the masks we wear

Guest blog by Tai Carmen at Parallax. Parallax: exploring the architecture of human imagination.

Tai Carmen:

A mask of gold hides all deformities.” Thomas Dekker

“Boldness is a mask for fear, however great.” John Dryden

“Pride is the mask we make our faults.” Hebrew proverb

I don’t know about you, but people — and I’m talking strangers here, in herds, such as at the mall or the movie theatre — can look vastly different to me depending on my mental-emotional state. If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to zigzag between goodwill and misanthropy depending on how I’m feeling about my own life that day.

"The Mask of the Red Death" (1842), is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The story follows Prince Prospero's attempts to avoid a dangerous plague known as the Red Death by hiding in his abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, has a masquerade ball within seven rooms of his abbey, each decorated with a different color. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure enters and makes his way through each of the rooms. Prospero dies after confronting this stranger....Read More:

On days where my outlook is darker, there’s a trick I pull on my perception that can pinch it back into a gentler take on humanity. I remember the feeling of my hardest moments — those moments when you’re just banging your head against a wall, all your hopes and dreams pitted against some seemingly invincible adversary — and I think of the soul-struggles, heart-pains and dark nights of these fellow humans whose stories I don’t know; their unimaginable losses, secret embarrassments and brave inner strivings.

It’s not as intense as it may sound. It’s just a quick trace memory revisited –a brief disciplined focus on the reality of our common suffering.

In that moment, if I really do it right, humanity transforms before my eyes. I regard the imperfections with tenderness. The annoying weaknesses and shortcomings are instantly forgiven. Feeling the warm touch of compassion and connection, I go from misanthrope to Mother Teresa.

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We are all struggling — to make sense of life at large and our own lives in particular, trying not to let the daily news depress us too much and do something worthwhile, to outrun our demons and chase down our dreams, all while making enough money to survive. Along the way we fashion masks to appear more composed, “putting on a brave face.”

It’s amazing, really, everything we keep behind that mask, while still managing to function in our jobs, still managing to be kind to others. When I think about this, it makes me kinder. Every person I see, say, vaguely wandering around Home Depot, I feel like patting on the back. “Hey, you’re doing good! I know it’s hard, but you make it look easy! Good stuff. Keep it up!”

Of course, the way our social conscience has evolved, every primal Darwinian impulse warns us not to show weakness. And to admit life is hard and at times overwhelming is to expose vulnerability, and therefor distasteful and mostly avoided. I’m not saying we should go around moaning like victims or slapping people on the back like positive thought zealots. I’m musing on the unspoken truth of the invisible mask behind which we store our private struggles; and how it connects us and is quite beautiful and also sad but ultimately, simply, fascinating.

Read More: Dan masks are used during initiation ceremonies. Masks are made and worn exclusively, by male dancers. Dan masks are unique and only carved by initiated members of the male Poro society. An initiated male dancer will wear the mask. The mask served to protect the young initiate against destructive or evil forces from the time of initiation, till he one day enters the spirit realm.

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