This is an important and touching story from one of our readers.
After losing sight in one eye and the fear of losing sight in both, Joci changed her way of living. From life in a big city as a social worker to a country town with diminished vision, she reinvented herself as an artist. The beauty of nature, the exotic scenes of foreign lands and the determination and courage to find colour and paint became her passion. I think you will agree that the beautiful paintings featured here are proof of her tenacious spirit.
This is my story about what happened when I lost the use of one eye. We had been camping on the coast and I thought that smoke from our fire had affected my eye. It was my best eye and thus my short sightedness was now compounded with a sort of giddiness and considerable incapacity to see. On our return home several days later I went to visit the optometrist. it did not occur to me to see a doctor as in this country town at that time several years ago it took several weeks to get an appointment. He looked quite serious. This young man who had successfully prescribed my spectacles and had indeed already discovered that I had glaucoma rattled around and brought out a picture of an eye with scary red lines all over it. He picked up the phone and rang the next town where the ophthalmologist had his country eye clinic on a regular basis. The receptionist Deb there said he wasn’t there or due for a week or so but for me to go home and she would telephone me back. When she called she said to get up there and she would start the examination and he would be coming over from Dubbo to see me as he happened to be there that day. My partner by now was also alarmed and he drove me the twenty five minutes to our neighbouring town. Deb waved some fingers after blocking my vision from the usual rotten old left eye. Nothing. It was all just a pinkish whitish blur.
Soon after doctor Bouncy eye doctor came flying through the door with a doctors bag in tow. The name of this condition was a central vein occlusion. He thought that it was the least painful of two types but I would need to have further tests from the GP.
This time it was not several weeks to wait for the GP but I cannot remember details.
Physically there was just a series of tests. I don’t remember anyone enquiring as to the psychological aspects of this change in my life.
To start with I loved to smoke cigarettes the GP told me that this was probably the cause of the problem. I also loved to drive the car and had been an independent retired mental health worker now for several years. Looking observing noting detail and nuance was my bag of tricks. Travelling was an annual planned event organised by me with my partner. Besides travelling writing reading driving and painting on silk life was far too full for me to be highly endowed with domestic skills We lead a frugal life not using heaters not dining out etc etc. I had learned to love wearing sloppy old clothes that were comfy and warm. We were both excellent savers.
The idea that I could lose the other eye and have to walk around with a white cane a cigarette hanging out of my mouth frightened me I would not be able to do anything I enjoyed and that might mean a degree of dependency that I perceived as undesirable. I went into my study turned on the computer and played spider solitaire for one hour. See I had gone one whole hour without a smoke. And so I went through my giving up smokes.hour at a time ….not bad for a woman who would rush off aeroplanes and head straight for a smoking room cigs fumbled out of bag as we taxied in.
For months and still from time to time I smoked all night in my dreams. My partner still smokes and I work very hard at saying nothing about this.
But I was determined not to stop looking. I had the idea that if I bought a movie camera with some of my savings then I could see once twice and in editing I would see again. This was quite a thrilling and energising idea for me as we were still going ahead with our plan to visit Japan. I went on a big learning curve as I learned to drive the camera. Spring in Japan is one of nature’s greatest visual gifts. We waited for the cherry blossom to appear on the Philosophers path, rode buses and looked and looked. The formal aesthetic of temples is very seductive as one rediscovers sight.
I even filmed the wild wobbles of the pigeon toes of girls as they left the bus. Back home editing was fun on the computer but painting on silk too difficult to manage as the slightest breeze and lack of focus wrecks what one is doing. I needed the surface to stay still. I wanted to immerse myself in colour and shape and vision. The writer has a page but the painter has cloth and preparing is white white white and soon one is lost in cadmium yellows and sunlight reds . Not colours for the European North but here where there are bleached noons and soft golds at dawn and pink yellows at dusk. I discovered that the brush sees light and I became lost in it but never forlorn. I was free not worried by reputation, not yet artist I could use visual adjectives. I am a lover of paint untried in the market place untied to its business. I started to further collect images of land as we drove around. I’d always been an enthusiast for paintings, often peering too close to surfaces How did he do that was my frequent thought . Questions questions I must be the most curious person on this planet.
And so I couldn’t wait to get out to my shed. My partner was tolerant of my activity and several months after I had started this obsession he said to me its time to get good paints and good materials. Friends visiting were encouraging and one friend said she wanted to buy three paintings for her B and B. I was staggered but pleased. Then another friend offered me an exhibition in another town. I selected out what I considered were my most interesting works and then remembered that that gallery had a dark blind spot near the toilet. So I thew in a 100 x 75 centimetre painting of brilliant lemon hills. The opening was extraordinary. Three men fought over the lemon hills.
So where does this all go today. Large vein has grown over the optic nerve in my right eye and there is some light but no vision. The left eye had to have a cataract removed and was so scarred that until my own Dr bouncy removed the lens capsule I had become almost blind for a few months. I write I travel and I film. Unfortunately I no longer driver the car. I do not smoke cigarettes but I dream that I drive the car all night.
I still paint and have several loyal fans.
Most people have no idea that I only see poorly with one eye. I am queen of the close up specs from retail shops. Leave them in every room. I find reading difficult without the close up specs and good light.
I dropped the first movie camera in a national park in China just before we caught the train into TIbet So I picked up the small camera and kept on going. . Movies look great with stills.
I believe that It’s not what you’ve lost it’s really what you do with what you do have .
Joci, born 1941
Oil on canvas ‘West of Here’