Reflection (May 2013)

I keep putting my foot in it. I speak up and the proverbial hits the fan. I step over the line, hold up the mirror, ask difficult questions. People take offense. They rebut, retreat, close ranks; they redraw the line and leave me standing behind it with my mirror and my questions. I look into the mirror myself and ask: what now?

I grew up in a city of skyscrapers. My father worshipped these temples of the modern world, these monuments of human ingenuity. Every morning he put on his suit and tie, and travelled by commuter train from the plastic neatness of wealthy suburbs to the florescent sterility of an office in one of those incredible skyscraping towers. His work there fit like a piece in a puzzle, surrounded on all sides: executive, corporate, digital – retail systems designed to squeeze out as much profit from the human herd as possible. His labour paid for our home, our food, our education; it was a necessary and expected demand upon him, this livelihood. How else would we survive?

At that time, the Tower boasted its place as the tallest building in the world. Its symbolic grandeur overshadowed our lives. Aspire to this greatness, it told us; be the biggest, the best. In the fierce winds blowing off the lake, the Tower swayed invisibly. The workers at their desks could feel its balance shift, my father told me, and what’s more: this was its secret strength. An inflexible structure would perish against the air’s brute force, but this swaying changed the relationship between power and its obstacle, created a moving space around which the wind might travel.

A mere generation later, and that Tower is no longer the tallest of its kind. Others have surpassed it in the pretentious race skyward. The promise of greatness it once held has failed to materialise. Indeed, the most iconic snapshot of our newborn millenium depicts twin towers much like it, facing their own mortality. Nothing lasts forever, that image tells us; this grandeur too shall pass.

As I move into the future, one step over the line at a time, I ponder the question: what now? What am I building? How will I survive? I am surrounded on all sides in this puzzling world, and I’m not an easy fit. I see the cracks in the bricks, I hear the hollowness behind the plaster.

Again, the mirror: I look carefully at the lines around my eyes, my hair with its first streaks of grey.  Nothing lasts forever. I hold out the mirror and ask you too: what now? It’s a difficult question.