I was reading Brené Brown again the other morning as I was eating scrambled eggs with avocado.
Brené (I don’t actually know her so as to be on a first name basis, but like to pretend I do) was talking about barriers to vulnerability.
She was talking about masks. The masks we wear.
The things that we put on, so that we look like the personality we think we need to be. So people like us. So we don’t rock the boat. So we fit in. So we’re not alone.
I’m an expert, and you should listen to me
I was trying to write something on marketing. And it wasn’t really working. I noticed an unpleasant feeling. It was familiar.
I’d always assumed it was the effect of not finding my flow. I can’t write, so I feel contracted,
But I realized it wasn’t. I realized it was the cause. I wasn’t in flow, because I wasn’t writing. A mask was.
So, I put the mask centre stage and let it write. This is what it said.
“I’m an expert. And you’re not. Listen to me, because I know. Be quiet and you may actually learn something.”
And it’s said in this slightly bored voiced, like really you should know better, but since you don’t, I’ll grace you with my superior wisdom. Though I’m making it clear it’s begrudging. But not clear enough that you could comment on it.
I’ve christened him Bartholomew Snooty III.
I remember being on a personal development course years ago. The leaders had offered me a free place because I’d started an audacious business that professed to be a hub for the kind of work they were teaching.
I thought I was better than them.
I’d silently critique their teaching from the back of the room.
And I ended up pissing some people off. Because I wasn’t committed, and I dropped out, and broke some promises I made. And even though I felt ashamed underneath, I covered it by looking down my nose at them, and dismissing their quaint complaints.
And that’s how he works. He covers my insecurity with indifferent arrogance.
Meanwhile, I’m still lonely.
Oh! Look how vulnerable I am!
I have another one. It’s the “I’m vulnerable” mask.
The one where I pretend to be vulnerable. Because it’s a deep value of mine (the vulnerability not the pretending). And I think I need to be like that all the time.
“I did this thing. It was really vulnerable. But look at me, I’m so brave to be sharing it like this with you. How good am I?”
I remember a couple of years ago. I was having a fight with my girlfriend, and my best friend Joel was there too. And I got really upset, and started crying uncontrollably.
Joel didn’t buy it.
He said he understood I was upset, but it seemed like I was making a show of it.
“This is a matrix moment Ewan.” He said.
And he was right.
It felt so real. And I was hurt, but even more, I was trying to get seen.
And maybe that’s why I do it more often.
Don’t see me
Don’t look at me. Because if I show you the real me, you’ll reject me. Like you did when I was innocent, and didn’t know about masks.
I never fitted in at school. Maybe none of us do.
I had the wrong shoes. And no Nintendo. And brown bread sandwiches with cucumber and vegetarian pate.
I stood out, like a weird thumb. And the other kids, with their Nike trainers wouldn’t let me join in.
So I started fashioning some masks. So I wasn’t so lonely.
Maybe you did too.
And none of us realized that we were all wearing masks, and participating in an invented stage play. All secretly wanting to fit in.
And I’m still doing it.
“Like me! I’m really good at writing! Can I play with you?”
I wrote that on facebook the other day. That I still felt like I was 5-years old trying to get people to be my friend.
And lots of people said they would be my friend.
And it was lovely. But it didn’t really change anything.
The naked truth
Because it’s not about winning friends. It’s about saying what I have to say. The real one, who nakedly says the things that he can’t help but care about.
And it would be really shitty if that meant no-one likes me anymore. But even that I’d endure. If that was what my art demanded.
Walt Whitman was like that. Most people hated what he wrote. And he didn’t get huge thanks or success. And then he died. And then everyone realized how brilliant he was, and how beautiful his writing was. And how revolutionary.
I hope that doesn’t happen to me. That would suck.
But I’m realizing how it’s really not about getting friends. That little 5 year old has lost his chance.
It’s about speaking the truth.
I can feel the masks start to melt. And as more of the naked truth starts to reverberate around my world, I realize I’m no longer in control of the plot.
So I cross my fingers, and hope it all has a happy ending.
And I’m stacking all my chips on this. The belief that if I keep speaking what wants to be spoken, then something will happen. And that ending will be the happiest one.