I really can’t say when I first became fascinated with masks — not for their ability to conceal my identity, but for their power to change how I saw myself.
It probably began with my first Trick-or-Treat mask. That first mask, that I wore for three successive Halloween’s, was a mass-produced thing of cheap, brittle plastic with knife-sharp edges, held in place by an elastic string whose ends were secured by the crimped-on metal aglets that had the nasty habit of digging into the tender flesh of my temples.
I remember the smell of assembly-line painted plastic. I remember my eyelashes brushing against the too-small eye holes. I remember how quickly the air got stale because of a lack of ventilation.
But it was my mask. It gave me the brief chance to redefine myself in accordance with my own dreams and aspirations, instead of fearfully keeping in line with the Collective’s self-serving agenda, and for that I loved it,… I also remember that fragile mask being torn from my face by a member of the Collective, and shattered beyond repair.
From the very beginning I was thrilled by the possibility of becoming someone else, something else, for a few hours. More, I loved not being ‘me’ for a while, the ‘me’ that the Collective ruthlessly dictated. Wearing a mask became an act of quiet rebellion, of seizing control of my identity, of my Self.
This all too fleeting time of disguise, Halloween, came only once a year, making it the most important holiday for me. Its significance was beyond the innocent fancies of childhood make-believe. It was a time of willful transformation.
Some have suggested I suffer from some form of identity crisis, and they’re probably right. But it’s damned difficult to be true to yourself when those in control of your life — the elders of the Collective — are aggressively telling you who you are, and aren’t —
— denying you the right to make those discoveries for yourself.
Maybe my fascination with masks is due to hopeful notions of assumptive magic: the wearer of a mask takes on the attributes of courage, strength, beauty, and dignity. Or the power of self-determination. Or simple anonymity, to escape the domineering clutches of the Collective for a short and precious time. Or whatever that mask represents to that wearer.
Now, I make the masks I wear. I create their identities and bestow their desired attributes. But this journey of being a mask maker has taught me I’m not the only one on this road. Other folks crave masks different from the ones assigned them by their own Collectives. When they come to me seeking new masks — masks that they choose — then for a few days our lives cross paths. These are paths we’re both treading in search of our Selves, by using a bit of magic and make-believe. I’ve met so many kindred spirits this way, and my life is better for it.
The mask, now over-riding the inflicted and enforced inauthentic identity, makes it possible to visualize the true Self. So, yeah, we all wear masks. And I’ve got a few extras for sale.
The masks I make aren’t for hiding anything — they’re meant to bring out the hidden.