If you’re like me, you don’t like looking in the mirror. You’re forced to see those things–the blemishes, the cellulite, and worse–that you would prefer never having to face. That’s the thing about reflection: it shows you things you hadn’t really noticed before.
When I took this photograph yesterday, it alerted me to the cloud formations, the brightness of the sky, and even the ripples on the water that I hadn’t even noticed. Was it the slight shift in color that made me see the landscape differently? The narrowed focus of my eye, on solely the water’s imprint, rather than the larger-scale scene? Or was it the fact that I was seeing the world in an upside-down image that gave me the opportunity to see it differently?
That’s what I love so much about writing, and it’s what I’m always telling my students. The power of reflection is that you often gain a new, slightly shifted perspective on life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a novel, a blog, or a few random thoughts meant only to be read by you. It doesn’t make a bit of difference whether you’re typing on a laptop or scrolling with pen in a pretty little journal or chiseling away at stone tablets (although the last method of writing counts as calorie-burning exercise).
The point about writing is that, when you see your ideas reflected back in two-dimensional words, you’re forced at some level of consciousness to reconsider whether those words are really capturing the essence of not only your cerebral thoughts but also your emotional feelings–which are in turn the essence of who you are. When I see the impact of writing on my students, it’s almost magical witnessing what happens. I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but it’s as though writing is fertilizer for the soul, as though I’m watching a slow-motion explosion of wildflowers: first, the strong stalks sprouting from the soil, then the buds beginning to open, and finally, a mesmerizing palette of strength and color and beauty coming into full view, choking out the ugly noxious weeds.
But okay, it’s not always pretty. Writing, and self-reflection, can be hard.
I’m working on a collection of short stories, and it occurred to me, just as I was writing this piece, that there had been a shift in perspective by one of my characters when she saw her face in the mirror. I try to avoid using this cliche device in my fiction, but in this scene it worked. If you’ve read my novel, The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, you’ve briefly met Raina and Beatrice. Here’s what happens in the short story-in-progress:
“When Raina dried her face with one of Beatrice’s pretty hand towels and looked in the mirror, what she saw scared her shitless. A madwoman leered at her.”
Reflections, whether in the mirror or on the page, may not always be as soothing and idyllic as the one in the above photograph. They might actually scare us shitless. But sometimes it’s only through reflection that we’re able to see where we need to go.