It was 3 AM at a sooljip in Bundang and a friend that I hadn’t seen in nearly a year let me know what he thought about me: “You’re too careful.”
By that he meant that I tend to be too guarded, that I don’t open up to people. I’m rather tight-lipped about my personal life and my opinions. And it’s true. I usually play my cards really close to the chest. I don’t know why I do it. Perhaps it’s a self-defense mechanism. I think it comes from my agreeable personality trait, or the society that I grew up in; I’m so concerned with how people perceive me that I wind up saying nothing at all.
But recently, I’ve realized that, by being overly concerned with protecting my neck, I haven’t shown people the real me. Either way, I realized that I am pretty guarded. I’ve just hoped that people would take me at face value. But the accusation made me think. Then, if not the raw truth, what have I been showing people? At best, a veneer. At worst, a lie. One of the banes of my existence is the politician who is serpentine with their words; orating something that I call “non-speak”- a carefully crafted and articulate response yet containing nothing of actual substance. Have I become something that I despise?
And I’ve been thinking about this overall characteristic has been affecting my writing. If withholding our thoughts, ideas, and personal information (refraining from speaking the truth) in our everyday lives can be detrimental to our personal life, then can it also hurt our writing? And of course the antithesis of that; would being an unbridled truth-teller liberate us to freely express ourselves in writing? And since the highest form of writing is self-expression, shouldn’t every artist strive to speak the truth in every arena, not just their chosen mediums?
Hemingway said that the writer’s job is to tell the truth. So if to write is to tell the truth, then the highest quality of a writer then is honesty. And since writing, or the state of being a writer, for many, forms the very fabric with which they weave their lives, then of course being a truth teller should permeate every aspect of their being, not just when they are engaged with work.
What does this mean for me? Simply put, it means being honest with myself.
I can’t only speak the truth in storytelling. I need to embrace truth everywhere. In my personal life, in the banalities of daily living, in conversations, in love.
I used to think that being truthful could hurt me, but now I regard it as a source of strength. Because great writers are honest. I can learn something from that.