The thing about being someone who promotes truth telling – on the page and off – is that when you’re not walking your talk you know it immediately and it’s hard not to feel like a big ol’ liar.
Of course I’m being a little hard on myself; I’m human, I make choices, and the bottom line is that I don’t always tell the truth about how I feel or what I think. That’s why I teach it – because it is hard for me – and so I practice it.
A few weeks ago I was invited to the monthly salon my friend Megan holds in her home, and to which she invites artists and creatives to speak about their work to a group of her friends.
“Laurie Wagner is the most honest person I’ve ever met,” Megan said with a big smile, as she introduced me to her friends. My eyes went big. I gulped. It felt like a challenge. If she’d said, “Laurie Wagner is the strongest woman on earth,” I’d have to lift something really heavy. Being the most honest person would mean I’d have to tell the truth – and the truth was – that was the last thing I wanted to do.
I’d been feeling crappy for months. The reality of life without my husband of 22-years had begun sinking in. The first few months were pure candy – like being a teenager when your parent’s leave for the weekend and you can do whatever you want. I went on dates, turned our bedroom into my bedroom, I didn’t have to haggle with anyone around house and kid decisions, and I brought work to bed – something he always hated. But the last couple of months had been harder. The responsibility of being a single parent and householder had sunk in. Between earning the money, managing the house, the kids and the tsunami of work on my plate, I was overwhelmed. Plus I missed my husband – a sweet, upbeat guy who, while driving me nuts in some ways, had also brought a lot of kindness and companionship to my life.
Recently I had even begun doubting my decision to separate, and a new kind of loneliness had settled in right alongside the fresh lines around my eyes, which seemed darker and deeper than before. Also new was the jiggly skin around my knees which was beginning to pucker, the new gray in my hair, and the bulge around my hips which made my jeans feel tight all over. The changes didn’t stop there; my oldest baby daughter was leaving for college in a few weeks.
When I got to Megan’s salon that night I felt a sad, vulnerable desperation, a feeling of things slipping through my hands; my marriage, my family and my youth.
Minutes before the event started I held two short stacks of stories in each hand. One stack held the funny writing I’d done a million years ago; images of me on my back making snow angles in a field of daisy’s while my kids viciously cut down a tree in the background, and the other, a stack of the harder, more sobered writing from the last few months that spoke to my loneliness and self doubt. In an act of total self-protection, I went with the funny stuff. I wanted to entertain people. I wanted them to laugh, to think I was smart and funny. I didn’t want them to see my sadness because I didn’t want to see my sadness.
I get that I was protecting myself. I agree that it’s not necessary to out yourself 100 % of the time. Plus, these people were strangers to me. But what I realized afterwards, after I found myself reading “funny” lines that landed like dirt clods and which didn’t bring me half the laughs that I had hoped for – wasn’t just that I had chosen incorrectly, but something even more important for me to notice:
While it’s not always comfortable being honest, it’s even more uncomfortable not being honest.
And it’s not so much about outing myself as it is about aligning myself with where I am in an authentic way – however I can do that. Maybe it’s about holding my sadness with some grace – when I can.
I can’t tell you how things might have been different that night at Megan’s house if I’d chosen the other stack of stories. I still may have left feeling sad, but at least I would have left honest – and that – for me – is walking my talk.