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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Masks

There’s a macramé piece of art on my office wall. It was given to me years past by a young woman I had befriended. I had originally met her at work when she bounded out of her compact car clad in the remnants of a clown outfit. She still had on the colorful polka dotted jumper with its frilled collar and blousy legs. She was barefooted as she loped through my asphalt world. She worked for one of those companies that send “happy grams.” That is to say, an actor will sing a song or read a card like the strip-o-grams without the stripping. Her shtick was the “clown thing.”

Lori was an artist of sorts. She had a predominantly American Indian heritage and much of her art was native. The piece on my office wall was somewhat more eclectic and fascinated me. It is three masks in a simple frame on a faux granite background. They remind you of the actor’s guild symbol with the two faces … yet they are more enigmatic. Each has a jewel at the forehead. Two small ones have a pearl and a turquoise respectively. The largest consist only of the eyes and nose like the masks that women held up at masquerade parties in the 16th and 17th centuries. It sports a red star with golden beams rising out of it on the forehead spot.

At first glance I saw myself in the work. Two faces representing the good and the evil: the dark and the light: the sun and the shadow: happiness and sadness. The third is freedom. It is the rising up out of our conflict into a new awareness: the truth of ourselves if you will.

I was so taken with the piece that she took it down off her wall and gave it to me. I barely knew her … but then in some unspoken way … I had known her forever.

We became friends from a distance. She was in and out of my life for one reason or another for many years. Eventually she became friends with the girl that became my wife. I tried to do business with her once. When I wouldn’t toe her demanding line she told me “So you’ve sold out have you?” I resented it and disagreed at the time.

Lori and I had come from a generation and culture that wanted to “burn down the mission” and start again. The industrial military complex was the enemy and it was our job to resist the capitalist narrow-minded dogma of the previous generation. Needing to provide for children (Lori didn’t have any) I suppose I had cast aside many of the idealistic convictions of my younger years.

Lately I have entered a state of life that leans more toward contemplation and less the material. I chased a dollar for many years with an unflinching zeal until I began to feel empty.

How easily we embrace our shadow. It takes so little for us to cast aside our ideals for the sake of material comfort. Many years now the masks have graced the wall over my shoulder as I work. Every now and then I lean back and look up at them. I had thought that I had reached the awareness of the “shooting red star”.

Today I have begun to question that awareness. Do we as working units in a capitalist structure grow up, earn a living … rise to adult awareness; or are we just putting on blinders so we can justify the casting off of youthful conviction?

I suppose in the end, like so much else in life it’s just a matter of perspective … or is it? When we vote do we use our convictions or our need? When we teach our children do we err on the side of idealism or acquisition … achievement? I would like to think that Ihave been true to the desire to rise above the material focus of the generation before me. Then I look at the masks … and I can’t help but wonder

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