What’s behind your mask?

I have been royally fooled, teased and tormented by Time, dressed in the guise of the Pandemic. Or the Pandemic, dressed in the guise of Time. For me, the Pandemic Shelter in Place (SiP) experience has been a masquerade dance with Masks (the very symbol of the Pandemic) and Sewing (the very symbol of my life work)  luring me away to the dance floor with me as my own partner. The Pandemic Shut Down is not simply a change of how and where we spend our time. Hiding underneath, is the Super Changer of All Things. It is a face off with who we think we are.

As SiP began, I planned my swirl of delicious creative projects to savor and explore. I was just rolling up my sleeves when the urgent and massive call to sew face masks came at me from all sides; my industry colleagues, social media, and friends, seemingly overnight. Front line healthcare workers, facing pandemic overwhelm and a vast shortage of supplies, were in dire need. 2020 Rosie the Riveter symbolism was not lost on me. “We can do this,” said just about every woman I know, even those who haven’t threaded a sewing machine in years. I watched my own reaction with awe and surprise.

Though my sleeves were rolled up, and though rich with ample SiP Time and sewing expertise, I was reluctant. Mysteriously resistant. Recalcitrant. Downright inactive.

I experienced a “trigger” moment, or to be more industry specific, some undiscovered buttons of mine got pushed. Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong and recently featured on 60 Minutes, identifies this as an off-kilter emotion, a shout out that needs your immediate attention. As Brown strongly recommends, I did get curious, am still exploring through it and still need more courage to reckon my way to complete understanding of it.

To see through my most unusual reaction to the Mask Call, I have written no less than 16 unfinished starts to journal my way out over the last 45 days! Usually, when I sit to write, I barely have an edit, or a cross out. I write like a stream flows, and I’m happy with it. Boy oh boy, not this time. I tried writing about it from a dozen different angles with barely a completed sentence and innumerable scribbles to conceal whole paragraphs. I even used words like a boiling cauldron and flummoxed, I was judgmental and resentful (causing more self retribution) with circles and spirals of convoluted thought avenues….desperate for healing solutions and craving understanding.

At the same time, I soldiered on through The Call, trying to conceal this frustrating reaction, by constructing maybe 50 or 60, what I call “haute couture” elegant fabric (it’s all I have in my stash) quality cone face masks for my immediate family and dear to me age 90+ friends. While others were producing 10’s if not 100’s and 1,000’s of fast manufactured masks for the front lines, I felt inadequate and resented the time this unforeseen immediacy took me away from my SiP Time Gift.  Perplexing as it all was,  I also noticed familiar enjoyment of my creative touches, skilled execution, discoveries of fine ribbons and textiles in my beloved stash, while also cursing the tedious little quality inducing details.

Somewhere mid-dance, it became obvious that my unusual mood must certainly be due to the also unusual 100 year Pandemic. After all, it gave me the Time, caused the need for the masks, then took my time away from me! Though, now revealed, what this Pandemic brings upon us is certainly not as simple as that appears. Even beyond what blogger Accidental Icon refers to as “The Great Interrupter,” I see it as the Changer of all Things we know as normal.

With daily death tolls (114,000 as of this writing) and massive job loss in mere months our country alone, hearing of others struggling to get work or get well, and fear of touching “it,” or dying, or losing someone we love, here is the hidden truth about the Pandemic: Loss, Grief, Change and Pain are upon us; the very things we most struggle to bear and hide as humans. And so, I was fooled by the virus veil of the SiP Time Gift.

We can’t go out, so we must go in. We discover our personal stories. Behind my personal mask, my stories are the end of a roller coaster career ride of intellectual challenge and community, seeing inevitable ageing in the mirror, and the loss of my Mom. Loss, grief, change. I thought I was handling it all just fine, until my burdened heart absorbed more. Pandemic pain pushed my buttons and I got my unusual reaction.

And now we go further down.  As of May 25, with news from Minneapolis, we compound our national grief to a greater depth. Witness to a murder as visceral as 911 once felt, this ride is a tide. And we are all still in it. A tsunami of pain & loss, grief & change. Our illusion of control and the American Dream is being uncovered. It turns out there were many who saw the virus coming but how could we see the emotional tidal wave to come from underneath. Each in our own unique story, but each a part of a national fabric, feeling torn apart by divisive selfish politicians at a time we feel exposed and threadbare.  As with all masquerades, what’s hidden underneath must eventually be revealed. And so it also is for our American society. From the concealed darkness, George Floyd has brought us unity and  Please, therefore, change.

I am still unclear what my trigger moment will accomplish but I am beyond proud, and extremely grateful, that Sewing Masks provided such joy and reward for so many of you and my large network of design and art colleagues. To have helped our wider community of front line professionals is beyond any value we could have imagined our sewing skills would contribute. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such positive energy and solution to human suffering could also be sewn in as the silver lining of 2020.

My mask is off to you. Thank you for helping me by providing me a new community. Maybe you have experienced a “little too much self introspection” during the Pandemic? I would love some relief from my own self reflection to learn from your experience and comments! And, please forward this to friends you think might enjoy being a part of this community to help increase my following. I appreciate you!

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.  Alan Watts

It’s noticing that which cracks us open, lets something in. Shows we’re in use. Uses us. Right now. Right this minute.    Lia Purpura