Let’s Be Honest

Hello, writers! Joshua Wallenstein here – enjoying my first month as a Binghamton Poetry Project intern. Hopefully everyone is enjoying the falling leaves, back-to-school pictures on Facebook, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Pumpkin spice everything, to be more precise.

My very first creative writing professor once spoke extensively about vulnerability and honesty within writing. She read us a quote by Anne Lamott, which reads, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Honesty isn’t one of my strong suits. “You need to grow a backbone,” my father says to me on an almost daily basis. Because I’m rarely, if ever, upfront about my feelings. I’ll never tell someone that something they said hurt me.

But I’ll write about it. I’ll call them out, by name, and articulate my feelings in the most exact, truthful way that I know how. And when they’re irate that I would portray them in such a negative light, I’ll shrug and say, “Maybe you should have behaved better.”

On the contrary, I’ll never tell someone that I have feelings for them. I’ll never look them in the eyes and tell them how I feel.

But again, I’ll write about it.

I’ll write about people that move me – I’ll write about their eyes, about their hands, about things they’ve said that they would never remember; things that stuck with me. And if I’ve never spoken to them, I’ll assign them a personality. I’ll write about their hobbies, and their favorite restaurant. I’ll write about our future together – about our wedding, and our house, and our kids. And when tragedy strikes – when they say or do the wrong thing, and the pretty picture of our future that I painted is ripped to shreds, I won’t tell them.

But I’ll write about it.

Another professor of mine once shared that the two most honest types of people are stand-up comics, and writers. When you think about it, when have you heard a good stand-up comedian who was not blatantly honest about strangers they’d come across, their family, their partner, their children, even themselves?

Currently, one of my favorite comics is Amy Schumer, whose show Inside Amy Schumer, and movie Trainwreck are both extremely personal. She speaks openly about her relationships with men, about her father, about her body, about sex, about her mistakes. She speaks openly about the things that people are thinking, but have a hard time vocalizing, for fear of scrutiny and judgment. And while she makes it look easy, she’s taking a huge risk displaying this amount of honesty. But comedy is her art; her release. Comedy is her therapy – you can’t lie to your therapist.

The same is true for writers, for whom writing is therapy. Good writing is relatable, but just barely scratches the surface. Great writing, however, is relatable and personal – almost invasive. Great writing reveals insecurities, weaknesses. It discloses things that are hard to admit. Great writing holds nothing back.

Not the way his breath and his car always smelled like coffee. Not the way he listened to classical music and audiobooks on road trips, or the way he idolized Bob Dylan. Not the way I would run my fingers up the veins on his forearms, or the way he named both my eyes. It doesn’t hold back the way I knew we’d have a fall wedding, or the way I’d already started on my vows. Not the way we sat on his couch as I slid my fingers through the tears in his jeans, and he whispered, I wish I could be closer to you.

It doesn’t hold back how he casually – subtly, swiftly, and all too late – dropped a line with the word girlfriend, or how I, just as swiftly – seamlessly, effortlessly, and all too shamelessly – pretended not to hear. Not the way my phone ceased to ring before midnight, and he failed to notice haircuts and new shoes. Or the way he was holding a can of beer more frequently than he was my hand. Not the way we sat on his couch as I slid my fingers through the tears in his jeans, and he whispered, I wish I wanted to be closer to you.

What have you been holding back?


Fall 2015 Intern


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