Literacy is addictive. Once you start reading you don’t go back. But what happens when you’re not allowed to read?
I went to see an ophthalmologist about some trouble I developed in one of my eyes — large dark floaters looking something like the image from Two Days in Paris (in which Julie Delpy has trouble with her eyes) above. A piece of my retina had become detached, and I was advised to have immediate laser surgery (which wouldn’t fix the problem but would prevent worse ones). It’s a pretty minor operation as I understand, but I was told I would not be allowed to read or use the computer for at least a week.
I’m not sure if it’s the close focus or the rapid back and forth movement of reading (or a combination of the two) that the doctors thought could be harmful. It made me wonder what effect a lifetime of jerky back and forth eye movement has — could this have contributed to my problem? Has anyone studied how the eyes and brains of literate and nonliterate people differ?
I can’t remember the last time I spent a week without reading. Maybe on some backcountry outing. But in this case I would be surrounded by temptation. Would I go mad? Would I ease into a benign state of Zen-like meditation?
Neither happened. As it turned out, not reading made me very productive. I had to stay home, since reading and computer work is about all I do at my day job. The first morning after the surgery, I picked up the New York Times and pulled out the front page before I caught myself. I stared for a while at the folds in the bed covers, thinking how in the morning light they resembled drapery in Renaissance paintings. That day I was a little restless and scattered.
But soon I found myself waking up and, with nothing to read, immediately getting to work in the garden or on an outbuilding I’m putting in (I did pound my finger a few times, since I had a tendency to close my ailing eye and mess up my depth perception). I would just get up, start working, and work all day until I went to bed.
But I discovered it’s not possible to avoid reading. We live in a world of words. Everywhere I looked I saw them, until they came to seem like the animated playing cards that bedeviled Alice. Try it: just look around wherever you are right now — I’ll bet you see hundreds of words and letters in all different forms.
I did have to allow a bit of close focus. When I tried to calculate whether the foundation for my building was square, I had to resort to a calculator since I found it difficult to figure the square root of 221 in my head. I had to use a tape measure to mark my boards.
And I found that I have become deeply reliant on the internet. How far apart should I place my footings? How much sun does Euphorbia amygdaloides require? What are the chords in the middle part of The Nearness of You? I could just do a search … or, well, I guess not.
So I lost the ability to research the things I was working on. But I also gained a lot of time, since when faced with a decision I just made a choice and moved on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of literacy. But I learned that, like most things, it’s a trade-off. It was good to spend that time without reading; it’s an exercise that I would do again.
But once I got the green light to read again you better believe I was turning pages in no time.
And now I’m blogging. I’m back!
C.M. Mayo (Madam Mayo blog)
Glad you’re back! Hope this finds you healing quickly.
Welcome back! I hope that the eyes continue to improve and if you need to rest them, why not turn to spoken books? I have done some reading for Lighthouse for the Blind and find that there is a whole world of spoken books that’s pretty good. Not me, obviously, but some great actors have read books like Ian McClellan et al.
Welcome back, and take care of your eyes (and hammered fingers).
Thank you all.