on perception, and the delicate dance of masks


I had dinner with a new friend the other night–someone whom I’ve admired for a while–and she told me that she was delighted that I turned out to be warm, funny and accessible in person, because while she loved reading my blog and found me intelligent, she’d gotten the impression that I was intimidating and aloof. What a wonderful surprise, she thought, because normally she’d encountered just the opposite; she’d fall in like with someone who possessed an effusive online persona to only discover, in real life, the person was a raging asshole. We laughed and traded stories about relationships we’ve cultivated by being online, and…


Truth be told, I’ve heard this before. From former coworkers who’ve become close friends to acquaintances who appear relieved that I don’t quote sonnets over pasta {brief digression: I’m barely surviving my second week without pasta}, people have expressed their glee over the fact that I’m not as esoteric and intimidating in person. My response is normally one of a fierce twitching. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort registers at about 40 {HOW AM I INTIMIDATING?}. But here’s the thing — if you immediately balk at constructive criticism or observations that give you discomfort, part of what you’re receiving is probably true, and getting defensive only serves as a mere distraction from that truth. On my way home from dinner, I gave my friend’s words serious thought. I thought about the masks we wear and how and when we switch them, as if we’re performing some sort of elaborate, delicate dance.

For most of my life I wore the just fine mask. The I’m okay, don’t worry, I can handle it mask. To an outsider, I was a successful, prolific overachiever–I was my finest photograph. Yet as soon as I came home and the door closed behind me, I fell into dark. The world behind me receded, and I felt crushed by the weight of having a double. All I wanted for people to know was that I was the complete opposite of not okay, but the risk of that vulnerability and the perception of weakness was unimaginable. Coupled with the fact that I published a memoir about very personal aspects of my life {some of which I regret writing, in retrospect}, I felt caught between tectonic plates. I was revealing the things that I didn’t want to share, but at the same time hiding the things that I wish would come to light. As a result, I spent the better part of a decade reconciling this, mostly in private, and when I resurfaced, I created rules for this space. Perhaps not realizing I’d created another mask. Oh, the irony.

I read somewhere that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

For me, this space is about art. I conduct minor experiments with language and merging image and type, and I’m also trying to find the art in talking about food in a different way. The dozens of drafts of posts {the rewriting and rethinking of lines and ideas}, and the hundreds of images I take, are examples of the mess in this art. Yet in the end what you see is the edited version of things. You see a representation of myself that is one aspect of who I am but not the whole of me, if that makes any sense.

For me, this isn’t artifice. Part of me constantly calls to references in art and literature because I’ve been reading and creating since I was a toddler. Words help me make sense of the world, and when I call to an artist it reminds me that I’m less alone. If I think about all of this in terms of geography, this blog is my living room while Twitter is me at the bar–acerbic, wry, passionate, outspoken. Instagram is my playground and bedroom, as I can show you photographs of things closest to my heart without actually talking about them. Pinterest is me dreaming. LinkedIn is me working and not sharing pictures of my cat. In real life I’m a mix of all of these rooms, and perhaps a bathroom thrown in for good measure because I’m not always on, sometimes I tire of the performance, and I just want to laze on my floor and reveal parts of myself that aren’t necessarily pretty or well-kempt. I feel privileged to have friends with whom I can share comfortable silences. These are people who love me even if my jokes fall flat or if I’ve stolen cookies off their plate.

Part of me is starting to wonder how I can bring all of these rooms into one house, because much like I’ve realized that fragmenting my career is ridiculous, fragmenting aspects of my character is exhausting and perhaps misleading. As this space evolves, I want to be conscious of sharing all of these rooms on all of the places I play online. I want people I care about to know that I’m not aloof; I’m tremendously shy, extremely bookish, and when I write these posts I’m in my prefered state: home, alone, settling into quiet. Because that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I’m able to be still enough to create. I want people to know that every post is the moment before the storm.

Obligatory shot of my FELIX. Isn’t he a MOVIE STAR?

the gathering kind

57 comments on “on perception, and the delicate dance of masks

  1. The last time we saw each other, we were each in heartbreak city. but you were nothing if not exceptionally warm to me – a near stranger. perhaps introverts see each other more clearly, or are familiar with that particular misperception. but thank you, regardless of the cause.

    1. Dear Felicia,
      I’ve beenbin awe of your writing and can relate to you in many ways that I won’t mention here. Your memoir is a constant on my syllabus (I teach at a community college outside of Boston). I look forward to your next book and perhaps get a chance to exchange emails. Some of your posts are like looking into a mirror. Thanks for being so honest and such an inspiration to me and my students! Are you at all familiar with the writing center Grub Street in Boston ?
      Best wishes ,
      Jessica (Jess)

      1. Jessica – You’re so kind, thank you! I’m really humbled that you would share my work with others. I’m indeed familiar with Grub Street (I might have done a reading there once). Great work indeed. Warmly, Felicia

      1. You are very welcome! I would love to meet up for coffee if you are ever in the Boston area? Feel free to shoot me an email whenever (the one above)!
        Warm wishes,

  2. Felix is gorgeous.

    I feel the same way as how you have presented yourself. I have lots of masks too and different people who I interact with at different levels. I don’t mind wearing many different masks (or hats). Some days I’m a foodie, other days a graphic designer and other days just another girl who loves stuff or gets mad at stuff.

    I’ve had someone I work with stalk me online, following me on websites I did not invite him to. It felt like an invasion of privacy, even though the internet is a public place. I think we all cherish our own corners of the internet where we can be free to geek out on one particular niche or another. You are still you, it’s just one of your many masks.

  3. The irony of the fact that I am reading this as I am in the middle of creating the mask of my Professional Twitter Account is not lost on me. I used to blog pretty freely, for over 6 years, until a friend linked to my blog using my real name. Googling myself to find my blog as the third listing, directly under a copy of legislative testimony, freaked me out, and made the blog private with the quickness, only to complete delete it within months. Since then, I’ve tried to forge a delicate balance between real and work life in social media, and deemed Twitter as the space that I get real. Where I can “let my crazy show”. Now, I’m realizing that Twitter is where a lot of work and connections happen and I am deleting and shifting things once again.

    Though I recognize the value of the masks, the splitting of identities, it sure is tiring trying to maintain boundaries. I’ll stay tuned as you try and figure it out.

  4. This was so beautifully put and I think that you articulated something hard to pin down that a lot of us are struggling with in our modern live/virtual/friendship/blogfrienship existence. I live overseas and many of my contacts are virtual ones – I am all too aware of the masks that I have to hold up until my hands are tired at times and am so grateful for when I am can just “let my hair down” even if no one can see it…

    1. I actually told my daughter to wear a mask to help her understand what people do in life. As I said it, I hated myself but knew it had to be said. Your writing reveals the aching beneath it all.

  5. So much of what you say here had me nodding along. I think we all do this, to varying degrees, whether we blog or not, have an online presence or not. We do it without realizing it. We are the “work person” at work, the “home person” at home, etc. It is usually only a select few that we allow to truly see us, or to see all of us, all the personas we house within this one body we travel around in. I’ve started and stopped two blogs before, and have just started a third. Hopefully this one will be the one that will stick, but at the same time, I know it will only work if, instead of trying to carve myself up into pieces and show only certain things, I am able to be all of who I am, and let that show, even if I am the only one that ever reads it.

    1. Your words so eloquently describe why I keep this blog going — I write for myself and if I’m the only one to read it, I’m okay with that. And thanks for the Felix love, he’s SO SPECIAL 🙂

  6. I too found myself nodding in agreement at this Felicia. I love the way you compared your twitter/instagram/LinkedIn profiles to rooms- what a great metaphor!

    When I was in college I worked as a teller at a bank for a while. All the workers absolutely hated the branch manager and had horrible things to say about her- she picked on them, was consistently rude and overbearing, etc. I mentioned one day that I hadn’t ever had a problem with her and my co-worker, who easily had 30 years of age on me, said that I didn’t have a problem with her because I was “intimidating”. I was baffled! I’d never thought of myself in that way before. At the time I was only 20 and didn’t even know what to make of it.

    I’ve realized that my nervousness and my, as you SO well put, “vulnerability and the perception of weakness” can be hidden by my need to be organized and always professional/formal, to a fault. It can come off as cold, which is not how I intend.

    Though we’ve never met, I definitely thought of you as bookish, and very intelligent, but something seems very warm and comfortable about you and the way you come across in your writing. I hope to meet in person some day though!

  7. This is soooo great! It’s tough to know the line between what is good to reveal and what you may regret later, but not going so overboard that you create a fake mask.

    Btw, I clicked on this post because of Felix. He’s a beautiful cat! 🙂

  8. Perhaps this is a bit too revealing, but this so very much reminds me of an issue I had in therapy. I had literally fragmented my personality into pieces, and it took a lot of work to feel like one whole, acceptable being. But writing in a community like this where there’s so many supportive and like-minded people seems so ideal. But so glad you are sorting it out and expressing you! Very nice of you to share all of yourself with us.

  9. In so many ways we all choose which room to invite others to occupy – some we simply keep nearer to the door than others.

  10. I know what you mean about masks. I try to be honest and real all the time, but sometimes we put on facades without even realizing it. When I’m at work I’m usually the happy smily girl behind the cash counter who’s always ready to hear a story. When I’m with my friends, I’m more like a teenager; wild, rambunctious, and sometimes acting like I’m drunk when I’m completely sober. Online. . . well, on my blog I try to be more eloquent, at least in my journaling posts.
    The thing is, when I’m at work, I’m not always happy, but I have to pretend to be because that’s my job. Everywhere else, my mood and my behaviour reflects different sides of myself that I deem to be appropriate in certain situations.
    In the end, the goal is to always be myself.

    1. Absolutely. We have assume masks to a certain degree. I worry though about the severity of the degree, and our reliance on our masks to hold us up. Thanks for sharing your honest words. Warmly, Felicia

  11. I am in like with you. 🙂 This is a beautiful piece. Vulnerable and real and authentic. I relate, even if I don’t posses your eloquence, to needing to be okay for everyone else. Thanks

  12. Thank you for writing about this. I’ve always been told that I look rather frown-y and bored when I’m simply neutral (b****y resting face anyone?) so sometimes I find myself trying to compensate by putting on my different “masks” just so people aren’t put off. And while it’s worked in some cases, it gets so tiring to constantly have to adjust your face to match what others deem as happy or content.

    1. I have a friend who has the same situation. Part of me thinks that we should all do work for the affection of those we want in our lives. So that may mean a little more effort to make someone easeful, but also a little more effort on someone else’s part on getting over the RBF. I think the greatest joy is breaking through what you thought was a wall, but wasn’t.

  13. I wrote something similar a while back, about our many faces, each describing an important facet of our personalities. Putting on masks after masks trying to make sense of who we are. I didn’t get many answers except that this multiplicity should be celebrated, not scorned. It keeps the excitement alive don’t you think? I loved reading this and will be coming back. For sure!

    1. Thanks, Nida! I’ll have to check out your post.

      While I do think it’s natural for us to have different faces for different environments and situations, I worry (as I’ve mentioned above) when those faces consume or overtake the people we truly are. If we use them as a crutch or something to which we hide behind. That’s where the danger lies, I think.

  14. I love when my perceptions of a person is entirely unexpected. Especially when they turn out to be delightful. Thank you for sharing this post with us 🙂

  15. Carapace in place – rhino skin ready – I’ve forgotten who the real me is, but your post certainly triggered a search. Really enjoyed reading….

  16. This is such a beautiful piece, so poignant and vulnerable and true. It made me think about my own self, the walls I’ve put up and the facade that I often find myself hiding behind. Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed this.

  17. I love your Felix. His handsome face made me click on your blog. Your post is exceptional; I can relate, as many who are now close to me told me I was intimidating and bitchy when they first met me. I think it’s due to my insecurity, but I’d love to also attribute it to my shyness. Luckily, cats don’t care about these types of things.

  18. I can quite relate. There are times my “mask” works to my advantage and sometimes it works otherwise. I have found to be quite comfortable with it over the years. Luckily I have a handful of people around me who simply don’t care about the mask I wear. I loved your post. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I learned about this concept in literature class as “the fragmentation of the psyche”. Your comparison fits better though. Personally, I love being alone because that’s the only time I really feel 100% myself. It’s sad because there’s so much you can only do with someone else. It’s a small sacrifice on some days and a bigger sacrifice on others.

  20. I love how honest you are in this piece. I think people sometimes feel a need to appear professional in their blogs.. but it’s the human in us that makes them interesting! I have been called cold and determined because of my professional approach and desire to achieve in a no fuss way. I don’t think that means I’m cold.. when I’m at home or with friends… like you I just show a different room/element of my character!

  21. Hi! I loved your post, I really connected with your dilemmas. I am also very shy, and have just started blogging to release my creative side.

  22. What a beautiful post, Felicia. Thank you so much for sharing your heart in authentic fashion. Refreshing. Truly.


  23. I can totally relate to what you wrote! I absolutely love discussing things, and it’s how I learn about what I really think….to consolidate it or change it, but a friend recently said summat like “To you, your way is the ONLY way”….well, that had me flummoxed! Am I too dominant? Too emphatic? On reflection, I think her remark applied to her too…so I’m not worrying overmuch, but I hope it will make me more self-observant in discussions!
    I don’t suppose I’ll relate much to food posts, but more posts like this one would be welcome!

  24. I enjoyed this piece immensely and could identify with some of it. Wonderful writing, thought-provoking and eerily close to the bone in parts. Thanks for sharing!

  25. I definitely nodded in agreement as I read your post. I have also been called aloof etc. by colleagues; what they don’t know is that I am the first one to cry when a movie or a book tugs at the heart strings. I wear my “mask” as I need to be assertive in the male dominated industry that I operate in.

  26. Funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it? That people’s perception of you turns out so vastly different from your perception of yourself.. It just goes Boinggg! in your head. A new friend told me recently that he was pretty sure I’d make a good sociopath, an observation based on what he describes as my cold and calculated lack of immediate response to anything anyone said to me. When honestly? I’m such a hyper little chatterbox that I have to rein the lips in, most of the time. It’s weird, isn’t it?

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