Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Mask


Masking tape holds things together, or protects the edges of windows or skirting boards from paint splashes. When I travel, I wrap it around the lids of tubes to prevent their contents from seeping into my cosmetic bag. In an emergency, I’ve used it to tape up a loose hem. But what is masking tape masking? I’ve come to a dead end, asked a question that has no answer.
            A real mask, not the tape, hides our features.  Even better, it transforms our appearance. In the Phantom of the Opera, many guests at the masquerade disguise themselves as the Phantom, unaware that they’re setting the perfect scene in which the real phantom might move around undetected. 
            What about the ‘naked truth’? Is that what’s behind the mask? To get to it, must we strip away all pretense just as we’d remove makeup, wigs or balaclavas? There’s more to it than that.  There’s no end to the ways in which we hide behind the superficial, from pink hairdos to capped teeth to Rolex watches to language that says we’re cool, sexy or wealthy – or no language at all.  Silence can be an effective mask. And laughter! Below the surface stories we are spinning, we may really planning dinner or designing a bomb or surveying the room for the nearest exit. Appearance serves us all, for no matter how inept we are at keeping our masks intact, someone will be fooled, or not fooled, by our apparent indifference or concern. And guess what?  Half the time we fool ourselves along with everyone else.
            People suffering from mild depression are sometimes advised to ‘fake it ‘til they make it’. Get up in the morning, eat, go out with friends, pretend to smile, day after day until the habit brings a change in attitude and eventually in outlook. It sounds horrendous, yet in ‘taking us out of ourselves’ some part of us is altered.  This may be related to the placebo effect, seen when doctors administer sterile water, for instance, instead of a potent medicine and, believing he’s been given the latter, the patient recovers.
            Mind over matter.  That’s what’s behind the mask: the mind, the joker in the control room who shoots up stars and confetti while you’re sleeping or sends you fantasy futures and free tickets to the circus; the one that says you can do anything you want, that you’re the one with the red button, the one that has a hand on the future. He comes in many guises and speaks in many tones, one day soft and flattering, another day cajoling or rah-rah-rah-ing. He looks out from your eyes when you stand in front of a mirror trying on 6”heels or swathes of lace, tells you how fabulous you look, says ‘hold your breath a minute, there: you can get into a size 4’, then he draws your attention to a rack of leather skirts or silk ties and urges, ‘try them on’.  And just when you think he’s right you look at the price tag and come down to earth. 
            There’s no escaping it; you’ve been unmasked. You really are the real you, not a tricked up shiny version of a person wearing your features, so you laugh and pat yourself on the back for having seen through the old sinner and his wicked ways.

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