by Jessica Bakar
The first time I lied about my writing, the line between truth and lie was a two-letter word. In a tense conversation with a friend, I found the fracture between my comfort and her curiosity irreconcilable.
This essay she’d found had been recently republished in a regional magazine— a publication that, despite being known in my community, I assumed was rarely read.
She dropped the bomb in a text.
“Did you write ‘Legacy Ends Here’?” A text bubble accusation—a violation. My hands shook as I stared down at the screen in disbelief. She’d found, read, chewed, swallowed, and regurgitated something unintended for her eyes. Stunned by this impossibility, I barely found the strength to turn off my phone—to deny her question for another moment.
My writing itself is denial. It’s pen names and anonymity in emails to editors, it’s changing my hometown in author bios. It’s staying in the closet. It’s telling nobody but my notebook about an eating disorder, the page watching me recover. It’s witnessing my life exposed on the computer screen, reserved for anonymous eyes throughout America. It’s assuming nobody in my personal life would ever read my work.
When my friend asked if I wrote that essay, I lied.
“No.” I replied, then powered off my phone.
My writing isn’t Jessica Bakar. My writing is Naomi Carr. It’s 33+ Linkedin profiles, none of which are my Naomi. It’s the safety in knowing myriad Naomis exist, none of which are my Naomi. It’s the secure seat behind a pen name, the thought that my pen name can hide behind a number of real people who exist. It’s the sound assumption that nobody would ever draw a line connecting Naomi back to me.
I met Naomi the first time I was published. Molly Hill, Blue Marble’s EIC, strongly suggested I employ a pen name for security. Even with her advice, the decision was unbearable--- hypocritical, even. I couldn’t separate myself from my work, from the experiences and pain that stained the page. That piece, like the rest of my writing, was a morsel of my life. It was me. To change the name attached to it, to would distance myself from my work, my writing, my life. I couldn’t reconcile how truth could become so untrue. It tasted like a lie, betrayal, sick denial.
Amid my indecision, I texted my that friend— the one who would find this piece months later in another publication. I told her nothing. She did not know the name of my piece, the genre, the content, the publication— nothing. I simply told her my work was accepted, and that I didn’t know if I should publish under a pen name. I told her the thought of a pen name felt superficial, but I considered Hill’s advice heavily. I told her I couldn’t relinquish comfort, when really I meant safety.
She told me to be authentic. She told me to own my real name. I didn’t tell her daring to write that piece was owning my real name. I didn’t tell her that attaching my “real” name to that piece would put a target on my back, would make me prey to four different people I call predators. She told me to be authentic, but I didn’t tell her that piece— each word handpicked at an ungodly hour— was the most authentic act I’ve ever committed. I didn’t tell her that maybe my essay didn’t need my real name in order to be authentic, that the absence of my real name made it any less true.
Hours of internal turmoil ended in a reply to Hill, thanking her, and ultimately taking her advice. Naomi Carr was born.
My writing is creative nonfiction. CNF is the highest commitment to the truth. It’s bleeding my life onto the screen, ripping my heart out, stripping naked before a blank page, dismembering my body with my own hands. CNF writers are not always authors, but we are always entirely human. We are explorers of the self, reverse engineers of emotion. We understand how moths know of loneliness, how masochism and homesickness are the same. We know ourselves through the quiet contemplation of clattering keyboards. We know others through transposing the real world onto the page. We know that, sometimes, the most vulnerable moments are not with others but with pen and paper. We know that success is embracing vulnerability, reality, discomfort, pain.
CNF is a commitment to myself. My writing is entirely me.
Naomi is my mother’s middle name. Stowed away between her first and last, the beauty of its Japanese origin always fascinated me.
Carr is extracted from the second syllable of my last name—a familial sound carried across bloodlines from India to Trinidad to Canada before landing in California.
Naomi separates Jessica from my work, but Naomi is still part of me. She’s my creation. She’s my own. She’s more experimental than any lyric essay or prose poetry or trilingual abecedarian. She lives with my essays and memoirs—in me, between my memory and unwritten words.
Naomi’s name is a patchwork appreciation of those I love. Perhaps she’s an act of self-love—the acknowledgment that my work’s vulnerability, and my humanity, deserve protection. She’s a prayer that one day, those closest to me may linger over my words— that one day, the distance between Naomi and me will be nonexistent.
A week ago, I told my friend the truth. On an overcrowded bus ride home from school, she posed her question again, after months of living with my lie. It was abrupt but nonchalant, as if a conversation about college apps easily lent itself to inquiries about my personal writing.
“So, did you? Did you write that piece in the lit mag?” She hesitated in a hushed voice, seeming to feel the gravity of her question this time.
I hesitated. She did not have to specify which piece or which lit mag, but I knew. Smiling in discomfort, I made a futile attempt to evade her question with broken eye contact.
“You don’t have to say, if you don’t want,” she reassured, staring straight at the side of my head while I looked for the answer outside the window.
I took a breathe, stared back at her, and found the words to connect my writing back to me.
“No, I did. I did write it.” The truth was just simpler than a lie.
Naomi Carr is a young writer from San Francisco, California. She is an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and has found a home in creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Apprentice Writer, Aster Lit, Ice Lolly Review, and Pile Press, among others. When she isn’t writing, Naomi enjoys practicing photography and studying art.
Kylie Tanner is a senior at Savannah Arts Academy, Kylie is an arts major who uses photography to capture unique moments and tell unique stories.