the blind man and his hammer

I got glasses a few weeks ago. A pair of prescription reading glasses. Nothing flashy, just tortoiseshell-colored acetate frames. They’re lined with a pale purple on the inside, but you can only see that from certain angles. You’d be surprised how long it took to find frames without rhinestones or flowers or exaggerated horn-rims.

Or maybe you wouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe you have more experience with optometrics than I do. This is the first pair of glasses I’ve ever had, so everything was new to me. For one thing, I had no idea how long it was going to take. I had to wait a month for an appointment, which rolled steadily through the various parts of the eye exam but stalled when I tried to choose a pair of frames. There were hundreds, but once I’d vetoed the clunky, chunky, dainty, sparkly, logo-emblazoned or otherwise just-not-me options, there were…none. So then I had to wait a week for some special-order bling-free frames and those were better but not quite the thing, either, so I waited another week for these frames, which are just the thing, but then it took another week for the lenses to be made and installed, and even after that I had to have the sides adjusted for fit. I should have realized that you can’t just walk in at 9 a.m. and walk out with custom glasses at 9:30, but I was so eager to have these things that I caught myself checking my phone every hour during that last week, hoping for the message that would bring my glasses home to me.

Through the whole process, though, the thing that really got my attention wasn’t the astonishing number of ways that glasses can be ugly, or even the way I can stretch a minor errand into a month-long drama. No, what really surprised me was that so many people tried to cheer me up.

The optometrist and the ophthalmic technician both separately suggested that I might just think of these as “work glasses,” as if they were an awkward occupational encumbrance, like a haz-mat suit, and not something I would want to acknowledge in my life proper. The optician whose job it is to help people pick out frames kept telling me that since I was just getting reading glasses, I could “at least have a little fun with them.” As if a playful dose of pink or cheetah-print might lessen the pain. Away from the eye doctor’s office, friends grimaced and said sympathetic things like: “Yeah, it sucks getting old.”

Look, I don’t know why so many people are distressed by corrective lenses, but I quite like these glasses. In fact, my feelings toward these glasses are about as strong as is possible for inanimate objects. I love having them. I love wearing them. I love them so much I don’t want to take them off even when I don’t need them. They don’t make me feel old. They make me feel competent.

This past winter, whenever I tried to work, I ended up with a skull-crushing headache by noon. If I needed to sew anything, I spent five minutes stabbing thread toward the needle. If I had to untangle a necklace, I took it outside where the light was better. My handwriting is a bit unorthodox, I know, but my calendar became a mystery that I could barely decipher. One night I opened the dictionary to settle a dispute with Ryan and the pages shimmered and flooded in a wash of tiny print. But now? Now I can work for so long that Frances has to lay her head in my lap to beg for dinner. When I want to read, I put on my glasses and read. Threading the sewing machine? Pulling out a splinter? Painting my toenails? I put on my glasses, and I do it with pleasure. Right now, writing this? I’m wearing my glasses.

These things are like magic. And, like magic, they’ve brought out my better self.

Ordinarily I am about as careful with my stuff as is the average two-year-old. I shove my clothes into the dresser whether they are folded or not. I leave silver earrings on the bathroom counter. I kick good shoes onto the floor. The windshield on my truck has been cracked since September. But I tuck these glasses into their case as soon as I take them off and I polish their lenses at the first hint of a smudge and even though they have a replacement guarantee, I keep them far away from Copernicus the Destroyer.

I feel grateful to them, for one thing. I couldn’t see up close and now I can and—although I am also fond of my other senses—I really like being able to see. But there’s something else, too. I have a lot of bad habits and one is my habit of just putting up with crap. Mentally I tend toward depression and last year was a fairly bad year on that front and I was feeling hopeless and helpless and was treating myself even less well than I treat my belongings. Who cares, I thought. Why bother. Nothing is ever going to get better.

And yet, when I realized I couldn’t see, I got glasses. It’s a small thing, I know, and no more than you would expect from an adult. It seems too obvious to mention: I can’t see, I need glasses. But someday I’ll try to explain about depression and how it sucks all volition right out of my cells. Out of my mitochondria even, until the smallest problems seem insurmountable and the biggest ones seem like cosmic punishment for the crime of being me.

When I’m depressed, I believe to my core that if something is going wrong, it’s because I deserve to be unhappy, therefore I can’t do anything to fix it. As you might imagine, this is rather a self-perpetuating cycle. But in this instance, I did do something to fix it. I got set up with vision insurance. I asked friends to recommend doctors. I made an appointment. I picked out frames. I solved the problem. It wasn’t a big problem, but I solved it. And therefore I can solve other problems, too. Every time I put these glasses on, I am reminded that even if I am getting older, even if I complicate everything, even if what I want is not what everybody else wants, even if it takes me a long time, I can make things better.

So no, thank you. I don’t need any cheering up just now.

A friend of mine has an eleven-year-old daughter. I’ve known the child since she was a month old and she is one of the coolest people around. She’s a talented artist and a great student and plays both violin and piano. I bumped into her last week at a concert and noticed she was wearing glasses, which is new. They were blue and green, kind of square-shaped, and refreshingly bling-free. I thought they looked great and I asked her how she felt about them.

She grinned and leaned in toward me: “Aren’t they wonderful? I can see again!”

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almost gone

Whenever I get to Cisco, Utah, I do two things. One is to stop by the post office. The other is to call my sister.

I call my sister because she was with me once on a trip through Cisco, so I think of her when I’m in town. Also because by the time I get there, I’ve been on the road for so long that I’m making up excuses for human contact. And I’m unlikely to find any in Cisco. It’s not a ghost town, but it’s close. The town dropped off the census several surveys ago, but I’d put the population at somewhere in the single digits. The low, low single digits. And falling.

This is why I go to the post office. Just to prove that it’s still there. It still is. Zip code 84515.

Mind you, it isn’t open. Hasn’t been open for ages. It was already closed when I first saw it fifteen years ago, superseded by a rural delivery box that held at least six more postboxes than necessary. Even when it was in business, the building wasn’t much. If you didn’t know it was a post office, you might wonder why anybody would nail a porch and a facade onto their toolshed. The picket fence, of course, needs no explanation. Alas, the glamour is fading. At last check, the walls had lost half their paint, the picket fence was about down to bare wood, and the lettering on the facade read  OS  OFF       SC  UTA. However, the shed was still standing, which is more than I can say for the rest of the town.

But if you’re prone to nostalgia, or if you want some moody pictures for your Flickr account, then head on over. The background offers up views of the Bookcliffs and the La Sal Mountains and glimpses of the Colorado River canyon, but Cisco itself is about as barren as barren can be. Just a couple dozen buildings and a whole lot of sky out in the badlands of eastern Utah. Nothing grows. Things just fall down. Fall down, cave in, shatter, slump, and otherwise sink beyond repair. Paint peels, wood cracks, shingles blister. The wind blows and blows and blows.

Don’t be put off by the collapse though, especially if you have a good camera. It’s a picturesque decrepitude, more like geologic erosion than apocalyptic wreckage. One low timber house is sinking under a sod roof that looks halfway petrified. A cinderblock gas station is going down one brick at a time. Little clapboard homes list another degree out of square every year. A lot of the doors are missing, and some walls. Crumbling concrete pads commemorate the buildings that didn’t stay long enough to fall down. The space between houses is all dried grass and broken furniture and abandoned toys. What is now the spiffiest establishment in town was a defunct garage when I first saw it. But some movie people took it over about ten years ago—movie people love Cisco—and they fixed it up into a make-believe store. After the filming ended, one of Cisco’s locals turned it into a real store, or at least a chips-n-soda stop, but then he died, and that was the end of that.

But Cisco isn’t just a cluster of decomposing buildings. No, no, no. There are also decomposing cars. Many, many cars. Cisco is the final resting place for more cars than can possibly have belonged to all the former residents combined. Pick-ups from the forties. Motorcycles from the eighties. Travel trailers from all decades. Here a rusting school bus. There a dented fender. Everywhere a flat tire.

I don’t regard this as a tragedy, by the way, although the growing junkyard seems a bit of an insult. But there’s no particular reason that Cisco ought to go on existing as a town. It was plunked down back in the 1880’s, four miles from the river and a few dozen yards from the railroad. The trains still run through. But they don’t run on steam anymore, so they don’t need water stops anymore, so they don’t need Cisco.

There are places like Cisco all over the west. Railroad towns that lost their trains; ranch towns that grazed out their grasses; oil towns that drained their wells; mining towns that played out their mines; tourist stops that got bypassed by the interstate. If Cisco is unusual, it’s only because it had so many booms in turn. First the railroad, then the oil, then the cattle and the sheep, then the uranium, then the road trippers, then the oil again. And then, of course, the chips-n-soda stop. All come and gone, leaving the dregs in Cisco, and the cash in the bank accounts of people who live someplace else. It’s the history of the interior west, condensed into one collapsing ZIP code.

At this point, there’s not much cause for anyone to come to Cisco, let alone live there.

There’s still a railroad siding, but it’s just for storage. There are a dozen little oil rigs scattered around, but they don’t need a full time crew. There’s a boat launch for rafters, but it’s just a concrete ramp without even a port-a-john, and there are plenty more launches downriver. The interstate, of course, is only a couple miles away, but last spring the highway department changed the name on the sign for exit 215 from “Cisco” to “Danish Flats,” after some nearby wastewater ponds used by the oil and gas companies. The people who own Danish Flats don’t live there either, they just dump the sludge and go.

The only reason that I go to Cisco is to get to my Grandma’s house in Colorado. I take the river road out of Moab, so I cut through the old townsite on my way north to I-70. It isn’t the fastest route, but I love winding through the red rock canyons next to the river. But first I stop in Moab and fill the tank with gas and get something to eat and buy an extra bottle of water. Because I can’t get any of that in Cisco.

The two things I can get in Cisco are cell phone reception and a snapshot of mortality. So I call my sister. And then I check on the post office. And then I continue on my way.

they make the woman

I can’t seem to keep my clothes on this week.

Wait, no. That didn’t come out quite right.

I am clothed. I am fully clothed. I have been clothed all week. But I’ve had to be so many different people during said week that in order to stay clothed in the clothes that matched the person that I was being at any given moment, I’ve had to keep changing my clothes and the whole thing has me confused about who I am and what I’m doing. Clothes are just a metaphor here, okay?

It hasn’t been a bad week, or even an especially busy one. It’s just been jumbled, with each day scattered between divergent personas and responsibilities. And trips to the closet.

I had veterinary appointments and follow-up appointments and test results and phone consultations to try to get Shade back on track after I nearly killed her. She’s doing pretty well, by the way; mostly just eating and sleeping, but she seems happy. I don’t need high fashion to take the cat to the vet, but I do aim for clean and sane. I’m trying to feel like a responsible adult when I talk about thyroid panels and lymphocytes and follow-up care. So linen pants, or at least the jeans without holes and a pair of sandals and a decent shirt. Good enough, although I had to remember not to wear the same shirt to Wednesday’s appointment that I wore to Saturday’s appointment. (Friday’s appointment was a different vet clinic, so they wouldn’t know.) And I had to get a clean shirt after one trip anyway, because Shade sheds something wicked. Still, those outfits also worked for going to the farmer’s market and the grocery store and meeting with the painter at the rental house and for having lunch with a couple friends who came in from L.A. but they aren’t really from L.A., so their sartorial standards are pretty low.

However, jeans don’t work for yoga, which I started teaching again this month. It’s good to be back, although it’s been a while since I last taught so I spend nearly as much time planning my classes as I do teaching them. I need stretchy clothes for yoga. Because I’m trying to teach from a place of peace and acceptance and love. And that means no chafing. I am willing to wear yoga clothes while riding my bike to the studio and back, but that’s about it. If I have to go anywhere on the way, I change clothes. (Not because I couldn’t use a little more loving-kindness while running errands, but because, well: Lycra. In public. No.) This week I had to go to the library, the pet food store, and the hardware store. Back to jeans.

Of course, yoga is only a side gig to the writing. I’ve been working on a couple of different stories this week, which is also good, but one of them is in the background phase and requires me to spend a lot of time online doing research and the other is in the actual writing phase and requires me to spend a lot of time typing. The net result is many hours at a desk in the house alone. Usually when I have a lot of computer work to do, I’ll escape to the library or coffee shop to avoid becoming a shut-in, but I’ve been trying to stick close to Shade the past few days. So now I’m the shut-in with the old cat; yes, I know. I do at least try to wear clothes that make me feel less like a nursing home resident. This week that meant a lot of halter tops and skirts, which sounds like I was overcompensating, but that’s because you don’t know that it’s still almost 100 degrees in Phoenix.

However, in addition to the desk work, one story has required me to undertake a sort of…repair project. More on that later, but it means that for an hour or two each day I’ve been hunched over the workbench on the back patio tinkering with screwdrivers and oily gears and also sweating. So: cutoff shorts and old tank tops and a bandanna keeping my hair out of my face. Très chic, non?

But I also had to conduct a couple of interviews, so that meant getting cleaned up and attempting to look civilized and professional. I put on a dress.

Unfortunately, dresses are no good for hiking, so I had to switch back to cutoffs to take Frances for an outing yesterday evening. The nearly-full moon was too good to miss. We even saw a green heron, although I don’t think it cared what I was wearing.

Today I’m cleaning the house and then going to a dinner party. At which I will wear a sundress and ask other people what they did all week. Because me? I’ve just been getting dressed.