Suszynski: The situation at hand
Until third grade, I did not realize that the sound of rustling leaves was the picture of a thousand green little hands waving at me. I always thought a tree was a cottony blob. In fact, that’s how everything appeared to me, fuzzed — as if I were in my own padded universe.
My grandmother realized that I had bad vision when I was 9 years old. We were in a parking lot and she pointed to a sign, “Read that for me sweetie, my eyes are no good anymore.” And I asked her exactly where it was. She pointed to a green square a foot away and I could not discern that there was white writing on the sign. She looked at me curiously and then the next day, my mom took me to the eye doctor. I got glasses, which I did not wear because I was embarrassed by them, until ninth grade. By ninth grade, I was a competitive soccer player and convinced my parents that I needed contacts to play the game.
I have been wearing contacts since that day, but my eyes get steadily worse every year. Most days, I forget that I cannot see. In the morning, I reach over to put my glasses on before I get out of bed. I only experience quick intervals in which the world, my world, is muted to the point of being impenetrable.
I am discussing seeing because, this morning, I could not find my glasses. I searched and searched, then gave up. I decided to be blind for a few hours and let my eyes adjust to the situation at hand. And then, as I was making my bed, I found my glasses underneath my pillow – playing tricks on me. I must have fallen asleep because I also found the book I am reading for the umpteenth time, “The Situation and the Story” by Vivian Gornick there, and noticed that the faint glow of my bedside lamp was still on.
The book was flipped to the page reading: “I become interested then in my own existence only as a means of penetrating the situation in hand.”
I am constantly intrigued by how one’s existence melds into and interacts with the situation at hand.
There was a time in college when I was taking a class called Writing Inequality, with Helen Thorpe, a Colorado journalist and author that I admire. We were to write an investigative journalism piece. After a day of research and bad ideas, I came up with what I thought could be a good piece. I would simply go about my day without glasses or contacts. So, the next day, I did just that.
The worst part of the experience was when night fell. I had spent most of the day in this strange structure on campus that everyone called the Fishbowl, reading with the book way too close to my face, giving up, listening to music, trying to figure out what I would write in my investigative journalism piece, when I decided that satiating my hunger was more important. As I was walking back to my apartment, I ran into a pole.
There is this really great line in the book, “The subject of autobiography is always self-definition, but it cannot be self-definition in the void.” Gornick is not necessarily only giving advice to writers. She is telling just about anyone who will listen that we all have the capability to self-define.
I had walked into the pole because the streetlamps and the falling snow had blurred together, making it so I was striding through a glowing void. I plunged my face into about 3 inches of snow as I waited for my headache to dissipate. As I lay there face down (also out of complete embarrassment, it was a hiding tactic), I abandoned the idea of writing an investigative journalism piece about seeing. Because, I had realized, it would not be about seeing. I had only confirmed that I was nesting in the void.
“The memoirist, like the poet and the novelist, must engage with the world, because engagement makes experience, experience makes wisdom, and finally it’s the wisdom — or rather the movement toward it — that counts,” Gornick says.
How we situate ourselves and engage with what’s happening around us can either move us toward wisdom, or do quite the opposite, and close us up. It took me a single day without my contacts to notice that doing a good job of investigating meant that I needed to first greet the void. And I did, with my forehead. But there is a next step as well. In my own way, I am still writing an investigative journalism piece about seeing. It’s not done yet, but I think I have found the situation at hand. The situation being that there is a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of hope to be upheld. A lot of scaffolding we must construct. And there will be people, wandering the battlements, a little lost, a little hungry. Moving toward wisdom is no small feat, neither is self-definition. It’s just a small action each of us can do.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.