The Glasses Half-Empty

At around the time I turned 40, I went to the eye doctor, and in the silence that followed my attempt to read letters that were impractically small and blurry, I said, “Look, Doc, I’ve had perfect vision all my life. I was pilot, for crying out loud, and I could always count on my eyes never to deceive me.”

“So why are you here?” the Doc asked calmly from his stool.

“I’m having trouble reading the dosage instructions on medicine bottles,” I explained. “Why they print that stuff so small in the first place is beyond me.”

“You guys with perfect vision, you’re all alike,” Doc said. “You turn forty and suddenly you can’t see clearly. It’s the way of the world. It only goes downhill from here, my friend.” I considered that delivery poor stool-side manner.

But it was true. At first I needed a prescription for glasses that my wife scoffed at as “half a prescription” because it was so mild. The next year I needed something a little stronger. A few years later, I needed what the eye doctors today call “progressives”–because even eyeglasses require spin. That took some getting used to, but I got progressively better at look through the right part of the lens when reading and walking down stairs.

These days, although it is not medically mandated, I wear my glasses almost constantly. They are light, but a nuisance. It means taking them with me everywhere I go. My pockets are already filled with necessities. Emptying them out each evening, I find a wallet, a phone, a Field Notes notebook, a black ink pen, a blue ink pen, a mask, my AirPods, and a tube of Chap-Stik. My eyeglasses don’t fit in my pockets. Neither does the pencil that I often carry around to mark up pages in the book I am reading. The former goes into my wife’s purse, if I am with her, or folded onto the front of my shirt if I am not. The latter goes behind my right ear.

Or it used to, anyway.

Of all the problems that my aging eyesight has caused me, none has plagued me so much as the eviction of that pencil from behind my ear. The temples of the glasses prevent a standard No. 2 pencil from resting securely behind my ear. (“Temples” is the technical term for what I might call the “arms” of the glasses.) If I put the pencil there while I am wearing my glasses, it perches precariously, bouncing and bobbing at the slightest shake of my head. It simply doesn’t work with glasses occupying the space. Forty years of habit is difficult to break. I am constantly reaching up to pull the pencil from behind my ear, only to grasp at air. It must look to friends and stranger like I am chasing flies away.

Eventually, I found a place to keep the pencil, although I haven’t grown used to it yet. When sitting with a book, glasses perched on my nose, my pencil now rests comfortably in my jaw.

What about contact lenses? I don’t like things in my eyes. I can deal with wearing my glasses all the time, with carrying them around when I’m not wearing them. I can accept my increasingly blurred vision as a fact of life. But if there is anything that could make me consider the leap to contacts, it is the eviction of my pencil from its proper place.


  1. I am someone who has worn glasses all day every bday since I was about 12, so I don’t even think about them. They are as much a part of me as my hand. The most terrifying scene I have ever seen in a movie is when they break Piggy’s glasses in Lord of the Flies. I’d be a goner. By I hear you about pencils – but I have long hair that I pull back into a ponytail and that makes the perfect pencil nest!

  2. Your ear real estate becomes even more crowded when hearing aids are needed.

    I started wearing them in my 30s. HAs, glasses, and now masks? Pencils have long been evicted.


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