Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Poetry and Mirrors

I've been working on an annotated poetry collection, and I thought I'd give you all a preview. Here's a poem I wrote when I was a freshman in high school.

 What Do You See?

What do you see
when you look in the mirror?
Do you see a reflection of your face,
or your soul?
Do you see yourself,
or who you think you are,
or who you want to be,
or who other people think you are?
Do you see beauty,
or ugliness,
even if they aren’t there?
Do you see emotion,
or a cold mask?
Do you see someone else,
or do you see nothing at all?


Comments on What Do You See?
Identity. Another touchstone of the teenage experience. Just who is that person in the mirror anyway?

I’m not particularly fond of mirrors. I had one on my closet door, which for most of my life was across from my bed. Maybe I’d read Lewis Carroll one too many times, but it never seemed to adequately reflect reality. Of course, some of that’s from writer’s brain.* I kept waiting for the reflection to be wrong. (I don’t watch horror movies much anymore. The images stick with me in a way that words on a page don’t.)

My husband feels the same way about mirrors as I do. We have two mirrors in the house. One is on the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and the other is in the guest bedroom. That’s it.

This is entertaining in a way because we’re both very self-aware. It’s not like we’re afraid of confronting ourselves or something; we each did that ages ago. But there’s something about mirrors. You just can’t trust them. They give you the illusion of seeing yourself, but you aren’t really seeing yourself, you’re seeing your inversion. Maybe that’s why they bug me more than photographs. That’s it. A photograph is a moment in time. A mirror is pretending to be you.

I don’t actively avoid mirrors now, and I didn’t then, either. In fact, there were times I spent hours (okay, maybe an hour) staring at the mirror and testing facial expressions. Not only did I want to know what it looked like when I felt a particular way, I wanted to know how to reproduce that expression. This came in handy later when I was in theater (not that I was a very good actor) but it’s also been useful in my writing career.

I notice as I write this that I’m more or less ignoring the poem. And I suppose that’s because even after twenty years, I don’t have a good answer. Not one I can put into words, anyway, other than just to say “me.” I guess that is an answer, come to think of it. The mask is still there when I want it, but now it’s a tool, not a way of life. I don’t wear it for myself. I see me, all of me, the good and the bad, the kind and the cruel.

And I smile and nod, and say, “Good enough.”

*For those of you who don’t have writer’s brain, I will explain. Writers are always on the lookout for ideas, because very often our lives are boring. Our brains find ways of making life more interesting by grabbing up commonplaces and mashing them together or giving them a twist. A lot of story ideas started out with my brain presenting me with a what-if, like “what if I walked into the garage and there was a burgler?” And then I run with the scenario. If it turns out to be interesting enough, I just change the main character and start writing it down.

You can read another excerpt here.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. "A photograph is a moment in time. A mirror is pretending to be you." -- this gave me the chills. You know, I think I have a mirror in every room of my house but maybe I don't need it. Or maybe I haven't been through the same "facing yourself" journey you guys have so it's different.

  2. Mirrors aren't bad, necessarily. They just aren't for me. :) Except for when I'm being a mirror for someone else.

    I'm glad you found my post evocative though--it gives me hope that this poetry/essay collection might speak to someone other than me, hehe.