By Preston Fassel
Twelve years goes by quick.
I specify twelve because, sitting here looking at the fiftieth anniversary issue of 20/20, I realize that’s how long I’ve been writing for the magazine; and what a journey it’s been. Like many of us, it was, of course, opticianry that brought me to 20/20. I hadn’t been working long for the TSO in Magnolia, Texas, where I’d recently become employed after moving to the Houston suburbs, when I became acquainted with the publication and immediately became a voracious reader. For an optical nerd like me, it was like a dream come true. Sports fans have their magazines, nature lovers have National Geographic, but for someone who can wax philosophical on eyewear design or the sociological place of glasses throughout history, or the most iconic frames in cinema, there aren’t many periodicals to sate my interests. Now, here it was, right in my own workspace: a magazine that felt especially made for me.
Before long, 20/20 wasn’t just a pleasant presence in my life, it was becoming an important part of it and shaping my future. An email I sent regarding an article in the Summer of 2012 led to an unexpected response from then-editor Mark Mattison-Shupnick, who in short order invited me to begin contributing a history column to The Optician’s Handbook, the antecedent to Pro-to-Pro. For over the next year I contributed articles on the history of everything from unique frame shapes to frame designs and optical trends, garnering the attention of James Spina, who tapped me to write a feature on the resurgence of browline frames for a 2013 issue of the print magazine (my prediction: they were the frames not only of the past but the future, and would achieve market dominance). Soon, I was a regular contributor to the magazine, an opportunity that led me into the archives of the LBJ Presidential Museum, in order to write what’s still one of my proudest achievements, POTUS Specs, printed in 20/20 and to this day the only comprehensive study of Lyndon Johnson’s eyewear collection (a copy of that issue is now a part of the museum collection as well).
Perhaps most special of all, though, was the opportunity James extended me in 2014, for the magazine’s 40th anniversary. All I had published fiction-wise at the time were some short stories in my college’s literary magazine, but James knew I aspired to be a published writer, and he invited me to contribute a short story honoring the magazine’s legacy and the beauty and importance of eyewear. It was the first fiction writing I was ever paid for and sent me down the road to being the published novelist I am now. My 20/20 work further gave me some proof of concept when I began branching out into other avenues of nonfiction writing, allowing me to pitch myself to a variety of sci-fi, horror, and film magazines.
I’ve seen so many changes to 20/20 in these twelve years. James and Mark are gone now, as is Mindi Lewis, a beloved editor of the Optician’s Handbook, now Pro-to-Pro; and Specs in the City and other features have been added to the magazine. We’re owned by WebMD now! Through it all, though, 20/20 has served an important purpose: inspiration. Be it education for budding opticians, cutting edge developments for vets, adverts for buyers in need of freshening up their dispensary, or just a fun magazine to kick back with, 20/20 is the magazine for us. We can know that, once a month (or anytime we want to sign online) there’s a publication coming in the mail by people like us, for people like us. I’m certain I’m far from the only person whose life has been positively impacted by the magazine, both in development as an optical professional and beyond. It’s been here for 50 years, and here’s hoping that 20/20 is around for 50 more.