This is my question: what is the truth right now?
In her lecture “The Value of Not Understanding Everything,” Grace Paley instructs writers to remove these lies:
- The lie of injustice to characters.
- The lie of writing to an editor’s taste.
- The lie of writing to your best friend’s taste.
- The lie of the approximate word.
- The lie of unnecessary adjectives.
- The lie of the brilliant sentence you love the most.
Which lies am I guilty of? I am guilty in part of writing to an invisible editor’s taste, yes. I am guilty of the lie of writing to my best friend’s taste – if you replace best friend with “audience of IRL people who I’m aware read my blog sometimes.” The lie of the approximate word? No. Tell me if I have ever done this and I will rectify it immediately. The lie of unnecessary adjectives? God I hope not. The lie of the brilliant sentence, chapter, section, character, event, you love the most? Absolutely.
So I am learning to be cutting with my work. To be my own worst critic. Not before the thing is written, not during the writing of the thing, no, then the critic is in solitary confinement, all doors and windows locked. But afterwards? After the thing is written? Critic I must be. I must be ruthlessly after my very best. Nothing else will satisfy.
So what is the truth here?
The truth is this. I was lost for a long time. I didn’t know the sound of my own voice. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I was driven to please.
About Goya, Andre Malraux writes:
“To allow his genius to become apparent to himself it was necessary that he should dare to give up aiming to please.”
I have been driven for approval. Thinking that as long as I finished the novel I would gain it. That somebody would like the story and validate me, and then my whole, desperate, life-long search for approval would be over, once and for all. Ha! What was I thinking? It also happens that I was burdened with a false sense of importance. Oh dear. What a contradiction. To completely lack self-belief and at the same time be weighed down with self-importance. I thought the world needed me. I thought my story would fix things, make a small corner of the world better, even in microscopic amounts. I thought I had the power to ameliorate. Ha.
The truth is, I need me and I need this story. The truth is, I do have the power (by the grace and mystery of God) to ameliorate myself. I can help myself, in microscopic, incremental amounts. That is all.
So this is the truth: I write for an audience of one. I have known this deep, deep down, for a very long time.
And this is what I tell myself: shut the door, turn off the phone. Shut down every highway that brings you information and comment from afar. Turn away from every source that leads you away from you. Turn down the volume to the world until all you hear are whispers and quiet songs and ancient murmurings. Close the curtains on the peripheral – the constant, blinding movement of other people’s lives. Narrow your focus until all you can see is your own sacred present. Leave all else in shadow, it is not your concern.
Now, when everything is almost silent, present yourself to yourself. Step out of the shadow of your own obscurity to yourself and take a good look. You are not what you expected. You are neither as good as you hoped, nor as broken as you feared. You are not the knight in shining armour you thought you needed, not the vision from afar you were waiting for. You are no more and no less than you. And there aren’t any options. You did not come with an exchange card. You are irreplaceable, a unique composition. Available and useful primarily to you. The beginning of everything. Look up at the mirror and say it: here I am.
Now what will you do with yourself?
I will take care of myself. I will listen to myself. I will write the words that I most need to hear. I will harness the stories I most need to listen to. I will ask the questions I need answered. I will seek the learning I lack. I will not cover my wounds. I will not hide what is broken. I will not walk when I should be limping, will not run when I should be walking. I will not move when I should be still, will not be still when I need to move. I will not stay when I should go, nor go, when I should stay. I will treat myself with tenderness and kindness. I will go ferociously after my own best interests. Which I believe, in the end, are the best interests of all of us. Honesty. Safety. Quality. Nurturance. Growth. It’s not rocket science.
Will you let me go? Will you help me to release myself from the heavy bonds of loyalty I gave to everyone but myself? Will you hear me when I say no, not now, not yet, not ever? Will you let me be silent while I wait for new words to come, because the old words didn’t always serve me well? The old words kept me heavy and bowed down. God knows they kept you bowed down sometimes too.
I thought I mattered to the world. I was misinformed. I matter to myself. Now, to see to that.