Alchemy of Vision (or, why this blog has languished…),

Pt. 1: Dross

Dross is the accumulated crud of worldly existence that tends to weigh us down. It’s often also called lead. It stoops our shoulders. It wearies our soul. It clouds your vision.

I began to notice something significantly wrong with my vision at Midsummer. What I had thought was a smooshy contact lens in my left eye ended up being something I had to pay attention to; looking around with no correction while camping showed me a fairly-veiled looking world that no squinting could fix. I let it go for a few months… until I woke up one day in late September and couldn’t see out my left eye much at all.

When you can’t see out the window on a frigid winter morning because the pane is completely frosted over– that was my new reality. An exam showed cataracts. The doctor said the back of my eye looked like leopard print wallpaper. Surgery was the only option.

It was a week, that one. One of telling my supe of this and of the vision problems I’d be struggling with, and how afraid I was that I couldn’t do my job… and how, without question, people helped me read documents, provided touch screen computers with instantly enlargeable text, and how my supe made sure ADA compliance was in place — and of being hella grateful that my job provided me with almighty health insurance so I could in fact proceed with surgery when it kicked in. And it was a week of finding out that community is amazing, real friends are no bullshit, and some people you thought were friends showed their actual selves, and suddenly weren’t there… or kind. (Another kind of dross.)

I spent Samhain with FireHaven with the crossroads painted over my left eye, watching so much of this dross burning, praying for clear vision and safety — and really unable to see in the dark an make my way around without an arm to lean on. I burned a poppet of past friendships and a played heart, wishing simply saying “good riddance” was enough. I was fallow. My heart was fallow. But what is fallow is not dead.

The winter with an icy eye was rough. Wonky depth perception made stairways weird; I couldn’t read without getting eyestrain headaches (writing? Forget it.), and icy sidewalks and wind became treacherous. I was grateful my job let me work from home. “Stay safe” had a whole new connotation now.

I was so tired. And my world got so small.

And the preliminary exam showed cataracts in both eyes. Two surgeries now…

December also came with the news that the org that we applied for and received our third research grant with had a board meeting in private, and cancelled the grant without letting me and my research partner know… and there went my income and my ability to pay my medical bills up to my deductible. Why? Who cares. It was the how they went about it that threw a lump of lead into my life.

And when the bills came due – again, community is real. My best friend set up a GoFundMe for my expenses that my friends, tribe, and anonymi threw in for… and the goal was reached in four days.

What does walking in dross teach you? Plenty about pain and suffering, but also humility. You also understand, really, that friends and loved ones can see you when you are leaden, and they are who start up the forge to start the transforming of your relationship with faith when you simply don’t have the vision or the strength at the times you most need it.

Your true friends, your tribe, will run to you to help when you ask for it. Those who dismissed you or pretended to be your friend will run off the other direction and disappear.

And you are left to pray in literal and figural sense that your vision will be clearer and truer.

Pt. 2: Blackening  — Nigredo – Dissolution – Putrefaction – Black Night

 My surgery appointment for my left eye was for 6:15 AM.

The night before, my friend Stacey, who was my ride to the procedure, came over to eat and spend the night since we were going to be up so godawful early to get to the clinic. It was Mardi Gras, so I made veggie jambalaya, played Professor Longhair and the Rebirth Brass Band on Spotify, and after eating, Stacey logged on to play D&D online with her crew while I listened to tunes, took a bubble bath, and prepared myself for having my eye sliced into and my diseased lens removed to make way for an artificial one. Yep.

I was informed by many who had the procedure themselves that it was fast, painless, and the recovery was quick. A few days of not stooping, bending, tipping your head down for a long time, and adjustment headaches… I wasn’t terribly worried. I was clear on what would be happening. But I shared with Stacey that I couldn’t help feeling weirdly existential about it.

Obviously, vision is how we as primates navigate the world, and mine was significantly compromised, so I was ready as hell to be able to see again. But our vision is also what provides our perspective — our worldview — and I couldn’t help but wonder how that was going to change when all this was done.

Stacey assured me that she didn’t need morning coffee (I couldn’t have any before surgery, poor woman had to deal with me), and with that, we crashed early…

Up at 4:30. It was black as hell out. And it was Ash Wednesday.

No snow, which is what we were trying to beat with the early rise. Turns out we never got weather. I’m crediting Stacey’s in with those Northern gods for that.

It hit me as we were carefully navigating to her car through the snowy dark that at Fire Circle we also rise at Zero Dark Stupid after a quick nap before we plunge into Black Night, to start running and dancing and drumming and screeching off our dross, and to start the process of breaking down before purifying and refining the following nights. Much is destroyed necessarily to make room for the needed and wanted transformation of our spirits.

We settled into the clinic with black masks on and soon I was led back to prep. Put on the shower cap to cover my hair, they drew a line around my eye with a marker or something, IV, warm blanky (yeah they warmed it, that was sweet), the nice anesthesia guy who reminds you that you’ll be dopey but conscious during the procedure…

Oh, did I forget to tell you that? Yeah, no sleeping during this procedure. Your eye is numbed, you’ve got just enough silly in your veins to keep you chill… and you roll into this encounter with the laser scalpel eyes open…

And that’s alchemy. No being tricked into changing. You are willing, conscious, and all in when it’s time to burn… and when my left eye was suffused with light and the psychedelic show began… the fire was lit…

In minutes it was over and I was back in recovery drinking a bottle of water. The lovely nurse chatted and checked while the goofy wore off, and she notified Stacey to swing the car around to pick me up at the patient exit. And when I stood and looked out the window– for the first time that winter — I could see the snowflakes falling through the bare branches…

Pt. 3: Whitening – Albedo – Purification – Rebalancing – White Weeks

My lord, the world is bright.

My left eye is now the one that sees clearly — like an eagle, actually. I’m seeing menus in restaurants and street signs and eagles that Stacey points out nesting in the trees. My right eye, which was punished with strain as I tried to do my work, is now the problem one. And it’s remarkable that it takes the alteration and correction of one eye for you to really notice how poorly you have been seeing and engaging with the world.

My balance was weird the first week with this adjustment, but not terrible. And I found staring dumbly out the window while working to see birds and planes I couldn’t for months was a new wonder.

It’s not finished (right eye is March 8th) so it’s not perfect, but already my vision in my left eye is clear when uncorrected for the first time since I was sixteen. I’m walking around without glasses (likely I’ll need readers when it’s all done, but that’s fine), and catching myself gazing a lot more at what didn’t matter before.

I am liminal. Changed from what I was, but not become what I am meant to be yet.

And the existential ruminating is back. It’s hard to express properly, but it’s striking how much poor vision protects you from the world. Glasses, obviously, are a shield, and uncorrected vision keeps you from noticing the details of your existence. I’m preparing for a new vulnerability and a reckoning with the world as it really is, not as I’ve presumed it has been based on shape and gestalt, habit and experience.

I will be seeing better than I have since I was a teenager. I will see things I never have been able to, and I wonder if I’ll be able to take it.

And this coming with such profound gratitude for my restored vision, for the support of my community, and for the rest I am required to take. We’ve been pummeled with snow again here in the Cities, but safely staying in to look anew at the albedo, the evening light reflected off the snow, is a wisdom I am carefully contemplating right now.

I told my friends to hold off on the Odin jokes at first. Odin was the god who sacrificed his eye and became blind to gain wisdom. What wisdom will make itself known or need to be learned once my vision is fully restored?

I’m sitting in the tea bar writing, looking out the window, at the bare tree tops against a white sky about a block and a half away, looking just like the projection of the veins of my eye on my iris during surgery… as above, so below, as without, so within…

…and I await the forge again, and refinement…

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