Oscar Wilde in The Critic as Artist said, “man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” With all due respect to Oscar Wilde it should have been “give him anonymity, and he will tell you the truth.” Masks are what we humans literally and figuratively use to hide our true selves from each other, as well as ourselves. We put on one mask for our co-workers, one for our lovers, one for our family, etc. Eventually we lose our authentic self.
As we put on layer after layer of artifice; hiding our desires or conforming to social norms our facade thickens like a spring onion. Like an onion as our life goes on and we add layers we begin to stink. People deal with this in different ways, denying the existence of the masks, trying to escape the stress of carrying so many layers, and of course some people try to strip off the masks revealing their true self.
And like peeling an onion stripping away your masks is going to make you cry. Like much of life the pain of doing the right thing will be offset by the peace that settles on your soul as you do the right thing. As I work on stripping my own masks I feel that the true me that has been hidden from the light for so long flinches every time a new layer of artifice is peeled away. In some ways my true self has forgotten how to stand up and be myself.
Living in New York has helped. Being surrounded by people who are so immersed in their masks that walking down the street makes me feel like I’m in a living Kabuki play has given me more impetus to shed some of my masks. I’m finding the need to express who am I when I meet new people, mostly though my wife’s work. Everyone is a doctor or some other professional. At the parties they of course ask, “what do you do.” This is social code for “who are you; what is your worth.”
For a long time I had my software engineer mask. I gave that up for my lawyer mask, but it never fit that well and my body rejected that (health problems forcing me to give up law). Lately I’ve been using the “retired” mask. However, having my very existence in society questioned so many times by friends and colleagues of my wife I feel knocked askew.
I am questioning who I am. When I first began writing I called myself a philosopher. Half of me truly believes I am one, the other half calls me a failure since I have written so sporadically. The true me peeking out from behind the masks that I put up for myself when I look in the mirror, says, “be loud and proud, be a philosopher.” So what if I make no money at it, so what if no one listens to me, so who cares. So what if Society says that’s not a thing, you can’t be that. Even if only one person takes any small solace from what I do or say, that is a success.
So here I am peeling away another mask, looking for the authentic me hiding under all the layers of ego construction. Some day I’ll get there and be able to look in a mirror and see the real me. Even better, maybe some day I’ll be able to tell other people who the real me is, without hiding behind a mask.
candy coated armor
vulnerable Self, hidden safe
yearns for true expression