Monday, February 06, 2006

Honesty

Honesty seems to be a word with many meanings. In its most basic form, it implies being truthful, not telling lies, exhibiting integrity. Most of us believe ourselves to be honest the majority of the time, faltering only occasionally with little white lies like telling your roommate she looks fantastic in her new jeans when in reality she looks like an exaggerated cartoon character in order to preserve her feelings. We sometimes tell half truths or withhold information. It’s not really lying but it’s not really being entirely honest either. Is that so wrong? I suppose it depends on whether you see right and wrong in finite and concrete terms or if there is room for interpretation. Although we are all generally honest in our dealings with our fellow man on the surface and when it comes to day to day interactions, we are probably less honest about who we really are. In other words, we withhold a lot of information, hide behind carefully constructed facades and create our own sense of truth.

A couple weeks ago, a group of friends and I were playing a game called True Colors where a situation is described and everyone votes on the person in the group who most fits the description. One of the first cards asked everyone to pick the person they would most like to see with their guard down, and I pretty much took the cake on that. I can’t say that I was surprised. In fact, the moment I heard the question, I had a feeling it was going to be me. So who is Nikki? Inquiring minds want to know. Why this valiant battle to keep the guard in tact and dig the mote a little wider? How many people have fallen into the mote unable to climb the high fortress walls? Too many to count, I am sure, but they get honorable mention for the attempt.

When I was in an eighth grade creative writing class, we were asked to write a poem about ourselves. Mine started out with, “I am a girl who is weird and loves monkeys.” All three parts of the sentence are still true. I am a girl. I am a little weird. And I do love monkeys. But that is not who I am. What most people know about me is that I am an Ironman; I run a lot; I’m from Las Vegas; I love New York City; I write; I like to be in bed by 10:38pm; I’m a neat freak… borderline OCD. If you know me pretty well, then you probably know that I love to travel and have been on some amazing adventures; I dabble in photography and still use a standard SLR film camera; I love peanut butter; I’m a perfectionist; I like to cook; I love to read and my favorite books are The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations and The Fountainhead. And if you know me really well, then you know more than that. But although all of these things are honest expressions of myself, they are not the whole picture.

I used to think that despite my determined effort to remain somewhat of an enigma to most people, my writing was the one thing that afforded me the freedom to be completely honest. When my fingers start hitting the letters on the keyboard, I feel much less inhibited and more apt to open the flood gates, even if only for a nanosecond. I may not name specific experiences or people or elaborate on the intimate details of my emotions, but I only write about what I know. Everything is drawn from personal experience. And yet it appears that I am still not being entirely honest. I have created my own intricate design of truth and reality over the course of my lifetime, and I have become very good at sharing these “honest” expressions of myself. That is not to say that I am dishonest. And it is not my way of avoiding who I am or evidence that I am ashamed of the true me. Quite the contrary. I value who I am so much that I would do almost anything to protect it.

So what would it take for me to be completely honest in my writing? Well, my initial response is that I don’t know that I can ever be completely honest and forthcoming with all the intimate details of my thoughts and emotions. That being said, I guess it would take me trusting every person in my audience. And since I don’t know how widespread that audience is… I would essentially have to trust the world, and I don’t. It’s difficult enough for me to trust those closest to me with the more intimate details of my life and experiences. Most of my best friends have logged countless hours of Nikki time, prying and prodding lovingly, patiently, methodically climbing one hand at a time over the wall often getting stopped along the way by some unforeseen obstacle… but they persevered. I know they value the deep abyss that is my soul as if it were their own, and so they know me. I know that when they ask me questions it’s because they are sincerely interested in what I have to say and how I feel rather than just wanting to know. It’s a judgment call every time.

When I write, I often generalize, taking my personal experiences and applying them to the masses because I feel that I am often not alone in how I perceive, experience and enjoy this world. But do the words “we” or “us” take away from the personality of the piece? I suppose I often mask the stark honesty with blanket statements and emotions. Whether I throw myself into the fire of the world’s acceptance and perception or whether I throw the collective into the fire seems to make little difference because the onlookers are still going to see the flames and feel the heat. They will take away from it whatever experience they have connected with. To whom is this disservice? Myself? Or those who read it? That is debatable. It’s a question of how we value honesty in what we read, how we interpret and perceive the shared experience.

I like the fact that there are a select few who know Nikki really well. I like it because in my personal reality, it makes those people special. If everyone knew everything about me, then what I told people wouldn’t mean much. In essence, by withholding information, the intimate details, the deep inner thoughts, I am inadvertently giving certain people access to my soul. Most of us lock our doors. We have keys to open them. We give those keys to a select number of people whom we trust. We wouldn’t be handing out the keys on the street corner because if we did, we might come home one day and find everything we held dear gone and sold on the street for $1.50.

In the end, I am not locking everyone out. I am just giving people the chance to knock. Most of them don’t, which is to be expected. But most of the time, there is evidence of naked honesty in my writing if people choose to see it. So our personal relationships and the degree to which we reveal the honest expressions of ourselves are intertwined. Italo Calvino said, “Writing always means hiding something in such a way that it then is discovered.” Like Nietzsche, I don’t want to be understood. But I do write for discovery… whatever that discovery is. I write for my own discovery, but I also know each person who reads it will most likely discover something very different based on their personal experience, the degree to which they know me and how they perceive the world in which they live. I can be completely honest without masks and fabricated facades, but only those who really know me or want to would see it… and knock.

1 comment:

MOM said...

Just wanted you to know this was a wonderful piece. Keep writing, honey.