Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Have I Learned Anything At All?

Many moons back, a man told me that he and I had no future together, due to the cultural gulf between us. I was devastated, but also furious that he’d not thought of the gap before leaping. I’d pointed it out several times. He’d insisted it was no problem, and dragged me to the precipice, and being me, of course, I jumped.

Note, Readers. Don’t dare me on the edge of an abyss. I go there.

Anyway, when he announced, several months in, that we had no future… what outraged me most was the thought that anyone has–simply has–a future.

The future, I told him, isn’t something that’s given. It’s something one makes.

Often I find that in a good relationship, the lessons I learn, I learn in the relationship. In an unhealthy one, I learn my lessons afterward. On its shoals.

And I learned precisely what I told him… That the future is ours to make.

But wisdom’s kinda like a gem. Got many facets, if it’s true, and many of its faces we only see from different vantage points. Time polishes it.

The other day, someone asked me if I had advice for a beginning writer. I was depleted after a very long (and very bizarre) day. I gave what I could.

But this morning I realized the most potent thing, the best advice I have, is to know yourself, and know what you want.

Know yourself, and know what you want.

Knowing means loving. Means open arms. Not blaming yourself for not being X or Y, whether those letters stand for adjectives or proper nouns. I know it’s not easy.

I’m reading The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro right now. This is her young protagonist, a teenager at the time:

She also planned to buy some bangles, and an angora sweater. She had great hopes of silver bangles and powder-blue angora. She thought they could transform her, make her calm and slender and take the frizz out of her hair, dry her underarms and turn her complexion to pearl.

It takes us so long to realize and appreciate the treasure trove of who we are.

When you know yourself, you recognize your strengths and your weaknesses. They don’t shame you. You value how you accumulated your strengths, or built upon them. You recognize your skills and what gulfs they can breach. And when you know your weaknesses, you can assess that gulf between you and what you want–what you want and not what everyone else seems to want, and by wanting, imply you ought to want–and you can decide, with full measure and open eyes and open heart… the path you must take.

Because we were sold a bill of goods. That straight and narrow path it seems some people were born to, whether by family or wealth or geography or early ambition; that path that seems like it was paved for different feet to tread… Well, as many avenues to death as there are, there’re that many to life. And more.

That door you see everyone standing around, waiting to be plucked?

Fuck the pluck.

That door is a power statement. But the greater power statement is to know yourself, know what you love, what you want, and recognize the way that works for you.

Doors do not exist to open. Or there wouldn’t be doors at all.

Doors measure resistance.

Do you knock? Maybe you do. Know yourself. And act.
Do you create a new door, one no-one expected? Maybe you do. Know yourself. And act.
Do you kick the door open and allure?
Do you kick it open and reshuffle the furniture?

Know what you want. Know who you are. And act.

Have faith. Sometimes, writing feels like an act of violence upon oneself. One has to break into oneself. Into that vault. Go open-hearted, go willing to sacrifice yourself. Mine yourself, you’ll be richer for it. And so will the world, if you’ve managed to be true.

Edmond Jabes, perhaps my favorite poet, writes:

the point of any pen is that of a cry

Share your cry, your laughter. Be generous. The world needs its faces back. It needs its heart restored. Heal the broken heart, don’t hoard its pieces.

Give. Writing is giving.

Ah, listen to me. Writing is giving–for me. What is it for you? Whatever it is, truthfully, deep inside you, do that. Do what is you. Jabes said it again:

You are the one who writes and who is written.

These are things only you can do.

And when you do them, wherever your steps take you, whichever doors you huff and puff and blow down… the most important doors of all will be accessed, and those are the doors into yourself. Into self-fulfillment.

Rearrange the furniture or just add some fresh air in that room, coz that space and that time is you.

Remember, as you do all this, that you’re human. That muscles stretch and grow. That the mind does. That what you learn, you earn.

When you fuck up, forgive yourself for being human. Remember we grow from experience. Remember this means (woo!) we get better each time we go to bat.

From time to time, ask yourself if you would treat a friend the way you treat yourself. When you’re striving for more than you’ve ever achieved before, you probably keep blaming yourself for the breach between you now and the you you want to be. From time to time, look back. See the gulf you’ve already crossed, just being you.

You’re magic, and you’re enough. You’re unique and the only way forward is yours. Is the one you walk. Your footsteps make it. All you need to do to make it–is keep going forward.

The world is yours.

God was written by humanity. But even if you believe God wrote us. The fact remains. We are gods too. We create the world in our own image.

Therefore know yourself. Know what you want. And act.

A medieval hope looks down from the Met.

A medieval hope looks down from the Met.

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
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6 Responses to Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Have I Learned Anything At All?

  1. David Shank says:

    This is not at all what I expected to read, yet I think that made it all the more powerful. I saw your post on AW and I’ve been thinking about writing a series about things I wish I’d known when I was just starting, but I think you just nailed the most important lesson. Learning to write looks like such a daunting task, but it’s always surprising to look back to your early work and see just how much you’ve improved without realizing it.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Hey David, I’m so glad it resonated! Do totally, totally write that post. We all need to hear these things all the time… And yeah, I liken it to pressing your face into the inside of a blown up balloon. You keep walking and walking, and the balloon’s taut against your face, and the image on the other side always feels deformed in comparison to your ideal… and all we feel is our face deforming, and the pressure of constantly trying and constantly failing… But we never notice how far we’ve come from the center, when the balloon never had our imprint at all… Keep rocking your work! and thanks for coming by and commenting.

  2. It has been through writing that I’ve come to know myself more. And it has been through knowing myself more that I write with more faith and allow myself more freedom. Love that passage you’ve quoted from an Alice Munro book. Will have to check it out soon. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      I’m really enjoying her. It’s my first of her books… She’s vivid and textured and so truthful. I highly recommend her!

      And yeah, writing wrings us, and helps us grow… roots and leaves both.
      Thanks for coming by!

  3. I like this: “The future, I told him, isn’t something that’s given. It’s something one makes.”
    something to always remember.

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