‘I tried to be human, but humans all lie.’
– Zachary Britt
I have an obsession with masks. Ever since I started writing I’ve unintentionally created characters that shield themselves from the world and have been fascinated with the idea of mystery. It all started with Renegade; a story about a masked vigilante murdering men and women he considered to be a burden on society. From there it progressed into tales of plague doctors, cloaked gangs, and faceless men whose features never see the light of day. Even Midas has a character whose face is hidden beneath a gasmask and never exposed to the reader.
I used to believe that this obsession with concealing one’s face came from a love of comic books. I’ve long been a huge fan of characters like Alan Moore’s Rorschach or V, and even more mainstream heroes like batman. But now as I grow older and maybe just a little wiser, I’m starting to realise that my fixation with masks has less to do with a love of superheroes and more to do with the fragility of my own psychological makeup. It appears as if I have some repressed identity issues that continuously arise through my writing.
Whoa. Let’s slow down a second so you can wrap your head around that one…It’s an idea so obscure that it will undoubtedly cause you to frown in bewilderment: a writer with identity issues? Who would have thought imagined such a thing!
Sarcasm aside, I’ve suddenly found myself on my seemingly endless journey of self-discovery staring at a series of masks I use to conceal my true face, wondering why I feel the need to veil myself. All I’ve ever wanted was to feel human and to connect to a world that often baffles me. I’ve yearned to be able to reach out and touch the heart and soul of my fellow man and woman. I’ve longed to be able to understand their thoughts, feelings, and compulsions. All I wanted was to be human so I created a series of masks that would allow me to do so. There’s only one small problem: humans lie.
We lie because we are fallible. Because without the imperfections of our deceptions and defamations we as a species couldn’t be as beautifully flawed as we are. It’s our idiosyncrasies and emotional shortcomings that make us perfectly imperfect and allow us to flourish. But those same eccentricities that make us so incredible can also be dangerous to our creative health and our soul if left untouched. Yet many of us choose to abandon the wondrous features that are all our own in an effort to conform and fit in. As I stare at my masks mounted on the wall of my den I find myself bewildered that the façades I’ve cultivated to seem normal are identical to the disguises worn by my peers. Normal doesn’t exist. We’re all exceptional in our own right, yet for some misguided reason we try to diminish our worth to become part of a crowd.
Imagine the surprise on the face of the wolf hidden beneath a veil of human flesh when he learns that not only is he not alone in his masquerade, but that he is identical to everyone else in his attempts to become at one with the world!
For me my identity issues are pretty easily defined: at the age of eighteen I chose a path seldom travelled and decided I wanted to be a novelist. I spent eight long years fumbling my way through an industry riddled with pitfalls and no clearly defined route to success. While my friends started trades or completed university degrees I wrote manuscripts, submitted them to agents and publishers and awaited an opportunity to break into the industry. There has never been a definitive beginning or end to my journey so over time I grew self-conscious of the fact that while I struggled to create a career out of my passion others around me prospered. People would ask me what I do for a job and I’d feel a piece of me die as I told them, adding “but I also write novels” on the end in an attempt to validate my own inadequacies.
But then something remarkable happened and my story was picked up and put into print (it’s available now on Amazon!) and I started to realise that I no longer needed to lie about who I was and what I wanted to be. The masks that I’d spent so long constructing and masquerading before the eyes of my peers suddenly appeared gaudy and unnecessary. After eight years of lying about who I am and begging for acceptance (a process that often saw me fall into fits of aggression and angst) I’ve now learned to embrace myself and see that I was never the only one lying in a desperate attempt to feel accepted.
Sadly some people will never feel comfortable enough in their own skin to remove their masks and allow their face the opportunity to breathe. They are forever doomed to suffocate underneath the weight of their own inability to accept just how perfect their flaws actually are. They’ll spend an eternity with mask so perfect but a mind so bitter and a heart so broken because they’re desperate to appear cool or feel accepted. The crazy part is that by doing so they’ll unintentionally deny themselves the opportunity of being just that. They’ll lie to themselves and say that they’re more beautiful when concealed beneath a thin façade of self-deceit while the rest of the world yearns to see the pureness of their soul unveiled.
After eight years of writing I’ve decided that I’m always going to have an affliction for masks. I will forever find beauty in the savage imagery of a plague doctor or a hacktivist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask fighting for what he believes in. But I’ve learned to remove my own. There’s no point in trying to be human by way of hiding my humanity and imperfections behind a false exterior. Freedom comes from being prepared to let go of your inhibitions and accept the beauty of your flaws. To be willing to freefall into yourself is the most human thing you can ever do.
No man hidden behind a mask can ever achieve such a wonderful feat.