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.


2 thoughts on “Words

  1. lidiatheron says:

    Yes, my friend. We all wear masks, but I have succeeded in throwing off a few already. I will keep on trying.

    Weet jy waar kom dit vandaan? Alles wat jy hierbo sê, is so waar (hoe goed onthou ek nie my ma se woorde nie: Vir wat huil jy? Daar is niks om oor te huil nie.) Ek het probeer om dit vir myself uit te figure. Al is ek omtrent ‘n halwe geslag voor jou, wil ek met jou deel dit waarby ek uitgekom het.

    Ons ouers het in die depressiejare grootgeword. Hulle was gewoond aan bitter harde werk en groot armoede. Fisiese hande arbeid, seuns en dogters. Hulle is glad nie geleer om enige emosies te wys nie. Toe kom WW11. Baie jongmense (ons ouers)het uit ‘n desperaatheid getrou voordat die geliefde oorlog toe moes gaan. Sommiges moes trou, ander nie, maar almal het kinders gekry. Toe die oorlog verby is, het baie mans teruggekom na ‘n vrou wat lankal nie meer getrou was nie. Vele huwelike het tot niet gegaan.

    Daardie mense wat die oorlog oorleef het, moes weer aan die emosionele bouvalle begin bou. Daar was nie tyd vir emosies nie. Ek is in 1943, in die hartjie van die oorlog gebore, jy sekerlik heelwat daarna. Ouers wou weer vooruitgaan en welvarend raak. Dan nog die aakligheid van apartheid wat jou mense moes probeer oorkom.

    Omdat ons ook nie liefde geken het nie, het ons probeer om on kinders liefdevol groot te maak. Hoe suksesvol ons was, weet ek nie. Ons self was ook nie baie suksesvol in die huwelik nie, ons was nooit geleer hoe nie. Party van ons is sterk en kon survive, ander kon nie die mas opkom nie. Ek het self ook al ‘n keer ‘n handvol pille gesluk – dit was nie suksesvol nie. Vir baie lank daarna het ek nie geweet of ek daaroor dankbaar moes wees nie. Niks in my lewe het verander nie, waarvoor moes ek voortgaan.

    Tog uiteindelik kon ek ook weer die lewe vierkant is die oë kyk. Nou leef ek voluit en dop die skille (maskers) een na die ander af. Jy voel hartseer omdat jy niks vir jou ‘vriend’ Trey kon doen nie. Onthou net altyd: We are in each other’s lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Omdat ons nooit almal se gunste kan terugbetaal nie, glo ek in die idee van ‘pay it forward’. Dis wat ek probeer uitleef. Solank ons aanhou om ons medemens lief te hê, sal ons altyd iemand vind aan wie ons liefde en ondersteuning kan bewys. Of ander van wie ons dit kan ontvang. Sonder om iets terug te verwag moet ons gee. You just pay it foward.

    Eintlik is hierdie jou blog, nie myne nie!

  2. Julia Mukuddem says:

    Absolutely beautifully written … sums it all up so well. Thank you to those in front of which we can drop the masks … And at Lidia – thanks for sharing …

    We embrace a new season without masks … having learnt a lot …

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