“When Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.
“I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.
“Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.”
“But . . . was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.
“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”
– Paulo Coelho, Prologue to The Alchemist
Great writing reflects. It collects the beautiful essence of living in this world and polishes it up to reflect back on the reader. It’s what any writer worth their salt aspires to. It’s what I aspire to here and elsewhere. Call this blog a work in progress. What is published daily isn’t as polished as a Fleetwood Mac song, you get maybe the second or third draft here. But I try like hell to make it worth our collective time.
The garden is well past the dance of the Daffodils. Maybe the timing of this quote should have been aligned with their peak, but looking back on my posts from that time I see my focus turned towards other things in this world. Such is the way with writing, you can’t possibly capture it all. The very process of focusing on one thing allows other things to escape notice.
In all art you hold up the mirror in the moment, reflecting what you can with the tools you have at hand. Developing an eye for beauty is perhaps the most important thing any artist can aspire to, more than a steady hand or a grasp of the nuance of language or paint colors or lenses. An eye for the beautiful allows us to see what others might miss. And in seeing it, attempt to reflect it back on the world.
Narcissists aren’t generally looked upon favorably. The brilliant turn in Coelho’s prologue is in showing that even Narcissus inadvertently offered something to another. To write at all is to wrestle with the narcissism within. To expect greatness of ourselves is bold, just who are we serving in our attempts? Nothing smacks the ego like the silence of the universe when you say “ta da!”
The hardest part of creating something is seeing the beauty and not measuring up to it with your reflection of it. But each clumsy attempt brings us a bit closer to the possible. Beauty, reflected, casts a light on both sender and receiver. The best work will come. That which is beautiful patiently sparkles in anticipation of you seeing the best in yourself through your efforts. And, maybe, lighting up the world.
But do try not to drown in your reflection.