Break Glass, Insert Mirror

I don’t see this blog as a place to embarrass myself, nor do I see it as a place to air dirty laundry. Rather it is a place for me to risk embarrassment, wear the proverbial stained sweatpants, and practice some good old-fashioned truth telling.

About a month ago and a half ago I was in an ugly place. It wasn’t the worst, and certainly not a hole so deep or dark that I ever believed I couldn’t find my way out. The worst thing about my predicament was that my old ways of finding or fixing my unfortunate situations weren’t working.

I slept, I hiked, I took aromatherapy baths with magazines. I read, I wrote, I broke bread with friends. It all helped, but I needed to tip the scales. I knew I had to look in different places.

I went to pick up a friend—one of the bestest—for a hike, but when she saw the desperation on my face (actually, it was running down my face) she suggested I come in for a cup of tea. “At least sit down for a minute,” she said, and I collapsed in a chair. We sat there for a while and talked, but I needed to get my body moving so we hit our favorite trail. I cried more, and was grateful for this non-judgmental friend. I know I can say anything to her, and I cherish the intrinsic value of this friendship.

I told her I didn’t know what to do. I had started my intensive (three thousand words every day for thirty days) writing project, but I was misdirected. I had too many stories I wanted to tell, but I lacked structure. I’d done this before—wrote furiously, hoping the structure would find itself—and it hadn’t worked. I felt like my past was holding me back, but I couldn’t quite pin it down.

I didn’t mince words: I think I need a Shaman. Because she’s G, she didn’t flinch. We talked about it as if I’d said, “I need a haircut.” We talked about what I was looking for and what I was looking to get rid of.

I was reminded of a friend who, when he was struggling with his addiction issues, contemplated treatment with Ibogaine. Ibogaine is a West African rootbark derivative that has been used for over a thousand years in tribal ceremonies. Before it was discovered (in New Jersey in 1962) that Ibogaine could assist with “addiction interruption” it was used in France to treat depression and fatigue. Ibogaine is a psychoactive substance that neurochemically transports an addict to a physically and psychologically pre-addicted state. As a treatment for addiction it has been purported to lessen withdrawal symptoms significantly and to be “like six months of rehab in forty-eight hours.” My friend was intrigued, yet seriously doubtful that he could “trip his way to sobriety.” Perhaps he was right, but a big “what if” hung like lead in the air. What if it could work?

People who take Ibogaine often report having informative visions that help them get at the root of why they became addicted in the first place. In addition to addiction interruption therapy, Ibogaine can also be used for spiritual or emotional growth.

This was what I was looking for. I don’t struggle with addiction, but I secretly (and now not so secretly) wanted those visions. I wanted to find out what was holding me back. I wanted to know why I kept getting in my own way and how I could put an end to it.

At the end of that walk with G I seriously believed I would find a Shaman with some sort of root concoction and I would undergo a ceremony and have my answers.

My bubble was burst when I went to meet a much more cerebral friend for dinner. I sobbed and sobbed and told him my plan. He’s not particularly effusive, yet he laughed out loud when I told him what I was scheming. I may have used the word exorcism, and definitely should have known better with him as my audience.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said, “All you need to do is tell the truth.” We continued to talk about it for hours, and with his guidance I realized that telling the truth means being authentic. I can tell true stories or fictional stories, but the truth lies in me being true to my emotions, and true to what I believe in, not being afraid of what anyone will think. Then he spoke the magic words, “You don’t need an exorcism, a shaman, or a psychoactive experience. Everything you need is within you.”

And then something completely crazy happened: I believed him.

“Stand up for something or you’ll fall for anything.” is a favorite quote of mine that’s been attributed to many. I first heard it from Edward Abbey, one of my all-time favorite authors, but I’ve heard it has biblical origins, which isn’t surprising as it’s just so fundamental. Or it should be fundamental, yet we’re all constantly struggling to define and defend what we believe in, and we’re all clearly falling for a whole lot of everything when our bases shakes because we’re wavering all to and fro. It can be hard to determine who to align with and who to dodge. It is a daily challenge to know which battles aren’t worth picking, and which are worth every last breath.

Even after I believed my friend I had a strong desire to break something. I didn’t know what; I just wanted to hear glass crash and I wanted to be the force behind it. He asked me if I had anything I wanted to break and I immediately thought of an Andrew Wyeth print that I had hanging in my living room. I bought “Around the Corner” with my husband when we were in Maine at a good friend’s wedding. A bunch of us took a day trip to Monhegan Island, where the artist lived and painted for years. We explored the island and eventually landed at the museum where my husband and I bought “Around the Corner” and “Master Bedroom.”  I was drawn to the melancholy in Wyeth’s paintings, and to the detail in his landscape and physical forms as he infused surrealism into realism. I loved the light and the muted colors.

I remembered that weekend as the last good time my husband and I had before we decided to split.

When we divorced the division of our things was seamless; we didn’t fight over anything. It is probably not a coincidence that I took “Around the Corner” (I was the one leaving our home, the one who thought there was something else around the corner) and he kept “Master Bedroom” which depicts a yellow lab (similar to the dog we had together that he kept) sleeping on his owner’s bed.

I hung that print in every house I lived in for the past eleven years with the exception of the year I was in Honduras. There have been many times I thought it was cursed, that it carried some bad luck associated with the notion of something better being just around the corner.

Over the years I’ve expended a great deal of effort trying to live in the moment, and I suspected many times that the painting prevented me from doing so. That the very fact of it hanging in my space was a barrier to my “being here now.” I was trying to blame a print—not even an actual painting, just a print—for my shortcomings. Then I’d realize that was silly—crazy talk—and I’d keep it hanging. But it kept me wondering.

A couple of times I thought about giving the painting to Goodwill or putting a “free” sign on it in the alley, but then I’d feel guilty. What if it really was haunted and I passed the bad juju onto someone else?  I considered burning it or throwing it over the bridge and into the Clark Fork. But what if a boater or fisherman got cut on the glass? What if, what if, what if. Payback is a bitch, and I didn’t want that karmic load, so the painting remained hanging until that night when I wanted to break something and the only thing I could think of was “Around the Corner” and everything it represented for better and for worse.

My friend and I made a plan to meet for breakfast the next morning and take the painting to a place where I could shoot it with his handgun. The relief was palpable.

I slept well that night, and in the morning I sat for a while just looking at the painting. The light came through the window and I snapped a couple of shots of it hanging, for the last few moments, in my house. The painting itself isn’t illuminated in this shot, but there’s that awesome, golden orb at the bottom from the sun shining through my seventies lamp. I like the reflection in the glass of the window that was behind me. I like how there’s just a shadow of me.

When we arrived at the shooting area a guy getting into his truck wanted to know what was up with the painting, and I told him in as few words as possible. He didn’t say much, just, “That’s a long time. Probably time to move on.”

I have to say that shooting the painting was awesome, but not as dramatic as I’d hoped. We put dozens of rounds of bullets in it, and the glass cracked and broke, but the scene wouldn’t be described as histrionic. My friend was expecting melodrama from me. He wanted me to scream and yell at the painting. He wanted me to “have words with it,” but I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t want to be loud. There was no rage in me. I felt peaceful about the ceremony, and parked myself squarely in front of the painting. I stared at it for a few minutes, uncomfortable in my stance. Shifting and squirming and wondering where my words were. I wanted my outside voice to be bold and brave, but instead I quietly said, “Painting, I’m done with you.”

I don’t know what it was all about, but I don’t think I was unable to unleash on the painting because I was embarrassed to do so in front of my friend. I think I was just beyond it. I was all out of fight. I wasn’t holding the print responsible for my searching and yearning. It wasn’t the print’s fault that I made a habit out of looking for something better around the corner or for my discontent when what I found wasn’t what I’d expected.

It wasn’t going to serve a purpose for me to go bananas proving a point. The only point I had to prove was that I wasn’t going to hang something in my house that was a physical reminder of me confusing running away with running towards.

We drove away from the shooting spot. “What are you going to hang there?” my friend asked. I hadn’t given it a thought—was actually looking forward to the white space—but I didn’t miss a beat, “A mirror. I’m going to hang a mirror.”


  1. Dan Comstock says:

    Oh, my Lord, Jaime! Knowing you I know myself! My emotions are surging and words seem pallid. I am so proud of you. I have found that I have gotten in to much more trouble for what I didn’t say than for what I did. Happy freedom! Much Love, Dan

  2. Well, Dan….we knew we were kindred spirits, didn’t we? All the love you give right back at you! JAS

  3. Kate says:

    Good girl. I’m proud of you too. A good story, and sentiment. Never underestimate the power of a good, cathartic (no matter how mellow) purge. I remember that weekend in Maine like it was yesterday. xo

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