Telling True Lies
I’ve been stuck for a long time, re-writing bits and pieces of my novel. It’s the windmill at which I’m constantly running. I’ve come to question whether I have enough skill or ambition to be a writer.
When I read about other writers, I learn that they’ve been writing since they had enough manual dexterity to hold a writing utensil. Testimonials in this writing culture always say “I have to write”. I’ve written similar things. Earlier this week I wrote that I get a little more odd when I don’t write for awhile. I get so hopped up on words that they saturate everyone around me and putting them on paper provides some relief.
I’ve been telling myself that I’m a writer for several years now, but it’s a lie. I write – sporadically, in fits and spurts. I have a rough draft of a first novel that hasn’t engaged me. I set goals only to stroll leisurely by as they die from neglect. But then I write a blog post and it’s like lancing a boil. I feel a sense of relief – I can tell myself once again that I am a writer.
This last week, I had a come-to-Jesus talk with myself. I looked at the truths that I’d been avoiding. I have a little talent. I have very little ambition. My ambition for writing has been the same as for anything else I’ve done in my life. I am the jack of many trades and master of absolutely nothing. I’ve never taken anything all the way.
For all the whinging on I’ve done over the years about balance and writing and family, the fact is, my life is about as balanced now as it will ever get. I love my family, I have friends, I’m not in a tight spot financially, I’m relatively healthy – ambition just seems like a huge expenditure of energy that would only take away from what is, it seems to me, a pretty damned good life. So why this repeated banging of my head against the wall? My ego desires that which my ambition ill-reflects.
I was comforted by reading The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine, because like many of her clients, my interests have been short-lived and intense, then I’m onto the next thing. I have a passion for knowledge, but not for the pursuit of excellence. There is no limit to the number of subjects that interest me and every time I tell myself I’ll follow through to some expertise, I find something else. My cognitive bias is at work – rationalizing all these incomplete endings by an ever-hungry pursuit of knowledge.
As you get older, you see the themes and patterns emerge over the course of your lifetime. In my twenties, I believed that people can change – that they can will themselves beyond their nature. In my forties, this seems like dubious optimism at best and willful ignorance at worst. If I stripped away all the layers, learned skills, coping mechanisms, the bravado and brass, all the mannerisms and quirks, I am the same as I ever was.
As a child, I learned to lie with alacrity. Hungry for approval, fearing what were sometimes dire consequences for minor misbehavior, I could look you in the eye and lie my ass off without a twitch. I’d get mad if you didn’t believe me. When I was six, I was on the playground with a classmate. We were goofing around and I fell down and ripped my tights. My family was poor and I drove my mother into rages with the pairs of lost gloves, lost lunch money, stained and ripped clothes and misplaced anything.
I convinced my friend to walk home with me, leading an unknowing lamb to the slaughter. My mother opened the door to us and immediately saw the shredded tights. I knew what was coming. With a quivering lip and tears in my eyes, I blubbered, “Scottie pushed me down on the playground.” She angrily told him to go home. The lie did not work. But that is the first time I remember feeling guilty for lying.
There were lies of survival and then there were the weird lies. In eighth grade, I once told a new friend that our family used to own a baby grand piano. Since my family had just moved from an apartment above a tavern, to the floor above a dilapidated gas station, I’m not sure why anyone would believe that or why I was compelled to lie about musical instrument ownership.
During my daddy issue phase of dating, I dated a jealous drinker. This was funny (eventually), since I fail at small talk and flirting and really, I just don’t inspire that much passion in other humans. But drunks will be irrational, accusatory bastards at times and so I lied some more. My number of past boyfriends grew incrementally smaller until my hymen almost completely grew back.
The older I got, lying became more difficult, especially as it grew unnecessary. I had healthier relationships and more self-confidence. Fear was no longer a factor, nor was the need to impress anybody a priority. Lying became insulation, little pretensions to keep me sound.
I’d lie to get out of social commitments, saying I had to work when all I wanted to work at was remaining un-showered while curling up with an Agatha Christie novel and slurping rainbow sherbet. In my current life, my tribe knows me. I can say “I’m feeling very surly and introspective, so I’ll have to pass” and it’s an easy, honest moment. And it has made it easier for me to say “yes” at other times.
These days, the polite lies get a pass for guilt. There’s no point in hurting someone’s feelings unless they’re asking you to help them with a move or whether or not they should marry the guy that “borrowed” their life savings to start a head shop. The lies that seem less excusable are the ones that I’ve been telling myself. If I keep lying to myself, nothing will ever change. And something inside me has to give.
I’ve been out walking in the woods this week. Some days, I think that if I just keep walking, the pretensions would slide off of me, all the raw neediness would be exposed, and I’d see whatever truth it is that I am supposed to see. Meditation in motion.
The truth is, the universe doesn’t give a shit whether I write or not. I imagine that the universe would prefer that some of us would just shut up – it’s a noisy planet. The truth is, I won’t die if I don’t write and I don’t owe talent or ego anything.
The truth is, I just can’t seem to let it go, this idea of writing, this idea of actually being something. And this novel – the truth is that it’s awful because I’ve been trying to be a real writer and I’m not one. But I’ve always been a bit of a liar and sometimes liars who don’t lie anymore are really good at telling stories.