Well, the Latin term for a mirror is a speculum, which is itself the origin of the word speculation — a looking-glass, a mirror, a glass, a turning-of-the-eye to see inward. No bad thing, 24 days into a 31-day process. Also no bad thing on a day when I received some letters that made me question what I was doing these days, and how I was doing it.
When I was working as a chaplain on a regular basis, my go-to question was this: “How are you doing — spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, viscerally?” And to some of my colleagues and friends, the ones who understood, I added magically to that list. So today, I went into the bathroom, and I washed the mirror, and I asked myself my own question, out loud, and I let the mirror answer me.
I am not good at this particular style of magic. It is easy for mirror-man to criticize me.
Spiritually, I’m currently a bit of a mess. My tai chi practice has more than 300 days in this year going for it, but it’s a practice — it may get better or it may get worse, and right now it feels worse. It’s a thing that I do, not particularly well, despite doing it for nearly four years. My druidic practice went deep, very deep, recently — and the result has been that I’ve been coasting around in the shallow waters of late, because that’s easier.
Intellectually, I’m a bit of a workaholic combined with a procrastinator par excellence. Of late I’ve been using a bullet journal instead of a regular written record, because it’s faster and lazier to keep, and I can note down my to-do list instead of my philosophical reflections. It feels shallow to say I’ve built a bunch of carpentry joints lately, and fiddled around with some electrical experiments for my students. But I’m not deeply engaged at the moment. And there are a lot of things on my plate that I’m not doing even though I sort of have some responsibility to get them done. Additionally, social media time has been sucking up my time and attention of late in unpleasant ways. It’s getting harder to read intensively; I have this theory that hands-on work, and 3-dimensional thinking, uses parts of my brain that store language — the more carpentry and mechanical-building I do, the harder it seems to get to sit still and read a novel. So says my mirror-man.
Emotionally, I’m not at my best, either. I’ve felt isolated and alone of late. Some of my colleagues know this at school, and have helped me along; other friends have helped me today when I reached out to them. I’m craving levels of connection at the moment that I’m not at present finding. And part of me is genuinely terrified — I’m totally NOT alone, I know that intellectually, and lots of people like me — but I’m genuinely terrified right now of being isolated and lonely. Not because I am, necessarily, but because I feel like I am. Some of this I can put down to winter, some to the relative loneliness of waiting out a major winter storm indoors. But the mirror-man knows what’s up, and grows more and more woeful, with more warning in his face.
Physically, I’m carrying more weight than I should. I eat a piece of pizza, I’m fine. I eat two pieces of pizza and I must eat the whole pizza. All for me, none for you. It’s winter, but I still stay inside more than I should. I move less than I should, even for a man who does tai chi every day. There are aches and pains in my joints that weren’t part of my lexicon a year ago, even six months ago. I try to eat right, but sugar is a constant bane in my life, chocolate is as bad as pizza. I greeted a complete stranger at the door without my glasses today, but when he spoke I realized it was my next-door neighbor. The mirror-man says I’m getting older. I picked a good shirt-tie-pants combination today, though. My fashion sense is improving, even as the body I have to dress grows more decrepit. Isn’t it time to retire that ratty sweater, though?
Viscerally, there’s a fire in me. I’m doing work that matters to me, that helps other people make meaning of their lives. I’m teaching kids how to think on their feet, how to be builders and makers and creators and communicators. I’m learning to teach programming at the same time that I’m teaching programming. I’m expanding the horizons of what kids learn about graphic design. I’m asking them tough questions about the role of social media in their lives. It’s important work, it’s useful work. And maybe it will make a difference to some of them. My heart breaks, monthly or weekly, when I see a former student post something smacking of casual sexism or racism; at the least, didn’t I teach them that there are some things which are better to hold in silence? Apparently not — the teacher’s tragedy of the 21st century is that we think we have transformed our students and then we know them later in life and discover that our work was tinged with futility even then. So says the mirror man.
Once the critique is over, I’m crying. The mirror man shifts to the praise portion of the program. Some of this is just the way things are. Tomorrow you’ll be a day older, and a few thousand heartbeats closer to a grave. You have a girlfriend who loves you, a cadre of friends (some of whom understand you), a stepdaughter who asks you for advice and care for you, a crew of readers who make insightful comments. You have a tai chi practice, and a magical practice, that’s helped you grow your sense of wonder and helped you find a tribe of misfit allies in the world. You’ve taught fifteen hundred students in twenty years, more or less, and some of them see the world the way you do, and some of them don’t. That’s the way these things work out, most of the time. The amazing thing is how many of them still care about your opinions and your ideas, even if they don’t ask for those opinions every day. You write every day, and you draw almost every day. You have more projects, and more things you’d like to do, than you’ll ever have time for; and you’re laying a foundation for more people to be experimenters and tinkerers and thinkers and do-ers in the future. Your family loves you, and welcomes you home whenever you put down your labors long enough to see them. You’re not crazy, and you’re not sick. You’re unlikely to change who you are, after all this time — but you are becoming more fully who you always were.
The face in the mirror is laughing and crying at the same time. It’s good to be critiqued. It’s good to be loved.
I wash the mirror, turn out the light, and leave.