Friday, May 30, 2008

Liar's diary

When I began journaling again it was to have somewhere to vent and talk things out and leave some mark of where I'd been. Years ago, a friend said she kept a journal, too, but not to record the truth. She wrote down things the way she wanted them to be seen so that people would think a certain way about her and so she could exaggerate her husband's abuses. She hoped someone would read what she wrote and believe it all. Since reading and reviewing, Liar's Diary I realize there are many people who use journals to create an image, something that never occurred to me.

In many ways, some journals, and blogs in this technologically marvelous world, are like first dates. A person dresses up, wears makeup and puts their best self forward in hopes of being seen as special and gifted and desirable. Keeping a journal/blog that exaggerates the good -- or the bad -- points of life and recreates history is nothing new and is very much like a liar's diary full of half truths and fantasy. Some of the blogs and journals I've read have been so fantastic they should be published; they exceed what even the best writers have crafted. Conversations that never occur, relationships woven out of thin air, friendships and rendezvous with lovers, mates and partners that never occur, buying a flower and taking a picture and saying it's from a loved one or a child when there is conflict in the home and the child barely speaks, cards, letters, and lives imagined on the virtual page, all designed to create an image.

The best lies contain just enough truth to be believable and there are people blogging who are adept at making a little truth go a long way while the masters sell wholesale lies readers swallow whole. It's like a quote that keeps coming up: Fiction writers are paid to lie. It does pay to lie. People see you the way you want to be seen and the author of the lies begins to believe what he writes, like a self fulfilling prophecy. In some places it's called delusion and in others it's called creative writing. But what happens if the imagined life taking form on the page never takes shape in the real world? I guess it's time for medication, a quiet environment and maybe a wrap-around jacket and a private room with padded walls and floor.

At heart, I'm a journalist of the old school, a sort of literary Sgt. Friday: "Just the facts, ma'am." Maybe that's why I have to wrestle fiction to the page. It's not black and white; there are always shades and gradations of color. For me, writing life's incidents is about marking the moment with a cairn of truth, even when the truth is difficult to read or remember.

As I unpacked the boxes of journals and put them on the shelves in my office, I thumbed through a few. Moments I had forgotten, places I'd been and things that seemed so important to me at the time came back in vividly colored emotions. It brought to mind talking to my mother after not having seen her for several years when she told me she didn't know I was so unhappy and in so much pain back then. She doesn't remember that though I lived in the same town just a few miles from her she didn't see me or visit. She was so wrapped up in her own life she didn't have time to look outside herself or beyond the confines of her world to see me. Visiting only at family gatherings once or twice a year, it's difficult to catch more than a glimpse of anything in the chaotic whirl of food and activity crammed into a few hours. Of course she didn't see how I felt. How could she? A few moments out of time in a house full of people is not an atmosphere conducive to opening up and having a heart to heart talk or baring one's soul, but there's always the journal.

Does anyone really want to tell people that they haven't had sex with their partner for weeks or that when they do have sex the passion and excitement have given way to perfunctory and mechanical motions? It's better to make people believe the thrill is still there and love is always in the air. It wouldn't do to write that most conversations end in shouting matches, that in a week's time a handful of words are exchanged or that every day is a power struggle. Can't have people finding out that even though you claim to be perfectly happy and content you're still chasing after an ex-lover because you're afraid to let go. Throw in the occasional bout of depression, a rant here and there and no one will know the depression is constant and that rage is the only emotion in your repertoire.

Everyone gets tired. No one escapes boredom or discontent for long without the patience of a saint or anti-depressants and mood enhancing drugs, or at least that's the story from the fella on your shoulder. You tell yourself that everyone gilds the lily until the lily can no longer support its golden head on its slender stalk. Even the networks and news services do it. Then again...

There's nothing wrong with a small and quiet life or one that is filled with unexceptional work and old friends who do nothing more spectacular than call occasionally to chat or share their views on books and movies and the niggling moments of life. There's something comforting in companionable silence and a social calendar filled with lots of space. Contentment takes so little effort and time and is as unremarkable as a past life herding goats or fixing meals and raising a family. Ant hills are not filled with queens.

In my old journals are simple moments and jazz riffs of philosophy and religion and the occasional small insight in the changing kaleidoscope of life. It's not about an airbrushed or computer generated image that smooths out wrinkles, plumps up sunken cheeks and sagging breasts or punctures cellulitic deposits and compresses fat. It's about life: gritty, heartbreaking, wondrous and mundane life, a collection of high and low and unremarkable moments that show who, where, what, why and when. It never occurred to me it was anything else.

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