Professing * Reflecting

Friday, August 03, 2007

Poetry Friday, Sylvia Plath


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

News of Theresa Duncan's suicide threw me for a loop this week. It also got me thinking about writing, depression, and creative identities. I only discovered Duncan's blog this past Spring, and I responded strongly to the voice and persona I found there--complex, vital, brave, astute, wry, and extraordinarily sensitive. I was perhaps most attuned to the undercurrent of depression, a palpable note of being utterly heartbroken by life, that ran through the posts. Stronger than that note of heartbreak, its consistent echo, was a refusal, a persistence, an insistence on finding beauty--no matter how complicated or dingy or ironic--in this world. There was not anything I would call hope there, but there was a determination to remain aware, awake in the face of pain. That's the voice I heard anyway. Whether it had anything to do with her "real" identity or who she "really" was I have no idea. But it was her creation, a sort of mirror in which we might catch glimpses of her, ourselves, and our world.

I chose the Plath poem not only because of the struggle with identity it contains but also because I am thinking about my own creativity, my own depression, and the identity I have created here. I have not posted about mirrors or mirroring or why I am a "professional mirror" and what that might have to do with Medusa in a long time. The short answer in regard to my professional self is that my work has to do with mirrors both literal and figurative. There is no real short answer in terms of my personal life.

I began to describe myself as a "professional mirror" in a kind of jokey way during the greatest (and most doomed) love affair of my life. What I struggle with in relationships is a tendency to serve as a mirror, reflecting the person I love as he needs and wants to be seen, or more precisely providing a kind of bubble in which his needs and desires are supremely present. In the mirror-bubble, his most desired image of himself and his desiring self are completely validated. You might ask what's wrong with two people in a relationship loving, feeling loved, and respecting one another's feelings as valid. Nothing, but that's not what I am describing. The mirror-bubble is a trap. What seems to be happening is that two people with compatible needs and desires are supporting and loving one another. What is really happening is the needs and desires of the one being mirrored are the only reality. The mirror must and does remain blank, empty of its own needs. The mirror's need to be loved is met but only as long as the mirror mirrors.

Yes, this a pretty screwed-up dynamic. Though it was my most intimate reality, I only learned to articulate it in this precise and detailed way after years of therapy. I still struggle with and question terms like "inverse narcissism" (the mirror) and "narcissistic personality disorder" (the mirrored). Maybe I romanticize it with talk of mirrors and shields and illusions and bubbles. I do not think the dynamic completely defines me or characterizes my every relationship. I am of course aware of it now. I tend to be able to spot a narcissist at fifty paces, and now I usually head in the opposite direction as fast as I can. Every once in a while, though, the person is such a big and fascinating presence (e.g. The Grand He, for those of you who have been reading for a while) that I am drawn to him and to the safe space of the mirror. Part of the problem for the mirror is the danger of showing oneself rather than showing the other; another is the fear of being seen. That's where the Medusa part of the equation comes in. For Medusa, the mirror is one of the weapons used to kill her. Perseus is warned not to shield himself from seeing her or being seen by her but from allowing her to return the gaze. The last thing she sees is her reflection in the shield. Her gaze, separated from the mirror that reflects him, is deadly.

I am beginning to question the identity I have created here in various ways and for many reasons. I wonder about my voice. I wonder if the depressive overshadows the joyous. I worry that I come across as cynical and caustic and unstable. I worry that this persona does not convey how deeply I care about my family, my friends, and what I do for a living. I question the wisdom, for personal and professional reasons, of keeping this blog. Sometimes it feels reckless on both levels. On a personal level, I am obviously deeply conflicted about revealing myself. All this self-reflection feels sometimes suffocating, sometimes frivolous, and sometimes scary. It's difficult to talk about my experience with things like depression and therapy and unhealthy relationships. On a professional level, I should not be talking about any of these things.

At the end of the day, I know that this mirror-bubble that is my blog does not represent the "truth" of me, no more than Duncan's blog can be read to reveal her as "deeply disturbed" or "paranoid" or any of the other ways people are trying to represent her. I can see myself, according to the pathology of the mirror I describe above, as one messed-up girl. But I can also see how that same dynamic has made me acutely aware of the ways we see and need to see ourselves. I know no mirror is silver and exact. I understand the pain of finding your own heart as only a flicker on the screen of another's desire. I know the dangers of getting caught in the mirror, and I understand the importance of stepping outside of it and ourselves.

Part of me would like to use this space to represent a self who does not struggle with these issues, a more perfect self, but part of me wants to show and to honor the struggle. I am beginning to think that life might not be about overcoming the struggle. Perhaps life is about the struggle. Maybe life is the struggle, and maybe that struggle is not a burden but a beautiful and vital and creative act.

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