Only When I’m Telling the Truth

One of the most natural and acceptable getting-to-know-you questions for college students is, “what’s your major?”
“English,” I’d say.
Then they’d ask a question that was all at once boring and also deeply triggering if you, like me, didn’t have a real answer. “Oh, so what are you going to do with that?”
“I’m not sure,” is what I said for years. Then in my senior year I decided that I should start putting out there into the universe what I actually wanted. “I want to write for a living.” Pipe dreams. Everyone knew it.

Last night I sent some pieces of writing to a friend of mine. Something that I wrote without any audience in mind so I was able to be more free than usual. I was writing just to get this experience down on paper. Just because it was begging to be written.
This morning she texted me, “seriously, your writing is beautiful.”

I’m going to sound so arrogant right now but this is a compliment that I’m used to. It’s easy for me to not hear it and just say, “thanks” because I’m embarrassed by flattery. But I knew that she meant it. I knew that she was saying that something I said landed with her. My routine, robotic, “thanks” would have disregarded her. So instead of responding right away, I decided to hop in the shower and think about what that means. Because I don’t always write beautifully. I don’t always write in a way that connects with people. As I’m doing it I can tell, “this isn’t going to work. No one is going to hear this.” And I’m usually right. I don’t know how I know, I just know when it’s right and when it’s not.

What I wrote last night was vulnerable and even a little scary. It was all truth.

Right after graduation, I did get a writing job. My first grown up job. In Brookings, South Dakota at SDSU. This was great because I got to stay in a comfortable university setting but I’d get to be one of the grown ups! A department hired me to assemble their course catalogue and put it online. The writing part? Oh, I’d get to write the course descriptions. Yeah… that’s utilizing my talents! I’d spent the last four years writing whatever people asked me to write, I could do it and get paid for it for sure. Then, when the catalogue was up and running they asked me to write pamphlets for different courses and tracks and stuff like that.

It was the worst. I was terrible at it. In addition to not understanding the basic structure of how a public university operates (I went to a private school), feeling like a complete outsider, living so far away from the people that I loved (though my best friend did live with me at the time and that was an actual life-saver at times), writing because your life depends on it is horrible. I got the worst writer’s block. And not only that but this was stuff that I just didn’t care about. Which made it infinitely harder to dredge up any damns for the task at hand. I don’t care about the classes you have to take to keep your teacher’s certification. Some people do, I do not. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force it.

When I was fired after six months, I was relieved more than anything. I vowed to never have my life depend on my creativity. It took me years to get my magic back. But my magic is back, don’t you think? I’ll be cocky, it’s fine. My magic came back this summer.

I do write for a living, now. But “for a living” means something totally different. More like: to stay alive.

After my shower, I picked up my phone and responded to my friend’s text:
“Seriously, your writing is so beautiful.”
“Only when I’m telling the truth.”

That’s the one. That’s how I know whether or not you’re going to hear what I’m saying. When I’m just filling space. When I’m hitting an arbitrarily self-imposed deadline, you don’t care. You don’t! You just don’t and that’s fine. In fact that’s good. That keeps me here in this honest space where I want to live forever.

Thank you for keeping me here.


[Feature photo by Jessica Dixon on Unsplash]

Page 46: What Are You Passionate About?

I recently heard someone ask the question, “What is your passion?” Which is something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. It’s a really huge question—so big that when I hear it I tend to immediately switch off. This does not apply to me. I’ve looked and looked and I don’t have one of those.

What Are You Passionate About

I’ve always sort of assumed that I must not have any passion because I was not born with this innate and obvious drive to do one thing. I thought that those people were just lucky and I wasn’t so much and maybe some people just don’t have any passion?

But he followed the question up with a second question, “When you look out into the world—what makes you angry?” That’s an easier question to answer—for me anyway.

I thought about it for a little while and realized I have an answer for that question. And maybe that’s what my passion is. Maybe that’s how we discover our passion. Maybe our passion isn’t something easy to pinpoint—maybe it’s a little bit subtle and flies under the radar. Maybe it’s taking stock of the things that stir and leave an impression.

I mean, normal things make me angry—paying $11 for a watered down drink, realizing you’re out of milk when it’s 10 pm and you just poured yourself a bowl of Count Chocula. But those are the kinds of things that you forget about quickly enough.

What moves my heart and what leaves more of a mark on me is when I see people who assume that nice lives can’t be theirs. When people believe that because we live in a normal house in a normal town with a normal budget, we aren’t afforded nice things. But we can take pride in ourselves—our work and our bodies and our minds and our hearts and our homes. We can do that! We don’t have to live somewhere exciting to have opportunity.

I was an English major in college and as an English major I was forced to be on the school newspaper staff. Sorry everyone who worked with me but it was definitely not my passion to go into journalism! I did not like it. I did not like all of the recognition of athletes or political figureheads of the school. These weren’t the kind of people that I opened the paper to learn about. But I had to be on this team if I wanted to graduate. At pitch meetings, people would have these ideas and specific beats to which they were assigned and I didn’t want to do any of them. I mean, I didn’t know what my passion was but I had a pretty good grasp on what my passions were not! Finally they asked me what I wanted to write about. I said, “You know, honestly, I’d rather focus on the people that we never really learn about. The people who keep to themselves but have interesting things to say.” And miraculously, the editor told me that I could write a feature, every two weeks, about an ordinary student. And suddenly, I was really super pumped to write for the newspaper! I chose my first subject by going into the cafeteria and talking to the first person that I saw sitting by himself. And it was a lot of fun. People would inevitably say, “I don’t know how you’re going to make me sound very interesting.” But I always did. I was really excited about that skill that I had. I liked my ability to see something exciting in someone who saw themselves as just so crushingly ordinary.

We can be ordinary people with ordinary lives that we value and adore and appreciate. We can find adventure in our neighborhood and we can find gourmet in our own cupboards. Ordinary things can sparkle and ordinary people can shine if we just make a little shift into the sunbeam. I think that’s how we move from having a passive life to taking an active role in our future. Maybe I can work to help people to see some of these things. Because what’s the point in having a passion if you’re never going to do anything with it?

What Is Your Passion?

I think maybe everyone does have a passion but maybe it could be disguising as something a little more subtle.

I wonder about you–do you know what you’re passionate about? How did you come to recognize it?