Picture this: A mirror, a full length one would be better but if you can’t find one to use, it’s okay, get the biggest one you can. Now stand before it, see yourself as you are. No judging please, if you will, that’s not the point of this exercise. Instead you’re going to be upfront and honest with yourself as that’s the point. It’s about seeing truth, your truth. So stare at yourself for a good five minutes. Finish with your eyes because when you get there, you’re going to lean in. Not too close as you don’t need your breath fogging up the mirror, but close enough so that you can see the spidery lines of your eyes from the pupil outwards.
Now, say hello. That’s right, you’re about to start a conversation with yourself and please, make it audible. If you’re uncomfortable at the idea that someone may hear you, close a door and lock it. It’s okay to whisper because that mirror image is only a few inches away. It can hear you just fine, so whisper while you say hello and introduce yourself.
“Hello, my name is Jess.”
Feels a little silly doesn’t it? That’s okay though because the reason I am suggesting that this be more than a picture in your head moment but an actual activity (which you can do after you’re finished reading) is that I believe it’s important that we know ourselves. All the self-help, motivational guru’s abound suggest it, heck, even the Oracle of Delphi back in the time of the Greeks. Bloody Apollo, always wanting us to see inside so we can understand what his seers were saying. Damn right impertinent of him too in my opinion…
Yet, it makes sense even today. Knowing ourselves, who we are not just in the physical but in the mind and with the emotions is important. It’s a task that I have embraced for at least the last 6 to 9 years because I wanted to understand why I do what I do. Not only writing, but why I react, feel, think, torture myself with circular reasoning. Knowledge is power as the saying goes, and I believe that is true. Wisdom is using that knowledge correctly as absolute power corrupts. Which is probably why it’d be a bad idea if I suddenly became omniscient. Would be fun though.
I’m reminded of the Matrix where they connect you to the computer and with a push of a button, knowledge downloaded. I still think that would be awesome and so much easier than ponderously and sometimes as clumsy as a rhino delving into dozens of sources in the hopes of finding a grain of truth.
But I digress. Life, as it is, requires balance for ourselves. Not only in the world around us, but inside as well. This is a knowledge that has taken up popularity in recent years and many are opening up to the potential of meditation and other activities that require balance (yoga, tai chi, qi chong for example). This balance echoes through the world. Light to dark, life to death. Love to hate, up to down. Cold to hot. It literally makes the world spin. If the world was to tip out of that balance, which is so precarious in the first place, chaos would reign.
I have found this truth to echo into my personal life as well. The problem is that when your world spins into chaos, it takes some time for the balance to return. The trick is realizing that it will take some time for the balance to equal out. It’s a bitter pill that no one wants to swallow, and the more significant the chaos, the harder it is to hold on until you find that balance because, sadly, finding the way up is not quite as easy as turning upside down.
What interests me, however, isn’t so much of how my life is somewhere in the stratosphere or that I feel like I’m swinging from one extreme to another. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a primary focus in my day-to-day activities as I struggle to either distract myself or be constructive, but I’m forced to realize something with an almost physical jerk reaction. In Memory Lane, where my main character is followed through the best and worst of her life (mostly worst I’m sad to say) I’m reminded of how similar my life feels compared to her. Granted I don’t have dead bodies lying in my wake as I go, but emotionally and mentally I feel as if I’m sharing a kinship with her that I didn’t fully appreciate until right now.
The parallels are almost eerie in a way. Almost like looking in the mirror…
It got me thinking about my characters in general and I can see several who are either a mirror for myself now or myself in the past. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow writer years ago about where characters come from. I mentioned that I believe every character is a sliver of ourselves. Each one, male or female, has an aspect of me in their personality. I believe writers do this unconsciously unless they are forced to look at each to find that sliver of a connection. For some, it’s more obvious, like Alex for example, for other characters it may not be.
They say write what you know, which I believe is excellent advice, but I have found that usually it’s talking about a topic or a genre. For example, if you’re a military member or brat, write about the military because you know the military. If you’re an avid fan of history then pick your favorite time and set a story in that period. Typically, this is how that advice is taken and followed, but now I’m starting to think that it should be more encompassing and that new writers should definitely be told (warned) of this part of writing.
As society starts to embrace more the principle of knowing ourselves, finding peace and enlightenment, no matter the form or source of the words, we are attempting to heal ourselves of whatever is causing distress. There are several techniques that can be embraced such as journaling, meditation, yoga, plus many other techniques which may or may not be of use to you specifically but have worked for others.
Writers, I believe, have an addition tool in our box that could make the process either easier or more enlightening. Character building. Since, as I stated, I believe there is a part of us in each of our characters, looking and creating characters give us our clues. So, I’d like to share what I am in the process of doing.
1. Look at past characters – granted for new writers this will be a shorter list as opposed to any who has been writing for 16+ years, but no matter how many there are , pull the main characters out and compared them to yourself. Find that sliver (or large chunk) of yourself and write it down. Try not to think about it emotionally though I know that is hard to do, but give it a shot.
2. Do a character sheet for yourself – so this will feel weird, especially when you get to back history and for some of us that will be more uncomfortable than anything else. If you’re worried about dredging up and pulling off scabs from your past, don’t worry about the back story, simply focus on creating yourself as a character in the present. Your mind-set, how you see yourself. The most important aspect of this is be honest. If you’re overweight, don’t fudge it to make yourself feel better. That’s counter-productive. If there is a feature of yourself that you want to change, don’t.
But that is the physical so it’s not that important (that doesn’t mean you can fudge it a little though, be honest about the outside too), because we want to focus on the inside of our skulls. Our goals & motivations, our mentality, how clever/intelligent we are. Etc. Each of us has different information we want on our character sheets. For this though, we’re required to step out of our bodies and remove the bias we have of ourselves.
A tough order, I know, but if we can attempt to do this, I think as a writer we can have a snapshot of ourselves. To make it even more interesting, put yourself in a story. Create a story, fictional is best, that puts you in your life and write it exactly how you want it to play out. Get outrageous, have fun with it. There is nothing out there that says we can’t have a bit of fun with our self-exploration.
When you’re done, go back to your mirror image and read it to him/her. See their/your reaction to the story and perhaps, we can find more than a sliver of truth there. I can’t promise it’ll bring balance, but maybe it can bring a little bit of self-healing to realize how we think of ourselves. When I do this, maybe I’ll post my story here…
Then again, maybe I won’t, it’ll depend on how personal it gets.