Taking the World’s Masks Off by Removing My Own

Some days I fancy spending extra time in front of the mirror to put some makeup on. I don’t always wear makeup, but when I have the time, this feminine ritual allows me to divagate and reflect on the importance of appearances and self-worth.

When I look in the mirror and see a more beautiful me, I feel this instant boost in confidence, as if the pigments covering my imperfections had the power to erase them all. When I see less freckles, less pores, no dark circles, a more defined gaze and a colorful pout, I feel like I have more reasons to smile, pat myself on the back and say, “You go, girl! Nothing can stop you!”

Makeup does change the perception I have of myself and how others see me. Research has shown that makeup enhances women’s attractiveness, sex appeal and youthfulness as well as allows them to be seen as healthier, more confident and having greater earning potential. A social media experiment also showed that makeup makes the same woman appear more competent, likable, fun and authentic than when she is bare-faced.

I have many reasons to wear makeup, but there are some days that I just don’t have the time to do it or I simply don’t feel like it. The decision to wear makeup or not will affect how people will judge me as I go about my day. This means that, in spite the fact that makeup does not change who I am, a Renata with makeup is probably worthier than the bare-faced version of myself.

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No-makeup selfie

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Makeup selfie

In a world where perceptions are more valuable than truth, where people tend to believe in “alternative facts” rather than facts, where people prefer online tweet wars rather than face-to-face conversations, makeup acquires a crucial role.

And I should expand the idea of makeup not only as face paint but also as everything that hides the reality underneath. Makeup can be a complacent marriage, an over-reliance on religion as the answer for all troubles, an imprisoning relationship that prevents one from doing what they really want, the aggressions of a highly successful professional that hide the insecurities that he or she truly bears. In sum, makeup is any socially accepted mask that hides personal truths.

Like it or not, we live in a world of masked people. This blog is one of my attempts to strip myself from my own masks. I want to come here “naked,” to bear it all and be vulnerable so I can survive in a world of appearances.

I won’t take the route of Alicia Keys who decided to stop wearing makeup for good as a way feel closer to her true self. This is not my route. Sometimes I just feel good to look prettier. The way I found to remove my masks was to open myself to others, to take on a good discussion, to accept that I’m not always right, that I can change opinions sometimes.

When I take these steps and let people be whoever they want to be around me, I find that their own masks start to crumble. They just can’t stand their own lies – not because of any accusation, but when they see me vulnerable, they can’t help but confront their own vulnerability. Sometimes they open up, but sometimes they just run away to their comfort zone and hide themselves back behind their masks. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

But this does not prevent me from continuing to open myself up. I just want to be able to look at my life and see that I at least had done something to make the world more authentic, more true to itself, more makeup-free. This is what frees me.

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Making the Most of My Entropy

No one, nothing will ever escape its entropic destiny. The universe is slowly moving towards its death, but despite the fate, life exists.

The earth still flourishes with order – from animal life to oceans’ currents, from forests to the weather system that sustains them, from human achievements in arts and science to the billions of microscopic events that emerge and wane unnoticeable.

There are so many mysteries to be discovered that I find it impossible to live in this planet and not be amazed. There’s beauty everywhere I look – an ant colony, the human brain, the abstractions of mathematics, the infinity of space… Life is too perplexing not to entice my curiosity!

From a cosmic perspective, human life is inordinately insignificant. But I want to make my short lifespan worth its existence. After all, nobody but myself will assess my level of happiness. It is the pleasure of searching, the thrill of discovery and the magic of awakening that drive me and will matter for me in the end.

I’ll happily fulfill my fate if I look back to my life from whatever dimension and realize that I had never taken things for granted, that I had been always driven by curiosity, wonder and search for truth.

My Life’s Mission

  1. Discover and make others discover
  2. Wonder and be wondered
  3. Find beauty and create beauty
  4. Excel in what I do, be proficient. Reject mediocrity
  5. Be passionate for what I do
  6. Work collectively, never alone. Find lasting partnerships
  7. Be open to new friendships
  8. Be grounded on values, family and faith
  9. Accept vulnerability; be open to fail
  10. Learn from others, always be open to learn, learn with wonder

Shadow Constellations

From my hospital bed, I have nowhere to look at but the white ceiling above my head. My diversion is to muse over the tiny pores that form constellations of shadows on the Styrofoam ceiling tiles. There are pores of all sizes – from the ones big enough to immediately catch my eye to the ones that are barely visible. Between the tiles, aluminum joints – as white as the tiles themselves – make sure the ceiling doesn’t fall over my resting body.

Today, the hospital ceiling is my universe.

I imagine a negative sky where the stars are the pore shadows, and the cosmic blackness is the reflective white Styrofoam. I source to my imagination as my surroundings offer me nothing but hoariness.

Oh! There is the North Star! This one just looks like Scorpius. Is the cluster over there Lyra?

When I was little, I used to stare at the night sky for hours and notice the heavens and moon move from east to west in a coordinated fashion. From day to day, I would notice small differences between the star positions, and after just a few nights of stargazing, I could predict what constellation would be in what section of the sky at a given time.

The nightly movement of the firmament around me gave me a sense of safety and stability. No matter what happened to me or the world I lived in, I knew the stars would always be there, like celestial guardians. They wouldn’t change, they were predictable. The stars became my friends, my only reliable companions. Every night, I would tell them secrets, ask for advice, vent my daily frustrations, cry… After each conversation, I’d always feel better and sleep peacefully.

Today, on this hospital bed, I try to make sense of the little pores on the tiles. As I look at them, I remember the seemingly infinite hours of stargazing during my childhood. I try to find the similarities and patterns. But as opposed to the night sky, these constellations don’t move around me. They are static, dull, boring.

Soon, when I’m able to lift myself up, I’ll stand up and draw lines connecting the ceiling dots. Aquila, Cygnus, Hercules, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius… all these constellations will be born out of plain whiteness. It will be my gift to the next person who lays here. While their bodies get the deserved rest, their minds will have something to muse.

The Soul Behind the Kitsch. How I’ve Learned to Appreciate the Taste of the Countryside.

This Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to Central Washington to relax. My goal for the extended weekend was to be inspired. I was in need for silence, peace and time to write and play music. I needed to be in contact with myself and be infused by the beauty of nature; or better, to feel myself an integral part of nature. I sought to feel the cold breeze of the Cascades and allowed myself to get wet by the constant sprinkles of the Pacific Northwest. I just wanted to take in whatever nature presented me.

The place we stayed in was inspiring and beautiful; we had great views of the Cascades and the Cle Elum River. I wasn’t aware, however, that I had come to this place with a bias; and with that bias, I couldn’t fully appreciate the region’s true beauty.

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During our first night, my husband and I went to Downtown Cle Elum for dinner. The restaurant was simple with a traditional/country atmosphere: flowery red-and-green carpet; Christmas-green wood paneling; paintings by a local artist on the walls; white, fake-lace curtains; and cheap lighting fixtures.

In the restaurant, I observed the locals: a teenage couple wearing cheap jeans discussing the math exam they just had, and a mature couple discussing more serious stuff. The male of the latter couple had longer hair and was wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the back and a baseball cap saying “Spokane, WA.”

These simple observations were good conversation starters for my husband and me.

“Would you live here?,” he asked. “Never,” I responded quickly. “I would prefer going to the worst city on earth than to live somewhere as remote.” How could someone who is so accustomed to beautifully designed clothing and furniture live somewhere where the word luxury is not part of the day-to-day vocabulary? How could someone who appreciates avant-garde art and state-of-the-art architecture live somewhere where art is kitsch and architecture is standard? Never!

I later realized how foolish that thought was. But I had to go to Downtown Cle Elum for the second time to recognize that. And I’m glad I did it.

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The following day we were back in Downtown Cle Elum. This time, we were there to attend to our customary weekly Catholic mass. As all constructions in the city, the church building was small and simple with wooden pews and wall paneling.

As I did in the restaurant, I observed the locals. This time, instead of noticing people’s exteriors – their clothes, conversations and actions – I sought to observe their hearts, the motives for their actions and behaviors.

There was a choir singing traditional old hymns. There was no instrument, just the voices of the voluntary ladies and gentlemen. Even though none of them seemed to be formally trained, they were singing beautifully, they were doing their best to animate the service.

There was also the usher, who patiently guided the tourists arriving late (ourselves included) to stand by the walls and not block the flux of people in the building. The priest himself was very humble and grateful. At the end of the mass, he thanked the community for praying for his eye surgery and commented how touched he was by the community’s love and prayers.

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Again, I looked at the lighting fixtures. They were cheap, certainly. But after observing the people in that church, I thought there couldn’t be better lamps to adorn that ceiling. People there were as simple as the building they were in, as simple as the town itself.

I asked myself, “What is luxury for if you can give the best of yourself with simplicity?” I thought about the artist who painted the pictures of that restaurant’s walls. Who am I to judge her art and say it’s bad taste? She probably doesn’t have as much access to resources as someone who lives in the city and is probably doing her best.

I’ve realized that if I look at the exterior only, I’m blinded about the interior, and it is the interior what really matters. The paintings, the jeans, the lamps, the paneling, the carpets, the curtains… everything are just ways for people to tell the world who they are, and isn’t it diversity what we aim for?

I came to the realization that the beauty behind the kitsch art and cheap home décor were the people behind it, the creative souls who dedicated themselves to their work. Even though I’m certain I’ll continue to attend to my arts events in Seattle and will certainly refine my taste for fashion and home decor, I guess I’ve learned to appreciate tradition and simplicity. People with earnest hearts and actions have taught me.

What drives artists to create? The story of Mary

This week I heard a story about a nutritionist named Mary who used to be an actress. She used to perform improv, sketch and stand up throughout New York City and was seen in Off-Broadway musicals. Now Mary has a regular life in Seattle working as a nutritionist.

In spite of her professional stability, Mary hasn’t stopped performing. She continues to create comedy pieces and continues to perform around Seattle. Her local performances are very low key, though. She’s certainly not making any money out of her presentations and certainly not looking for fame.

So why does Mary continue to perform?

It’s not any news that art is a necessity of the human species. Along with religion, art is the element that makes us, humans, different from all other animals. I see the artist as the one who is able to understand a given reality and express it in an abstract, non-literal way. They are the uneasy people, they are the rebels because they see the world through a different lens, the lens of artistic expression. They are solitary creatures because only the artist himself is the one who understands the translation that goes on in his mind when he transforms his reality into art.

The more artists produce art, the more they feel the need for it. They are never satisfied. Why? Why does Mary continue to perform? What drives an artist to create his/her artwork? Maybe because they want to drive social change… Maybe they want fame and money… Maybe they want to promote religious or political values… Maybe.

The reason I think artists have the drive to create is because they need to communicate with other individuals, to create connections. It’s the human species’ social instinct.

Because the translation – from reality to art – is always going on in an artistic mind and this is generally a solitary occurrence, artists need to make it social. They hope that someone who watches or appreciates their artwork to say, “I see what you are seeing; I see where you come from; I feel the same way.” The desire to create is individual, but the end is social.

Going back to Mary’s story, I believe there is no former artist. There may be former nutritionists, former architects, former lawyers, but the artist continues to be an artist until the day she dies. Mary will continue to perform because the translation continues to happen in her brain and she needs people to communicate it to.