Off With Her Mask

Some days I am convinced of my isolation. Yesterday was like that. Having spent hours with grandchildren on the two preceding days, on Saturday the emptiness was profound. I was tired. I even went back to sleep in the morning after walking the dogs. On waking I tried blogging – tried editing an unpublished blog from earlier in the week. But I didn’t believe in my capacity for reaching anyone. I have felt like that all week: that the me I wanted to share… Well… What was the use? I have found myself angry several times: hurt and anger mixing together into a barely suppressible brew. I have felt explosive – and fearful of that possibility.

One day I tried to channel my anger by sculpting with wire, having no pre-ordained idea of what I would sculpt. When I stopped – my fingers bruised and sore – I held a mask, its pleasant expression denying what I’d been feeling. I could look at the world through its minimally outlined features. I went outside and photographed my own serious visage, staring out through the shining aluminum wire that formed the mask. Yesterday, frustrated by its uselessness, I crumpledthe flimsy thing and tossed it into the trash.

Was there any truth to this creation? All I can think is that in my daily communication with the world – with those I normally encounter – I am wearing a mask of sorts. I am hiding behind its pleasant and compliant features in order not to explode into something I cannot handle, or they cannot handle.

At first I tried to see the wire mask as art, or part of a work of art awaiting further development. But, yesterday – stopped as I was in my creative tracks – I saw it as going nowhere, worth nothing to me, easily destroyed and discarded. After that I felt something ease in me. I even began to believe in a future of artistic growth: untried possibilities lay before me.

In the late afternoon I went out with the dogs. Unleashed, their happy bodies catapulted down the path and out onto the family compound. I took my time, unconcerned, heard voices greeting my wayward pups. Soon I saw members of my older brother’s family – two of my nieces and several children – greeting Music’s and Star”s delight with equal delight. I was glad to see them – here from New Orleans for the weekend – bringing a different sort of energy with them. Welcome energy… 

Looking back, I see that I was  myself in their company – glad to be seen – softening, melding into their midst. As we walked together, the group was gradually dissolved until only two were left: myself and my brother’s middle daughter. M and I had been speaking so intensely – so intimately – that it wasn’t surprising to find that we were alone, still talking as though reunited after months of separation. We are always this way, instantly picking up the thread, no matter how much time has passed. The spark of our rapport ignites and flares into effortless exchange.

We continued down the path together, accompanied by my still delighted dogs (no struggle to keep them them from straying off). What did we speak of as the light of the day intensified before its inevitable fading into night? Art and isolation; the need for stimulation and encouragement; shared artistic goals; hope that can be difficult to sustain. Really, it hardly matters, for our obvious ability to communicate in a deeply satisfying way banished any sense of isolation. Before we parted, we made a pact to encourage one another’s artistic growth. She invited me to return to the carriage house behind her New Orleans home and treat it like my New Orleans studio.

I was left with hope – reminded by my vivacious niece of that “thing with feathers that perches in the heart” – and, hungry as I was for my supper, my hope took flight and I danced with such an ageless  rapture that it was some time before I heeded my gnawing stomach.  Better a gnawing stomache than a starving soul.


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