A writer friend just asked me online what’s my next writing project. I had to be honest with him, so I told him: “Nothing.” Of course, he was scandalized by my blunt response.
“But you write such great stories!” he said.
“And?” I asked back, shrugging. I just wished it was a face-to-face meeting instead of an online encounter, so he could have witnessed my who-the-hell-cares pout.
He began to press me more from his side of the world; how could I do that, that I must succumb to the art of writing… that sort of things that people who deal in this craft are so prone to concoct to justify their compulsion to cook up bizarre lies on a blank paper or a computer’s word processor. And that’s what the art of writing is all about. Just putting outrageous lies on a piece of paper.
One of my childhood’s strongest recollections is about a very silly movie. I was flipping through the only three or four channels that existed by then; as I recall, I was probably seven or eight years old and the film was a comedy about spies. Sorry, I can’t remember its name; all I can recall is that it was a late 50s, early 60s film and it started with a silly cartoon of very large slothful dog and a nimble fox jumping over it. The sentence ‘The fast red fox jumped over the lazy dog’ was slowly appearing from the right side of the TV screen, accompanied by the sharp sounds of someone typing Morse code on a telegraph machine. Later, I learned that ‘The fast red fox…. et cetera et cetera’ was a time-old phrase to test telegraph and telex devices and their connections. But enough of that; the cartoon was enough to pique my childish attention and I started to watch.
The movie was great fun. Again, I don’t recall its name or who starred it. When you’re seven you don’t pay much attention to those details. All I remember was the plot. It was about this IBM sales representative who had this odd compulsion to tell the Truth. As you can imagine, this always led him to trouble with his bosses, because he lost many sales by telling his potential customers the Truth. ‘No, this computer model can’t fulfill your needs… why don’t you try the X and X model from brand Z?’ he would say to them.
It was obvious that his superiors couldn’t fire him for telling the Truth; it wouldn’t look good on paper, but it was hurting sales. It wasn’t long before they s suggested him to take a very long, long (did I already mention long?) vacation.
Well, he goes on vacation. And the fun part starts now. Meanwhile, some spies kidnap a White House telex operation. They drugged her and ship her to Europe inside a large steamer trunk as though she were some second-rate luggage. The girl was quite pretty and she held the secret codes the US government used to send messages back and forth to Russia though the hotline between Moscow and Washington. For their own dark motives, the spies wanted the codes to mess with this fabled communication line. For the sake of the plot, this girl had become the proverbial McGuffin.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, the steamer trunk in which she is shipped in resembles a lot the one that our awkward Truth-telling hero has carried on his vacation… and somehow they got switched. The fumbling spies pick up the wrong trunk and get our protagonist’s entire summer apparel, while the guy gets a handful of pretty lady.
This led to a madcap spy chase through Europe with all the typical trimmings of confusions, spy disguises and such. The most memorable joke I remember is about the leader of the Russian spies being threatened with being sent to Siberia… while the Secretary of State had a bleak oil painting of Alaska outside his front door as a reminder of the fate of American spies who had failed their mission.
For some reason, our protagonist and his new lady friend got separated; he was in the hands of the American agents, while she was now dragged about town by the Russian operatives. By this time, it was obvious these two were pretty much deeply in love (the hero and the girl, not the American and Russian spies… ah, well, who knows).
Our Truth-telling guy is on board a moving car, escorted by two CIA goons and their boss. All of a sudden, he catches a glimpse of the girl out of corner of his eye; she’s entering some sort of large bazaar alongside her kidnappers. Our hero excitedly tries to tell his captors that he just saw the girl entering the place. As it’s prone in a business which is basically fabricating lies for a living, they don’t believe him. They won’t stop the vehicle to check his story.
Then, Our Good Guy musters all his strength and manages to tell the very first lie of his life: that he has just seen a dozen Red China agents enter the bazaar. Unbelievably, the car screeches to a halt because of far-fetched story. Another madcap chase and finally, (finally!) the bad guys are stopped, the hero gets the girl and everything is cleared up.
However, one burning question remains. The leading lady found out she has told his first lie ever. She cocks her head questioningly, staring at him. “How will I ever know that I can trust you from now on?” she asked him. He smiles, looking into the camera.
“We will never know, will we?” The End.
Why am I bring all this up? We’re getting to that point.
Well, when I was seven I found the whole Truth-telling compulsion thingy quite amusing. Anyway, I simply stashed the whole thing away in my mental files and went to the backyard to play the rest of the afternoon away.
Three years later, when I became ten, I began to unravel the pack of lies that my father had made to shape the lives of others to his personal convenience. I learned, the hard way, that telling the Truth is a must, even if no one in this conniving, lying world believes you. I slowly began to understand how the protagonist in that movie must have felt. In fact, I feel compelled to tell the Truth, having a physical revulsion to the mere Idea of telling an UnTruth. Only in later years I learned to temper this compulsion, finding ways to work my way around the issue at hand without actually telling a lie. I may delay your discovering of the Truth, I may try avoiding to talk about it (which would make me a great politician…) but you’ll never catch me in a blatant lie. I only lie in my books.
Okay, now back to my writer friend. Why would I lie to this guy? I didn’t feel like writing; my last project, once more, was to impress someone (which I surmise I achieved to a great extent). But the main reason that I don’t feel motivated is that I’ve had absolutely no book sales for nearly two months. Of course, I had two sales yesterday, but it was another writing colleague who felt bad and bought a couple of my book. I feel like the ugly kid in High School who gets a mercy f**k from one of the school cheerleaders. Rather cheap.
Well, this writer dude was becoming quite a nuisance, so I decided to play the no-sales card.
“Okay, buddy, how many books have you sold this month?” I typed.
I could imagine him stuttering on the other side of the screen. After a while he mentioned a two figure number that was very close to bordering the three figures bracket. “Well, that’s your motivation, Al,” I said. “That and that you have a wife and kids to write for. You can afford the dream. Me? I have to deal with a harsh reality every day and—”
Suddenly, this guy disconnected. I finished typing the sentence anyway, just in case, so it would be the first thing he saw when he logged next on Facebook. However, it was the Truth and nothing else but the Truth. It was my side of the story, anyway.
The Truth is certainly an underrated thing, isn’t it?. Sigh.