Like you, I am prone to attacks of the Whatifs.
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
– Shel Silverstein, “WHATIF” from A Light in the Attic
My Whatifs used to be things like, “Whatif I forget my lines in the Mother Goose play?” or “Whatif I ruin my marriage?” Then it was, “Whatif my kids hate me?” or worse, “Whatif our kids hate to read?”
Now, though, now there is a Whatif that has burrowed deeper than an earwig, has tunneled through my eardrum and my temporal lobe, and has embedded itself in my anterior insula, the worry spot in my brain: Whatif my eyes fail me in my old age and I can no longer read in bed at night?
I found a funny little meme on Pinterest the other day, “You know you’re a book lover when… you read until your eyes can’t focus.” At first I laughed, and then I wanted to cry. These days it can be as few as five minutes before the words begin to wiggle and my eyes can’t pin them down to read them. All the new aches and pains of my aging body don’t bother me that much, and when my hair grays I’ll just be one of those free-spirit women with long silver hair. But my eyes? I need my eyes for reading.
When we lived in Minnesota, I owned a soap company, and I worked on the computer all day long, editing photographs for my Etsy shop or writing blog posts for my business, and when the time came at night to lay down in bed and read, I couldn’t. Letters multiplied, an “A” becoming “AA,” but overlapping in a way I can’t recreate with my keyboard. I would squint, and blink, and rub my sockets, trying to tame the text and failing. I thought maybe my eyes were tired from working on the computer, so I took time off from the screen. But then I’d lay in bed and my vision would still go blurry, and I couldn’t read my fiction, and it was devastating to me because for all my life I’ve read before I go to bed.
I went to see the eye doctor, and after a suite of tests, after an hour and a half at the opthamologist’s office, I came to find out that my eyes are fine. He recommended that I not buy the reading glasses that I looked at at Barnes & Noble, turning that spinner around, admiring the pink leopard print frames, wondering which lens strength I might need. He said that those could weaken my eye sight if I got them too early, that my eyes would use the readers as a crutch.
“Well then what is wrong?” I asked. “Because my eyes aren’t working right, and it’s not okay with me. I read at night. I have to be able to read at night.”
And he told me, “You are an insufficient blinker.”
“When you blink your eyes, you don’t close them all the way,” he told me. “Also, when you, or me, or anyone, works at the computer, we tend to blink less frequently – we stare wide-eyed at the screen.”
“Sooooo, how does that make my sight blurry at night when I try to read?” Get with it, here, doc.
“Your eyes are drying out,” he said. “You need to blink more.”
“You’ll have to remind yourself to blink, and make sure you blink completely – close your eyes all the way when you blink.” He pulled a small white bottle out of his crisp white pocket. “And you can use these artificial tears.”
Now, around this same time, I closed my soap business and got a job at Barnes & Noble. When I interviewed there, it was obvious they wanted me to get behind the Nook, their e-reader. I pretended I was interested so I could get the job, but really I was one of those people who said, “I want a real book, I like the way they smell, I want to turn the pages.” I was anti-e-reader all the way, but I didn’t tell the manager that.
On my very first shift, when I trained on the Nook, and I saw that you could change the size of the font (ie make it giant for my granny eyes), I saw all my problems solved. I turned to my trainer and said, Holy crap I want one of these.
So I got one. My parents gave me a Nook Color that year for my birthday. And lo and behold, when I read at night, I can enlarge the font and I can SEE without it getting blurry. I don’t have to close one eye to force single vision, I don’t have to use eye drops to read. Angels sang, and my reading and eye problems were solved. For a minute.
The problem is that I still read physical books. Not every book I want to read is available as a digital title from the library, and we’ve already covered the topic of me not buying books, font-adjustable e-book or otherwise. And even with my ability to supersize the e-reader font, I still sometimes struggle with double vision.
So what do I do about my eyes? I know audio books are the latest rage in the book world – all my favorite book podcasts are sponsored by audible.com and audiobooks.com – so there’s that option. I don’t doubt that audio books are a fabulous solution for daytime reading, but at night? Am I really going to lie in bed next to my husband with headphones on, shutting him out, reading a book with my eyes closed? That makes me feel kind of weird.
Fortunately, for now, despite this litany on the failure of my eyesight, my vision is often fine. Even though I obsess about the future of my nighttime reading life, most nights I read without a problem. And when there is trouble? I have started gathering data about the days my eyes flake out. There appear to be two factors that affect them. The first is how late I go to bed: the later I snuggle in, the blurrier the words on the page. That can be easily fixed – we can watch one episode of Scandal instead of two, and I’ll be in bed by 9:30, eyes in fine form.
The second is not so simple. The second is alcohol. That’s a sad choice to have to make, the choice between literature and the zing of gin tingling my tounge. Some days deserve a drink. Some days it’s a tough call. Some days I have to ask myself, will it be The Great Gatsby, or will it be a gin sling? Will I read Papa Hemingway, or will I drink a Papa Doble? Those days I think I’m invincible, I think I can still hang like a 25 year old, and I do them both. And then, after five minutes with my book, the words begin to wiggle and my eyes can’t pin them down to read them, and I worry, Whatif I go blind? Whatif my eyes fail me in my old age and I can no longer read in bed at night?