Turning the tide of images
by EVELYN WONG
It was a tradition of the Mayans to induce crossed eyes in newborn children by hanging a thread with a stone ball or resin immediately above their noses, causing their eyes to focus on the object and thus rotate inwards.
As a tribute to Kinich Ahau, the cross-eyed sun god, they believed that babies who looked the same way as he were “beautiful.” The Mayans had an intriguing way of viewing the world, from developing magnificent architectural wonders to making medical advances, being enamored of cross-eyed children and believing in doomsday principles.
Quite frankly, as a child born with strabismus (crossed eyes) on a presumed “apocalyptic” date—January 1, 2000—I had a perception of beauty much, much different from theirs.
Despite my blurred beginnings, if I could explain life through my lens, I’d illustrate it. My world has been one of images and numbers, associating memories with Polaroid photos and Disney movie scenes, and ideas with flow charts and color-coded diagrams.
Ask me about my thoughts, and I would describe the inverse explosion of ponderings: the staccatos of ups and downs in my life, a memory at each turn of the boundless labyrinth living within my mind. I’d talk endlessly about the natural beauty of the Fibonacci sequence in the spiraling seeds of a sunflower, or the time I observed a caterpillar for about half an hour only to realize that it eats with its mouth sideways and moves by scrunching its body in undulating waves.
Ask me about my athletic life, and I would draw an irregular cardiac pattern: the highest peaks represent the beautiful lakes of Whittier Narrows, and the jump shots and behind-the-backs I’ve practiced beneath the rusty orange halo by my home. The lowest troughs on the chart equate to the hours I spend in my room, avidly devouring the newest National Institutes of Health journal or draining the contents of my heart through the cathartic (though cacophonous) movement of fingers across my beloved piano.
Viewing the world through a cyclone of images can be a powerful tool when studying. I remember key terms and ideas from the graphics near which I find them. If asked about Khubilai Khan, for example, my mind would flash back to the beautiful painting in my textbook of Chabi, his favorite wife; I’d remember the body of text that accompanied it, eventually remembering that he was a powerful leader of the Mongols.
At other times, however, being a visual learner can be a weakness. My first memories as a child were—literally—a blur. I still remember my numerous collisions with unseen walls and doorways in an attempt to navigate my home, a veil of unfocused light obstructing my 1-year-old perception of the world. I remember the blinding light I experienced after my surgery, my heart throbbing as I questioned whether or not I was alive. Even after my vision recovered, my subsequent fear of the dark reflected my fear of reverting to near-blindness.
When my closest cousin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, my first encounter with death was one of inner turmoil. As a result of inexperience with the concept of someone dying, my wild imagination conjured its own turbulent images of darkness and absence of life—a body watching as the coffin lid closed above him, a figure walking aimlessly on a dark road. Nightmare after nightmare haunted my thoughts, as I feared no one would understand the invisible scars I had because of my recurring images and over-thinking. Like Vardaman Bundren in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, my 4-year-old mind struggled to come to terms with the idea of death.
The most vivid snapshots I hold in memory are those of the most traumatic incidents, and I’ve realized that the reasons they have stayed with me for so long are the same reasons I’ve tried to purge myself of them—because they are a part of my identity.
Ironically, I have realized that the greatest beauties in life come not from solid images, but from momentary flashes in my mind that appear without design or logic. I could never capture the elation of completing a workout with my cross country team, as I would with a photograph. No Polaroid picture could contain the “runner’s high” we feel near the end of a race, or the relief at sprinting towards the finish line while our muscles scream in anguish. It is in the moments of near-blackness after crossing the line, at the place where mental cognition and unconsciousness meet, that I have found the enigmatic essence of beauty.