6 - A writer whose inclusion in this list will dock my grade by 5%

PLEASE NOTE: I take a good long while to get to the point on this one. I had never written about my eyes before so I played around with it. It’s slow at first but still very related to my doc work!

When you have a lazy eye, there are a couple of side effects that no one thinks they need to tell you about. First, introductions. They will never not be awkward. People will spend the whole time trying to figure out where you’re looking. Second, calling on people. Give up on your teacher dreams, every time you call on someone whose raising their hand and forget to name them, two people start talking. Third, Grayson Allen. When you meet him, he won’t be able to stop staring. He will walk past you while rubber-necking, trying to get a second look and you will have to stop yourself from running up and tripping him.

These side effects can be frustrating, but they are also understandable. We meet and connect with people through their eyes. When your eyes are like mine, you make it harder for others to form this connection. So people start to freak out inside.

Before we proceed, I have two requests. First, please do not feel bad for me. I am a white middle class male in the United States with supportive family and friends. My life is way too good—please save your feel-bads for someone else. 

Secondly, don’t be mad at these people. I have to remind myself of this one. Don’t be mad at these people when they ask you how your eye is doing (I clearly have two and what kind of question is that?). Don’t get mad at them when they ask you to take the glass one out (dearest eight year old boy, please stop reaching, I’m very serious—it’s not glass, and even if it was…what?!). Don’t get mad at job interviewers when they asks which eye they should look at (he’s just trying to make you comfortable). Instead, be understanding. Your having a lazy eye is really hard for them so you have to be their support network. Let them know that they will be okay. We will get through this together. 

What these people don’t know is that individually, my eyes are perfect. In fact, they match my class year: 20/20. What my eyes lack is the ability to collaborate. Honestly, I can’t really blame them—I hate group projects as much as the next eye.

This inability to collaborate has a scientific name: strabismus. It means that I can only see out of one eye at a time, but then they switch back and forth.  The switching happens every couple of seconds. I can control it if I want to, but for the most part it’s involuntary. 

 
 

My parents told me it was a minor super power. One of my eye doctors called me a rapid involuntary eye switcher. It’s a lot like living life with two camera angles, which sounds cool–and it is. If I’m slouching on the couch with my knees up and need to see if I left the tv remote on the coffee table, I don’t even have to move my head, I just switch eyes to see around my legs.

 
 

But this rapid eye switching also comes with its challenges.  For one thing, where’s Waldo just got a whole lot harder. 

But perhaps the biggest problem is this: I don’t like to read. I have never liked to read. It is difficult and straining and gives me a headache. Reading is a constant battle. The words jump around the page and never stop. Even if you hold your finger there.  It’s a distraction. I used to have to put on eye patch on. But that just meant my world would go black every couple of seconds when my eyes switched and then switched back. And at six years old, being a pirate is only cool on Halloween. 

My disdain for everything words is part of the reason that I fell in love with documentaries. Video is visual. I could watch a documentary without having to read anything. When I got to the end of a movie, not only was I emotionally captivated, my eyes weren’t tired and I didn’t have a headache. 

Until recently, I did everything in my power to use as little text as possible in my documentary work. I used audio guides to avoid captions. I condensed and summarized. 

Last semester, things changed. I wish it was that I sunk into Shakespeare or was thrilled by Thoreau. In reality, I read a junky article on the satire site McSweeney’s and couldn’t stop laughing. It’s called, “It’s decorative gourd season, …” there’s another word there at the end but I can’t put it in this essay. The whole piece is an expletive-filled tirade filled with shockingly wonderful imagery. I am yet to see a single person read the 250 word rant (I recommend skipping the third and fourth paragraph where I believe Colin Nissan, goes too far) with a straight face. 

One of the goals of documentary work is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. I think that writing (and its cousin audio) are particularly powerful tools for achieving this end. The piece by Nissan takes an accepted societal norm–decorative gourds during the fall, and makes them strange through a braggadocios voice that produces a series of images never before conjured, which collectively call into question the ridiculousness of decorative gourds. It’s a piece that is only possible within the blank, open, and faceless slate of the written word.

I still believe in the power of multimedia. In some cases, it makes more sense to show something with pictures: the best way to understand land loss in Louisiana is to look at before and after aerial photographs.

But in other cases, writing can be the most effective way to foster understanding.  This is especially true in cases where visuals can create a distraction. If you show an audience a portrait of me, they will immediately look at the lazy eye—many of them won’t be able to see past that for a while. But my lazy doesn’t define my character. In fact, I only notice my lazy eye when I look in the mirror. In cases such as these, words and writings can bridge visual barriers and create understandings between subject and reader through a unique channel: a faceless voice, which somewhere between its anonymity and intimacy–its otherness and its sameness–pricks our humanity.  

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