Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Amazing Grace

I broke my glasses last week. We'd gone to our "local" (meaning it's only 15 miles away) pizzeria, and when I got out of the car I thought I stepped on something but hey, it was dark, and there was still some snow and ice in places on the asphalt, and anyway it wasn't anything big...

You see immediately where this is going: we got all the way home before it dawned on me that the solution to the "Mystery of the Missing Glasses" was coincidentally the answer to the question "What Was That I Stepped On in That Parking Lot?"  Another round trip drive (the dog was happy, at least) and I had my mangled glasses back home.

I'm managing with a pair of reading glasses weak enough to allow me to use the computer, but still too strong for walking around. I've picked out new frames and had my eyes tested, and in a week I'll be back to wearing glasses *almost* all the time. (It's those situations when I prefer to take them off, like driving, that get me into these predicaments.)

I have a new appreciation for prescription glasses.  I was lucky in my youth (which, frankly, is all but the last ten years): I alone in my family didn't need glasses . . . until presbyopia caught up with me.  (I know that sounds like a secret society associated with a certain Protestant church, but it's actually the naturally occurring hardening of the eye muscles that makes reading glasses a must-buy for people in their 40s and 50s.)  For a while, drug store reading glasses were sufficient, but they're a gateway drug; before too long I was on the hard stuff: $800 progressive lenses in special rimless frames.  And I resented the hell out of those glasses -- so expensive and a pain to have to remember, etc., etc. -- until last week when I realized I couldn't read the computer without some glasses.

This is a true story, but it's also a metaphor for having a critique partner.  As a result of my connections in Romlandia, I have a critique partner for my writing.  This is almost always a good idea; you get a fresh perspective on your work.  I simply can't see my own writing as well without her as I can with her.  Of course I miss the "good old days" when I thought I knew if my writing was any good.  (Ironically, I was most convinced of my "perfect vision" when I thought my writing was crap.)  And the one other time I tried to connect with a couple fellow writers for mutual critique, they were less than helpful.  (Bluntly, they were able to communicate that they didn't like what I'd written but not why, let alone how it could be improved.)

My partner (I'll let her remain anonymous if she wishes) and I exchanged 8,000-word chunks of our books last week, and today we had our first critique session.  On a personal level, it was like rejoining a dear friend: there was none of that awkwardness with a new acquaintance.  On a business level, it was like -- well, it was like wearing new glasses.  I was able to see my work fresh, learning where the blurry bits were so that I can rewrite them back into sharper focus.

And on a third level, it was a wonderfully energizing experience.  I had thought I'd get off the phone and choose between a nap or some TV time, both pretty brainless activities.  Instead, I wanted immediately to recognize what a gift this feels like.

It's an overstatement to say I "was blind, but now I see," and I don't want to diminish the gravity of that hymn, with its connection to the abolitionist movement.  I just want to say, this week in particular, how grateful I am for the grace of vision -- mine and others'.


  1. Thank you! I found our exchange enormously beneficial. I woke up this morning with renewed vigour and wrote 1300 words. I have no idea how easy my new setting will be to sell to the American market, but I feel far more comfortable writing about a place I know intimately rather than bluffing my way through an anonymous American town.

  2. Yes - I find it hugely helpful too. And a welcome side effect is getting interested and excited in what someone else is writing. You get to share their process too which also helps with your own writing.

  3. Sarah -- I've finally made it to a day with no driving (I've logged over 2,000 miles in the last 9 days!) so it's back to the fiction for me. But first, I owe all of you responses on the blog!

    I know I love to read about people living in other countries. All fiction is transporting us (otherwise it would be like reading your own memoir!); why shouldn't it transport us someplace you know well? Can't wait to see the new stuff!

    Tumperkin: Absolutely. It's companionable and challenging in a completely safe amalgam. I've heard horror stories, but when it works it's synergy at its best.


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