The best holiday when you’re a kid is Halloween—this remains so for gay people as we age: Halloween is often referred to as Gay Christmas.
When I was a kid—what did I dress up as? I know I wore a clown costume one year—it was my mom’s. How gay is that? And why did my mom have a clown costume? Something she had had made for a charity thing—maybe visiting hospitals? Clearly I can’t recall.
Much of the past is lost to me—concealed. Like a beaded curtain between rooms—I can reach through to grasp at things but the beads clack back together the minute I pull my hand back and all I ever see are thin slices of memories.
What’s that quote—“the key to happiness is a long life and a bad memory…?” Of course, this doesn’t address the problem of current negative thoughts. I often hope for all of my negative thinking to be removed. I’ve even heard myself whisper, maybe even recently, under my breath, “take my negative thinking away.” I then picture myself as the person I would be with no negative or self-doubting thoughts—healed, better, my best self. Writing this now I see my foolishness.
I wear a mask of joy—not as firmly as I used to. I really used to think my job was to make everyone happy. Ok, wait, I do sometimes still think that’s my job. But I like to think that the desire to bring joy is informed now by a depth that I’ve found over the years. That the performance isn’t shallow or put on.
We are all performing, all the time—aren’t we? My dear pal Betsy always says, ‘one of the hardest things to do in life is to change your role…” it’s true. People don’t like it. Understandably.
Imagine you’ve been performing in a play for awhile, the show is open and you’re mid-run—and then imagine one night you make your first entrance and you’ve decided to be a different character in the play, or, you just make up a character completely unrelated to the play. It’s a bedroom farce and you decide you’re going to be some heavy by Mamet. How upsetting this would be to the other performers. OR—maybe you don’t have a character in mind at all, you just enter and decide to wing it—it occurs to me that this is one way to define mental illness. The person before you appears to be the person you know but their behavior is completely at odds with their character, or is based on ideas and stories that only they seem to know or hear or understand.
Do you ever wonder if you might be mad? I have wondered that at various points in my life—I’ve seen how narrow the space is between the window and the ledge. How a different reality is just there, in the room next door and you could just go walk out into the hallway and go in there and lose it.
Our lives are built of so many seemingly insignificant acts. Our morning rituals, the clothes we wear, the routines we enact, the schtick we have with the spouse or the mailman or the barista…in some ways, these comprise the mask of our lives. Without them, there is only chaos.
It’s one of the reasons I make things—It helps me order one tiny part of the world. These words, right here, that I’m laying down, one by one, letter by letter—this is my way of keeping some kind of order. I cannot sweep the entire forest floor but this spot, underneath this tree, right here is tidy.
I’m never able to retain scientific information the way some people can, but I know that there’s a model of the universe that describes pure chaos. Can we help but want to organize it? Maybe some of us don’t. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m nearly incapable of hanging up a piece of clothing when I remove it. But I do order some things.
I had a vision this morning, inspired by the masks we’re wearing right now, and that some of us are sewing: we are all attending some global masquerade ball. And our masks are just one small part of our elaborate outfits, brocades and silks, men in stockings and powdered wigs, ladies whispering behind fans—there’s intrigue and mischief, girls run past, laughing. A waiter wearing a fitted black satin uniform and the mask of a raven swoops in to pass you a champagne flute. The orchestra begins and we take to the parquet dance floor.
I have had this vision of the world before: Everyone is playing their role in a candle-lit castle, bowing at each other, taking one another’s hands, everyone is moving together in the choreographed dance of the world. Do the masks permit us to be freer than we normally would? Perhaps.
But suddenly it’s midnight, and the masks come off and, for just a moment—and maybe this is the moment we are all in, right now--it’s like one giant gasp, we see each other, our real faces. We stare. The music and the dancing have stopped. What, we all are wondering, what could possibly happen next?