Costume Jewelry & the Genuine Article

Digital illustration: Costume JewelryAs an inveterate magpie, I’m admittedly enchanted by almost anything sparkly and glinting that happens to catch my eye. A flash of reflected sun from a momentary wavelet on a lake at eventide is no better or worse than a shred of tinfoil glimmering from the dark recesses of a trash bin, when it comes to attention-getting power. I wonder at times whether this attitude of mine spills over into accepting cheap substitutes for the real thing in areas of life and knowledge that matter far more than mere visual stimulation does.

Do I pay enough attention to my life and all of its contextual influences?

I do when I remember. But that’s never quite enough, is it? It can become a plain old excuse to say ‘I’m only human.’ So much more power is given us, if we dare to exercise it. No matter what my beliefs and convictions are, if I’m given the capability of questioning and examining them and growing through deeper listening and learning, should I not use that power fully and joyfully? I am reminded often enough by my failures and faults that I can only engage this discernment usefully for myself and have neither the power nor the right to assume my journey will apply to all (or indeed, any) others. This sojourn of learning, questing and listening, and yes, looking at both the shiny objects and those seemingly dull ones presented to me will lead, if I am both fortunate and patient, determined and humble, to a treasury more valuable than all of the scintillations in a world of costume jewelry.

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.

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Unique doesn’t inherently mean Alone.

…and Don’t Forget, I Tell Myself, These *Other* Things…

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One Simple Self-Improvement Tool: Live Among Your Betters & Keep Your Eyes Open

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Yet More Advice-to-Self

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Upon Further Reflection

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Let us pause for a moment of thought on who we are and what we’re not,

On living life as best we can, no matter whether beast or man,

And think of beauty, wisdom, skill, kind spirits, charm, and strength of will,

And not forget, not for one blink, we’re not as dandy as we think,

But all the same, let’s take the tack of cutting, each, ourselves some slack—

Our imperfections won’t be solved until we’re all far more evolved,

But what we are at present, still, has bits of charm, kind spirits, skill,

Has strength and wisdom; beauty too—and that gives us enough to do—

A Faraway Look

Looking inward requires the most thoughtful, clear, exacting kind of sight. It requires both the power to see great distances through any number of intervening obstacles or distractions and the will to pay attention to and accept what’s seen. These interior distances can present the greatest challenges in our lives. And when they’re conquered, having presented the greatest risk, they can at last offer the greatest rewards. Braving this adventure into self is often frightening and intimidating far beyond the terrors offered by ordinary, real life adventures ‘on the outside’. May I always be willing to take the leap.digital illustrationI wrote that thought down some time ago, and while it’s often played out in my life in a vast number of ways and to differing degrees, it seems to have come to the fore once again in a particularly pointed way. Every time I reach the crossroads I have to decide: do I dare to do what I really think I need to do? Do I want to do what I need to do? I know that other people are always undergoing these same challenges, most of them deeper and more perilous than my own, but I also know that every one of us worries and struggles and imagines and aspires uniquely, and that no one person’s journey is truly untouched by any other’s. And the more other people that I know are affected–directly or indirectly–by my decisions, the more I will wrestle with the inner process.

All of the standard stresses of existence that plague those of us fortunate enough to be beyond the most basic survival questions of food and shelter will continue to try us as long as we do exist. Health, work, age, finances, relationships, memory, strength, purpose: how we do fret and fear and puzzle our way through them is the ongoing test of our self-worth and contentment, and in turn, of our ability to give to others. Will I come out of the day on the plus side of any or all of these valuables? What decides it? The only certainty, for me, is that the need to address such questions never ceases.

Now let me close my eyes and go to work.