Dina L. Relles

writer. editor. curious + common.

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.

24 thoughts on “say it in life

  1. You just gave me chills. I was sitting here, having just read a comment on my blog that worried me. Did I write incorrectly? Did I miss an important element? Was I wrong?

    Then I took a deep breath and thought, “But we can disagree. We can each have our thoughts, even shared as they were, in a sense out loud. ”

    I am grateful to be coming into a kind of heart and head space that allows me to put things out there. Besides, even with ties, what is it if there isn’t the tiniest bit of trepidation.

    Grateful for your words and what comes from you reading mine and those of others around us.

    So very fond of you.

    1. “even with ties, what is it if there isn’t the tiniest bit of trepidation” – now *that* gave ME chills. So, so true. It is so wonderfully human and real to tread lightly as we form our inner thoughts into words spoken and shared — a sign of caring, of love, of shared space–of a respect for the other, and all that lies beyond the self. YOUR words always make me ponder and reconsider in the best, most searching, meaningful ways–and for them, for you, I am grateful. xox

    1. Thank you, Sarah. xoxo

  2. Amy says:

    I agree with you and Amanda, Dina. I always say exactly what I mean, whether online or face-to-face. I would far rather dare to expose a loving and supportive heart and be mistaken as “faux-generous” than withhold a word of tenderness or refrain from giving a well-deserved compliment. We should all mean what we say and dare to say the nice things out loud. xo

    1. I hadn’t considered the “faux-generosity” concept until reading Dani’s words, but I admit it gave me pause; do people think I’m phony on Twitter? Possibly. I feel like I conduct myself the same there as I do in real life, but I can see how with the absence of tone, it might seem like too much. Anyway, I can’t profess to always say exactly what I mean, but I do try. Eloquence is a work in progress. Love your thoughts, Dina.

      1. I think that’s true for so many of us, Justine–we do the best we can with the written word to have it say exactly what we mean, but of course something is inevitably lost in the absence of tone and inflection. I find it so remarkable that there are people I feel I know, though I’ve never even heard them speak. I always find you to be completely genuine. Thank you so much for reading & sharing here.

    2. I love this, Amy. Such an inspiring way to be. Thank you for reading & sharing this here. xo

  3. lemead says:

    Yes. This. Perfection. Thank you for reminding me of this. xoxo

    1. Thanks so much, Lindsey. xox

  4. Dana says:

    This is so well said Dina. I love your little guy’s note.

    1. Thanks so much, Dana! That was a while ago–he was just learning to write & I loved that “I love you” was one of the first things he did. I showed him that picture last night & he smiled ;).

  5. jsolot says:

    I’m guilty of constantly second guessing myself, it’s horrible. “Say it in life” – an important reminder. Thank you 🙂

    1. With you there on the second-guessing! Thanks so much for your comment, Justine. xo

  6. Allie says:

    This was beautiful Dina – and a great read on International Happiness Day! Saying the kind things out loud will make us all happier people.

    1. Thank you, Allie! The Happiness Day overlap was a mere coincidence–but a lovely one at that. xo

  7. Nina Badzin says:

    This is so so great and really timely for me. I worry that I am too careful and crafted. That said, I am FOR SURE more stumbling and foot-in-mouth in person that i so cherish the ability pause and backspace. And just when I thought I was getting better, in person, at just being at ease in a big group I had an unsettling experience. Apparently I said something the rubbed somebody the wrong way a few weeks ago and rather than calling me to ask me about it directly (like to ask if that was what I meant) this woman or a friend of hers wrote up the situation in a fake friendship question to me on my column using the anonymous form. Have I already told you that? I remember writing it in a comment somewhere and not sure if it was here. Well, either way, you can see it’s sort of traumatized me because the incident she was referring to was so completely not a big deal and really you would have to LOOKING to be offended to have interrupted what I said that way. It’s made me sort of turtle back into being overly careful again, and I don’t like it.

    Sorry for the novel here!

    1. I’ll always welcome a novel from you, Nina! 😉 Wow, I hadn’t heard this story before–that’s some passive aggressive behavior if I ever heard any. I do think some people will look to be offended, find ways to misinterpret, create drama…it’s a shame, and can be really toxic. It can be hard not to let it bring you down, or to continue to give people the benefit of the doubt, when you’ve had an experience like yours where you feel so totally misunderstood. It’s like every word we speak or write is a risk in some way–that could be misconstrued, that could offend or hurt. But it’s impossible to stay silent or constantly censor ourselves (this is as much a pep talk to myself as anything!). I suppose it’s always seeking that balance of speaking your mind while being aware of how your words affect others–and hoping they aren’t manipulated or misunderstood. Thanks for sharing this here, Nina!

  8. I read this yesterday and it’s been lingering with me in a way that I know I will need to read it again and again. I’m better at saying things out loud than I used to be but eliminating that fear of what will happen (even when we say the good things out loud) is harder than it should be.

    1. A million times yes. Thanks for reading & thinking about my words…and adding yours. xox

  9. rudrip says:

    Yes, to saying it and saying it out loud. Important message, Dina, and I am so grateful that you felt compelled to share it with us. xo

    1. Thank you so much, Rudri! xox

  10. Dakota says:

    Ooooh, “say the nice things out loud.” I recently put up a sketch on my instagram account, and invited people to continue the story I started with a snippit about a woman smiling. And it was actually inspired by a woman that I met recently – and then she commented on it. I wanted to tell her that it was her that I was talking about… but I’m shy, as we only met recently and she is someone who is also careful with her words.

    I find it immensely relieving that you confess to taking so much care in your writing. Your words are some of the most moving and well-crafted that I’ve run across in the blog-o-sphere – how I aspire to write like you someday!

    1. I’ve been meaning to respond to this lovely comment forever! Oh yes, I’ve had many moments like that–where I’ve wanted to tell someone how much they’ve inspired me or how I often think of their words, but then filter myself. I have to remind myself that everyone appreciates honest flattery (who wouldn’t?) so it’s usually worth it to say something. And your words here! Blushing, Dakota. Thank you, thank you; they mean more than you know. And I love how *you* write, just as you are. 😉

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