Behind the Mask

Updated: Dec 24, 2018



I managed to keep my true identity a secret for more than a year. No one at work had any idea I was a writer. No one knew I'd written a book. No one knew I wrote a blog. To be honest, they probably didn't even know I could type. And that was just fine by me.


You may be asking yourself why I didn't want anyone to know. It's not that I didn't want anyone to know, exactly. I just wasn't going to be the one to bring it up.


Writers can be very private people. Many of them are quite introverted. Even people like yours truly: a part-time extrovert who loves to talk and make friends, dance, sing karaoke, you name it. I love being around people, I really do. Sometimes.


I can be a very private person whenever I feel the need to recharge. I have no problem being the life of the party, but if I suddenly feel the need to retreat, there isn't much I can do about it. I just need to retreat.


This can be quite challenging if you're a writer.


It seems ironic that a writer would be so introverted when the very essence of what a writer does is open up his or her guts and spill them out onto the page. Even fiction writers. The worlds we create are indeed make-believe, but the baggage our characters carry with them is quite real.


I thought I might be the only one who lived inside this paradox, constantly juxtaposed between sharing my innermost thoughts and not wanting anyone to ever read them. But I most certainly am not alone.


My journey into the writing community on social media has taught me that I am not alone in my anxiety. Au contraire. To be honest, the social media writing community sometimes feels like a support system for writers and their anxieties.


"Hi. I'm John and I'm a writer."


"Hi John," they reply in unison.


"I've been a writer for more than fifteen years, but I just recently finished my first novel."


They all nod, knowingly.


"I'm finding myself feeling a bit anxious," I continue. "Is it good? Is it bad? Do I really want to know? Do I want people to read it? What if they don't like it? Do I want them to tell me? Or do I want them to keep it to themselves? If they don't like it, how should I respond? I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable by forcing them to tell me they don't like it, do I?"


The nods are now accompanied by sympathetic smiles and head tilts. They applaud as I take my seat. The leader of the writers' group steps back to the podium.


"Thank you for sharing, John. And welcome to the group."


It seemed simpler to just not tell anyone. How would it even come up, anyway? Would I just introduce it into the lunchroom conversation?


"Did you see the game last night?" someone would ask me.


"Yes, I did. That was quite a basketball game. That reminds me ... I wrote a novel about a basketball player. You should read it. It's available on Amazon."


Nope. It was definitely better to just keep my mask on.


At work, I was just a guy who made jokes. Eventually, I let people know that I used to play in a band; that I used to have shoulder-length hair, drink Jack Daniels and sing Sex Pistols' songs. But tell them that I'd written a novel? Never.


Then one day a co-worker emailed me. The email read simply: "You wrote a book!" Turns out she had stumbled onto it on Amazon while searching for books from local authors.


I felt a bit blind-sided. This had come out of nowhere and I wasn't quite sure how to react. This new situation had knocked me right out of my comfort zone. And I couldn't very well retreat.


"Why, yes. Yes I did," I replied.


Not long after my being outed as a fiction writer, others at the office learned of my secret. One such person was my boss; the person who hired me. I wondered if he would take a second look at my résumé, now that he knew I wrote fiction.


I wasn't sure how I was going to handle being out of the literary closet. But the funny thing was, after a few days of people asking me about it, the novelty wore off. No one seemed to care much that one of their co-workers had written a novel. How could this be?


Eventually, it would come up again. And after a few awkward moments, it all became rather ordinary, to tell you the truth. A couple co-workers even started reading my blog.


So one mask has been removed. But there are others.


Many writers where masks. Fiction writers can disappear into a make-believe world, separating themselves from their real-life anxieties. But if you look closely, you can often get a glimpse behind the mask: A protagonist who's afraid of the dark; an antagonist who bullies people to get his way; an arsonist who is obsessed with the power of fire; a teacher obsessed with recapturing a bit of the fame he used to have as a writer. But you never know what is real and what is make-believe. And that's the wonderful illusion of fiction.


A blog is quite a bit different. You know someone is watching you. At least you hope they are. Or do you? Maybe it's better if nobody reads it. What if they don't like it? What if they say something to you at work? How should you react? What if you write something that makes them uncomfortable?


Aw crap! Here we go again.

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