Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

My one little word for 2022 is true.

It came to me in a yoga class, which makes me sound a lot more zen than I usually am. But I’d been mulling over the notion of finding a word for the year (which I do annually, in case you’re new here). Somewhere between the lunges and the triangle poses and the (masked) deep breaths, the word showed up in my mind like a deep exhale. True.

Like a lot of my words, true is more complicated than it first appears. I grew up in a household and culture that exhorted us to “tell the truth,” that championed Jesus (or a particular evangelical version of him) as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But I also – like so many of us – learned to elide the truth, to smooth it over, to swap it out for what I thought people wanted to hear. I learned to present the safe, smiling version of myself, to give the easy answer instead of the true one.

While I believe there’s value in considering both my words and other people’s feelings, I’m tired of doing that back-and-forth dance. I want to stop hiding, stop second-guessing. I want – as Rachel Shenton said in a recent episode of the Masterpiece podcast – to live a more truthful life. So true feels like a good word to keep in mind.

Having true as my word has so far looked like: admitting my limits (especially after coming down with COVID), following a few of my whims (like taking a salsa class and signing up as a volunteer usher with my favorite theater company), making lists of dreams for the short and long term, and re-embracing colorful stickers and washi tape. (And humming “True” by George Strait, because I love a good theme song and I am always and forever a Texas girl.)

Most importantly, it looks like giving the true answer, to myself and to others, instead of shrugging or taking refuge in “I don’t know.” Sometimes “I don’t know” is the true answer, and that’s humbling and healthy to admit. But often, it’s worth digging a little deeper to discover: what do I actually think? What do I want? What do I believe, or wonder about, or want to know? What am I afraid of? And how can I let the truth – all those true answers – push me forward into a braver and more beautiful life?

“It takes an effort to be clear about things,” Julia Cameron writes in my longtime fave The Sound of Paper. “It is easier and much sadder to be muddy, to never take the time to clarify our thoughts.” She notes that “Who do I think I am?” becomes an interesting question when we consider it honestly. Who do I think I am, and what might I try? How might that answer change, and how might I want to change it? “Every time we take pen to page we become more ourselves, less something vague and amorphous,” Julia says. That life – a life of greater clarity and more deep truth – sounds good to me.

Are you following a word this year? If so, what is it teaching you?

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We’re (more than) three months into quarantine – my personal clock hit the three-month mark last weekend. Massachusetts, like a lot of states, is slowly reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to appear. Recently, I’ve been out to a few local businesses that were closed for a while, but otherwise, my routine hasn’t changed much since March. And I’m frankly sick of it.

I keep seeing essays or tweets around the Internet of things people want to keep from this time: more time with their families, fewer commutes, less traffic congestion, and so on. That’s all fine and good – and I have a few silver linings of my own. But honestly, there’s a lot from this time I don’t want to keep.

I don’t want to keep the constant, gnawing anxiety: will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will I/they be able to afford the medical bills? What if they don’t get better?

I don’t want to keep the constant risk/reward calculation (what one friend called “mental actuarial tables”) that goes on in my brain every time I leave the house. I am sick and tired of mentally estimating the risk of a walk or a hug or a trip to the grocery store. I miss being able to plan travel, or have anything but a walk or a Trader Joe’s trip to look forward to.

I don’t want to keep the constant isolation, so acute it sometimes makes me cry, sitting here at my kitchen table with no one else around. I miss my coworkers, my librarians and baristas and yoga instructors and especially my florist. Most of all I miss my friends, even those I have seen since quarantine started. We go on walks and wave goodbye from behind our masks instead of sharing a meal together and parting with hugs. It helps, but it’s not the same.

I don’t want to keep this incompetent president, unwilling to listen to scientific experts or wise advisors, fanning the flames of partisan division for his own selfish ends (or because he just likes chaos, I can’t tell). The U.S. response to the pandemic has been fragmented and inadequate, and I am frustrated and sad that so many people have died.

I don’t want to rush into a post-pandemic “new normal” until we can do so safely, and I think we’ve got a long road ahead. I will keep taking precautions and wearing a mask when I go out, for as long as it takes. But I don’t want to keep so many aspects of this time. And I needed to say so.

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The red-haired yoga teacher with the Indian accent did catch my attention with one thing he said: “Those of you who are really bad at yoga, you’re in the right place. I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect. The real yoga isn’t in the perfect pose; it’s in the crappy pose that you are really feeling. You want to feel it from the inside out, rather than make it perfect from the outside in.”

[…] I had a sudden thought: What if the opposite of good wasn’t bad? What if the opposite of good was real?

-Claire Dederer, Poser

While I enjoyed the whole book, this line from Dederer’s memoir about yoga, motherhood, writing, marriage and coming to terms with your childhood hit me squarely in the chest.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be good – e.g., to be cheerful, helpful, smart, kind, easygoing, capable, stylish, put together, nice. There are a number of reasons for this: I am an oldest child; I am a woman; I was labeled a bookworm/smart kid almost from the time I could read; I was raised (happily) in a conservative Christian home; I am a people pleaser. Perhaps most critically, these are the attributes that translated as “good” in my family and church and social milieu. Some of them, obviously, come more naturally than others. And trying to maintain them all is exhausting.

Lately, trying to be good has looked more like trying to be efficient, cheerful (that one is annoyingly persistent), productive (at work and at home), helpful (also persistent), non-needy, nice. This set of attributes, while a little shorter, is also exhausting.

For much of my life I have equated being good with being nice – perhaps because so many of the truly good folks I know are also truly nice and kind; perhaps because “Be nice” was a phrase frequently heard in our home. But lately I’ve come to believe that always being good and/or being nice can sometimes put up barriers to being seen. You can’t really get to know someone if they skim over the surface of everything, or hide behind false cheer or politeness. And aren’t we all more interesting when we’re messy than when we’re polite?

Not surprisingly, this carries over into my writing, which is far sharper and juicier and more vivid (like a good steak) when I let myself be messy and real than when I stay polite and nice. Of course, there are boundaries, and I sincerely never intend (in writing and life) to cause anyone pain. But I love the idea of throwing off the proper, tailored, suffocating mantle of goodness, and exchanging it for a wildly patterned, beautifully imperfect life of realness.

How do you deal with the good/real divide – or is it a divide in your life?

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