Eye Exam

Hello. I am currently dictating my blog post to my parrot.* He is typing with his talons. I hope he is doing a good job. He probably is – he is basically human but very little and also green. His name is Birdbird.


I thought my eye sensitivity would diminish at some point tonight (and I could more quickly write this post), but it has not. It turns out my eyes are dumb and one of them decided to be farsighted and the other decided to be nearsighted. So we had to put the extra dilating drops in them to figure out exactly how much. It’s funny — the doctors make you bleary blind and then you can’t even see the price stickers on the frames they try to sell you and then they give you film sunglasses in an envelope and say it’s perfectly safe to drive home.

The doctor put up the usual test — a chart on the far wall. I covered my left eye. I read all but the last row. I covered my right eye. Startled, I read the entire chart.  “I thought this was my bad eye.” Through a series of tests — flipping lenses, cards of letters, those stinging drops — I learned something about myself I had never known. My left eye is farsighted, and amblyopic.

Last night I sat in the hot tub in my parents’ backyard. They were out of town. I glimpsed my nude body below me — something I don’t see often. I am not familiar with my topography. I think we all find our own bodies strange to some degree. Yet, I am entirely comfortable in my strangeness. For 7 years of my life, I believed this body wasn’t mine, and so, I am used to my body feeling alien.

“This is why I tell parents to take their kids for eye exams,” my doctor said. “If we had caught this when you were 10 or 11, you could have had a chance.” Point blank, she told me, “You will never have normal vision in your left eye. It is what it is.” This eye had always been that way, the other compensated, and now that the dominant one is starting to change, I am noticing the discrepancy more and more. Luckily, for whatever reason, my brain continued to use partial information from this amblyopic, or lazy eye, and its vision is fairly ok. Just a little farsighted.

Younger, disinvested in my borrowed host body, I ignored inconsistencies. I took the eye tests and passed them robotically. I didn’t bother to explain that I often closed my “bad” eye so that I could see better. I didn’t mention my surprise at doing well for these simple readings of letters on flash cards. I was an alien, someday I would go home, and these things mattered little.

Now I’m here. I’m very much human. It might be nice to have better vision, yes? It might be comforting to recognize myself more often in the mirror. Oh, but the losses are small, in my case. I am glad to be learning my body like it is new. And glad to not have learned to suffer at its limitations, to assume ownership of flaws. So, now I’ll take these vision quirks, and the sense of wonder at still being able to find something new about my physical self, even at age 25. When my hair starts turning gray, I imagine I will feel the same.

It is what it is. At least now, I know.

*I love my bird. I got him when I was 4. For political reasons I have to say I don’t think it’s humane to own a pet parrot or exotic bird. They are wild animals and need to be able to fly, have friends all day, and eat a variety of foods. There are other pets more suited to domestic life. That said, he was born in captivity and has never been able to fly due to deformity. I think the life I give him is ok but could be better. Some parrots also have very little chance of being reconditioned to the wild and I support rescuing them. Please choose birds that could use a second or third or fourth home!

Know-it-all Syndrome

Know-it-all Syndrome. You know what I’m talking about. Well, generally, it’s a bit more extreme than what I’ll discuss. “Sufferers” of this disease are known to annoy everyone around them by pretending knowledge on every topic of conversation. What I’m aiming at, however, is more the general adaptation of this habit, where you nod away things that are going over your head. What’s the harm in pretending to know about something you know nothing about? You’ll just Google it later.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug. ‘Cuz it has cooler tastes in music than you.

Recently I promised myself to stop pretending. The idea for this vow grew out of the little brown notebook I carry in my purse. I’d started writing the things people told me, as they spoke to me. I named it my memory augmentation device. (My memory is unreliable enough without the drinking.)

Something started happening. I noticed a twinkle, an edge of excitement in their voices as I wrote. They’d add more, “oh, and look up The Ben Heck Show.”  I’d latched on to the idea a long time ago, from some reading, that “observation is sexy” and I realized I could show a little appreciation for someone just by writing these things down in front of them. Look, I’m listening.

This didn’t cure my know-it-all ‘syndrome’ right away. First, I must add that my case is a little unusual. Due to my delusional escapades as an alien princess, a Christian, a heterosexual… my connection to reality is a bit flimsy. I can never be sure just how far off I am when I’m confused about the order of things. Which century was pointillism? Where is the Bay of Pigs? I know the answers, I really do, but pretty much anyone can make me question myself. Hey, they didn’t spend 7 years of their childhood sharing brain-time with an extraterrestrial dignitary. They might be a little more in tune with the real world.

And look, I will never catch up with people who have been paying such close attention to 90s pop-punk that they actually know the name of the lead singer of Blink-182. (Seriously I don’t know and I don’t care.) So, I nod and pretend to know a few things about ‘culture’ and hope the subject changes soon. If a subject is truly boring to me, why slow down the trivia slinging? This I’ll allow, despite the vow. Let the nerds exchange their factoids quickly before they realize they need to educate me.

But, what I’m going to quit doing is going along with something I don’t know just to seem cool… and smart… and stuff. I kind of realized that no, just no, it doesn’t do you any good. People like being experts, they like knowing some esoteric thing about history, or science, or just some band you didn’t know existed. I’m going to let them show off that knowledge to me.

And, really, is there any shame in not knowing everything? In this information age, there is so much to know. Let’s stop trying to stay up on the same trends. Let us meander every which way, collecting data deeply, and share synopses. Let us learn this world collaboratively, and stop believing the loneliness will only go away as soon as we know exactly what our neighbor knows. Ask each other, what do you know? and stop pretending to know it, too.

An opportunity to test this theory came up immediately after I took the vow. Recently, I admitted I didn’t know what the Camino de Santiago was. I’ve been in a long conversation with a pretty pen-pal and I figure she deserves, as much as anyone, the truer me. So I confessed. I added, “Let me know if you find this endearing or you like me less for not memorizing all the same things you have memorized.”

She responded, “Now, I do find it endearing that you didn’t Google The Camino de Santiago. Although when I wrote it, I expected you would.”

What followed, in her own voice, not Wikipedia’s, is a personalized and very real description of the Way of St. James. I read it, twice.

Partying with “Old” People

“14 going on 40,” my dad called me, because I liked to think I could fare well in conversations with the adults. I did; until I got older and more conscious of my words and the gaps in my knowledge and experience.  And, of course, I was a really delusional person from age 7 to age 21 – see last week’s post. Before the Christianity there was 7 years of alien princess nonsense that I’ll have to get into sometime… I’d say I’ve only been interacting directly with reality for the past two years. So, it is with great hesitation that I call someone a peer, especially if they have some years on me.

By that, I mean, I tend to assume people have their head together better than mine, and that I am totally out here to learn from them how to be a semi-functioning “normal” human being. I’m easily impressed by the folks who can figure out the difference between Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise and other famous white guys (seriously they all look the same to me how do you even keep track of what’s going on in this movie).  I defer to people’s superior knowledge of pop culture and geekery and national news.

This makes me gullible, to a fault. Of course I’m going to take the word of someone I trust, even marginally, over my own perception of reality. 3 years ago I was so out of touch I was yanking the e-brake to stop my perfectly functioning car, thinking it wasn’t working because in my dreams I skidded on roads like a wet dog on soapy linoleum. You can tell me it’s a Tuesday on a Wednesday and I will believe you.

But I’m having to come to terms with the fact that older =/= wiser. People I call friends think homeopathy is a real thing. And they’re paying attention to when the moon shadow is in the Aquarius Capricorn Libra or something. I’m having to fine-tune my bullshit detector so I can both enjoy the variety and personal insight from the circus of people in my life and still, you know, not let the pseudo get all up in my science.

But, like, I’m young and I don’t know everything and some people really like to point that out.

Category 1 of Old People: Know-it-Alls

For the purposes of this section, anyone over 30 is an “Older Person” — not because I think 30 is old, but because 30 seems to be the magical number that makes people think they can dispense words of wisdom to me. I get it, I really do. I, for example, am a whole lot smarter than a 13 year old.

I would definitely sit down 13-year-old me and have a talk.

By the way, little Sami, you are not really an alien. But that’s fine, it’s not the craziest thing you’re going to believe in your life. Unless you stay out of the Church. STAY OUT OF THE CHURCH. Also, you should kiss as many boys as possible because that is going to suddenly get way less fun in a few years.

Normally I seldom think about how young or old my party-pals are, but occasionally they won’t let me avoid the topic. Yes, I know I’m only 23; I had to prove it to get into this club… I do often act in age-appropriate ways – binge-drinking, flirting, wearing garish clothing, running around in the woods,  notching up and down the Kinsey scale, mooching off my parents… I’m not delusional that I’m responsible or something.

I’m spoiled, though. I’m used to the gayborhood; guys find out my age and squeal that I’m a baby and tell me I’m sexy. They know youth is fleeting and they’re still chasing it. In my hot-head I start to think Older People should treat my presence at their “potluck” as a favor. You should be so lucky I grace you with my energy and my anti-gravity lady-lumps. So, when someone gives me the “when I was your age” speech, I get a little cranky.

“When I was 23, darling, I was an idiot. You have so much to learn…” Some bearded 38-year-old goes on about the folly of youth. And he really said darling. In his defense, he says he uses all sorts of pet names with women all the time. Don’t really see how that is a defense and not a very real sign that he has unconscious chauvinistic tendencies…

“I try not to treat people like they’re typical.” Oh. Geez. Did I really just say that? I try to sit on my rage, but he calls me ‘sweetheart’ and I go inside, aggressive. A woman is about to talk about Masaru Emoto’s touchy-feely water crystals and the power of resonance. “Bullshit!” I interrupt her. She looks hurt. “Sorry, maybe you’re talking about something else. I didn’t mean to jump on you.”

“But you did.” Touché. She continues. Definitely Masaro Emoto. Okay, sorry I’m not sorry. I let her finish, then explain why frozen water crystals with emotional signatures are about as real as Big Foot. Oh dear, looks like she built half her spirituality around that paper she read… I try to be nice, say something about the power of human imagination, but I’m pretty sure when I leave that a lot of the stress in that room leaves with me.

Ah crap. I’m that stubborn young woman who doesn’t like to be told what to do with her life and doesn’t have respect for people’s personal beliefs.

Category 2: Everyone Else

Again, I normally don’t think about this. My friends are my friends, and I forget that I’m the young one until one of them points out that I look ‘especially teenage tonight.’ Yes this happens a lot.

But there are plenty of advantages to having “older” friends:

  1. The wisest of them let me live my life while opening up theirs to me. I am addicted to people’s stories, and these people have more years of them.
  2. They have zany clothes from years of thrift-store collecting and aren’t afraid to wear them. Fuzzy paisley hats and zebra stripes and big furry coats and tutus and corsets, the really nice ones.
  3. Better taste in booze. They give me Horny Devil and Bullet and Laphroaig like they’re some kind of alcoholic evangelists. Obviously, I do not complain.
  4. They are living proof that you can still have fun past your 20s. So. Much. Fun. Can’t keep up with all this fun.