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Artists Bill of Rights

She Says - The Masks We Wear

Hello Dear Ones!

Hallowe’en costumes and appropriate masks have been ghoulishly and delightfully impressing us wherever we have gone today. In fact they have been quite noticeable all weekend long. Most teens had their parties last night if yesterday’s bus-traveling crowd was an accurate indication. Retail folk and coffee shop staff are dressed up and proudly displaying their get-ups. Even though they seem not to be permitted to wear any physical masks, many of them have painted their faces with makeup of some fashion – the equivalent of a mask.

Soon to be culminating in the early evening hours tonight, Hallowe’en comes once a year. Yet the event taking place today has us thinking of the masks each of us have chosen to wear over the years – and not just those worn on October 31st.

Masks: according to Wikipedia

A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, concealment, performance, or amusement. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes. They are usually worn on the face, although they may also be positioned for effect elsewhere on the wearer’s body, so in parts of Australia giant totem[1] masks cover the body, whilst Inuit women use finger masks during storytelling and dancing.”

Masks for amusement: Intending to amuse both vendors and visitors to a University fair, I wore a clown’s costume and face, or mask, including the multi-coloured wig. The costume was colourful. The makeup was subtle and I wore the red-bulbous nose (a gift from a dear friend) as the clown’s trademark attire. The result was astonishing. You couldn’t tell it was me! And it was a happy face. Certainly made me feel happy.

I started out with a bounce in my step bold enough to match the  huge smile applied in deep red on the white foundation makeup. At least I did until I noticed that many adults (in addition to the rather seemingly shy children and infants) were actually backing away from me as though I were attired as Death Himself! It shocked me that a clown could instill such fear into adults. I had no idea of the effect it could and would have … It wasn’t until I was able to observe the reaction of these others with a sense of loving awe and an honouring of the fear within these individuals that I could return to this as being an incredible experience – and a major learning and growing experience for me. Only then did I use this mask as one of amusement and performance.

So much for masks as a source of amusement.

Masks for performance: Here are a few scenarios of academy-award-quality masked performances over my life:

*  on stage, singing and dancing my heart out with Up With People – in costume, pancake makeup and false eyelashes.
*  in a student nurse’s uniform of white starched cuffs, collar, apron and perky cap atop natural curls, with white stockings and functional shoes, blue under-dress and a perpetual smile … no makeup allowed.
*  wearing a wedding gown of satin and an overlay coat of Spanish lace, traditional bridal veil with long trail, toes tucked painfully into shoes never worn again, make-up done-up to exceed my own interpretation of the glowing bride hiding the uncertainty of her decision – doing all the right things expected of me in my role as bride. (That was my first marriage … golly I was young back then!)
*  tucked ungraciously into nothing but a hospital gown, laying in all of my glory on a gurney in an operating room as my face contorted in an attempt to mask the pain of childbirth – then exhausted and drug-numbed, attempting to radiate upon my face the joy I knew I felt somewhere within me at the pronouncement of a strong, beautiful, healthy son – and yet knowing my body was betraying me and I did not succeed.
*  reading partly from my notes, yet mostly from my heart, the eulogy I spent hours writing for my mother’s funeral … reading and making eye contact with all who blessed Mom with their attendance, smiling at them when appropriate, placing an inflection of laughter in my voice when suitable, standing strong and solid and radiating the confidence of the proud daughter … yet crying inside: wanting my Mom there with me so I could hug her and have her hug me, to have her give me a knuckle rub across the top of my head, to have her put her forehead to mine as we did so lovingly and often over our many joyous years together – to have her hold me like the little girl I felt inside …

Masks for protection & concealment: Ya, several of the examples I gave above fit nicely into these two categories as well. ‘Nough said…

Life has been, and continues to be, full. I have learned much over the years, with the delightful anticipation of so very much more to learn. I have failed. I have succeeded. I have grown and matured. I am wiser. I am freer. I am more in touch with who I truly am at the core of my being and radiating my inner self out to those around me.

Yet the wearing of masks has been a perpetual habit developed over a lifetime. So much so that I still find myself still having to remove what automatically appears like magic upon my face and within the demeanour of my physical presentation to the world-at-large … well, at  least to those I am with in the moment. These habitual masks appear spontaneously. What I find myself doing now is recognizing them for what they are, what they used to do for me (distracting folks from peering too closely at what I was attempting to hide – my own perceived imperfections and insecurities). Now I lovingly honour them all, laugh at their inappropriate and ineffective impact, and then let them go. Removing them from my facial and physical countenance allows who I truly am to radiate out with joyous freedom. My inner light shines from a mask-free face. My body no longer suffers the restriction , the tightness, of each put-upon costume.

What are some of the most elaborate masks we are taught to keep fresh and accessible in our arsenal of ‘societal’ costumes? Here are a few such masks: parent, child, sibling, friend, partner/spouse, employee, employer, student, teacher, expert in our field …

If you doubt any of these apply to you, next time your family gets together watch your own behaviour as you adopt a lifetime of certain patterns of interaction between you and each of the individuals of your familial clan. It can be quite enlightening and absolutely the best material of a stand-up comedian to watch each of us as we secure our various masks firmly in place, then remove them at lightening speed as we don a different one for each and every person in the room – a happy one for Dad, a studious one for Uncle Joe, a truly concerned one for sister June, a ‘gee-that’s-too-bad-I’m-sorry-to-hear-about-all-of-your-physical-ailments’ one for Aunt Beatrice …

Rather than berating yourself for their automatic arrival – after all, they will continue to appear regularly till you acknowledge, honour and love them away – may I suggest you laugh with them and change them from masks of protection and/or concealment to the more powerful masks of amusement and performance. When you make  the wearing of your masks one of choice rather than of default, only then can you play with your life experiences with joyous abandon, growth and pure pleasure. It does take practice – yet, like any good performer, it is worth your time and effort crafting your art to creative perfection!

Tonight I shall be joining a friend at a Pumpkin Patch where hundreds of decoratively carved pumpkins are on display. The costume and mask I shall be wearing by choice is the light I no longer keep buried inside, hidden beneath layers of concealment. Now, like a lit candle within a pumpkin, my light shall be visible for all to see through the eyes I show to the world!

In Light and Laughter,

Marcia

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