The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive

When I was in college, the mentor who would later tell me she couldn’t take me seriously as an artist said “You know what your worst fault is? You assume things. And you’re right, most of the time. But when you’re wrong, you’re very, very wrong.”

I do assume things, a lot. And sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m very, very wrong. But that’s not my worst fault.

Nor is it my eagerness to jump to conclusions, to make quick decisions, to do all the variants of “assume” that get me into trouble, often and repeatedly.

My worst fault is that I tell things like they feel, not like they are.

It would be like telling the story of how that same mentor screamed at me over the phone and called me a piece of shit, and I decided that day not to call her back and try to apologize, not to email, just to set that argument down and walk away and figure out who I was on my own. One of the better decisions I ever made.

Except that was how it felt.

How it was: she raised her voice, most definitely, but she did not scream. And she told me I was full of shit. And that’s different.

I hear my voice eliding and smoothing and plumping up details even without me realizing it. That’s why it’s my worst fault – it’s unconscious. I tell the story and my brain catches up to me as soon as the sentence is out and says “No. Wait.”

I don’t say things that aren’t true, except for the bits where they aren’t exactly fact. I don’t lie to you – I just get to the end and suddenly think “Was she really that mad? Did I tell the whole story of that conversation? Why did I say piece of shit when that wasn’t how it was?”

I am telling you this because I want to be a better person, and this is one of the things getting in the way of me being a better person. I am also telling you this because I want to know if I am alone in this worst fault or if, among us all, it is shared.

And, because maybe – and because I am just realizing this now – telling things as they are and then telling how they made me feel is important. It’s clear – isn’t it clear when you look at it? – that I say “she called me a piece of shit” as a substitute for “I felt like a piece of shit.” It’s always been right there and I never saw it.

This is my worst fault. But I’ll work on it. And then assuming things can be my worst fault again.