Cinthia on Saturdays: The World Through Writerly Glasses

by Cinthia Ritchie

I’m wearing my John Cheever glasses today.

I feel waspish and writerly. I feel like dressing up in my best clothes, taking the elevator down to the maid’s room, folding my skirt and blouse over a chair and writing all day in my underwear.

Of course I hate wearing nice clothes and there’s no elevator in my apartment building, but no matter. It’s the glasses that lend such ideas, that make me feel that by connecting, however vaguely, however foolishly, to Cheever’s ghost, I can accomplish anything.

I can finish my novel, write an award-winning essay, publish poems so real and true they will be folded in wallets and carried around for years.

Armed with thick dark frames and the Cheever spirit, I can’t help but have a good writing day.

If for some reason I stumble and flail and my Cheever glasses don’t live up to their promise, I have others to carry me through: My Joyce Carol Oates glasses. My Margaret Atwood glasses. My Virginia Woolf glasses.

I’m not entirely sure if all of these writers wear or wore glasses, but that’s not the point. What matters is that I feel like them when I put on these glasses. I feel confident and tough, like a real, bona fide writer. Though sometimes when I’m slumped over my desk late at night, one of my many pairs of glasses sliding down my nose, I panic: What I’m wearing the wrong pair? What if I’m writing long Joyce Carol Oates sentences that go on and on for paragraphs (pages!) when I should be writing strong, witty Margaret Atwood wordplay?

What if I’m channeling the wrong writer, the wrong persona? What if, oh dear god, I’m ruining my novel by wearing the wrong glasses?

My foray into the world of writing glasses began a few months ago when I read an article on about a glasses blog that offered advice on purchasing inexpensive frames and lenses over the internet . Of course I checked it out. I was hoping to buy a pair of frames that would make me look smart yet attractive in a throwing-the-glasses-off-and-hauling-a-good-looking-man-to-bed sort of way. What I ended up with was a pair of very strange dark blue glasses with frames that bent in a peculiar angle around my face. They cost $18.95 with shipping, and when the package arrived, I excitedly put them on.

I didn’t look as I imagined. In fact, I looked quite dreadful. The color was wrong for my complexion, and so was the shape. Yet I wore them all night, and when I suddenly found myself in the midst of a mad writing spurt, I knew right away who to thank: My glasses.

Finally, after three nights with almost no sleep, when I was pale and shaking from exhaustion, I stood in the bathroom and peered at myself in the mirror.

“Well for heaven’s sake,” I said out loud, “I look like Margaret Atwood.”

I looked like nothing of the sort but I felt like her, I felt like one of her characters, tough and knowing and unassumingly vulnerable.

After Margaret came Joyce Carol Oates, large pair frames that gave me a scholarly, owlish dignity. Cheever soon followed with thick solid glasses that lent a no-nonsense, masculine grit. Woolf catered to my tender side: a pair of rimless lenses that gave my eyes a look of sad determination.

I keep these glasses folded on my bookshelf and sometimes I imagine they come alive and morph into the writers they resemble. They gather in my living room late at night. I pour us all orange juice and we lean against fat pillows, wiggle our toes, talk about writing. I tell them how I’m having trouble ending my novel, how I’m terrified of making mistakes, how I can’t let go. They nod and share stories of their own work.

We sit together for hours, writing and talking and daydreaming. In the dim light from the dirty aquarium, our glasses glow like tiny, hopeful mirrors.

Cinthia Ritchie is a former Anchorage Daily News feature writer and columnist who writes for Alaska Newspapers. She’s the recipient of a Rasumon Foundation Individual Artist Award, the Alaska Council on the Arts Connie Boochever Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nomination plus residencies at Hedgebrook and Hidden River Arts. Her fiction, essays and poetry can be found in over 30 literary magazines.

4 thoughts on “Cinthia on Saturdays: The World Through Writerly Glasses”

  1. Makes me want to pitch my contacts and spring for glasses…also handier when the volcano blows. Great post, Cinthia.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Cinthia’s not kidding about that great blog link! (Which explains all about how to get your own prescription and measurement info, how to find the frames online etc). I just survived a round of expensive eyeglasses shopping a few months ago, incredulous that stupid little things could cost so much, which takes all the fun out of what isn’t all that fun to begin with. But if I could have three or four pairs, in deliberately different styles, even some downright funky ones? They really do seem to cost about a fourth or LESS online. I appreciated the metaphorical quality of your essay, Cinthia, but now I realize this is more than just metaphor — it’s about saving money, too.

  3. I’ll never look at glasses the same again! Wonderful essay, Cinthia. You should get a commission from all those glasses we writers will be rushing to buy!

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