It started when I managed to scrape a good deal of my cornea off by simply opening my eyes one morning and, given the choice between blurry vision accompanied by unbearably mind numbing pain and keeping my eyes shut with merely ridiculous pain, I chose the latter. But that’s not the interesting part.
The interesting part is that the combination of constant pain and temporary blindness put my brain into an altered state. During cab rides to the ER, the sounds and smells of New York City would spin my head in so many directions that, when I got a rundown of the real street details, I’d come close to arguing. (You mean we aren’t in a caravan surrounded by unicyclists spinning cotton candy into a massive trapeze?) Lucid dreams with motorized whimsy like Grrr or Lovey Vice City.
The big shock, though, came when Charles Mingus went synesthetic on me. It happened back home during the classic “Better Git It In Your Soul” (via Christian McBride). I heard the opening refrain but then it went silent. And where the horns were supposed to come in (I know the song well), somehow I saw horns instead of hearing them — one after the other, floating like cardboard cutouts, each playing and fading and floating away, the slightly atonal ones (this is Mingus after all) a little offset from the rest. And when the second refrain came, all the sound came rushing back and a massive two-dimensional wooden ship appeared behind the horns, holding them afloat at sea. This happened over and over throughout the song as new elements of the scene were introduced: sound replaced by visuals, visuals replaced by sound. (The closest thing I can figure is War Photographer, but that doesn’t quite capture it.)
The week was filled with these kinds of mind’s eye moments — the sort I thought I’d left behind in childhood, when I confused dreams with waking life all the time. Eyes wide shut like Stéphane. It reminds of the visions Lilly’s isolation tank could induce. And it makes me wonder how the sightless perceive the world; what I might learn from them.
Today was the first day I went outside with my eyes open in almost a week. When I stopped being able to see, the weather was dark, brooding, confining. Stepping outside today, all I saw were those first warm sun rays pouring down onto Manhattan neighborhood streets and the newly lit street life rising up to meet it. Damn I love New York in summer. And I’m so thankful I can see again.
We last wrote about sight loss in Game Changing Technology.
Update: Find more discussion of sensory impairment and creativity on 9rules.