Chiral

 

After reading Barbara Alfaro’s fascinating memoir, “Mirror Talk”, published in 2010, the only fault found was that it was much too short to do justice to her rich, artistic life.  As a woman, she stands tall among men, and as an actor, playwright, and director in the brutal off-Broadway world of theater, including the hilarious drama of her brief Hollywood episode, she has enriched our lives with an armload of satire, wisdom and lyrical reverie that is delightful as it is insightful.

Barbara is a graduate of Goddard College, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, a playwright, and a published poet who has received numerous writing scholarships and awards. She remembers her late grandmother, Anna Langan Brautigan,  who sat before a mirror to “spin your hair into a circle/ carefully, with warm precision/ as though such tasks were luxury… [and] turning to me smile easily/across the decades of your death.” (9) Now it was Barbara’s turn to sit before the mirror and allow us peer through the looking glass of her life.

I have entitled my review “CHIRAL”, a concept that is almost esoteric. It is an adjective from the Greek (sounds like choral) that describes something “not super-imposable on its mirror image”.  For example, a “chiral molecule is one that has the same basic structure as others, but doesn’t fit anywhere”. And so this mirror image of Barbara’s life will not easily fit into any ordinary  memoir mold. Barbara is summarily a poet who writes like a water colorist hinting at her life passing before our eyes. She once firmly believed that “God has different rules for artists”, but life has taught her that was a lie. After a miscarriage she agonizingly separated from her first husband who accused her of always wanting  the romance of “checkered tablecloths and violins playing”. (38)  They had partied, drank profusely and chewed on the bones of contemporary fiction, but without any inner satisfaction, or any guidance for the longer journey that awaits us all.

Then Barbara resolutely returned to her first love, the theater, to give us a backstage and front row view of life in those parts. Her brief excursion as a director left her both wounded but still madly in love with the community of theater.  “Church is where people go to care about God. Theater is where we go to care about one another…the place where reality and illusion embrace or collide…[and]facts and the fantastical co-exist”. (59) Her soul was deeply etched by the confessional poetry she studied at Goddard College known as the “hippie school”. There she was taught that “free” verse wasn’t free if well- written.

Her brief “interlude of non-belief” , a dark night of the soul, and the early “fire and brimstone” stories from her Catholic girlhood finally mature into a deep spiritual trust in God. She concludes that while church sermons may be boring “Christ is fascinating”. (100)

She ends her story abruptly, but with great aplomb, identifying with Snow White’s destiny revealed through a talking mirror. “I feel like I’ve been enclosed in a glass coffin by my family-and by myself-…If there were a magic mirror, what question would I ask?” (116) It is always the question of “Who am I?” that needs answering. What Alfaro sees in the mirror now is “not prettiness but a suggestion of joy”. Perhaps she has looked into the mirror to finally recognize herself as a beloved daughter of God.

Barbara has courageously encapsuled her life on paper, unadorned with a list of high-sounding achievements, but sprinkled with the magic of a deep and true reflection, and finally confesses that “something terrible happens to me when I don’t write-my soul twists like those soft pretzels New York vendors sell”. (122)

We are glad she has obeyed her muse, but are left wanting more than a glimpse into the mirror of her soul.

 

 

 

 

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