Beneath the Surface

I have lived much of my life feeling like the face I present to the world is a mask. This feels lonely, though I know I am not alone in feeling this way. The real face, the real person, stays behind, afraid I will be judged if I show the self that is introverted, insecure, lacking energy, true.

As a child I spent hours looking over my grandmother’s scrapbooks and diaries. I loved sifting through the memories of the past. Now I am middle aged and I have in my basement the scrapbooks, diaries and photographs of four generations of family and of my own younger years, piles of words and faces. I am the memory keeper. What do I do with these memories on paper, what is left of my ancestors? Will they be forgotten when I die? Will they be a burden to my children and those who come after me?

These letters and photographs of family both instruct me and weigh me down. In my family there was wealth, prestige, accomplishment, integrity. I draw solace and inspiration from their words, but I also judge myself by their standards and come up wanting. This is why I feel that I need to wear the mask.

Wearing my mask exhausts me. I find when I can let it slip that I feel a connection to people and to the world that I cannot experience while wearing the mask. The relief and connection is worth the exposed vulnerability. What I am afraid of—dismissal, loss of respect, disappointing people—has not occurred.

The layering and uncovering that happens in encaustic mirrors my own internal unmasking process. I’m working with the very material that has made me feel I need to hide my real self. There is a kind of relief in doing so.