am at least as weird as anybody else at a con, and on some levels, possibly weirder. :)

Moving on. I think I've said pretty much all I can say about my first con experience, and since I was at a loss for what else to say in today's post, I decided to share some personal writing of a different kind. This is an essay I wrote recently, originally with the intent of submitting it to a writing contest. I think I've pretty much decided not to do that, but it's a halfway decent bit of wordsmithy so I thought I'd share it here instead.

If you've been coming to this blog for a while, or even if this is your first visit, you might have noticed a little ad-type box on the lower left of each page. It has a counter attached to it. Clicking on that little ad-type box helps to raise money for the Vision Charity, which assists children with vision problems. What might have caught your attention is the part where I mention that I'm going blind.

I'm not providing a full explanation; it's not necessary. But this essay explains the connection between my blindness and my enjoyment of photography. They're related, you see.

If you can't use one lens, I suppose you just have to make do with another.

I've always liked photography; this is nothing new. My first camera was the Fisher-Price children's model, a Christmas present when I was nine years old. It was blue and rectangular and required flash cubes as well as film, and my parents probably soon came to regret introducing me to such a relatively expensive little hobby. That's really all it's ever been, though. When it comes to art, words are my preferred medium, with photography running a close second.

It wasn't what I had planned, to see the world in a picture frame.

It was eleven years ago, in April. I was young, relatively healthy, generally happy, a year away from being married, gainfully employed and overall content. And then my world became suddenly and irreversibly darker. Quite literally, I went to bed one night having two eyes that worked, and woke up with one.

At first I didn't think much of it. It just looked like a 'floater' in my field of vision; I assumed I had rubbed my eyes too hard upon waking. Several hours later, when the 'floater' was making it impossible for me to see what I was doing at work, I knew something was horribly wrong.

To make a long and frankly very irritating story short, I was diagnosed with a blood-borne disease that nobody had ever heard of, or at least nobody in my personal acquaintance. It can't be cured; I have a rarer form of the disease that can't even be treated; and there's nothing that can be done about the vision loss. The disease left permanent scar tissue on my retina, which chose that April night to tear open and leak, and where it leaked onto the retina it destroyed the vision forever. I remember the sweet-natured doctor seeming almost devastated when he delivered the news; I suppose to him it must have seemed tragic in its way, telling a young woman that some of her sight was gone for good. But I was sanguine. It was not the worst thing that could have happened to me, after all; I still had my left eye, and I had only lost part of the vision in my right. The effect was essentially the opposite of tunnel vision. I couldn't see what was in the center of my field of vision, but I could see everything around it, and the doctor assured me that it was over and done and would never ever get worse.

Five years later I found out that he was wrong.

I've read everything I can find on the subject, and essentially, he told me it wouldn't get worse because it rarely does. I manage to fall into the tiny tiny percentage of people with the condition who experience progressive loss of vision. As I put it to a young friend of mine, I have the rare form of the rare form of the disease. There's no guarantee that tomorrow I'm going to see as much as I do today. It might stay the same, or it might get worse; the only thing I know for sure is that it won't get better. What's gone is gone, and when the vision is gone, in this case, there's no getting it back.

There's a popular video game series, Metal Gear Solid, in which one of the characters wears an eyepatch over his right eye. Metal Gear Solid 3 shows the story of the character, and explains just how he lost that eye. His attitude is brusque and battle-weary. "It's not like I can't see. I've got one good eye and I can still fire a gun." I don't handle guns, but I try to remember that quote whenever another tiny piece of periforal vision vanishes into darkness.

What I do handle is a camera. Since the onset of blindness, my interest in photography has increased dramatically. At first I didn't quite know why. Part of me really wanted to distort the pictures, to try to remove the portions that I can't see if I close my left eye, so that the people around me might finally have an understanding of what I see on a daily basis. Maybe then they'd really know what I'm talking about.

Gradually, I realized that what I really want to accomplish by taking the pictures is to create a record of what I can see while I can still see it. I want other people to experience the colors, the settings, the moods, just the same way I did when I photographed them. I want to give life to my vision while I can, before the disease swallows it whole. Sure, the day might never come when I open my eyes and the vision has blanked out of the left one the way it did in the right. But at the same time, that day might be tomorrow. I don't have any way of knowing.

The truth is that nobody does. The difference between me and the rest of the world is that I know that I don't know.

So I take pictures. Detailed shots, when possible; I'm fond of focusing on the center of a wildflower, or getting an extreme close-up of a butterfly. I want to show you the minutiae that surrounds us, the easily-overlooked details that make up the world. I want to help you remember the colors and the textures and the shapes, because I want to remember them myself, once the light fades.

Going blind is what taught me how to see.

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