No, I’m not talking about madness or hypocrisy, although we could come close in this discussion, but consider the faces you wear to get through your day. Are you yourself, your true self all day long, how many masks do you wear?
The truth is most of us wear different faces for different occasions – Eleanor Rigby ‘wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door’ to which Lennon and McCartney then ask – ‘who is it for?’ For years I was bamboozled by that lyric, loved the intrigue of it but now it makes perfect sense: most of us have faces we keep in jars all over the place. Perhaps the jar by the door is where her face for the rest of the world resides?
I work in a profession where you present a certain version of yourself to an audience every day. Yes, teaching is too akin to performing to avoid the actor/audience analogy. By the version of myself that my students receive can’t be too far from the real thing or my lack of authenticity will shine on through and I’ll fail miserably with them. But I can’t be who I really am; it’s not appropriate for them and a bit too exposing for me. Some of me does not belong to the rampant teenage beast.
As I interact with my colleagues it also holds. A level of professionalism must be brought to interactions. I can’t joke, gossip and swear my way through the day. I can, at times, with colleagues who are trusted friends but for the greater hierarchy I must put on a face that approximates who I am, that suits them and doesn’t compromise me. This is hard but necessary. The world of work is a precarious thing, despite what some might like to believe, it is personality driven. I need to work so I present a version of myself that suits the circumstances. When I can no longer live with that version of myself in that workplace, to wit when I have become too personally compromised, I must move on.
It’s one of the eternal struggles: who am I, how should I behave? My lovely baby-girl is caught in this struggle at the moment: a wish to be more assertive, to be less soft. She wants to grow a harder shell, but for the world, not her friends or family. Is that what Eleanor Rigby’s jar holds, a harder shell, a mask as she moves from the security of her home?
We are different people in different situations. It is as it should be. Our true self is something precious and wonderful and it does not belong to everyone. We are cautious with some people, mistrusting and therefore present a resistant face, a position that allows us to wait, judge, consider before we reveal more or even all of ourselves. Remember falling in love, or making new friends – you try out different bits of yourself with them, testing, checking before committing your true self to the relationship.
Animals tell it as it is. Cats mistrust the world, they only go to laps they want to sit in. You may pick it up, but if it doesn’t like you it won’t stay. Thus my beloved came to be the one, as Siska, my fluffy white Persian bucket of mistrust, preferred his attentions over other suitors and to mine! Dogs are the same. My big woof is the gentlest, most divine thing around the house and out walking. But get a post-man or a God-person knocking on the door and his inner beast arises. He’s not that fond of little yappy dogs either and ignores them with disdain.
Knowing ourselves is hard: sharing our true self with others is a fraught business. Think now, how many people can you trust to be absolutely you, in all your glorious contradictions and foolishnesses? They are your true friends. And you know what, they are being true with you too. It’s the only way true friendship and love can endure.
Keep your face in your jar, have a collection of jars, a range of masks; it makes sense. But don’t lose yourself. Remember what Judy Garland said: ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.’ Make sure your faces are authentic versions of you, keep your true friends close and you will remain intact, a person of integrity: someone who can live with themselves and that, my friends, is really quite something. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)