Mask as Identity or as Hiding Place?

I’m always thinking of a mask as a means to an end–that which hides someone or someone’s face. When I meet someone wearing a mask I feel very uncomfortable–much like when someone is wearing dark sunglasses or is in a car with darkly tinted windows. I feel at a disadvantage. I am on the outside and can’t look in.

Maybe it’s because of all the scariness that hides behind masks. Think of the Anonymous Hackers mask. One minute they are ruining people’s lives with their hacking and the next they are trying to save us by hacking ISIS (Daesh, ISIL, the Islamic State–sorry I had to point out that all these names are another form of mask). So masks scare me.

But I noticed this mask my kids have hanging on the wall, left from a long-ago trip to Italy, and suddenly it occurred to me that the mask itself speaks volumes. The mask is a costume, an identity that can be donned.

And that made all the difference for me.

This mask is from the Carnival of Venice. I love costumes, theatre, and a chance at a temporary and different identity.

Duh, I guess that is why I am a writer. When I was a kid I wanted to be one of the “3 As”–actor, author, or archeologist. They are all about different identities, in one way or another.

How do masks seem to you? What mask would you choose right now? I think there’s a writing prompt in here somewhere . . . .


I’m behind with responding to comments because . . . um, because. But I will catch up this week! Thank you so much for your kind wishes aboutΒ Doll God and your advice about resting or writing! Β And Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!!! I don’t think I’ll be able to post again this week, but I’ll be blog reading!


Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing prompt

51 responses to “Mask as Identity or as Hiding Place?

  1. I’m using masks quite a bit in my novel. πŸ™‚ Theatre originates from the simple idea of literally putting on a mask in order to express character emotion and story. To remove the real in order to communicate something that is more real. It’s all a bit magical and mysterious. :)… It’s sort of the idea that the truth can only be communicated through the lie… As writers of fiction we create imaginary stories to get at a truth. Better explained a bit here –

    • Thanks for the link about this. Wonderful notion of “going under the mask” to get to the truth. I love that. Thank you so much for stopping by and adding such a nugget to the conversation!

  2. Luanne, masks have long intrigued me too in the sense that people can don different masks to suit occasions. I guess the trick in getting to know someone is to peel back the masks and see them in their true skin.

  3. Really interesting, Luanne. That Anonymous mask freaks me out, too.
    And there’s a scene in Sweeney Todd where people are wearing a mask at a ball, and it is creepy and awful.
    But the Italian carnival mask is beautiful.
    I suppose we all wear masks of a sort sometimes.
    (And there probably is a writing prompt there.) πŸ™‚
    Have a great week and Thanksgiving, too!

  4. Dear Luanne- Really enjoyed your post today. I am wearing my Author mask, or rather my Publicist (necessary part of being an author) mask. To my AMAZEMENT, I also blogged about “A” words. Please check this out: Dante blog–>
    And — have a beautiful Thanksgiving!

  5. I think in the past decade masks have become scary much as “hoodies” have. They have become a sign of “something bad is going to happen.” Truly they started as theatre!

    • Yes, theatre–and they are still the #1 symbol of theatre! Hoodies are a charged subject because it’s hard to talk about them without discussing race. But I think I did mention that when we were in the restaurant that was being robbed, the man was wearing a hoodie. I didn’t see him because I was outside at the car, but hubby chatted with him before the robbery and didn’t think anything of the hoodie. It was only after the fact of the robbery that his “costume” became part of his identity.

  6. Masks…! Here’s an anecdote. In acting school, we were to “play” Commedia dell’arte masks. In one class, the teacher put masks on us so each student couldn’t see his or her own mask. Then, one by one, we had to “play” the mask for the rest of the group. As I recall, some folks “played” it right and some didn’t. I never did figure out what it was all about. My own feeling at the time was desperation mixed with faith. Maybe you need those feelings to act.

    • I think I understand what you are saying, but it does sound very difficult. And of course I am always making inappropriate associations. My association here is in “Nothing” from A Chorus Line where Diana (isn’t it Diana?) sings about being made to BE (act) a bobsled. Yes, you need powerful feelings to be able to act. And I guess you need to be able to use them as needed.

      • I think I could “be” a bobsled because I know what a bobsled looks like and does, but having to act/play a mask I can’t even see brings a whole nother level of befuddlement and desperation.

        • Yes, I can see where that would be even worse. But a bobsled is bad enough. Of course, it’s possible to say that Diana had an attitude on her, too. πŸ˜‰

  7. In the case of ISIS I don’t find the balaclava much of an art inspiration, but to me they represent cowardice.

    • Do you think the balaclava of ISIS (Jihadi John, for instance) is a mask? I do, and I was thinking of it as a terrorizing mask, which is how I feel about the Anonymous mask. Are they wearing the “mask” because they are cowards or does it merely represent their inherent cowardice?

      • I think it is a mask in the sense that it hides their identity. If they were proud of what they were doing they would show their faces. But it’s a way to hide. Maybe they’re hiding their shame as well as their identity. I didn’t really find it terrifying – maybe because we used to sometimes wear them to school when we had to walk in -40 degrees, and then had a scarf wrapped around the balaclava, but I hated wearing them.

  8. “actor, author, or archaeologist”–What? Not an astronaut or astrophysicist? πŸ˜‰

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    • I probably had never heard of an astrophysicist, and I was a little too claustrophobic to want to go into one of those tiny space shuttles they had when I was a kid haha. Happy Thanksgiving, Carrie. I hope you have a lovely day.

  9. As a tangible thing, I have always been fascinated by masks. This goes back to my days of sitting in the back of the library reading National Geographic magazines by the hundreds.

    I’m more afraid of the masks people wear without any physical cover. Fake faces and personalities bother me much more. The anonymity of cyberspace and the misuse of it to inflict harm bother me tremendously.

    • Woot, you came up with some thought-provoking comparisons, Susan. Fake people are just awful. Who wants to be around it? It feels too “unstable,” as if you don’t know where you stand with them. And ANONYMITY itself is a terrible mask. Look at road rage! And cyber bullying is terrible. A vicious form of it hit someone close to me, and it was horrible to watch.

  10. I used to collect masks, when I was a young person. I probably sold 30-40 of them in a yard sale shortly after we married. Our eldest daughter was frightened of them and since she was fragile and needy, I took them down.
    I don’t miss them, but I do still admire them.
    I’ll agree they can be scary, or make people uncomfortable, because so many of our clues are in our faces — but then, that’s why I liked them. Without faces, we’re only words and body language, and that’s intriguing.

    • Man, you were really into masks! Were you a drama kid? How did it get started? It is intriguing but I feel at such a disadvantage if somebody can see my face and I can’t see theirs. Of course, because of my migraine issues I wear sunglasses a lot, so I probably make other people feel exactly that way!

  11. I’ve been asked many times about my photos and my costumes and who these “characters” are that I embody in them, and I’ve always insisted that I’m not embodying anyone at all, I’m just me trying to look like someone else so my photos aren’t boring. I had a counselor recently insist that I was wrong and that of course my photos represented repressed aspects of my own personality; I went along with it for the sake of the exercise, but I’m still not entirely convinced of it! πŸ™‚

    • Now I find that a really interesting line of thought. I’m trying to think if I have ever thought that you were representing characters, but I really don’t think so. I think I saw the costumes as a way for you to give action to your creativity and that it actually revealed a lot of who you are, rather than disguising who you are.

  12. I’m not really into masks of any kind, Luanne (don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful masks, but they kind of scare me). You make a great point here about the mask being a costume and an identity that can have it’s place, but all masks make me think the wearer is trying to hide something (and this seems to be particularity prevalent in the current ISIS and Anonymous climate). I thought of the movie “The Mask’ which was making the point that the mask changes the personality of the wearer – this I believe πŸ˜‰

    • So you too are afraid of masks. Do you think if you were wearing a mask ALSO you would feel better? For instance, a Mardi Gras party where everyone wore a mask. Maybe that would be fun? But when someone else wears a mask of any kind and I don’t I feel very vulnerable and as if I’m not on secure ground, if that makes sense. I feel as if I saw The Mask, but I’m not sure. Isn’t that strange? Maybe it was on TV and I only saw part of it?

  13. We were taught to wear the funny, happy mask in public. I remember how fast my father could switch it on and off. Every day he had to step outside was like a performance. After a while he never wanted to leave the house.

  14. I believe we wear more masks as younger versions of our “real” selves. We start to become confident, as we grow older. Learning how to be more open and trusting as parents, or as working with people over time, allows us to share daily thoughts and problems.
    Luanne, I like how you found beauty and reminded us not all masks are covering up or hiding dangerous people. Some Halloween, Venice and Mardi Gras masks usually are meant to amuse and delight. πŸ™‚

    • What a thoughtful comment, Robin. Yes, I agree that we don’t need our masks as we grow older and more experienced. What a beautiful way of looking at the use of masks!

  15. I wanted to be all three of those ‘As’ at one time or another! You’ve got me thinking with this post Luanne…mostly how so many people can hide behind the ‘mask’ of the internet – I’m thinking trolls here – and say things they wouldn’t dare in person. We all wear masks at different times I think, without even knowing it. It’s good to be able to be ourselves, which I think becomes easier as we mature…and become more secure in who we are πŸ™‚ xo

    • Oh, I love that you wanted to be the 3 As, too!!! Trolls are disgusting creatures. How can that be something someone wants to do–cause suffering to someone else and not even have the courage to show one’s “face”? I agree about how we are able to be ourselves as we mature. Yay!!!!

  16. A mask story: I gave a silver and white Mardi Gras mask to my 87 year old mother for Christmas (which we celebrated early during Thanksgiving). She put it on, I took a photo. She says she might use it as her obit pic. πŸ™‚

  17. Such an interesting post, and I loved reading the comments too. I’m curious though, how does archeologist work with the mask motif of wearing different identities. ? My daughter is an archeologist and a major character in my novel is one, so this intrigues me.

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