I was a lying little brat. Not on purpose, I think.
How the heck should I know, considering it was 55 years ago and memory is a slippery thing? My recollection of those years is covered all in confusion over what I dreamed and what was truth, and some of the dreams are more real than the truth.
I remember vividly, for instance, walking down grandmother’s garden path, down past the flowers, and the onions, and the little patches of grass where we sun-bleached laundry, and past the place where we grew potatoes, and suddenly there being a gate there, a gate that, when opened, led down this other garden path and to my uncle’s home in Brazil. I know that was a dream. (Or at least I hope so, otherwise I’m grossly deceived about the nature of the world and have spent a lot of money and time I didn’t need to spend on transatlantic travel. And I’m not sure which one annoys me most.)
But I think I knew I was telling lies most of the time, because I recognize the “feel” of it, the impulse.
You see, some of us were born to fictionate. (Okay, technically it should be fictionalize, but fictionate feels closer to the meaning.)
I couldn’t read (or at three have a book read to me) without elaborating on the end, or rewriting it in my head if I didn’t like it. (And btw I hated “and they lived happily ever after” not so much because even at three I knew no one was happy all the time, but because frankly it didn’t let me mess with those characters in my mind after the story was done.)
But also, say I went to the store, and on the way back I found a little piece of glass amid the cobblestones. I HAD to make up a story about how it was a great big stolen diamond and how I’d fought off the robbers, and….
I didn’t make up lies out of dishonesty and convenience. I never accused someone of something when it wasn’t true, or to make myself look better. I just wanted life to be more interesting, and kept “editing” it in my head.
And at some point (I think I was five and I think it was over the incident of the bubblegum pig) my dad had a “come to Jesus” talk with me. (Though this being dad, it did not involve religion, not because he wasn’t a believer but because by then he had gleaned that I was much like him, which means that appeals to should and could don’t work as well as appeals to what I’ll call “civic virtue”, i.e. showing me the results of my behavior on the ability to live with others and be respected by others. (Dad is a Roman of the Republic. It’s not at all his fault that he was born millennia late.)
If it was over the bubblegum pig (and it makes sense it would be, because I can see how adults would have seen what I said) it went like this: I was five or six, and I was allowed limited outings on my own recognizance, usually to buy peanuts in shell across the street, or to take someone a message, or to visit a little school friend.
I don’t know what mission I was on at the time (the all-compelling reasons of childhood are a closed book to me, and most adults) but I remember walking out and coming face to snout with a giant pink pig.
Pigs were not rare in the village, which lived much off salted and smoked cod in winter, or anytime fish were scarce. And yeah, they often ended up on the street, not because this was normal (we did have traffic. Not heavy. I mean kids played soccer in the street, but often enough that kids knew to listen for the sound of a motor and call “There’s one coming” and scurry to the edges of the street. Since animals don’t do that), owners at least tried to keep them inside and within bounds. But people kept pigs on the edge of remote fields far from their houses. (The North of Portugal is like a quilt made up of things people inherited from here and there. From the air, instead of the vast fields of my beloved Western US, you see this patchwork of tiny squares. Okay, a lot more houses than you’d expect, and on landing, startling views of some backyards that you swear have Roman ruins. But also a lot of tiny, tiny lots, each cultivated in a different thing. This is because by law the inheritance gets divided among all the children, and cut up in odd ways. Heck, that’s a subject for another post but sometimes you don’t even inherit a whole lot. My family had vineyard rights in properties we didn’t own, or that had passed out of the family long ago. So grape harvest — an all hands affair for which I was drafted by the time I was five, and which justified the kids in school taking two days off, even in high school and college — we went all over the village, collecting grapes from sometimes a single grapevine on someone’s property.)
Anyway, pigs were kept far away from people’s houses, sometimes, and that meant that they escaped (pigs are smart) and no one figured it out, until they were caught (or run over) on the village street.
But most pigs in the village were little. Well, not little-little, but not the side of industrial-farm-American-pigs. They might have been a couple hundred pounds, maybe. And they were brown or grey-black (sometimes spotted.)
Because even smallish pigs can attack a small child, the procedure was to retreat home or behind a gate fast, and then tell an adult.
Well, this pig scared the living daylights out of me, because it was at least twice (might have been more) the size I expected, and it was bright pink. And it made for me.
I barely made it in the gate where I told the first adult what had happened, including the detail that it was pink, like bubblegum.
The adults laughed and promptly ignored me.
Until my cousin, who is almost 14 years older than I and lived with us, went out the door and met the bubblegum pig.
At which point due alarm was given, etc. I don’t remember, but I’m going to assume someone had imported piglets or a stud or something. I know at the time seeds from abroad were a big thing and — heaven help me — it’s not even difficult to imagine someone’s relative driving back from France or Germany with a littler of piglets in a wicker carrier. (Until the late eighties it was common for Portuguese immigrants to arrive in JFK carrying a gallon jug of local wine in one hand and a live chicken in a basked in the other. Either gifts to immigrant relatives or what they viewed as essential for starting their new life here.)
Which brings me to the speech dad gave me which went something like this: “It’s not that what you said was impossible, but that we’re used to you telling lies. And this story sounded so fantastic, we assume it was just another of your lies.”
“When you lie habitually, people are not going to believe you even when you’re truthful. Even if your lies are inoffensive and fun. And then someone else could be endangered because you couldn’t be trusted by those around you.”
“This is why it’s important to always tell the truth, or as close to the truth as you can get. Because otherwise people won’t believe you. And after a while you won’t know what the truth is, yourself, which is the worst thing of all, because then all your decisions will be tainted.”
It impressed me greatly. Almost everything dad said impressed me greatly, partly because he rarely went out of his way to either chastise me or punish me, and never did it unless it was really, really important.
So, after that I tried. For a while, if I felt a need to make up a really fanciful story (and sometimes I did, all the way through my teens) I first made up the story, and then I told people I lied. Immediately after. And told them what the truth was. I was fortunate in having a couple of friends who found this hilarious, particularly the one who also encouraged my writing.
And yes, I eventually channeled that need for excitement into my writing.
And honestly, after the concussion and the thyroid issues, I’m d*mn glad I learned to tell the truth (in fact, when lying is needed (usually in limited amounts and to protect others) I’m extremely uncomfortable doing it, and as some of you know, my face is glass-fronted, revealing all my thoughts and feelings.) because these days my memory is so bad I could never keep the lies straight.
But also because — as dad put it — you lie enough, you forget what the truth is.
At some point — in my teens — I decided I’d become a journalist. Understand, I like writing. All sorts of writing. The highlight of my days is when I came into school and was told I’d have to write a paper. And in Portugal fiction didn’t pay.
I’m glad I gave up the idea in my late teens, partly because I understood the level of corruption that had undermined the profession (having interned in a newspaper.) I’m glad because it’s gotten worse since then.
I’m not going to make this political, but the media has not only started making up lies out of whole cloth, but they now piously believe them and try to reveal what they’re sure is the real truth, even though it’s very well disguised. Or, you know, it’s a blatant lie.
It all has to do with starting to believe the duty of the media is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” and other such nonsense. In fact, the duty of the news media is to relate the truth as far as they can ascertain it, and without a narrative in their heads that they hew to and try to make facts conform to.
This type of self-and-other deception is particularly dangerous when it involves constructing narratives that might be true in the future and that, if true, would be dangerous.
So, when the media having decided those to the right of Lenin are “of course” white supremacists, decides to fit this onto a president who has JEWISH GRANDCHILDREN whom he is, by all accounts, very close to and who, until he decided to run for president, received accolades for his philanthropy to the black community, their lies are dangerous.
I HAVE met white supremacists in the US. Most of them not on the right, but on the left. Unless you think the assumption that I cannot write anything but Latin stories means they think I’m just as good as your average white person. Or the assumption that I “of course” need their help due to being able to tan. Let me tell you, btw, that what we have in common with our grandparents is like 10% of DNA (and might be less. Or a little more.) And that under the microscope, race isn’t visible. Or that though I’m mostly Spanish and Portuguese (yes, in that order. My parents still haven’t accepted THAT) I have enough from France, England and Scotland (Not to mention Congo and possibly Hungary, though that keeps flicking in and out with revisions) to probably match many citizens of those countries. Under the microscope, race is bullshit. BUT I have also met white supremacists who consider themselves to be on the right. Well, I met one. In the mid nineties.
Until recently that is, when I’ve met a lot of millenials who think they can find truth by reversing everything they were taught in school. And since in school they were taught white people are guilty of everything and are born with racial guilt (shut up. Unless you have had kids in school in the last thirty years and read their books with an eye to subtext, you don’t know what you’re talking about) they…. reverse that.
This is dangerous. This amounts to the press, which should be objective, crawling up its own behind looking for facts, when the real facts stand poised to biting them in the *ss in a generation or two. And that danger is of their own making.
Or take the hysteria about COVID-19, which they fostered in the amiable impression that a crisis is good to help their favored side pick up power, or perhaps simply because for the first time in decades it gave them a captive audience. And yes, COVID-19 is an illness. It is not nearly as lethal as it’s been made out and is still being made out by the press. Lots of people die with it, few from it, unless they are very very old, when anything could take them.
And thank heavens it is not nearly as lethal, because having traveled across the country by car recently, I can tell you that if it were, most of the country would be dead, particularly the parts engaging in ordering people to wear masks. I have yet to see a person wearing a mask who doesn’t pull it, bend it, twiddle with it, etc. several times a minute. And then touch things. Lots of things. (I need to get a pneumonia vaccine, because the bacterial crud this winter will be next level.)
And no, I’m not saying COVID-19 didn’t kill people (though the reporting makes it hard to even guess how many of the reported cases are “real.” As do the ridiculously “amplified” positive tests.) But the flu kills people. Sometimes a lot of people. And sometimes, by fluke, otherwise young and healthy people. Which COVID-19 seems to do massively less of. Yes, the old count too. But let’s be real, the old are also relatively easy to protect if we bend all our resources to it. And also there’s only so far you can protect them. Or should. If you don’t believe it, talk to people who do end-of-life care. I’m sure if I live really long, at ninety I’ll be praying for one more week to finish the fricking novel. And that’s fine. That’s “purchasing time for a purpose.” But I do not wish to have extraordinary measures performed on me if the mind is no longer functioning and the body can only function with 24/7 assistance. Yes, it is a horrible truth, and I’ve been guilty of keeping my cats alive way past the point of no hope, but we ARE mortal, both people and cats. At some point we will die. It’s horrible, but it’s not the most horrible thing. The most horrible thing is when we destroy the lives of the young and healthy and create panic over a relatively harmless virus, in order to fit the internal narrative.
Why is that terrible? Well, because there might be a bubblegum pig. In fact, given that China loves biological warfare and other forms of asymmetric warfare, a bubblegum pig, that is a virus that is actually lethal (and not just in their extremely polluted, lacking in public hygiene domain) is inevitable.
And when it comes, no one will believe it. If strenuous measures are ever needed, we’re just going to die. Because no one will ever comply with this kind of pandemic theater ever again. Not once they get over this one — and most people are doing so.
So tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie. It’s not always easy to remember things exactly, or tell things exactly. This is why journalism, particularly investigative, is a difficult, difficult profession.
Just making up things is much easier. It is also emboldening the guilty and harrying the innocent. (Since the media needs easy parallels, apparently.) It is also making people take stupidly out-of-touch with reality steps not just in politics. It is creating stupidity in the world, which is at least as damaging as lies.
And for writers, if you’re one, telling the truth is massively more important. I think that Terry Pratchett was referring to this when he talked about “knowing which voice in your head is yours.”
This is literally true for those of us who get “attacked” by a fully formed character, courtesy of our subconscious.
I don’t have auditory or visual hallucinations relating to story creation. This, believe it or not, puts me in the minority. But I do get a …. “vivid stream of thoughts.” An internal voice, telling me the story. And it’s really important to remember it’s not my voice. Mostly because honestly it starts influencing my food tastes, sometimes my sense of humor, and I resemble Star, in Glory Road when receiving the “memories” of her ancestors. If I believed this was me, I’d have 100 personalities, give or take.
And yeah, I try to tell the truth in fiction too, by not letting it hew to the way I believe things should be/secretly are. (Not that I’m much for secretly are. As the man said “Again, and again, what are the facts?”)
I’m very tired of just-so books, where everything conforms to the authors politics or philosophy. Mostly because they’re boring. They’re not inhabited by real people, with real and flawed ideas, but by puppets, dancing when you pull the string. Worse, the string-pull is PREDICTABLE.
But it is possibly worse when people create fiction and sell it as the truth, including to THEMSELVES.
Because that poisons the world and unmakes civilization.