Blindness and Sight

Alice McDermott’s new novel, Someone, shows scenes from the life of Marie, who grew up in Brooklyn during Prohibition and the Depression, and whose life spans through the present day. In many ways, Marie’s life is completely ordinary– the situations she faces as she grows and ages are nearly universal, yet McDermott manages to captivate her readers with the details of Marie’s life story. In the first pages of the novel, we learn that Marie is nearsighted. McDermott frequently mentions what things look like for Marie when her glasses are off, and the book is full of colors, textures, details that Marie might notice more than other characters would because of the condition of her eyes.

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When I look in the mirror, I avoid looking at my stomach. I’ve been doing this for years. In the shower too– I close my eyes, soap up my hands, and lather up my stomach. Some women hate their thighs or their boobs or their nose or their butt, but my problem spot has always been, and always will be, my belly. I don’t want anyone to touch it, pat it, or acknowledge it exists. And while I hate to look at my stomach in the mirror, it’s the first place my eyes go when I see pictures of myself. Is it getting fatter? Can you see my love handles? I will gladly hang up a family photo where I have a screwy look on my face and one of my kids has their tongue stuck out if I look skinnier in that picture than any of the others.

I fantasize about being able to wear a bikini. I’m not sure that I would ever actually wear a bikini; I’m almost 40 and have borne four children, and those stretch marks aren’t going to go away, even if I swear off chocolate for the rest of my life. But the fantasy of walking out on a beach in a hot bikini and turning heads is still there.

The crazy thing is that most people would look at me and think I have a great body. But all I can see is one gigantic stomach. It doesn’t matter if I have nice boobs or skinny legs or a quick mind or a good heart.

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For the last six months, my little ones have been watching Disney movies in the car. By now, I can recite Tangled verbatim. I know every single musical note of Monsters, Inc. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter ejected Tangled from the car player and asked me to play it in the house. When I sat down with her and actually watched the movie, I discovered how much I had been missing by just listening to it. Sure, I knew every word of the dialogue, but so much of what makes them want to watch the movie over and over again is purely visual– Pascal’s colors, the villains’ menacing grins, Rapunzel’s amazing hair. There are even jokes that I never got before because I couldn’t see the physicality of them.

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The thing I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been processing these three very different experiences over the last few weeks is how we all process our experiences and the world around us so differently. Some of us get lost in the details. Others think they know everything when they really have just a small bit of knowledge. And other times, we want to throw away or discount something that’s pretty great because we don’t like one small part of it.

What about you? Where are you blind? Where do you feel exceptionally sighted? How have these experiences shaped your perception of the world?

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

3 thoughts on “Blindness and Sight

  1. I have often learned something about a person’s past that gave me an epiphany about how they perceive and process the world around them. I need to remember this always: people almost always have a very good reason for their attitudes and actions if I have the privilege of knowing the whole story. But I usually don’t. So I should err on the side of giving them the benefit of the doubt and showing compassion. Too often I am thinking, “What is your problem? I can see how you should think and react, and you are being illogical!” We see through a glass darkly. Great vignettes.

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