Friday, January 1, 2010

From Behind the Mask: My New Year's Resolution

We wear the mask that grins and lies,/It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes —Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask”

I want to be an honest man and a good writer. –James Baldwin

Okay, I guess it is time for me to end my vacation from blogging or any other meaningful and constructive pursuits. This holiday season I simply did nothing but rest and relax, enjoy the company of my wife and children, and get my mental together.

Though I am usually annoyed by inactivity and idleness, this season of unproductiveness seemed so much different; it allowed me to step back from the usually relentless fast pace of my life and put engage in a bit of self-examination and put a number of things in perspective.

A week or so ago I wrote a post highlighting President Obama’s propensity toward compromise. However, in thinking things through this week, I realized, or was finally willing to admit, that I share that same propensity.

Perhaps, it is all those years being the only or one of a few African Americans in majority white institutions. Perhaps, somewhere along the way, I found the path of least resistance to be the most desirable path. Perhaps, I learned that to move forward, I must necessarily present myself as none-threatening and subdue my voice in such a way that it does not offend.

But perhaps my acquiescent attitude arises out of past privation. I have tasted the metallic emptiness of hunger and want before, and I do not wish to go back. I cling tenaciously to my precarious station in life.

Nevertheless, over the years I have developed a repertoire of masks that I skillfully and seamlessly slip in and out of given the situation. There have been some days that I have changed masks so frequently that I have to stop and remind myself just what mask I was wearing. And with each change of masks, I can only question whether or not I leave a bit of myself clinging to the innermost surface of the mask.

During this holiday season, I happened to find myself at a little impromptu get together with a number of friends and colleagues, some of whom I have known since grad school or as far back as undergrad. We were having a good time, and I let my guard down and really cut loose.

However, on the periphery there was one young lady who I don’t know very well but who I have met and spoken to on occasion. But this whole time she is staring at me with this perplexed look on her face. Finally, I just had to give in and ask her just why she was staring at me in this manner.

She shook herself out of her trance and told me that she had never seen me like this before. She had never seen me so animated. She had never seen me so full of life. Then someone else spoke up and said, “Well, this is the real Max. This is the one we all got to know back in the day but who rarely comes out anymore.”

And someone else chimed in: "Yeah, just during holidays and when we are by ourselves."

Then everyone fell silent for a minute and looked around as if some accusation had just been made.

The real Max? This hurt me, threw me for a loop. Then all those other Max-es are fake? If this is so, then I spend most of my time being something I am not simply to appease others, to appear less threatening, to go along just to get along? The real Max, huh?

But this is my one New Year’s resolution: I will drop the masks, and I will begin to take risks. I will not continue to abdicate my strength because this abdication has become my weakness. I will endeavor to push onward, ever upward toward my goal of becoming, just as Baldwin wished, an honest man and a good writer.

And just what do you propose to do differently in the up-coming year?


msladydeborah said...

I don't do New Year Resolutions. I find that life has a way of envoking necessary changes.

I am in pursuit of a new job. I got laid off on 12/31/09. Which is not necessarily a bad thing since I was in the process of looking for a new gig. I swear that I am not going to allow my frickin' liberal senses to override my good sense any more. I took my former position to help a sista out and towards the end it was wearing me low.

I think that we all have different masks that we wear. I think it is somewhat necessary for our professional survival. Especially if we are working in an environment that is totally out of our culture.

I am so many different women that periodically, I have to sit us all down and merge us back into one. I don't think that men do this process a whole lot. I find it is necessary to keep things mangable and in perspective.

It sounds like you enjoyed your holiday in a proper manner. I am a firm believer in rest and relaxation.

Happy New Year to you and your family Max!

FreeMan said...

Brother Max there is a public persona and a private one. If you ever feel you are being so called fake then you need to increase the opportunities for you to be real more by organizing more times around your real friends. The masks are there to get things done and getting things done is just as important as letting your hair down. Their is a balance that has to be maintained and right now it's just out of whack a bit. The issue is not to be either one too much. Even I have two sides of me if not more but they have a purpose and maybe the true Max needs to realize he needs to be around his real friends more.

My goal for this year is to fully realize my talents. I have been able to cruise through life without too much resistance because of the pace I maintain period. But, I have let myself become out of shape mentally. My goal is get back to being efficient in all aspects of my life. The goal is to be Great because I know I am capable of such.

Lisalis said...

Wow, your post really touched me. You've jolted me into the uncomfortable position of wondering if I've been wearing a mask too...wondering where and how often am I stifling my true opinions, thought or feelings because I'm not 'at home'.

You didn't see it happen and only lucky happenstance that you discovered this in yourself. How can the rest of us be reminded to show our true selves?

ProfGeo said...

Max, I've been thinking about this in terms of other people's masks, as you know. But there seems to be a lot of soul-searching across the blogs as 2010 commences. People are at least thinking about being more unified (uniform?) in their public and private personae. (For example, there is an interesting click-through trail starting at Post-Post-Racial's first 2010 post.)

I'm personally feeling some fatigue with maintaining several "faces." My campus has its online environment (intranet) in which I pretty much stick to business. I also have a couple of academic-ish blogs that pertain to student course work, not much overlap with the "race" blogosphere. I could trade out some blog time for other Web 2.0+, but don't want to. I have old-fashioned e-mail that I maintain with my "real family and friends" especially those who don't read/write blogs. Somewhere in all that we have physical interactions too!

joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joe said...

"Well we all have a face that we hide away forever. And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone. Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk, and some are leather. They're the faces of the stranger, but we love to try them on."
Billy Joel
The Stranger

Mr. A said...

I think we all have a game face for different things. The mask you wear around your children will not be the same that you wear at the bar with your friends, or colleagues at work. Time and place.

I think the real hard part is trying to synergize them so that you never feel too out of touch with yourself. Your friends that referred to you as "the real Max" are referring to the Max they know and love. Very few people, if any, will see all those masks fused into one. And that's the way it should be. Those chosen few are the elite people in our lives. Your masks have gotten you this "far" so you must be doing something right.

I think an important question to ask ourselves is, do any of the masks make us uncomfortable? I know when I don the sambo smile, I don't necessarily like that mask, but if I created it and see a need to wear it, that must mean somewhere in me there's a little bit of that. In order to remove the masks we don't like from our repertoires, I guess the only thing that can be done is eliminate the need for it. That is not always easy to do (sometimes impossible?)

My apologies if my comment is too verbose...I'm trying to be more short on breath.

Great post.

md20737 said...

I ranted about this today. I had to ensure my mask stayed on. While I watched as the man choked on a hard pill to swallow. I shouldnt take joy in watching the man squirm but they deserve every bit of it. While I am doing this I have to play my part and remain calm. Post hit close to home for me.

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