“Oops!”: Time For Honesty

Lately, I’ve been considering honesty in my writing. It’s not so much that I’m concerned about a personal habit of lying. It’s more that I suspect I may be guilty of contributing to a common Facebook phenomenon: by presenting only the best of my life, my stories may make readers feel inadequate.

Let me give an example. On November 30, I posted a glowing report of writing 50,000 words of my very own novel! Some of my friends shook their heads and marveled at my accomplishment. How on earth do you do it all? they wondered. Well, it’s time for honesty. For the entire month of November, I folded laundry once. That’s right. By the end of November, I had three weeks’ worth of unfolded laundry piled in baskets, overflowing onto my washing machine. I also allowed my kids to watch far too much TV. I neglected the garden, and left the kids (and myself) in PJs for large portions of the day. I didn’t have my son write thank-you cards for his birthday gifts — a fact brought home by the arrival of a thank-you card from a friend whose birthday was a few weeks after his.

Here’s the truth: every time I accomplish something of which I’m proud, something I wish to share with the world, or even just any task outside my daily routine, something else remains undone. Yesterday I worked my way through nine months’ worth of photos, deleting 1600 of them as I went, and I also wrote a post for this blog. What that means is that I failed to accomplish the following jobs: folding this week’s clean laundry, emptying and refilling the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, vacuuming the carpet, cleaning dog-nose-slime off the window, filling out paperwork to renew the tags on our car, and watering my baby beet seedlings. Oh, and helping Niko write thank-you cards!

All of these ponderings on honesty have been simmering on the back burner of my mind for some time now, until this morning when I came across a WordPress tool I didn’t know existed: a weekly writing challenge. This week’s challenge is “Oops!” The goal is to post a story that includes a photo that is decidedly not Instagram- or Facebook-worthy. The challenge jogged my memory of a photo I took some time ago — a failure of perfection.

So, my dear readers, here is my “oops” moment. The setting is the making of a batch of cinnamon-swirled bread from my own recipe. I shared a photo of my loaves on Facebook but didn’t end up making a blog post from it, because I didn’t knead the dough enough and the odd texture shows up clearly in the photos. Also, even though I included cinnamon in this particular attempt, I didn’t use enough, so it just shows up as a faint streak in the sliced bread. I didn’t know any of this as I was making the bread, of course, and I was planning to write up the recipe for my blog, so I was taking photos as I went. In the photos, there’s no hint that anything is amiss. The counter is clean and shiny, and the bread practically glows with homemade goodness.

However, as I was photographing all this domestic bliss, I happened to step back and take a look at my kitchen. Oh. My. God. It was a disaster. The only clear space on the counter was the one I’d cleared for photographing the bread! The floor was unswept. The sink was piled with dishes. Just awful. On impulse, I snapped a picture. In fact, this is far from the worst my kitchen has been when I’m in the throes of creativity, but it’s the only photo I’ve taken of the mess.

But, honestly, that’s my life. If I’m putting extra time into writing, or cooking something special, or making an interesting project, other things are left undone. I’ve learned to accept that. I can catch up while the kids nap or after they go to bed, or I can set aside a day later in the week to focus on cleaning, or whatever it takes to recover from a day of focusing on projects.

Still, the truth is that this mess-making and catching up doesn’t show in my blog posts or Facebook status updates, and too much of that kind of omissions constitute a dishonest representation of my life. It would be easy to read the highlights of my life and see a perfect mom and housewife, gliding through life with grace and good humor. Nope. Not me. I’m the one with a disaster of a kitchen and stacks of unfolded laundry, sitting the kids in front of the TV so I can finish my project, and clearing six square inches of counter space to take a photo worthy of showing off. That, my friends, is the truth. I’m normal, human, disorganized, messy. Far, far, far from perfect.

I’m taking this opportunity to push back against the deluge of Facebook perfection. I don’t want to contribute to someone else’s sense of inadequacy. We all struggle; we all make compromises. We’re in this together, even if our social media accounts indicate otherwise.