I’ve alway had pretty good vision. I was 20/20 growing up until just a few years ago. Then computers took over. I just started to notice that things aren’t as clear as they used to be after working 60-70 hours a week for several years staring into that computer screen of multiple Excel spreadsheets and tiny-font ledgers. I am hoping that the degradation of my eyesight has slowed down since I’ve cut down on my work hours in an office environment.
You’d think that someone with really good vision for most of her life would have somewhat of a visually enhanced orientation towards her surroundings. Or at least notice something once in awhile. Strangely, I am completely the opposite. I do not process life, people and the world by what I see. I tend to process them by emotional inference (follow-up blog post to come on this topic). I didn’t really know this about myself until friends pointed out the obvious to me time and time again. I was and still am confounded by the apparent things I fail to see in every day life. I’ll hardly ever notice a new hair-do. I won’t notice a large new object blocking a hallway that I’ve walked by a zillion times in the past. I won’t notice new and contrasting colors, patterns, layouts… whatever it may be. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what a person wore even after we spent 8 hours together. Even if I drove to someone’s house 10 times, I still get lost on the roads leading to the house. Everything looks unfamiliar. That NYC MTA Subway slogan, If you see something, say something – completely useless to me. I’ll hardly ever really see anything and therefore I will never say anything. Unless something is absolutely and extremely apparent, I just don’t notice it.
I guess from everything that I don’t notice, the one thing that people have the hardest time believing is that I do not notice a person’s physical appearance. Apparently there are certain physical characteristics that a majority of the population at large find attractive and unattractive. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I notice nothing. I do have eyes. But I tend to notice only if it’s very extreme. For example, when comments are made about a person’s subtle change in weight (or what I swear is subtle), it is unnoticeable to me. I do not notice if someone has disproportionate physical features – in fact, I didn’t even know such things existed until they were mentioned. I don’t know that someone is generally shorter or taller. I don’t notice that someone has a long nose or flappy ears or big feet. Most of the time when I meet someone, unless he/she is exuding good-looks and superior physical appearance is dripping from every ounce of their body (a la Brad Pitt), I just won’t notice. Period. Almost everyone looks normal to me. When this inability of mine comes up in conversation with people, I usually get a probing question about whether or not I think people who are visually oriented are more superficial than those who are not. My immediate and certain response is, of course not. Generally, visual or non-visual individuals are not intentional in their orientation. I’m sure there are scientific and psychological ways of explaining those complexities.
I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m completely oblivious to the world in the visual sense. But I think you get my drift. What I am realizing more than ever before is that it’s getting harder and harder NOT to notice. As physical features continue to be emphasized by friends, family and society, I am slowly starting to notice… more and more. Oh, Jay Leno does have an elongated chin. Oh, President Obama has protruding ears. Oh, I am really pale. And short. And petite. And now I’m wondering, is it really better to notice physical characteristics? I’m not really sure right now. I can appreciate the diversity of appearance and how it contributes to our unique makeup as individuals. But I’m not sure if I can appreciate or even accept the hierarchy that physical appearance inevitably creates in society. It bothers me. It makes me feel insecure. More importantly, it almost seems like an unspoken social injustice. Sometimes when I look at the world, it seems like we’ve made great strides in accepting people of all different appearances. And other times, it seems like we keep taking giant steps back. I’m not okay with that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.
As I get further and further away from my 20/20 vision, I am starting to see things much more clearly. As frustrating and unsettling clarity can be sometimes, I can’t help but be grateful for it and welcome it with my own two blurry eyes.