If I become a writer, please forgive me.
I can see it now – the first time you hear that I’ve been published. You go to some huge bookstore, seek out my book with my name and a strange, shiny cover (because I won’t be able to resist the bizarre pictures nor will my book or my name be exciting enough to draw buyers without a noticeable cover.) You take it home, and, maybe not eagerly, but at least with a strong curiosity, flip past my name, my endearing dedication to someone you think maybe you remember, and then you start in. And you read.
How long will it take before the first flickers of doubt and confusion appear? How many sentences will you digest before those doubts become flags, waving, yelling, “Wait!” “Stop!” “Arrête!” “Attençion!” How many minutes will pass before you pause, huff out your held breath, and pronounce loudly, brow wrinkled, perhaps an eyebrow raised, “This isn’t right!”
Depending on how much you like me, you may continue on for a while. But I know the moment comes. The book sails through the air, lying, shiny cover slightly dented, and you declare, “That’s not how it happened. Doesn’t she even remember?”
So that’s why I’m telling you: if I become a writer, don’t buy my book.
Okay, scratch that.
Buy it, or I’ll go hungry and feel really lame.
But just remember: I warned you.
Because you’re right. That’s not what happened. And I may or may not remember how it actually happened. That’s really an irrelevant issue. The issue is actually truth.
Truth begins with tea.
See, I’m sitting here, writing this, with a cold, half-drunk cup of tea by my notebook, because that’s what I knew I needed in order to know what to write. I didn’t really want the tea: I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t thirsty, and my teabag supply is running very low (even with the double-steeping,) but it didn’t matter. This note, this plea, could not have been written without having the feeling of writing something serious, something that has intrinsic value. And for that I need tea.
So I tricked myself. You could say I lied to myself. I made a cup of tea, thereby saying, “Self! What you have to say is important! It’s deep and heartfelt and real, and it must be written! It just can’t be held in anymore so sit down and write!”
But it was a lie, because I could have held this in. And what has not been created cannot, by definition, be heartfelt or real.
Regardless, I made the tea, and now here it is – in reality. Not the tea, the note. (Cold tea is gross, by the way.) See, it doesn’t matter that I lied, because it worked. The lie produced the truth.
Sometimes the truth is in the details. It’s in the very accurate and John Steinbeck-ish descriptions of every blade of grass, every turn of the bird’s head, every syllable written exactly as it was pronounced. Those details are the truth.
But then sometimes the truth is in the vague Charles Henry Turner-like images. A general idea that conveys the whole. Details are smudged, adjusted, and blended to form a wide-angled, non-comprehensive, but certainly just as accurate, truth.
Do you see? Do you know? Can you hear it? The truth I mean.
I can hear it, and I want to tell you about it. But sometimes I have to lie.
Not always! Just sometimes.
You may ask, with indignation: “Do you really mean that there is no way to convey certain truths without lying?”
I don’t know, I would reply. It is possible that if I was in a room with four great writers – pick whomever you want, Hemingway, Bronte, Updike, Potok – and we all witnessed the same event, that one of them could convey what happened in a manner that did not require any blurring or smudging. It’s possible.
But it’s also entirely possible that not a single one of them would see what I see, or vice versa. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that even if Hemingway and I sat and watched the exact same paint peeling, we would not see the same truth. Therefore we would not have the same truth to convey and wouldn’t use the same words to write about it. And if I ever tell you that I sat in a room with Hemingway and watched paint peel, that is not an artistic stretch. That is lunacy and you should please have me committed.
But in everyday things, I may lie. I may stretch and blur. I may say that the cup was blue, either because I remember a blue cup, or because the scene feels sadder because the cup is blue, or because I just want to see if you’re paying attention.
Okay, hopefully not the last one.
But if I say you’re crazy, that your hair looks like you got lost in the ‘80s, that your best friend was a fruitcake, or that it rained for three months in 1999, it’s not about the lies. It’s about the truth.
The truth will forgive me.
And if I become a writer that’s what I’ll write, and I don’t even want to apologize for that so I’m not going to.
But when you sit down, when you flip through that book, when the flags wave and doubts fly, just remember what I said. Remember.
Please forgive me.