At two, my mother noticed, while I was in the bathtub, that my right eye did not move in unison with its neighbor-conspirator. Rather, it sank and struggled when I looked upward to my mother or drooped and veered when my gaze returned downward to the collection of Tupperware containers in the tub – from one to the next, I took such joy in transferring the bathwater. The subsequent surgical procedure functions more as mythology to me now: a very new procedure, my sitting up on the gurney and waving to those I passed on the way to the OR. But, I still vividly remember the years of eye patches that followed.
1) “The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent think you might block every shot.”- Bill Russell
Over two years ago, the right eye began sinking again; and after all the reading and writing, the left eye was pulling away from its moorings. The minute discrepancy between the two eyes had grown to a nearly full-time state of double vision punctuated by the jagged teeth of migraines. Where I had once been able to digest books in a sitting, I now struggled to make it through twenty pages without resting. Unable to keep the lines on the page straight, the act of reading became arduous and exhausting. Research for big projects no longer reasonably fit within my skill set. What once took a week had become a month-long endeavor.
2) “Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.” – Henri Matisse
More than one eye doctor has told me that, save for tailor and jeweler, writing may be the worst occupation for the eyes. They have shown me also that I have never quite seen what I thought I saw. My brain, amidst the assortment of visual information – distinct and non-coordinated streams from each eye – approximated a fiction from the overlapping data streams flowing into my visual cortex from wayward eyes. Depth perception faded and household accidents increased. As my world grew darker, I withdrew into a crooked visual world, forced to accept the world was not what it seemed.
3) “You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you.” – Isadora Duncan
No longer could I ignore the issues with my vision and a process of behavioral modification began with re-examining how much of a role digital media could have in my life. Leading up to the first two procedures, my writing time was limited to brief 20-minute windows, which meant the use of my eyes was restricted and I rested them religiously between sessions. An eye patch, ice packs and a lot of good old fashion squinting have all been employed with hopes of getting more continuous time working through a scene, a line of dialogue or some other element of a project.
4) “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
Despite the rapid withdrawal of my presence, online and in the real world, I did not want to lose touch with folks I’d come to know and value. So I began posting simple quotations alongside black and white images of the speaker to whom the quote was attributed. The lines came from a life-long devotion to collecting, recording and sharing great bits of language, wisdom, insight or courage. The bits resonated with different parts of my experience and inspired me to see beyond my own personal limitations.
5) “If we had a keen vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow, and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” – George Eliot
New Year’s Eve eve 2014, my surgeon re-shaped muscles in both eyes and altered the opening and position of each eyelid. For the next 72 hours, I was in complete darkness with heavy bandages over my eyes – completely dependent upon the kind support of my girlfriend. Once the freshly rebuilt muscles grew tired, Cubism broke out starting at the periphery eventually overtaking the Fovea, which is responsible for processing details. What began as a glitch in the system led me through a menagerie of disturbed facial configurations, eventually, though, pain and dislocation ruled those moments.
6) “I didn’t ask my mother to buy me a trumpet or a violin, I started right on the garden hose.” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
So, I grew more involved with the simple little snippets I posted online, pleased to imagine those who engaged with them collected into social settings with the speakers. Recovery demanded I spent long periods of time with my eyes closed, so it was a necessity to occupy my mind. The game was to trigger the bulb in my head where a kernel of satisfaction would blossom as friends and colleagues responded. With each tiny interaction, my search for fresh strands of words grew more compulsive. And I turned to the breadth of letters.
7) “Money is everywhere but so is poetry. What we lack are the poets.” – Federico Fellini
Though the speakers would have most certainly disagreed amongst themselves, during the first week of the new practice these words in this context became the building blocks for engineering perspective. An 11-time NBA Champ; French painter; Italian filmmaker; Legendary Dancer; Novelist and voice of German Letters who openly challenged the Nazis; a blind inventive jazz virtuoso; the Brit who wrote under a man’s name and was buried with the dissenters at Highgate; the French Fashion designer, who was also a Nazi spy; Groundbreaking 19th century English designer and decorator; and the spokeswoman for the Feminist Movement.
8) “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” – Coco Chanel
Perhaps, some felt my habit was overly quotidian; maybe even individuals who were driven away by the practice. But as the months wore on and I remained in a Purgatory of double vision and uncertainty, I mostly chose to focus on the positive feedback. Reconnecting with old friends, I received messages of encouragement such as “You should make a book out of the quotes,” or, “This is one of my favorite interactions with the platform.” A dear cousin in Brooklyn sent a sweet holiday card mentioning her appreciation of the quotes. Parents of friends and friends who had become parents commented and soon enough I saw familiar groupings of names.
9) “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
The interactions came in the form of likes, shares, and comments. They kept me going while I continued to struggle with my vision, when, at times, I was unable to think about much beyond whether or not the problems were going to be permanent. Searching quote collections or scrolling through images eventually spawned vast speculative conversations as the strands of words took over. Darkness becomes preferable when the eyes cannot be trusted; I went from someone who slept minimally and was constantly active to someone who spent most of the time seeking cover. It became more difficult for me to socialize. Stuck without the distractions of visual stimuli, one’s mind may naturally drift towards the dungeon; the attention to what acted as meditative koans and, then, the subsequent reactions and interactions filled my mind with better thoughts, guiding me to continue writing no matter how difficult it was.
10) “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem
Three months ago, I went through a procedure to repair a loose tendon in my left eye and tighten up the supporting muscles. As I am coming out of what felt at times like a protracted fever dream, I now have time to reflect on those quotes, the process of scavenging for them and the impact they had on me and my world during a confusing period. Over the course of nearly two years, I posted more than five hundred quotations. Upon further reflection, the unique moment of each post gives way to a bounty of signs and symbols, which perpetuates my faith in creativity as our greatest tool in the face of adversity – personally and culturally.