by Evan Nasse
By my freshman year in high school I had thought I finally started to really understand who I was and what I wanted in life—as many bright-eyed, idealist teenagers are wont to do so early on—until one of the more influential teachers in my life called me out on my self-serving, hubristic delusions.
“You’re a fairly bright kid, but I don’t think you truly know what it is you want from yourself, so you aren’t really doing anything special by half-assing your schoolwork and maintaining a ‘good enough’ grade. You’re cheating the man in the glass and I won’t stand for it.” Mr. Gornick didn’t pull any punches, but at least he waited until everyone else had left class first.
My response was somewhat aghast, thinking that I had been accused of having cheated on a test or assignment. It wasn’t until later I discovered that this was one of the first times a teacher had spoken with me on a level of mutual respect and earnestly constructive criticism combined with blunt swearing peppered with a light Minnesotan accent.
“Who’s the man in the glass?” He pulled a piece of paper I had seen tacked up on the wall behind his standard-issue cheap teaching pulpit desk monstrosity that looked like it had been designed by someone in the 1970’s with stock in shoddy wooden veneer. The paper was old and weathered, surviving multiple classroom shifts from year to year and seemed to have a power all it’s own. “The Man in the Glass,” read the title, the words seemingly piercing through me. He instructed me to not read it until he had left the room, and that it must be read aloud. He pointed to a small mirror on his desk and said I could use it if I needed to. Curious, I obliged.
The Man in the Glass
by Dale Wimbrow, 1934
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the person to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And you’ll think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
Immediately the connection became clear and I felt a ten-pound barbell sink to my stomach from the center of my chest with a sickening thud. I felt like a god damn fraud walking around in someone else’s skin. From that point on I began performing serious evaluations on myself, to try and keep me in check, because who else is going to? The poem is powerful, and aside from being catchy it dances around the subject but it represents a self evaluation of your soul; this is the first time that a person I greatly respected—somewhat as a mentor—had challenged me to look inside my very nature as a person. I haven’t spoken with him in some years, but it makes me happy to think maybe Mr. Gornick is still performing this existential duty to bright young teenagers. Try it for yourself, if you’d like. Think of it as a litmus test for your frame of mind, but be sure to look that person dead in the eye like a prosecuting attorney when you ask if that’s your friend meeting back the stare.
About the Author: Evan Nasse
I am currently a sophomore studying liberal arts with a concentration in writing at APU and a minor in business. My passion is writing screenplays, however I still enjoy the other forms of creative writing such as flash fiction, creative nonfiction and science fiction. I hope to one day be professionally writing scripts for film and/or television.