“People do not see you, / They invent you and accuse you.”
― Hélène Cixous, author, The Laugh of the Medusa
I was thinking the other day about how people – myself included – create and inhabit masks they make for themselves. I don’t know if it’s cultural pressure or what, but it’s like we have to have a persona to live in and carry with us through the world, like a turtle shell, like something we use for protection. Maybe we tried to be authentic in the past, and were mocked or shamed for it by people or institutions who didn’t understand. Maybe we disclosed an inconvenient fact and someone didn’t like it. Maybe we tried to speak our truth and stepped on somebody’s toes. Whatever happened, we learned to shut up and play small. We made ourselves a false self, and climbed inside.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain a façade like that. I know, because I did it for years, afraid that who I am, just as I am, wasn’t not good enough. After a while, keeping up a pretense becomes exhausting. You get tired of apologizing for being who you really are; you yearn for authenticity. It becomes too much effort to be what people expect. After a while, you find yourself saying things like “I don’t agree” or “I’m not interested in that” or, you sit in the back of the room at yet another pointless meeting and cough “Bullshit!” and you’re not one bit sorry. You are no longer interested in anyone’s cover story. Narcissists bore the hell out of you. Who are you, really? I don’t want to hear how everybody thinks you’re brilliant or you’re gifted or you’re special or how, when you were born, your grandfather said ‘this child isn’t real’ or some such self-serving nonsense that you tell because you’re trying to convince everyone how speshul you are. The only stories I have time for are the ones I write. Be your authentic self with me – or be somewhere else.
We all create false images of ourselves that we then project onto the world. I’ve done it. For a long time it was like second nature to me. I believed I had to edit myself in order to be accepted by my peers. I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t. I learned to nod and smile, and it plain wore me out. I had to risk being disliked – and, in one particularly vicious episode, thrown under the bus professionally – in order to be myself. Guys, guys! Hey! The emperor is naked!
In order for me to function as a creative person, I have to know my own silence. I have to be comfortable in my own skin, without needing to embroider or embellish who I am. It simply takes far too much energy to maintain a mask. I can’t go along to get along. If the emperor is dancing in the altogether with his ass flapping in the breeze, I’ll point it out. Sorry if that hurts your feeling.
You choose yourself when you choose authenticity. Good writing, honest writing, comes from the truest place inside you. It’s not easy being who you really are, but if you’re serious about your art, it’s necessary. You can’t create from a place of falseness. Nobody speaks clearly through a mask.
It’s up to you.