Saturday, January 07, 2017

Honesty Is Such A Lonely Word

(with extra added bonus material, because I ramble on)

I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don't want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe
--"Honesty", Billy Joel

A good friend of mine recently wrote a blog about honesty, or rather dishonesty, and her experiences with it in a romantic context.

I have been very lucky to have had honest lovers in my life. (The dishonest ones just lie there...sorry, I had to). Even the one who cheated on me never bothered to lie about it. It just never came up.

I think I'm pretty honest, as people go. I wasn't always. I went through the usual two stages of lying: first, when I discovered it was a thing, and second, about ten years later when truths sometimes became hard to face or express.

That second stage lasted a lot longer than it should have. My parents gave me the standard admonition, that I might get in trouble for something I'd done, but the trouble would be three times worse if I lied about doing it. And I'd hear them, and then I'd do something guaranteed to get me in trouble, and I'd remember what they said... and decide they were lying about it. Every...single...time.
And I'd get in trouble, and lots more trouble for lying (because damnit, the truth would always out)...and I'd convince myself that I would have gotten in just as much trouble without the lie. Or I'd tell myself that the days or weeks that went by before they discovered my dishonesty were worth the price. Highly illogical, that. But hands up, all none of you who think I'm logical.

The last lie I perpetuated was the greatest of them. It was a lie by omission. I just..somehow...didn't tell them I dropped out of university in disgrace.


I think I'll come clean on that here, now. I've alluded to some of it through this blog's history, and some of it is lost in the mists of whatever the hell happened to my life in the decade of grunge, but...well, here goes.

God, it's hard to even describe what I felt, back then. Or didn't.

The numbness wasn't there initially. I still (mostly) enjoyed the classroom, although I certainly did skip more than a few classes, because, well, because I could.

Second year, this thing called the internet arrived on campus. I can't put all the blame on the net and my getting enmeshed in it...that would be...a lie. Oh, the net had a pull, and that pull grew irresistible to me as time went on, but my classes were pushing me, too.
Geography started with the TA showing us a globe and asking us to point out the equator. Really? I thought.  Grade four again? Not long after that there was a 20-25 page essay far the longest piece of assigned writing I'd ever had to do. I agonized over that, trying to amass 22 or so pages of original material, lightly salted with supporting citations.
I think it got a C-. I was not impressed. I'd put a lot of effort into that thing. I was even less impressed when an A paper was handed around. Twenty four pages, and maybe...MAYBE...eight of them were original content. One page had, get this, fourteen footnotes.  Well, fuck, I thought. Isn't that plagiarism? I mean, not really, it's all cited neat as you please, but...I thought I was writing an ESSAY, not...gathering pieces of everyone else's essays. 
Wait, it gets better.
How would you react to a professor scrawling on the first page of a twelve page essay, "your thesis is wrong, I don't need to read any further"? With a nice fat D next to it?
I lost my nut, I don't mind telling you. Essay: from the French essayer, "to try", as in, "to try and prove a thesis". At least fucking read my effort. And it's Old English we're talking about here, not exactly a cutting edge field with new theories advanced every other week.  Oh, wait a minute. I had dared to use sources which contradicted the professor's own published work. We must always remember, class, that The Professor Is Always Right.

Any number of other classes featured (?) the professor reading the textbook to us. Verbatim. You know what? I can do that in my dorm room. Why am I paying $1632 in tuition so a professor can read a textbook to me? Especially one I had to buy, at a hideous markup?

Then there was the case of The Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Friendship. I was, as you could probably imagine, drawn to that class somehow. Actually, I wanted to re-write a high school essay and get the opinion of one of those divine tenured entities.

It was a night class, 7pm to 10pm. The first night, I was ill. Legitimately ill, no word of a lie (I haven't quite lost sight of this blog's theme, give me a few more paragraphs). I horked and snuffled and woozed my way to class, and what to my bleary aching eyes should appear but a syllabus. A pile of them, actually, a serendipitous stack of syllabi. No sign of a prof yet. I looked at the pile, wondering if I was going to puke, shit myself, or maybe both...and that decided me. I grabbed it and snorked, wuffled and hoozed my way back to my dorm.
Safely back to Mac 2 West and -- probably the next morning -- a little more in corpore sano, if not quite compos mentis, I studied my souvenir of what turned out to be my one and only visit to that classroom.
It had everything. The details of the assigned reading for each week. Essay topics, with due dates. A note that essays should be handed in to the professor's mailbox, and they would be returned in his outbox within a week. Even the date, time and location of the final exam.
And lo and behold, I saw how I could tweak my high school essay to incorporate a given topic.
A crazy thought was sent up. Why go to class?
So I didn't.
For thirteen weeks.
I walked into that final exam not having the slightest clue what it would look like (the syllabus had been inexplicably silent on this point).

B+ for the class, overall. A-, for my essay.

I am not bragging. Understand me? I AM NOT BRAGGING. I don't think what I did should be possible to do. I find it ludicrous that I did it. If you can do that, it's a pretty short leap to just paying the money and getting the credential. It was a joke. A joke at my (very great) expense. University, it was turning out, was a pack of lies. University teaches critical thinking. BULLSHIT. University teaches you to swallow the utterings of the professor whole, then regurgitate them later the same way. You should spend your first year in residence. No, not unless you're majoring in Hangover, you shouldn't.
I hear they have quiet floors now. Imagine that. I couldn't, not when I was stuck in the middle of what may as well have been Animal House. Our room was an oasis of calm in a bedlam, but said bedlam had a way of  washing in on the boozy tide entirely too often.

So, yeah. Add the Internet to that sense that going to class was a waste of time and....let's just say after a while I stopped caring. About much of anything. The Barenaked Ladies were huge, then, and I seized on this stanza from "What A Good Boy":

I go to school, I write exams
If I pass, if I fail, if I drop out, does anyone give a damn? 
And if they do, they'll soon forget
'Cause it won't take much for me to show my life ain't over yet

Well, I can't say I've done fuck-all professionally with my life. But you know what? I'm happy. Very much so. And I feel like I have a purpose now. Which didn't come from the hallowed halls of Wilfrid Laurier University.

 But no, I didn't tell my parents I dropped out. I accomplished that by basically dropping out of life for a period of several months, after which neither of them brought it up. What was the point? It was all pointless. All of it.

I should have told the truth. I should have told the truth as soon as I felt the pull of the abyss. Mom, John, these classes are stupid and -- you'll find this even more stupid, but, well, you know your computer upstairs? You can connect it to ALL the other computers. And all the people behind them. And it's the most amazing thing in the history of amazing things. 

But I didn't. Because it would have meant a talk about the huge waste of money that first and second year had been, and I couldn't stomach that, not when I had already shocked and deeply disappointed them by blowing through TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS IN EIGHT MONTHS on such necessities as pinball, endless meals out, and phone bills, among countless other things. That was how I thought you filled a soul-hole, back then. With stuff.

How wrong I was.


Lies, even Great Lies, aside, I've always had the urge to tell not just the truth, but too much of the truth. It can scare people, the depth of my feeling on short notice, for instance. Not disclosing that tantamount to lying? I actually wrestle with questions like that, now.

Probably the best treatise on lying I've ever read comes from my favourite work by Robert A. Heinlein, To Sail Beyond The Sunset. I'm going to quote here at length, because even though this is set in the early years of the last century, the parental attitude here is precisely and exactly MINE.

This is an excerpt of a conversation between the heroine of the story and her father, who had asked her to formulate a personal Ten Commandments. (Parents: try this with your teen. I dare you.) They get to the Eighth Commandment:

Maureen: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Until you corrupted me -‘
Her father: ‘Who corrupted whom? I am the epitome of moral rectitude... because I know exactly why I behave as I do. When I started in on you, you had no morals of any sort and your behaviour was as naively shameless as that of a kitten trying to cover up on a bare floor.'
 ‘Yes, sir. As I was saying, until you corrupted me, I thought the ninth commandment meant: Don't tell lies. But all it says is, if you have to go into court and be a witness, then you have to tell the truth.'
‘It says more than that.'
‘Yes. You pointed out that it was a special case of a general theorem. I think the general case ought to read: Don't tell lies that can hurt other people -‘
 ‘Close enough.'
 ‘Father, you didn't let me finish.'
‘Oh. Maureen, I beg your pardon. Please go on.'
 ‘I said, "Don't tell lies that can hurt other people" but I intended to add, "- but since you can't guess ahead of time what harm your lies may do, the only safe rule is not to tell any lies at all."
Father said nothing for quite a long time. At last he said, ‘Maureen, this one we will not dispose of in an afternoon. A liar is worse to have around than a thief... yet I would rather cope with a liar than with a person who takes self-righteous pride in telling the truth, all of the truth and all of the time, let the chips fall where they may - meaning "No matter who is hurt by it, no matter what innocent life is ruined." Maureen, a person who takes smug pride in telling the blunt truth is a sadist not a saint. There are many sorts of lies, untruths, fibs, nonfactual statements, et cetera. As an exercise to stretch the muscles of your mind -
‘The mind has no muscles.'
 ‘Smarty. Don't teach Grandma how to steal sheep. Your mind has no muscles and that's what I'm trying to correct. Try to categorise logically the varieties of not-true statements. Having done so, try to decide when and where each sort may be used morally, if at all... and if not, why not. That should keep you out of mischief for the next fourteen, fifteen months.'
 ‘Oh, Father, you´re so good to me!'
‘Stop the sarcasm or I'll paddle your pants. Bring me a preliminary report in a month or six weeks.'
‘Thy will be done. Papa, I do have one special case. "Don't tell fibs to Mother lest thy mouth be washed out with lye soap." ‘ ‘Correction: "Don't tell any fibs to your mother that she can catch you in." If you ever told her the ungarnished truth about our private talks, I would have to leave home. If you catch Audrey spooning with that unlikely young cub who's been calling on her, what are you going to tell your mother?'
Father took me by surprise on that one. I had indeed caught Audrey spooning... and I had an uneasy suspicion that there had been something more than spooning - and it worried me.
‘I won't tell Mother anything!'
‘That's a good answer. But what are you going to tell me? You know that I don't have your mother's moralistic and puritanical attitudes about sex, and you know - I hope you do - that I won't use anything you tell me to punish Audrey but to help her. So what do you-tell your father?'
I felt walls closing in on me, caught between loyalty to Father and my love for my oldest sister, who had always helped me and been good to me.
‘I... I will... I won't tell you a durn thing!'
 ‘Hooraw! You took the hurdle without even ticking the top rail. Dead right, dear one; we don't tell tales out of school, we don't confess on behalf of someone else. But don't say "durn". If you need it, say "damn".'
 ‘Yes, sir. I won't tell you a damn thing about Audrey and her young man.'

That. That is gold star parenting, right there. And pretty durn...pretty DAMN...fine advice about lying.

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