We All Wear Our Masks

digital illustration (B&W)It’s so much easier to hide behind convention and other convenient facades than to let our true selves be seen and known. Don’t we almost always prefer that sense of safe anonymity or at least ‘appropriateness’—however tenuous or specious it may be—to taking the chance that in our own skins we might not measure up to the occasion or to the  expectations of others?

It is, of course, a foolish conceit. One can rarely cozen anyone else, let alone oneself, by such a means. No matter how hard I may try to appear in the guise of what I think will qualify me for the In Group or make me richer-thinner-prettier or smarter than I really am, if it’s all show, the mask will like any faulty exterior prove too thin to cover my realities. It has always been so, and yet I am far from alone in continuing these futile attempts. I do believe that constant practice can transform us into a nearer semblance to the disguise, but that can work for ill as well as good.

Probably wiser is to recognize that the urge is age-old; that insecurity and an assumption that others will find me inadequate in my natural state are neither new problems nor absolutely decisive. The masks of the past remain, both in those symbolic and ceremonial concrete forms and in the records of our history books and art, to amuse, bemuse or warn us, if we will pay attention. And a close enough, thoughtful enough reading will remind any of us that no mask covers the truth forever—and yet, all the same, that we as a species continue (however astoundingly) to survive. Perhaps unmasking isn’t entirely as dangerous as any of us have feared.

I spent enough years acting the part of a brave, socially mature person, one who was more comfortable hosting a gathering, letting others see my art and writing, lecturing, teaching and doing so many other things that in truth absolutely terrified me to tearful agony behind the scenes that it turns out I am capable of doing all of those things after all. I still fuss and worry, yes, but nothing like the self-flaying horrors that I used to suffer just to get through what were apparently no-big-deal occurrences for most other people, and now I can experience them with fair equanimity. Funny how, when you’ve spent your whole remembered life in the grip of a belief that every second was one degree away from total disaster and death, any tiny bit less becomes magically huge.

And each of those instances becomes a step toward understanding that I have perhaps begun to grow into my mask of wishful improvement and become more like it underneath. Or better yet, that it never did matter as much as I feared, this different reality behind the convention. Best of all, I find that the more I let people see me as I really am, the more kindly they seem to look on me, and in turn, I begin to think the real me is perhaps pretty likable, respectable. Even lovable. Who knew.

digital illustration

Unique doesn’t inherently mean Alone.

14 thoughts on “We All Wear Our Masks

  1. “it never did matter as much as I feared”, for me this is the hammer hitting the nail on the head. It often helps to look into why that fear arose and is unjustified. MM 🍀💚

  2. I love being ‘old’ – ‘older’ whatever, whichever. The masks drop one by one, two by two not into the ark but into nothingness and me, myself and I unfold and allow the inside to come out. It is great. I am growing old disgracefully after years of pretending to be what others expected. You are an inspiration with your words of wisdom. I wish I could tell all the young ones never to put on a mask but of course that is impossible as society is good at handing them out and making you think it is vital to wear it.

  3. Thanks for a wonderful post Kathryn. I have a file on my desktop called “caught my attention” and in it I keep links to posts that have inspired me. There are at least a half dozen of yours, now including this one. ❤

  4. Existential question about the black and white: did you draw a full face and then replace one half with a reflection of the other, or did you draw only one half and then reflect it to fill the blank on the other side? My guess is the former.

  5. Love this one Kathryn. I too have worn a mask most of my life. The mask was to keep secrets. I needed secrets because I had no life of my own because of a domineering, narcissistic mother who crowded my space and never let me have my own personality. it was necessary for me to keep secrets and so the mask-wearing began. I slowly take down my mask now and hope I let others in a bit to the real me. But there are those times where we all need to hide a bit even for something as so simple as making things comfortable for everyone around us. That’s where “fake it till ya make it” comes in. lol

    • Thanks! A fun ‘mirroring’ feature I recently discovered in one of the digital drawing apps I’ve been exploring made this quicker and easier to do than otherwise. It’s intriguing to see how much it can surprise me what happens when true mirrored lines meet or cross in the middle, though maybe that’s my dyslexic brain talking….

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