I wonder if Lisa Adams knew that Dani Shapiro viewed her Twitter timeline as a brave and unconventional work of memoir. Perhaps she did. And I hope so. But the thought rattled around in my mind during this morning’s shower.
In 7th grade, they called me fake. And I was. I know now (and probably did then) that it was bred of my desire to people-please. I never wanted to offend. I wanted to be liked, loved, by everyone, always.
With age, awareness, and exhaustion, I’ve grown less likely to self-censor or serve up faux flattery. But I still filter. Mine is a peculiar mix of litigator neuroses, an extreme aversion to error or offensiveness, a veneration for social convention, and now as someone who writes, a heightened attention to content and construction.
I place the words carefully on the page, just so, and with intention. Each post and publication, every comment and comma, even emails and tweets. Carefully crafted, proofread, overthought. My fingers never fly ahead of my critical eye. Tap, tap, tap. Backspace. Delete. Sit. Stew. Nail-bite. Tap, tap, tap.
When it comes to what’s spoken, we have far less control over our delivery—and we (fearfully?) face a reaction in real time—so sometimes we say nothing at all.
In person and on the page, we filter the flattery. Curb our compliments. We worry about how our words will land once we let them loose. We are so careful with our communication that we may miss our moment.
The one where we say:
You are one of the best writers I’ve read;
Your patience with your children inspires me to be a better parent;
Your eyes are a lovely shade of blue;
Even though we met not long ago, this friendship is really important to me;
and so on.
It has a tendency to tiptoe into the territory of what Dani terms the “faux-generosity” endemic to Twitter—and, I would argue, social media generally. But I credit many of us with the ability to deliver—and decipher—what’s genuine. In this age, we can reach out to virtually anyone in our world to share, from a safe distance, exactly how we feel. By this age, we know how rare but welcome these words truly are. We can forge friendships with our fingertips. We can fill the space with what’s real.
I often think of this passage from The Little Prince and wish we could speak as plainly, be as forthcoming about our need for each other:
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
Amanda Magee, one of my favorite writers, put it best:
It’s simply said, less simply done. But it’s everything.
Say it in life.
Not surprisingly, Amanda’s insightful comment on this post left me deep in thought, and I felt compelled to write on. “…even with ties, what is it if there isn’t the tiniest bit of trepidation,” she asks. Yes. That innate impulse to pause before we speak, to edit what we write, to tread lightly as we transform our inner thoughts into words spoken and shared—that is humanity at its most essential. Proof positive of the care and consideration we have for those who walk through this life with us.
It reveals a concern for the other, for all that lies beyond the self. It is a sign that we recognize we live in a shared world, that we are not alone here. We don’t go running our mouths or carelessly flinging our words all about, because we know they bump up against others, with hearts and minds and thoughts of their own. That we temper our speech and actions with concern for those in our surroundings—oh yes.
So, say the nice things out loud, absolutely. But that filter? That precious pause? That thought before speech? Revel in the humanity there.