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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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Detective stories “dream of justice,” Peter Wimsey noted long ago. I love following strong, determined female sleuths as they hunt for clues, navigate their own lives, search for truth and peace. 

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Powerhouse voice in a 5’2” body. I’ve loved her music for years but am rediscovering her soulful ballads, badass girl-power anthems and heartfelt love songs. Strong Southern women are my truth-tellers.

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“Nineties country is my love language,” I joked last week, after making yet another reference to a song I loved as a teenager. I grew up on steel guitar and driving fiddle, on ballads meant for long road trips and hot sunny days with the car windows down. I was married for years to a fellow Texan who turned up his nose at country music, but I have never stopped loving it. And this morning, for the third time this week, my running playlist was the Jo Dee Messina Spotify station.

I’d almost forgotten about Messina until a few weeks ago, when I went digging for the lyrics to her 1998 hit single “Stand Beside Me.” Since then, I’ve happily fallen down the rabbit hole of her straight-talking anthems about love and loss and standing up for herself.

Perhaps it’s no surprise: strong southern women are my truth-tellers, which is why I’m loving Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Songs from Home on Instagram these days (and why I was so jazzed to write about Mary Gauthier when she came to Berklee last fall). This pandemic coincides with the one-year anniversary of deciding to leave my marriage, and build a new life for myself, on my own. It has been both scary and exhilarating, and I’ve needed the voices of all my heroines: my real-life girlfriends, the literary women I love, and the singer-songwriters who speak the words written on my heart.

I’m thrilled to have rediscovered Messina as part of this chorus. And as summer approaches, you can sometimes find me pounding down the East Boston Harborwalk humming along to “Bye Bye,” “Heads Carolina, Tails California” or – most especially – “I’m Alright.”

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Sometimes, for my day job, I get to sit in on clinics, performances or masterclasses and write about them for Berklee’s website. Once in a while, I get a little starstruck: we get some seriously talented folks here.

Last week, I listened to singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, best known for “Mercy Now,” as she talked to our students about her music, her struggles with addiction, the restaurant she used to run in Boston, and the co-writing work she’s recently done with veterans and their spouses.

I scribbled notes as fast as I could, soaking up every word Gauthier delivered in her raspy Louisiana drawl and welling up when she played “Mercy Now.” She’s a truth-teller, a storyteller, a rough-edged and empathetic presence, and I could have listened to her all afternoon.

If you’d like, you can read the story and see a few photos on Berklee Now.

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reeds river blue sky

A Truth That Tells You

I wish for you a small, portable truth you can take
anywhere—no foreign adaptors needed,
no translation required and nothing lost in it.

Once, looking at a map, my daughter said,
A river is a line the world drew for us. I wish for you
a truth that stays true across any line drawn

by the world or its people, a truth that tells you
wherever you arrive, you are welcome.

———————–

I found this poem via the #PocketPoems project at the wonderful New York Public Library. They’re sharing one poem a day this month – all brief and powerful, some utterly delightful.

I don’t know Smith’s work well, except “Good Bones,” which was everywhere a couple of years ago. But now I want to check out more of her writing.

I love the last line especially: I want it to be true for me, and I want to help make it true for others.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.

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