THAT MASKED MAN...?
(an entry for the On Display collab)
25 October 2002
In the month of October, variety stores, drug stores,
supermarkets...are all bursting with Halloween costume ideas. What will be this year's big
seller? George Bush? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? Boy George? (Boy George?...where
did I pull that one from?)
On Halloween day schools all over the country will hold parades
for those pint sized goblins, wookies, and Disney characters. At night, doorbells all over
the country will be rung by miniature mafiosi, petite princesses, and diminutive demons.
Lions, tigers and bears will sweat under latex, rubber, or papier mache all in the name of
hiding behind a mask, pretending to be something the wearer is not.
Halloween gives us permission to wear our garish masks in public,
instead of those subtle masks that we wear the other 364 days of the year.
Is anyone ever all that s/he appears to the general public?
We're always putting on the mask that we think people want to see.
Hiding safely behind the virtual latex. Keeping the real "me" safely in its own
Years ago when I was leading meetings for La Leche League, a common
thread that ran through the wails of a lot of new mothers, trying to cope with the reality
of suddenly having crossed over that line into "family" was that they just
didn't seem to have it all together like so-and-so. Often so-and-so was me.
I had to laugh at that because I certainly never thought of myself
at any time--then or now--as "having it all together." But I heard someone say
something profound which has stayed with me-- "we are always comparing ourselves at
our worst to someone else at their best."
When you think of it, that's really it, in any situation. When the
world feels like it's falling apart and you just can't get a handle on things is when you
are likely to think of so-and-so and how cool, calm and collected s/he is in a crisis, how
neat his/her desk is, how organized s/he is, how efficient s/he is. Maybe s/he goes home
and kicks the dog. Maybe s/he sits in a quiet corner somewhere and drinks a bit too much
at night. Maybe s/he is quietly falling apart.
But in the morning it's time to put on the grown-up suit, put on the
mask of efficiency and step out into the world again.
So when I look at someone who is calm, cool, collected, efficient,
neat and tidy, capable, etc., I can't help comparing that paragon of virtue to me on days
like today--when it feels like the rope is coming unraveled in 16 different places and I
can't possibly get it all wound back up again. I look at the disaster that is my desk and
I wonder how Ms. Paragon does it. I feel the churning inside as I realize that I have a
month's worth of bookkeeping to do tomorrow and I wonder how Mr. Paragon can operate so
But then I'll be talking to one of those paragons
and hear them apologizing all over the place because somehow they just can't do all that I
can do, and how much they admire me and on and on and on.
I turn around and look behind me and wonder if maybe there is
someone over my shoulder that they are addressing, 'cause that paragon of virtue they are
describing certainly isn't the me I know and sometimes love.
Instead, I turn on a benign smile and thank them for their comments
and assure them that they, too, are doing an awful lot. I hide behind my mask and then I
go home to the chaos that is my life and the closet where I hide the real me and I finally
take my mask off, briefly.