This is a Sunday Scribblings prompt that intrigued me:
Masks. Literal: making or wearing masks for Halloween, Carnival, Mardi Gras, the theater, any other masky occasion. Or, you know, psychological: a mask you wear, that you hide behind; the face you present the world, or that you present just to one person.
My initial instinct was to post some flash fiction--some poetry around the idea of masks--a little reminder about the day we all wore masks to a friend's Mardi Gras party last year and embarrassed ourselves by looking ridiculous...but then I realized that was all just another form of me donning a mask, carefully presenting myself as I'd like to be seen and not necessarily as I always am.
"You are a hard person to get to know," my friend once said to me. This was after we'd known one another about ten years, from a girl I thought of as one of those closest to me. She was right. I should really have let M. guest-post this for me, because he is the one who sees through the layers and masks I wear, even to present well to myself. He is the one who carries my stories inside of him. For all but the most recent of our years together, I would joke to him before we left the house together for absolutely every occasion,
"Time to put the face on."
He'd sigh, but usually keep his comments quiet. There was an implicit understanding in my need to shroud and veil and protect myself.
Lately, that mask has been gathering dust on a twisted little hook in my closet. One day, I just didn't put it on--I just let myself be more myself, even in mixed company, even when I wanted to put on a face that said, "Everything is perfect, thank you...I am perfect too...life is perfect...smiles all around." A whole series of forces converged to set this in motion, personal awareness growing...adding some years that have only made me feel gathering strength--not age...learning to care a bit less about what other people say and think about me. Then, I published an essay in a magazine that sat on newsstands for months and months...an essay that scared the hell out of me for sharing.
Writing that piece was therapeutic--was all about release. I sent it out because I thought I should, this is what "writers" do, after all. It was accepted immediately...then, I started to think about exactly what I'd said and shared.
"What kind of mother is she?" I expected to hear.
"How could she ever admit that she was so ill?"
"What will her children think when they grow up and read what she published about their early days?"
It was like throwing heavy stones at the polished glass house of motherhood I'd been trying to fit myself into. Fact? I am not a perfect mother. Fact? I was incredibly sick with post-partum depression after two of my births. Fact? I don't cook well. I don't "manage" the household and do it all. I'd rather sit and read a book than go to a bridal shower. I'd trade a life of security for one of adventure ANY day. I sometimes wander around here, so lost in the lives of the characters I've created out of pen and paper that I let the ones I've created out of love and DNA spend whole afternoons hiding in blanket forts with pens, staplers, and razor-edged scissors...and yes, some Barbies have had to pay the ultimate price with Sinead O'Connor hairstyles and tribal-marker tattoos. Fact? Sometimes I'd rather just eat dessert too. Sometimes I don't care that they are grungy from playing in the dirt outside or wearing mismatched socks because no one did the laundry. If it meant I wrote a poem that day or that we all curled up on the couch the night before reading books, I just don't care. Fact? I'm bare-stripped to the things that really matter to me.
I have left the mask off...but, still--this isn't exactly a triumphant post about my own perfect evolution. What has replaced the "You're a hard person to get to know" is the newer, "You're a hard person to get a hold of." So, if you're with me...it is now going to be ME you're with...but, it isn't going to be easy. I am becoming more reclusive, more likely to tell you I don't want to do something when I once would have done it and grinned all the way through, with the face on. If you ask me something, I'm going to be more honest about it. What is difficult for me is learning to put my voice behind my nakedness, instead of simply assuming silence instead...it is a time of shifting roles for me. A slow learning curve I'm trying to get ahead of...
What it most recently meant was that I had to irritate the department of the college I have taught reading and writing for in varying intervals since the fall semester of 2000. They wanted me to take on a number of classes and office hours for this summer session that would have meant I failed to reach certain writing timetable goals I have in place for myself. I wavered--hard--over this. I am laboring away at a book that may never see the light of day, after all. Yes, I've had my positive feedback and the deal that fell through...yes, I have my list of referrals to work in the fall when the draft is fully polished--but, let's be mask-free--this manuscript is still a single girl looking for her true love. There's no ring on her finger, just a string of approaching blind dates and a hearty dose of faith. The full-time teaching would have erased my doubts about how I spend my time and what exactly I'm doing with myself. But, it also would have ended my chances to finish this book. I said I would only take on one class...and I was honest about it arising out of my need for time for creative work. I wish I could say that it went well, that my honesty was rewarded with understanding and gilded rays of sunlight. But, it wasn't. People were annoyed with me, people questioned my dedication to my students and the community. It was incredibly difficult for me not to say, "Okay, okay, I'll do it!" and wear the face all the while. But, I held to my convictions and just took on the one section. It might mean I am offered nothing in the fall semester, but that will just be an invitation to the creative life full time, as best I can tell.
Clumsily, awkwardly, curiously...I am moving forward into this unveiled self. Even this post wanders...stutters...needs cleaning up and polishing. Fact? These words are just the ones that came to me this morning. Now, they're landing here--a little glimpse of me.