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How To Be Honest

June 26, 2010
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A few weeks ago, Sabrina over at Slice of Lemon posted a brilliant latest installment of her ‘Journey Within‘ feature, which is a series of posts that revisit turning points in her past.

Her latest offering left me completely bereft of words and thoughts: it was raw, condensed feeling. Aside from the emotional scissor-kick-in-the-kidneys, I marvel that she can bring such a soul-deep experience to the scrutiny not only of her readers, but also all her family and friends who follow her writing. I’m not sure if it’s courage or indifference or something completely different, but it takes a certain will to tell a story about YOU.

The question of ‘how honest?’ is one all of my fellow writers have been discussing since the Rock Pool’s inception. We agreed that this wouldn’t, couldn’t, musn’t become the proverbial sickbag for our keyboard-vomit. That would in too many ways run counter to the philosophy we write by, our golden rule: to be authentic to yourself.

Therein the problem lies. When you want to tell a story, how can you tell it without the evidence of your experience? And how can you talk about your experience without bringing in the hundred and one people who are a part of it? Where does your story end and someone else’s begin? I have the right only to tell my own stories, not someone else’s – but how do I know where the edges are?

I know for sure that nobody I know would want to be identifiable in any story I might tell that involves them – but it’s more likely that I wouldn’t want them to know I’m talking about them, particularly if I’m being critical. The point of stories isn’t to frame someone in their vices, or even their virtues, but as a point of reference for some thought – some lesson I learned, or some change I endured by means of it. I’ve often reached a point where I want to say more, be more frank, admit a mistake, but at the last moment draw it back because it is giving up too much of myself – it’s too much to give away for free to strangers. Even this piece is a struggle to write because it’s telling the truth without the comforting shield of machismo or sarcasm, without recourse to punnishment.

Part of the challenge writing here, for you, for anyone else to read, is not being able to see you and read your face. What I might blithely reveal in conversation in vivo within a minute of meeting you causes me several minutes of angsty decision-making in vitro as I wonder whether I really want the world to know that – and more importantly, if there is any part of the world which could care less. I’m an unkind critic of people who live to update their Facebook status with blow-by-blow mundanities that surely cannot have meaning, even to them. I may have hiked an eyebrow or twelve when I heard about the girl who died of electrocution because she was tweeting in the bath. Tweeting! In the bath! And then dying! Honestly. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

And then there are serious and pressing questions like, ‘Do I really want to give the CIA or any other ill-wishers the rope to hang me with?’ Do I want to open myself up to the scrutiny of the internet at large, or worse still, my friends and family? How will my macho hard-man exterior cope with the vulnerability that sincerity and honesty will bring? Can I maintain my self-respect by disclosing the fact that I sometimes am rumoured to have human feelings? Does it even matter? And sometimes, the BIGGEST question is ‘where can I find a truly UNBELIEVABLE chocolate fudge brownie?’

I can’t answer those yet. But I know that people like Sabrina – and Maggie! – bring real inspiration to their readers: it isn’t their mistakes that we see, nor their failures that we record – nor do we envy their successes with a damaging envy (hasad). What we see is a human soul striving and growing, learning and changing, and ultimately adding to the pool – nay, freshwater lake – of human experience that other people can drink from.

And if I can be a part of that – if I’m bringing water to the ocean, or spices to the Orient, or gold to the gold mine – that’s something worth doing. After all, if you’re looking for water, you’re not going to go to the desert, right? This metaphorical water needs to be somewhere where it can be found – and it should be in a place where it can be taken away from. Not that I do this, though – I only wish I could write something meaningful! – but I am humbled and privileged by the company I’m in, and constantly inspired by other people.

In these days of OMG INTERNET, fangirling isn’t quite the same as it used to be. Where in the olden days, I’d read a book or an article and then mull over it and move on, now…when I finish a book that blew me away, I get straight to Google and look the author up. I made a resolution recently, born from having read several intensely interesting or moving pieces, to write and thank the author. I read a beautiful article the other day by Krista Bremer, and partly on a whim (having forgotten the resolution), I emailed her a short note, adding a thought or two of my own. A few days later, completely unexpectedly, I received the loveliest reply. Why only today, another wonderful email dropped into my inbox from Sabrina. They read your emails! Don’t expect a reply, but do write to them. (And then feel really special if they do reply XD)

Every writer, in any capacity, will have their own reasons for writing whatever they do. But it’s undeniable that we, the readers, are the ultimate beneficiaries. And as someone in their debt, to me, it seems like the least thing I can do is express it to them. They are, after all, real people with real lives, and maybe a few kind words from a reader are a few more coals that keep the fire in their souls burning.

And having digressed wildly: to return to the question of how honest – biology (kind of) agrees that it’s hard. In the molecular paradigm, this is active transport – the movement of particles from a lower concentration to a higher concentration – and it requires energy.

So I guess the real take-home message is ‘EAT MORE HIGH-ENERGY, LOW GI FOOD‘. Like SPROUTS.

Glad we got that straight.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2010 10:53 am

    Hmmm. Weird. I actually needed to hear that today. Strange.

    (I’ve been following Sabrina’s Journey Within and it’s so…hard for me to read sometimes because she captures so perfectly those moments as a younger person when you decide you want to go further into your religion, but there is so much work to do!)

  2. ZPurpleify permalink
    June 26, 2010 4:07 pm

    I LOVE Sabrina! She has a fantabulous way of writing…

    • June 28, 2010 12:50 pm

      Sabrina is made out of awesome. Everyone should check her out. I’ve been following her for a year and a halfish, now, I think – longest I ever followed a single site. Other than Detective Conan >_>

      Reading Slice is the closest I come to death every day. It is a SERIOUS HEALTH HAZARD.

  3. Kaimalino permalink
    June 27, 2010 1:30 am

    Having many intelligent thoughts (really!) but they are all swept away by a tsunami of silliness because of those CATS!! I *know* they shouldn’t be this funny, but they ARE, probably because they make me laugh like I’m in fifth grade and you just passed me a note in class. We joke all the time–nervously, perhaps– that the poodle who lives here is so maniacally clever we have to keep him leashed or he’d disappear to the basement to build bombs. We used to have Great Danes, and my husband would comment that if the cat were to grow to the size of the Dane, he’d no longer feel safe in the house. I suspect if the cat of the house were to develop the personality of the lolcats’ captions, my marriage could be in jeopardy.
    That’s enough idiocy–I mean, HONESTY for me.
    But wait–It’s not just raw moments that call for honesty, and a measured approach to how much is enough.
    Honest enthusiasm is a form of honesty that is too often considered uncool. It’s OK when you’re four and you love running through the sprinklers, and then you grow up and you’re not allowed to reallyreallyreally like things anymore; you’re supposed to be dignified and say,” Why yes, I’ll have a single chocolate chip cookie as I find them rather nice,” instead of “Ooooh! I love those! Let’s eat them all!” I like fangirling books and authors because it feels like a chance to be collaboratively enthusiastic in a socially acceptable (and non-caloric) way.
    I think being genuine and enthusiastic are qualities that are hard to come by, and that’s a big part of why people universally respond to a baby’s smile or laugh–we know it cannot be faked, and it is completely honest and genuine. Our response, then, is happily honest and appreciative.
    And living in a budget, too, is a form of honesty that is too often uncool. Avoiding debt or unnecessary expeditures and being honest to yourself and others by admitting “I can’t afford XYZ” instead of feeling social pressure to conform, even if it means a credit card bill later, well, it’s honest and honorable and a thousand other responsible things, but it’s not as fun as the dishonesty of the “I deserve everything” attitude so many seems to embrace. But living in debt for luxury is a form of dishonesty, I’m convinced. (I am married to an accountant, in case you wonder where that financial rant came from.)
    OK, I’ll be quiet now.

    Cats. . . . ha!

  4. June 28, 2010 1:11 pm

    I wonder if anyone actually hovers over the images to read the comments (because I ALWAYS write secret messages in them XD) – that lolcat was especially for you, Kai!

    If I were being an annoying biologist (which actually, I am), I would say something about babies and automatic smiling and then you would tell me to shut up because you have real babies and you know things a mere biologist can never know and I would bow my head and accede defeat. Except you would be more polite and I would be more rude.

    I’ve been thinking about the other kinds of honesty you mentioned. It kind of comes down to social desirability, doesn’t it? And I think that relates to the greater part of the reason why I don’t enjoy social things. In my house, we have no ‘shame’. If we like something, we like it, everyone else be da…rned. We like rummaging through secondhand shops and markets, we like saving money, we like FOOD, we like watching cartoons and we even kind of like having a hilariously tiny car with virtually no suspension even though everybody laughs at it. And we don’t like going shopping with our friends (seriously, why do people like that?), eating in front of strangers, and the speed at which people condemn us for being ‘uncool’.

    I feel like it’s a cliche, but we’ve never really fallen in with ‘everyone’ – we were already automatically different, and even if we’ve been through phases of trying to fit in, they were always doomed to fail, because we would never change enough, unless everything we believed in changed – and that’s a price none of us, in my family, are ever willing to pay.

  5. edzell permalink
    July 2, 2010 6:00 pm

    Saya, I stumbled across your blog this morning and have spent the past couple of hours reading. I do that occasionally – aimlessly wander The World of Blog – but rarely do I leave comments. (It is selfish, I suppose, but the idea of initiating even acquaintance relationships with random strangers from Who-Knows-Where is often daunting to me).

    Today was different, though. At some point during the course of reading Rock Pool, my degree of delight and interest and inspiration reached such a level that I knew I must express it.

    What you ladies have here is amazing and, in my experience, very unique. Even in this increasingly heterogenous world, it is rare that people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds actually get together and share life, openly, honestly, unapologetically. It is beautiful.

    Add to all that the wit and skill with which you ladies express yourselves, and you have a real gem-of-a-blog here.

    I say “Bravo” and thank you for contributing something Real and Good to the world.

  6. July 2, 2010 11:04 pm

    Hey edzell – thank you for the amazing heads-up.

    I think I’m speaking for all of the girls in saying that your comment is truly humbling. I don’t think I can say anything more coherent than that, except that I’ve had that feeling with other blogs (especially Slice of Lemon as mentioned above), of being driven to comment even though I never normally would – I do now, because I’m beginning to understand just how much goes into it.

    So thank you, and I hope you carry on reading with as much delight as we have writing.

  7. September 13, 2010 10:54 pm

    I don’t know whether to snork with laughter or get all fiery-eyed and inspired. Brilliant post. Especially the spout part. So true.

    • September 13, 2010 10:55 pm

      Er…I meant to say ‘sprout’. *sigh* I fail.

    • September 14, 2010 1:00 am

      Get fiery-eyed and BREATHE FIRE.

      Then you can write a book of your memoirs as a dragon.

      By the by, I heard Justin Bieber (hahaha I mistyped that ‘Biener’) is releasing his memoirs. While I still don’t fully know what exactly JB is (and don’t want to), I seem to remember him being about…oh, 6? YOU DON’T HAVE MEMOIRS UNTIL YOU’VE LIVED SOME.

      Someone tell him. God.

      Sprouts are good for you *nod* but I used to hate them.

  8. sonicth permalink
    September 5, 2011 10:23 pm

    cute cat, and i did not read your blog, cos i dont care, i hope there is anything good.

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