by Cynthia Wands
I sometimes wonder if my poor eyesight has something to do with my need for images. When I was around eleven years old, my twin sister and I were both diagnosed with very poor vision. As in we couldn’t see the chalkboard at school vision. (Yes, this is one of those back in the olden days stories.) There was a very real sense that we had failed at something (we had failed to see), and we were punished by given cats eye glasses that were both hideous and necessary. I remember when I first put on the glasses, thinking: Oh. So that’s what the floor looks like.
But I could see. I could see clouds. And the bark on trees. The ants on the ground. And these were images that had been blurred away from my consciousness, and I didn’t know it. So images were a form of relief and arrival. (“I can see that!” “I know what that is!”)
And in the time of seeing, my mother brought us to museums and let us wander the halls for hours where we would swallow up the images of paintings and stuffed buffaloes and antique clothing and medieval armour. I collected postcards of the museums and places of interest that we went to. I had postcards from The Beeswax Museum of Sioux City, Iowa. The Custer State Park Museum of Buffalo. The Lincoln Nebraska Frontier Museum.
I’m still somewhat perplexed at the appeal of these images: spinning wheels, fuzzy paintings, hairstyles from Marie Antoinette, bad examples of taxidermy, a display of lumpy looking baskets. Lots of animals. But I was the curator of my own limited world view, and I loved owning these images.
I kept the postcards in a box, and when we moved to Northern Maine, I memorized them. They became a talisman of other places and objects of wonder. And when I first saw theater productions, I was transfigured by the images on stage: characters moving in the light became dream like messengers. They were like my postcards.
I think my sister and I both wanted to create and manage the images that came to us. At one point, dissatisfied with the way we looked in the cats eye glasses, we melted them on the radiator in our bedroom. We managed to soften up the frames enough to sculpt them into bizarre free form eyeglasses that looked like something from a demented artist. Perfect. The only thing that was missing was a sprinkling of rhinestones or precious gems that we would have scattered on the frames, to give them that added precious weirdness. Our parents were exasperated by this display – the next pair of glasses were metal frames that couldn’t be easily melted.
Years later, I had the privilege of being directed by a woman director, who had a throaty laugh, and smoked menthol cigarettes, and she wore cats eye glasses that had rhinestones embedded all over them. From onstage, you could see her in the audience and the glimmer of her eyeglasses sparkled like a fountain of light. She was a marvelous spirit. And I loved seeing that image of her.