Joy is a good thing. Bliss. Pleasure. Feeling boundaries fade, melting in Gaia’s arms. It’s hard to avoid sitting at a desk and staring at a screen, and it’s awful how easy it is to be addicted. I depend on our frequent ocean picnics, turning off the chatter and just marveling at the many faces of the sea. And now I have another resource. Kittens.
Sitting with a warm purring lapful is more attractive than Facebook, and laughing at absurd antics beats the evening news. I’m spending less time on-line and feeling better for it. I don’t want to hide my head in the sand, but there’s such a thing as too much attachment to keeping up with the newest reports of idiocy and mendacity and greed.
We’re plunging back into performances of King Lear, not exactly a warm fuzzy story, but there’s a fierce beauty in the clarity of its pain. A human being wrote this, an artist, now our ancestral colleague. We enter into his world, put everything we have into bringing it to life, and then go home and prepare to do it all over again. Strangely, there is joy in this. For a hundred minutes, we are partnered with each other, and with our audience, and with the man who put these words on paper. He too saw idiocy and mendacity and greed and did something with what he saw.
I am grateful that we are able to do what we do, to bear witness to the old story that says we’re not the first fools to come stumbling down the pike, leaving chaos in our wake. And I will be grateful, after every performance, to be able to go home and get a glass of wine and an armful of kittens.
I’ve been thinking about lies. Partly as a consequence of the news and partly from reading a novel wherein an alien race, evolved with an inability to lie, actually has festive competitions wherein contestants attempt to do so. No one manages directly to name red as blue or up as down, but various techniques are employed to get close to it—one being to memorize the syllables of the falsehood and reciting them without thinking of them, thus hopefully sneaking past the truth gene. The humans speculate that the aliens’ inability evolved as a survival mechanism.
Evolution works in mysterious ways. Humanity has evolved more methodologies of lying than Hallmark has cards. There must be a how-to best-seller, a textbook or a college course in Practical Falsehoods. Of course most of us come by it naturally, just that we differ in our skills. And we differ in our capacities for rationalization, i.e. our ways of justifying its necessity. Lovers must lie to one another. Leaders must lie to followers. And in fact, on all levels of the culture we’ve evolved—from the bedroom to the United Nations—that’s often true: we must.
For myself, I’ve very rarely said something knowingly untrue. My normal tactic is simply to neglect correction a misapprehension. That’s not a lie: it just works the same. The earliest instance I remember… When I started kindergarten, I had a half-day babysitter, Mrs. Walker, as my mom was single and had an all-day job. The lady had a couple of older kids who rode herd on me after their school was out or on free days. Being the youngest, I felt privileged to play with them, though they might do things like chase me around the house with their dad’s pistol.
One day they took me uptown on a shoplifting spree. I was too scared to do such a thing, but they got a fair bundle of toys and other stuff at the five-and-ten, and of course they made me promise not to tell their mom. Next day, Mrs. Walker confronted me: “Did they steal that stuff?” (They were better thieves than liars.) I was scared of them, and I was scared of her. “No,” I said. She wouldn’t let go. “Did they? Did they?” “Yes,” I said at last.
I don’t recall how my mom got wind of it. I might have told her, or it might have come in a phone call from Mrs. Walker, who accused her of spreading word among the neighbors that her kids were thieves—Mrs. Walker was perhaps my earliest professor of human irrationality. In any case, my mom was enormously gratified that I’d told the truth. As a reward, she gave me a dollar.
That was a fortune. It shamed me. Still does. I was being rewarded for being bullied into the telling of truth. I could never tell her that it started with a lie.
That doesn’t rise to the level of corporate secrecy or national security or the wig jiggles of international diplomacy, but maybe that’s where it starts. I felt shame, and in the long run, I’m proud that I felt shame. As it is, I’ve tried to lie as little as possible.