Saturday, September 30, 2006


by Betsy McKenzie

Do you wear it,
Or, does it wear you?
Does it live
Through you?
Does it hide you?
Or is its purpose
To hide the world from you?
Or, frightening to consider,
To make the world more
Real and clear?

Sept. 30, 2006

We all use masks every day. We put on a polite mask when we decide not to fuss at the slow check-out person or complain about the person in front of us with way too many items for the express lane. But inside, we might be seething. We may put on a stern mask when we chide a child for naughtiness while inside we are chuckling over the exploit.

But there are masks and masks. Some are just the wise decisions that smooth the skids of civilization; masks of courtesy or training We tell white lies with some masks in order not to hurt feelings, start a fight or teach a bad lesson.

Some masks are the result of our different roles in different situations. We are a child to our parents, while we are parents to children in our lives. We are employees to our bosses, and sometimes, we are bosses to others. All these different roles require a different mask, and the mask may change over time. We are not the son or daughter as adults that we were at age five or age fifteen.

Some masks, however, are the product of our choices. We choose to express our anger aloud, and in certain ways. We might express the anger often, or only on rare occasions. We may express it violently, in passive-aggressive ways or through grumbling We might wear a mask that tries to express what we think others expect of us, rather than what we really feel (or don’t feel).

And we become the mask we choose if we wear it consistently. While we are teens and young adults, we try on different masks, testing the fit and performance before we finally choose the person we will be. We try on masks of irony and comedy. We test masks of tragic heroines or victims. But finally, we work out who we are, partly a choice, partly how we were raised, and partly the culture we happen to live in during our lifetime.

What happens, though, when you suddenly feel the mask? It makes things very hard if you keep thinking that your emotions are mere masks, assumed for convenience and courtesy. I find it very unnerving. It’s like noticing that the floor beneath your feet is see-through and that the wheeling galaxies are visible beneath you. Or suddenly realizing that you can see the bones, tendons and muscles beneath your skin. Is any of this real? I can’t tell if I feel or merely pretend to feel because it’s expected.

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