WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE TURTLE? Back in the 70s,, babies / toddlers weren’t given glasses and their eyes weren’t tested. But in hindsight, I think I was pretty myopic as a toddler. I drew tiny circles in one of my dad’s rare books when I was two. He didn’t believe a 2 year old was capable of such a thing and blamed the housekeeper. My myopia has continued to shape me and my perceptions. I have a tendency to focus on the details, and to lose sight of the bigger picture. Ironically, in my 40s, I started losing my close vision as well. So now I’m adjusting to a world that is blurry regardless of distance. Now, I will have to learn to see without seeing.
I finally had my eyes tested for school and it became clear that I couldn’t see. So begins the march of bad glasses. From the age of five, my eyes were hidden away behind huge bottle-cap lenses, inside plastic 70s, then 80s frames. It’s ironic that those styles came back into fashion in the late noughties. I wear that style now.
I also developed a lazy eye, called in ‘squint’ in the UK. My right eye would wander back and forth, looking for something to settle on, something to see. I imagine it was disconcerting. I imagine it made me look a little crazy. I had an operation on my eyes at 6. I remember counting backwards from ten, then waking up in the hospital with both of my eyes patched. I was blind for my time in there. I can’t remember how long it was.
What follows is my strongest memory from childhood. The catalyst of my story, the thread that binds my journey together. I was taken to the playroom everyday. There were toys, there were other children, there were books. And I remember forming very clear pictures of what everything looked like. So when my father came to pick me up from hospital, I insisted we visited the playroom first, now that my eyes were patch free. Now that I could see. Well, sort of see. Everything did look like a reflection in a fun-house mirror as my eyes and brain tried to communicate with each other like two drunken sailors.
So, we get to the playroom and...I’m horrified. NOTHING looks like I had imagined. Nothing looks like it was supposed to. And everything seemed darker, plainer, and well...less interesting.
“What’s wrong with the turtle?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” my father responded.
“It doesn’t look right” I said. “this isn’t the same turtle.”
My father grabbed an orderly.
“Is there another toy turtle?” he asked.
“Not that I know of” said the orderly.
That’s when I first realized that the real world kind of sucked. And my imaginary world was glorious. So I started to hang out there, in my head, as much as I could.
I read book after book after book. I begged my parents to finally get a TV. We didn’t have one, which of course made us nerds and weird. Now, I kind of agree with my parents decision not to. So I listened to story records instead, which was a thing in the 70s. I made dolls out of corn husks. Yes, we still did that in the 70s too. And I road my green Schwinn bicycle deep into the wide expanse of prairie that surrounded our house. Because the prairie was so empty and desolate, I pretended I was the last person on earth. I played with my doll house and made various deals with God. Of course he never kept up his end of the bargains… I wasn’t necessarily happy, but I wasn’t unhappy either. In general, I was dissatisfied with the world, and in many respects, I still aim. The world doesn’t look or act like I imagine it should or it could. I had a choice. I could either escape into my fantasies permanently. And trust me, that is so tempting. Or I could try and find some beauty in the real word with all of its injustice and unfairness, its scarcity and inequality, and of course its stupid mosquitoes.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? I had developed a lisp, perhaps because of the Spanish accent, or possibly because a slight lisp runs in the family. My grandmother had one, my mother has the hint of one. My explanation was simply that my tongue was too large for my mouth. I have a very small mouth. I still lisp a little to this day, when I’m tired. I remember standing in the corner repeating the word ‘s’. An exercise given to me by the speech therapist.
My parents still say, “you didn’t stand in the corner!”
“Tsk, you make yourself sound like a street urchin”.
But my memory was, I stood in the corner. Perhaps I imagined this detail, because I remember feeling as if something was wrong with me.
This sense of not being quite right, of not fitting in, of feeling wrong has persisted throughout my life. It bleeds into the work I do, which is never good enough. But I know I am not the only person to feel this way. And I am able to acknowledge this feeling without giving it total power. I am now able to accept that the process of striving, of learning, of experimenting, of creating is enough. I know I’ll never reach ‘perfection’ but I can enjoy trying. This is why I trained as a coach. And why I set up Compasso. When we reach out to others, we realize that we are not alone, we all feel wrong sometimes and that feeling can sometimes be right.