Sharp words, like knives of stainless steel, cold, sterile, and impersonal, can cut through layers of skin, bone, and emotions, cleanly. Likewise, a blunt blade also cuts, oftentimes causing even more damage than a sharply honed blade.
And so does our thoughtless words, both spoken and written, either cut through sharply and clinically, or pierce others’ emotions with rusted and blunted impact. Words written in moments of lucid clarity can often convey so much more than simple vented emotion, a sharpness that conveys true meaning, encapsulating an experience, bringing out a rawness that simply cannot be found just lying around.
And then, on other day, there can be so much emotion inside oneself, that words struggle to form proper sentences. When grammar and tense and context battle each other like rioters and police in Birmingham. When backspace is used 5 times to get the simple word WHEN typed out, yes, days when the impact of the news is like a sledgehammer, and all you want is a moment of mental respite, to simply breathe deeply, and stop the barrage of endless randomness intruding on your world. The blessing and curse of being connected.
I opened Twitter this morning. I follow 228 people, I know some of them personally. Some of them are friends who tweet random goodies, others simply retweet other peoples stuff. I love Twitter – I use it for keeping up with global breaking news. I first saw how valuable it could be when I was online one evening, and picked up a trending tweet. That was the night unconfirmed reports broke that Michael Jackson had died. Within minutes, millions of MJ fans were tweeting, and within an hour, everyone in the world knew that the King had died. But today I write about how Twitter and FB invade our mental space, cutting through our lives in another way.
Someone I follow, who I have never met, but somehow still feel I have a connection with, tweeted on the passing of Trey Pennington. I clicked through on the link, and landed on a blog. I discovered that Trey (@treypennington) had committed suicide. He was a father to 6 children and had one grandchild. Trey lost the fight against the chemicals in his brain, choosing to end his life. Read the post here. So this got me thinking. A parking lot full of thoughts. The connectedness of the world we live in, and how the lines cross between ‘friend’ and online friend. So how lonely can someone be who has over 111 000 followers, 111 000 people who would have been able to respond, who wanted to respond?The answer is that this man was so lonely, and what he showed most of the 111 000 people who followed his tweets, was just a mask. A mask hiding the pain and hurt and fear of a man living two (or more) lives. Which makes me ask some questions of life, and the masks we all wear, all over again.
The nature of what we do for a living, and how we work in this connected world, implies that there is as a prerequisite of a kind of forced bravado about what say and what we do. And as men, we never show emotion. We are trained from a very young age to not show weakness – ‘don’t cry,’ my mother always said. But crying felt good, so I cried. Usually alone, but I did my fair bit of crying in my pillow. But never in front of my dad, or my other male friends. To show weakness implied being weak, and that meant that you would get picked on. And hard. So mask number 1 we learnt to apply like makeup, foundation layer, no weakness, no crying! Mask number 2 was to not talk about certain things that made adults uncomfortable. Like body odors, bodily functions (no1 was a P, no 2 was a Poo), we were told not to say words that would make adults blush, and so we developed mask no 2 – keep our thoughts to ourselves, talk less, and don’t impose your thinking on others. Mask no 3 developed a while later – show people only your good side. Keep your ugly side at home. So if you felt gloomy, don’t talk about it, leave it at home. Along with Mask no3, and about the time we become little adults, we discover the magic of chemicals, and how a little bit of this and little more of that, can artificially boost mask no3, turning us into the life of the party – naturally, no one would see the consequences of the party, as we would be worshiping the porcelain goddess all by ourselves at 4 in the morning, her Grace, Lady Armitage Shanks…
And was we grow older, we sometimes discover, more and more that our close friends don’t care about the masks. But we continue to wear them, until they start wearing off around the edges. When our close friends see who we really are, they get to make the choice – fight or flight. And the ones who really care – they stand and fight with us. They support us. They encourage us. They commiserate with us. And when all else is gone, and the chemicals have kicked in, and the Cilift, Molypaxin, Urbanol cocktail rushes through our veins, we find some respite from the world around us. We wipe away the mask, the sticky residue of the days and months of constant application of layers of crap, we expose our faces to ourselves, our closest, our dearest, our loved one. We pray that they are still there, that they have not fled to other places – that DSTV is the only refuge they have found, the warm glow of a flat screen the only comfort they received while we were away. And we stare into the mirror, looking for traces of who we once were. And some of us are lucky to see the old self there. The person we once were, before we learnt how to apply the masks. And then we decide. We seek, within ourselves, for that thing that will make it all worthwhile again. A smile, a real tweet, the kind a little birdie makes in the garden. We look for post, the real kind, that someone drops in your post box. A letter from a friend. Ink on paper. And we remember that we are not alone in this world. That there are people all around us. Lonely people. Living people. All we need to do is drop the mask, show them who we are. We are like them. We feel like them. We fear like them. We love like them.