Her self-image had become skewed and off centre. The voices that had, for a lifetime, driven and motivated her with a loud and clanging criticism, with impossible rules and demanding, procrastinating idealism had warped whatever perception she had of herself. The person that she had become was in broken pieces; a smashed reflection with each shard of jagged glass threatening to damage, draw blood and cause pain. In each splintered piece she kept a piece of her identity preserved and trapped and staring back at her with pleading eyes blurred and in shadows. Each tiny shard was a captured image of her own self over the years and decades, lost in time, but forever there. An evocative memory, a self-portrait torn and frayed by time. The woman became submerged in each tiny particle and disfigured by the broken lines that meshed the image together, but, as she stared into her memories, a new reflection slowly began to materialise and become superimposed over the top. Shaky lines and a layer of new truth blended past and present together as she painfully began the slow reconstruction of reinvention.
Her new self-portrait began life as a combination of suppressed emotions and aspirations clinging to her subconscious tenuously, but fed voraciously by the freedom that came with finally climbing out of her childhood. The pencil that bravely made the first shaky markings of an amateur sketch had much to learn but was guided by testimonies of skilled teachers, loyal friends, genuine achievements. It was fed by the soft looks of love and the wet kisses of children. Each of these blessings gave credence to the dormant spirit of a person who needed to understand herself, but the image was hazy, the likeness unclear. It’s features retained a wooden stiffness that didn’t quite ring true.
But the pencil, chewed at the end and splintered through much sharpening, was wise enough to rebel against the hand that was guiding it. The pencil had its own memory and was an honest artist, it knew the contours of her face, the blemishes and the flaws; it knew the parts of her she liked to hide and it had scrutinised the lines and furrows. It knew the secrets she kept hidden there and the crevices to search in.
The pencil’s path was lazy and meandering and in no great hurry to arrive at its conclusion. It took a seductive and gentle journey across the paper, taking time to explore the tiniest details of her reflection and expose its image in soft charcoal greys using light and shadows to inject life into her eyes and creases into her smile. The soft hues of black and white told a story of many questions as the pencil caressed a longing into her eyes with a sweeping stroke that was so compelling that those eyes seemed to beg for someone to notice them and dared for someone to care. When the pencil added light and tone to them there was a clinging defiance looking out from the back that no one could ignore. Her eyes spoke of battles fought; loss and victory, submission and accomplishment. The woman, who looked on at the progress of the portrait that the pencil was slowly carving, was startled; barely recognised her own familiar features. She turned away from it to hide behind the familiar shards of her broken mirror.
As the pencil worked hard to breathe life into her face it added shading to soften the sharp lines of the outline. Working tirelessly, the pencil scratched into the portrait furrows of age, with moles and creases that spoke of experience The picture slowly took on a tone of maturity with layers of shadow and light and dark that reflected an ever more prominent look of defiance. Ridges drawn into her brow and over her eyebrows spoke of untold secrets; heavy eyelids suddenly appeared blinking through tousled hair sketched over an unfinished face that was still blank and expressionless. Eyes peeked cautiously, as if hiding, and seemed to be clinging on to a forgotten desire for acceptance, protection and affirmation. And the woman; still hiding behind the fragments of splintered glass from her broken mirror; chose to remain hidden in these shattered, disjointed and broken pieces of her own face. She looked away from the new portrait disdainfully and rejected what she saw.
The pencil, working with meticulous care, and with slow careful strokes, continued to gently caress the face with carbon and charcoal. The shape of the ear and the cleft of the chin came alive under its watch. The woman’s unique features became visible and real as a few magical sweeps included a half-smile that gave off a faint suggestion of anticipation and rebellion, a clinging promise of hope. Lines added to the corners of the mouth, that were the dents and the creases of a hundred smiles, gave balance to the sadness still lingering in the back of her eyes. The innocence of her children’s love, the generosity of true friendship, a look of mutual adoration from a loving union began to soften the lines of cynicism and mistrust that were threatening to harden her mouth and dull the light in her eyes. There was a movement and colour worked into her hair that offered a notion of freedom and independence.
As the pencil cleverly breathed life into the picture, sculpting it with careful smudging of light and dark, an image recognisable to everyone but the woman herself became visible. The woman in the picture was both tangible and deeply human. Neither beautiful or perfect; she wore her own scarred skin with a look of pride that seemed to transcend the pain she had endured along the way. The defiance in the lines sketched around her eyes, the stubbornness finely crafted into the subtle tilt of her chin she seemed to own as unique evidence of her own life’s journey; not her definition, or even her description; but rather a distinct feature of her completed self. The face on the paper also claimed its own joy and laughter, hope and unity and these were captured in a soft open smile that sang its own testimony. These bountious, promising gifts were as much a part of her face as the scars themselves and complimented each other; the pencil had blended the two together until they were entwined and conjoined. So, separation from joy and sadness, love and loss appeared impossible and futile; such was the relationship they had with eachother.
And, all this while, the woman, lost in the pieces of her shattered reflection, looked into the countless, timeless eyes staring up from the broken pieces of glass and wondered who she was and who she is and who she will become. The lines between memory and experience, past, present and future became as blurred as the smudges of grey around the eyes of her drawing. She turned to her portrait and looked far into those eyes on the charcoal face and, for the very first time, a hint of recognition danced across her own. The haunting eyes in her broken mirror were also looking back from the picture and were the same eyes as the ones on her own face. They looked at her with love, and spoke of solidarity and acceptance. They spoke an understanding and a truth that she was able, at last, to register. The memories of the child she once was helped her grow into the woman she had become; her choices were her own and she belonged only to herself. She realised that her portrait was no longer a reinvention but that she was learning, finally, to become herself.