Thursday, May 13, 2010

Illusions

How is it that you remind so many individuals--including complete strangers--of someone else? Last week, as you awaited a student in a coffee shop, a man approached you. You're probably used to hearing this, he said, but you're a dead ringer for that actor, what's his name? There is a long pause wherein you realize he has momentarily forgotten the name of the actor you remind him of and because he has momentarily blocked on the name, now expects you to know immediately who it is you should be reminding him of. Any hesitation on your part would speak to your dereliction. The sobering (for you) fact is that you have been mistaken for a variety of actors, not so much because of your physical configurations as due to your expansive tendencies in gestures. Your accuser/approacher is moments away from being embarrassed for not being able to complete the equation he initiated. You know, he says. What's his name? Sorry, you say. Ah, he says. Ah. Got it. Whitmore. James Whitmore. Flattering, you say. Very flattering, but he seemed so much more nuanced. The best you can do is assure the man that you and the late actor had a vague resemblance factor in eyebrows. The man shakes his head. Dead ringer, he says, showing no sign of leaving. You begin wishing the student would show up, which would allow you to ask her in the man's presence the name of her father-in-law. Her answer closely embodies one of your theories about human connections, associations, and relationships. Her answer would somehow convince the man you and she were making fun of him, conspiring against him as indeed authors do from time to time when they share information a particular character does not know.


Mercifully for the man who is positive you are a dead ringer for the late actor, James Whitmore, he leaves before your student arrives. When she does appear, you ask her, Do you see any resemblance between me and your father-in-law? From her response, it is made clear to you that the possibility never crossed her mind. Grandpa Jimmy? she says. You? How interesting. Her diplomacy is impeccable. She has graciously avoided saying yes when she had no thought to do so nor no, when doing so might have seemed somehow indecorous or judgmental.

Days later, you are leaving your favorite venue for coffee and a woman radiant in middle-aged coif and stature takes your arm and smiles. I just had to tell you, she says, how much you remind me of my father. She turns to the man sitting next to her, likely her husband, with whom she'd noted the similarity. Doesn't he? she says. The man nods. The woman's eyes mist. I just lost him this year, she says. I still look for him. The misting is more profound. You say, Thank you. I'm please to remind you of someone you care for. Her hand squeezes my arm, then let's go; she has reached the point of being embarrassed for speaking of grief to a stranger. You thank her and move on, touched, a parade of events moving before you like suspects in a police line-up, incidents of seeing missing friends and family in the gestures and faces of strangers.

We move through our daily routine as ourselves and reminders of others of varying possible identity to others. From time to time, when you are shaving, you see your father smiling at you, you see traces of your mother's father, that remarkable, relatively short man whom you rarely had the vision to see as he was before the synapses and brain chemistry began removing him from recognition. At your father's funeral, a longtime friend of your sister saw you and gripped her husband's arm. He's just like Jack, she said, and the knowledge that you reminded someone of your father was such a relief that you felt like dancing. In the same, favored coffee shop, you occasionally see your mother until she turns at some angle where it becomes apparent that the similarity has departed like a willful parrot fleeing its cage. You do not always look like you to yourself, sometimes haunted, pestered, abstracted. Sometimes you say or do things you had not anticipated saying or doing

At a writers' conference last year, you were approached by a man who wanted to shake your hand for the pleasures afforded him from reading your work. You thanked him profusely, even when he said how deeply disappointed he was that you saw fit to kill off Jacques in your last book. You have no idea who he had mistaken you for; you have never had a character named Jacques much less have you killed off such a character.

As a writer and an editor and a teacher, you manipulate reality,in large measure through the effective tool of illusion. It is only fair that in someone else's reality, you become illusion from time to time. It is a mystery that you often remind others of others, but it is a gift all the same.

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