I grew up before computers, with nothing like PhotoShop for doctoring pictures to look different than was possible in Reality. I liked the mind-bending drawings of M.C. Escher, mobius strips defying dimensionality, or stairs that seemed to go up and down at the same time. I had to admit, though, if I was honest, that my own ability to estimate distance correctly was very poor.
As a skinny active child, I loved to climb trees or play on the monkey bars. Yet with my thick glasses I could not see distance well enough to reliably catch a ball, or hit one with a bat. The few times I played softball with the neighborhood kids, I was either the manager or the “designated runner”. No matter how hard I tried (and it gives me a headache just to remember this), I could not seem to catch or hit the ball. It wouldn’t be there, then it would, suddenly, startling me, and I almost always bobbled it or missed it entirely. I felt sorry for myself and like there was something wrong with me, since the other kids seemed to have no problem with this simple skill.
As a logical child I tried to teach my brain about distance by memorization: the side of a softball diamond is 90 feet (forcing myself to stare at it and internalize how far 90 feet was), that group is 20 people (I’d count first) so I’d have an idea of how large a group of 20 was. I wasn’t very successful at this, and concluded I’d just have to measure everything, or count it, that estimating would remain forever beyond me.
A few years ago I took a week-long workshop with Peter Grunwald, who developed the Eyebody Method of vision improvement. He wouldn’t allow anyone to wear their glasses, even for our walk in the woods after dark. He had us play catch every morning, which it turned out brought up traumatic childhood memories of failing at this for others besides me. However we used brightly colored soft squishy “cush-balls” with long rainbow-like streamers, which were surprisingly easy to catch. This was so satisfying!
Now I am noticing my idea of distance is more realistic, backing up the car, for example, or looking down the street or up onto the roof of the house. A big part of my former problem with this was those strong glasses which flattened the depth. Another part was that I hardly ever looked more than a foot or so ahead of me! 20 feet or 50 feet or 200 feet were all “far” to me, and scary, so pretty much the same — I never developed any skill at differentiating them. It didn’t help that I wasn’t aware of my periphery back then either (another bad side effect of glasses). Seeing the periphery now gives context to what is straight ahead of me and helps me interpret it more accurately.
Sometimes in an eye chart session the letters in the upper rows will seem so big! I can feel my mind and eyes rebelling at looking at this big shape all at once, and immediately zero in on a corner or an edge. This is natural healthy “central fixation”, looking at small details. I’m not even forcing it — my eyes want to do this. I also occasionally see the size of letters fluctuate, bigger, then smaller, as if my brain is calibrating the correct size, adjusting some internal seeing dial in my head.
So I know I’m not an expert at seeing distance properly at all times yet, and I also know I’ve made enormous progress. As I keep practicing, it just gets better. This morning I opened a bottle of vitamins, and the cap slipped out of my hand. Instantly I snatched it out of the air before it hit the floor, then held it and looked at it, letting myself fully take in the fact that I am able to naturally catch something. My hand-eye coordination is becoming pretty good! Wow, my Dad, who considered signing as a major league baseball pitcher before he became a coach and teacher, would be proud.
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