For years, I tried to decide on what my “brand” should be. Finally, as I re-designed my website a few months ago, it came to me:
Author of stories that unmask…
In thinking about past blog posts and many of the stories I’ve written, I realized that my goal in writing is to “unmask” my characters–bring them to a realization of who they really are. Sometimes I give them courage to remove their masks, and sometimes I show the consequences of leaving them on.
It’s the story of me.
One of my favorite books is The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. A book of daily meditations, I read it almost every night before I go to sleep. Today’s meditation talks about our “inner doors.” I believe it’s the same thing as what I call our masks:
There exists for each life on Earth a set of inner doors that no one can go through for us. We can change jobs or lovers, travel around the world, become a doctor or lawyer or expert mountain climber, or nobly put our lives on hold to care for an ailing mother or father, and when we are done, though the worthy distraction could take years, the last threshold we didn’t cross within will be there waiting.
The most powerful and true statement in what Mr. Nepo says affirms that we keep coming back to those inner doors until they are opened. The mask continues to hide us until it’s removed:
Stranger still is how the very core issues we avoid return, sometimes with different faces, but still, we are brought full circle to them, again and again.
The inner door I keep coming back to, the mask that is hardest for me to remove, is my inclination to be who others expect me to be. Somewhere along the road, I developed a keen sensitivity to what others expect, and a susceptibility to becoming that person. Problem is, the “real” me is sometimes not happy with that, and eventually breaks free, often at significant cost.
And, as Mr. Nepo explains, I keep coming back to that door, that mask, again and again, and will continue to do so until, once and for all, I remove the mask of acquiescence.
It’s no wonder the haiku that summarizes The Red Kimono is about a mask:
What does this have to do with writing? Everything.
We may not be aware of what those inner doors are, or aware of what masks need to be removed, but I’ve seen from personal experience that in creating my characters, in writing about life experiences (even if fictionalized) those inner doors often materialize.
Here’s a bit of a writing prompt. Listed below in black are a few things that Mark Nepo suggests to ponder. I’ve added my suggestions in blue, and have written my own answers in italics.
- Meditate on an issue that keeps returning to you. Trying to please others.
- Relate to it as a messenger and ask the messenger what door it is trying to open for you. Here’s a writing prompt. Interview this “messenger,” which is actually the issue itself. It might sound silly, but here are a few suggestions with my answers in italics. Again, I am interviewing Ms. Trying-to-Please-Others:
- When were you born? I was born when you were a child. You were the oldest of five children. I helped you to see how much easier it was to please than to deal with the anger that resulted if you didn’t.
- What do you hope to gain by hanging around? It’s what I help YOU gain that keeps me around. I help you avoid conflict and anger. When I’m around, you’re so much easier to get along with.
- What are you afraid of? If I go away, people might not like the person you really are.
- How will your life change if you move through this threshold? Imagine yourself with your mask removed and write about it. If I remove my mask, people can take me or leave me. But only those who accept me for who I am will be a part of my life. What a weight lifted. I might just float.
- How will your life be affected if you do not? Imagine this, too, though chances are, if you haven’t yet removed the mask, you won’t have to do much imagining. Write about it. If I continue to wear the mask of acquiescence, things will be just fine . . . for a little while, maybe even for years. But the “real me” is stubborn and strong, much stronger than the silly mask I wear. She will show her face someday.
Well, admittedly, I got a little carried away on this post. Think of it as a shattering of the mask.
I hope you’ll try the writing exercise. You might be surprised at what comes out of it.
What mask do you wear?