16 February 2009

Masques, Personae, Prisons

In the basement, there on the wall, is a mask colored in green and gold. It is of a cat’s face, filigreed and beaded. There are satin ribbons in the same shades as the cheeks. It is flanked by two dark green metal candle holders which support thick, squat pillars of wax so green as to be almost black. The mask was purchased in New Orleans, from a small shop specializing in all things Mardi Gras. The mask cost about $90, which sounds like a lot for such an object until it is realized the wall of masks around it contains bigger, flashier masks costing easily twice as much and more. Money was not particularly scarce, but it was New Orleans after all; there was a whole universe of food and drink to be pursued as well. The price of the mask satisfied any concerns about quality against affordability, and was deemed very attractive.

The mask stares out from the wall, shadows cast by the light from above. It gives the impression of secrets kept, lovers entertained, revelry enjoyed. There is a slight hint of debauchery about its green-gold countenance. If it had a mouth it would be smiling like the Mona Lisa.

The truth is the mask has never been worn for any real purpose. The longest time it spent covering a human face was for approximately two minutes in a fit of silliness, while awaiting the tack driven into to the wall, upon which it now hangs. This perhaps speaks of pathos. A mask created to obscure the identity of someone who wishes to retain some anonymity while engaging in risqué behavior on a street heavy with the perfume of hurricanes, and sadly saw no action.

The mask hangs there, metallic and silently mocking. Sarcastic chuckling faint in the cool air.

Slight shame rises to the cheeks in consideration of the failure to actually use the mask. A belated realization that perhaps a certain amount of fearlessness is required to don such a creation. Why is that, the mind wonders. Ah, of course. By donning such a mask, the wearer is in some measure advertising the fact that something is wished to remain hidden. The mind considers the apparent paradox: if one dons a mask to hide something, why make it known that something is hidden? Is it not the purpose of hiding to avoid scrutiny or detection?

Wait, no, that is only part of the story. This mask was meant to be worn in the company of other like-minded individuals. It signals admittance to a community, a group of “partners-in-crime” who are willing to let another in on the joke. “Welcome, brother!” they exclaim, all bright beads and shimmering feathers, “Join us in our escape! Sin with us!” Such gaiety extended with a wink and a nod as much as to say it is understood that all humans have certain desires and the same yearning to unleash, at least for a short while, things normally held tightly close.

Bemusement. Regret. The knowledge that for some, freedom of that sort has always been contemplated from behind a wall of glass, rippled and thick. It is enough to make one sigh heavily and wonder why it is so difficult to let go of oneself long enough to actually enjoy life in a way that so many others do. It isn’t as if getting drunk and dancing around a streetlight once in a lifetime is going to translate into perpetual debauchery. In a crowd of people all wearing masks of many colors and shapes, one more worn quietly will surely not stand out. If anything, the lack of a mask would be a surefire attention getter.

Still, the thought of wearing such a creation engenders intense feelings of discomfort. Donning a mask would draw attention, no matter what. Attention, while craved, has not been pursued. Attracting attention has always meant demands upon the self. There will always be the pressure to live up to the attention, give as much if not more in return. This is anathema to a persona not comfortable with presenting itself to scrutiny by the outside world.

An exquisite joke, is it not? The mind that feels it necessary to shield itself from the eyes of others is nervous and fearful of wearing something created for the purpose of hiding something from others. Yes, of course, this makes perfect sense, as rueful laughter bubbles up. “I feel uncomfortable displaying myself to the world; therefore, I shall not wear masks!” The faint metallic scent of irony pervades the room.

Wait, perhaps this does make sense. The mind is sly like a fox, you see. The mind feels it needs to hide its true self in order to meet the world. By donning an actual mask, it would advertise something is hidden. This would attract attention. In order to avoid scrutiny, to deflect attention, it would be better to not wear a mask. It is easier, in some ways, to just wear one’s given face, plain and simple. It is less noticeable, if one cares to make the effort. Thus, the face acts as a mask, it just doesn’t appear as one.

Aha. A light goes off in the mind. Now the source of the growing discomfort has been identified. The mask glitters, watching and inscrutable. A gnawing sensation suffered for years reveals itself in a flash of insight like the slow cracking of a bird’s egg under pressure from a beak.

The face has become the mask.

A hot flush to the neck, up into cheeks that feel like melting stone. The shield has been maintained for so many years, the act perpetuated, that the face no longer remembers how to reflect the interior life it covers. The core human being has become trapped behind the very thing that sought to protect it. This core, this life cannot get out. It cannot reveal itself except through occasional glimpses in the eyes and verbal outbursts of shaking intensity that leave the owner drained and ashamed. The face became a mask became a prison.

This is why the mask on the wall reaches out and caresses the heart with cool fingers, laughing softly into the ear all the while. The mask knows its purpose, knows that all people have things they feel scared to reveal, even if those things are a true self, worthy of sharing the light of humanity. The mask itself is not scared of its true nature.

Alone in the cool dimness of the basement, the face cracks and dissolves in a flood of salt water, mystified and relieved to know that it no longer has to be afraid of itself, even after all these years. The hands reach up and gently pull the sodden shards away, fluttering to the floor like wet leaves.

The mask and the face gaze upon one another, and smile.


  1. Ack.
    I like how the title goes so well. Have a good day, Gumby.

  2. "knows that all people have things they feel scared to reveal, even if those things are a true self, worthy of sharing the light of humanity."

    You said it far better than I ever will. Happy Monday.

  3. I'm going to need to start drinking my coffee well in advance of visiting you in the morning. That was all brilliance.

  4. The mask is one of items that has a story to tell. Love your insight into human's nature.

  5. Wow. A little much for a Monday morning, but fantastic all the same.

  6. Some people wear their mask so well don't you find? Others will wear a mask, but their eyes tell you everything.

  7. Seriously I need a Jim Carey movie after reading you this early!

    Happy Monday!

  8. Beautifully written Kevin, and yes it is the most exquisite joke!

  9. I wear two (2) masks everytime I go on a date. Mask number one is, literally, an inch of make-up. It's true. Ask anyone. If I COULD put on MORE make-up, I would. I think it's the "artist" in me.

    The other mask is a false persona. If I am NOT saying, "Jesus Christ you are boring me to death" then I'm not, really, being ME.

  10. The problem with the face is like the song says. . . "If you look closer it's easy to trace the tracks of my tears."

  11. Hmmmm...........me thinks we REALLY need to have a talk now.

  12. Very nice. I love what you saw in the mask. Though I did have to read the post 4 times and have 2 cups of coffee. Mondays...you should maybe write 'down' to us. Many of us do not have the capacity to comprehend the enormity of the words you speak.

    Then again....you are a Hot Dad....so you can do whatever you want.

  13. Dude, seriously, enough with the good writing. Take a picture of your foot and talk to it for a change or something. You make the rest of us look bad.

  14. OAM: Thanks. It came to me in a daydream.

    BAM: Thank you, and I hope Monday was good for you as well!

    Pamela: *blush* I am honored, m’lady.

    Miw: Excellent summary :)
    Sunny: That’s why masks fascinate me. Thank you!

    Braja: (laugh) I know exactly what you mean, and what you meant :)

    CPM: (bowing) Thank you.

    Petra: Thank you! I’m working on dialing it down…

    Belle: Yes, myself included. Especially the eyes.

    Sarah: Ha! I forgot about that one!

    Rachael: Thank you, and exquisite indeed.

    Charmaine: Makeup? No, I find that hard to believe. So noted on the persona! :)

    Lizspin: All part of turning the face into a mask, trying to hide those tracks…

    MD: I’m all ears, my dear. :)

    TBF: Thank you! All part of the service pack. :)

    BTM: You’ll do fine, just don’t overdo the coffee! :)

    Flutter: Thank you, I sort of had you in mind while writing this…

    Captain: (bellylaugh) I don’t like to disappoint, I’ll work up something for you…

  15. i am convinced you are some writer in disguise. Fess up mister........

  16. Perhaps someone back from the dead???? Some brilliant writer that we all studied in school................

  17. VM: (spittake) Oh, my, I am truly flattered that you think so! It actually got me to thinking, if I were back from the dead or channeling someone, who would it be, who would it be...?

  18. I'll thank you to stop making me think so much! As usual, your post leaves me admiring your prose (that WAS your prose, wasn't it?) and chewing the larger picture.
    My husband, normally an introverted man, absolutely loves masks and can spend all of Halloween night (big holiday at our house) in full costume, never breaking character.
    Frankly, this has always worried me.
    And now, I'm just a little more worried...

  19. Yowza - my first visit back to your blog after what seems like an eternity, and you are as amazing as ever. I'm with the Captain - my pasted Valentine's Day cards look fairly paltry now... :D

    Just kidding, keep it up.

  20. Pearl: My apologies madam (grin) Perhaps a week long immersion in Monty Python episodes or kung fu movies might help. My prose, all my fault! :)

    goodfather: Hey, good to see you! Thank you for your kind words. I'm working on some silliness...


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...