The Truth Board

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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Monday, April 2, 2012


The best advice I have ever received was given to me on a morning I woke up late for class. By the time I shot out of bed, realizing that I had not set an alarm for the hour nap I had just taken, there were only 5 minutes left before the end of the seminar. I skated over just in time to watch people file out of the room, waiting to be scolded by a professor who always noticed when I was gone.

Professor Oliver is an older, light skinned woman with blue-grey eyes and a vibrant, passionate soul. Her short, grey hair covers her ears until long silver and turquoise earrings hung below. Always dressed in flowy, colorful tops and slacks, she would take off her glasses when speaking to the class about something serious. Her voice is strong and not afraid to be critical of herself. In fact, she is quicker to be critical of herself than anyone else. We had taken to each other immediately, and I felt a loyalty because of the investment she made in me, engaging me fully in class and office hours alike. This absence felt like a personal wrong against her. I hung my head and apologized over and over, on the verge of tears. It was the week before finals, and I had already missed many class periods. Beyond that, I was behind in the work I owed her, and I was barely keeping up in my other courses, instead opting to spend my nights in dark rooms with loud, pounding music in the company of strangers who never cared to ask if I was OK. I had only given myself that night to write a final paper, finishing it around 8 in the morning. I had class at 9.

“I stayed up all night to finish a paper for my next class. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why do I do this to myself?” I was ready to wallow in this self-loathing for the rest of the day, the rest of the week if I could get away with it. If I had, the same dark rooms would be waiting to console me, lull me back into not caring until it was too overwhelming to care. But my professor would have none of it.

“Look. You are smart. Too smart for your own good. You procrastinate, but that’s you and that’s OK. Maybe you will change tomorrow, maybe you will never change. The point is this. It’s just class. We missed you, but it’s not the end of the world.”

We were outside now, walking to her car. Approaching the parking lot, she turned to me, stared me straight in the face and took me by the arm.

“Pretend you are holding the hand of a small girl who has just caused you to miss class. You don’t yell at them. This will make her feel worse and she will lose confidence in herself, in what she does. What do you do? You turn to this girl and say, ‘No problem. No big deal. Let’s go get some ice cream.’ Are you fed? Are you rested? Go take care of yourself, and then you can make it up to me. You are no good to anyone else if you are falling apart yourself. I love you, I’ll see you next week.”

With this, she walked away and climbed into a Lincoln Navigator that made her small stature seem even tinier.

I stood there for a minute, the weight of guilt lifted. I almost cried. Then, I did go eat. I did let it go, and my day was better. And so was the day after that.

Treating yourself well is something I see people neglect every day. Selfishness in one’s actions has an extremely negative connotation. What I learned that morning is, dare I say it, the value of being selfish, of taking care of yourself.

Why, you may ask, would I wish such a vile thing of the world? We cringe even at the word. Selfish. It is the deepest kind of insult we can receive. “You’re so… selfishhhh,” the word seems to slither across tongues of ex-lovers, disenchanted friends, unfulfilled strangers. We have come to live in a society where we simultaneously hoard things and preach selflessness. Martyrdom in a pressed suit seems not a paradox but a gentle avoidance of the real issue of those who go without.

I am here to contest the man behind the podium telling you to forsake your own happiness in order to fill some communal bucket of gratification or your own cup of misery. From a soapbox, unmicrophoned, I tell you that taking what we need is not the sin many will have you believe it is. Am I an advocate of excess? Of course not. Am I an optimist? Definitely. Am I a communist? Good question, but moving on.

My theory is this. If we truly believe that we are essentially good beings that deserve good things, we will start to believe that about others. I observe a tendency to concentrate on glass-half-empty woes all the time. There is not a day that goes by that I do not receive a phone call or a text from a friend struggling to live happily in this sometimes hellish City of Angels. Fake friends, failed relationships, hard classes, no money… if these struggles ever bounce against the walls of your mind, we aren’t that different after all, you and I.

In fact, nobody is that different. The most destructive force we face in our lives is the very belief that we are different, that either we or others do not deserve compassion or forgiveness or serenity. But worrying is a choice. Stress is a way of life. There is comfort in the hum of these habits, of course. It is hard to turn away from resignation. We find solidarity in commiseration. Some days I want nothing more than to feel forsaken, broken, unworthy of success. Who am I to deserve any of this? But then I realize that in doing these things for myself, I can be at the other end of those texts and phone calls instead of waiting for someone to answer mine all the time.

Challenging these negative thoughts and habits is our only hope in beating this social cancer of distrust, competition in others. At the end of the day, the person looking at you in the mirror is the only one who can understand you, know your past and present and what you need fully. If you don’t take care of yourself, you break the chain of interdependence that makes life work.

A semester later from that morning, I get an email from Professor Oliver. She is my thesis advisor and an inspiration for my thesis. I am working on indexing vocabulary terms for marginalized communities for future scholarly articles, advocating for those who have little to no voice in our legal system.

Oliver is on sabbatical, making it somewhat difficult to see her regularly, so she offers to take me to coffee. The next day I meet her at a café in Marina Del Rey. I find her in the back of the place, smiling wide and arms outstretched. I am excited to tell her how well I have been taking care of myself, how much better I feel. I want to tell her this, but before I say anything, she exclaims, “You look great! You’ve been doing better.” She hugs me and we sit, embarking on the task to help the world take care.

Your weekend warrior,



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