The following review appeared in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of the ADR Update Newsletter (Published version here.)
"When you take up this volume, you notice its brevity (115 pages). You wonder “How much can the author tell me in such a short engagement?”
It turns out, quite a lot.
The title, Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, Incompetence, and my Ill-fated left eye, is apt: it is about not only protecting one’s eyesight, rather evolving one’s ability to really see and appreciate the brilliant incandescence of what the world offers. Notice your sight and the many gifts one’s sight provides to each of us.
Chornenki uses the mundane, everyday activities of her life to give us a glimpse of how her story has affected her sight, but not so much that as her way of seeing.
Don’t Lose Sight is presented in three (3) parts titled:
- Nothing is Obvious to the Uninformed
- Pardon my Reach
- Mad Scientist
One of the satisfying things about how Chornenki has constructed her story is that it moves forward and back along the line of time. The Preface begins with an observation from a common kitchen scene where the author is preparing a salad from red cabbage in a stainless steel bowl. The use of dazzling imagery and a panoply of colours jumpstarts your heart and your head; your heart with wonder and admiration, your head with curiosity.
Ostensibly this is a story of the author’s loss of sight in her left eye, a misdiagnosis of the problem (her optometrist attributed it to migraine headaches) and her treatment, leading to a long road and a difficult outcome. That is what I would call the substantive line of Don’t Lose Sight.
This book has a layered richness and complexity which is gratifying. Chornenki has a powerful command of the language and is poetic in the use she makes of it:
One at a time I snap off its outer petals, then briskly bifurcate the brassica with a sharp knife. Layered treasures line its interior. Waves of garnet. Veins of opal. Sparks of amethyst. Tourmaline. I reduce these cabbage-gems to shreds and mound them in a pot. It’s an ordinary stainless steal pot from Ikea, but it brims with wonder and I with childish delight.
Chornenki makes a powerful case for really seeing what you are seeing. This is reminiscent of viewing the world with a frame in mind, as does a photographer. A skilled photographer sees her world at many levels, micro and macro, noticing the effect of light playing on objects, patterns and illusions of depth. The author reminds us that this depth of seeing is open to us all, and ought not to be passed over callously, lest we lose it.
Aside from the substantive line of Don’t Lose Sight this work operates on a procedural level that members of the ADR community will enjoy. Chornenki describes how she came to bring her complaint (motivated by the public interest) in respect of her optometrist. She describes how, at the initial hearing, she was not accorded standing or even recognized by name before the tribunal. Later, when she asked to see the expert opinion that the professional college was relying upon in assessing an appropriate resolution, she was denied, both by the college and optometrist’s counsel and later by the disciplinary board itself. It was not until she litigated did they then relent.
The description of how the professional college tried to misuse ADR and a settlement process which excluded the complainant and avoided addressing the public interest, supports that it is worth reading the entire book for. Read all about it in chapter 16 titled “one… two… three… surprise!” and see if it doesn’t push your unfairness buttons.
Experiencing Don’t Lose Sight turns dry prose into the realm of a personal, felt and lived essence, which is powerful and meaningful. It will move you.
The third dimension on which Don’t Lost Sight works is on the emotional and psychological plane. Chornenki is at her pithy best describing difficult conversations she has with her husband, William. Rarely will you find an author with the courage to put her whole self on the page as she does:
In the days following my surgery the external, physical world constricted, and I turned in on myself. I was a tapeworm larva inside a cyst, isolated and self- absorbed.
Long-suffering William nurses his dear Genevieve with tea:
But the bubbling sound of liquid hitting the mug and plopping around disgusted me.
“Stop doing that! You know I hate that sound… And peanut butter on an all- dressed bagel? Seriously! Who eats such crap?”
“Sorry, dear. I know you like whole wheat, but the only day-olds were the all-dressed kind.”
“Well, splurge. Buy me some fresh ones.”
There are several similar anecdotes, all of which work to sustain an air of authenticity about this very personal story. The reader is left feeling like a close friend and confidant by the (too short) time Don’t Lose Sight arrives at its conclusion.
I found that Don’t Lose Sight contains poetry, journalistic exactitude, but most of all celebrates the victory of hard work, determination and trust over fear and the temptation to become a victim.
Despite its modest length, there is a lot here for everyone.
Rick Russell is a founding partner of Agree (1993). He has a busy conflict management practice specializing in commercial, civil and workplace mediation as well as conflict management training, arbitration and Partnering.