Monday, July 12, 2010

beauty is in the eye of the astigmatic

As I sit here typing, I can see above the computer screen, through the window, across the quad, in the eucalyptus trees, a shiny purple, silver and gold balloon, torn and caught in the branches. It's been there for quite a while. The day I got my new glasses, I put them on so I could see how much clearer it would look from here. I was surprised that although the image became much sharper, the brightness and prominence of the colors were very much muted.

I like my glasses because, with them, I can read signs that are far away, and I can see leaf shapes, bark texture, birds, and animals more clearly from a distance. But in some ways, the world is more beautiful with the vertical axis out of focus.* Wrinkles, pores, and tiny hairs on people's faces are smoothed away. Colors are more striking. The whole world looks softer, friendlier. It's like living in a Monet.

In what sense do the glasses improve my vision? I can see the details better, but the larger picture becomes less clear. Is a photograph or a painting a more accurate representation of an object? From a scientific perspective a photo may be better--but from the perspective of human experience, from the point of view of one who does not merely see, but who attends, who looks with intention, who evaluates, appreciates, and longs for beauty, a representation that omits the details but brings out what is most important--the glory of purple and gold, shining among dusty green leaves--may be more true to the object than photographic realism.

*Vertical axis out of focus: I use this phrasing because astigmatism does not actually cause a general blurring of vision (it is not like unfocusing the lens of a camera)--it's more similar to seeing double.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Harry Potter and Imaginative Writing

I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books. I read the first three, and thought they were fun, but nothing to write home about. On the fourth book, I completely lost interest because the long detailed descriptions of the wizarding world held no interest for me. But all that descriptive writing, which I find so tedious, seems to be what the fans love.

From what I have read of the books, it seems the creative acheivement of J.K. Rowling is not in the crafting of a story, nor in the style of writing, nor in any kind of genuine originality, but in the fact that she created a fantasy world with a vast amount of detail. That's why to one person the books may seem irksomely cliched and "imaginatively derivative," whereas to someone else they are "richly imaginative."

But the way in which J.K. Rowling gave her imagination free reign--although it results in a magical world where anything can happen--is, I think, detrimental to the art of storytelling. Another blog I was reading discusses how an author can fall into the error of letting magic in their stories become poorly thought out, and even inconsistent or illogical. This is increasingly a problem the fewer limitations the author has decided to work with.

The use of magic in a story is much more fun and interesting when it has clear limitations. We see it in all the classic fairytales--the hero/heroine is given three magic objects, each of which can do one thing only; the wicked fairy places an enchantment, with a very specific result, and a very specific antidote (she will sleep for one thousand years ... it can only be broken if a prince breaks through and kisses her). These stories would not work if magic could be used for anything, by anyone, at any time.

This is something I've struggled with in writing my own young adult fantasy stories. It's hard to make the use of magic both fun, and creative, as well as limited and specific, so it doesn't get out of hand. So in that sense, I suppose I have a certain degree of respect for J.K. Rowling, since she did write books where the use of magic "works" for most people--though not for me, I'm afraid.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Glasses and Birds

So, having lost my glasses back in, oh, February or so, one thing I have been looking forward to doing when I finally get new ones is looking at birds. There are some interesting birds around here, and it would be nice if I could see them clearly from a distance.

But that is not the real connection between new glasses and birds. The connection is that when I went for the eye exam (20/40 far vision--which, as the optician said, means, "You're not blind, but you can't see very well"--though I still have 20/20 near vision--not sure how that works if the primary problem is astigmatism--but as I was saying), I was looking at frames and I saw my same old frames from before that I loved so much!

I loved the old frames because on the side they had this fancy schmancy little stylized bird design. It looked kind of like a quetzl or even a phoenix. It very much endeared those frames to me. But then, there were these other very similar frames, that were in a color I liked better and were a little larger, so they don't mess as much with my peripheral vision. They were the same brand and also had a little stylized bird design on the side. But the bird was very lame by comparison--it looked like a sitting seagull.

It was an agonizing decision. Do I choose the glasses I like better with the lame bird, or the glasses I like less with the awesome bird? The purpose of getting glasses is to help me see better, so the lame bird prevailed. I'll just tell myself it's really an albatross. Then it can be awesome, too.

Also: I saw a funny pesticide commercial in the waiting room. It shows black and white footage of happy children, as an ominous voice tells you that millions of children are made sick from pesticides every year. Then it tells you about their safe pesticide--and shows people spraying it all over the place--all around the house, on the sink, on a little girl's arm! "It's so safe," announces the voice, "it even says 'safe' on the label." That is some irrefutable logic. "Can your pesticide do that?" Good question. My pesticide probably is so dangerous that even if I tried to up a sticker that said "safe" on the label, it would peel off instantly. Who the heck wrote this commercial? Did they realize it was funny?