Tell all the truth but tell it slant, Emily Dickinson
As I work on writing a book, much of my heart, soul, and time is poured into this exercise of telling my story well. I want to fully own it. The parenthood journey that has led to the dispensation of grace to myself as well as others is intimate and complex. Sometimes the truth bubbles up to the surface and makes itself clearly known. But at other times, my mind has a filter that is not quite ready to yet again visit certain painful places. The possibility of feeling sorrow in the midst of being truthful about my own long ago choices and behavior creates a barrier to owning the entirety of my story.
As a writer and sharer of stories, I seek to give honor to my husband, children, parents and beyond as I write of the intimate things of family. But there is an overarching desire to also tell truth. It is a delicate balance. In any family system, each individual member comes to the family table with his or her own slant. We don’t experience any one particular moment in the same way.
Just this morning, I was fussing and fuming around the kitchen. I reached into the drawer for tin foil and it was not there. I pontificated about how everyone needs to write it on a list or let me know if they use the last of something. One daughter felt attacked and accused. In my mind, I was spreading the indictment to all within earshot – truthfully, all but myself. My husband later expressed that he experienced the moment closer to my daughter’s interpretation than to mine. Each of us has our very own perspective. A discussion with and apology to my daughter are forthcoming.
I recently received professional feedback on my book project. Much was positive, but there was a gentle encouragement to more fully expose my personal story as mom, especially the mom of earlier days. Some of those stories involve regret and shame and a wish that at times I had made different choices. I have worked so very hard to live life in a different space. But if I expect to fully engage with readers, authenticity is required.
Dickinson’s words “tell all the truth but tell it slant” can be interpreted in many ways, particularly in light of the whole poem. The message to me on this day is that as I circle around to the truth of my story, sometimes I come at it from the side, or from behind, or in gentle confrontation. Head on, face-to-face, raw truth is sometimes too much.
I am convinced that vulnerability is the antidote to shame and often when we say something out loud or acknowledge a failure head on, shame loses its power. Those who reveal themselves honestly and vulnerably are the most interesting and real human beings. I will continue to work at being gentle and gracious with myself while at the same time telling truth. Some days the truth requires more slant than others.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —