Saturday, May 3, 2014

Truer Than Truth.

“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”
― Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

          Tim O'Brien is a good friend of mine.  We've never actually met, but he has spoken to me so many times.  Each time his words dig deep into my brain, and enrich my thinking about a whole lot of things...  Not just about Vietnam...  Not just about being a foot soldier in Vietnam.  I don't know another author who has inspired my ideas about humanity, storytelling, memory, and truth more than O'Brien.   

Does truth matter?  If we are expressing the emotion, or tragedy, or the beauty of the story of our lives, does it matter if we speak only truth.  Do we want others to know what we experienced or feel what we experienced?  Tim O'Brien talks about the truth not mattering when one is telling his or her story, or getting at the emotions behind a memory.  A lie can be truer than the truth.  

“It wasn't a question of deceit. Just the opposite; he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.”
― Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried  

Is it acceptable--human-nature even--to protect people with lies, or half-truths, or omissions?  Why was the term, "white lie," conceived?  The very definition of "white lie" states that it is a minor or unimportant lie, especially one uttered in the interests of tact or politeness.  So... It's polite to lie?  
For Example:  Don't do this.  Hold back the truth.

I know whenever anyone asks me how I have been doing, or how I am,  they expect me to respond in a positive manner.  It's sort-of a rhetorical question.  It's one of the first things that comes to many people's minds when they see or talk to someone they haven't seen or talked to in a while.  How are you? It might be polite or tactful for us to say, "Fine, thank you, and how have you been?" even if we feel terrible, or life is beating the crap out of us.

You: "I'm great, thanks for asking.  How are you?"
Acquaintance:  "Good to hear, I'm great too.  In fact, yesterday I... Blah, be, de, blah, blah..."

I tested the "non-polite" approach today, and I don't totally recommend it.  I had a bi-annual dentist appointment, and honestly, I looked like shit when I went, so no surprise that I wasn't "great."  I took a shower this morning, put my hair in a messy ponytail, and clipped my bangs off my face with a barrette and put on sweatpants and a tanktop... Then I cleaned the house and worked on a pastel drawing.  The kids had to be picked up early, and I didn't realize what time it was until I suddenly was supposed to be in the car, right about that second, on my way to get them...  I started to cry (Luteal Phase Fun Times), pulled on jeans and a flannel shit over my tanktop, literally started gagging and threw up on our bedroom floor as I was pushing my arms through the sleeves, then drove on up to their school.

They wanted my attention.  I tried to be non-crying/puking mommy, which was successful.  Luckily my mom was able to watch them so I didn't have to drag them to the dentist with me.  While she was here, I made two huge pans of stuffed shells for our dinner still filling the pasta 5 minutes before I was supposed to be at the dentist's office.  I threw on my Kickstarter Veronica Mars T-Shirt, no makeup, brushed my teeth and went.

The Hygienist asked, "How are you doing?"  I said, "Pretty okay."  Hmmm...  She said, "Oh, well...  good."  I talked about the kids after that, which makes everyone feel happier.
When the doctor came in he also asked, "How have you been?"  I said, "Today?  Today has been crap."  (So, I can say his wife works at the high school where I was formally employed, so he knows a bit of my back story, but he obviously was not expecting that answer).  I explained my allergies and stuff, and then smiled and pretended I was "two-enthusiastic-thumbs-up-Great"...  Because that's the answer people want, yo.  Don't mess with rhetorical questions.  Just shut up.

Sometimes it cracked me up when I was out with my grandparents and people asked my grandfather that question because he would tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.  He would describe his ailments, my grandmother's health, and just about anything that might be worrisome, at the time, in our entire extended family.  He would always end this monologue with a request for prayers for "the family."  "Please, say some prayers for us, we'd really appreciate it."  And he had a right to ask:  Grampy and Nanny prayed for a whole lot of people, identifying them by name, every night.  It was really only a month ago that my 87 year-old grandmother told me she finally stopped listing all the names and started saying, "my family and friends," because she worried she was getting forgetful and would leave someone out.  And, she said she was tired.
“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.”
― Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

For me, I think I'm learning that I'm all for omissions.   I always believed lies were deal breakers, when it came to important relationships. But telling someone everything, that leaves us open to ridicule, judgement and ultimately, rejection.   Besides, my eyes show everything I am feeling.  I can't hide the truth of my feelings, or thoughts...  Not when someone can see me...  The truth, which makes so much sense in my own head, sounds pretty scary when it comes out of my mouth, or off my fingertips.  Yikes... Joanna needs a filter.  It is polite to lie sometimes.  Not saying all the truth that is that very moment I am experiencing would be tactful and spare other people's feelings.  Shut up, Joanna.  No seriously:  SHUT. UP.  

“My heart tells me to stop right here, to offer quiet benediction and call it the end. But the truth won't allow it. Because there is no end, happy or otherwise. Nothing is fixed, nothing solved. The facts, such as they are, finally spin off into the void of things missing, the inconclusiveness of us. Who are we? Where do we go? The ambiguity may be dissatisfying, even irritating, but this is a love story. There is no tidiness. Blame it on the human heart. One way or another, it seems, we all perform vanishing tricks, effacing history, locking up our lives and slipping day by day into the graying shadows. Our whereabouts are uncertain. All secrets lead to the dark, and beyond the dark there is only maybe.”
― Tim O'Brien

Do people, the ones who truly love us, see our truth, no matter if the words spilling from our mouths are perfectly true and accurate, or blatant lies?  Can't they see it in our eyes?  Filters don't work on them, right?  Right...

But... a person who cares about us, hears everything we don't say...  They must.  Don't they see our eyes shift as we speak, the slight lack of emotion in our voice, the fact that we are trying to focus attention away from ourselves? We don't want to lie to them, but we don't want to tell the truth either. We aren't even omitting real-life truth because we want to be dishonest, or we mean to be dishonest; we just don't want to talk about it.  We're too tired to talk about it.

And sometimes we've gotta just keep out mouths shut to make other people happy.  Questa รจ la vita.
“And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.”

― Tim O'Brien

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