Live Virtual Group Session: 3pm EDT June 14th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

With participants from Bahrain, Calgary, Massachusetts, Northern Ontario, Norwich, England, Pennsylvania, San Francisco and more, we began by looking at a video of Maya Angelou reciting –or more accurately, performing her poem, “We Wear the Mask.”  The video begins with her explaining that the poem was written to honor a maid she routinely encountered on a city bus, whose seeming-laugh Angelou recognized as “that survival instinct.”  Her poem draws, she explained, upon Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1892 poem of the same name.  Despite the wonkiness of the video reception on Zoom, we were all deeply affected, as we went on to read the poem silently to ourselves.  Participants remarked on Angelou’s moving and emotional presentation, noting their initial reticence to react, which was perhaps due to the personal and emotional impact of the piece, a deference to or in reverence of the recitation, or the feeling that one needed to “meet the challenge” of its presentation.  As we proceeded, the responses to both the performance and the written word took us into the complexity of laughter as a human response, how it can express irony, submission, defiance, self-protection   –and what it can conceal.  The on-goingness of racial suffering and the presence of generational trauma expressed in the poem were observed, “There in those pleated faces/I see the auction block,” as was and the poem’s final note of gratitude to those who wore a mask of submission, “From living on the edge of death/They kept my race alive”.

The responses to the prompt, “Write about the last mask you encountered,” were stunning in their depth, and seemed to answer the poem in a way.  Participants bravely experimented in their writing and gave voice to both individual and community experiences, of feeling marginalized and adjusting personal behavior, to navigate spaces that at times may not accept their identities.  It was a remarkable session! 

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session Monday, June 15th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

We Wear the Mask
BY Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O my God, our tears
To thee from tortured souls arise.
And we sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world think otherwise,
We wear the mask!

When I think about myself,
I almost laugh myself to death,
My life has been one great big joke,
A dance that’s walked,
A song was spoke,
I laugh so hard, I almost choke,
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world.
The child I works for calls me "girl";
I say, “Yes ma’am,” for working’s sake.
I'm too proud to bend
And too poor to break,
So, I laugh, until my stomach ache,
When I think about myself.

My folks can make me split my side,
I laughed so hard, I nearly died.
The tales they tell, sound just like lyin',
They grow the fruit, but eat the rind.
I laugh, until I start to cryin',
When I think about myself,
And my folks, and the little children.

My Fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank,

And they nod, like broken candles,
All waxed and burnt profound
They say 'But, Sugar, it was our submission
That made your world go round.'

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block,
The chains and slavery's coffles,
The whip and lash and stock.

My Fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound,
They say, 'But Sugar, it was our submission
And that made your world go round.'

They've laughed to shield their crying ,
They shuffled through their dreams
They step 'n' fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.

I understand their meaning,
It could and did derive,
From living on the ledge of death,
They kept my race alive.

By wearing the mask.

13 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 3pm EDT June 14th 2020

  1. Sakshi

    “Married off at 16, she bore four kids,
    her world limited to their father’s house.
    One day, at 21, she came and sat in my mother’s feet,
    saying she would do our dishes, for money.
    A month later, a darkened eye,
    Mum thought it was a fall.
    She skipped work, without excuse,
    and returned with a bruised arm.
    One day we asked if it was the husband,
    she laughed and said, ‘that’s what we are for'”

    Thank you for another wonderful session.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Carla Barkman

    The last mask, the one in the truck console, dropped there as a spare because it stifles me, tweed on the outside, lime green inside, sophisticated, fashionable, but since I washed it the thin fabric (cotton? synthetic?) invades my nose when I inhale, sticks and I am forced to be quiet. We know we are alive because we emit carbon dioxide – this is how the bugs know we’re in the forest – something to feed on. My masks, your masks, and my laughter when I first saw a man die – I couldn’t help it – and when you begged me not to leave you but your speech so clearly rehearsed, Not Really You speaking to Not Really Me and what could I say except Stop talking, please, let me swim and eat, please, because you don’t really mean it. It sounded better in my head, you protested, and that’s just it – you live in your head, and only in your head, your skull made of plaster, painted not white but fleshy orange, jaundiced, yellow, flushed, or pale, telangiectatic, rotting.


    • skytroubie

      WOW Carla – are you a painter, you created a picture with your words and your use of color was very effective in it – this is a very “active” piece of writing – inhaling sticking forcing emitting feeding begging swimming eating protesting rotting! WOW – powerful


  3. skytroubie

    We FaceTime daily but the cracks are beginning to show. 88, 58 years of uncertainty – what’s that look, is that what she really thinks? Can I trust how she looks is how she feels? Today she doesn’t hide much, her pain, tiredness, and fear. I can see her confusion too – her mask has all but thinned, time has made it so, what has she been hiding, I’ll never know – it’s forgotten resigned to the back places, the dark places, her own memories. My mother’s mask, I missed it in its glory – I see it now in its patina, weathered and precious.

    Liked by 2 people

    • sakshi

      this piece has echoes of illness, old age, fear, emotional and physical loneliness, and even all of them combined. Powerful. thank you for sharing.


    • Carla Barkman

      This is really beautiful. The elderly woman, perhaps seen and appreciated more now for what she truly – thin, weathered, afraid, tired; but also shining with a patina like aged wood.


  4. Maureen

    No one can see me, they really don’t know
    I’m safe in my gender and safe in my coat
    My whiteness of clothing and whiteness of face
    Protect me and keep me as one in this place
    Until someone asks me do you have any kids
    Or a husband or a wedding or a past just like them
    Then I gulp down my pronouns and politely excuse
    Say I’ve got something pressing to do or refuse
    To answer the question before they will know
    That behind my sequester is a girl that has grown
    To accept not to cherish though the cloak she has worn
    Wrapped tight to surround her from the gay truth she knows…..

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The last mask I encountered~~~

    I see the man dressed in his Sunday suit.
    He stands rigidly before me, detached from my reality.
    Face devoid of expression, eyes piercing.
    The room turns cold as his lips part to utter those words.
    Words that are lost in translation,
    floating into oblivion.

    He forecasts the future, my future dotted with bends and dire turns.
    The room turns dark,
    as heavy clouds hang overhead.
    I know not what to say, so I say nothing.
    The silence is deafening,
    imprisoned with my thoughts.

    My mind pressing to escape,
    screaming for freedom from the captive words,
    words that hold me prisoner.
    Escape the story that was written,
    one I do not wish to read.

    And so I leave, saying nothing, hiding behind this mask of silence.
    I scramble to find a clearing, a place of solitude.
    Space to breathe, space to forget, space to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. E

    My sister wears the mask of understanding and caring and not having issues with me, but our sibling history is too strong —the childhood stuff rears it’s ugly head. I will have to make peace with it, proceed with caution, and figure it out how to continue.. I can do this. At least we are talking again.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. erika nelson

    I put on a mask to make my point, right in the middle of our call, a nice blue surgical mask. We had spent hours, weeks even, debating about how to keep students safe this fall as we planned to come back on our campus, as if life would be back to normal then. But it won’t. I knew that. There’s no going back to what was or any semblance of ‘normal’ — not after all of this, and not even after all of that. No mask would work. I had learned that the hard way from all the times I have had to wear a mask, literally and figuratively. The long nights in the hospital when Neil’s temperature would not come down from the 103s, 4s, and 5s and 6s, when hope was lost, when they weren’t sure what new infection might emerge, and even when he passed and everyone shared their concerns, looked me deep into my face, as if peering into my soul to see the grief, the pain, seeing if I would break, feeling into what I was feeling, trying to feel what I felt but that they weren’t privy to share. My grief was hard won, and it was mine, personal and deep. I wasn’t going to give it away freely to those voyeurs and passersby. And on this day, I wore a mask on Zoom knowingly. They laughed, my colleagues, thought it was funny. But it was a point. You can’t just think you can wear a mask and go back to what was and is no longer and is lost. You can’t think it’s all alright, all those lives lost. You can’t just go back, act like millions haven’t been out fighting for lives, and you can’t shield it or capture it with some small mask. You can’t speak in a mask, not for hours, and jeez, you can’t teach in a mask. You’ve got to let it all out. You have to show your face, your feelings, your heart, and let it all out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.