Sunday, April 28, 2013

Depth Takes a Holiday

or "Straight Eye for the Pale Guy"

As previously hinted in this blog, I recently returned from a family trip to Mexico. Since we sipped internet through a straw for 10 days, this is my first chance to blog, and boy do I have a few things to lay on you today. The beaches of Tulum and Playa de Carmen are wonderful playgrounds for my new view of the world, and it has been a great time of experimentation for me in this area.

Here's one of the places we stayed. A friend of a friend who lives in Tulum says it this place is considered an insider place and the best on the beach strip. We tend to agree -

Rancho San Eric

We had direct access to an extremely private beach, on one of the world's great beachfronts, on the east side of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, right across the Gulf from Florida. Dry, scrabbly country lay across the interior, while gorgeous palm-tree jungle-rimmed white beaches lined the shore. Turquoise water, sand like flour, a steady breeze and sunrises over the horizon in the east. A very mellow vibe, definitely off-season, very international crowd. I didn't get to a yoga class but I did run up and down the 3 mile stretch of beach a few times. We took daytrips to Chichen Ittza, Tulum Ruins and Punta Leguna Nature Reserve  We swam through a few different cenotes, and let me tell you those things are ASTOUNDING. Eliza promised some instant gratification batch of photos, so I will post them as soon as they're available.

So yes, there was an astounding array and quality of visual stimuli for me to play with. And play I did.

I previously described my depth perception like a magical bird that would grace me with an occasional visit then fly away, with no assurance of return. If my depth perception were still that rare magical bird from, then our relationship has changed reliably from a rare wondrous occurrence to a regular presence. This bird has become like my new cool laid-back roommate. He always knows what to watch on TV, he's usually pretty fun to hang out with, and occasionally lobs me a few curveballs to make life more interesting. I no longer question whether or not depth will return, but only how much and when. Depth doesn't jump out at me as much anymore, but has insiunated itself into my overall view. Especially around familiar places like the house and the car. My collected 3d map of these familiar spaces lends a great deal of sense of volume to these places. New places tend to be flatter. Only after accumulated experience in the space does a sense of its true depth emerge. My brain is still learning to work with this new influx of data, and appears to fudge some scenes. Not everything has a ton of depth individually, but objects are generally still positioned reliably in space. Busy scenes are flatter. Individual objects are more pronounced. Everything inside a car is well-defined, while the exterior can be very flat. This has improved since I got home, as I am now spending more time around cars. They individually are starting to have more of a boxy quality than before.

The interiors of airplanes are groovy. Curves bulged in on me like the ceiling of a Cheesecake Factory.  Dramatic lines and narrow fuselage wrapped itself around me. The repeated, boxy seats were always worth a visual chew.

The sight of moonlit palm trees bobbing and swaying in the night breeze is the planetarium laser show of my dreams. They are a repeated cadence of 4ths or 5ths, spiked by a chromatic woodwind run, then easing into a 5ths to 6ths pattern, always moving, never resolving, but always soothing, always swaying. Silver fingertips reaching for my cheek.

People continue to dazzle. Faces hold my stare, and hand gestures pop and catch the eye. People appear to reach toward me in an exaggerated manner.

As for curveballs, depth is still casting some spells on me. My interpretation of the world through this new lens is still flawed. Walking back from our car one night, I was lighting the way with my Android phone LED "laser". Lyra was in front of me, being line leader as she always wants to be. Her shadow took on the appearance of a separate being, standing direct walking in front of her. It really popped like an individual entity. I think my brain was trying to grok whether it should have depth.

The ocean looks higher than before, and like every next wave could wash over my head. Waves and foam are entrancing and dazzling. Being in the water, the waves in front of me draw much more focus with their hypnotizing undulations. I can perceive bubbles, volumes of roundness that swell out and then pop in the swelling and release of the sea.

Snorkeling was lovely. In the cenotes, there are spaces where the floor of the pool drops away, and it's another underwater cave deep below. Even underwater, I got a real deep sense of my relative smallness when compared to the space. The wake I made with my hands had a wonderful depth of space, like a 3d simulation of the Universe on your iPad. SolarWalk is my favorite.

Also in the cenotes, floating on my back and looking up at stalactites and little caves, with birds and bats flying from one hole in the rock to another. The awesome gravity of the rock pressed down on me from its bulging, imposing belly up above. But seriously, cenotes are the coolest things ever. Check them out.

There was one area that I really hoped would be helped by depth, that has instead proven to be more problematic than ever. Supermarkets. I live near the Porter Square Shaw's, and my preferred time to go there is 1am, as I have the place to myself. Busy supermarkets for me are kind of a sensory overload. The act of having to find a specific object in a strange supermarket is extremely stressful to me. The combination of navigating strange carts in strange aisles among strange people reading strange currency on shelves arrayed in strange ways melts my brain. The addition of depth has definitely provided more of a sense of arrangement of people and stuff in the store, but I struggle to wrap my head around the trajectories of people with their big carts in small busy aisles. Then having to look for what I wanted to buy? That was one too many things.

So depth is taking on much more of a supporting role, rather than being a front player. Defining spaces, informing me constantly of the relative position of my body to the environment. And it feels right, the way it should be. And I think it will get better. My brain will continue to accrue memories and experiences and have more information from which to build its internal referential models of the environment. I am better informed about what's around me, and am blessed with a truly awesome fresh source of beauty and wonder (and confusion) in my world.

After a week of a rustic paradise of mostly home-cooked meals and open windows, we spent a couple days in an all-inclusive place in Playa Del Carmen called Sandos Playacar.

I had never been to a place like this. Massive pool with peppy instructors giving pool-dancing lessons. Open bars and frozen blender drinks. Spa, gym, tennis courts, mini-golf, monkeys, not to mention a gorgeous beach. And not to forget all the beach vehicles and activities on offer. Eliza and I went para-sailing while Lyra was in the kid's club.

One of the indigenous species at an all-inclusive is the multi-station buffet. This place had several different buffets running at any one time, and one night they had a Mexican night with yet another ad-hoc buffet.

I have to be honest. I hate large buffets. The buffet we went to regularly was crazy loud, and set up in various different stations. There is so much visual and positional information going on at any one time in an environment like that for me that I feel paralyzed to both process and navigate that information. You might as well put me in for a fluff cycle in a clothes dryer.  A single-line buffet I can handle. I have a grounding element in the line of serving dishes, or tray rail.  Navigating a multi-station buffet for me is the very definition of stress. This has not improved with depth. In fact, people feel like they are jumping out more as they zoom back and forth. People do not move in predictable trajectories in multi-station buffets. They think they're going back to their table with their pile of fries, but notice the display of sweet and savory sushi. My strategy for dealing with this personal terror was to gravitate toward the hot cook stations. I ate crepes, steak bites, omelets and tacos. Also, if you go for the fresh-cooked stuff, you don't have to worry about how long it had been sitting around on a buffet line. I can hang out there waiting for my fresh-cooked thing and get the lay of the land for the rest of the buffet, and figure out specific points to which to gravitate. I really can't stand carrying plates of food through zig-zagging people and rows of tables. I like sitting at a table, having someone give me a menu, squint at it in the gleam of my Android phone's LED "flash", telling someone what it is I want and having them bring that thing to me. I also hate carrying a plate of food and trying to find someone in a cafeteria. It's brutal. Due to my vision I also loathe places where menus only exist above and behind someone's head on a high wall. And that is a LOT of places. So that's the view of one crappily-visioned person toward the food service industry.

Anyway, there were other great visual experiences at this place. They had a lovely Mexican party with lights and decorations dangling. Everything was bold, brightly-colored and open. Palapa roofs vaulted over my head. And oh so much people-watching.

I remain so in awe of the wonderful contribution of this new view to my quality of life. Even though my balance is still not back to where it was before surgery, I do have more confidence in my general navigation through the world. I feel somehow more a part of the world, less cut off from it. And I look people in the eye more, and strike up more conversations. I don't wonder if they're confused by my eye, or are judging me for being different, because I know I can lock in with them in confidence. It's an incredible feeling.

I'll be able to pop in my contact lenses in another few weeks or so. I'm going to wait to check in with my surgeon again in mid-May. The sutures and stitches are still dissolving, and there's still a bit of pink around the edges of my eyes. I don't want to push it, and I'm not feeling overly compelled to rush it. I am reliably living with depth now.

Before I close I want to honor something we were completely separated from this whole time away - the tragedy related to the Boston Marathon and the ensuing chain of reactions and events. My experience with this event was completely through facebook postings and what I could pull down via Google News. It felt terrible to be so far away from the pain at home. Both Eliza and I have crossed that finish line multiple times. While we are not directly related to the killed or injured, our deepest sympathies go to those families affected by the horrible event. I also give my greatest appreciation and gratitude to the law enforcement community, and to the community at large for coming together so spectacularly to bring the perpetrators to justice. I also give my respect and love for the spirit exhibited by the city of Boston, the city I call my home by choice, and one of the great cities of the world. A lot of people come and go through here, but I feel very much at home here.

And home we are, and coming down from a long journey home. We were definitely "that" family today on UA1047 EWR-BOS 24APR13, so our deepest apologies for the passengers from rows 24 to 28. I welcome any advice for dealing with an irate 3 year old during an extended landing sequence.

Back to life as normal ... though for a short time for me. I leave again next week for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where I expect many new sights to behold. And I already have a good base tan, for a pale guy.

Boston strong!

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