Broken Mirrors

There are a lot of reasons to get ink. For those unfamiliar with the term, that’s current hipster slang for “tattoo”. It can be an act of rebellion, of drunkenness, of sexual identity, or a very personal investment in art.

For a lot of my friends, though, ink has been used as a reminder. One has the key elements of the Serenity Prayer on her forearm. Another, after a very difficult breakup, had the Chinese ideograms for “strength” and “change” tattooed over each hip (at least, I think that’s what it says. Not reading Chinese, for all I know it might say “extra spicy”). My eldest daughter created an icon that combines the symbols for peace, love, and anarchy and put it on each arm. An ex-girlfriend has her son’s name tattooed on her body along with her own, surrounding a yin-yang. The implication to me always seemed that they would always support and envelop each other with beauty…

I also have ink, but that story is the subject of another blog. It’s not text, though, and I’ve often wondered what text, if any, I would want indelibly put on my body. What words are so important that there would never be a time that I couldn’t use their reminder?

The first that come to mind are “Dum vivimus, vivamus!” Bonus points to anyone who can translate and/or guess where I learned it (without using google). But more and more I think I would have the following quote in longhand:


It’s Shakespeare, of course, from Hamlet, Act II, Scene II. One thing: I’d have it written reversed, so that it was only readable when looking in a mirror.

The Problem of Perception

I’ve mentioned before that I have been working out more lately. This morning I got out of bed feeling loose, energetic, in much less pain than I usually feel during Wisconsin winters. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The exercise is paying off!” I was certain that I could actually feel my arm muscles bigger than before, and was even more happy. I won’t say that I actually traipsed into my office to do my sitting and morning yoga, but I was in a pretty good mood, and especially feeling better about my body than I have in a while.

Then, when I was about to get in the shower, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Specifically I caught a glimpse of my arms, which up until then had been feeling hulkarific. That feeling went *poof* as I saw my writer’s arms, as I saw the real ratio of bicep to body, as I saw the rest of my body. It did not look like it had felt moments before. My body looked pretty average, a little too thick around the middle and a little too thin around the arms.

That is where I could have used Shakespeare’s words, tattooed backwards across my chest,so that when I looked in the mirror I could be reminded that the body in the mirror was the same one that, moments before, had been feeling like a Colossus. Nothing had changed except that some photons had reflected off of the surface of the glass and impacted my retinas, which my brain had then translated as “not toned enough” and “too thick around the middle.” The reasons for those opinions are layered under years of Rodney Yee, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and even He-Man and G.I. Joe, and aren’t really what’s important.

There was nothing wrong with the mirror – it was just physics, reflecting an image back to me. There was something inside of me, though, that changed that image between my retinas and my prefrontal lobe, assigned values and emotions and more to it. Heck, that was just the body image stuff. You could tack on the size of the mirror itself, for example, which is small, because we don’t have a large bathroom. That is indicative of a certain demographic of “success” and personal wealth that very easily translates to feelings of inadequacy.

And yet, the mirror is only a mirror. It is only showing me the same body that, moments before, was feeling so good.

It’s not so much that the mirror is broken, or that I am broken. It’s that my thoughts are breaking the mirror.

Unbreaking Thoughts

I’m not sure if my youngest grandson Victor has reached the level of awareness where he recognizes himself in the mirror. But I wonder, with a kind of horrified fascination, at what point he’ll develop the level of self-consciousness where that image he sees will be broken. What will be the first thought of “not good enough”?At what point will he not see the beautiful human being that my youngest daughter created, and instead see someone that he thinks is broken?

I don’t know, and I hope I don’t ever know. Because the heart-shattering tragedy of that moment is more than I think my grandfatherly heart could bear.

However, I do know that if he ever asks me why I sit, I have the answer for him. “I sit, Victor, so that eventually I can unbreak my mirrors.”

Hey, it’s zen. It’s supposed to be inscrutable.


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