WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
~ Paul Laurence Dunbar
From the moment I discovered the poem, “We Wear The Mask” by African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as a teen, it resonated with me. Even though I was young, I had already learned to hide my true feelings to protect myself from vulnerability, and to make others around me feel comfortable. Eventually, I perfected “the mask”, until my public persona was so disconnected from my true story that I felt like I was living a lie.
A few years ago, a girlfriend told me that she felt bad because my life was so perfect. It was crazy, because at moment, my life was actually falling apart. I felt like a big liar, and decided to do more to be authentically me, flaws and all. I was surprised at how easily life started moving forward for me once I gave up the pretense of being perfect. Not only did my emotional walls start tumbling down, but the walls that were keeping me boxed into my old life and my old circumstances started disappearing. I started living, y’all, perhaps for the first time ever.
Yesterday, my friend Jasmine gave an amazing keynote at the SoFab Con. In her talk, she encouraged folks to “Be okay with being a hot mess”, and urged us to be true to our real lives and experiences. Jasmine also issued a challenge. She encouraged us to take pictures of ourselves in our authentic state; no special photo angles, filters off, piled up laundry in the shot. She told us to tag our pictures #ThisIsMe, and take support each other as we learn to stop stylizing our lives.
Do you ever feel like you’re wearing a mask? What would it take for you to take it off?