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The Butterfly Collector

Susan Lin's thesis, "The Butterfly Collector," exemplifies the Center for Creative Work's ideals by offering a multidisciplinary product that includes a novella, a critical preface, and handmade books that correspond to her story.

From the Critical Preface

Regarding The Woman Warrior, it’s very telling that Maxine’s confrontation with the silent girl takes place in a restroom. The scene is lengthy and throughout the narrator is very hyperaware of her surroundings—the sound of her shoes on the tiles, the light coming in through the window, the stall doors opening. Yet, there is never any mention of a mirror. She says that she stops in front of the sinks—where a mirror would usually be fixed—and the girl was running toward her, almost colliding with her.  The girl always followed the narrator around everywhere she went. It’s fairly obvious that Maxine is upset with the girl because she sees a part of herself that she hates in her.  However, I would go as far as to argue that the girl doesn’t exist, that she sees in her reflection that aspect of herself that she isn’t proud of and brings it alive.

The Butterfly Collector contains a similar confrontation in a public restroom, one with a large and very prominent mirror. Reflective surfaces are a recurring element in the bulk of my work and have been since one of my high school art projects, for which I chose to study and depict perception and a variety of mental illnesses in a series of portraits. Today, reflections appear in my photographs, my video projects, and the performance pieces I occasionally choreograph. Visually, they provide the opportunity to superimpose two different images over each other, especially when the mirror is also used as a canvas. In writing, a mirror creates a double of everything in the room. It allows for dissociation and a first person narrator thinking of herself in third person. When Lyssa feels guilt, she tends to find herself and her memories in reflections, as if that makes them not real. She can pretend that her reflection is just a character in a movie that she is watching.  


From The Butterfly Collector

“Why do you always do that?” Mallory is standing in front of the sink next to mine, a thin stick of lip balm, uncapped, dangling between two fingers as if about to smoke it like a cigarette.

“What?” I always hated the lighting in the restroom. I don’t know why I bother to stop and look into the mirror there to begin with; my skin always looks washed-out and pale, my freckles dull and sparse.

“That—“ Mallory demonstrates with her free hand, “—cheek thing.” She re-caps the stick and purses her lips in the mirror. “There’s never anything there or anything.”

Every time I see my reflection—it doesn’t matter where, a mirror, the window, a doorknob—the first thing I do is run my fingertips down the side of my face lightly across my left cheek. One quick, fluid motion disguised as a nervous tic. I never noticed it myself before, but from now on, I become hyperaware of the action.

I feel the blood rushing to my ears before the color even shows and try to hide it by whipping my head to right, away from her, letting my hair fly in all directions before falling across my cheeks.

Someone exits one of the stalls up front. The door swings open with force, and I look in the mirror at the girl coming toward us. 


The new girl’s name was Melissa, but she wanted us to call her Lissa. I knew that was because they probably called her Smelly Mellie at her old school. I felt bad for her, obviously, but really, she could’ve used some deodorant. 

Mallory and I cornered her in the bathroom between fifth and sixth period. “No one’s going to call you Lissa,” I told her. “There’s no room for two Lyssas at this school, I don’t care how you spell it.”

“You can’t tell me what I can and can’t call myself.”

“You think I can’t? It’s two against one. It could be three, four against one. You’re the new girl remember?”


Susan L. Lin graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English - Creative Writing and a minor in Studio Art. She constructed her books during the 2009 Writers and Their Regions retreat.