A different lens

literally, a different contact lens, but ugh ok also a metaphor

Real EG heads know that I have been using my vision problems as a too-on-the-nose metaphor for a long time. There’s an essay in my first collection called “The Lens” about (among other things) how I got my contact lens folded in half and stuck up behind my eyelid. In an early draft, my then-editor wrote on the page “Consider Lasik??” Honestly, that was a pretty good edit. I didn’t take it.

Ten years later, I continue to have problems with my eyeballs, and my ability to see things clearly. A couple of months ago I was en route from my home in Brooklyn to teach my adjunct undergrad fiction workshop at Columbia when I rubbed my itchy eye the wrong way and ended up knocking my contact lens out onto the filthy subway floor. Reader, I picked it up anyway and considered putting it back in, because what on earth else was I supposed to do, walk around half-blind all day? The commute is an hour minimum, so I didn’t have enough time to go home and put in a new lens before class. I didn’t have my glasses with me because I never have my glasses with me, does anyone?? I only wear my glasses at home at night or first thing in the morning, and even then I wear my contacts as much as possible because the baby likes to grab my glasses off my face and suck on them. They’re always filthy and the screws need tightening. Also, I hate the way they look and how vulnerable walking around in glasses makes me feel. It’s not a rational thing but I think it probably stems from how late glasses came into my life (my mid 20s). I never incorporated them into my fundamental mental image of myself and now it’s too late to revise what I look like in my mind’s eye to accommodate glasses.

(this photo is from the first weeks of Raffi’s life and neither that restaurant or that incarnation of my self exist anymore!! I found it by googling “Emily Gould glasses”)

I walked around a little bit to see if I could get away with just squinting and started to feel a little seasick immediately. I also still had last-minute reading and grading to do, whoops. So I went into the Cohen’s Fashion Optical across the street from campus and got an eye exam and walked out with a new prescription and an internalized hard sell about switching to dailies. Contacts, for the uninitiated, come in daily or weekly varieties, and I had been wearing the kind you take off and dunk in solution at night ever since I was first fitted with them circa 2005. The daily kind you just take off at the end of the day and … throw in the garbage. They’re thinner and flimsier, so they feel less like a piece of plastic floating on the layer of tears that protects your eyeballs. If you also experience Spring and Fall as an unremitting barrage of pollen bombs that swell your tender facial cavities with scratchy, headachy poison, you too might be a good candidate for switching to dailies, because they catch less stuff on them and your eyes itch less (I am an optometrist, obviously).

What a fun day that was. I walked around seeing things and I was absent one of the tiny ambient stressors that fill my life. It took me a few more weeks to actually get around to ordering the contacts, and then even longer to actually pick them up, but once I did I was so entranced by my newly un-irritated eyeballs that it took me a few days to notice that though my eyes are more comfortable in these lenses they are also less powerful. The new prescription is weaker than my old one? I can’t read the license plate of a car that’s a block away, which is troubling. It’s nothing I can’t put up with for a while, which is lucky because obviously it will take me a few weeks or months, moving in fits and starts, to get around to hauling the year’s supply of contacts I bought to that Cohen’s and exchanging them for sharper ones. I could also just resign myself to having imperfect vision for the forseeable future, but I think it’s likelier that I’ll continue to chip away at this project forever and never be quite satisfied. That seems more like how I like my life to be!

Running in parallel to this adventure —bless you if you’re still reading, by the way — has been the culmination of a stage of work on the book I’ve been writing, a novel called Perfect Tunes that comes out, goddess willing, about a year from now. I haven’t been able to work on this novel as continuously as I worked on my first one, but I hope the various selves I’ve brought to the various drafts have been helpful to the book. I know it has sometimes felt useful to able to look at the draft with, ahem, fresh eyes. Less helpful, though, have been long forced breaks that always seemed to come just when I’d been able to build up some momentum. I don’t like working that way and I hope I won’t have to again.

The prospect that I’m actively procrastinating about right now, as I type these words to you, is that of returning to first person autobiographical writing. It’s time for me to revisit some of the things I couldn’t quite bring myself to write about in my first book of essays. I wasn’t ready then to look at them head-on. I didn’t have enough distance yet to understand what my experiences and my actions had meant, to me or to other people. It doesn’t mean that what I wrote then was invalid. But I think I can force myself to look at again, now, and to notice what I see in a different way. I hope I can be compassionate and honest. This maybe sounds insanely self-aggrandizing but I think that what I did and what happened to me circa 2007-2010 was completely bananas and not really entirely my fault and also a harbinger of the hell we currently inhabit and no one has really tried to understand it yet in a granular one-person’s-experience way, because the world changed so fast that it was hard to notice it changing.

Doesn’t that sound fun and like an absolute barrel of laughs to think about and to write about?!?!

Meanwhile, I am going to tackle the literal vision problem via a trusted means of self-soothing: buying something! I need to start wearing my glasses more, no matter what happens with my contacts, because actually going through a pair of contact lenses a day is a pasha-like extravagance. I like these $95 Warby Parker frames — what do you think? #notspon #iwish