Being real

It’s the kind of day to set aside for making grape juice in advance of making jelly. It’s the time of year to restart my sourdough for when the weathers cools. It’s a place of quiet, of reflection, rather than rushing about. Of reading, of listening, of being.

I’ve been thinking a lot about three posts on online authenticity I came across a few weeks ago. The first one came to me via Facebook and was about a writer working on chronicling her life truthfully on her blog. It interested me because I have a visceral dislike of social media as a place of, if not lies, than at least very limited truth. Facebook is a land made of high points and absolute tragedy, but most lives are composed of more basic materials than those. Most of us navigate an endless terrain of up and down. Most of us have families who do as well. Honesty–naming the things that keep us awake at night, the things that we struggle through during the day–is a scarce commodity.

Which is not to say that there are not brilliant things about social media as well. Twitter is an incredible tool in the hands of activists, for example. As a writer, it might be challenging for me to find other writers in my area (actually that’s a lie–it’s hard not to hit a writer when tossing a stone around here), and venturing into the wild internet realms can help me find my kin.

But I’m interested in the realness of people: the unpredictable, the frightened, the lonely, the awkward, the uncertain. I want to know how we survive the things life tosses us, what we learn along the way. Success is so much better to hear about when I know what has come before it.

Which brings me to the second post. It’s a powerful interview with Shira Erlichman, a poet who has written a series of odes to lithium, the medication that stabilizes her. In the interview she says the following: “When I look out into the cultural landscape and the only time I see the mentally ill represented is when people are in distress, I can’t possibly see a reflection that gives me hope. To not see examples of mentally ill people thriving is essentially to always feel death on the horizon.”

That stuck with me. Because just as we are not always successful, we are not always suffering. It’s true of all people–lives tend not to be all misery–but, again, what we see online rarely gives us that sense. This is particularly true with mental illness. We are taught that it is shameful to admit mental illness. We are taught that there are hierarchies to such admissions, that saying we were once depressed is more okay than saying we are bipolar, that it is better to say we are rundown by the flu than to confess that our brain is what keeps us in bed all day. All that shame prevents us sharing the good pieces just as efficiently as the bad. In fact, we are far more likely to admit mental illness on social media when we are in, or have just come through, a crisis. Our lives are far more than that, though. We are far more than sadness and fear.

I came across the previous pieces on the same day. This last one arrived in my inbox the following day. I first encountered Ben Hewitt through an essay he wrote on unschooling. In this post, on why he is choosing to step away from regular blogging, I found something refreshing, something so often true and so rarely stated: what we offer online is frequently a product. We are rarely fully ourselves. In some cases, we simply trim away the boring bits (does anyone really care how many times I cook eggplant when it is in season?). In others, we hide the essence of who we are, and in doing so, we damage not only other people, but ourselves.

It can be an exhausting line to walk. It’s one I frequently find wearing. Because I am messy; because the people I love most are messy, too. Because this world is not half so clearly defined as we choose to portray it.

I am forty-five years old. I am the homeschooling mother of two kids, and while there is a limit to how much I say about that online (because their stories are not mine to tell), it is a fundamental piece of my life. I have been married for eighteen years. I am as much chaos as I am hummingbirds drinking nectar outside the bedroom window. I write because it sustains me, allows me to find ways through dark times. I am more familiar with dark times than I care to be, but I am also full of light. I crave solitude, and sunshine, and I rarely answer my phone. Being a work in progress, I require editing from time to time, and daydreaming, and some technical support. I have big feet, which keep my from falling over, and long hair, which mostly annoys me.

I’m just me, looking for how to be most real.

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