These old eyes — they’ve seen a lot. Back in my younger days — let’s call them my 20-20s — they took in more than enough, both good and bad, to make me the wise old woman I am today.
Make that the wise old “squinty” woman. While I can still claim to have some insight, I can’t seem to make things out. Simple things: The instructions on the back of the allergy pills. My favorite pie recipe, printed in pumpkin brown on a cream background on the Libby’s label. Information on where and how to order tickets for a concert. The restrictions on that fabulous Herberger’s coupon I just tucked into my purse.
I miss the days before glasses became my crutch. I know it’s perfectly normal to have to try a little harder to see what there is to see. But really, now — the price tag on a onesie for our granddaughter? A Class B dot somewhere on the Minnesota map? The sign on a trendy restroom door? As an ever-present reminder of the passage of time, my changing eyesight has worked like clockwork … but, all in all, I’d be happier with a calendar.
The eye doc says my experience has been pretty normal. Originally blessed with near-perfect distance vision, I’ve only needed a little help with close-ups as the decades rolled along. Remedial aid was easy, thanks to those little cute little half-glasses made famous by Roger McGuinn and Teddy Kennedy … or Granny Clampett. I could overlook them — actually, look right over them — when faced with a full-size vista. Life was good.
I’ll never forget the exam that changed my life. It proceeded normally enough. “Which is clearer, 1 … or 2? 1 … or 2? How about now — 1 … or 2?” As usual, I was trying mightily to perceive a difference, any difference, when the doctor finally sat back. “Hmm,” he hummed with a satisfied sigh. “And how old were you on your last birthday?”
“Forty,” I told him (resisting scolding him with a slap, “That’s not what you ask a lady”).
He grinned triumphantly. “Right on time!”
And thus was launched this half-life of hating my spectacles. Sure, I could read the classified ads again. I could figure out the lyrics on the little insert inside a CD case and the fine print on my car insurance contract. But who needs any of that?
True, I could resume doing counted cross-stitch on fabric finer that a gunny sack. But that didn’t matter much. I, who once could thread a needle on the first pass, now could no longer manage to stab the floss into its eye without a magnifier.
I hate wearing glasses. Have I mentioned that? The past 20 years of experience hasn’t left me one bit more inclined to love these simple aids so many take for granted.
I hate the shifty pursuit of the right spot in my progressive lenses. I hate the dust and fingerprints they collect, along with occasional cat licks. I hate the red marks where they gently pinch my nose. I hate the way they steam up on humid August days and fog over when I open the door in winter. I hate it when I push them up on top of my head, knowing they’ll slide off backward the next time I nod, and then I’ll drive right over them while backing out of my parking space. (To be clear, that only happened once. But still ….)
Early in my star-crossed adjustment to trifocal lenses, I hit on a better option. Instead of the challenge of figuring out where to peer at any given moment, I ordered three separate pairs — one for reading and knitting, another for working at the computer (where I spend the best part of the day) and a third for distance. That’s the one I need least, the one that invariably ends up atop my cranium … leading to the spectacle of one pair on my head, another on my nose and the third — well, that’s the one I’m still looking for.
It’s not a perfect system. Just ask my husband what happens when I bring the wrong pair to a restaurant and beseech him to whisper the menu in my ear.
Nevertheless, acceptance was inevitable. I’ve more or less mastered the art of juggling. I’ve also resigned myself to ordering replacements whenever the scratches and prolonged abuse finally make them only a little less transparent than those eclipse specs you wore Monday.
But I’ve been noticing lately that much of what I want to read is getting harder. After a few years of straining to make out the text and even ads in favorite magazines, the problem came into focus when I faced the new edition of my textbook. I found it nearly unreadable. Oh, good, another excuse for my students.
Stung by my anxious squint, I finally hied myself back to the eye clinic for a serious work-up. I fully expected dire news. My tired old eyes must be fading. Imagine my relief when the doctor said, “No change!”
But, then, why am I so persistently squinting whenever I settle down to read?
The culprit seems to be an epidemic of an entirely different type — specifically that: the type. While my venerable trifocal generation remains the biggest and most eager consumer of the good old printed word, the graphic artists who design magazines and books have been leaning more often toward smaller fonts — the kind we used to call “mouse type.”
Perhaps their motive is budgetary. As the fortunes of magazines and book publishers have wavered, they’re trying to fit all those words into a smaller, cheaper package.
Or maybe it’s just the whimsy of graphic fashion. Page designers — are they all in their 20-20s? — seem to have fallen deeply in love with creative tricks to prettify their content. Some seem to regard readability as a poor second to artistic expression. Why else would a sane person set the text of a story, say, in decorative leaf-green words against a sky-blue background, or lay yellow verbiage across a photo of a busy city street at sunset, or dare to dream the impossible dream: teensy white letters reversed out of a field of dead black? High-mileage eyes simply cannot decode them.
All these masterpieces undoubtedly look stunning on the designer’s monitor. But no matter how many ooh’s and aah’s they earn from their artistic peers, their ads and print pubs don’t accomplish a thing if their actual audience — we, their readers — can’t make them out.
The years have warped these eyeballs just a bit. Yet I can see a clearly perfect vision: Clean black letters on a plain white background, forming words so clear that I can read squintlessly, as effortless as in days of yore.
I long to be free again to concentrate on what I’ve read rather than how hard it can be to read it. I dream of handsome pages without end, laid out for readability rather than leaps of artistic inspiration. What’s that you say? Why, you’re right! I just described the Kindle.