The Midpoint: Life and its Mirrored Reflection

It’s been five years since my sister passed away. It was July the first. After several days in a coma on life support, her procumbent physical form awaiting its final goodbyes from family and friends, what was remaining of her corporeal self lifted away from itself.

Every year on this date I write something in remembrance of Briana. Last year, I wrote “The trauma begins to bubble up in mid to late June, throughout which I relive the last few days of her life—the days locked inside a coma having endured irreparable brain damage—and continues to simmer well past the fourth of July.” This year, however, the month of July also harbors the first anniversary of my father’s untimely death. If there was a way to delete July from the calendar I surely would.

I didn’t want to write anything this year; it’s as if I expected the universe to simply mock my efforts. The past five years have been strange. It’s a strangeness I recognized a little bit in Frederico Fellini’s film “8 ½,” which I rewatched this past weekend. One of the central questions of the film is: is art an inherently selfish pursuit? As the character Guido—a thinly veiled version of Fellini himself—is asked in the film, and I’m paraphrasing, “What makes you think people would be interested in watching your life on screen?” It’s a fundamental question that plagues—or should plague—every artist. No matter how foreign the subject matter, every artist puts him or herself into their work; at least if they want their work to be any good. In order to affect other peoples’ emotions, one must experience, harness, and subsequently display, those emotions on screen. The truth is this is both a selfish and unselfish act. It is part sacrifice, and part ego trip. Perhaps one must embark on such an ego trip in order to be able to make such a sacrifice. That might also be true.

For the past five years, I’ve spent the overwhelming majority of my time attempting to mirror the reality of my life through the hyper-reality of my film “No Alternative.” Perhaps exploring fictional versions of myself and my family might shed some light on the dynamics of my family in my life, and along the way, help other people shed some light on their own family relationships, specifically on the role of mental health within those dynamics.

The irony that is unique to this year is that the project that sought to bring my sister’s spirit back to life also eclipsed the death of my father. While I worked to perfect the fictional character that is based on my father, my father’s character in reality was written out of my life. The writer that crafted this plot point did so without any development or dramatic build-up, which made this death that much harder to buy, to swallow, to not wish to rewrite. 

“So it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut wrote.

This year doesn’t just feel like a turning point for me, it feels like an ending. I completed and released the film about my sister, endured the deaths of my father and my dog—who was, in so many ways, my best friend—and turned 40, arguably the midpoint of my life. The midpoint, in screenwriting parlance, is the point-of-no-return for the main character. I also just had my first child, Wyatt, and my band of 25 years is back together and working on our first full-length album. It’s hard for anyone to wrap their heads around the fact that they’ve reached the midpoint of their life, and it’s harder when so many extremes—tragic deaths and new lives—converge on each other at the same time. 

I don’t feel like my life, as it exists now, will have a satisfactory conclusion—a Hollywood ending, per se, because the first half of this movie is just too much to reconcile in the same linear timeline. If this is the case, how does someone live out the second half of their life? In a fashion that builds toward something, as opposed to moving away from something? Perhaps this the reason for the so-called midlife crisis that people have been known to experience, and complain about, in modern life.

I recently attended an art exhibition at the La Luz De Jesus Gallery at WACKO in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. If you know Los Feliz, you know Wacko. It’s less a destination, and more a cultural landmark. The gallery exhibited the work of artist Daniel Martin Diaz, whose drawings merge science with mystery, two subjects that often run in opposition to one another, unless the focus is on the pursuit of science as a means to eliminate the mysteries around us.

Diaz has written about his work: “In life you follow a path that the universe has unveiled. I believe art articulates the unknown. It brings awareness and elements of being that have not yet entered the collective consciousness. It expands the landscape and moves civilization forward into the realm of the known and undiscovered. It tries to dissect what is yet unimaginable, give value to the valueless, and meaning to what it is to be human.”

This is an excellent definition of art and its purpose. So much sadness emanates from our responses to the unknown. For instance, our responses to the deaths of our loved ones, mysteries that will haunt some of us for the remainder of our lives. If art can chip away at that sadness, good on the artist; if it can eliminate it, that is even better. But what if the process exacerbates it, magnifying the pain, the hurt, and the trauma? That is a risk, but perhaps a necessary one.

I was struck by a particular piece Diaz piece. It is called MIRROR SYMMETRY BETWEEN UNIVERSES and the drawing depicts parallel universes that are reflections of each other.

As I grapple with the ramifications of this midpoint of my life, I find solace in this piece. While what’s depicted can be viewed as two distinct paths of life that do not interact with each other, the fact that we can conceive of such a notion lends credence to the possibility that we have already interacted with the other path in a way we might not even be aware of. With this in mind, what if I were to view one universe as the first half of my life, and its mirror reflection, the second half of my life. Life is like a mirror converging on itself: we are born from the dust, grow into middle age—if we’re lucky—and then begin our journey back to where we began. 

What if I were able to step from my universe into its mirrored version? Or maybe it is the case that I exist in its reflection, that my true path exists in a universe that this version of myself has yet to take a step in. This seems an appropriate metaphor for the balance, and subsequent struggle, between art and life, a balance I often fear I’ve weighed too much toward the universe of art. Instead of focusing on the mirrored version of my family—the version that I’ve suspended in the time capsule of my movie—this may be my chance to make my life the end in itself, rather than its mirrored representation, a representation I’ve worked so hard to create in the first half of my life. Perhaps, in this alternative universe of the living, the art of life is what matters, as opposed to the life of art.

My father is reflected in both my film and my son; the film took forty years to guide to maturity, and I have the next forty years to guide my son to maturity through the acquired wisdom I am able to impart. Instead of this second half of life being a dénouement, it has the potential of being the beginning—the opening frames in the second film of a double feature. 

I’m just not sure how long those trailers for other films will last between the two feature presentations, as that’s the purgatorial place I’m currently sitting in. But I have a feeling I shouldn’t get up and leave, since the theater usually saves the better film for last. 

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