Truth, transparency, and when to keep your trap shut

a street in an old section of Palm Springs

I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I just got back from a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend.

Sunshine. Reading. Lounging poolside with cocktails. There was a lanai involved, and a great deal of very delicious food. (Lesson learned: when choosing one's friends, it doesn't hurt to include "excellent cook" along with "kind," "fun," "goofy," and "generous" in the list of desired traits.) With the exception of a brief side trip to view a beautifully restored property in a sea of mid-Century splendor (seriously, it was like you'd died and floated to Wexler heaven on a Tiki cloud by SHAG), I spent my time shuttling between an overstuffed sofa on the aforementioned lanai and my little linoleum-tiled monk's cell, with occasional dips in the pool to cool off. (You have heard of these pool toys called "noodles"? They are the best pool toys ever. You kids. You got all the good stuff.)

Anyway, our time was mainly spent on the light and fluffy, as is appropriate for a bachelorette weekend. But as Sunday wound down, I found myself in the pool with the bride-to-be and her oldest friend, talking poetry. Which is weird, because (a), poetry?; and (b), me, discussing it?

I was sharing with them my ongoing ambivalence and wonder over the weird turn this site took a year or so ago when, fried to a crisp, with a deadline looming and no strength to wrassle one of my wordy damned essays to the ground, I wrote a "poem." I'd written a few of these "poems" before, but in an even jokier, joshier way, as part of an odd meme from the Mesozoic Age of blogging someone somewhere dubbed "Poetry Thursday," and that I cribbed from my blogging friend Neil Kramer. But the next week, and the week after that, and the weeks after that, I found myself again turning to this new-to-me condensed form, "short writing," I thought of it as being, but "poetry" I called it. In quotes. Always in quotes.

I was sharing with the bride-to-be and her friend all my fears around writing these things I was calling poems (but only in quotes!), how I felt like a fraud, how strange it felt to have people responding to them at all, much less in a way that indicated they were resonating with them. I was not a poet; I had barely studied it in school, and had dabbled even less. In other words (oh, pun! oh, punny-pun-pun!), I was wildly unqualified to write real poetry. So I didn't: I just tried to tell the truth, only shorter. Sometimes it worked better than others, but it always worked on that level, as the truth-only-shorter. There is time to get better at poetry, and to learn other things about how to make it better, and to deepen my practice. If I'd waited until I was good at it, I'd be waiting a long time, and we wouldn't have gotten to enjoy some of my weirder forays into the land of verse. It all works out, this imperfectly working at stuff, when you approach it with a sense of humor and honesty and a certain (but not too much of a) sense of earnestness.

What does not work, at least for me, is letting it all hang out, maybe ever, but at least not until I have made some sense of it. I have a long-brewing post I've been hacking away at about the right time to release a post into the world. It varies, depending on the subject matter and parties involved and a whole lot of other things, but the three rules I have for putting something out there (or not) are that:

  1. the something cannot compromise the privacy or safety of myself or another party
  2. the something must have been rolled around in my head long enough to make some sense of it
  3. the something must carry with it some kind of appeal to someone outside the borders of me

These are the rules that have me using nicknames and obscuring details. These rules are why I can sometimes be detailing things almost as they happen, like a self-dev color commentator, and other times not talking about things for five and ten or more years after the fact. I'm not telling anyone else that they should adhere to these rules or rules like them: they're just what work for me, to maintain the solitude and distance I need to do the work I want to do.

I'd like to think I'm not lying here, even by omission, but I suppose that we're always lying a little bit, here and there, showing our good side or even cherrypicking parts of our bad sides to put on display. One really astute complaint I heard recently about Facebook is how people use it as a big, electronic megaphone from which to bellow LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL NO REALLY IT IS NO REALLY LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT while they madly flip levers from behind the curtain. No one is the Great and Powerful Oz, and most of us are as naked as that famous emporer, if you look hard enough. (Especially with x-ray specs.)

The truth is, I'm dealing with some heavy, heavy stuff right now on a couple of fronts, and it wears on me. Less when I'm rested and taking care of myself, but even then, it will peep through the cracks now and then; even, say, on a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend. But after almost 50 years of living, I know I don't need to give vent to every little thing right there, or here, for that matter. There is time-and-place appropriateness, just as there is age-appropriateness. And I know to take breaks: to do my Nei Kung, to read quietly, to slip off to the bathroom and take a quick shower. The bride-to-be is understanding of me, as well: there's a reason I scored the tiny, hipster monk's cell.

Poetry, in quotes for the moment, but hopefully, not forever, is part of how I tell my truth right now, as are essays, newsletters, columns, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, tweets, email and, lately, goofy little videos. Are the poems less truthful for dealing with menopause and envy rather than heartbreak? Will they be more truthful when I write about heartbreak one or two or twenty years from now, if, you know, there is still electricity and the Internet and we are not living in caves, and if (big "if") I can make some larger sense of it?

When our mother died, and again when our father did, my sisters and I gathered and wept, as you might expect. But more often than you might expect if you've yet to live through these kinds of losses, hard up against the tears was laughter, sly and delicious or hearty and cathartic. It is shocking sometimes, even as you're living through it, how often laughter and tears seem to bleed into one another. Or maybe not. As we learned in Method acting class, core truth is emotion, period, and most of the time, all of it is there together, swirling around in a big, messy pool of human goo.

So we cry until we laugh, or laugh until we cry. We write "poetry", in quotes at first, and eventually, maybe on its own. We tuck things away in our pockets to look at later, when we have the strength. And we share what we can of what we know.


Photo of a house in Palm Springs, CA, although not of the house where we stayed.