As True As Possible

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash.

When Ken and I take road trips, he loads his iPod with a variety of podcasts. The miles pass more quickly, and, more importantly, we have some wonderful, uninterrupted opportunities for learning. Occasionally, I hear a comment or statement that inspires or energizes me in some way. That happened this past weekend.

On the way back from visiting my sister in Northern Indiana, we listened to a wise and funny interview from On Being. Host Krista Tippett interviewed poet and memoirist Mary Karr. Mary answered a question about how she began to write memoir by saying, “I think I just got the idea to say something small and simple and as true as possible.” I scrambled to find a pen and scrap of paper to write this down. Her words rang true to me, not only for writing but for my life.

Small and simple and as true as possible: In a world that appears to value only bigness and complexity and, more and more, falsehoods masquerading as truth, her formula cheers my heart. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with bigness and complexity in the appropriate places (although a lot is wrong with those falsehoods). But it’s so easy to get caught up in “shiny object syndrome,” which leaves us constantly grasping for more and more. And more. We not supposed to ever be satisfied with what we already have or to be grateful for it—that makes us somehow lazy or unworthy of respect.

I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t strive to improve our lives or become better people. First, though, we need to be sure we truly want what we think we desire. And then to consider what obtaining it will require of us. Will having it impoverish us in spirit or self-respect, rather than enhance them? Will it allow us to live more purposefully, or distract us from that?

In other words, are we being as true as possible with ourselves when we go after it?

Recently I committed to put together an online journaling program I thought would be easy to create and which would bring in some extra funds. It was to be an “evergreen” kind of program that people could purchase any time and complete at their own pace. No involvement necessary from me. I’ll confess (gulp) I wanted to do this program mostly for some “passive income.” Easy peasey, right?

I wrote most of the first draft but wasn’t satisfied. Then I rewrote large chunks of it, thinking that would help. As my deadline approached, I grew more and more unsettled and unhappy, which cast a shadow over other parts of my life.

Then the light broke through: Even though the topic was one I used to love and was deeply involved with, now my heart was not in it. I had moved on. I wasn’t being true to myself with this program. Or to the people who might have taken it. Furthermore, this program was nudging me away from my new work in writing through transitions. (See more here about this.)

So I emailed the person for whose website I was creating the class and explained why I would not be submitting it. With that, my spirits lifted. And they rose even more when she was kind and gracious about my decision, as I suspected she would be.

Being true to myself once again left me feeling restored and happy to have what I already have.

For Your Journal:

  • Think of something you once wanted so strongly that you could hardly think of anything else—and then you got it. Did having it feel as good as you thought it would? If not, why not? If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you still want it?
  • Recall a time when you realized you were acting in a way that was not true to yourself. Did you continue or did you change directions? (No judgment here; simply explain.) In either case, how did you feel? What happened in your life as a result?
  • “Small and simple and as true as possible.” What does this mean to you in your life right now?