Sometimes, the universe, via the Internet, sends me something that is equivalent to being hit in the head with a two-by-four. We’ve been talking masks here this month. We’ve talked about characters wearing masks and pen names providing masks. But when my Facebook feed last week showcased this poetic gem from Shel Silverstein, I sat up and took notice.
Underneath my outside face
There’s a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me.
We all–every one of us–wear masks. Every day. There have been stories and studies on it. Social media promotes it. We only post the delicious meals, the perfect crafts, the projects that go right, the accomplishments of our kids and the success stories. In this fashion, social media lets us paint the mask of real life. Some have accused social media of whitewashing life, making it seem like we have to be perfect to “keep up with the Joneses.”
We don’t post pictures of the cake we burned. The cookies that didn’t quite turn out the way that picture on Pinterest looked. The fact that school called–again–to say our child was not performing to expectations. The fact that we received yet another rejection from a literary agent or a magazine (the first rule of publishing seems to be don’t talk about the rejections).
The underlying, implicit message is we must be positive and hopeful at all times no matter what. And that, my friends, is impossible.
Why? Because life is not hopeful and positive all the time. But since we’re told that no one wants to be around Debbie Downer, and bad stories are best told face to face (maybe over an adult beverage), we plaster on our masks. Our smiles and laughter.
It occurs to me that fiction is both my mask and the means of stripping off that mask. Joss Whedon said:
I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of.
I’m not a police officer. I’m not an attorney. I can’t crusade against injustice. If I tell the person who let the elevator door shut in my face when he saw me rushing to catch it, or who didn’t hold the door when he saw me hobbling toward him on crutches, what I was really thinking, well, it wouldn’t really be socially appropriate. I was never the person who could fling back a zippy one-line retort when someone cut into me. No, I thought of what I wanted to say five minutes later. When the other person was long gone.
But in my fiction… ahhh…
I do all the things I want to do. I take the stands I’m too afraid to take in real life. I challenge the bullies. I can snap off the zippy one-liners. I can read the story in the paper of a social injustice and write the story where everyone gets what’s coming to him or her. That person who really made me angry? I can put him in a story and make him the villain. Or the victim (if I’m feeling particularly vengeful).
And it works as a reader, too. Raise your hand if you’ve ever imagined yourself in a favorite book (come on, ‘fess up). Want to be brave? Pick up a book. Want to right a wrong? Pick up a book. Want to drown your sorrows? Pick up a book.
Fiction might be the best mask of all. Why? Well first, you don’t have to wear anything on your face. Second, the same mask fits dozens of people–and it might be a different mask for all of them. In that way, they are infinitely flexible. And for the time you are reading–or writing–you can be anything. All you need is a little imagination.
Now that’s a great mask.
Tell me, how does fiction work for you as a mask?
Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73