The Mirror of Frustration

In the Harry Potter books, the Mirror of Erised shows the viewer whatever they most desire. I’m not really sure what I most desire, which is why I’m so curious to look into that mirror—which is why that plot device is such a nifty invention from J.K. Rowling.

The Mirror of Noitartsurf doesn’t sound nearly as elegant, nor is it. Frustration is an inelegant experience: it makes us trip and stop; it makes small things big (elegance is the converse); it shuts things down. But it can also open our eyes to who we really are.

I have not had Wi-Fi for six days. That’s frustrating. Especially with an academic term starting next week, a new program to set up, and constant emails about travel changes, administrative matters, and—most ironic of all—how to fix the Wi-Fi. I’ve done all of this, and video chatted with my family overseas, on the strength of the meager UK phone plan I had arranged.

The natural response to this kind of frustration is to find somewhere to place the blame. Who dropped the ball? In this particular case, well, that’s me. Long story short, I didn’t think that I’d need the kind of internet account here that I do in fact need, so I said “no” when they asked—months ago.

Even if it were possible to point the finger at someone else, though, the more interesting question is what the frustration says about me. What is it in me that needs constant, convenient internet access? 

In direct contrast to the Mirror of Erised, the Mirror of Noitartsurf shows me exactly what I don’t want—which is of course a mirror image of what I do want and who I really am.

I don’t often like who I see in this mirror.

Years and years ago, I was writing late at night in a coffee shop in Washington, DC, and I paused to study the other patrons in the dark reflection of the front window so that I could study them without staring at them directly, instantaneously pigeon-holing each one: “First date over there, no doubt,” I thought. “Both so awkwardly trying not to seem awkward.” Next table: “Stupid nerd.” Next table: “Superficial little socialite, probably texting her BFF about the new nail color she found, or whatever.” Next table: “Pretentious, bookish little—oh, wait: that’s me.”


Looking into my frustration over this issue, I haven’t altogether liked what I see. So I’ve sent the requisite emails to IT, but then I’ve gone for long walks and runs far from any digital screen. I’ve read real books. I’ve written without the distractions of email and social media.

I would like to be the kind of person who needs less internet. Here’s my chance.

Published by


Happy husband since 2001, proud dad since 2010, diligent English professor since 1995. "And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."