The world was a watercolor wash of cerulean, sapphire and emerald, the blurred edges soft, entrancing, embracing. Ever shifting in the light there was so much to look at, so much to see! The tops of trees blended into sky, houses undulated into lawns, sidewalks dreamily rolled and buckled and puckered under my regal gaze. Were things near or far? Hard or soft? I didn’t know. I didn’t mind. I moved slowly. Why rush? The world was a kaleidoscope of softness, the lines beautifully and comfortably blurred.
When I was seven my father the optometrist gently curled the arms of a pair of spectacles around my ears and took a step back. A blink. A sharp intake of breath. And my world jumped sharply into jangly focus. I could see.
But that other world was still there and I knew it. If I took off my glasses I could still see it.
Unquestionably it was one of my oddest assignments. And yet, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
At last we had reached my long longed for moment: the tour jete leap, high, higher, highest from the heart stopping canvasses of Cezanne, and his explosively condensed blots of color that led to the rocket launch into twentieth century painting and beyond. How could I explain the brilliance of one who did not impose his vision on the world so much as unmask the visual world itself?
I had only a few heartbeats left of class time. So there was only one thing to do.
The assignment: I sent them all outside.
Walk and walk alone. No earbuds or other electronic distractions. Just look closely at the world around you. See the familiar in an unfamiliar way. See whatever it is that there is to see.
Give one one photograph seeing something in a way you’ve never seen it before. Give me one paragraph describing your experience.
Fifteen minutes to relearn a lifetime of visual experience? See the world anew? Absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous.
The assignments trickled in, slowly at first and then tumbling over each other like school children finally released from the classroom on a hot May afternoon.
—“The grass seemed to get greener the longer I looked at it.”
—“The sky glowed with streaks of pink!”
— “I looked and suddenly my street was a mass of angles and curves.”
Is the world as it is or is it remade anew viewed through our own individual lenses? What do each of see when we really see? Go and look. Outside, through the window the world is waiting for us, to be discovered and rediscovered again and again.
PS For a fascinating look at vision through the eyes of a child, find Ellen Raskin’s marvelous and beautifully illustrated Spectacles. And if you like puzzles and mysteries, you might like her Newbery winning The Westing Game as well.