Impartial Eclipse

As I write this, it is five days since my second eye surgery. In the plus column, this is the first time in nearly fifty years that I have been able to navigate without glasses. Even as a kid I faked my way through school, unable to see the chalkboard—which worked until I hit the brick wall of algebra. I couldn’t see the leaves on the trees or anything else at a distance.

Until now, I scarcely realized what a limiting thing it was to be stuck behind lenses. When I finally started wearing glasses regularly they were my windows on the world—but a window is also a barrier and an additional layer of distortion between one and reality. The lenses don’t even have to be rose-colored to affect what one perceives. Looking at the world through spectacles is not unlike viewing everything on television or through a computer monitor or via smartphone screen.

Red Wood Coast

It’s called a “screen” for a reason. It is designed to obscure as well as reveal. Glasses are portable screens, simultaneously freeing and confining. I have been peering through shop windows my whole adult life, close to objects of desire but at a remove from them. In some ways I’ve always felt like a viewer rather than a participant. I got to watch everyone else have fun—but I also felt that my glasses were safety goggles that kept me at a remove from the danger of possibly enjoying myself.

I always thought “the naked eye” was a curious idiom, as in “The sky was so clear that the planet Jupiter could be seen with the naked eye.” I sensed but did not fully comprehend the vulnerability it implied. My eyes are now naked—and I feel exposed. At any moment I fear I may panic and throw a towel over my head. It’s a primitive feeling, seeing things as beasts do, without a technological apparatus to enable selective focus and separate oneself from one’s environment. This is how the caveman saw. No wonder he was nervous.

It might seem ungrateful of me, in light of this newfound clarity bestowed by state-of-the-art medical science, to offer a minor note of regret. At times while laying out the current issue I keenly missed my nearsightedness. Prior to my surgeries, I was able to zoom in close to the computer screen to make precise changes to my layout. I won’t dwell on this—especially since I’m still healing. I broke open the proverbial piggy bank to get the light-adjustable lenses, which will require fine-tuning over the next month or so. I’m confident I’ll soon find a way to do everything I used to do, and more.

Hot Jazz Jubile

The alternative, of course, would have been to go blind. That’s an option I fleetingly considered. Then I thought of the houseful of books I’ve accumulated and the unlikelihood that I would be able to find someone to read them aloud to me—and, assuming I had found such a person, how soon they would quit once I started screaming at them for their mispronunciation. (It’s amazing I haven’t already had a stroke hollering at the radio for just that reason.)

No, I don’t really want to go blind. I want to get a good look at this beautiful world before someone starts running a bulldozer over it. I couldn’t do that easily through sepia-tinged cataracts and increasingly inadequate spectacles. I also wanted to partake of the joy of reading again, though that process will require non-prescription readers. (The ones from the Dollar Tree seem to work fine.)

What I find myself compelled to reflect on further is just how much of what passes in front of our eyes is pure garbage. Having spent several thousand dollars restoring my eyesight, I have no wish to look at the oceans of garish AI-generated imagery that pollute the particular social media platforms I haunt. The content is now ubiquitous, and while it may prompt coos of wonder it is straight-up lying. “Look at the boy on a bicycle made entirely of bananas! OMG! How can such things be?”

Not Irving Berlin

In May, a “birthday post” for Irving Berlin on Facebook was accompanied by an AI-created “photo” of Irving in NYC circa 1911 that more resembled comedian Will Ferrell with a truncated walking stick. While there were a number of comments pointing out its fraudulence, many who commented actually thought it was real. Imagine extravagantly praising Berlin on his birthday anniversary without having the faintest idea what he looked like!

Irving Berlin at the piano, circa 1906.
The real Irving Berlin at the piano, circa 1906.

I suppose it serves me right to continue to have truck with screens. They show us so much, but so much of what they show us just isn’t so. One should expect a partial eclipse of the truth. I grow weary slogging through the phoniness to harvest the nuggets of true delight and learning that I may find online. I eventually locate what I seek, but it all begins to feel like panning for gold in a septic tank.

Evergreen

Just as I spent an unconscionable amount of time parked in front of the television as a child, I gaze at this more interactive screen far too much as a grown up. Now that I have new eyes to see, I no longer want to waste my vision looking at drivel created by robots and dictated by algorithms. I proclaim these free-range eyeballs, not subject to capture by charlatans and hucksters.

As I finish this month’s issue and head off to dive into a stack of long-neglected books, be also assured that this paper was written and drawn and edited and sweated over and sworn at by real humans doing the best they can, and telling as much truth as they know. No robots need ever apply.

Andy Senior is the Publisher of The Syncopated Times and on occasion he still gets out a Radiola! podcast for our listening pleasure.

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