Blindness and Visual Memory

23 Sep

by Francesca Marinaro

One morning while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I paused on a friend’s tweet including a photo of a perfect sunrise captured during a jog. I read the tweet, closed my           eyes, tried to mentally pull the image into focus, and experienced a twinge of longing; I wanted to see it. I had that fleeting moment—one that comes far more often than I care to admit—in which I wished I had a switch that would allow me to turn on my eyes for five minutes, even five seconds a day.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live without sight; that said, one question I often encounter that makes me more uncomfortable than most is: “If you could see anything, anything at all, what would you want to see?” Having been born with partial sight, I find the answer to this question difficult to unpack. You would think, wouldn’t you, that I’d want to see all of the things that have come into being since I lost what usable vision I had, because I’m aware that the world looks different now: Face time and webcams, touch screens and HD TV. The truth is, though, that the things I want to see aren’t necessarily the things I’ve never seen before. I’m curious to know how things look, of course; I’d love to be able to appreciate the clarity of watching my favorite film in high definition rather than, as a friend once put it, “all weirdly pixelated”. Yet I don’t feel like my imagination is lacking in filling in the gaps.

What I want to see, what I sometimes wish I could see, are the things I remember seeing—the things in my memory that I haven’t quite forgotten, but that naturally, with time, fade around the edges: sunshine on the water, rainbows, autumn leaves. It’s a kind of…visual nostalgia, I suppose, and as I grow older, and layer upon layer of dust obscures those memories, it’s an entirely natural longing. Having had some minimally usable vision, I sometimes seem to inhabit two worlds: the one in which I see, and the one in which I don’t. Sometimes I want to return to those memories, dust them off, and look at them again (literally and figuratively) because I have some deep, unspoken longing to legitimate my experiences as a (partially) sighted person, to confirm that that world I inhabited was real.

I’m no longer sure to what extent my imagination has colored in the blind spots in my visual memory, but maybe that doesn’t matter. We’re all guilty of revising the narratives our memories tell. Our memories are a kind of image-text of a literary biography. The basic facts are verifiable, but we colored in the gaps with details that might be true, or might just be stylistic flourishes intended to reinvigorate the memories for ourselves when we flick through the photo albums in our minds to revisit favorite chapters of our lives.

Francesca Marinaro is a teacher and freelance writer currently living in Florida with her Yellow Lab guide dog. Diagnosed with Leber’s at birth, she lost her usable vision as a teenager. She holds a Ph.D. in Victorian Studies from the University of Florida and currently teaches English Composition at Broward College. She adores Jane Austen, chocolate, BBC Drama, the Big Bang Theory, Colin Firth movies, and the Oxford comma. Check out her work at http://www.fmarinaro.com

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2 Responses to “Blindness and Visual Memory”

  1. Sailee October 22, 2015 at 1:05 AM #

    I was researching for my college seminar paper when I stumbled onto this blog. I was researching on the topic of visual memory of the visually challenged. And it really touched my heart when I read your blog. Gave me something to think about. thank you for putting your thoughts into words. 🙂

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  1. Now you see it, now you don’t: Blindness and Visual Memory - living blind blog - September 26, 2015

    […] had two pieces of my own published to the site, most recently this one , in which I reflect on the nostalgia of visual memory after the loss of […]

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