Since August, I have been spending at least ten minutes each day in mirror-meditation, looking at my reflection. It has gone from the routine "checking the appearance on the way out the door" to something deeper and more powerful than I had anticipated. My recent attempts at self-portrait photography are just another aspect of this burgeoning self-awareness.
A few Saturdays back, the writing wasn't going well. I was starting sentences and immediately re-reading them (always a bad idea), switching from "creation" to "critique" much too quickly. I had a hot cup of tea to finish before I could abandon my cafe post--and rain to watch as it doused the streets. I was almost finished, berating myself for my inability to get moving when a woman approached me, shaking off her drenched coat and tossing her wild white hair behind her shoulders.
"Excuse me," she said, "Are you going to be here for a while?"
Thinking she wanted the window seat, I replied, "Just a little while..."
She smiled instead and offered her hand, "I'm Georgia...I was watching you work as I bought my coffee. Can I draw you?"
She explained that for her art class she had been assigned to complete as many renderings as possible before the next session. I opened my notebook again and agreed to let her go ahead. I wound up having to hold the same pose for the entire time she sketched me--which just happened to be with a pen in my left hand, writing. Not only did I finish the scene that had been plaguing me, I opened my second notebook and started laying the bones of an essay idea swirling through my head...when she still hadn't finished, I actually wrote a draft of it out.
In the Springtime, my sister and I attended a discussion session held for Joyce Carol Oates and Salman Rushdie...in addition to many random bursts of brilliance from these two esteemed writers--Oates offered a secret to her craft. When asked, "How are you so incredibly prolific? This many books a year?!?"
Oates smiled primly and said, "Well...I have a cat."
When the moderator looked confused, she continued, "When I sit down to write, that cat climbs into my lap and falls into the most delicious sleep. Every time I want to stop writing, I look down and just hate the idea of disturbing her. So I say, okay, just a few more pages. By the time she wakes, I've written whole chapters. So, every writer should own at least one sleepy cat." To which I'd add, or--at least one artist on-call to sketch you while you work. You are so loathe to interrupt her craft, that you patiently whittle away at your own...
I cannot help but to think about this odd coincidental timing of the artist asking to draw me while I am learning to look at myself. She handed the sketch right over, to my surprise--complimented me, and vanished back into the bookstore before I even realized it. I was left there, seeing my image on a piece of heavy paper--rendered in chalk and charcoal. This picture is of me with myself in the moment of creation. Though I feel strange at times, posting these self-portraits--it is fulfilling a fragmented promise to myself that I will not be invisible anymore. Like most people, I still have a way to go before I meet full acceptance. But I see the women in my family in pieces of my face...my mother, grandmothers, sister, cousins, aunts, daughters. I change expression and I see my father, my brothers, my son. My heritage is etched all over me and this feels a comfort somehow, a blessing. I am not yet to the point of self-love that my Rosie is in a mirror-meditation of her own:
But, I am finding moments of joy like hers. If you have never looked beyond the daily maintenance or the rare family picture--go take a self-portrait photo and then gaze at it for a long while. Or, if you're really brave, go and meet your reflection in the mirror. Go beyond the criticism, the old "flaws" you always notice...right there, do you see how your brow curves just like some woman you love? How the jawline is just like the man you remember? We carry our family tree in our bones, on our skin, in the curve of our bare foot and odd crooked finger. Spend just a few moments with that person you have likely been neglecting lately...yourself. Who knows what you'll see in the mirror today?