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?
Wednesday 15th of May 2013
I've been reading the #ThisIsMe posts and I'm totaling hearing in my head the voices that stop me from typing some of posts up on my site. Being afraid of what people think of the "goody two shoes" arelis. I'm not perfect far from it and I don't know if its because people are so judge-y but I need to shatter a few walls myself.
Paul Laurence Dunbar is so fitting, he was an awesome man and I'm proud to have attending a school that bore his name.
Tuesday 7th of May 2013
First of all that is one of my favorite poems and has been since I was a young child! I think people wear masks at different times for a variety of reasons and that the masks have their time and place. For example, I recently suffered a terrible personal tragedy. Many people ask how things are going and what is happening with the matter. However, I have learned they don't really care what is going on, they just want to hear a happy ending now, instead of when it actually arrives. For those people I wear the, 'Don't worry about me because I am not going to tell you anything real because you don't really care" mask. In order to take it off I would have to be willing to say to those people, "A major thing happened so no I am not okay. No, I do not feel better already. And no I have no idea when I will be back to normal." I just don't have the energy to do that for everyone right now, so out comes the mask.
Sunday 12th of May 2013
That makes sense, Janeane. I think that is one of the reason that I wear masks, too. It less stressful to put it on than to deal with folks who don't really want to know what's really going on. Please know, however, that you never have to wear the mask with me.
Sunday 5th of May 2013
I think we have to care more about how we feel about ourselves rather than how we're perceived. Were you purposely doing something to make your friend feel like your life was perfect or was that just her take based on what you were choosing to show her? We can't control what others think about us (usually. If we're rude or mean or outright lying, then yes, that's our fault and hopefully people will tell us how they see us.) I think about this a lot, especially in relation to online presence. What I put on FB or Twitter isn't meant to be my whole story, but if I choose to only be positive or if I choose to not show the mess on my floor, I don't think that's inauthentic. If I say it's not there, then I'm purposely trying to misrepresent myself. But I understand the #Thisisme concept because at my base, I simply don't care if you see the mess or me without makeup or my kid having a tantrum or my nails chipped because that's reality.
Sunday 12th of May 2013
I agree with you, Arnebya, that my whole story isn't represented online. I do want to make sure that, although I choose not to share every little thing, that I am presenting an authentic glimpse into my life. You have the absolute best, most insightful comments, and I really appreciate you.