My first love, a man who is still one of my best friends, is Ringo. We met in the ninth grade when I moved to a new school across the other side of the city. He had long blonde hair and big shiny sapphire eyes, and he was simultaneously very quiet and very self-assured for a fifteen year old. We wrote notes to each other in social science class, he picked flowers out of people’s front gardens for me when we walked home together, he had been a vegan since age 9 and he was the best guitarist at our school. He was, and is still, something of a brilliant weirdo.
He dropped out of school eventually and spent his days riding his mountain bike and making music. His parents made him get a job and he started working at a carwash, which made him miserable. He was too smart, too creative, too interesting for most jobs — menial or otherwise. I remember him telling me several years ago that he was working for food at an Asian grocery store after having escaped a director’s job and salary at one of Australia’s biggest and oldest museums. Later that job sucked him back in. He did it, he made the money, but he wasn’t happy. Why? Because it just wasn’t Ringo.
Last week we spoke and he told me he’d finally quit that job for good. He’s just interviewed with an Australian indigenous research organization, and he was telling me that he went into the interview determined not to hide anything about who he is and what he really cares about. The point? To never have to pretend to be something he’s not at work again.
Sometimes we’re too polite for our own good. We go through life trying so hard to fit in, to be the responsible adult, to get the “good job”. And then when we get the job, we have to keep on keeping on. We have to keep the aspidistra flying, or risk descending into degenerate status. It’s exhausting. Think of all the times in a day you censor yourself.
There’s a clue here about what makes for powerful writing. The best things we read are usually the things that say what we’re afraid to say aloud ourselves. The voice in the writing advocates for our truths, even if we can’t in our day to day lives.
This week’s writing exercise is meant to build on the freeing powers of the stream of consciousness writing task I gave you back in August. It’s a little more directed and requires a little more creativity. Let me know how you do in the comments.
Reflective Writing Exercise 3: What Really Didn’t Happen
When To Do It:
When you have some time and space to yourself.
To rewrite history!
Think of an interaction you had recently where you found yourself being too polite, hiding your genuine thoughts or feelings on something that was important to you, or when you felt oppressed by somebody or something.
Your task is to write about how that interaction should have gone, had you spoken your mind.
Start at the beginning, set the scene, introduce the characters. Then, at the crucial moment, fictionalize the scenario. Tell the other characters what you really felt or thought, and imagine how they might respond. Write out the whole fictional history until it reaches a natural conclusion.
This can be one or two pages in length. You can write in the style of a short story, or even a journal entry.
Pay close attention to the moments of high emotion, the moments where you are speaking your truth, and see it through to the possible outcomes of doing so. Is it possible to speak your truth without being adversarial? How can you balance your thoughts and feelings in the way you respond? Think, “what’s the worst thing that could happen,” and write that out. Are the consequences of being true to yourself really so bad?