It’s inevitable. Every Round, I’ll have a great idea for a sponsor post that gets blown out of the water by something I see or read just days before I have to write the post. Yes, that has happened again. Kait Nolan put up the vlog post “Masks Writers Wear,” by Kelsey Macke. In this post, Kelsey points out the mask of indifference — denying that we care what our readers think; the mask of fear — denying our fear of what people think, of what might happen, or not happen with our creative work; and the mask of invincibility — denying our fragility and inability to be everything to everyone all the time.
Masks are how we hide the three-year-old who is afraid of the unknown. I have perfected so many masks in my repertoire. I took the New York subway for the first time two weeks ago, hiding behind my blasé “Yes, I do this all the time” mask. I enter a classroom or an interview with my “Nervous? Not me!” mask firmly in place. These are necessary masks; they minimize being bothered by the guys selling tours outside Grand Central Terminal or maximize convincing the students or employers you know your stuff.
The majority of the writing I have done all my life is heavily masked. My thoughts are well hidden under hypothesis and proof; emotion is unseemly and unwanted. Scholarly writing is akin to a technically perfect, and utterly lifeless, piano performance. There is no heart, no passion; while such is the goal of academic and technical writing, it is what makes creative nonfiction and fiction dull and uninteresting. I have struggled with the proportions of how much to reveal and how much to hide in my writing; I know I am not alone.
My strongest reaction to this vlog post, however, is to the mask of fear. Kelsey Macke points out good writing needs the heart-stopping fear that comes with being vulnerable and exposed. If I have never had the experience, I have to work through it as though I have, without masks and distance. If I have gone through the experience, hurts must be explored, hearts and souls bared to an uncomfortable degree. I have to talk to the three-year-old, who remembers far too clearly all the fears, traumas, and slights of my entire life, and who is incapable of smoothing the mask over any of them. Talking to that child is among the scariest things I can imagine, because everything is still raw, new, and painful. Although when I write I hide the details so my family will still send dinner invitations, I allow the details the power to hurt me again, in order to put that into the words.
Nothing else is more persuasive that creative writing is not for wimps. There is no mask in place; there is no distance between the three-year-old soul and the reader.