The Woman in the Mirror


We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. – St. Augustine

In three days I leave for France – a week in Carcassonne for a photography retreat, and then a week in Provence with my husband.  In my last post, I talked about this trip, about the concept of seeing travel as a personal, creative pilgrimage.

But as I began to think about packing for this trip, another benefit of travel – and specifically travel that takes you to an entirely new environment – came to me.

I will not be packing one single business suit for this trip. All those clothes I wear every day to work in the finance industry – those tailored pants, jackets, closed pumps and pearls – will NOT be going along with me to France.  I get to be an entirely new and different person (at least outwardly) for these upcoming two weeks.  My packing list contains some flowing skirts, Capri pants, peasant blouses, sandals, and funky stuff, like scarves (scarves are BIG in Europe) as well as my favorite Italian boots, bought in Florence last year.  I might even take a few pairs of dangly earrings and a bracelet or two. At work, I wear only small, tasteful diamond earrings, and never a bracelet, as they get in the way of typing at a computer, which I normally do at least 9-12 hours a day.

In my work life, I dress to both blend in and to impress, to impart seriousness and gravitas.  As an ‘executive’, there are certain rules of dress that should be followed.  The rules for executive women have changed somewhat over my 30 years in banking, but there are still rules nevertheless.  And, trust me, those rules do not allow for a lot of creativity, and certainly do not support comfort or movement.

My daily work attire is frankly a costume, one that has both physical and mental manifestations. When I am wearing my business costume, I project – and probably become – authority, organization, decisiveness and power. But is that the real me?  How many of us wear work costumes each day that disguise who we really are? Or, even more importantly, who we want to be?

A line from a movie trailer I saw recently has stuck with me.  The woman was taking her leave, going on a personal journey of some kind. It went something like, “I want to try out a different version of myself.”

I think travel, particularly of the other country kind, provides the opportunity and the freedom to try out a different version of ourselves; to dress, to even act in a way that may be different from who we have to be in the grind of our daily lives. Far away from what we find familiar, with entirely new terrain, new customs, unfamiliar languages, we have the chance to contemplate ourselves and our true nature in a unique way. It’s an opportunity to take off the mask we may have to wear the other 50 weeks of the year.

Thinking about costumes and masks in this way made me a bit uncomfortable. Was I being silly? – Was I trying to manufacture some existential lesson here in what was a very normal situation?  Of course people take different clothes on vacation!  No news there, so what’s the big deal?

I’m not sure, but it has made me wonder.  Do I wear a mask for most of my life these days?  And if so, what – and who – is underneath? Or is it perfectly normal for people to have multiple personas – one for work, one for parenting, one for creative pursuits? Maybe I’m just schizophrenic.

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, had a lot to say about masks.

 Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked? Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight in order to avoid this? Or are you not terrified by it? I have seen men in real life who so long deceived others that at last their true nature could not reveal itself; … In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself. But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all.

Now that is some heady and rather depressing stuff. But nevertheless, it’s something worth thinking about.

Shouldn’t we all take time occasionally to step out of the limelight, take off our make-up and our costume, and look in the mirror to see who is there? Do we recognize the person that is revealed?

Stepping off the stage, out of the whirlwind of the play that is daily life, and travelling to a place where all is new provides a rare opportunity for personal renewal and revelation. I’m looking forward to meeting up with the person who looks back at me in the mirror next week – and sitting down for a nice, long conversation.

3 thoughts on “The Woman in the Mirror

  1. Trying out a new version of ourselves is what travel is all about for me. And yes, I do think we all have many different personas depending on where we are and who we’re with. It’s to be expected.

    Have a wonderful trip!!

  2. I very much enjoyed my time with the “different version” of yourself that I met on this trip. Scarfs and bracelets and dangling earrings inticed the artist out to play. I hope the rest of your trip was as wonderful as our week with Catherine.

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