Some weeks ago I made a trip to the South Carolina DMV to see about a new driver’s license. The department’s verbose and lofty mission statement ought to be replaced by this more succinct and accurate revision: “We complicate the hell out of easy things.” At the SC DMV you won’t be getting a license without an entire catalogue of identifying documents: birth certificate, social security card/passport, and proof of address. Forget that I had an out-of-state license; given their requirements, a new one would have to wait.
I would probably be forgiven for a rant questioning the necessity of personally identifying documents in the Surveillance Age, but my complaints about the DMV are but a minor thread in this story. After a week spent collecting the requisite documents (I had to order a social security card and birth certificate) I confidently returned to the DMV. There, they promptly me shot down again.
Of all things, I had failed the eye exam.
In a word, I was completely flabbergasted. As a kid the doctors had praised my ability to read the Snellen chart from out in the parking lot. Good vision came as a result of one of Mother Nature’s trade-offs. I suffer from a genetic disorder—which sounds worse than it actually is—known as protanopia. A certain manifestation of colorblindness, protanopia blurs shades of greens, yellows, and reds. The green light of traffic signals looks exactly white to me, grass appears orange, etc. It really isn’t such a problem after you learn some basic strategies to cope. For example, red is always at the top of the traffic signals, or to the left if oriented horizontally. If in doubt about an outfit, snap an iPhone picture and send it to a color seer. But don’t let me get carried away about my disorder. The point is I never once thought of my eyes as otherwise deficient until this trip to the DMV. Was I—I dreaded to say it—getting old?
Upon failing, I was handed a form to take the optometrist (another document to add the collection). To shorten a long story, there isn’t anything terribly wrong with my vision. It turns out that reading and writing for more than six hours a day can cause a significant deal of strain and result in nearsightedness. It’s relatively common in people who spend long hours occupied with “close” tasks, like knitting, drawing and so on. The optometrist said glasses were not completely necessary behind the wheel but that they may help—particularly at night. So with pupils freshly dilated I returned once again to the DMV.
To use an old cliché, the third time was the charm. The DMV was unable to find any other hassles to withhold my new license. The story, however, does not end there. My glasses came in this week.
I have heard from others that glasses make a great deal of difference but it’s not something that can truly be assessed until one experiences it firsthand. The transition is a bit like upgrading from an old box-style television to one of those new 1080 HDTVs. What’s really instructive is to leave the glasses on for a few hours and then remove them. If I had been so myopic (it demands a pun) so as not realize the loss of my visual abilities, what else have I missed lately as a consequence of my intensive work?
I too frequently scour my writing for its imperfections (in this piece, the frequency of “I”, the lack of transitions, the unvaried sentence structure, the small vocabulary, the untidy use of “you”), which kills the pleasure that fuels one to write in the first place. And aside from writing, the metaphor is just as apt. Rarely do I look at anything other than the distance or pace on my phone’s GPS while running. I don’t “read” books any more, I analyze them. And it turns out I’m missing a lot.
So maybe this Saturday I’ll put on my glasses and sit on the porch with a beer. Maybe, rather than looking for something, I’ll just observe.