Like many, I wear prescription eyewear. I got my first pair of glasses when I was a sophomore in college, although I needed glasses much sooner than that. I just didn’t know it.
I was a “sit in the front of the classroom” student all of my life. I’m sure behind my back I was described as a “teacher’s pet.” I didn’t deliberately set out to be the teacher’s ‘pet, but as a straight A student, and someone who was raised to respect authority, and with generations of teachers in my bloodline, teachers liked me. I spent my early years on the south side of Chicago. My family lived across the street from my elementary school, and as early as second grade, I remember being given the responsibility to watch the class when the teacher needed to leave for a bio break which I would later learn was really a nicotine fix. From my front row seat, dead center, she would summon me to her desk and invite me to sit in her chair and watch the class from her perch. I was well liked in school, so my classmates never clowned on my watch, and the report that I gave to the teacher when she reentered (smelling oddly of Marlboro Lights) was one of good behavior. Even if the paste eating, crayon chewing boys were a little rowdier than normal on my watch, their antics were never out of hand enough to warrant being labelled a teacher’s pet and a tattle tale.
By the time I was a student at Northwestern, my reading load had quadrupled, and a few of my friends noticed that I squinted a lot. A trip to the optometrist confirmed that I was near sighted and had astigmatism, which loosely translated meant that I had trouble seeing things far away. When I called my dad to send me the money for my glasses, he wasn’t surprised because he too had astigmatism. My dad had always worn glasses. For fun, my brothers and I would sometimes wear my dad’s glasses and try to take a few steps even though the floor viewed through his thick lenses became concave and wobbly. Years later, after going through old photographs taken from my grandmother’s attic, I would learn that he began wearing glasses in kindergarten.
Once I donned my new eyewear, I was amazed at how crisp and clear the world looked. I could see street signs so much further away and thought that my new glasses gave me super vision. Only later would I learn that you are supposed to be able to see street signs from that distance, so my new glasses made my vision normal, not special. Wearing glasses changed my perception on the ordinary things that I had taken for granted.
I am a card carrying member of the Academy of Vanity. My goal is to “hold it together” and age with style. And thanks to a carefully mixed cocktail of zumba dance classes, yoga, pilates, weight training, healthy eating, good genes, and a talented stylist/colorist, I’m still paying dues to the Vanity Academy. But now I tell myself that my efforts are really about maintaining good health and less about vanity. Yeah, right. I began carrying my vanity card in elementary school. Even though I was the smart, teacher’s pet hand picked to watch the class, I didn’t wear glasses. The kids in my class teased or ignored the kids who wore glasses, but I was popular, or as popular as one can really be in 2nd and 3rd grade. I laminated my Academy of Vanity card in college. There were now cute boys on campus, many of whom wore glasses which made them look scholarly and wise, but back then I lacked the self confidence to parade around in my new eyewear. “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses...” The person who coined that little ditty should be flogged. Somewhere in my psyche I told myself that wearing glasses would kill my cool points, so I only pulled out my glasses when it was absolutely necessary for me to see something in the distance. My plea for my father to send me money to get contacts was summarily ignored. My dad was old school. To him, glasses were better than contacts. Period. If he had his way, he would have torched my vanity card and used it to light one of his Kool cigarettes, so I always wore my glasses when I hung out with my father. I’m no fool.
My perception about wearing my glasses changed years ago when I became a fan of India Arie. It was a combination of her bold look, brilliant lyrics (“I am Not My Hair!”) and the fact that for me, with age came wisdom (thank God!) and a double dose of self confidence coupled with adult issues more pressing than whether or not one looks cute in her eyewear.
I enjoy public speaking, but I still get the occasional butterfly before approaching the podium. My personal self confidence trick before addressing a group (whether large or small) is to wear my glasses. One, I now believe that my glasses give me street credibility (or cred as my teens would say) and make me appear scholarly. But when I approach the podium I remove my glasses so that my subjects are fuzzy. Nicole Kidman does the same thing. If you can’t really focus on the faces staring at you, you’re less nervous. Plus, if I wear my contacts, I then need reading glasses to read my notes, whereas I can read my notes just fine when I remove my prescription glasses. Oh, the joys and perils of father time. My perception changes when I take off my glasses.
As a card carrying member of the “I liked school, yes I was a straight A student, but no I wasn’t perfect” club, I spent a fair amount of time convincing people that I made lots of mistakes on my journey. Even “straight A student goodie two shoes” sometimes find themselves in the bad behavior lane, because, like most mere mortals, they are usually quite flawed. They are just savvy enough to know how to camouflage those flaws with charm, kindness, Mac make-up, and flattering clothe, like the girls in the Black Diamond Series. It’s the reason that I gave the characters such interesting and diverse flaws. I wanted to make the characters human, believable and far from perfect.
When a “practically perfect in every way” person (thank you Mary Poppins) errs, overreacts or colors outside the lines, it sends shockwaves through their network circle. It’s about perception. Practically perfect people shouldn’t behave in certain ways. They aren’t allowed to get angry or overreact in a situation. When they do, it destroys the natural order of things. Frankly, I think that’s an unfair standard. Everyone should be allowed to spend a little time in the “I’m not perfect” lane, because it’s the brief time spent in the bad behavior lane that keeps us grounded and human and reminds us and those around us that we aren’t perfect. The goal is to not stay in the bad behavior lane.
Someone who is really attracted to you will still be attracted to you whether you’re wearing glasses, or a hair wrap and a Breath Rite strip across your nose while you sleep. It’s all about perception.
One of my favorite India Arie song’s is “There’s Hope” and a few of the lyrics are .....”that’s when i learned a lesson, that it’s all about your perception.... Are you a pauper or a superstar? So you act, so you think, so you are. It ain’t about the size of your car, it’s about the size of the faith in your heart.” If you act like you’re cute wearing your glasses, you will be cute wearing your glasses.
One of the things that I am teaching my heirs is to stop expecting the people in their life to be perfect. People will let you down. And stop expecting perfection from yourself because it’s an unattainable goal, and you will let yourself down. Have standards and stand by your standards, and try to flock with folks with similar standards. When you’ve blundered, overreacted or find your foot in your mouth, pull it out and ask for forgiveness. If it’s granted, proceed as planned. If it’s not, put your glasses on, change your perception and find a new friend.