Just Write

When you set the mask aside . . . Prompt #171

From Write From the Heart by Hal Zina Bennett, one of my all-time favorite books.

During a trip to Disneyland, a priest became fascinated with the costumed figure of Mickey Mouse. Every time Father Sean turned around, there was Mickey Mouse shaking hands with people, talking with kids, keeping everyone’s spirits up. And Father Sean began asking himself, “I wonder who that person is under that costume? What are they like at the end of the day, when they take off their Mickey Mouse suit?”

Instead of being who we really can be, we take on masks like the Good Little Girl, or we become the Black Sheep of the Family or the Rebel. Early on, we learn that if we are to be loved and cared for we’d better buckle under and be what is safe for us to be.

 maskPrompt: Who or what is the character deep inside you? When you set the mask aside, who are you?

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  1. justinefos

    My mask has always (apparently) been the aloof,
    self-confident, unapproachable person. I wrote the following during one of my ‘Single” periods after having someone tell me a friend of hers had wanted to ask me out, but never did because the mask is what he saw. Of course she told me this after he was dating another of her friends.

    When people see me
    They see an illusion
    That does not honestly
    What is on the inside

    They see the confidence
    That often slips away
    They see happiness
    Because I’ve never learned
    To show pain

    They see an “attractive”
    (Whatever that means)
    Who MUST already belong
    To someone else

    What they don’t see
    Are the tears of loneliness
    and frustration
    I cry into my pillow
    Because there is no one
    Who knows me well enough
    To even begin to understand


    Unfortunately, the ‘flip side’ often comes across by talking too much, even clownish. – Trying too
    hard to get people to like me.

    Being an ICU RN, the ‘always together’ person served me and the patients that I cared for. However it did take it’s toll.

    Interestingly, my husband and I met in a 12 step support group. After about six months of once a week sharing from our souls, (that happens in Alanon) he asked me out.

    When I put my mask aside, I am kind, gentle, gullible, empathic, sympathetic and a loyal friend, however, I do not have many friends. I enjoy socializing with people who share like interests, and have learned to ask others about what they do, where they have come from, and their families. – especially around the dinner table.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Dear Justine, You truly write from your heart. Your writing informs and inspires. I’m so glad you are posting here.

  2. Ke11y

    I read recently about an Olympic athlete. His name was Bruce Jenner. His name is now Caitlin Jenner. She is a woman.

    I grew up in the shadow of Ben More, a mountain on the Isle of Mull. It cast a shadow over my days and my youth just as surely as it cast a shadow across the fells. On school days, I never woke before mum would come into my bedroom, gently shake my shoulder and whisper, “Kelly, darling, time for school.” Something she never had to do come Saturday, being up with the larks and excited to get out and onto the mountain with my two dogs, Border Collies called Ug and Tug. The mornings I loved best were when the swirling mist lifted from the fells and licked its way up the rugged terrain, devouring all sight of the mountain’s peak.

    Visitors came in their droves to the quiet valley, crossing from the mainland Scotland via the car-ferry. The word I heard repeated by those people coming to our farm, perhaps staying overnight and receiving breakfast for a nominal sum, was the word “isolation.”
    At the breakfast table, guests talked about the kind of freedom they felt, space and how idyllic it was. Some, mostly city people, those with the unbroken shiny boots, talked about living like cavemen. As if the act of lighting a fire and the roasting of a skinned rabbit might recreate for them some primal instinct within their suited souls. The mainland women, fashionably dressed in the latest red Gore-Tex rainwear, laughed at their men’s silliness.

    Dad talked about the mountain in very sinister tones. “You don’t know when the fog will roll in yonder those crags, lad.”

    I recall to this day what he said after hearing that a man called Kennedy had become President of America. Vietnam was just beginning. He said, “…the world might end.”

    It didn’t bother me because the mountain was there. Nothing bad ever got passed the mountain. The radio was how we got our news. Dad spent hours turning the big black dial, searching for news or tuning into “The Archers,” his favorite radio show, a daily serial about farming folk. We never had a television set. We tried it one time, but the mountain blocked the signal and dad took it back. I had to help him lift it into the truck.

    It’s hard for me to talk about the mountain and make people understand that it was a living thing; a protector, a guardian, a constant, like a parent. It had good days and bad, one day gentle, the next severe. It didn’t matter what came, who or why, the mountain taught lessons, and some of those lessons were hard. Dad said that city people didn’t understand its moods. “The mountain can keep them for a season in hell if they take chances.” I never forgot that, “…a season in hell.”

    It’s not every day a thirteen-year-old boy finds a dead body, but that’s just what happened. It wasn’t lying there in the snow of winter, nor was it motionless among the yellow flowers in spring; instead, it hung there, twisting in a gust of wind. I held my breath. I didn’t cry but felt like I should.
    The woman was hanging like a dead animal in a slaughterhouse; congealed blood around her mouth, vomit mushrooming on her blouse. Her head tilted forward, and her neck had stretched. As I climbed closer, her hair seemed unreal, straggly, with bitten fingernails. Her eyes stared down emptily, the kind of stare one sees in the eyes of a lion when visiting a zoo. I heard the voice of my dad. “…a season in hell.” I scraped down the mountain, skinning my knees and bloodying my fingers in my haste to get down and exit the crags and came breathlessly upon Mr. Hodges and garbled my find. He hoisted me onto his tractor. Back on his farm he telephoned the mountain rescue team, based in Tobermory.

    Fifteen minutes later a helicopter arrived under a sky that was awash with gold and pink. The mountain rescue team was making its way to the crevice where the woman hung. Within half an hour the stretcher, bumping against the rock, was hoisted into the helicopter.

    Doctor Nemeth came to the farm that evening to ask if I was okay. He said that when people find a dead body they can suffer shock. I didn’t say anything other than I was okay.

    My name was in the local paper that next Friday. It said the woman found hanging was Trevor Johnson, a twenty-seven-year-old man. It said he was found wearing women’s clothes, and the article went on to explain about the suicide note found in his bedroom.

    Mrs. Johnson, his wife of two years, left the island soon after her husband’s funeral.

    Every day we need to understand that people are dealing with wanting to know who they are, who they want to be.

    Who I am, what I am, is my father’s son. Nothing I do or achieve will ever be greater than that.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Dear Kelly, Your writing is sacred, like being in church. You open with a well-known fact (written succinctly and with respect) and end with a lesser-known fact (also written with respect). The in-between is powerful writing. You tell this story with grace and dignity. Your choice of verbs is amazing and contributes to the overall effect of brilliant writing: mushrooming, scraped, bloodying, exit (the crag), garbled, hoisted.
      I’m so impressed with this entire piece . . . not just the story, but the way you wrote it. You take the time to properly introduce the mountain and the narrator’s father, two very important characters. You set the tone (respectful) when you describe the mountain: “It’s hard for me to talk about the mountain and make people understand that it was a living thing.” It does feel like a living thing because of your capable writer’s hands. You cleverly set the year when mentioning Kennedy. The description of seeing the body is vivid but not repulsive and you relate the horror of the scene perfectly. Not overly done with unnecessary words nor overly emotional. Rather, you establish a calmness when you describe details in a matter-of-fact manner: “It wasn’t lying there in the snow of winter, nor was it motionless among the yellow flowers in spring.”
      You captured the spirit of the mountain, the sense of the isolation and the importance of people: “It cast a shadow over my days and my youth just as surely as it cast a shadow across the fells.” and “the kind of stare one sees in the eyes of a lion when visiting a zoo.” and “He hoisted me onto his tractor.” For some reason, I just love that line. I think, because, in the telling of this story. . . the difficulty and reality of the horror . . . you take the time to ground the reader with specific facts and concrete details. You take the reader from the grotesque scene to the kindness of a caring neighbor. Well-done, good emotional beats. . . down and up.

      Including simple details also invites readers to see the scene, “I had to help him lift it into the truck.”

      The ending lines are poignant, perfect and add just the ending touch needed for this story, powerfully told.

      Thank you so much for posting.


  3. Ke11y

    Your comments leave me tearful and grateful. Thank you, Marlene.


  4. Ke11y


    Thank you for writing your poem. It reminds me that we are just members of the humankind and have forgotten the third syllable of that word’s meaning. In the end, we should always be trying to give out what it is we need to get back.

    Poetry is an infinitely more acceptable way to see to another’s heart than to look through the sham of societies vanity.


  5. justinefos

    Oh!, Kelly, Thank You for your comments about my poem.

    I am so impressed and touched by your story about the mountain. I know exactly what you mean when you say about the mountain “was a living thing; a protector, a guardian, a constant, like a parent. It had good days and bad, one day gentle, the next severe.” I don’t have a mountain, I have our about 50 acres in Wisconsin next to a lake. There are few mountains in Wisconsin. It is left mostly wild, no mown lawns, or manicured lawn. We have a meadow of wild flowers where a friend and I built a labyrinth [in the Crete style]. It is magical like the rest of tho place. approximately 40 acres of it is farmed by a local farmer who leases the property. Since we purchased this part of the property after my father-in-law passed, we have not raised the cost of the monthly lease. This is a place of healing, and love, not a place to make money. It is very a much loving, gentle being.
    As Marlene said, your writing style very much speaks to our hearts and souls. Thank you for posting it. I truly was touched by your gentle detail of horrible things. You let us experience and see your wonderful mountain.
    Kindest Regards, Justine

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