Self & reflection

I love you

As befits Black Friday, yesterday’s Photo Friday theme was “Black.” J and I went to a daytime hockey game yesterday, so if you want to see what the Bruins look like in their new, mostly-black third jerseys, you can click here for that sort of blackness (including images of a few hockey fights, with the black and blue they induce).

Drink & gamble!

Instead of forcing more black and gold on those of my readers I know are neither hockey nor sports fans, I chose instead to share the above picture from a long walk down Beacon Street J and I took on Thanksgiving. As we did on last year’s Christmas walk down Newbury Street, we took both dogs and cameras with us, and while last year’s Christmas walk was bright, shiny, and filled with reflective mannequins, this year’s Thanksgiving walk was partly cloudy and less photogenic. J was shooting with his film camera, so when he spotted the above graffito on a black utility box, he remarked that it was too dark for him to shoot it, the sun already beginning to set in late afternoon. So I shot someone’s roughly scrawled love-letter to the world with my point-and-shoot digicam, making sure to center my reflected self in its black coat between two painted characters on the liquor-store window behind me, one of them sporty and the other snowy.

On the day after Black Friday, I guess this is my own love-letter to the world: roughly scrawled but reflective, early-falling darkness providing an apt b(l)ackground for warm greetings.

Full service reflection

Apparently these days, I see myself as perpetually behind a camera. It’s been a while since I’ve posted any reflective photos: perhaps I got my fill of narcissism during last summer’s self portrait marathon. As luck would have it, though, today’s Photo Friday theme is How I See Myself, thereby providing an excuse to post three reflective images I shot during last weekend’s walk through the optimistic streets of Newton, MA.

Sleeping Buddha, with reflection

I’ve always seen myself as being a lazy Buddhist, so it made sense to snap my reflection alongside a sleeping Buddha displayed in the window of some posh boutique. Since when is Buddhism trendy? I must have been (yes) sleeping when staring at the floor became a stylishly cool thing to do…or at least to be seen doing. Do I see myself as being posh, trendy, or stylish? Not in the very least…which again is why it makes sense that I appear off to the side, marginal, in this image. If sleeping Buddhas are Where It’s At, I’m somewhere off to the side, only slightly present: a visual hanger-on.

Reflection with ice-cream eating passerby

In shooting a reflective shot that features the arabesque margin of an upscale restaurant window, I also managed to catch a passerby eating ice cream. In the foreground, I’m soft in the middle; in the background, a skinny chick feeds her flatter, toner tum. Do I see myself as a Chunky Monkey craving some Chubby Hubby? Not exactly, but I don’t see myself as a Skinny Chick either. I guess when it comes to the Battle of the Bulge, I’m somewhere between a rock and some Rocky Road: just me, my camera, and a handful of reflections that don’t lie.

Dressed for success...during a snowstorm

Who cares what waif-thin supermodels are wearing as they strut the catwalks of Paris and Milan…the real question is what average-sized New Hampshire bloggers wear on dogwalks during a February snowstorm. As I’ve blogged before, Reggie insists on his daily walk regardless of the weather, so on Wednesday when the snow fell all day and the wind grew increasingly impertinent as afternoon deepened in to night, I opted for the “layered eclectic” look, donning boots and knee-high gaiters; puffy down coat topped with a Gore-tex shell; and scarf, hat, and hood to keep me (relatively) warm and dry.

It’s not an elegant look…but it gets the job done. And given the relative lack of walkers cruising the snowy streets of Keene on Wednesday afternoon, when Keene State cancelled classes and roughly half of the businesses downtown closed early because of the weather, it’s not like many people saw much less cared what I wore to walk the dog.

Although it’s difficult (and dangerous to one’s digicam) to snap many photos during near-blizzard conditions, the aftermath of any winter storm promises to be picturesque…at least once you’ve dug out from said aftermath. I eventually shoveled out my car, driveway, and a walkway to and from my front door…and my upstairs neighbor took a saner path, hiring a snowplow to clear our driveway parking spots after I’d finished clearing mine. They say that she who hesitates is lost, but in the case of driveway-shoveling, she who hesitates is freed from frost by the skillful manuevering of an attentive plow-guy.

If nothing else, February snowstorms provide yet another reason why you shouldn’t let feral furniture spend the winter outside, even under the shelter of a front-porch roof. Can you say “snow-fa”?

Snow on sofa

Self portrait mosaic

Straight on the heels of yesterday’s Top Ten third blogiversary post, today’s Photo Friday theme is Best of 2006. What I love most about this self-portrait (origianlly posted here) is the fact that I took it with a cheap keychain camera. Who needs fancy photographic equipment if you have photo-editing software and a dash of creativity?

Reflective self-portrait

In the spirit of This is Spinal Tap, this self-portrait goes to eleven. It’s been nearly a month since I posted my tenth and final submission for the self-portrait marathon…but after dining with other Progressive Faith Blog Con participants earlier this month, I snapped this eleventh self-portrait in the Art Deco chrome that covers the exterior of the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, NJ.

I’d hoped to capture eleven reflected images of my own head: a wry response to Dave’s post about the eleven heads of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion who is known as Kwan Seum Bosal in Korean. Instead of capturing the eleven heads of my True Compassionate Nature, though, I photographed only three and a half. I guess when it comes to compassion, my True Self doesn’t go anywhere near eleven, which explains why no Buddhists in Korea or elsewhere will be venerating my image anytime soon.

Mirror, mirror

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any reflective photos, but a mirror sale at a downtown frame shop gave me the impetus to get back into self-photographic gear.

It’s not like I haven’t been taking reflective photos: over a month ago, on a trip to Northampton, MA to meet Rachel for a concert, I snapped a slew of ego-obsessed pictures in a shop hawking mirrors with funky, New-Agey slogans. But for some reason, I haven’t taken the time to re-visit and share these month-old images.

Reflective photography

Philosophers of all stripes agree that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I’m not convinced that physical self-inspection is a necessary ingredient in self-knowledge. Did Narcissus know himself in a truly philosophical sense? Wouldn’t we agree that an ancient sage like Tiresias probably knew himself deeply even though physical blindness precluded him from using a mirror in that pursuit?

Reflective photography

The journey toward self-discovery begins with a single step…but I don’t think a trip to the mirror is absolutely necessary. Looking at these images, I’m not sure who it is exactly I see peering from behind the camera: is it me, or is it a persona I project in both world and blogosphere, a protective shell hiding the True Self within?

Reflective photography

It seems to me that words, like pictures, can be used both to reveal and conceal. The more you read of these words, can you be any more certain of who it is who composes them? Seeing the face behind the pictures, do you know “me” any better, or have you caught only a glimpse of the body that shades my soul?

Reflective photography

The mirror’s art notwithstanding, it seems one’s True Self is the universe’s most slippery creature, even more elusive than the Divine. Are there any words or cameras quick enough to catch it?

Reflective self-portrait

I just checked the calendar to confirm what my soul suspected: it’s been almost exactly six months since I announced to the blogosphere that I’d separated from my now-ex husband. Attuned to the predictable rhythms of my psyche, I’ve been bracing myself for this next stage: the aftershock, that weird, vulnerable, emotionally tenuous place where you feel something surprising struggling to be born from the apparent tranquility of acceptance.

Reflection among flowers

Much of the post-traumatic coping in the aftermath of divorce, I’m learning, happens subconsciously, roiling under the surface like an emotional leviathan. On the surface, I’m doing swimmingly: I go to work, I teach my classes, I pay my bills and walk the dog. I shop and sightsee, take and post pictures, and spend time with friends old and new. In a word, I have a life, and I love it: never have I regretted leaving a relationship that was dying and (frankly) taking me with it. And yet at the same time, I’m only gradually coming to grips with the repercussions of living my life with a healing wound: scar-tissue of the soul.

One morning last week–the morning before my ex-husband’s birthday, in fact–I woke before my alarm with a panicked startle: “I’m divorced!” It was as if the enormity of the split had suddenly dawned on me, like I’ve been walking around in blithe disregard of what dire fate has actually befallen me. For a moment, I thought I’d burst into hot panicked tears right there in my bed, the sun still hours from appearing. It wasn’t that I missed or regretted “losing” my ex-husband since for several weeks now I’ve had occasional, fragmented, and barely remembered dreams where he’s appeared unannounced at my doorstep, in my car, or in my apartment, sudden and uninvited. In each of these dreams, I’ve felt the same sickening emotions that led to separation: the cringing worthlessness I felt being married to someone whose expectations I felt perpetually doomed to under-satisfy.

Mirror shopping

No, that morning’s panic had nothing to do with my ex-husband but everything to do with me, with the inexplicable shame I feel being “a divorced woman.” As much as I never fit the role of what a good wife (whatever that is) is supposed to be, I struggle even more with seeing myself as being the kind of person (whatever that is) who would divorce.

I never thought I had a judgmental view of divorce; I’ve never been conscious of looking down on someone because their marriage didn’t work out. But in my own case, I’m gradually coming to realize how much guilt and shame I’ve been carrying, a seething cauldron of psychological poison bubbling just under the emotional surface. My marriage failed…I failed. I’ll always be tainted with that irredeemable flaw: I’m a divorced woman, my first marriage having failed.

Reflective lamp fixture

It’s as if I’ve long labored under a subconscious notion of purity: in a day and age when more folks than not, it seems, have at least one failed marriage under their belt, I felt aloof and different: pure. Marrying young, before I had much experience with the dating scene, I could pretend I was a wife from a different era, pure and virginal, someone who could years later boast of having been married for 30, 40, 50 years: a boast as precious as gold in a tawdry and tarnished time.

Instead of being able to boast late in life that I’d made my marriage work–that I’d kept my sacred vows and successfully forsook all others for as long as we both did live–now I’m forever besmirched with human imperfection. Divorce. Another way of spelling failure, quitter, breaker-of-hearts, starting with one’s own. Although I’d never lob these hideous invectives at another soul, they stick so perversely when I toss them on myself. Married as a good Catholic girl who really believed those priests who said Marriage is a Sacrament, I never again will be so young or so naive. Nope, now I’m Used Goods–tainted–a second-hand car that’s been ’round the block more than a couple of times and is showing the usual wear and tear. The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be: I’ve gone from being not-so-good as a good-little-wife-wannabe to being exactly what the status on my car insurance says: once Separated, now Divorced. Not whole but severed: patched but forever broken.

Mirror, mirror

Lately, on scattered occasions, I’ve had bouts of panic about being alone. These aren’t emotional feelings of loneliness: this isn’t a matter of missing my ex-husband or yearning for a man’s companionship. Instead, I’ve felt occasional panicked feelings of vulnerability, as if I were by nature a herd animal–antelope or gazelle–that suddenly has been singled out from the herd, alone and defenseless, as a hungry leopard approaches, lean and swift. I am a newly divorced woman living on my own some 700 miles from my closest kin. If I slipped in my bathtub, who would notice? If I fell victim to some accident or disaster, who would care?

These are, of course, the illogical questions of a frightened mind. Simply being coupled doesn’t save you from accident or mortality, and even while I was married, I spent a large portion of my free-time alone, preferring solitude or the company of friends to that of a spouse from whom I felt increasingly estranged. But panic, I’ve come to believe, is a telling symptom; in my meditation practice, I’ve learned that panic, like a hiker’s double-blaze, often preceeds a marked and unexpected turn. Sometimes panic is the overture to a more lasting trial; sometimes facing panic–the imaginary beasties under one’s bed–is how we prepare to face the long haul of meaningful change and new beginnings.

Mirror shopping

For in the very midst of these dark emotions that churn and roil beneath the surface, clarity and strength arises unbidden. This past week I said goodbye to a friendship that had gone sour, an acquaintance I deeply admire but who had become increasingly difficult for me to deal with. I feel no hard feelings toward this friend: I just reached a point where I no longer had the energy to second-guess another’s actions and motivations. After having spent too much energy of late apologizing for ways I’d unwittingly offended simply by being myself, I reached the same point in friendship that I’d ultimately reached in marriage. Sometimes quitting is a necessary thing: sometimes you simply need to say “enough” rather than continuing to push a stone up a slippery hill.

This past weekend at the Providence Zen Center, several old friends had not yet heard of my divorce, leaving me to explain (awkwardly) the current state of my love life when faced with the seemingly innocuous greeting, “So, how are you guys?” Now that I’m no longer half of “you guys,” I stand alone in the face of people’s questions: “My husband and I divorced in November, and I’m doing fine.” As awkward as it is to deal with the wide range of emotions such an announcement evokes, it ultimately feels good to answer the question honestly, no longer needing to pretend my marriage was something it wasn’t. Instead of clinging to some boastful notion of purity, it’s a relief to acknowledge that both people and relationships change and grow, that even crushed and shattered souls can ultimately find the strength to move on.

Yes, I’m still obsessed with reflective photography, having uploaded several of these images to the Mirror Project. You can find my past submissions here, or you can check out a random assortment of Mirror Project submissions.


Today’s Photo Friday challenge is Reflections. I took this photo last August in the reflection of a fire-truck bell. As this and my other reflective pictures prove, I’m smoking, baby!


Last week I received an updated copy of my car insurance which reflected the seemingly innocuous fact that my 1993 Subaru is now registered in my name and Chris is no longer listed as a driver of that car. And there in black and white I saw it printed for the first time: “Lorianne Schaub. Marital status: separated.”


On the one hand, “separated” is such a mild euphemism. When I first phoned my mother to tell her of Chris and my decision to divorce, I couldn’t bring myself to say the dreaded “D” word. “We’ve decided to separate,” I explained calmly. “It’s an amiable split, but things are understandably awkward.” It was only after my mom pushed for specifics–was I referring to a trial separation, or had the die been cast–that I made the situation clear: no, it’s over; he’s moved to Vermont, and the paperwork for a divorce has been filed. Even with my mother, though, I stumbled over the “D” word. In my head “divorce” equated with “failure” whereas “separation” evoked an image of an amiable parting: here we’ve come to a juncture, you and I, and I will walk this way while you go that.


On the other hand, though, “separation” is a jarring and even violent term. Whereas “divorce” can refer to a coldly clinical legal procedure (sign the papers, pay the fee, and you’re outta there), thinking of oneself as “separated” evokes images of body parts lying bloodlessly detached from one another: here’s an arm; over there’s a leg. “Separation” sounds almost surgical, as if the act of divorcing from one’s partner of nearly 13 years is a kind of dismemberment, a cleaving apart of flesh and bone that had improperly knit.

Wind chimes

This latter image of separation seems particularly apt. At times over the past two months since Chris moved to Vermont, I’ve felt emotionally dismembered, as if my head is in one place and my heart in another. On one level, I live and work and interact like any other normally functioning person; on the other, I feel like I’ve left a limb or two somewhere, but I can’t remember where. How can people talk and interact with me normally: can’t they see that I’ve been cloven in two, half of my limbs and nearly all of my heart having disappeared, severed? At times as I go about smiling and chatting as if nothing has happened, I feel like a magician’s assistant: my head is smiling, my hands are waving, and my feet are dancing…but each of these parts is neatly segmented into its own clever box, a benignly bloodless dislocation.


Some while ago, Andi described the experience of breaking up with a partner and then moving to Korea as feeling like an unaesthetized spinal transplant: suddenly the very thing that held you upright has been ripped from you, and there you are trying to navigate a foreign airport as if nothing ever happened. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the precise permalink to Andi’s post, so you’ll have to rely on my paraphrase.) Although I’ve never had spinal surgery nor have I ever moved to Korea, I know that during that week when Chris moved out, I felt like I’d been enviscerated, like I was walking around town with a huge gaping hollow where my stomach and guts used to be. I couldn’t eat nor did I want to, and I felt oddly detached from my own body: somehow it didn’t seem real that I could function like any other normal person with a brain that was spinning from an onslaught of “what if’s” and “if only’s.”


The metaphor of divorce being a kind of unaesthetized envisceration works on several different levels. As I mentioned, I’ve never had spinal surgery, but I have had my appendix removed, and several years ago my father had both his colon and bladder removed not long after doctors had riven his ribcage to repair a long-abused and direly blocked heart. I know what it’s like to be bent double with abdominal pain; I know what it’s like to lie abed without the energy to stand much less walk while nurses exhort you to get up and be moving. I’ve seen my father slowly recover after doctors literally severed his insides to keep the rest of him alive: I know the mixed emotions you feel toward the bastards who stole your father bit by bit in order to defeat the damn Cancer that had been eating him, unaware. When you see a man brought to the brink of death then back again at gloved and masked hands–when you’ve felt the press of those same hands as you lay on a gurney, pain ripping your insides as you clawed at your own IVs, madly animalized by pain and fear–you don’t know whether to thank medical science or excoriate it. Those bastards cut open my father after he allowed them to cut open me, and neither one of us would be alive today without such goddamned and bloody intervention.


The deepest irony of describing divorce as unaesthetized envisceration, though, lies in its agency, for I acknowledge that I am both helpless patient and goddamn bastard doctor. This separation is one I both asked and pressed for; when Chris has asked if there’s even a chance of reconcilation, my rational half (my inner surgeon) has said No. Even as I walked the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine several weeks ago, pencam around my neck as I snapped one reflective picture after another, visual proof to myself that I Am Standing and Will Survive, an unexpected cell phone call from him brought the pain of separation immediately back, unscabbed. Was separating difficult? Yes. Did I regret the decision? No. One of the oddest parts of self-surgery is the way you can simultaneously feel yourself lying strapped to a gurney, your guts splayed and splattered, while another part of you stands logical and detached, overseeing the procedure. Really, this must be done: truly, to save the life of the patient, the cancer and contiguous organs must be removed.


Thus I live with an odd paradox. Although I both regret and lament the pain of separation and I’m staggered at the thought of my own relational failures and my cognizance of how this split has broken hearts other than my own, I never once have regretted the decision that led to divorce. Yes, I’ve had moments of loneliness since Chris moved out; yes, I’ve had moments of depression and even despair. But none of these lonely moments is as bad as the loneliness I felt in a mis-matched marriage; never have I felt so depressed that I wanted to curl up and die, which is something I felt too often while married. This current pain feels like healing: it hurts, but there is a reason and an end in sight. The pain that led up to separation felt inexplicable and never-ending, the kind of pain that simmers and seethes and ultimately destroys. This current pain won’t kill me; that other kind surely was.


Unexpectedly, I’ve found moments of simple joy amidst the pain of separation: the joy of a quiet house, the simplicity of a single grocery bag full of enough food for just me and the dog. Even when the pain of separation was the greatest, I found unexpected, grounding joy in tangible objects: the caress of a broom on a well-worn floor, the warmth of newly dried laundry. The silent pictures I snapped in the aftermath of Chris’s move were my way of telling the world (and myself) I was all right, that as long as milkweeds still sprouted from sidewalk cracks and vines coiled from shattered factory windows, I too would persevere. Separation is a painful and difficult process–at times your heart and your head seem entirely detached, never to reunite. But underneath the pain lies a promise, a hope that one day I will awake to find myself no longer riven, but entire.

I snapped all of these reflective photos during my recent trip to Bar Harbor, and I’ve posted three of them to the Mirror Project. I am fully aware of the irony that the girl who avoided looking at herself in the mirror as a teenager, terrified of the Ugly Duckling she’d see reflected therein, suddenly feels the need to slap pictures of herself all over her blog. I’ve found, though, that taking and posting these pictures–a visual act of independence and acceptance–is more fun than therapy, and cheaper.

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

I returned to Keene from Boston on Saturday, took Sunday off from teaching, writing, and blogging, and now am back in the saddle again. While I was in Boston, I carried both my digicam and my pencam, but I took very few pictures. Indeed, I consciously gave myself an official shutterbugging hiatus; although both cameras were on hand if I saw something I absolutely had to capture, I consciously tried to keep my attention in the moment rather than focusing on how that moment could be captured and potentially blogged.

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

One shop where I couldn’t help but snap a handful of pencam images was the Artful Hand Gallery in Boston’s Copley Place mall. The Artful Hand is precisely the kind of shop I love to browse. It’s full of fun, funky, handmade objects by local artisans: one-of-a-kind furniture, pottery, glassware. And it has lots and lots of mirrors, all of them framed with hand-crafted, intricately decorated wood, tile, and metalwork frames. Besides being a delight to the eye, the Artful Hand is a mecca for fans of reflective photography. So although I’ve submitted three of these pictures to the Mirror Project, I’ve posted them here, too, so you can see larger versions of them. (Click on any of today’s images to see an enlarged version.)

In Zen, we often talk about having a mind that is clear like a mirror: red comes, only red; blue comes, only blue. This means in any given moment we strive to respond only to that moment, our perception unclouded by the residue of the past nor the wisps of the future. When I arrived at the Cambridge Zen Center on Wednesday night, I was surprised to learn that Zen Master Bon Haeng (aka Mark Houghton) wanted me to give consulting interviews to the people who had come to Wednesday evening practice. Never having given consulting interviews before, I had a moment of panic and self-doubt: what if someone asks me a question I can’t answer? What if a problem arises that I can’t handle?

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

In the split second in which I could have said, “No” (an answer that Zen Master Mark wouldn’t have taken anyway), I fully reflected “panic mind”: when panic comes, only panic. But in the next split second, the mirror flashed clean: no problem. A clear mirror doesn’t have to know the right answer to any given question: a clear mirror doesn’t have to know anything. And so on Wednesday night a somewhat shaky, entirely uncertain Zen Mama sat next to a rock-solid veteran Zen Master as a dozen-some practitioners entered the interview room one by one to reflect their mind. “Consulting interviews aren’t about teaching anything,” Zen Master Mark had reminded me. “They’re simply about sharing an experience in the moment.”

And he, of course, was right. During each interview I followed my breath, trying to center my attention not on my racing thoughts (“What should I say?”) nor on my pounding heart (“Panic! Run away!”) but on my own rock-solid center, my breathing belly, the True Self that doesn’t need to know anything. Moment by moment, faces came and went, each reflecting a different color of human experience: a shy-smiling woman who struggled to find strength; a sad-faced man who struggled to quiet his restless body; an acquaintance who shared a particularly traumatic challenge he’s facing, a situation that stunned me with the level of pain it involves and the simple fact he felt comfortable sharing that pain. Humans are vulnerable creatures: our hopes, tragedies, and joys are written in tender, one-of-a-kind lines on each of our fragile faces. When pain comes, where can we find solace? When joy comes, where can we share?

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

When sadness comes, only reflect sadness; when joy comes, only joy. In my own experience sitting on the other side of the interview room cushion, the teachers I’ve appreciated the most are the ones who didn’t try to teach anything: when I entered the room with a troubling problem, riddling question, or just plain and simple pain, they only tried to reflect (and be present with) that mind. Sometimes the simplest statements are the most profound: “I’m so sorry” or “How can I help?” And sometimes the best answer is silence, the courage (and centeredness) to simply sit with someone who is suffering, saying all there is to say through the unspoken language of presence: “I’m here, I’m not judging nor rejecting you, and I’m not running away.” The world is full of mirrors that reflect our bodies; where do we find compassionate companions who in a moment are courageous enough to reflect our fragile souls? If you find such an artful hand, buy and then cherish it at any cost: such a clear-shining mirror is truly one-of-a-kind.

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