My friend David Levithan, the amazing author of books like Every Day, Boy Meets Boy, and Two Boys Kissing, was introducing me at a talk late last year when he said literally the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.
Speaking as an editor at Scholastic, my publishing house, he said that I make it easy on them there because with authors they need to find index words, buzz words that describe what we write about. Mine, he said, are always in my titles.
Out of the Pocket
The Porcupine of Truth
Out. Openly. Truth. Honestly. This, he said, is the essence of what I write about.
I like things like that, because they’re simple and understandable and they teach me something about myself that I didn’t know. And I felt it was a great compliment because I do believe that being out, open, truthful and honest–authentic, in other words–is my life’s work.
And if I’m writing books with that focus for kids without consciously realizing it, so much the better!
(Although it should be said that my next book’s title, The Music of What Happens, kinda breaks that streak. Happens? Music? The? I dunno.)
With this in mind, I’d like to share with you all what I have found to be the biggest impediments in my life to being honest. Some of these may be obvious, but sometimes I think it’s important to look at the obvious. Sometimes I overlook it. Maybe you do, too?
- People Pleasing. I’m a people pleaser from way back. That made it really hard, when I was a teenager, to come out as gay. I knew it wouldn’t please my parents particularly. But what it felt like to not be who I was, to not be open about a big part of me, overruled my need to people please. I felt like if I “stayed the course” and didn’t speak up, I would cease to be me. Does that make sense? That was a hard one. It wasn’t easy to come out, and it has remained, in my life, one of the hardest things to do, though it’s a lot easier today to come out than it was the first time. Not everyone is going to like me if I’m gay. Some people will actively dislike me for that reason. One of the wisest statements I’ve ever heard is, “When you stop pleasing people, people won’t be pleased.” How true on multiple levels. People will not be pleased, I will cease to be a people pleaser, and, as I hear it, who the heck cares? So what if people aren’t pleased? It’s been really helpful to remember this as I’ve gotten older. I need to please myself before I please others.
- My reputation. If and when I own a view that isn’t in the majority, or isn’t “correct” in the political sense, I worry about my reputation. What will people think of me? Will they think I’m a bad person? Ugh. I hate it when people think I’m bad, or wrong. What I’ve found in my life, though, is that if I like me, if I stand behind me, it matters less if others do. Here’s an example: I am a kind person. I know this to be true. Sometimes I unwittingly hurt people, but I am, at my heart, kind. Knowing this makes it easier to stand my ground with a potentially unpopular view. Some might find it unkind, but I know the truth, and I can withstand the potential negative views of others.
- Being cool. Oh yeah. This has been a big one. It’s hard to be cool while caring about things or having feelings. Feelings and giving a shit are entirely uncool. And you know what? I have lots of feelings, and I often give a shit. To own that, to be authentic, I need to drop the I’m cool business. Truth is I’m not cool. At all. When I embrace just how uncool I am, just how much I have stuff going on under the surface, I am being authentically me. And I’m growing more comfortable with that as I get older. It’s hard to drop being cool at 16. At 46? Much easier.
As I think of more, they all seem to relate to these big three. Fear people won’t like me? People pleasing. Fear of losing friends? My reputation. Fear of being mocked? That’s about wanting to be cool.
As I said: not deep. But important. How important is it to you to be honest and authentic? What are you willing to give up to be that way?