Due to a very late meeting Monday night, I slept in my contacts on a friend’s couch in the city. This was no longer a great idea, as I realized the next morning at 10 am when my eyes were practically a fountain of tears and no amount of contact solution would help. Granted, the last time I even tried to sleep in my contacts (which, to be fair, I didn’t have any problems with at the time) was in high school; ahhh, how much changes in a decade.
So finally I had no choice but to throw my contacts out and hope I could make it through the day with blurred vision. I can see objects just fine, but details blur out pretty quickly, so I knew that as long as I didn’t have to do anything involving lots of tiny print, I’d be fine.
To my surprise, I discovered something magical:
Walking through the visually overstimulating city of New York was almost peaceful.
Don’t get me wrong – I love New York, and I love the overstimulation, and I even love the ads everywhere. But until yesterday, I had never realized how exhausting it is to read everything in sight. With my blurry vision…I didn’t have to.
I should note that I’m the type of person who reads everything she can see. Growing up, I always needed a cereal box in front of me while I ate breakfast, or I’d die of boredom. (Breakfast was often not a family event.) It didn’t even matter what I was reading – the nutrition facts were as functional as witty copy. And sadly, this hasn’t abated with age. No matter where I go, I look at everything, and I read literally EVERYTHING I can see. It’s almost a compulsion.
What a relief, then, to be prohibited from obeying my habit! I was alone with my thoughts as I walked. That’s practically a miracle! Sometimes I think I hide from my thoughts by drowning in words, much the way Reading Deprivation taught me that I hide from my writing by reading other people’s contents.
Then another blessing burst forth later that afternoon, when I went to tap class. Admittedly, I was nervous, as I’m not the greatest tapper (yet) – so not being able to see seemed like a recipe for disaster. But guess what?
Not being able to see actually improved my tap ability.
No, seriously – I was a better tapper yesterday, and a far better dance student. There are two reasons for this, as far as I can deduce.
Reduced vision meant heightened listening.
Blind and deaf people have been proving this for centuries. Because I couldn’t see, in this case, I depended more on being able to hear the teacher announce the combination. As a result, I had to process the steps in my mind before attempting them physically – a step often skipped for someone as visual as me. It really helped me (surprise, surprise) to LEARN the steps of the combination, instead of just imitating them and blanking frequently as to what came next. Wouldn’t you know, that made it all easier?
Not being able to see made me far less critical of myself.
When I started dancing in college, I cried…a lot. Despite understanding exactly what was being asked of me and knowing precisely what I wanted to look like, I was dismayed to discover that teaching your body to DO it was a totally different ability. And it was (ha, is!) very slow going, teaching your body to process and execute something it’s never been required to do.
I don’t know how to explain the disconnect, exactly. Either way, the discovery that I wasn’t going to be able to pick it all up quickly was a shock to my type-A, scholastic achiever self. And the frustration that accompanied the subsequent years of training often resulted in tears.
To be fair, I didn’t start out looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself – that actually had to be trained into me by my teachers! I was originally content to focus on a point slightly above myself; however, dancers are expected to look into the mirror constantly, since dance is a visual art. The slightest line makes a big difference. But when someone as tightly wound as me engaged in that kind of behavior, it created an endless loop of self-criticism, frustration, and despair.
Not being able to see all the mistakes I was making was therefore a huge gift yesterday. So much so that I might consider removing my contacts more often for dance class. (Though I’m slightly terrified to imagine trying it in Sheila Barker‘s jazz class.)
So that was my small revelation. While I wouldn’t recommend trying this in a city you’re unfamiliar with or in a situation where you need to be able to read small print at a distance, I’m definitely going to do it again soon – by choice, not by necessity. Have you ever tried going without your contacts or glasses?