Discover more from More Beautiful Than Necessary with Tresta Payne
The 12X Mirror
Being more seen than I want to be
Last week I spent three days up north with my daughters, taking turns in their homes for the night and joking that they had joint custody of me. They drove me places, took me shopping, asked where I wanted to eat, and made makeshift beds for me on their couches. The only adult thing I did for three days was pay for said meals and coffee stops, mainly because my husband stuffed cash in my hands and said, “Buy my girls dinner,” before I left home.
I bought some new clothes, things I’m comfortable in and suitable replacements for my 10 year old race t-shirts. Most of my clothes have been purchased online or at Costco lately, between the produce and bags of frozen chicken. I find myself hovering over the same tables of cheap clothing as women 20 to 30 years older than myself, and I wonder if we have wisdom in common, as well as our sense of style and thrift.
It was good to be able to shop in person, for real clothes that fit my actual body. I also bought some boring practical stuff like a new razor and a lighted 12X magnifying mirror.
I’ve lived all my life with out a lighted mirror that blows my face up to 12X its normal size, allowing me to see the things for which makeup and serums and expensive spa treatments were made. The mirror was not necessary and I question, now, if it was a good choice. Why do I want to see all the imperfections of my epidermis, magnified?
When I returned from my trip and showed Tim what I’d bought, he held the mirror up to his own face and examined himself. “Is this what young people see?” he asked, and I laughed. I don’t think God intended for any human to see at 12X, no matter their age. My eyes have significantly declined in the last seven years but there was never a time I could see myself with the detail of this mirror. Now I hold in my hand a near-microscope, and I haven’t even put batteries in for the light, yet. It’s enough. I see myself clearly.
A writer friend made a comment the other day that has stuck with me. She said she doesn’t feel vulnerable for the specific things she writes about, even though people will comment on her vulnerability. She doesn’t feel conflicted about being honest in her writing. What makes her feel vulnerable is the possibility that she’s not doing it perfectly, not writing and sharing and doing these things on the internet perfectly.
There’s a separation between the content of our writing and the way we deliver the content, how well it comes to the page or the conversation, and it’s especially humbling to try your level best to do something well, only to have it flop.
I feel that. When my friend made that comment it gave me words for my own feelings. When people comment on my vulnerability as a writer, I always have questions. What do they mean? Should I be embarrassed? Because I’m not. I’ve rarely held back on something because I was afraid of how vulnerable it was for me or how it would make me appear. Sure, I present a version of myself online, but I don’t need that version to be polished up and flawless.
What holds me back is the fear and the knowledge that, in fact, I do not present things perfectly. I do not always write clearly. My words do not land every time and sometimes I just don’t make sense, even though I’ve hashed out a dozen revisions. Perfection has kept me from profligate creation, even in my own private journals and documents. If anything ever gets posted for the public it’s because at some point I disciplined myself to let it go, warts and all.
There is a debate in the background, among writers on the internet, about practice vs. polish. Should we practice our writing skills in public on blogs and substacks and other websites, or should we refrain from posting anything at all until it is our absolute best work. I would love to be professional enough to say, “Only the best work shall go out into the world,” but I know I’d never be good enough for my own inner critic, who is usually my only Editor. I have to publish in spite of her, and maybe to spite her.
The great thing is, no one has come to take away my keyboard or creative writing degree. People are kind and want community, camaraderie, and understanding; not perfection. We all want to be seen and still loved. We want our 12X selves to be okay in the world.
I bought a 12X mirror and I see myself more clearly. I don’t all of a sudden wear more make-up, and I haven’t made any appointments at the spa or the dermatologist or the surgeon. I have removed some unwanted follicles and I wonder how in the world my daughters let me walk around like that, but otherwise the mirror is just really handy when I’m putting on my normal eyeliner.
At some point I have to walk out the door in this skin and be okay in the world. And I have to send my words out, if I want to be a writer, and be vulnerable enough to do it even before I feel like they’re perfect. This is the grace we can give one another, I suppose: overlook the flaws and find the heart.
So many people seem to be doing their work perfectly on the internet. We forget that there is a difference between professional writers and websites, who have a team behind them, and those of us pecking away on our couches, alone, in our spare time. The internet makes it easy to think we should all be capable of stellar work and endless possibilities—just the fact that I can write on the same platform as Katherine May or Maggie Smith is confusing. In the end we all have to do our work, but support is a huge part of doing it well.
Hint: I don’t have one and don’t believe I need one. I’d love to do an MFA program in creative nonfiction, but it would be solely for self-development. (I keep telling myself this but who am I kidding? An MFA would make me feel very legit.)