Masks and Armor


Masks, Armor, things hidden beneath layers of disguise.

Ever run into a theme in your work and never realize it was there? I ran into this while discussing my writing and photography with a new acquaintance. It had me look back at the last few things I’d worked on. First, with my photography, you’ll notice how often I have masks involved. I love masks as photographic devices. They’re freeing and paradoxical. You’re hidden, yet because of it you can expose yourself. You’re free because no one knows who you are behind that mask.

My life consists of a series of masks. I wear different faces for different occasions. The Andrija you find at work is not the Andrija behind this keyboard. It’s not the Andrija who is listening to rain late at night while jazz rolls in the background. Growing up, this was particularly important. I remember being in kindergarten when a classmate, Russ, gave me advice I tried to follow. “Don’t tell people you like science fiction. Star Wars is OK, but anything else and they’ll think you’re weird.”  I failed at developing that mask – the weird went too deep – but it did lead me to wonder if my humanity itself was a mask. I felt so much more comfortable around strangeness and aliens. Things tied to the normal world felt strange. maybe I was an alien? Was this body the right one? I’d never felt comfortable in it.

I discovered the idea of mecha and powered armor during my teenage years. The idea of losing myself inside a suit dedicated to just strengthening and protecting me became dreamlike. Mecha are beautiful constructions. I was a chubby Serbian kid. Why wouldn’t I want to ditch my body and just be the machine? Small wonder Cybermen were my favorite Dr. Who villains. I especially love the new ones, but I also adored Maria’s design from Metropolis so the art deco touch is nice.  My reading fell in line soon enough, as did movies. Give me a film that uncovered the strange and bizarre hiding under the world’s mask.

That abandoned house? Not just a place where kids go to get stoned. No, look at the strange paintings on the walls. It’s a gateway to a Satanic dimension…

My two trunk novels, Elemental Metal and Running Black are urban fantasy books. The entire theme is a world hidden from our own.  The books are layers and layers of masks. Even the main characters, who everyone thinks they have pegged, are more than their mask shows.

I’ve written two short stories now with the theme of bodies and identity. Ivre is filled with characters who wear different masks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the masks are torn down. And Metaphysical Graffiti is all about what is hidden beneath our lives, memories and cities.

Now, the question becomes… if I’m aware of a theme, does that change me? Have I shifted under my mask?


Coyote Lessons

Once upon a time, Coyote fancied himself a teacher. He saw a young boy who had trouble learning things – lessons wouldn’t stick. They slipped from his head, like water off of rocks. And all the teachers in the world stamped away with frustration. “How do we get through to him?”

So Coyote said, “Hey, I know how we can teach him! Just let me have a go.”

So he went to the child, who was learning to ride a bike for the first time. The child did not understand the instruction. Teachers told him how to ride, but when he applied it, he fell down. The teachers eventually gave up. Coyote just stood there and said, “Guess you can’t ride.” And he walked away. This puzzled the child. After a bit, he picked up the bike and tried to ride it. Just as he was figuring out how to balance, Coyote talked to the ground and convinced it to move, knocking the child down.

Knee skinned, the child got up again and went to the bike. He tried again, this time getting a little further, getting confident, only to be knocked down. Coyote kept doing this even as the other teachers whispered to him “Stop. This is cruel!”  But eventually, bruised and battered, the child rode the bike as if he was born doing so. Coyote smiled. “See, he just needed encouragement. He won’t remember a lesson unless it hurts. Best teacher in the world is experience and pain.”

Coyote’s been my teacher for the longest time. I’m too thick in the skull to learn lessons just by reading them, or hearing them. I pick up facts, but not lessons. Or, as I said in conversation with a friend:

“Andy, you’re the most intelligent person I know.”

“Yes, but there’s a difference between being intelligent, and being smart. I’m not smart.”

When I say I want to try something, or learn something, Coyote knows I’m not going to see the obvious pitfalls until I stumble into them. So, he gives me a push. I learned one of those lessons this week. It is hard, and painful, and still aches in a way which really shakes my core nature. But one of my projects this year is to break my comfort zone. To not need Coyote pushing me, but to walk ahead and learn lessons on my own. The downside to the way Coyote teaches is you start to expect the sabotage, the lesson to be learned as demonstrated by the Lord of Irony. You start to sabotage yourself. Everything is an obstacle. And when things go wrong, you expect things to go so horribly wrong there’s no recovering from it beyond Coyote laughing and saying, “Well, that’s a bit of a rough lesson. Still, what happens when we fall, Master Bruce?”

I know this lesson was important, but it’s left me winded and a little beaten up. I just wish my brain worked in other ways.