Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Lie to Yourself Honestly

I'm rewriting my first novel this week.  While writing or first-drafting is something I can do in small chunks of time, 15 minutes here, an hour there, rewriting requires a longer chunk of time, focus.  At least that's what I've been telling myself as I played around in my new novel instead of taking on the work of rewriting that first one and making it complete. But maybe I'm lying to myself, avoiding the difficult task in favor of the lighter, honeymoon stage I'm in with the second novel.

The first novel (working title: His Other Mother) is a dark thing, exploring mental illness, infertility, marriage.  Writing the first draft, I was surprised to discover that I had, in part, been writing about my first marriage.  While the characters and the plot have nothing to do with the events or people in my lives, some of the marriage dynamics definitely did.  It's always interesting to discover what my brain has been doing behind my back, the devious ways it finds to make me confront the things I'd rather not.

Rewriting that novel now, I find that I have issues to work out regarding religion and religious leaders.  That's not so surprising in a thinking person in the twenty-first century. But striking me today is the theme of self-deception, the lies we tell ourselves to make it through. 

Lying to yourself seems like a bad thing, but I don't know that it always is.  Am I lying to myself when I put on a brave face so I can do the thing that frightens me? I'm refusing to acknowledge the truth of my fear. But I do it in good cause, to help myself take the first step. Surely, that's not the same as lying to myself about addictions or bad choices I'm making. Is it?

Sherry Morgan, my main character, knows that what she doing is wrong at some level. But, she's quite good at talking herself around morality, rewriting reality to make it allowable to do the things she wants to do, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Sometimes she almost convinces me, her author. The brain gymnastics are amazing.  In real life, as well as in fiction.

It puts me in mind of a poem I studied in grad school, "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop.  It's a masterpiece in self-deception. You can feel the persona willing herself to believe the story she has concocted (this loss is no big deal in the scheme of things), and, that, at the same time, she knows it's a pretty lie. But a pretty lie she needs if she's to get through this. A pretty lie she has to let herself, even force herself to believe.

My character is no Elizabeth Bishop. She's just a woman who wants to be a mother and can't. But she can fool herself like nobody's business. And it takes a pretty elaborate fiction to fool her. So she writes one for herself (and then I record it for us and try to make it into good fiction for all you good people).

I can't tickle myself, because I know it's coming and surprise is part of the sensation.  But, I can delude myself and somehow exercise control over my own introspection to the point that I can keep myself from examining the hole in the story I've concocted.  So, on a small, and hopefully healthier scale, I am as big a liar as Sherry. I'm just more honest about it.

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