Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reading

A strange and disturbing experience yesterday morning. I woke to find myself nearly unable to see. My vision was severely blurred by a kind of dancing aura of light that prevented me from focusing on any single point. By coincidence, I had made an appointment for an eye check-up the same afternoon, and the doctor had no difficulty in diagnosing what he called an ocular migraine. No headache, just the aura I've known about before as a symptom of the more familiar type of migraine. A "blinding headache" minus the ache. I did worry, for the few minutes that it lasted, that my eyesight was finally failing. My first worry was how I'd ever manage to write the blog: visions (!) of having to dictate it to Cardozo! And would I have to learn braille if I wanted to read?

Would I learn the equanimity I might need to cope with such an affliction?

Well, it only lasted for a half hour or so, and I soon managed to write the entry which you undoubtedly read. Well, I like to think you might have done. This morning, I just wanted to add a few more words about The Glass Castle, which I also managed to finish despite the earlier eye problem. I loved the book. It's one of those stories where you end up rooting so hard for the protagonist that it hurts. It's hard to imagine such a nightmare of a childhood in the United States, with children literally sifting through the garbage after school lunch to devour the left-overs of their school-mates, and living amid filth and decay in a desolate mining town in the "care" of parents whose neglect of their children is determined not so much by a lack of education as by their willful, adamant rejection of conformity to social norms.

For the author, Jeannette Walls, who from her earliest years adored and defended her aberrant father as only a child can, her upbringing was at once a curse and a blessing. Inculcated by her mother with a love of books and by her father with an insatiable curiosity about the physical world around her, she was possessed of a mind that devoured whatever came her way. Her unconventional education required that she develop her own skills for acquiring knowledge and putting it to use--skills that have evidently stood her in good stead, in her adult life, as a successful researcher and writer. The poverty and deprivation she was forced to endure at least endowed her with a toughness of mind, a self-reliance and a resilience to the vicissitudes of life that are notably lacking in many of those growing up in the comfortable, even pampered environment of middle-class America.

It's not the kind of upbringing I'd recommend for anyone. Few, I think, would survive this kind of hardship with the success of Jeannette Walls. What saved her from a fate of resigned, redneck ignorance was surely the intellectual qualities that her parents possessed, even if they sorely misused them. Walls, in a word, is not a poster child for poverty, but rather a shining example of one who managed to escape it and a testimony to the power of the written word. Her passion for reading, this book suggests, was her salvation. Eventually it all comes down to strength of mind. Reading can do that for you. The practice of meditation, I like to think, is another way to go about it.

Even so, I'm glad to have my eyes back.

4 comments:

lindsey said...

Peter-
I just realized a moment ago while reading your entry that my grandmother loaned me "The Glass Castle" a few months ago and I'd completely forgotten about it. I took a quick glance at my night stand and sure enough, there it was!

I wasn't sure what it was about, but after reading your entry, I think I'll start it tonight.

I'm glad your eyes are okay! :-)

robin andrea said...

How scary that must have been to suddenly have an ocular migraine. I am glad that it has resolved.

I think the conscious cultivation of mind can make all the difference in the world. I will have to put The Glass Castle on my wish list at the library.

Dr. Steve said...

Peter-

I too get ocular migraines. I get them about once/year. I get the "jaggy lines" across my vision and then a 'scotoma' which is a missing area of vision surrounded by clear vision. It is frightening and bizzare. The first one I had I knew the symptoms were an 'aura' and waited for the head pain, none came.

I comiserate.

We will miss you two this Sat.! Say hi to Ellie.

Dr. Steve

They call him James Ure said...

Oooo Ouch. I've had one of those ocular migraines before and know what you're talking about. Glad it subsided. I love reading and who definitely learn braille if I lost my eyesight. Plus those books on tape. :)