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Press into the mirror, in hopes to push past the boundary of imagination...

Late last evening, in the midst of catching up with a friend who I’ve known since day one at Northwestern, the evening took a sudden, unexpectedly esoteric turn.

She said to me, “I look in the mirror, and I don’t know if I recognize the person who I see reflected there.” We were both tipping back glasses of chardonnay as the evening wore on, by its close finishing two-thirds of the bottle and donating the rest to our handsome waiter. In retrospect, wine might not have been right for this particular evening. When someone says to you, “I don’t recognize who I am anymore,” the best you can do is wait for what will most inevitably come next, a follow-up clarification. A statement can easily be either positive or negative or even a complicated, unexplainable mix of the two. So be silent. I hear it’s golden.

In the case of my own example, it was the latter concoction, the indecipherable vat of emotions wrapped in a tipsy blanket of extemporaneous revelation. She said, “I’m starting to define myself by what I do instead of what I don’t do,” which is of course an expository time-waste that could be solved by realizing that the two are one in the same. Dostoevsky will teach you this, if you read any of his novels — The Brothers Karamazov or Notes From Underground might be the best, or most explicit, for this purpose, but any will do. Dostoevsky’s core model is that to [not do] is wholly parallel to [do]; if this were untrue, [not do] would necessarily involve a complete cessation of all activity — ie. death, the only true [not do]. Dostoevsky masks this philosophy in the big P and small p politics of choice and often, helpfully, in the context of looking — highly relevant, in my case — but wherever it occurs, the philosophy is always the same. The [not do], as we know it and use it, is simply a [do]ing of another [do]. I will simplify if necessary.

Point being, she has changed. She’s not the person she felt she was for the past three years. She’s dating and kissing older men, getting her MA at age 21, and here life’s changing. But her perspective on the change is the problematic aspect — in fact, I attempted to articulate this last evening, after two glasses of wine to questionable success. I told her, without quoting Dostoevsky, that the problem of her mild mix of disenchantment and fascination comes because she’s defining herself based on a binary, when in fact there is no binary “this-or-that” to attribute her actions to. In my actual words of last night, I think I said, “The problem is that you’ve switched from what you don’t do to what you do ‘do’ instead of just letting it all play out without thinking about it in the least.”

In looking back, I can see how that would be unconvincing. And I’m sorry for myself that my mind was so clouded with chardonnay. But, then again, without wine, I don’t know that my friend would have been so open with me about all of those things going on inside her mind. She wouldn’t have revealed anything to me, felt comfortable being open, honest and vulnerable. But, even now, I cannot be sure if she was looking for answers, an affirmation, or simply a sounding board for her thoughts. Nonetheless, I spent the remainder of the evening watching my own reflection. I remembered that the last thing I did before I met her for dinner was to look at myself in a mirror, to make sure I was prepared to leave — a sort of ritualistic self-evaluation for going out on the town. And I wondered why I, in contrast to her, had fewer compulsions about myself changing in the mirror as weeks, months, years go by. At the end of the night, I think I had it figured out.

I have no memory of ever being concerned with my image in the mirror (ie. my presentation to the outside world).* The exception here is, of course, the requisite check-up that occurs when dressing oneself in the morning hours. I look in the mirror  to make sure I haven’t forgotten what I deem as standards of presentation (ie. all buttons buttoned, all zippers zipped, shoelaces tied, et cetera). And I do not appear slovenly — it’s not as if my appearance takes a backseat to anything else, it’s that I simply dress how I dress, I do what I do, and I don’t allow myself the concerns of others. In other words, the mirrors in my life simply pass me by. The imagistic representations they reflect are impermanent, cannot be captured except with a photograph. I make the image, and thus I retain control over it. Plus, I don’t think a physical object has the ability to recreate the complexities of a human being anyways, and so I take it all as a single grain of sand.

In that grain of sand that manifests in my mind, I remember William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence and I walk away from the mirror, paying it no further thought.

 

* If necessary, I will be more explicit about what I mean here. Anyone, feel free to make the request. I know what I meant when I wrote that, so I didn’t expound any further. I do really treat this as a sketchbook of sorts, a published sketchbook, a public venue for working out things I am thinking. Feedback is always welcome.

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