Let’s cut to the chase: in my 30s, I learned to bullshit.
Not coincidentally, I became a mother at age 29, and turned 30 when my baby was around 9 months old, and therefore becoming highly attuned to words and language.
I don’t mean the bullshitting in a bad way, at all. For example, I used to have a hard time making the minimum length for papers in college. I would write all I needed to say, have a solid argument or whatever was required, and feel extremely uncomfortable with padding it to make the minimum of 5 pages or 10 pages or whatever it was. (Usually 5, because I took a lot of English classes that required many short papers over a semester.)
(For those of you who do not know, E.B. White is one of my personal heroes. I find Strunk and White inspirational and aspirational. Hence my discomfort with adding extra words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs. Use strong verbs, and you’ll save yourself from too much everything. Et cetera.)
In my 20s, when I worked for a publishing house with a particular style, I started to adapt. But I had an editor to watch over me; I was never the final arbiter. Plus the style was so old-fashioned and distinctive that I could never have adopted it as a voice or naturally put it to use outside of the confines of that job.
Then came motherhood. And motherese, where I comforted my baby through crying jags, upset stomachs, shots, bumps, bruises, and hurt feelings.
Then came Life with Toddler. I learned to deflect or distract instead of lying, but let’s face it, sometimes flat-out lying is the way to go while parenting. There were plenty (PLENTY!) of times when I said “I just don’t know” to typical toddler questions, so we conjectured together and turned it into wacky and wonderful conversations.
I learned to expand the truth, to knead it and shape it to suit my purposes. Where it’s not lying, but rather giving a partial picture, a piece of worldview, with selected information, because the remainder is not relevant, too distracting, or just opens up too much hurt.
And now, for a living, I write. I write things that would make my hero, E.B. White, retreat into his barn in Maine and not come out. I adapt myself to styles and tone, put out the required number of words (this is sometimes easier, sometimes harder), and worry over grammar. (Not everyone does, you know.)
But I feel freer, being able to shape words to market something, to teach something, to incite a “call to action,” or to invite responses. Not everything has to be so staid or measured or exacting. My children, so different from each other, prove that there are multiple interpretations of everything and that everyone needs to find their own truth. Blurry lines help me to be there for both of them, to support while deflecting and distracting.
It took me a while to get here, to the last fourth of my thirties, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.