Sunday, May 20, 2007


For several years, while we were heavily into the Wellington outdoor party scene, Hamish and I used to carry masks around in our VW Polo. At a moment's notice the masks could be called into action. Hamish spent many an evening, having assumed his Yetimon alter-ego, VJing from a corner of the dancefloor. Standing focused behind his mixing desk with mask in place, I often saw him completely weirding out anyone who happened to look closely enough to notice.

We bought the masks while we were still living in Auckland. I think someone had invited us to a masquerade party. I stopped into a local costume hire and picked up two cheap masks - a cat face covered in brown feathers, and a matching owl. Hamish became the cat, and I the owl.

Some time after we moved to Wellington we were involved in an outdoor party at Tunnel Gully in Upper Hutt. Hamish spent the day running cables and I spent the day creating a fire circle. In the heat of summer I formed a circle out of stones, dragged log stumps around that circle for seating, decorated the space with found objects from the bush, then spent the rest of the day gathering firewood.

By the end of the day I was hot, sweaty and dusty, and it was at this point that it occurred to me that I had completely forgotten to bring a change of clothing. I didn't have any kind of costume with which to take on an alternate, party identity. I was just Pip, bedraggled and scruffy looking, in an owl mask.

However darkness and firelight can be forgiving, and I spent much of the rest of the evening sitting quietly amidst the drummers, saying little and observing. Countless party-goers would sit down across from me, then see the owl for the first time. They would wonder whether they were really seeing me, whether I was a hallucination brought on by whatever substance they had chosen to imbibe that evening. Perhaps I was even a visitor in spirit, summonsed by the beats that shook the earth beneath us.

Masks can hide us, but they can also liberate us and enable us to experience being something other than what we are from 9 to 5. That evening I wandered freely through the crowds on the dance floor. I acknowledged those who chose to interact with me. I danced with strangers, I responded to challenges. I laughed.

Some time during the night a woman in a floating cotton floral dress tried to get me to remove my mask. Flustered, I was unprepared for her flirtation. With this mask I could play along with her. Without it what would she see? Hair in need of a comb, an old t-shirt and dusty cotton trousers. And me - ordinary, old and very much part of this world me. She coaxed, but I demurred and, with regret, backed away until I was hidden on the dance floor.

I'm braver these days, and wiser. Now I like to think I would have had a change of clothes with me that more accurately revealed my inner self to the other party goers, and that I would not have been afraid to have removed the mask. Who knows, the person who eventually got me to remove that mask may even have liked what they saw.

More Sunday Scribblers hiding behind masks here.


Amber said...

This is interesting! And you are right that a mask can help people be more open, in a way. Try things without so much fear. I think the blogs are kind of like that for some; like a mask that allows them to say things they think out loud with less fear. Try something new.


Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent post! I love the image of your masked face appearing unexpectedly during the evening. A change of clothes though does sound like a good idea!