Defying Sense

Some years ago at an outdoor art festival, I sought shade inside a booth that sold blown-glass jewelry. The artist, a kind woman in her late sixties, encouraged me to touch each of her creations and welcomed my tactile perspective. She placed earrings in my outstretched palm with a detailed description: “These are small rose quartz, almost translucent…Now these are larger, blue-green Swarovski crystal—like the ocean really—and surprisingly light when you wear them.” She understood that I came to know each earring by its weight in my palm, its texture beneath my fingers.

Though she didn’t doubt my ability to appreciate her pieces, she was surprised and pleased when I called her jewelry “pretty.” To her, “pretty” was reserved for instances of visual pleasure. When I used “pretty” to describe the silky-smooth texture of round crystal beads or the subtle ridges of blown-glass shapes, she embraced my view as novel and exciting. But she couldn’t shake the strangeness of hearing me use her visual words in nonvisual ways, a strangeness emphasized by our environment. The booths around us overflowed with paintings, delicate glass sculptures, tapestries—all created by artists who discouraged touching. This festival celebrated vision’s undisputed claims on the beautiful.

Relegating beauty to the eye of the beholder sets blind people at a disadvantage. Some of us are unable to appreciate the visual pleasure of sunrises, starry nights, flawless diamonds, double rainbows, and exotic orchids. To the sighted individual reveling in daily encounters with visual wonder, our world must seem a dark and barren place.  Vision is a greedy sense that claims a central position in our culture: it demands control over all beautiful things. So where do the blind find beauty?

You will encounter a significant number who think that blind or visually impaired people cannot find beauty at all. This fear of a beautiless life veils blindness in tragedy. To live without seeing sunsets, the faces of your children, the sparkling waves lapping at the beach’s edge is to be cheated by beauty just out of reach. When the canvas of your world is wiped blank by vision loss, especially later in life, you forget that the world continues to exist.

Others may prefer the mystical conception of blindness, in which the blind are compensated for their loss by the gift of spiritual guidance—the ability to understand beauty in anything: a crust of bread, an empty can, a puddle of rainwater. In this view, the beauty we find in birdsong or the smell of impending rain is elevated to a saintly epiphany—a miraculous gem we find only because of our physical deficit. Our blindness shields us from worldly cares and wrenches our minds open—transforming us into vessels for the extraordinary and the divine. Every phrase we utter is a mantra to be treasured and practiced; every struggle we experience is justified as part of our sanctifying pilgrimage.

Whether you see blindness as eternal banishment from beauty or  fortifying holy laurel, both views enforce the same ostracism: they command you to draw a line that blind people cannot cross. I cannot say what occurs on your side of the line, but I can describe the activity on mine.

I don’t see the line (did you see that coming?), so I will venture my thoughts on what beauty is.

Beauty cannot be confined to one sense, one organ; it resides in the being of the beholder. To experience beauty, you have to be, to exist—mind and body aware.  Even the most glorious sunset must be placed within the context of our human experience. We cannot separate ourselves from our perceptions.

Nor can we claim to be only our sensory observations. You do not see the beauty in a sunset by virtue of your eyes; it is your mind, soul, spirit that translates beauty. Just as lively piano music speaks to your hands, your ears, your heart, even your feet,  the smell of jasmine or freshly baked bread reaches beyond your nose. Your senses don’t monopolize pleasure; they convey it.

The eyes, like the purveyors of the other senses, are only one way for beauty to enter into your body and mind: they are not the best way. But there is no best way. This is why the blind person is no more saintly for finding beauty through the other senses. If a room has five doors, you choose one. If a room has four doors, you cannot choose a fifth—unless you create it. But creating that extra door is a lot of work. It’s far easier to choose one of the portals already provided.

The sense-door is a clunky metaphor. I doubt whether each of our senses corresponds to one door only. I often “see” with my fingers, understanding the beauty of an object first by touching it and then seeing it. With my hands, I understand dimensions and geography much more quickly. I run my fingers all over a thing and, suddenly, I know where to look to appreciate its color, its brightness, its contrasts. In this way, my hands and my eyes help create knowledge: neither is independent, I use two doors at once.

Nonvisual beauty is not the domain of only blind saints and sages. What stops the average sighted person from exploring the tactile, the olfactory, the auditory, is a preoccupation with the eyes. We have much more body in the world. Why not put it to work seeking beauty?

Another problem lies in the cliché itself: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The “beholder” transmits an image of someone looking outward, only capable of seeing herself with a mirror. So throw away the mirror and the need to “see” yourself. Look, if you must use that word, look inward. Perceive inward. Explore yourself, starting with the spirit and the soul. We’ve all heard that mirrors lie. Be guided by your feelings and not your eyes.

It is much easier to be the spectator looking on than to make yourself the spectacle of your own hungry vision. Foremost among the senses, vision exists to create “safe distance”: we see imminent danger and avoid it. We can “look away” when situations become too painful. We “see” others as different from ourselves by not seeing ourselves as we really are.

To smell, to hear, to feel, to taste requires closeness, immersion, the chance to run our senses all over the thing we want to know. Couple this closeness with vision and we have a propensity for immeasurable beauty. Without vision, we still have that propensity. To find beauty, you must use your whole self, even if you don’t think that self is whole.

Illumination

Fifteen minutes before class, I prepare to leave my office. I place a stack of 25 graded student essays into my large bag, wrap my soft red scarf around my neck, hang my small brown purse from my right shoulder, and slide my sunglasses over my regular glasses. I pick up my keys and unfold my cane. When each of my two bags is balanced on my shoulders, I tuck the final item, a thick volume of braille poetry, into the crook of my left arm. I switch off the small gray and silver lamp, lock the door, and head down the hall.

Today, I must leave the room while my students complete their instructor evaluations, double-sided scantron forms that ask them to rate my effectiveness in communication, demonstration of course concepts, and use of course time and materials. I will have fifteen minutes to enjoy—a quarter-hour to spend off the academic stage. I have decided to spend my time gift with Seamus Heaney and Louis Braille.

After designating a student to administer and collect the evaluations, I gather my things and leave the classroom. I round a corner of the short, nondescript hallway and find a secluded bench near a window. I sit and arrange my bag beside me. I spread the large, white 11 x 11 volume on my lap.

This is one of four volumes that comprise the braille transcription of Heaney’s Poems: 1965-1975. The ladies who brailled this edition for me intuitively divided the book into its four smaller collections: Death of a Naturalist, Door into the Dark, Wintering Out, and North. I am reading North.

I open the volume and flip past the first few pages; I recognize the table of contents by the neat lines of single dots between each poem’s title and page number. I turn to the first poem in this volume and let my fingertip travel slowly over the poem’s title.

I can’t read it.

The line contains contractions I learned years ago and cannot remember. I resist the temptation to “scrub” at the dots with my forgetful finger. Instead, I retrace them, cell by cell, consoling myself when I successfully identify single letters.

My fingers travel over the rest of the poem as I balance the wide volume on my lap. I use my left hand to mark the line while my right travels across it. I recognize morphemes here and there—bits of words, like “ea,” “ch,” “ar,” or “ing.” My fingertips find many dot 5s and 6s, indicating heavily contracted words. I make amateur mistakes; I read an “m” as a “u” and think, How is that possible? I do not feel like I am reading a poem—I feel like a first-grader stumbling over a children’s book.

Four lines down, I find an unexpected treasure, a word without contractions. Sunlit. I find sunlit. I read sunlit. I can’t believe it—I retrace the word over and over, making sure I didn’t misread it. Yes, I feel the “s,” a pattern of 3 dots: dots 2 and 3 are stacked vertically while the letter reaches diagonally up to finish with dot 4. The “u,” another 3 dot pattern, begins with dot 1, skips dot 2, and ends with dots 3 and 6, side-by-side. The angular “n” starts with dots 1 and 4 side-by-side, drops below dot 4 to cover dot 5, and then drops diagonally to hit dot 3. The “l” is a straightforward pattern of 3 dots in a vertical line; it contains the left half of the braille cell. The “i” is demure and little, like its vowel in sunlit—it’s a wee 2-dot diagonal pattern between dots 2 and 4. Finally, the “t” juts across the cell like a lightening bolt, starting with dot 3, moving vertically to dots 2 and 5 on the same row, and finishing with dot 4 alone on top.

Sunlit becomes a tactile beacon on the white page before me; it seems to encourage the other cells to attention, demand that the words reveal themselves. As I read, I find wall, east, water, summer, reddening, and hands. I begin to assemble Heaney’s poem from the bottom up. Wading deep into his poetics, I discover each sound independent of other sounds. Every “st” or “ch” comes under my fingertip and floats beside me, bobbing up and down in my conscious mind. I experience his poem as a material thing, crafted from tangible particles of noise and breath. I am traveling inside the poem, my fingertip tracing its concentric rings.

At the end of fifteen minutes, I have read two pages—a handful of words and a deluge of sounds. I must close the book and return to other sensory obligations. I pull awareness from the small space where the ball of my finger meets the bright braille page and swing the large 11-inch cover across the front of the book. I carry the volume in the crook of my arm, my hand curling around the uncut pages, and contemplate the transcriptive power of the cells.

Intimate with Print

When venturing in search of new (or used) books, the Serious Bibliophile requires a few essentials: canvas bags for carrying the books home, a bottle of water, a dedicated and equally bibliophilic companion, a list, and a lot of time. The canvas bags are necessary for two reasons: 1) they won’t tear when you cram them full of books of different shapes, and 2) they represent environmental consciousness. Using the cloth bags will help you resolve your eco-guilt from bringing home a dozen print books. The bottle of water will keep you hydrated as you make use of the ample time you’ve allotted for this session. When you want to go dashing down every aisle, whisking books off shelves with the irrepressible glee of a 5-year-old on a sugar rush, the list of titles to look for will help you to exert some self-control. The companion will also help you make use of your time; her enthusiasm for finding and reading the books you desire will the hours disappear quickly.

My most frequent book-buying companion is Katie, and she is meticulous about observing the rules above. We regularly schedule trips to one of Jacksonville’s largest used bookstores, our canvas bags, shopping lists, and protein bars in hand. If the trip to the bookshop occurs somewhere in a long day of errands, we have learned to eat before we step across the sloping threshold. Book-buying on an empty stomach is a dangerous business. Combine our crankiness from hunger with our desire to buy four times the amount of books our budgets allow, and we represent a serious threat to ourselves and all other customers.

Because I am a lover of literature – poetry and prose, drama and nonfiction – you might assume that a book’s content is the only thing that matters. However, accessing literature is a multi-sensory experience, an indulgence for the hands, eyes, and nose – as well as the mind.  The books I purchase are stories I want to read, in formats I can easily access. So, aside from interesting content, what am I looking for in a good book?

While shopping with Katie, we wandered into the Classics section in search of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I had read the book eight years ago, for my AP Language & Composition class, but I’d somehow lost track of my beloved copy. Katie found the card with “WOOLF” printed in large, blocky lettering, and began to scour the stacks for the book I wanted. She found several editions, published by different companies – their fonts, pages, and binding wildly varied.

Our process is a simple one: Katie pulls an edition off the shelf and hands it to me, I open it to check whether the print is easy to read, and Katie uses my observations to filter the books she passes to me. I rarely require books in standard large print (size 18), because I apply a collection of magnifiers, reading glasses, and bifocals to texts I read. For me, ideal print is dark against the page, not a spidery or blocky font. Fonts like Courier New that echo the look of a typewriter are a recipe for disaster, while seriffed fonts like Times or Garamond are easy on my eyes. (WordPress tells me that the font I’m using now is Times.)

The quality of the page is also important. Often, I prefer to shop for used books because the yellowing pages are easier for me to read. Bright white pages can be glary, making the letters difficult to distinguish. Yellowed pages, on the other hand, soften the glare of overhead lights and contrast well with most fonts. If the book has any markings in it, it becomes exponentially more difficult to read. Occasionally, I can read a text that has underlining throughout, but, if someone has highlighted in the text, forget it!

The book’s spine is worth considering as well; if the book does not open easily, it will be difficult for me to get close enough to the pages to read them. When I was younger, I used a dome-shaped glass magnifier to read print. Now, I prefer reading glasses with 10x bifocals; I don’t have to worry about wedging a heavy glass dome in between the pages, but I do need to get about two inches away from the printed text to read it. Since I regularly underline in books, I must be able to get close to the text.

Because of my necessary textual intimacy, I have to give all my books the sniff test. Unless a book smells appealing – musty, old, and well-loved or crisp, new, and papery – I am reluctant to read it. I once avoided a textbook for my Mark Twain course, because, when I got deep into the pages, I could only smell the acrid glue of the binding.

The olfactory pleasure of books prevents me from switching to an all-digital experience of literature. Arguably, many more books are available online as e-books and free texts, but I know how desperately I would miss that Good Book Smell. Plus, my tactile relationship to texts helps me to navigate them with ease. I often remember where a passage is located because I remember reading it halfway down the page, on the left side, in the second column. My spatial awareness of text on a paper page disappears when I switch to texts on my computer. Audiobooks, however, are a welcome addition to my library, and I enjoy listening to a book while following along in the print edition.

If you’re thinking that my preferences sound like a load of cumbersome specifications, you’re very close to the truth. It is certainly easier on my eyes when I have an audiobook doing the reading and I can simply skim the pages with a pen, underlining as I listen. Yet I continue to gravitate to the printed page, even in the absence of audio recordings. Something in the experience of curling up with a good book – my nose, without exaggeration, deep in the pages – conveys a coziness, a tranquil absorption. As my body performs the posture of reading, the book is a reassuring weight in my hands. Getting my fingers around the edge of a page, sliding my bookmark into place, drawing a thin bracket around a particularly moving passage – these gestures comprise the sensory pleasures of a revitalizing experience.

On the Shelf: A Tour of the Accessible Kitchen (Part 1)

From time to time, I glance at the list of topics I plan to cover in the future of On the Blink, and nothing stands out. As I run my eye over the items on the list, I try to imagine the entry I would compose for each one. Feeling uninspired but eager to write, I publicize my lack of inspiration and ask my friends for help. This entry is a result of one of those times.

My friends’ most recent suggestions included: piano lessons, Tolkien, favorite pastries, favorite childhood hobbies, hummus, cooking tips, mangoes, literary influences, pets, challenges I’ve found a way around, favorite recipes, and more. The careful reader will indubitably observe a prevalent theme in this list.

So I am embarking on another food-related entry, not of my own volition, but because I am friends with a bunch of foodies and they demand it! However, this post will not be limited to food. I will attempt to present cooking as a challenge overcome – not my challenge per se, but a perceived challenge. After all, sighted people often expect blind cooks to have difficulties, and some ill-informed person once said that you eat with your eyes. So maybe we’ll be tackling some clichés here as well!

Let’s begin with the tools I use for cooking.

If you walk into our kitchen from the hallway entrance, you can look to your left and see what we have designated as “Emily’s shelves” — a wire rack of four large shelves, each packed to the gills with my preferred cooking materials. The top shelf boasts nothing but spices, arranged by flavor and classification. Dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, herbes de Provence, oregano, and tarragon are grouped together. Allspice, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, curry powder, and garam massala make up what I call the “aromatics” section. Between the aromatics and the peppers (cayenne, smoked paprika, black pepper, and red pepper flakes), stands a small, plucky line of extracts. The vanilla, hazelnut, orange, and eggnog extract, each packaged in a little bottle, are an easy tactile divider between the sections of the spice rack. Because spices are often sold in uniform containers, arrangement of the rack is key. I haven’t bothered to make braille labels for each bottle, because it takes less time to pick up the spice and flip open the lid. Rosemary, with its punchy, woodsy aroma, smells drastically different from tarragon, a warmer, smoother scent.

The next shelf down holds all my teas and coffees. Some tea is stored in a wooden tea box with 12 sections for individual teabags. Other loose teas sit on the rack in their canisters. Unlike the spices, the teas are packaged in unique containers, making them easy to identify by touch. The next rack down is the snack rack, but it also contains miscellaneous ingredients for cooking – hot sauce, instant coffee, crystalized ginger, flaxseed, cider vinegar, dried fruit, almonds, nutella, and olive oil. I keep these here so that I don’t have to search the pantry for them. I’m too short to reach most items in our cabinets anyway.

The bottom shelf offers all the implements necessary to my culinary success. From the ground up, the rack holds two cutting boards – one red and one black. I use these when I’m preparing food, because foods contrast nicely with the dark surface. Most kitchens are designed with bright lighting, and a white cutting board intensifies the glare. Even when I’m dicing a red onion, I prefer to use the red cutting board.

(I use red onions not only because I love their flavor, but because the red peel is much easier for me to see. I have difficulty peeling yellow onions because their papery skin does not offer as much contrast to the white layers underneath.)

If you continue to explore the bottom shelf, you will find an 8-inch skillet, an avocado green omelette pan, a bright red reusable water bottle, a glass measuring cup for liquids, and matching sets of metal measuring cups and spoons. Like the cutting boards, the skillet provides a dark (contrasting) surface on which to sauté veggies or scramble eggs. The omelette pan does not offer a high contrast surface, but it does what I have not yet learned to do: it successfully flips my omelettes! And yes, as the color attests, it is from the seventies – it has good kitchen juju because Mom used it to make Dad tons of omelettes in their early years!

The glass measuring cup has large bold numbers that are easy for me to read. The metal measuring cups and spoons have engraved measurements on them which I can feel and read! Though I don’t cook with the red water bottle, I take it everywhere; its bright hue makes it easy to spot on a desk at work or on the risers at chorus rehearsal.

Two dark purple oven mitts hang from the ornamental scrollwork on the sides of the shelving. The outside of the mitts is a rubbery silicon material, while the inside is lined with fabric. When I put them on, they cover most of my arm – an ideal complement to my limited depth perception as I’m reaching into the oven to retrieve what I’ve prepared.

Crystal helped me pick out the oven mitts at the outlets in St. Augustine. The mitts I chose came in two colors: dark purple and pumpkin orange. I desperately wanted the orange, a much lighter shade than the purple, but, as I reached for them, Crystal sternly asked, “Can you see those as well as you can see the purple ones?” I grumbled and shook my head, and, reluctantly, I put back the orange and picked up the purple. The mitts are dark and easy for me to spot on the counter, the table, or the pale surface of the stovetop.

As you move around the kitchen, you’ll find other items that I frequently use – the garlic press, the cheese grater, the large chef’s knife, the Y-shaped vegetable peeler – but these items are not especially tailored to my visual preferences. All the cooks of the house use these items so they stay in their usual places and are easy to locate when I need them.

You will also pass by our microwave, and you might notice that its white surface bears some unconventional markings. Mom has taken a thick permanent marker and traced over the lines of the touchpad, making it much easier to spot the buttons. Sometimes, little circles of tactile tape (a scratchy tape often used to mark the edges of stairs) will appear near the important buttons on the dishwasher or stove – but unfortunately, they disappear after a thorough scrubbing of the appliance.

Knowing my way around the kitchen, I feel confident trying out new recipes or conducting culinary experiments. Nothing can impede my preparation of a quiche, a stir-fry, a casserole, a Greek pasta salad, or a batch of ginger cookies.

But I must use this culinary access responsibly.

Now that I am very familiar with all our appliances, I am not relieved of my dishwashing duties when my tactile labels fall off!

“How does it feel?”: Exploring touch and texture

A few years ago, my brother and I were doing a bit of grocery shopping, and, as we wandered through the produce section, he abruptly stopped the cart. Trying to suppress a mischievous laugh, he reached for something on a shelf and said, grinning, “Feel this!” When he put it into my hand, I immediately understood his mirth. What he handed me was a fist-sized fruit, whose relatively round shape was disrupted by small, pointy protrusions. I laughed too and he informed me that I was holding a Peruvian horned melon, a specimen separated from the conventionally smooth or modestly bumpy ranks of fruits by its hilarious strangeness. A fruit with horns! I had never touched anything like that before.

I should mention that the grocery store is often a place where I was told, “Look, don’t touch!” – the supervising adult’s way of keeping a curious, tactilely-oriented child from pulling every item off the shelf. Now that I am an adult and can be trusted not to break things for the sake of understanding physics, I touch everything. Especially the fruit.

But the most sublime textures, the ones in which I revel unequivocally, are not to be found at the grocery store. They’re found in a variety of places, and my encounters with them are often unexpected. After all, I can’t see them approaching.

The textures I notice most are probably clothing-related. I walk with so many different sighted guides during the week and they all change their clothes relatively frequently, so I get to experience something new each time I reach for an elbow. Sometimes it’s bare skin (and I can tell whether the person uses a moisturizer or drinks enough water), and sometimes it’s the smooth supple pleasurable leather jacket. My friend Nick has a particularly nice leather jacket; it’s so thick that I can barely discern his elbow beneath it. But most of the time, in this hot Florida climate, it’s some light form of cotton, which is not at all unpleasant.

If I’m lucky, it’s corduroy. Oh how I delight in corduroy! The kind with the tiny ribs, crammed close together, or the kind with the big, soft ribs spaced a quarter-inch apart. There’s something about corduroy that I just love.

And then of course there are the scarves – smooth, soft cashmere or the rough, intricate weave of a crocheted scarf. I have 3 crocheted scarves that I particularly adore – two made for me by my mom’s good friend Suzanne and one from my dear friend Katie. The ones from Suzanne are soothingly soft; I can tell she picked the yarn especially for its texture. The one from Katie is a rougher yarn, more interesting than soothing to touch. She chose an intricate crochet pattern with tiny holes and plenty of features for my busy fingers to explore. And that business is in its own way very soothing to me.

In the presence of these soft delightful textures, I am reduced to the nonverbal cooing of an infant. I love things that are soft and inviting, things you want to rub gently against your cheek.

In his book, Busy Body: My Life with Tourette’s Syndrome, Nick van Bloss writes about his “Touretty” compulsion to touch certain textures, even textures that wouldn’t seem inviting – like a friend’s oily nose! I don’t usually feel drawn to explore oily noses, but I do experience a similar urge to touch things, especially if I can’t make visual sense of them. Or if a friend is wearing a vibrantly-colored shirt, I want to touch it to understand it better. Texture is such an important dimension of my perception.

I don’t think I could choose a favorite texture, but there are a few contenders, delivered in no particular order.

  1. The smooth surface of a piano, especially the part that closes over the keys – I am ashamed that I don’t know what this part is called. Also, the keys. Piano keys can feel so different from instrument to instrument. I personally like the weathered smoothness of older keys, but I wouldn’t turn down a chance to brush the keys of a brand new baby grand.
  2. The gritty smoothness of my Macbook. Gritty smoothness? Yes. I can’t seem to articulate it another way. The aluminum of the outer casing isn’t silky smooth, but it is smooth. It still has that quality that sort of drags at your fingertips as you touch it. Unlike the little apple cutout on the Mac’s lid – which I love for its silky smoothness.
  3. Golden retrievers! My god. They’re incredible! I spoke at a meeting for the Foundation Fighting Blindness back in November and they had two guide dog puppies there. One was a lab, who was adorable in his own way, but the other was a big, lovey, fluffy golden. I had never petted a golden retriever before. I guess people who can see them know what they are getting into; they can behold that inviting fur and think, “It is going to be so soft and fluffy!” But I had no idea. And I am now forever changed. It was so soft…
  4. Corduroy.
  5. A new cane – but that’s an entry in and of itself.

This list is by no means complete. For one thing, I’m talking here about the textures I feel with my hands. This doesn’t take into account the textures I feel anywhere else, the textures that brush my skin or the textures of food, or even the texture of the ground.

In music, the word texture is used to denote the way that melodic lines are arranged within a piece. For example, a piece with polyphonic texture has several melodies of equal importance playing at the same time. Mood-related characteristics like bright, dark, or light refer to a piece’s timbre – its tone color. I run into problems when I start talking about the texture of music, because I mean something more akin to texture in our conventional sense. If a piece of music sounds gritty, smooth, thick, rigid, airy — what word can I use? To me, these are all tactile qualities; I’m describing how the music feels in a sense other than emotionality. But, as I said, the texture of music refers elsewhere. So I am now on the search for a new way to talk about the characteristics of music I’m describing.

Visual curiosity

I am reading an essay for class called “Beholding” that discusses the patterns and ethics of staring. It’s an essay that offers a few different ways to stare at things and people and also proposes a way for the “starees” to look back, to take control of the staring interaction and make something educational, productive, validating from it.

I find I’m asking myself, “What is the last thing you stared at? What is the last thing you WANTED to stare at?”

For me, staring – that consequence of visual curiosity – is something that doesn’t stay visual for long. When I see something or someone I want to know better, I suppose I stare at it. I’d have to have someone nearby to say, “Yes, there she goes staring at that thing again” to know if I am actually staring. Mentally, I zero in on the object/person and I start thinking of ways I can approach it. But I can’t imagine just staring at it. For me, it’s a very quick leap from staring to the thought, “I want to touch that.”

I want to get to know it with my hands. I want to trace it with my fingers and understand how it is put together. And yes, this applies to people too – but often I repress the urge because our culture isn’t so big on casual (or as I’ll call it, “informative”) touching.

I had an aunt who used to say, “Look with your eyes, not with your hands.” She always said this when we went grocery shopping and I would reach eagerly for all the brightly colored items on the shelf. Look with your eyes! What a barren way of looking! Imagine going through the world only getting to know things on a visual level! How drab!

I want to get to know things tactilely. Textures, dimensions, weights – touching introduces you to the substance of things, the materiality of them. Is this the kind of information that staring provides for those who can and do stare? If so, I think I begin to understand the fascination.