They are the buzzwords of today, showing up everywhere online from blogs to Facebook (oh, the irony) to news articles. People crave these things, we’re told. We long for them. We want relationships that are real. We don’t want a sugar-coated version of life, the ugly bits brushed aside, hidden from view. We want to see the nitty-gritty, the low-down, the bonafide truth. We want to hear stories that are open, raw, honest.
Be authentic, we say. Be real. Tell the truth.
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This directive to tell the truth has been on my mind quite a bit recently, as we are nearly a quarter of the way through this new year. I have dreams for 2015, goals of getting my writing published (or, more accurately, of getting it submitted, as that’s the most I can control), of using those moments when I’m not changing a diaper or singing a lullaby or catching up on housework to get words down, as many as possible. I want to hone this craft, to tell stories that are true (be they fiction or not), to write and write and write and write.
But as I do this, as I put my words out there for people to read, as I send them out into the wildness of the Internet where anyone and everyone may see them, it occurs to me that there’s a trick to telling the truth, that maybe it isn’t always as simple as it seems.
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I received a rejection letter back in January – the second of three that came in the space of three weeks – and I will admit, it stung a bit, raised my defenses the tiniest amount, caused a smidgen of indignation. My piece was insufficiently distinctive from the many submissions they receive, the editor told me. Though I can recognize the truth of her words, they smart. She did go on to say, however, that the paragraph I had written about losing A, a side-note to the rest of the piece, had touched her. She encouraged me to work that into a complete essay of its own, saying she was sure her readers would be interested in reading it.
There’s this: it is encouraging to have an editor say they hope you will submit further work to their publication, even if such a statement comes after a rejection. I know that those who work in the magazine industry, be it print or online, receive many pieces, and I am grateful that she took the time to read and comment on my essay.
Still, I wrestle with whether to write the piece she requested or not, whether to continue to delve into that particular story. It’s true that I’ve written many times of that period in my life, it’s true that our failed adoption changed me and shaped me, that it provides a unique point of view, a fresh story, that there are more lessons I can draw from 2013 than from perhaps any other year of my life. I can write that story with honesty, emotion, clarity (and I have done so).
The problem, perhaps, is this: I do not know where to draw the line here. I don’t know where me writing about this topic moves from something good and healthy (a path to healing, a way to connect with others and, perhaps, touch them or help them somehow) to something base and ugly (a means to an end, a sob story with the purpose of getting published). While it was a significant part of my life, one about which I’m sure I will have many more words to share in the months and years to come, I have other stories to tell, tales of joy and of parenting and of family and of life, and I want to give voice to those as well. So I struggle with this. Is it acceptable to use this one story, which certainly has the potential to stand out among others in an editor’s inbox, to get a foot in the door, to prove my chops, to build a relationship, and then move from there to the more familiar, the more ‘normal’, the more joyful? Can I share this very difficult part of my journey in the hopes that it will provide the opportunity to tell a fuller truth later on? Is it real and authentic to write many raw and emotional pieces about what was certainly a raw and emotional time in my life while pushing off other topics that might be more common?
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There’s another aspect to truth-telling and transparency in this Internet age, and that’s this: what’s the right course, the grace-filled course, the honest course of action when the truth is painful for somebody else, when it paints another person in a negative light? There were characters in our own personal drama who I could certainly depict very poorly without ever saying one untrue thing. Telling my story honestly and fully reveals negative behaviors, negative actions, negative attitudes from others who played significant roles – and, in fact, I have already published pieces here and elsewhere that have great potential to offend.
This is true of most things I might write, of course, and not just of my failed adoption: whenever there is brokenness in a relationship, whenever something is said with which I disagree, whenever a particular memory or moment involves another person, sharing about such things might very well hurt, wound, offend. I’m reminded of a friend I knew who, long ago, when blogs were relatively new, wrote a post criticizing the actions of another, never imagining it might be seen. It was, though, and her harsh words caused a rift in the relationship.
And so this act of telling the truth brings with it a certain responsibility. When is it appropriate to share, and when is it better to keep silent? How can I talk about my experiences, especially the hard things, with integrity and grace? How do authenticity and charity coincide? When should I be concerned about offending, and when should I just tell the truth, regardless of the consequences?
And, of course, there’s the hard fact that what I remember may not actually have happened, that we all interpret events and recollections through our own personal lenses. How do I allow room for other versions of the past in my writing, in my sharing, in my truth-telling?
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I don’t have answers to these questions, no crystal ball to tell me how and what to write, just the prompting of whatever it is inside of me that pushes me to string words together for others to read. I wish I did have answers. It would certainly make this journey easier, for I am sure I will mess up along the way, that I will hold back when I should be bold, that I will speak when I should remain silent. I pray for grace and forgiveness at such times – from those I hurt, from those who are reading, and, perhaps the hardest, from myself. I pray I learn as I go, that I might someday have a handle on how to do this writing thing well.
In the meantime, I will continue to write, and to write, and to write. And I will do my best to tell the truth.