Last week, my younger cousin Molly and I sat across the table from each other at a Thai restaurant. After recapping our week, I questioned her about my book and my blog. "Be honest," I began, "do you have any critiques on my writing?"
I knew she would truthfully respond. Molly is family, and my family has never refrained from letting me know when I'm doing something wrong, being annoying, or acting stupid. Molly also has the gift of conveying exactly what she's thinking, even if it makes the other person slightly uncomfortable. I value this trait because I have a hard time speaking my mind if I know it may cause conflict.
"Actually, yes, I do have some ideas on your blog," Molly started, gazing up at the ceiling as she slowly chewed her pad thai. "I really like it when you share your own thought processes and describe your whole train of thought."
"Mmmhmm...continue," I pressed.
She shoved another forkful of pad thai in her mouth. "No offense, but I don't like it when you do a lot of analysis on the situation and start to quote other philosophers. I don't believe that you actually know what you're talking about when you analyze, so just sharing your own thoughts is better."
"Hmm . . . ok, that makes sense?" I responded, lingering on the phrase "you have no idea what you're talking about," but ultimately agreeing with the comment. I took out my most faithful companion, my notebook, and jotted down "no idea what I'm talking about."
"And definitely lay off the descriptive sentences about scenery. They bore me."
"Interesting," I stated, which is my go-to word when I have no idea how else to respond. "This is hard though because I'm receiving conflicting messages from people," I countered. "Someone just read some of my work and told me that I needed way more analysis and more sensory imagery."
Molly looked at me for a few moments, just blinking. "Yeah, I mean, it's totally up to you what you want to do. I'm just saying what I think."
"Yeah, I know," I mumbled. I mindlessly played with my food, which I do when I'm nervous, and mentally weighed which writing style I should pursue.
I know it's up to me. I have received countless suggestions to "just be me" when I write, but that's the hard part, figuring out what my truest voice sounds like. I think I know what it sounds like, but just when I get in to a groove, I start to question it.
I'm not saying this is bad per se. I think it's healthy to be open to our own malleability and explore different styles. That being said, on a larger scale, I'm still figuring out not only how to write like me, but how to be me wherever I am.
It sounds like an easy concept, but it can be hard being myself--my most authentic self--in every social situation. I often find myself catering my discussions to whom I'm talking. For example, I'll talk politics with my friends from college, but rarely religion; I'll talk religion with my religious friends , but never politics; I'll talk about my interest in certain legal issues with other lawyers, but won't talk about my book writing; I'll express my discomfort at a racist or homophobic comment to some, and completely ignore such comments to avoid confrontation with others; I'll put on my happy-go-lucky side in a social situation, when really I'm feeling quiet and introverted.
While this could be considered, in some form, emotional intelligence or social etiquette, when I choose my conversations based on the comfort level of others, I'm actually catering myself to who other people are. I'm creating a social construct of self and choosing whether to share my "public" or "private" persona depending on who I'm with.
Back to Molly. A few months ago, we were sitting around a party and someone shared an inappropriate joke. I pretended I didn't catch the punch line and avoided eye contact with the joke-teller. Molly, on the other hand, nicely, but firmly, asked, "I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what's funny about that." It was awkward, I'm not going to lie. But Molly did it in such a way where she was honoring herself and her beliefs and not shying away from speaking her mind, though it shifted the mood of the environment. I really respected her for that. She said what she meant.
I'm currently practicing this new thing called "only saying what I mean." For example, if I run into an acquaintance on the street and I know that we won't get together, I don't say "let's get together sometime and catch up." If someone asks me how I am, and I'm feeling tired, I don't respond, "I feel great!" If someone asks me where I want to eat, and I have an opinion on it, I tell them where I want to eat. If someone asks me for advice and I know it could be hard to hear, I'm trying to just share what I really think.
I am slowly learning that I can't successfully be my truest self if I'm constantly catering my opinions, thoughts, advice, or vocabulary to other people. As Shakespeare said (sorry Mol-I'm quoting someone), "to thine own self be true." One of the reasons I write is because it clears away all my facades and personas that I may put up during the day and sheds light on my deeper, more authentic Self. I'm trying to own my own voice, regardless of what others may prefer. It's part of my practice of being me wherever I may be.