Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Lie & Other Acts of World Building

I find myself wishing I was either a much better liar, or that I was much more forthright and honest.  One of the two.  Pick one and go forward, and handle the consequences as best I can.  
I used to be a very good liar.  This was back when I was a Theatre Major, studying Acting at California State University, Fullerton (Go, Titans!).  
I didn't think of it as lying at the time.  I thought of it as...  Acting.  
What I would do would be to make things up and see if I could convince people they were true.  I wouldn't take it very long.  And I would always let the person I was telling the lie to know, eventually, that it was all just a story.  That made it all right.  Right?  
I came to understand that it didn't make it OK, but I'll get to that in a bit.  
People lie a lot.  We lie to keep from being hurt.  We lie to keep from hurting.  We lie to get out of conversation without telling the other person we think they're boring.  I'm starting to believe that what separates us from the other animals that walk, crawl, creep and buzz about isn't our opposable thumbs or our ability to contemplate our own mortality.  It's our ability to create a pretend world and then present it to someone else, knowing that it's all made up, as Truth.  
I went online, to Wikipedia, and found they had a page devoted to "the Lie."  They had twenty-eight different types of falsehoods listed there, and I don't believe it is a complete list.  In fact, I know it isn't because I went there looking for the specific term for a type of lie that I can't remember.  It's a lie that, while truthful in the facts it presents, gives an inaccurate impression of a situation.  
Here's the example I remember: Let's say I run an advertising agency (since we're talking about misleading people, it seems an appropriate company to choose).  I have five account representatives working for me.  One has forty years of experience working in the field.  The remaining four all started last week.  A client asks about the experience of my staff.
"Oh, my account representatives average eight years of experience in the field."  Do the math.  It's entirely true.  But I wouldn't want the client speaking to my staff directly.  
Does anyone know the term for a falsehood like that?  
The term for what I used to do in college is a "Jocose Lie."  It is a lie that is meant in jest.  Something understood to be false by the parties involved.  Understood at the beginning, as I know understand.  There is a group in London, England, called the Crick Crack Club, which organizes a "Grand Lying Contest" every year.  A storytelling tradition where the storyteller insists that everything he or she is saying is true, despite all the evidence to the contrary.  
Evidence to the contrary is important.  
If it feels like I'm creeping up on something, I am.  Creep, creep, creep. 
One of the most useful concepts I learned as a writer was, "the lie you wish were true."  I want to say I got this from Lawrence Block, the famous mystery writer who wrote a great book on writing called, "Telling Lies for Fun and Profit."  I'm not sure that it is him or not.  His book title fits the theme of this entry, so I'll stick with him for now.
This isn't a lie.  It's an unverified recollection.  
The lie you wish were true is a way of finding a story in a situation.  Take something that happened, a break-up with a girlfriend/boyfriend for instance.  It probably didn't turn out the way you wanted, whether you were the dump-er or the dump-ee.  
I think this is another reason why people lie, because the circumstances they find themselves in are often so very far from how they want them to be, that imagining another reality where they are better is the most natural thing to do.  So natural that we "forget" to tell the person we're relating to that what we're expressing exists no where in the reality being shared.  
That's at the heart of the lie you wish were true.  Take the situation and imagine how you would have wanted it to go, how it "should have" gone, had you been smarter, more eloquent, or if the other person came to the realization about the wonderfulness that is you in time to avoid the whole messy situation.  In that reality there could be a story you might want to write.  
Lies start things.  They rarely end them.  There the saying, "Show me a liar, I'll show you a thief."  The Japanese have a similar saying: 嘘は盗人の始まり。Uso ha nusubito no hajimari.  A lie is a thief's beginning.  People hate being lied to because it feels like something has been taken from them.  Con-men often express distain and contempt for their victims.  It's their own fault for being stupid enough to be tricked.  
I learned that with my last Jocose Lie back in college.  I was in the green room of the school's Theatre Department, going through my wallet.  It slipped from my hand and its contents spread across the floor in front of the sofa.  A freshman sitting nearby helped pick up the fallen items.  
"Oh, she's cute..."  She was holding a picture of my little sister.  She was ten years old at the time, but the photo was from years before, when she was about two years old.  "Is she...  Your daughter?"  
Yes, I replied, my brain spinning off a wild tale.  I won't go into details.  After so long, I've forgotten most of them.  It was filled with separation and tragedy.  Heartbreak and loss.  
"Oh, wow..."  The freshman's eyes got really big.  I took the picture from her and put it back in my wallet.  I excused myself and went to the bathroom.  I told myself I'd tell her the truth, the real truth, when I got back.  
Someone else beat me to it, though.  Someone in the green room who overheard what I had told the freshman clued her into what I was about.  When I got back and started telling her that my previous story was just a story, she told me she already knew.  
"We could have been friends..."  She gave me a little shrug that said the possibility was closed forever.  Then, she cocked her head to one side.  "You know...  You lie with your eyes.  I didn't think anyone could do that."  
Well, there are people like that.  I'm like that, though because of the look on that freshman's face I stopped the practice of telling those stories.  
Correction: I stopped the practice of telling those lies.  
I recall the scene in the Star Trek episode, "I, Mudd."  It's near the end, after the crew has started their efforts to get the androids to go into loop-locks by doing all sorts of illogical things.  They've turned their efforts toward Norman, the only android of his class, under the assumption that he is the master controller for all the androids.  
The final blow comes when Harry Mudd tells his former servant, "Listen to me carefully, Norman...  I am lying."  Norman starts trying to parse the "liar's paradox."  If the statement is true, then Harry is lying, but then the statement would have to be false, since he's saying that he's lying, but if that is the case then he is in fact lying, which would make the statement true...
We don't have smoke coming out our ears and get stuck in programming loops like Norman did.  Lying is too well integrated into our programming.  
So, the answer to my quandary posed at the beginning of this entry?  The lie I wish were true: I am a completely honest person.  I never lie.  I will go forward in life toward the bright light of truth, even if it means I will make things more difficult for myself by crossing people more powerful than me.  I will do this to keep from stealing from other people their faith in me.  
Cross my heart.  Scout's honor.  Honest.  
Now...  There's some beachfront property in Arizona I want to tell you about...


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