posted by Aunty Cindy
I’ve never listened to a lot of pop music, but back in the day when I was newly divorced, I went on a blind date to a Billy Joel concert. While I never saw Mr. Blind Date again, I did develop an appreciation for the lyrics in Billy Joel songs. One of my favorites was “The Stranger,” a song about the masks everybody wears and the faces that we show only ourselves. I think the reason this song resonated so strongly with me is because I’ve always felt myself “a stranger,” someone set apart from everyone else.
As a young child, I realized not everybody had this “other life” going on inside their heads the way I did. My parents, siblings and the few friends I confided in thought me extremely odd. I wore my weirdness as a badge of honor through my rebellious teens and into my twenties. Whenever I had to “fit in” or be “normal” I rummaged in my trunk and donned the appropriate mask – devoted spouse, doting mother, dependable employee. But I was always secure in the knowledge that it was never the “real” me.
The “real” me was the stranger, aloof, untouchable, and she obviously scared people who got a glimpse of her. My (then) husband, my mother, my best friend… Sometimes she even scared ME! I had to keep her well hidden, but I always knew she was there, lurking behind those other masks -- familiar masks that made her acceptable, able to blend in. But I cherished my stranger, because Billy was right, she wasn’t always evil and she wasn’t always wrong.
Best of all, when I was writing, I could pull all those other masks out of my psychological trunk and try them on my characters! All those lovely masks the stranger wore became pieces within all my heroes, and all my villains too. Then, as I met more and more writers both in person and online, I discovered we all did the same thing. They had that “other life” going on too! But the revelation was double-edged. I felt relief but with wariness.
While we often traded secrets, the other life and the stranger are dangerous and require protection. What is all right to reveal in fictional characters is still not openly acknowledged in one’s self. Most all of us came to writing from someplace or someone else. We learned our lessons well. Show what we must. Show what we dare. We writers must wear masks too. And I’ve been my stranger for far too long.
How well can you ever really know someone else? How well do you think they know you? To paraphrase Billy: did you ever let another see the stranger in yourself?