As a blogger, I am conscious that all this spraff is, frankly, pretty self-centred, if not indulgently introspective, or – worst – tedious. Are you still reading? Oh, well, either you’re curious, or nosey, or have more time than is sensible, or feel the need to give this poor lonely turret-dweller a modicum of respect by reading to the end of the…
Paragraph two, therefore, begins with an apology. I try to claim that all my writing is fiction, and yet I know that I spend a great deal of time examining my own insides like Wodwo (if that is an unfamiliar creature, read some Ted Hughes) in order to understand the crazy existence in which I am trapped: Life. But this is not the whole truth.
As a writer, I find myself shoogled and shoogling between what is real and what is fiction; what is me and what is perception; what I sense, observe or soak up, and what is presented to me in the harsh reality of what it is to be Human. My chief aim as a writer is to present ideas that will give the reader full scope for interpretation.
But sometimes, or should I say, always, it is what comes from deep inside that gives the most telling, revealing, illuminating insight. So while I love what Hemingway once said, “If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed” I must add that a writer also needs to turn the mirror on themselves from time to time.
My next story, therefore, is all about a mirror. It’s also all about ‘how others see us,’ and, most important, it is about accepting that if we cannot see (or love, or forgive, or accept) ourselves, then we will allow others’ prejudice and judgement in. Whether we are artists, writers, poets, or any other kind of person, creative or otherwise, we should not let anyone judge us for simply being ourselves. Least of all, a punitive mirror.
This, and other stories, will be performed at Summerhall as part of the event, Being Human.
from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales
This piece was conceived as a dance piece, to partner another of my ‘cautionary tales’ to be interpreted by Janine Melanie Wyse, “Alice (and) The Elephant.” It should be read over the music of Arvo Part’s Spiegl im Spiegl (‘Mirror in Mirror’), preferably the recording by Tamsin Little on EMI Classics. The concept was based on a discussion about attitudes to mental health led by the charity, See Me….
Celia in The Mirror (or, The Mirror in Celia)
Celia looked in the mirror. The mirror said: Celia, what do you see?
What Celia saw was illusory.
Tell me, Celia, what do you see? Celia refused.
Tell me, the mirror insisted. But Celia resisted.
Tell me, Celia, what do you see? I see you, do you see me?
Said Celia, can I see you?
The mirror said, no, and then – on reflection – said, maybe. It may be you, or it may be me.
Celia said, I see.
But you don’t, said the mirror, or can’t or you won’t, or – tell me, what do you see?
Celia paused. I see a lion. It roars and bares its claws.
But, the mirror assured her: the lion has the softest paws.
Celia said: the lion defies definition. We long for recognition, a cause.
Said the mirror: in need of applause?
There’s always a catch or a clause. Saying that, Celia went to the window and lifted the latch. A bee flew dreamily through the room.
The mirror saw, and seeing the bee said: Tell me, Celia, what do you see?
Said Celia, I see the bee, but can the bee see me?
The mirror said, I hear its sullen hum, and sense the heavy heft of pollen on its abdomen; upon its legs a smattering of nectar and, within its busy property, a promise of the sweetest thing: honey smoother than oil.
And on its tail, said Celia: a sting.
As if to foil the mirror’s song about the bee, she caught the thing. It gently stung her on the hand. And though it hurt like hell (Celia saw the raw pain in her face) she refused to recoil.
I see your pain, the mirror said, as if it could. Celia could see the mortal pain of the bee was greater than her ephemeral agony.
The bee lives more than just by chance, the mirror said. It holds the balance of the ecosystem sympathetic with nature; it nurtures homeopathic empathy, and survives in dance.
With that, the silent, drowsy bee moved in a gentle motion round and round the up-turned palm of Celia’s hand, until – eventually – it retracted its sting and, with a tender apology, flew to its natural task.
So tell me Celia, the mirror had to ask. Tell me, now what do you see?
Noting her swollen hand (she held it so the mirror couldn’t see) she said: I see an elephant.
In the room, inquired the mirror, or in me? Have I stolen you and made you more than you were meant to be?
No. You are both a memory and yet, a plodding, grey reality of me.
So I am you? the mirror said. Is that what you see in me?
No, you see me, said Celia; and I see you but I cannot be you; I can only be me – but we can only exist in relation to each other.
If you insist, said the mirror. You are unique; you can always get another if you smash me.
Don’t be rash, Celia chided: I need a mirror that can speak. And listen.
But I’m fragile, and my glass is thin, the mirror sang a plaintive song.
Unlike the thickness of my skin, lied Celia: I’ll just plod along, shall I?
Don’t lie, the mirror warned: I see the tears swell in your eyes; for me it’s clear: I can tell mendacity, you see, because I’m in complicity with your image, even though it’s front-to-back for me.
For me, said Celia, it’s back-to-front: you’re a bigger liar than a camera. I see your elephant.
But can you, Celia: Tell me, Celia; tell me what do you see?
And so on, and so on, and so on, and so Celia started to move away.
Don’t go, said the mirror: I need you. Without you I am nothing. A thin glaze, a sheen, a sheet, a veneer, a clear piece of glass transparent as one you might pass through were your name the same as the letters it creates, or your shape as elusive and queer as the things of fantasy that lead you to look at you in me.
Celia, turning, knew the mirror was an empty pane without her and – like the symbiotic nature of the bee, the needy lion, and the elephant – all three relied upon their own kind to remind themselves of their existence. With the mirror, Celia was mindful of her angst. Without it, she was nothing.
Tell me, mirror, are you me? Am I what you see?
The mirror told her: yes I am. If you believe it to be true.
Celia approached the mirror. Trusting its transparency, she passed right through.