Kyla Houbolt, “Mirror”

“Mirror” demands self-reflection from its very title.

It took a little effort to grasp what I feel when I look in the mirror. There isn’t any flexing of biceps or “damn, I’m handsome.” Nor is there any obvious insecurity. But there are small, nagging questions about each blemish or scar. Is this acceptable? I keep hearing. Will I be given a chance?

I think I recognize now how humiliations pile up, becoming a volcano. I hope I’m more aware how that anger can be misinterpreted, thought to be arrogance or self-absorption. It’s really the worry of being kicked while one is down, yet again.

What then, to make of “I will continue to clench my jaw?” It speaks tension, perhaps anger or anxiety. Maybe it speaks far more ambition than Am I acceptable? It certainly speaks resolve: “I will continue to clench my jaw / I will continue to see / a horse in all things.” The heart of these lines is “I will continue.” Like a horse, one strides magnificently, building an artful inertia.

Kyla Houbolt
I will continue to clench my jaw 
I will continue to see 
a horse in all things 
I will not be able to ride the horse 
it is wild 
it knows better 
than to take the bit.

It’s strange to speak of “ambition” and “being accepted” in the same breath. I can tell you from experience they can be the same thing. A major reason I’m writing right now is that becoming even partially invisible is not an option. If I imagine myself simply sticking to my job, publishing a few articles and eventually a book, I’m not going to have the support I need just to survive. When we speak of “networking,” we tend to gloss over the fact that the most powerful networks may be entirely the product of nepotism. I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that Donald Trump, Jr. was polling significantly among Republicans as a potential 2024 Presidential candidate a month or two ago.

So yes, for all of us who teach high schoolers, if you wonder why they’re so obsessed with being accepted, that’s my take. The trust and social bonds which create a robust sense of community in other countries do not exist in America. They’ve been destroyed for the most part by the idea that sheer lust for power or riches is an acceptable notion of freedom. Kids can’t articulate this but they can sense something is amiss. That what they need might never be there for them. We adults have a million excuses as to why this system is the best as it literally crumbles, taking us with it.

“I will continue to see a horse in all things” does speak to ambition. And, I also believe, the inevitable result of wanting to be accepted: the realization one must be as accepting as one can. A horse’s power, beauty, and nobility are natural. They stand against our attempts to categorize and reduce; they challenge us to recognize the true standard as we encounter it. This is literally wild. You resolve yourself, in front of the mirror, to accept tough feelings because determination matters most. The end is not a telos, implying completion, but a marker to be powered through.

You don’t know how far you’re going to have to go to be.

“I will not be able to ride the horse / it is wild / it knows better / than to take the bit.” I’ve said a lot, but it can be expanded upon considerably. At this moment, I want to leave us with one more thing to consider. The horse can’t be ridden, as “it knows better” than to accept any control. Control from who, though? There’s a tension in those of us wanting independence, because it’s a part of ourselves—a part more “me” than “I myself”—which refuses submission. It sounds like a literary construct, too crazy to be true. But we know from experience that it’s completely true. It’s learning to let that horse run on its own and accept what it means that’s truly life. It’s not a lesson I can say I’ve come close to learning yet.

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