Posts Tagged ‘face’

The Mask I Make

It was something I knew nothing about. That’s a beginning.  I have had the good fortune to be placed in circumstance where status means little and privilege is a shared experience of a community of women in a transformational environment. This would describe the mask making workshop I attended at the local multicultural center.

The tables had been placed in the center of the large workroom and around the periphery of the room there were craft stations that included glue guns, extension cords, feathers, beads, paint and brushes, an assortment of buttons and shiny things, colored wire, brightly fashioned yarns, and a myriad of other crafty things that would satisfy even the most critical of crows. There was somewhere between fifteen and twenty women seated watching as our fearless leader introduced herself and asked us to think about our own definition of a mask. What is the mask’s purpose? When do we choose to wear a mask and why? What does our mask say about us? Are we able to take our mask off?

I knew none of the other women, for quite a few English was not their first language. I met Lois when I offered to her the seat beside me. Lois had the physique I remember my grandmother having, an ample bosom without a clear distinction between chest and waist. Her hair gray at the roots, her glasses frequently pushed up from the end of her nose. She fretted to me about her current predicament, one in which she had been laid off from a job she had held for twenty nine years and as a result had joined a local empowerment program for women. She had only attended the program for two weeks when her former employer had offered her work. She was fearful to leave the program; fearful to refuse the work. She was simply fearful. Our instructor demonstrated the mask technique, calling for a volunteer she seated her in a chair and proceeded to apply Vaseline to her face, outlining her hair, protecting her lips and eyebrows from the adhesive quality of the plaster that would form the shape of her face. Lois was worried; this might be more than she could endure. “I’m rather claustrophobic” she confessed. “When I have an MRI, the space is so close, they talk to me and that helps, but I might not be very good with having my face covered.” I attempted to assure her. It was all right, I would go first and she could apply the mask on me. She needn’t have one applied to her own face it if made her uncomfortable. I continued to watch as the instructor applied the plaster strips to the face of the volunteer. She had placed cotton gauze over the mouth and the eyes, pressing to outline the lips as she continued to work the plaster and smooth its surface. The volunteer had chosen to close her mouth. As I watched I became aware of the obvious personal symbolism, life had been bidding me silent for a very long time. I had so many stories and the storytelling always became animated with volume and gesture. For quite some time I had tried to be more subdued and submissive –  silent. Just realizing this brought tears to my eyes and I struggled to suppress the lump in my throat.

I helped Lois get prepared to apply the plaster to my face. I knew she was anxious, her hands were hesitant and I sensed she was not confident about her ability to do this “right”. The process took but a few minutes and Lois was relieved when a volunteer came to speed the process along and help with the application. The plaster sufficiently hardened to remove the form of my face and we placed it on the table as Lois took the chair. I admired her bravery for it was obvious this wasn’t something easy for her.

In turn, each woman shared in the creation and we proceeded to the blow dryers to speed along the drying process. Many women chose to reinforce their masks with additional strips of plaster to strengthen the shape, sanding down rough edges, polishing the surfaces to perfection. Many applied Gesso so that the form could be painted, as others lingered over the craft stations to choose just the right accessories for adornment. Silver hair, tiny shells, golden faces, and sparkling hues, all speaking of women whose hands shaped their story, silently their messages were created.

Time is always a consideration and for the women in the class, other obligations hurried them to complete their maskIMG_5184s. As we sat together in a circle with our gifts in our laps, there remained only six women, a testament to busy lives. Lois was one of the six. Her mask was painted green, “Mother Earth” she said. There were diagonal lines of vibrant blue, and brilliant yellow. “The sky and the sun.” she explained. Haltingly she interpreted her mask as representing her place in the universe, she was a part of it all. “I’ve always put the needs of others before my own needs. I’m learning that I don’t have to do that.” As the others shared, a quiet spirituality was expressed through tears. Individual stories captured hearts as we realized how much we had in common.

When my turn came, I gently held the face toward the women. It was not painted on its exterior, no gesso, no color, and the edges were rough and unpolished. The lips were outlined in red and where the paint had escaped my inexperienced hands, a red mole held prominence to the right of the lips. I quietly offered that this was who I am; part diva, yet unfinished, rough around the edges, not very polished. I had gathered fanciful yarn in hues of azure and sapphire, tacked on tiny sparkling leaves of aqua and draped this from the back toward the front of my mask. This, I explained was a hint of what was on the inside. I IMG_5183turned the face toward the women so that the inside was visible. There, the eyes were beaded bright, turquoise gemstones and buttons, wiry teal glitter and ceramic bobbles surrounded the eyes. I had found these treasures would not adhere to the outside, that discovery had confirmed what I already knew. The mouth was surrounded with crimson reds and small scarlet spikes of wood peeked out from the edges of fire engine red feathers. Here is where my words could be expressed from the open mouth, here is how I would speak my truth, see the world, and find my voice.

This Face and my Marbles

This is the face I woke up with this morning. It met me in the mirror while I was brushing my teeth. I replaced the light bulb in the overhead bathroom fixture and now I can almost see my face without my glasses. I don’t know whether to trust this face any more. I’m beginning to doubt I ever did. Where did that saying come from anyway; “Bags under my eyes”; who called them bags? Samsonite? Sobeys? Are they figurative luggage, or grocery bags? And if I can’t come to work without my purse, my lunch bag, my shoe bag and my running bag, am I a bag lady? Can I be considered a bag lady if I just carry my bags under my eyes? Don’t get me started on that thing that connects my chin to my chest – I seemed to recall a character from Ally McBeal who adored what he referred to as a “wattle”. What an ugly word – “a wattle!” The only time I realize I am wearing one is in photographs. Considering I spent the first part of my life avoiding the camera, I despair that I may spend the second half keeping my wattle out of profile.

Over the last few days I’ve pondered much the aging process. A snapshot of the Italian beauty Sophia Loren convinced me there comes a time in every woman’s life when age is something she should make friends with. If not the best of friends, then perhaps companions; on speaking terms at least, or the beauty aids and fashion statements take on a clownish appeal, with the ability to mock and distort what was once natural and unaffected.

When I was sixteen I fell in love with a boy. No surprise there, it happens every day. But at sixteen, my world was very small, my circle of acquaintances limited to the church where I socialized. That boy broke my heart when he moved away and I still remember burning his letters and pictures in the fireplace. I would not be consoled, for up to that point, I was not accustomed to change and thought the best option to resist it with all my efforts. It didn’t prevent the boy from moving.

That boy is frozen in time, or rather frozen in my mind’s memory of him. I can no longer actually see him; there is just a vague physical recollection of him. But he remains there and has for close to thirty five years. I’m not sure why, but sometimes I dream of him and in those dreams the memory is reinforced like the refresh button on the computer, coming back stronger, more vivid. The phenomenon of social networking allows reminiscing across years to condense all those memories into moments and before the brain can accept the existing reality, there is proof that what you remember no longer exists. In fact, it was gone long ago. His face stares back at me. His aged and mellowed face. The boy is gone. In his place there is a loyal husband, a doting father, a tender grandfather.


I’ve been ruminating for the last few days. I guess that’s why I’ve looked up the word “wattle” and wondered whether my bags are Samsonite or grocery. I haven’t been watching the progression of age. There wasn’t a time when I noticed I was no longer a teenager, that this day or this week, this year, I will change, I will look different and then I will be older. The teenage memory of love at sixteen got stuck in my heart, it stayed there with my youth and they played awhile. They played together long enough, that I went on without them, getting married, having babies, adjusting to change, creating a life; and then my face stared back at me from the mirror one day and I had arrived.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to look again, at the photo of the boy. This time I noticed his hand tightly hugging the shoulder of the sweet blond girl he married. I noticed too that all that hair is gone and what remains is almost white. It’s no good really. To remain stuck. The memory hasn’t changed, I have. Time has changed me. The only power I have over time is my ability to remember. I still have that. I have the wattle and the bags too so there will be a place – for a while yet – to put my marbles. I’m pretty sure I haven’t lost them.

Words Past