The Year of the Masks

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It’s as if the world has taken a timeout, life is moving at a slower pace, yet it’s more complicated than ever. I do appreciate the opportunity to hear my own thoughts, but they’re imbued with so much anxiety, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

Have you ever found yourself entangled in this sticky web?

I would be so happy if…

I feel as if I’m flailing around in a viscid world while some hairy spider is bundling me up for a midnight snack. They call this “attack wrapping,” but it has nothing to do with Christmas (which is happening in 127 days people).

If only the air conditioner didn’t die, if only we weren’t in quarantine, and I didn’t have to teach remotely. What if there was no such thing as belly fat, insomnia, wildfires, or rolling blackouts for that matter? What if politics weren’t so polarizing and dust bunnies hopped away on their own? What if windshields didn’t crack, we never had to sit in traffic, and my toenails didn’t grow so fast? If only summer wasn’t coming to such an abrupt end and the air wasn’t filled with smoke? How is it possible that my entire social network is dependent on the stability of zoom? What if I never had to shave my legs, wear a bra, or miss my parents? What if I didn’t have spotty internet, or a spotty memory, and just one pair of jeans that wasn’t too tight. What if I knew how to take really great selfies and didn’t feel bad about my neck?

I would be so happy.

These are clearly first-world problems because we all know real issues have to do with access to clean water, food, shelter, medicine, housing, education, or just being treated with the dignity all humans deserve.

But I do live in a first-world country, we are in quarantine, and these are the thoughts that besiege me in the middle of the night.

I heard her bare feet running along the hardwood floors long before Sienna walked up to my bed at 2:00 am, as she snuggled against my chest I could hear her every breath. The room was shrouded in inky black darkness and my thoughts were running amuck.

If only I could hold my anxiety as gently as I hold this precious child, if I could put my worries to sleep, nestle them in the soft sheets?

I think people are craving routine right now, precisely because the world seems so on edge, so unpredictable says Rebecca Collins Jordan.

My regular readers will know, not only am I mildly irrational, but I’m sustained (sanctified is a better word) by my deeply embedded routines. I can’t imagine greeting the day without time to ponder, sip coffee in bed, and contemplate my options (which have become wildly egregious).

I’ve gotten into a routine of walking in the morning with my neighbor Sue, when the air is still crisp, and the demands of the day have not yet encroached on our sentience. Although recently we’ve had to step out at 6:30 am to avoid the heat and scheduled zoom calls which I consider unconscionable.

As you can tell, I’m a little cranky, but I don’t think anyone has noticed? I’m good at masking.

Rebecca Collins Jordan describes quarantine as forming our own “monastery.” You have no idea how I love this idea, I’m so in, if only my roommates would take a vow of silence? We’ve all laid claim to various spaces around the house and at any point in time there are no less than 3 zoom calls going on at once. It’s utterly confounding especially for people not skilled at blocking out random noises.

Jordan notes, “I have been so quick to work — to grade papers, to plan lessons, to find places that need donations, to clean, to wash my hands — and not as quick to pray.” Hum?

And what is prayer? Evocation, query, maybe time spent listening deeply to that evasive wisdom that gets lost in all the noise and bustle of life?

Or is it simply a way to connect with the unknown, the mysterious, the hallowed?

She’s clearly on to something. There have been many studies conducted on the efficacy of prayer, most are inconclusive, but I think they’re missing the point. I’ve always thought of prayer as an unmasking of sorts, opening ourselves to a higher power, exposing that raw, vulnerable, aspects of the self that need tending.

Shivanshu Srivastava notes “the sprouting of the seeds of creativity, intuition and wisdom takes place in a relaxed mind.”

Just like the right to vote (of which I’m celebrating my 100-year privilege), prayer is a powerful weapon of offense and defense, use it intelligently, conscientiously, responsibly.

This got me thinking about the masks we wear both physically and emotionally and the mountain of fallacies that they hide. Do you know what I mean? When I’m sad I often grab the mask where my lips form a smile but the facade I present is actually grounded in frustration, iniquity, despair.

Thinking about these things reminded me of Maya Angelou’s poem The Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts . . .
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We rarely become what we pretend to be, it’s usually the opposite, as the hidden parts seep out in various ways, and I sabotage myself for fear of letting others know my real pain. What’s that about?

The problem with masks is that the real issues leak out in unexpected ways, like grief that manifests as anger or blame, anxiety that presents as  hypocritical or judgemental comportment?

I find it exceedingly difficult to recognize the real source of my angst at times and then I’m baffled by my display of emotions?

Emilie Autumn says, “perfume was first created to mask the stench of foul and offensive odors. Spices and bold flavorings were created to mask the taste of putrid and rotting meat. What then was music created for?
Was it to drown out the voices of others, or the voices within ourselves?
I think I know.”

Fighting this virus is like playing Whac-A-mole, we knock it down, and it just pops up somewhere else. This is our lives right now, like it or not, this space contains our ugliest and most beautiful moments, while affording us this unique opportunity to see our lives with new eyes. It’s okay if you need to swaddle your worries as if a frightened child, give yourself permission to slow down, take off your mask, and take a deep and abiding breath.

That is what’s hiding behind my mask today.

What have you been masking lately? What is the dominant emotion that is holding you hostage during this pandemic? Can you identify the actual source? I’m Living in the Gap, join me.

Anecdotes:

  • “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” André Berthiaume
  • “We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.” Patrick Rothfus
  • “2020 was the year of masks.” Steven Magee

21 Comments

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  1. You want to know the open secret Cheryl? It’s been at the bottom of my emails sent from my laptop for years – it goes like this: These 40 Words Forever Changed the World: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Live These Words and You Too Will Forever be Changed.
    Essentially? Let Go, Let God. Quit listening to Human Logic. Instead, open you soul to God. It’s your purpose for being here. This existence is about proving your Character. In order to do that effectively, you need to acknowledge that you can’t do it alone. Nothing else makes sense. Believe me I know. And no, it is not instant, and no, it is not the easy path through the wide gate. Nothing worth so much could be gained so easily. There is a balance to everything in this universe: Truly. . . “Know God, Know Peace. . . No God? No Peace”.

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    1. Thank you Chris, those are powerful and beautiful words. This is Jesus answering an important question. A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus quotes the Torah, a familiar prayer that Jewish people repeat many times a day, it called the Shema. He adds the loving neighbor part forming what many believe to be a beautifully ordered lifestyle for those who follow Christs teachings. I find it interesting that he was addressing a question about eternal life but also helping the lawyer to understand how to live in the present. The best part is his example of neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritian. He leads this young lawyer away from self focus and towards a more ingenious perspective, as MLK said in his famous last speech, “if I don’t stop and help this injured man, what will happen to him?” He challenges us to expand our own character to include the needs of others. It is an extraordinary passage. Cheryl

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  2. Maya’s poem is evocative, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing. May we see this time as a chance for change. Cuddling a little one in the middle of the night is a good time to sense the possibilities. Each of us can make different choices and I sense you will, Cheryl. Without the need for putting yourself under pressure. You can just be. You are lovely. Wrapping you all in much love. ❤ Xxx

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    1. Hi Jane, I’ve been a Maya fan since I read her book Why the Caged Bird Sings, seems like a hundred years ago, and yet she always understood the intricacies of wearing a mask. I’m just learning. My worries stem from insecurities about teaching remote, or worse wearing a mask in the classroom. I feel as if all the skills I’ve developed as a teacher are now invalid and I’m starting a new? You are right, I’m choising to go forward, give it my best, and just be me. Thank you for the wrapping of love, I feeling it, and holding you in the same space. C

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  3. You are a talented writer. Your words have forced me to pause and reflect. What have I been masking? While my world was shifted upside down because of the pandemic, I kept on smiling and putting on foot in front of the other.

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    1. Thank you Nathalie for your kind words. I appreciate you stopping by Living in the Gap and taking the time to reflect with me. You mentioned an upside down world, I feel much the same, I hope you are safe and have the necessities that you need? I like your advice, put one foot in front of the other, and just keep going. Wishing you all the best, C

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  4. What an honest post Cheryl. I deal with this pandemic like I did when I became disabled years ago. (I’m not anymore). I focus on the positive things. I wear a mask and don’t have to wear makeup. I am stuck at home but can finally work on small projects I have been wanting to do, I can cook more, I have my grandchildren here more and so on. I find I can deal much easier thinking this way as I did when I was injured years ago. I feel a lot of good will come out of this if we just look for it. Thank you for such a thought provoking post. ❤️

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    1. Thank you Diane, I love your example of positivity even in the face of quarantines, pandemics, and remote teaching. Looking for the unexpected positives that come out of difficult situations. I’m thinking of all the good things I’ve been able to create in the kitchen thanks to your blog, the sweet notes I send my friends to stay connected, and all the time I have been able to spend with my children and grandchildren. That has been extraordinary! I believe there will be many more unimagined blessings that will come out of this share ordeal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Diane, I need them today, all my best, Cheryl

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  5. Hi Cheryl,
    I opened the link to this blog and was instantly reminded of the misery of my typical day. Mask… from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm. Ugh! This is indeed the year of the mask…, and the virus… and the wild fires with rolling blackouts, and the mostly peaceful riots. To quote Pete Seeger, “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”
    The list of what ifs you posted are not too bad. Most can be tolerated. The only truly tragic one is the inability to take a good selfie, and if you visit when my youngest daughter is in town, she can fix that problem, complete with instructions on how to catch the head toss/ hair flip/charming smile. I can relate with missing your mom. I am sad my mom is gone, but am glad that sometimes I feel the pain and sorrow of her passing. Think of how bereft life would be if we lost the capacity to feel grief, kind of like an emotional leper.
    I really enjoyed this post. It opened me to many different themes and thought pathways. From the all our troubles don’t amount to a hill of beans (i.e. First world problems,) to how to deal with plague/ quarantine induced anxiety, how the constant metaphoric mask we wear hides underlaying issues (the Tears of a Clown?) I could go anywhere with these.
    However, what grabbed me is “The problem with masks is that the real issues leak out in unexpected ways, like grief that manifests as anger or blame, anxiety that presents as hypocritical or judgmental comportment.” This is true in so many ways. In my office we have the stress of cheerfully dealing with sick or dying patients, or we see patient’s family members coping with severe life stresses in the face of sick family members. Things do leak out in bizarre, non-rational ways. It is critical to maintain a capacity to understand, forgive and forget. I also love the concept of wearing a mask so long that it becomes the new reality and can’t be removed. (What if it is better than the old reality?) It sounds like a Twilight Zone episode.
    Lastly, I did venture down the Rabbit Hole of Rebbecca Colllins Jordans’ writing. I found her writing style to be similar to yours, as is her lifestyle. While reading some of her work, I came across this poem by Fr. Luke. It sorta sums up the best way of dealing with the quarantine.
    https://www.alonetogether.org.uk/post/if-you-can-t-poem

    Anyway, I love your writing and your outlook. Wish I had your creative energy.
    Keep it up.
    PS. Don’t hide behind the mask. Don’t keep a smile on your face “merely to fool the public.”

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    1. Good morning Mike! So good to find you here in the comments, wrestling with concepts we jointly hold (like masks), finding application in the rantings of a professional masker, grounded traveler, barmy blogger, and unraveling educator.

      “I’m fine” as my mother would say.

      It wasn’t crazy enough dealing with a world-wide pandemic, new job requirements, and adjusting to living under the same roof with several “ebullient” generations, no, let’s add a raging inferno to the mix! Really? “I can’t breathe” has become our shared reality.

      It’s a wonder I haven’t gone completely mad, hopped on a plane to some exotic location, with a plan to live out my days on some deserted island, drinking coconut juice, and sleeping in a mud hut. Stranger things have happened.

      But I digress…

      It’s interesting, as I moved into masks, monasteries, and wonky manifestations I kept stumbling on these nuanced layers of meaning. Rebecca Collins Jordan was a find! Love her writing style and how her words resonate so deeply with me. The twists and turns of her thoughts are like playing Candy Land, where you move forward and backward, find secret pathways, but it’s all colorful and fun. At the very least it prolongs the game.

      I’m always amazed at how you manage to find the carrot in the minutia of these posts, the emotional leakage from acting one way but feeling another. And I agree with you, learning how to honor your emotions in real-time, allowing them to be, to sit with them until they decide on their own to be on their way. I’m a work in progress.

      So it has begun, with my first classes now safely behind me, let me just say from a distance, they did not go as planned, but that might seems to be the norm this year. I’m hoping my zoom skills improve as I go.

      “Tears of a clown when no one around,” perfect.

      Hope you and Gail are holding up, maybe enjoying the beautiful views from your ranch, miss you, Cheryl

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