the author in the Atacama

Is it worth selling your soul? For many, it apparently is. Not for me. Let's talk

In two months I turn 70. One of the most marvelous things about emotional maturity is that I don't give a flying twattle what others think about my age; I have always been very upfront about it, rather than simper and dodge and try to misrepresent myself.

That's true of a lot of other things, too, including achievements and my resume, what I do in the world and the way I stumble, bumble and make an unholy mess of so much of my life. That is authentic.

It doesn't pay, either.

These days, fake pays. But being a fake costs a lot more in ways we don't consider, which is why I wanted to share this story.

First, let's define:

Put simply, authenticity means you're true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you're under to act otherwise. You're honest with yourself and with others, and you take responsibility for your mistakes. Your values, ideals, and actions align.

In the social media-soaked world many of us float around in, this word is a joke. It's a marketing ploy. There's terrible cost to that.

Riders head down a rough mountainside. Katharina May (author in the middle)

The photo of me, at the top, recently in the Atacama Desert of Chile, looks kinda epic. What you can't see is that on the other side of the horse, my left knee has a fractured patella and bone marrow edema. It was an horrific accident, this author being stupid.  I deserved what I got.

I was one of two paying clients on the trip. The other, a lovely German woman around thirty named Katharina, and I were out for nine days in this remarkable part of the world to ride and explore. We went with a professional guiding family, Esteban and Maca Correa, and their kids, a cook and one of the daughter's boyfriends.

When I met Katharina, I was charmed by her manner and kindness. It wasn't an act; she is the real thing through and through. We had many lively talks as we wound down our first day and slept in a hostal as neighbors, getting ready for the Big Ride in the morning.

The next day I took a wicked tumble on the flagstone steps, gashed my face and really, really ruined my knee. That set the tone for the ride for me. Katharina's kindness, and our subsequent emails after we returned to our respective homes, have reminded me about the absolute importance of being transparent if we have the conceit to add value to other's lives.

It may not pay, but it pays off in the only way worthwhile this human life. But I'm ahead of myself.

Let me set some context about why fakes are so attractive in the first place.

It is deeply tempting for those of us who have challenging home backgrounds, who come from a history of incest, rape and sexual abuse to find our way to confidence. In my case, and many of those of us who didn't grow up attached to screens, we had our own deeply personal journeys of deep distrust of ourselves, our bodies, our sexuality and womanhood. We often believed we were not enough.

The next generations have that but now it's supercharged by social media and absentee parents- worse if they are both absentee AND abusive.

In a world where kids are nurtured from birth on social media as babysitter, those children are from birth effectively exposed, as all of us are today, to avatars and fakes presented as real people. They live perfect lives, nothing ever happens to them, they have perfect bodies, skins, hair, teeth, they feel no pain, and have plenty of money and six-pack abs, all effortlessly.

No wonder we wanna be that.

I've written elsewhere that the vast majority of us lie on our resumes (about 85%) and online dating profiles (about 81%). That normalizes dishonesty, just as the Trump era normalized outrageous dishonesty and abuse. Instagram is to my mind a developing mind's enemy, as we are blasted with images of people living perfect lives and airbrushed images which unsophisticated minds register as real.

Then, my favorite love-to-hate, Influencers. I am not sure that there is another category of trash which inhabits the Internet for which I have more disdain, for this reason alone: so much of it is smoke and mirrors. That people are so gullible that they believe, believe in and continue to support such rubbish horrifies me, but there is great money in fakery. Such fakery appeals to hope that somewhere there are such lucky people that shit doesn't happen to them.

Um. Ask big star Chris Hemsworth  about that. But I digress.

It has reached epic heights lately with such evil operators having been able to bilk a lot of smart people out of their money. To that:

How con artists became the new tier of celebrity
Anna Delvey has been released from prison; meanwhile, Elizabeth Holmes faces sentencing this week.

These are, in some distant, reptilian part of our collective brain, the new Robin Hoods.

No. They aren't. They are evil, greedy, and they do not care about you or me or anyone else. Yet they are immensely popular, as inauthentic as the silicone that presses from inside my chest against my blouse.


This isn't fake:

Esteban up ahead, and his daughter Julia Hubbel

This ride in the desert was epic all right, for all the wrong reasons.

For eight days, Katharina and crew and I rode the Atacama. I was in horrendous pain, all day, everyday. I had to have help setting up my tent. It took so long to prep for sleep I couldn't join people for dinner. It took me so long to get packed up and break the tent down for departure that I could barely have coffee. I missed out on a thousand stories, a lot of laughter and much warm camaraderie.

But Katharina, and the crew, were right there to help. I didn't bitch or complain. I didn't whine about not being able to gallop with everyone else. I settled into being The Slow One, and focused on dealing with what I had been dealt.

Along the way, daily I dipped a spoon into my superpower. I made fun of myself, made fun of my accident, made fun of my clumsiness. I found humor in the horrible. I made people laugh a lot- which I desperately needed to deal with my physical pain. We rode up to eight hours a day, sometimes in very challenging conditions.  

I had fractured my patella and the muscles inside my thigh were torn. My leg was badly bruised and swollen from my panty line down to the tops of my Keens. It was indescribable. I couldn't walk, couldn't hike. Sometimes I could barely speak, it hurt so much.

Nobody actually knew how bad it was until about the fourth day I took photos and showed Esteban so that he knew why I was having a rough time every day after about 3 pm. I didn't want pity. Just needed him to know that if I had tears on my face, and I often did, there was a reason for it. The pain made it nearly impossible to sleep, I was tired and irritated.

But I kept making fun of it, and meanwhile I focused on the environment. Which was spectacular. And the company, which made it even better.

Sambo and I take a break, and give my knee a rest on Day 2 Katharina May

Katharina is one of those people who takes photos of everything and shares them later. Otherwise I'd have little to nothing of myself, and my photos weren't very good. That kind of pain distracts you from just about everything, and I was doing my best to survive the physical challenges of the ride while also taking in the beauty.

I didn't know it at the time, and most particularly not until later when I wrote about the experience, how this was impacting Katharina.

And this is my point.

The author and Sambo Katharina May

When I was finally able to wash the thick dust off my body, face, hair and clothing at a lovely hotel in San Pedro de Atacama at the end of our ride, I started writing.

I wrote honestly. Whatever hope I might have had to impress Katharina with my horse riding skills was long gone, had I ever had the conceit to convince anyone about how competent I was. In fact, my egotistical need to carry my own big fat luggage to the truck was precisely what got me in trouble in the first place.

The damage, just getting started to paint my entire leg Julia Hubbel

I had a choice. I could play the fake, rewrite the story, and leave out the parts which indicted me as both ridiculous and foolish. I could carefully edit the whole thing so that I looked like an aging version of Charlize Theron in the Outback.

Fat chance, right?

Or I could write honestly, have a great deal of fun poking fun at myself, and take a deep dive into what I had learned.

I chose the latter.

I sent Katharina my articles. Her response, that she teared up when she read them, spoke more eloquently to me than any compliment on my ability to stay ahorse at a dead run.  I also was in tears when I read her reaction.

Lovely Katharina, playing the guide, way out in front. Katharina May

Perhaps the greatest lesson to anyone, especially to a writer whose life purpose is to Move People's Lives ( a motto I picked up in 1985), is that there is no road towards genuine influence which is littered with dishonesty and rank manipulation. Social media may sell us that shortcut to fame and glory, which sadly all too often ends ingloriously, and sometimes very publicly.

To that, here is one of my favorite love-to-hate idiot Influencers, who with her now ex-husband, manage to shill their lives and invite many to shell out their savings for more lies:

Rachel Hollis is in hot water for comparing herself to Harriet Tubman, but it’s not the self-help author’s first controversy. Here’s a complete timeline.
Rachel Hollis has been absent from social media after making an insensitive TikTok about her privilege that invoked Harriet Tubman and Oprah Winfrey.

Hollis is just one of many.

There is, however, a road to connection, respect, and deep engagement which is equally littered by our mistakes, our conceits, our willingness to be raw and vulnerable. To my mind, there is no greater power.

True authenticity, a word which the Rachel Hollis's of the world cannot understand, requires rip-the-bodice-off honesty that gives all of us permission to be deeply flawed. Being deeply flawed publicly doesn't sell these days. Fake everything does, please see Kardashian, a word which deserves to be a verb for just about everything wrong about the Influencer economy.

Here's what I mean:

How the Kardashians exploit and destroy for reality ratings
As former NBA star Lamar Odom clings to life in a Las Vegas hospital, his soon-to-be ex-wife Khloé Kardashian and her clan have done what they do best: make the story all about them. Before the Kar…

You and I can choose to follow such scum like rats chasing the garbage truck.

Or you and I can choose to show up for ourselves with courage and humor, and in the process perhaps change people's lives. One life is authentic.

The other, well. Trailer trash comes to mind.

Holding it all together Julia Hubbel

What this trip taught me, and most especially the subsequent exchanges and interactions with my guides and with Katharina, was that my willingness to bear the pain, do the ride injured and spend much of the time making people laugh despite the agony my fractured kneecap was causing me was far more influential than any show of extraordinary horsemanship.

We got plenty of fine horsemanship from Esteban, who really is a fine rider. I could only watch in awe. Truly, the best don't need exaggeration.

If I am really good at much of anything, and believe me it's not that much, I am willing to own my shit, air it out on a public clothesline, have a hearty guffaw at my vanities, and move on to the next big thing. It's not for everyone and I don't have a lot of followers for this reason alone: that kind of truth, which I value above all things in those around me, is deeply uncomfortable.

Authenticity doesn't sell in our social media, Kardashian-infected world. Such honesty is an invitation to soul search, which can be hard work. Uncomfortable.

However for my aging dollar, for my choice of life, being real is the only choice.
For the people who really matter to you, it's the only choice we have.

The author relaxes with friends at the guide's house in Valparaiso Julia Hubbel

With thanks to Katharina for sharing her photos, for being of such help, and for being patient and understanding when things weren't always the best for this rider.

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