The Mulan Complex

via mediagirl

No, I don’t have a complex that makes me a compulsive rebel, or a complex that makes me lie in order to defend my family, or a complex that makes me save my country from invading Huns, or a complex that makes hunky war heroes fall in love with me. But I am uncomfortable with my reflection.

Reflection. I wish I could say I love that word, and I mostly do. In its passive form. I love the way the redwoods, their reflections interrupted by floating islands of weeds, are mirrored on the stock pond at the local country club. I love the calm patience in my mother’s reflection while she does my hair when I am at home. I love how my friends and I chuckle and shake our heads at our middle school selves during our reflections on old times.

But there are few things that make me uncomfortable the way active reflection can. My reflection becomes an object of criticism and correction when my concealer brush is in my hand. Team reviews after group projects are always an opportunity to reflect on the performances of my teammates and myself and provide a report on our shortcomings. Active reflection inevitably leads to criticism in some form, even if it is constructive, positive, or helpful.

All it takes is a little bit of context and the word “reflection” becomes an unwieldy beast I am most certain I am unable to conquer. Reflection becomes a long, drawn-out struggle with periodic breaks to complain on Twitter and console myself with chocolate. At one point during a peer review assignment for an engineering project, I realized I would rather sing Honky Tonk Badonkadonk in front of the entirety of Cru (the student ministry I’m a part of on campus). This peer review should have been incredibly easy, especially because my team was a well-oiled machine and I had nothing but good things to say about such amazing teammates. But even positive, constructive criticism makes me squirm.

Criticism in any form elicits in me an immediate defensive response. Criticism is a red flag that something could have been done differently and better, and should have been done differently in order to have been better. As a perfectionist, it takes a Herculean effort to get me to admit that I’ve made a mistake or that I could have done something better on the first try. Usually this dramatic overgeneralization applies more to my personal life than to my academic life. But I still have a hard time with my shortcomings when it comes to academics. I refuse to start a problem set until I know I can solve every part of every question; I simply cannot start typing until I know where I want to go with the piece I’m writing.

My defensive response to criticism, and therefore reflection, made me appreciate a young author Roy Peter Clark describes in his book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. The young author accepts each critique from his writer’s group with an open mind, eager to improve. The evaluation focuses on his flaws, but not in a derogatory fashion. The flaws in his writing become his focus points for improvement.

It’s no secret that the Minor in Writing places as much importance on reflection as it does actually writing. Reflection is built into every project prompt, every blog post, every class discussion. I know that by the time I complete this program, I’ll still be just as uncomfortable with my shortcomings and flaws. But my hope is that I’ll be more comfortable with reflection and that my response to my reflection mirrors the eagerness of Clark’s young author.

5 thoughts to “The Mulan Complex”

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m just witnessed Beyonce and Jay Z just absolutely kill it on the stage of the Grammys, but the word that comes to mind is: fierce. lThis is fiercely good.

    The title is brilliant, and the content of this self reflection is, in the most ironic of sense, a wonderful example of self-reflection. I also tend to agree that self-criticism makes me feel more like I have no talent than it does help me think outside the box for a given task. The reflective aspect, then, is what is most daunting to me too.

    Perhaps the Minor in Writing will make men out of us after all.

  2. The first thing I thought after reading this way “that sounds exactly like me,” and I just want to say that, as someone who thinks he knows just how you feel, receiving self-criticism can be an extremely daunting task, and you did a great job of summing up the wide range of emotions I think just about all people experience, albeit at varying levels, througouth the peer review process.

    While times I find that they’ve pinpointed mistakes I like to think I was bound to find on my own later on, I found that for me personally the conversational aspect of these reviews and sessions has proven to be the most beneficial for me. Maybe because it’sI would much rather talk and engage with other through face-to-face talking, but I’ve found that these sessions can be a great time to bounce ideas off one another.

    Glad to hear that I’m not the only one that feels this way about peer reviews though, but it looks like we’re both going to have to get used to them now, ha.

  3. As a member of the other Gateway section, we were asked to make a comment on a post outside of our own section—I’m glad I chose your post to explore further. From the blurb displayed in the Gateway blog- the title drew me in, and the mentioning of redwoods sealed the deal.

    This is a strong, honest reflection (this was not intentional), of what reflection truly is, in its most positive and detrimental aspects. It captured an analysis of my own opinions (and probably how many students feel) about what you call “active” reflection versus passive reflection. I often love to get lost in passive reflection, but like you get very uncomfortable and even defensive in the presence of active reflection. I imagine by the time we have made it through the minor in writing, through pure exposure, we will be much more open to this active reflection, even we are never completely comfortable with our shortcomings.

    Best of luck with the course and your writing in the future!

  4. Rachel — My first reaction to this piece is that I can completely relate to your distaste for reflection. Your casual sentence structure also made your voice relatable throughout the piece, as if we were having a conversation. I also tend to be hard on myself, and listening to others critique my work seems to elicit a “grin-and-bear-it” mentality. Well done on really driving that point home.

    Your intro was quite strong. The title, “The Mulan Complex,” was what drew me in to read the piece (admittedly because of my love for the film). The transition between the end of the first paragraph and “Reflection” was a nice way to emphasize the topic of the essay.

    Hopefully this positive feedback isn’t too painful! Nick work.

  5. I really like that you draw a distinction between active and passive modes of reflecting, both because it allows for beautiful imagery in the form of redwoods in a crystal clear lake at the beginning of the piece, and because it helps to make your distaste for active reflection that that much more compelling.

    And while this may sound strange, I think that it’s great that reflection makes you uncomfortable. Or rather – I think it’s great that you’re acknowledging that it makes you uncomfortable. The most interesting stuff I’ve ever read (or written, for that matter) usually arrives from a place of frustration, anger, or just general discomfort. I say embrace your discomfort and keep writing about it, it’s sure to produce interesting stuff!

Leave a Reply