I have always hated looking in the mirror, even as a child. The image of me in my head has never matched the one I see in the reflection. I’m always surprised. And the older I get, the more that surprise turns to shock. If it weren’t for bad hair days and a penchant for getting spinach in my teeth, I’d remove every single mirror from my house.
I wonder what a world without mirrors would be like? Would we be less vain and self-absorbed? Would we spend more time caring about others and less time focused on ourselves? Would our priorities change? Or would we just take even more selfies?
Driving would become a bigger challenge, that’s for sure. I would be a lot more hesitant to change lanes on the interstate. But I think I’d be willing to take that risk in exchange for a little less self-criticism.
There was a time when mirrors didn’t exist. But even then, people tended to gaze into pools of water. Thanks to Narcissus, though, too much of that was considered, well, narcissistic.
And yet, we couldn’t leave well enough alone. According to Wikipedia, people have been struggling to come up with a decent mirror for centuries. They made them out of polished stones in Turkey starting around 6000 BC, and from polished copper in Mesopotamia 2000 years after that. These mirrors were quite precious and most likely only used by the very rich.
From the beginning, the biggest challenge with mirrors was obtaining a flat surface. Without that, the images would become warped. And if there were bubbles or impurities, the image was cloudy. Depending on the substance you used, the image wouldn’t reflect colors accurately, either. It makes you realize where the term, “through the glass, darkly” came from in the Bible.
In the 16th century, the people of Venice, long known to be experts in all things glass, perfected mirror making. But it was no mean feat. These mirrors were still considered luxuries. So much so that, again according to Wikipedia, “in the late seventeenth century, the Countess de Fiesque was reported to have traded an entire wheat farm for a mirror, considering it a bargain.”
Nowadays, and pretty much since the industrial revolution, mirrors are mass produced. Everybody’s got ‘em. Most of us have them in just about every room in our house. It was a several-thousand-year struggle to get to this point, but here we are.
And here I am, still wishing that the darned things didn’t exist. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were the fairest of them all, or if, at the very least, I looked like I think I do.
The other day I had an experience that made me think of the optometrist’s office that I used to visit as a child. I was always excited to get new glasses. (I must say, though, that looking at old photos makes me question my taste. But I’m going to blame that on my mother. I was just a kid, after all.)
The reason this optometrist’s office sticks in my mind is that his glasses were displayed in a long narrow room, with mirrors along both sides of its entire length. This meant that you’d be in this tunnel of what seemed like infinite reflections. As a child I thought that was very cool. As an adult, my first thought is that the feng shui must have been really off, and I’m amazed he was able to sell any frames at all. How could you focus on the product when there was so much going on, visually?
Ever since then, I’ve always called that never-ending feedback loop experience a “repeating decimal”. When I get into some sort of infinity room, whether it be literal or figurative, it makes me feel like I’m caught observing parallel universes, in a place where time has no end.
The other day I was standing in my drawbridge tower, getting ready to open my bridge for a barge. As it got closer, I realized that the tugboat was actually pushing a pontoon that was part of the old 520 bridge that’s being dismantled in Lake Washington here in Seattle. But even more interesting, it was the section of the bridge that included the drawbridge tower.
I gazed at that tower as it floated by. I thought about the many bridgetenders who had worked in it over the years. It looked like it was still in very good shape. I wondered what was to become of it.
So here I was, in a tower, opening a drawbridge for a drawbridge tower. A mathematical repeating decimal of sorts. I was tempted to look over my shoulder to see if there was another bridgetender looking down at me from above, doing… what, exactly?
I don’t know. And I’m not sure I’d want to know. But it was rather surreal.