So, why Prevarications & Exaggerations? If the title was destined to be in this vein, why not the more well-known Mark Twain quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics”? Why not “All the Lies That are My Life”? Why not “Lying liars and the liars who lie to them”?
Why is the title about lying in the first place?
As the irascible TV character House (played by the multi-talented British actor Hugh Laurie) is fond of saying, “Everybody lies.” It’s true. It’s damn true. We all lie — to ourselves, to our family, to our friends, even to our god(s) should we happen to be believers. Three popular lies (you’ve all heard or used these): 1) The check is in the mail; 2) The dog ate my homework; and 3) Of course that dress doesn’t make you look fat. When I worked as a video director for a retail operation, I learned that the product buyers’ favorite lie was “The boat is on the water” whenever a question was raised about why a particular import wasn’t yet on store shelves.
Lying to a higher power occurs all the time amongst believers. No matter how honest you are (or how honest you believe you are), at least one time in your life I’m willing to bet you’ve said something to the equivalent of “I promise to be a better person.” And then, somehow, failed to follow-up on that promise. That, my friends, is a lie, no matter how you sugarcoat it.
We all lie. House is right. Did you drink the last of the milk? No. Did you clean up your room? Yes. Did you take out the garbage? I could’ve sworn I did. All lies. We tell little white lies (“You have such a cute baby!”) all the time, and justify the behavior as sparing the other person’s feelings. (“Of course your talking doesn’t bother me. I like the company.”)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think all lying is bad. I’m not given to the belief that lying is a sin. In fact, I believe sometimes outright lying can be a useful thing. You don’t want to be the one telling a loved one who is on their death-bed that they have no chance, that the doctor says it’s only a matter of time. What good would that do? Conversely, I don’t think it’s a good thing to give a person too much false hope, either. “Oh, you’ll be fine and can come home in a few days.” Lying and telling the truth can be a fine balance, and has to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
I’m not a deep philosophical thinker, so I can’t debate you on situational ethics versus absolute veracity. Such discussions tend to bore me anyway. Besides, we all lie to ourselves that we know what we’re talking about in those discussions, which *really* annoys those of us who DO know what we’re talking about it. (Yes, I just contradicted myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. [props to Walt Whitman])
Okay, so why title this unblog (about which more in a later post) Prevarications & Exaggerations? Because that’s what a fiction writer does. A fiction writer tells lies for a living. Not that I’m a published fiction writer — but I aim to be. More about that later, too.
Harlan Ellison wrote a famed novella, “All the Lies That are My Life,” a semi-autobiograhical story about a professional writer’s life, death, and funeral. It expressed Ellison’s demand that he control his literary output, even after death. Ellison has a professional distaste for the sharecropping that goes on in the worlds of deceased writers.
For two examples, regard how Christopher Tolkien has pimped out his father’s unpublished work for more of Smaug’s shiny gold, and how Brian Herbert has ground down his father’s Dune series into a fine spice that he and Kevin J. Anderson have been snorting up and farting out for the past decade. Ellison’s directive to his spouse, Susan, is to burn every unpublished manuscript upon his death. A directive that Kafka once gave his friend, but the friend ignored Kafka’s wish and published The Castle, Amerika and The Trial. I’ve read The Castle, and I’m not sure its publication was a good thing.
We all lie. Some of us (someday to include myself) are lucky enough to get paid for it.
And that’s today’s prevarication. Tell me about your favorite lies in the comments.