Last day of the Tour de France. Decided to squeeze in a quick run before the bikers reached the Champs-Élyseés. Now, as I’m typing this, they’ve just reached Paris. A tougher run. Feeling tired and the left side of my lower back is a little sore. 2 miles was enough. More and more of the trees seem to be changing colors. I wonder when peak color will be? Running on Edmund, glancing over at the trail, I noticed lots of runners and bikers. No roller skiers. No noisy conversations. No music blasting from radios. No thoughts or worries or energy.
*36th st, east/edmund, south/42nd st, west/loop around Hiawatha Elementary/43rd ave, north/loop around Howe Elementary/44th ave, north
Ran the Hiawatha and Howe loop again. I have done this route for the past 3 weekends. A new routine? Running south on Edmund, I could tell it’s fall. Many of the trees on the rim of the bluff are changing colors–mostly yellows. Felt relaxed as I listened to George Michael songs on spotify: Careless Whisper, Faith, Freedom, Father Figure, Everything She Wants. Lots of people out walking, running, biking. I don’t remember seeing any roller skiers or turkeys or big groups of runners. Finished my run in time to watch the last hour of the second to last stage of the Tour de France. Pogačar–wow! This year’s tour has been a lot of fun to watch–so much drama and such cruel stages. The end of today’s time trial was a category 1 climb.
Last night, scrolling through instagram, I found out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. I gasped, felt a moment of terror, and then decided not to freak Scott out by telling him. This morning, I am choosing not to give into despair or to imagine worst case scenarios with facist dictatorships, but to believe in the possibilities of people rising up, resisting, and enacting radically transformation. Here’s a great quotation that one of my former students posted on facebook:
Restorative justice activist Mariame Kaba put it thus: “I always tell people, for me, hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism.” And she has famously said hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment to the future that must manifest as action. That discipline matters most when it is hardest. And when the stakes are highest. This is such a moment, with much to lose, and much to win.
3.15 miles neighborhood/lake street bridge/river road trail 46 degrees
Wonderful fall weather! Sun, crisp air, changing leaves, uncrowded sidewalks/roads/paths! I ran over the lake street bridge again. A bit windy; I could feel one chunk of my hair coming out of my pony tail and flopping around just above my visor. How funny did it look to the drivers passing me? The river was a beautiful blue. No rowers on the water. No canoes or motor boats either. I don’t remember seeing any leaves changing on the tree-line along the river’s edge. Still all green. Soon, red, orange, yellow. Then my view comes back. Coming off the lake street bridge and heading south on the trail, I overheard some bikers talking about today’s stage of the Tour de France. Nice! Heard some geese honking overhead–high in the clean blue air.
I love this idea of yielding to a poem or an idea…or the gorge. I think of it in relation to being open and generous and willing to listen (and to hear and to notice).
Another day of working on my writing project on vision loss and mood. This morning, while watching the Tour de France, I noticed a sign with an exclamation mark on it quickly flash across the screen and pointed it out to Scott who hadn’t noticed it. I wondered, how is it that I could see this sign (and while Scott couldn’t) but miss so much else when I’m watching tv? How does my vision work and not work?
I bring this up in the current draft of my wonder poem in 2 ways.
To witness the spot of my unseeing usually concealed behind the smoke and mirrors of softened forms and filled-in gaps is astonishing. What impossible magic enables me to see anything with this ring obscuring my view? I like staring at it until my eyes ache, my head hurts. Observing how it moves slightly when I shift my gaze. How it grows bigger when I cover my left eye, smaller when I cover my right. How it begins to pulse, then fade, then flare, a fiery black hoop burning through my thinning retina. What a strange feeling to watch this show and suddenly know it is more real than the illusions my brain offers as sight.
1. impossible magic
How can I still see as well as I can with so many of my cone cells gone? How does my brain make sense of the limited information it’s receiving from the few remaining cells? Most of the time when I am curious about this, it is with awe and astonishment. What an amazing organ the brain is! It’s fascinating to learn about how the brain/mind compensates for lack of information, how it guesses, how it fills in the gaps.
Last week, I learned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome which is a phenomenon that can happen to around 15% of people with macular degeneration. It’s named after the man who first described it, having noticed it in his aging grandfather. When the brain doesn’t receive visual data from the eyes it provides its own images, either making them up or recalling stored ones. This causes visual hallucinations. People with CBS usually experience these hallucinations when they wake up and they don’t last long. The favorite hallucinations I read about in this article were
people dressed in costume from an earlier time
imaginary creatures, like dragons
What? Somewhere else I read about how the hallucinations are smaller, so you see tiny people dressed up in costumes. Nice! Thankfully, when you experience this, you know it’s a hallucination. I don’t have this syndrome. Instead, my brain likes to fill in the gap with a background that matches the area surrounding the missing image. So, while someone with CBS has hallucinations and sees something that isn’t there, I have a different problem: what is there is hidden behind a background (like a blank, blue sky or more green trees or endless waving water–all 3 of these have happened to me) with no indication of its presence or my inability to see it. Is there an antonym for hallucination? It is not that I see things that aren’t there; it is that I don’t see things that are there and I have no idea that I’m not seeing them–until suddenly, without warning, I do, like a bike that wasn’t there appearing beside me in my peripheral vision. I think this happened to me a lot more right after my vision declined in 2016. Has my brain figured out how to compensate for it?
2. optical illusions
Much of the time, even for me with my increasingly bad vision, the brain’s tricks for filling in gaps and working with incomplete visual data are hidden. I might see things a little fuzzier but I still see them. Unless I concentrate, I can’t see the ring scotoma in my central vision. There is no dark black ring on the page when I’m reading. But it’s there and when I found it by staring intently at a blank wall, I was astonished and fascinated. I was also relieved. Here, with this ring, was evidence that my vision is declining, that I’m not making this bad vision thing up. Because my brain is so good at compensating and performing magic tricks, it can be easy for me to think my eyes are better than they are, that I’m seeing more than I am.
4 miles river road trail, south/wabun park/through turkey hollow/edmund, north 52 degrees
Cooler this morning and not too crowded! I ran on the river road trail all the way to the edge of Minneahaha Falls, then up to Wabun park and down the steep hill right up above the river and the Locks and Dam #1. Ran through the uneven grass across turkey hollow and then up edmund. Lots of hills today. I got closer than 6 feet to 1 or 2 walkers, but only for a second. When was the last time I ran 4 miles? I checked my running data: I ran 5 miles on July 31st. I’ve been running a lot during this pandemic–almost every day–but only 2-3 miles at a time.
Fall is here. Lots of color. One of my favorite trees–the one right before the double bridge on 44th–is a lime-ish yellow. I just checked my log; last year it was orange and turned much later, in October (oct 10, 2019). The leaves are early this year, like the acorns which were dropping last month. A week ago I read about La Nina on the Updraft blog for MPR. Paul Huttner suggested that with a La Nina watch being issued, we might have a “rigorous winter ahead.” I’ll take the snow but not the arctic hellscape temperatures. A strange time. So much to fear about the future–a second wave of the pandemic, former presidents starting civil wars because they don’t want to leave office and go to jail, bitterly cold winters, kids finally losing it about having to stay home all the time and not see their friends. Maybe none of this will happen. This is what I choose to believe.
is my vision really that bad?
A few times during my run, I thought about my writing project and my different moods around my vision loss. Today’s idea: There are many things I can still do, I can still see. I can still read. I mostly see where I’m going when I run or walk. If I were to take a vision test with the Snellen Chart, I would probably still do reasonably well. But, even though I can read, I read much slower and mostly I don’t read by looking at the words on a page, but by listening to audio books. When I do look at words on the page, I get tired quickly. I sometimes skip lines or repeat lines. I can’t read book titles or big letters, especially when they’re spaced out.
How bad is my vision? Part of my struggle right now is that I see much worse than a “normally” sighted person but not as poorly as someone who is legally blind. I am not yet blind. Even as I want to express my feelings about this in-between stage, I sometimes feel like an imposter or someone who might be exaggerating their bad vision. Then I remember how I can’t see faces or follow anything that happens on commercials. How I can’t tell if a walker on the sidewalk is heading towards me or away. How I seem to be needing brighter and brighter light to see words or the lines on the page of a notebook.
I thought about all of this as I ran, but in brief flashes and fragments.
How we See: the Photoreceptor Cells (rods & cones)
I’m trying to understand more of the technical (medical/science jargon) stuff with my vision so I’ve been reading up on diagrams of the eye and rods and cones. Here’s a useful site and diagram:
You need cone cells to see fine details, read, recognize faces, and see color. Many of my cones don’t work anymore. Currently, I still have some central vision left–the very center. The blind ring I’ve been writing about in my mood ring projects is officially called a ring scotoma. Here’s an image–which is pretty accurate to what I see when I see my blind ring:
The above image is from a site about macular degeneration. For comparison, here is the ring that I saw when I stared at a white sheet of paper:
Pretty close. A few interesting things mentioned in the description. This ring will most likely close up and:
Smaller print size may help as the individual will be able to see more of a word within the functioning area.
Yes! Large print is very difficult for me to read. I tried checking a large print book out of the library and it was impossible to read. I like small print much better, which seemed confusing to me, especially when all the advice (even from my eye doctor) was to magnify the print. Now, finally, it makes sense!
3 miles the loop that kept getting larger* 63 degrees
*36th st to north on edmund small loop: 33rd st, east/river road, north/32nd st, west/48th ave, south/33rd st, west medium: river road, north/32nd st, west/47th ave, south/33rd st, west large: river road, north/32nd st, west/46th ave, south/33rd st, west edmund, south/36th st, west
Love the image this running route makes. Would it be fun to try running routes that make pictures or spell words?
A nice run this morning. It was fun to try a different route by making the loop bigger each time. Didn’t have any problems running too close to others. It was sunny and cool–I almost forgot about the wind. It felt like I was running into it for much of the time. I remember hearing a few birds but I don’t think I recognized their call. I heard the buzz of at least one big lawnmower. No geese. No turkey sightings. Running on the river road, I was able to glance down at the river. In-between thick green, slashes of pale blue. Anything else? Surfaces I ran over: gritty street, cracked sidewalk, rutted dirt trail, soft green grass.
I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be wanted the way the Labrador near me wants the stick
his owner throws for him, his body crashing into the water before pausing, mouth clapped tightly
around the wet bark, to stand turned awestruck toward the setting sun. On the shore, a father
holds his daughter and twirls a piece of long grass between his fingers as they watch the hills turn glassy
and bright. I sit beneath a tree and watch them all— dog and owner, man and daughter—and I feel
far away. And it’s here that I often see a fisherman anchored to one particular spot, ice chest and gear
beside him, his blue windbreaker puffed from air coming off the water as he eats spoonfuls
of beans from a can, pulls hard on a cigarette, and adjusts his lines. On those days, I wonder
if he wonders what I’m writing the way I wonder what he does with the fish he catches—who
he shares them with, if anyone, and whether it’s him who picks the bones clean from the flesh, him
who warms the skillet and lays the fish gently in the crackling oil. Today, though, the girl’s mother
stands in the fisherman’s usual spot, her phone poised, snapping a photo every time the light shifts
a little more to darken the clouds gathering like flies along the fur of the horizon.
I’m reminded of the horse I used to care for and how, a month before he died, I found him
standing in the round pen behind the barn with his head raised, eyes turned toward the sun rising
across the valley while the starlings in the hedgerow gathered in sound before bursting from the trees
all at once, the air suddenly swarming, the horse tilting his head to watch their departure much like
the Labrador now watches the sun across the lake. And I knew a dairy farmer once who, when a cow
was to be put down, would turn her out into the pasture one last time to watch the sun set. I wonder
if all these animals look at the sky and see something that I never will. I think I could spend
my whole life trying to find it.
What an amazing first sentence! I think I’d like to memorize this poem so I can spend some more time with it. I really appreciate her description of the scene, providing so many details and managing to do more than merely report what she saw.
The idea of reporting, reminds me of the On Being episode with Mary Oliver:
Tippett: I’d like to talk about attention, which is another real theme that runs through your work, both the word and the practice. I know people associate you with that word. But I was interested to read that you began to learn that attention without feeling is only a report. That there is more to attention than for it to matter in the way you want it to matter. Say something about that learning.
Oliver: You need empathy with it rather than just reporting. Reporting is for field guides. And they’re great. They’re helpful. But that’s what they are. They’re not thought provokers. They don’t go anywhere. And I say somewhere that attention is the beginning of devotion, which I do believe. But that’s it. A lot of these things are said but can’t be explained.
*edmund, north, river road trail, north/lake street bridge, north and south/47th ave, south/32nd st, east/river road, south/edmund, south
Ran on the lake street bridge today so I was able to see the river! Beautiful. Was briefly on the other side, the east side in St. Paul, when I took the steps down to the river. Some day soon, I’ll do the Franklin loop–maybe the end of this week? I think I saw the man in black–not in black today–crossing the river road near the lake street bridge. I’m not sure it was him–I identify him by his height, especially his legs–so long! so tall! Heard some roller skiers. Saw a group of about 10 bikers biking on the trail. Ran through the Minnehaha Academy parking lot. Packed with cars.
When I got home, Scott asked if it was hard to breathe when I was running. (It wasn’t.) He said he could tell that we had some of the smoke from the wildfires in the west up in the atmosphere. Wow. I can’t imagine how terrible and scary it is out on the west coast. It’s so strange and disturbing, yet not surprising, how disconnected you can feel from the suffering of others when that suffering is at an easily ignored or abstracted distance.
Encountered a passage from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ diary on twitter today. Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall” is the first poem I remember wanting to memorize and inhabit. Oh, the beauty of Margaret are you grieving/over goldengrove unleaving! I love his wordplay in this entry:
2.5 miles river road, south/42nd st, west/around Hiawatha Elementary/43rd ave, north 56 degrees
Another good morning for running. I don’t remember much. Too busy looking out for other people. Started on the trail but it was too crowded so I moved over to Edmund and then ran up 42nd. Didn’t see the river or hear any memorable birds. No dropping acorns or honking geese. No clickity-clacking roller skiers or bikes blasting Jimmy Buffet songs. Saw a runner I’ve seen at least once before on the trail who annoyingly takes over the entire path and doesn’t move over. He has a strange, bouncy stride. Heard some yipping, spazzy dogs at the Hiawatha playground. Smelled some cigarette smoke and wondered if it was coming from the walker ahead of me. Ran by the door that my kids used to come out when they were done with school. All the students would bunch around the teacher trying to point out their parents so they could leave. I remember waiting forever because my kids (like me) weren’t aggressive enough to get the teacher’s attention. I was very happy when they got older and I didn’t have to wait for them near that door anymore.
Blind (r) ing
I haven’t been memorizing poems for a few weeks now. I’ve moved into working on my mood ring project. Yesterday I did some more research and found out a few things I’d like to play around with:
A blind spot in the central vision is also called a scotoma. Here’s a longer definition from Enhanced Vision:
A central scotoma is a blind spot that occurs in the center of one’s vision. It can appear in several different ways. It may look like a black or gray spot for some and for others it may be a blurred smudge or a distorted view in one’s straight ahead vision. Scotomas may start out as a small nuisance and then get larger or there may be several blind spots or scotomas that block one’s field of vision.
Right now, I think my scotoma is somewhere between a blurred smudge and a distorted view. At the end of the brief article, they offer a few tips, including:
Find and use your preferred retinal locus. A person looks slightly to the side so that the blind spot or scotoma is not in their central field of vision. One author describes it as “not looking at what you want to see.”
Not looking at what you want to see.
So much I want to do with this idea of not looking at what you want to see. Thinking about Dickinson and “tell all the truth but tell it slant” and the periphery and soft attention. I’m also thinking about how sometimes when I’m talking to Scott and I can’t see his face, I will look just a little to the side, over his shoulder. Then I can see his features. He says this looks strange. I bet.
Another useful term/idea is filling in: The manner in which the brain deals with inexplicable gaps in the retinal image. When an object enters your blind spot and disappears, instead of seeing a shadow or dark spot, the absence is filled in with the background color. So you can’t see that you’re not seeing. Because my blind spot is larger and in my central vision, I experience this a lot more than “normally” sighted people. Sometimes I wonder how often I’m not seeing without knowing.
At the end of an article about filling in and the various experiments you can do to see it, the authors conclude:
These experiments show how little information the brain actually takes in while you inspect the world and how much is supplied by your brain. The richness of our individual experience is largely illusory; we actually “see” very little and rely on educated guesswork to do the rest.
I love this idea of how limited everyone’s vision is and the incorrect assumptions many have when thinking about what it means to “see.” I’m not sure I would have spent much time thinking about any of this if I hadn’t lost my central vision. The last line about educated guesswork reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s book The Art of Seeing and his writing about Dr. W.H. Bates’ visual education method.
In the preface, Aldous writes:
Ever since ophthalmology became a science, its practitioners have been obsessively preoccupied with only one aspect of the total, complex process of seeing—the physiological. They have paid attention exclusively to eyes, not at all to the mind which makes use of the eyes to see with.
Bates’ method pays attention to the “mental side of seeing.”
What is filling-in? It is the phenomenon in which an empty region of visual space appears to be filled with the color, brightness or texture of its surround. The brain is capable of filling-in the blind spot, borders, surfaces and objects.
2.25 miles edmund, north/32nd st, west/47th ave, south/edmund, south/37th st, west/around Howe School/44th ave, north 59 degrees humidity: 93%
I love the picture this route makes.
A slighter shorter run this morning with headphones on. Didn’t think about much, just enjoyed listening to music and getting lost in the sounds and motion. So humid it felt like it was still drizzling. Was it? Not sure. Didn’t encounter that many people. Hardly any bikers or runners. No roller skiers. As I listened to Lizzo, I decided that I should make a playlist for my hill sprint workout. A fun, fast song for each sprint.