Saturday, December 3, 2011

a funny thing happened on the way to a life

I want to dedicate today’s post to two people: one I know well, and the other is someone I feel like I know, but have never met, and couldn’t tell you his name. 

I’ve never dedicated anything before, but if a disc-jockey can do it, why not?

This post is dedicated first to Elizabeth, for always seeing through the fraud I was trying so hard to be.  Nothing that is happening now could have happened without your faith. (And don’t worry; you still get the dedication in the first book).

I also want to dedicate this particular post to a guy who goes only by the name “Kid,”  and writes a blog by the name “The Kid in the Front Row,” which TBF’s* of my blog have probably noticed appearing under “My Blogs List” for several months now.  Kid writes mostly about movies, but he also writes about writing.  His gift is the ability to think clearly about the truth, and transmit that honesty in a way that I find thrilling and a little shocking.  His writing resonates with me both as a writer, and a human.  Because of his work, I am inspired to continue drilling down in my writing through my own personal BS until I get to the bedrock of truth.  The following post is one such effort. 

*TBF = true blue friend 

A funny thing happened on the way to a life

It can be so scary, daring to be yourself. 

You don’t even have to have any big, dark secrets you’re trying to hide. 

The true you in you is sufficiently strange.  You are, after all, a bizarre person, with weird complexities and odd, idiosyncratic thoughts, feeling, beliefs, desires. 

You have these true things inside that you don’t want people to know about, important things that you instinctively protect.  They are essential to you, and you don’t feel safe letting them out. 

In response you craft new versions of yourself for public consumption, really perversions of yourself.  Masks.  You make several, for different situations, or different groups of people.  Wearing them feels good because they do what masks are supposed to do:  give you anonymity. 

Over time multiple masks are used and discarded.  As you grow older you find that you don’t need them all.  Eventually, you settle on one, your favorite, because it is the most flexible and comfortable. 

The act becomes almost effortless.  You begin to forget that it’s on.  Some time later, you forget that it was only really designed to be a mask.    

The more you rely on it to represent you, the more distant and increasingly impossible the possibility of being your true self becomes.  In your mind, you have conversations.  You chose this image of yourself, didn’t you?  And after all, this is who people think you are now.  This is what they expect.  To reveal the truth now would explode the galaxy you created, destroy the worlds that you allowed to coalesce around this image. 

Through the years you cling to this, and a thousand more rationalizations, to justify your decision to remain in character.

How dare you think of being something you are. 

But the mask has been exacting a price all along, a daily tribute in the form of knowing that your time is passing, your life is draining away, the only shot you will ever have to truly be yourself – and damn the consequences – is dwindling a little more each day.  It didn’t matter before, but now it does.

It becomes harder to control the rising desperation as the you inside you restlessly bangs against the bars.  You question whether the sickness of living each day as someone who is not completely you is worthwhile, even as you fight to maintain the entropy of emptiness. 

You get scared.  Even if you wanted to change, you don’t know where or how to begin.    

But the you in you will not die quietly.  It responds like a feral cat.  What was once manageable discomfort has become screaming, clawing resistance; a visceral, instinctive aversion to being buried alive.    

The mind that stands between your true self and everything that’s not entirely you is thrown into panic.  Now how do you control it?  What do you do?  You never really wanted that mask to begin with.  You never intended it to become you.  You’re afraid.  You don’t even know what it means to be you.  You don’t want to start over again.  You don’t want to upset things. 

You are forced, maybe for the first time in your life, to make a life-and-death decision. 

And then one day you wake up, and your eyes are open.  The nightmare is over.

You have chosen, maybe because you’ve run out of options, to be yourself.

And it’s funny, because the world doesn’t end.  It hardly seems to notice at first.   

But in your mind, you know there are going to be conflicts.  There are going to be casualities.  Maybe not at once, but you can already see that some people had based their relationship to you entirely on the mask, and now things are different.  They don’t know how to take you anymore.  Maybe it scares them, or maybe they just don’t like what they see.  And how can you blame them?  You were the one that made the mask in the first place.  You’re the one that chose to wear it the entire time they’ve known you.  How can you hold it against them that they don’t recognize the you in you?

But, of course, that’s no reason to not be yourself.

Many more people are confused by you now.   They don’t know what they’re seeing.  You hope it’s because they have somehow never known the need for the mask, and simply can’t relate.  They have no frame of reference, that’s what you hope for them.

Some people pretend not to see you differently.  They carry on as though the mask were still in place, and nothing has changed.  In a way they’re right, but not in the way they think.   

Some people look at you uncomfortably, or walk around you as though you carried some contagious virus, or committed some unspeakable act. That hurts, but you understand that in some small way, you may represent a threat to them, even though you have no wish to threaten anyone.

The thing is, the world still turns and life goes on. 

The difference is that you now have a chance to be everything you always wanted to be.

And that thing you were so afraid of, that thing you were trying so desperately to avoid? 

It’s funny now, and you laugh as you haven’t laughed since you were a kid.


  1. As I was reading this, I couldn't help thinking of the song "The Stranger" by Billy Joel. While similar in theme, your writing explores it further.
    I would say your thinking is similar to a Mr. DH who passed recently as he was always pursuing his "real" self - even more so as he got older and saw the folly in hiding behind the mask. Unfortunately, he also subscribed to the notion that his actions were ok because he was being true to himself, and if it hurt others, even unintentionally, then, it was their fault because they couldn't handle it well.

  2. Hutton: Had the same thought pass through my mind about Billy Joel and "Strangers." Obviously, neither one of us is the first to use the metaphor of the mask, but it does capture an essential truth about the way we present ourselves to others.

    With all due respect to Mr. DH, for whom you know I have the utmost respect, finding out who you are and pursuing that truth should lead to closer relationships with others, and not vice versa. The freedom that comes with accepting yourself and being yourself should actually serve to lower barriers, not erect them. In my mind, consideration of others and consideration for others are two completely different things. Thanks for the thought-provoking comments!