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.

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