If Trump Won’t Concede, I Have George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation Ready to Go

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McConnell Center (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Trump era has been how establishment Republicans have rolled over for him, aiding and abetting Trump in every asinine, narcissistic urge, never having the guts to do anything to stop him from laying waste to the republic. Mitt Romney has had his good moments, but they were too few and too late.

Throughout the election, I have nursed a wish that President George W. Bush would put down his paint brush, get in front of a camera, and tell the folks who still love him that Trump needs to go. He’s never done that, even though you know he believes it.

Now, Election Day is nigh, and Trump continues to assert that he will refuse to concede if and when he loses. Lord only knows what he will do with the enormous power he thoughtlessly wields in order to remain in office.

If Trump loses and attempts to deny Biden the presidency, my last hope is that Bush will finally speak up and urge his fellow Republicans to accept the results of the election. He probably won’t.

But just in case he’s thinking about it, but doesn’t know quite what to say, I thought I could do my part as an American, and help our former president out. Here is my draft of what could be President George W. Bush’s address to the nation if President Trump refuses to concede a lost election.

President Bush, I am open to changes. Have your people get in touch.

UPDATE: I made a video for the speech, just to really drive it all home. I am helping!

Address to the nation by former President George W. Bush on the outcome of the presidential election, November 2020.

Let’s get right to it.

One score and none years ago, I was declared the winner of the presidential election because our side was better at whatcha call “political maneuverings.” Me and Al Gore pretty much wound up in a tie, and you can’t have two presidents at the same time, so our guys just did a better job of greasin’ the wheels and workin’ the refs, simple as that.

It wasn’t all above-board, those ballots in Florida where old Jewish folks were accidentally voting for Pat Buchanan was some real sketchy shit, and to give it to ya straight, even we were surprised when the Supreme Court just kinda let me be president. But like I said, it really was just a tie, and I think everyone figured it was just the other team’s turn to be in charge for a while. It weren’t pretty, but the thing got settled and we moved on.

But here’s the real important part, and I probably should have said more about this at the time, but the reason things got settled is because of Al Gore. Listen, Al was sure as hell that he’s the one that won that election. He was positive he’d won Florida, and hell, maybe he really did. “Butterfly ballots”! I mean, goddamn. But both sides filed all their lawsuits, both sides did their PR bullshit on TV, and in the end, those five Justices shut it all down. Al coulda’ kept fighting. I don’t think it’d’a changed anything in the long term, but you never know, and it’s not like we’re talkin’ about a fight over who gets to be employee of the month at a Pep Boys. This is the presidency. It doesn’t get any bigger’n that.

So think about what Al must’ve been feeling. He believed he’d won more votes in Florida. He believed the Supreme Court was screwin’ him over because they liked me better. That’s probably true! And what’s for sure true is that Al won more votes than me overall. He beat me by about a half a million in the national popular vote — and don’t think I didn’t feel that sting for the next four years, til I definitively kicked Kerry’s ass in ’04. Now, winning the popular vote doesn’t mean shit if you don’t win enough’a them electoral votes, and he knew that, but you just know it all had to be makin’ him nuts.

I mean, imagine, you’ve been the Vice President of the United States for eight years, you’re the smartest guy you know and you’re not only sure you’d be a better president than the guy you’re running against, but you know you’d be way better than the skirt-chasin’ hillbilly who’s shadow you been stuck under for a decade. You run your race, you win more votes than the other guy, and then it all comes apart because of a bunch of technicalities and bullshit.

But listen. After all that, even though he believed in his heart that he was being wronged, he stopped, he put the best interests of the country ahead of his own, and he opened wide to take an enormous bite of the biggest shit sandwich ever served in American history. On December 13, in the year of our lord 2000, Al Gore went in front of those cameras and told the American people that it was over, and that I was his president.

I mean, holy shit.

Now while you think about that, then look at where we are today. There’s no technicalities. There ain’t no tie. Everyone knows that Joe Biden beat the pants off of Donald Trump. Yeah, sure, there are a bunch of mail-in votes that ain’t been counted yet in Pennsylvania or whatever. But come the hell on. Trump lost this election the second he told folks to think about injecting themselves with bleach. I mean, you all know I said some stupid shit when I was president, and even I spat out my O’Doul’s when I heard that one. Mike Murphy says that the country has been tryin’ to cough up Trump like a hairball, and I’m tellin’ you this election was the cat’s final hork. But now the hairball is trying to haul its soggy ass back into the cat’s mouth. That’s just gross.

And it just ain’t gonna fly.

A lotta folks who supported me back in the day also supported Trump. I get it. I ain’t exactly excited about Biden bein’ president. But the race is over. Biden won it, plain as day.

Trump is tellin’ you that he’s been robbed, that the election was fixed by some Deep State antifa pizza parlor tinfoil hat shit. He wants to make you scared and angry. But that’s because he’s scared and angry.

He’s humiliated. You best believe I had my doubts about whether I belonged in that Oval Office, but deep down, Donald Trump knows he sure as shit never shoulda been there. And now he can’t stand the idea of lettin’ it all go. So he’s pulling every trick he can think of so he can stick around. Too many goddamn people who certainly know better are letting him.

Since he won’t do it, I will. I’m here to tell you, it’s over.

To my fellow Republicans, my fellow conservatives, I know you don’t like the idea of a Democrat in the White House. Lord knows, I don’t either. But the people have spoken, and they have not been subtle about it. Joe Biden won, and he’s gotta get sworn in on January 20, and Donald Trump has to let it go.

Republicans in Congress and in your state governments need to hear from you, right now, that they need to step up, like I’m doing now, and to tell their president to stand down. Don’t let Trump rile you up with a bunch of crazy, made-up conspiracies about a rigged election. Don’t let the cable news folks and the talk radio folks get your blood boilin’ and making you think you been screwed. I know the system’s screwed you over a bunch of times before, but this ain’t one of ‘em.

Joe Biden’s a hell of a good guy. He talks too much, and it makes me tired just thinking about him going on and on about how some guy he met in some town had some damn expression and on and on. But he’s a good man who won fair and square. And if you don’t like what he does, and you do like some of what Trump was doing in terms of policy and what have you, well then you vote for Republicans for Congress in the next election, and you support the next Republican candidate for president with everything you got. Fight like hell, and beat ’em fair and square.

But let’s not do it like this. What Trump is doing now, it’s unseemly. It’s unsportsmanlike. It’s weak.

Remember ol’ Al Gore. He had an honest-to-God claim to say that he’d won that race back in 2000, and that he oughta’ve been president. But he knew that the peaceful transition of power was more important than him being president, and more important even than keepin’ someone whose guts he hated from getting the job instead. He put his country first, and he took it like a man. He took it like an American.

Republicans can take this one too. Donald Trump can’t, so we’ll have to do it for him. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Party of one

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This is from the fourth edition of the Near-Earth Object newsletter, to which you can and should subscribe, right here.

For me, today was Election Day. I got my ballot in the mail, I filled it out (it’s a ranked choice ballot, which is GREAT, but there’s nothing worth ranking this year; there are no “second choices”), drove over to the local ballot drop box, and SAVED DEMOCRACY.

I was as excited as a little kid getting a new toy when my ballot arrived, and I tried to make a big, fun deal out of filling it out, but no one else in the house seemed to be on the same wavelength. (“Don’t you usually get to vote?” asked my son, as if that very fact weren’t something worth celebrating.)

WHATEVER. I don’t get excited about almost anything anymore (why would I?), so if something sparks enthusiasm in me andit’s part of the effort to save the world, you better believe I’m going to get goofy. Election Day — or Election Month or Election Season — is a momentous occasion, no matter what the buzzkills I live with think. WOO, VOTING!

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I have no idea what’s going on in my state. Last year, I started a subscription to the Portland Press Herald (digital with print on Sundays) because I wanted to be better informed about the place I live, not just in terms of its government and politics, but to learn more about the lives and cultures of the people of Maine, a state I’ve now lived in for almost a decade.

I read a lot of it the first couple of weeks. Then I just read from the print Sunday edition. Then I just did the included New York Times crossword. And then I more or less forgot about it.

National news — more specifically, national political news — is all-consuming to me, but it covers that which is many times removed from me. It doesn’t affect me from day to day, nor do I have the capacity to do anything about what I learn. It would make much more sense for me to be more engaged with the goings-on of my state and municipality, which does directly affect my life, and especially the lives of my kids. It’s not nearly as soap-operatic as the titanic struggles over the soul of the nation happening in the presidential election, but it’s just as meaningful. Maybe more so?

So as we careen toward what I hope to Zod is the reasonable conclusion of this election, maybe it’s time to start refocusing on what’s going on closer to home. Regardless of what happens November 3, I know I can’t have any meaningful influence on what goes on in Washington.

But Augusta? Maybe.

In my own town? Surely.

Something to think about.

The most powerful man in the world gets COVID-19 (because of course he did), and after being given the best care available to anyone in the world, he declares that getting the disease and then recovering makes him feel 20 years better.

Meanwhile, I have to sit in my car in order to watch my daughter’s soccer practice, in which the kids play maskless. None of it makes sense. And that’s what the second episode of my podcast-vlog-monologue thing tries to capture. You can watch it here or listen to it here.

I have a Patreon if that’s a thing you’d like to help out with.

A Man Down By the River

I said there would be a podcast coming, right? I think I meant that about 60 percent seriously. Well guess what! A podcast I declared, and a podcast I have made. After a few frustrating stabs at a more “professional” sounding audio product, I opted to go for something more personal and informal. So the new Near-Earth Object podcast was recorded, audio and video, from a bench beside a river. I kind of like how it turned out, and who knows where I might record the next one. 

The video version is easy to get. It’s just right there on YouTube.

The audio podcast is making its way through the various tubes of several podcast apps and services, (here it is at Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Podbean, to start) but I presume it will be widely available by the time you read this. I hope you like it. 


I’m thinking about normalcy. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the abnormality of the crisis-buffet from which we are being force-fed, the so-called “new normal,” does not seem to be causing some kind of great awakening, but rather the “old normal” is clawing its way back

But then the president got the coronavirus. And it dawned on me, well, of course he did. And the fact that he got it (along with all the other folks who got it with or from him) just meant that things operating, well, normally. The times aren’t normal, but the way humans react to the abnormal times, and the way natural phenomenon like viruses behave, are normal. 

And even though none of this means that things are just fine, or that things will get meaningfully better, it is, weirdly, comforting. Read the whole thing


In other news, I’ve rewatched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the first time in many, many years in preparation for checking out the new Netflix show Ratched. Some quick thoughts:

  • Go watch Cuckoo’s Nest, whether you’ve seen it before or not, and just revel in the masterful acting work being done by this ensemble without parallel.
  • Watching Cuckoo’s Nest will in no way prepare you for the show Ratched. Four episodes in, the only connection between the movie and the TV show is the fact that it’s about a stern psychiatric nurse with the same name in the time just before the events of the movie. The Nurse Ratched as excellently performed by Sarah Paulson in the TV show seems, at this stage, to have nothing to do with the character as so exquisitely performed by Louise Fletcher in 1975. Don’t try to square that circle. It’s just something else.
  • All that said, I still can’t tell if Ratched is brilliant, ridiculous, overindulgent, insipid, visionary, a curious novelty, or some mixture of all of that. But the fact that I still don’t know must say something good about it.

I have a Patreon if that’s a thing you’d like to help out with.

Reversion to the Mean

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Of course he’s got it.

Of course they’re all infected. Honestly, how could we have expected anything else? If you deny the severity of a viciously infectious disease, if you delight in flouting all measures to prevent its spread, and you spend each day interacting with hundreds of people — all of whom agree heartily with your denial and flouting — of course you’re going to get the goddamned virus.

In the course of just a handful of weeks, we’ve had all these “bombshells,” and I know I have been unable to withstand the psychological and emotional shellacking of it all. Less than a month ago, we learned that Trump knew — and personally accepted the fact — that the coronavirus was deadly serious. A few days later, Ruth Badger Ginsburg died, followed by the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. A few days after that, the New York Times released its major story on Trump’s taxes, where we learned about his avoidance of taxes and his gobsmacking financial losses and debts. A few days after that, we endured the 90-minute trauma that was the presidential debate, where we learned that Trump was absolutely not going to concede the election if he lost, and that he was encouraging white supremacist violence. A few days after that, we learned that he, his wife, several of people on his staff and in his campaign, two U.S. senators, and others who had been in contact with him, had been infected.

All this we learned. All this shocked us, roiled us, and caused varying degrees of anxiety, horror, and panic.

But I am just now realizing, really, we have learned nothing. And nothing has changed.

Let’s jump back to 2016. You know, how all the polls were wrong and Trump pulled out a surprise victory? The polls weren’t wrong. The results of that election were absolutely in line with what the polls were showing. Nothing weird happened. Voters who leaned Republican voted for the Republican, voters who leaned Democratic voted for the Democrat, and the results for each state more or less wound up well within the margin of error. In terms of consequences, the election of 2016 was monumental. In terms of probabilities, it was unremarkable.

Trump himself is figure of unprecedented abnormality for his position. So his behavior has roiled the collective psyche of the nation, pummeling us all out of any sense of time or orientation. But he is not magic.

The polls for the 2020 presidential election have been almost freakishly stable. For months, Biden has polled just above 50 percent, and Trump just around 42 or so. Even after the aforementioned events of September beat us all about the head, the polls remained eerily static. Why?

It’s pretty easy. It’s really obvious who Trump is now. After four years of him being president, you didn’t need to think too hard about whether you liked how it was going or not. He made it really easy. He faced his most important test in having to deal with a pandemic, and there was no getting around it, so if you were at all on the fence about him, his handling of COVID-19 probably gave you your last push. There’s nothing new to learn. People have settled on their preferences.

But what about this crazy month? Well, no one really thought that Trump didn’t believe the virus was serious. It’s news that he was stupid enough to say so to a journalist while being recorded, but it’s not surprising. Everyone already knew that Trump is a cheat, and that he’s avoided paying taxes. Indeed, he’s boasted about his ability to evade them. It’s also well known that he’s been a colossal failure as a businessman. He’s been siding with white supremacists for ages, publicly. He threatened to contest the election of 2016 if he didn’t win. None of this is new.

And now, he gets COVID-19. It’s “shocking” in the sense that it’s the President of the United States, and that’s just a de facto big-goddamn-deal. But, you know, come on. Of course he was going to get it.

After four years of Mussolini-But-Dumber, people know what they got. If they love it, they love it, and that’s all there is to that. The rest of us — most of us — don’t, and we’re going to vote him out of office. There’s nothing weird about that, either.

We may feel as a nation that we’ve been batted about like a cat toy, but it’s the same cat. It acts like a cat. It doesn’t grow wings or breathe fire.

Just like the 2016 election, the 2020 election just might be (and I can’t believe I’m about to type this) a normal election with an abnormal candidate. A majority of voters will reject the president because he’s done an obviously shitty job and is an obviously shitty person. We know this because this is what the polls say is by far the most likely outcome. 2016 polls showed that Trump’s upset victory was entirely plausible. This time, he could still plausibly win, and it wouldn’t be a miracle if he did, but it’s just not where things are. Putting aside malfeasance, manipulation, or a mustering of forces to hold onto power (and I don’t necessarily doubt those things), this election is, in a way, like any other. It will revert to the mean.

Water seeks its own level. Viruses infect people who put themselves in a position to get infected. People in a shitty situation will choose to get out of it. Trump’s behavior, and now his health, are dangerous unknown factors. But everything else is, I am realizing, obvious.

Magma

Here’s a way for me to talk about my response to last night’s debate.

In the parking lot at the grocery store today, I saw a man, who appeared to be in his 60s, returning to his car with his groceries. He was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the Trump campaign logo on the front and “No Basement Joe” on the back.

Adjusting my face mask before walking into the store and catching sight of this fellow, my mind immediately recalled the depravity displayed by Donald Trump the night before at that horror-show of a debate. For a brief moment, my brain struggled to comprehend how anyone—including a presumably sane, sentient human being like the man in the parking lot—could witness the trauma Trump had inflicted on us all and still support him. Worse yet, this man was proudly advertising his continued devotion to the president the fascism-for-idiots he personified on that stage.

And in that moment, I felt hate for that man. To be clear: this was not okay. I know nothing about this person. Merely presuming that this man understands what Trump is and what he represents, I could come to no other conclusion that this man must be evil.

Of course, I have no idea if that’s so. I have no idea what this man is like. I have no idea what he knows and does not know. I know nothing of his life story beyond what could be gleaned by a few seconds passing in a parking lot.

It scares me, that I felt that way. But in noticing that sudden shock of hate in myself, I then considered how deeply and fiercely Trump and his cult have driven their followers to hate, and I became doubly frightened. I experienced a moment of hate, of indignant rage at the moral vacuum I assumed to reside in this stranger’s heart. Just imagine, then, the cauldrons of hate, like geological quantities of magma, seething within those who feel represented by Donald Trump.

For the few seconds that I burned, I struggled to come up with some imaginary scenario in which I might confront this fellow and set him straight. Absurd, of course.

But what about the millions of people, bubbling with hate, and being told to expect their enemies to deny their leader his power—and therefore, in their minds, their power.

I’m very worried about what scenarios they are imagining. I’ve very worried about that.

What I’m also thinking about:

How not to think about everything going on. M.G. Ziegler says, “I think in many ways we can only live through times like these by not stopping to think about them.” I don’t feel like I have that luxury.

John Gorman says:

So go easy on yourself. Try not to think about the future. Instead, think about the present. How can you win the next hour, the next day? How can you be of most value — to yourself, to your family, to your community, and to the earth itself? You still have the incorruptible capacity to create joy, and catalyze change. No one can take that away from you, no matter how dark they dim the lights.

That’s true. But while one’s capacity might be incorruptible, it is not inexhaustible. And I’m pretty exhausted.

Alan Jacobs writes, in Breaking Bread with the Dead, which I mentioned in the previous issue:

I would ask you, dear reader, to remember the next-to-last thing that social media taught you to be outraged about. I bet you can remember only the last one. …

You can readily see, I suspect, how information overload and social acceleration work together to create a paralyzing feedback loop, pressing us to practice continually [informational] triage … forcing our judgments about what to pay attention to, what to think about, to become ever more peremptory and irreversible. … And all this has the further effect of locking us into the present moment. There’s no time to think about anything else than the Now, and the not-Now increasingly takes on the character of an unwelcome and, in its otherness, even befouling imposition.

No argument here, but this particular Now seems unavoidably pressing. It puts us in a state of what I once called “permanent fret.”

Oh, how I long to be bored again.

Introducing the Near-Earth Object newsletter

Never weep, never weep. With clear eyes explore the pit.

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Sometime at the last gasp comes peace 
To every soul. 
Never to mine until I find out and speak 
The things that I know.

Welcome to Near-Earth Object, a websitenewsletter, and podcast (coming soon!) by me, Paul Fidalgo. These are the falling years.

First, an introduction.

This is a project through which I, an odd duck, work through the problem of how to be a person in the world. That’s it. Through written and spoken words, my own and those of others, I try to figure out what to think, what to believe, and how to feel. And then I publish it for the public, which is frankly the most dubious part of this whole enterprise.

As I hope you’ve guessed, the name Near-Earth Object is not about things that float in space. It’s about the experience of being part of something — be it a family, a society, or a species — while also being slightly outside of it. It’s about being part of a cosmic system, but in an erratic orbit.

This newsletter is intended to serve as a regular conduit between me and whoever else out there who might find value in watching this process unfold. I’ll certainly highlight my own work and happily direct you to it, but it will also be an opportunity for me to share thoughts and ideas I’ve collected from other sources, old and new. The format is known as a “newsletter,” but it will not be “newsy.” While commentary and reflection on current events is unavoidable, my hope is that any edition of this publication could be read by someone in the far future and found as worthy of their time and attention as it would be the day it was published.

Speaking of these times…

The tagline of this project, “These are the falling years,” and the lines — that appear at this newsletter’s opening — I read at the show’s opening, all come from a poem by Robinson Jeffers written around 1940 titled “For Una.” In it, Jeffers writes about a stone tower he had built for his wife, a place of solitude and sanctuary for the two of them and an expression of his love for her. But he is writing while processing the apocalyptic horrors of the Second World War, which at the time must truly have felt like the end of all things.

I’m beginning this project in the autumn of 2020, the Lost Year. This is my personal creative endeavor, and it’s happening against the backdrop of the anxiety, fear, disappointment, disillusionment, and despair of our current age, and there’s no getting away from that. These truly are falling years.

And though I am an odd duck, I am not a young one. According to actuarial tables, I’ve just kicked off the second half of my life, meaning I have fewer days ahead of me than I do before. I am a near-Earth object in a descending orbit. These are *my* falling years, too.

“Never weep, never weep,” wrote Robinson Jeffers. Well, I certainly won’t tell you not to weep. But there is much to see and much to say in between the tears.

Thanks for taking the time. If you’re still interested, read on.

Oh, and, of course, subscribe. Please. And then tell everybody to do the same.

Unbearable Knowing

Two years ago, almost exactly, I wrote a piece expressing a sort of resigned panic about the state of the republic, and essentially asking the reader — but really, I suppose, asking the gods — to tell me how I was wrong. At the time, I was afraid that I was being melodramatic and overstating the problem.

But I wasn’t. Not even a little.

“If we’ve learned nothing else from the past decade,” I wrote, “it’s that if Republicans can’t win through persuasion, they’ll simply rewrite the rules. They are eternally controlling Boardwalk and Park Place. It’s written right on the inside of the box, that they shall eternally passeth Go, over and over, forever and ever, amen.”

What I didn’t foresee — and really should have — was how overt the repeal of democracy would be. I think I imagined that most of the foul dealings would happen behind the scenes, in ways that politicos understood, but didn’t penetrate the national consciousness. Even the hypocrisy of the Republican Senate’s position on appointing a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while obvious, I suspect remains below the radar, and outside the realm of interest, to most Americans. I assume they see it as just another example of politicians being politicians.

But the President of the United States now says that any election that he doesn’t win is invalid. The election itself is moot, and he will use what influence he wields to ensure it. If he needs to use the Department of Justice to challenge the validity of mail-in ballots, he’ll do that. If he needs to disappear voters through the use of secret police, he’ll do it. If he needs to dispatch his cult of gun-toting fanatical ignoramuses to literally block the entrances to polling places, he’ll do it. If he needs to strongarm Republican governors and state legislators into disqualifying unfavorable slates of electors, he’ll do it. For each one of these actions, he has either already announced his intention to carry them out, or his minions have informed the press of the plan. Some of it already has happened.

It’s not a secret conspiracy. It’s out in the open. He intends no transfer of power, of any kind, at any time. Not in January of 2021, and almost certainly not in January of 2025 either.

In that same 2018 piece, I wrote that those who are really paying attention could sense what felt like an emergency. “It is an emergency. I do believe that people are waking up to that simple fact. Many millions of people have come to realize that things have not only gone wrong, but horribly, existentially wrong. The republic is in mortal danger, and the blight will not be contained within our borders. It’s soaking into the Earth’s crust. It’s riding the oceans’ currents. It’s attached to the very molecules we breathe.”

I said that I feared that our better angels are simply no match for our worst demons. But there, I might have been wrong. Not because I have any illusions that Republicans will discover a dormant conscience and put a stop to this madness. Rather, I suspect that our topple into fascism hinges not on the winner in the battle of angels versus demons, but because of the inaction of everyone in between.

Career civil servants will, by and large, do what they’re told. Mainstream news outlets will say and print what is necessary to keep from being shut down. Corporations will require the favor of the regime in order to continue operating and remain neutral. Some in positions of power will make noises about norms and democracy, but it will be just that, noise. You’ve heard it before; it’s the sound of senators tweeting about their “concern” about a grievous outrage and then doing nothing about it.

“Point me to the light at the end of the tunnel, and prove to me that the tunnel hasn’t already caved in,” I wrote then. “Because I can’t see it, and it’s getting harder to breathe.”

I could still be wrong. So I renew my plea from two years ago: If I’m wrong, tell me how.

Otherwise, I don’t know what to do with this, this knowing. I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what to do now, nor what to do when what’s happened becomes obvious to everyone.

The True Self Gives Life to the Mask

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A million years ago, when I was attending the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, my class took part in a fascinating three-week workshop on performance in masks. While considered sort of avant-garde today, theatre more or less began with performers masking themselves or disguising their faces to tell stories. The classics of the Greeks and the slapstick buffoonery of commedia dell’arte were all originally performed in masks. The most common icon for theatre today is a pair of masks, one for comedy and one for tragedy. So this was going to be some exciting work in getting back to the roots of our craft, learning some vital fundamentals.

The sessions began even more fundamentally than we expected. To the surprise I think of many of my classmates, the first week’s session was absolutely free of masks. After a rather reverent introduction to mask work, we spent the rest of our time staring at our own faces in the mirror. Up close.

Literally face to face with ourselves, we were instructed to look deeply and coldly at our reflections. We were told to examine every line, curve, spot, and flaw with excruciating detail and meditative patience. We were made to drop all attempts at animation or expression, to let our faces find a state of absolute rest, to give up control of our facial muscles to gravity.

It was difficult and emotionally challenging, and yet we were to refrain from showing that emotion. We needed to simultaneously investigate our own faces with impartiality while also retaining mastery over them. This would be hard, I think, for anyone to do, but imagine the struggles of a room full of actors, all building their careers and lives on the imperfect, asymmetrical image before them.

As the workshop sessions went on, the reasoning for subjecting us to this became clear. Before we could ever be allowed to put on a mask, we had to reckon with the ones we were already wearing.

It’s a cliche to say that we all wear a mask to some degree, actors and non-actors alike, but it’s also true. The metaphor of the mask has special resonance with me, not just because of my life as an actor, but for the masks of normalcy that I have shielded myself with for decades. I won’t recount all the ways in which I am an odd duck, but consider the utility of “masking” for someone who has always been small, anxious, and awkward, creative and highly sensitive, bullied mercilessly in childhood and subject to other traumas in adulthood, and, for the kicker, on the autism spectrum.

Particularly since being diagnosed with Asperger’s only a few years ago, I have been working very hard to deconstruct those masks, to peel them away, layer by layer, and discover who the person behind them actually is. To pass as human had been the enterprise of my life, and over time it exhausted and sickened me. I lost myself within those masks, and I was terrified of who I’d find once they were gone.

I didn’t need to be. Here I am in my early 40s, getting on just fine, all things considered. It was enormously difficult, but I have learned to accept a great deal about who I am and who I never will be. I have grown to appreciate things about myself I never allowed myself to before, and I’ve acknowledged ugly truths about myself as well.

But just as I miss my life as a professional actor, taking on roles and living different lives, sometimes I miss the masks. Just as a costume can help bring an actor more fully into the mind of their character, a metaphorical mask allows a person to adopt qualities they might not otherwise possess. A personality enhanced by a mask may not be “genuine,” but is it necessarily false?

As part of coming to terms with my true self, I’ve had to accept and own my introversion and social awkwardness. But in the areas of my life where more confidence and gregariousness are called for, as in many work-related situations, am I better served by resigning to my “true self,” or might it be warranted to augment myself with the traits necessary for success? In other words, if I’m shy, but I decide to pretend to be outgoing, am I betraying myself?

A few years ago, I might have answered yes.

Part of the work of self-acceptance has been to insist on that same acceptance from everyone else — not for my own validation, but to be able to present myself truly, as I am, without the need to excuse or apologize for who I am. It’s been an essential part of this journey.

But that doesn’t mean that my “true self” always serves me best. An easy example of this comes from parenting. While I am very honest with my kids about who I am and what I’m like, there are always going to be moments when I am doing my duty to them as a father by presenting to them a person who is stronger, more assured, and wiser than I know myself to be. This isn’t to fool them, but to give them the care or the example they need in that moment. It’s not false, but it is a kind of mask.

And of course, there’s work, as I mentioned. As a communications professional, I can only achieve so much with creative-but-anxious, and I fail my employers if I shrug and say, well, this is who I truly am! Like an actor putting on a costume and reciting lines written by someone else, I have to put on my mask, the one that represents a character that is more confident and assertive than the real person wearing it.

This is a case of mask-as-augmentation, and I think it’s distinct from mask-as-shield. In a less self-accepting time, my masks were ways to hide who I was, to defend myself from being identified as different, to thwart anyone’s attempts to scrutinize my true self.

A defensive mask is always ill-fitting. It slips off too easily, or else constricts one’s circulation. The eyes don’t line up with the holes, or it makes it hard to breathe. To wear a mask defensively is to be in a constant state of disaster-aversion.

The relationship changes, I think, once we’ve come to accept our true face, when we take ownership of who we really are, for all our flaws. If we can get to a place where we have a handle on the whole of ourselves, strengths and weaknesses together, I think then a mask is not necessarily a shield or a disguise, but a tool.

If we mask with intention, we can thoughtfully and deliberately augment ourselves to better navigate different situations. When our natural state isn’t suited to a meaningful undertaking, we can choose the mask that supports our goals, adopting the specific qualities that help us get where we need to go, or build what we want to see come into being.

This is what we were learning in those first hours of that theatre workshop. Before the instructor would allow us to put on one of the masks she’d brought, and begin to inhabit — and be inhabited by — the character the mask represented, we needed to accept and master our own faces. We needed to take off our defensive masks, stop hiding from ourselves, and see our true faces as they really are.

To have used those masks as disguises would have been to miss the point. The goal must never be to disappear. Rather, the mask allowed us to bring something new into being. The mask was not hiding our true selves. Our true selves were giving life to the mask.

Accepting who we really are is just the start, not the end. Self-acceptance isn’t about stasis. It’s about taking responsibility for who we really are, and with intention and new understanding, finding the strength to see what else is possible. One way to find out is to try on a few masks. Who knows who might show up.

The Opposite of Courage

I have this idea about the relationship between courage and laziness.

Courage, as I define it, is when a person acts out of principle, knowing that the act will cause them suffering. John Lewis knew he faced beatings, imprisonment, and possibly death when he marched. Susan B. Anthony knew she faced scorn, jail, and infamy if she cast a vote. Steve Rogers knew he’d be blown to bits when he leapt on that grenade that turned out to be a dud. (Fictional examples are helpful and illustrative so back off.)

I have lamented on countless occasions my inability to choose a Major Project of some kind and see it through to fruition. (One Major Project I actually did, finally, complete, and I will eagerly share it with you when it comes into full being sometime next year.) I’d like to write a novel. I’d like to start a theatre troupe. I’d like to write nonfiction books on a number of subjects and in a number of styles. I’d like to host a podcast, write and record an album of new songs, play my music live for audiences, get into voice acting, write a newsletter, make a satire news site, and so on.

Rarely do I even begin on these fantasy projects, let alone stick with them long enough for them take flight. Why?

Sometimes, a project just isn’t the right fit. It doesn’t interest me as much as I’d hoped, or it involves commitments I am simply incapable of making. That’s no reason for anyone to beat themselves up. I mean, I will still beat myself up about it, but I shouldn’t.

But more often than not, I think what holds me back is what I’ll call laziness. That might not be an entirely fair word to use, but I want to make a point. When evaluating a Major Project, any number of factors can weigh on my mind and convince me it’s not worth beginning, or not feasible. It could be that I don’t think I have the time, or that I don’t really know how to get started. It could be that I don’t see a market for what I’d offer, or that said market is already flooded. It could be that it would require that I ask for help or collaboration with others, possibly even strangers, and my intense wincing at the thought of being socially entwined with anyone drains my resolve. It could be that I perceive that it would require a financial commitment that I can’t make, or am unwilling to try to fulfill.

All of these are justifications for inaction. Reasons not to start. Reasons not to try. Some of them might be really good reasons! Some of them might be sober and realistic assessments that lead to the reasonable conclusion that something is just not worth taking on.

Some. But not most.

Mostly, they’re about unwillingness. A lack of will, all because of an imaginary cost-benefit calculation that I have made based on a slew of unknowable factors. It’s bad math. And because the result of actually making the effort to see something to its fruition is more likely to be a valuable end in itself, regardless of anything else, it really is, for lack of a better word, laziness.

To take the first step in a new enterprise, and then to take as many additional steps as possible, is an uncomfortable thought. And each step brings with it the possibility of stubbing one’s toe, tripping, or stepping on a rake. One could take a few steps very awkwardly and wind up looking ridiculous for several paces. One could walk for a very, very long time and get very, very tired, or run out of energy entirely and collapse to the ground. One could even reach the ultimate, dreamed-of destination and find that it actually kind of sucks there. All those things could be true, and most of them almost certainly will be true.

Then what is required to do it anyway? Courage. To undertake an action of importance even though we know that a lot of the experience will be negative, even though we might not even finish it, even though what we make in the end might be kind of crappy. To work in spite of those possibilities takes courage. To put aside precious free time and resources that we may never get back takes courage. To allow oneself to be vulnerable and entreat others for help and collaboration is risky and, to me, terrifying, and it takes courage.

I’ve berated myself for being lazy for most of my life. I’ve been ashamed at my lack of courage in other instances as well. I’ve learned a great deal about myself in recent years, and I better understand the roots of my fears and aversions. But only now am I beginning to understand that what I see as my own laziness and my dearth of courage might be the same thing.

Because, in the end, laziness is about being unwilling to endure discomfort. Courage is being willing to heap it on.

I know I can endure discomfort. I believe I can take on even more. And I suspect that it might be worth it.