We all want to look our best and present ourselves in a positive light whenever we can. Keeping up appearances and putting your best foot forward is great advice going into a job interview, but it’s not the legacy you want to leave for your loved ones in your writing.
Keeping up Appearances is Boring
Perfection is boring, which is why I avoid it so ardently. All kidding aside, perfection does little to connect you with others. Highlighting only your meticulously groomed lawn, perfectly staged house, and beautiful and intelligent children might land flat. Your loved ones may admire you or look up to you, but keeping up appearances may impede the bonding process. Unless they are equally perfect, they won’t be able to relate. Worse still, they might find you intimidating or obnoxious. On the other hand, if you tell how you wore one black shoe and one navy shoe to work, they’ll probably think to themselves—“Wow. It’s not just me.”
People Like Us
We’re drawn to people who are similar to us. If I have a choice of inviting Martha Stewart or Ann Lamott to a party, I’m going to choose Anne Lamott. (I know, in my dreams!) Actually, the fact that Anne Lamott is the antipathy of “Keeping up Appearances” is probably the reason she has so many fans. She connects with readers by putting herself out there—good, bad, and indifferent.
Once, standing outside of a preschool, I noticed a toddler literally dropping drawers and peeing on a bush. When I heard his mother’s response, I knew we were bound to be long-time friends: “Oh well, what can you do? He takes after his dad!”
Goofy, uninhibited side
If I didn’t think it would seriously damage my marital relationship, I’d illustrate this point with a photo I took of my husband in Yellow Stone National Park. Amused by my enthusiasm of photographing scrub jays, He started walking around impersonating a bird. Though he’s forbidden me to show it to (many) others, I love that snapshot—it represents the goofy, uninhibited side that he only shows to those closest to him.
Don’t just show your true colors in writing; include photos. I’m not against fixing zits, but don’t preserve only those photos in which you look dignified and happy.
Show the whole spectrum of moods.
We’re human. We cry, loose our tempers, catastrophize, and occasionally act like total idiots.
When you write and preserve memories, don’t be afraid to let your loved ones know that you’ve had a couple of bad moments. The blue skies that we appreciate the most are the ones that follow storms. If we don’t know the depth to which the barometer fell, we won’t know how much to appreciate the sunshine.
I’ve been on this soapbox before; see “Put the Family Photographer in the Frame” and Alison Tate’s eloquent “The Mom Stays in the Picture.” Include your own photo—complete with imperfections—and tell your stories, even if they don’t show you in the best light.