I don’t have to lie. I choose to.
Every morning I tell my young son that I am needed at work, that I am playing an important role and that if I don’t turn up my colleagues will start to wonder where I am, brows knitted and voices expressing concern and rising anger in equal measure.
I am, of course, speaking in the third person, about another me, a parallel person who has a leading role in the play, who plays first violin in the orchestra. Every morning without fail I am struck by this habit of lying almost naturally about a “friend” who has certain ideas, urges, experiences, all of which have a passing resemblance to series of events that play out in my head (or occasionally in reality, if a little distorted).
I suppose this gives me a distance to myself, by pretending that some fictional character experiences or does things which in reality I would like, or would have liked, to do myself. But this act of not doing, of pretence: does it arise out of an unwillingness to act, or rather out of a desire to run a trial, observe a test, satisfy some sort of curiosity regarding what will happen in any given situation and how people will react before committing to a course of action? I suppose if people react well, I then wish I had said it, whereas I can feel smug for my friend’s stupidity if the reaction is negative.
Surely we have all done this before, told tales of imaginary “friends” when these were actually none other than the story-teller?
This is exactly how it had been for just such a friend of mine. The very mechanism described above was one by which he was able to deal with an inability to explain or justify his own actions, making them up on occasion in order to pretend to himself, or convince himself even, that this is what he had done, or how he had acted, instead of what had actually happened in reality.
So blurs reality and fiction, until it had become difficult for him to tell where it began and where it ended. Certainly these constructions, these creaking structures, had become difficult for him: although he thought that he was independent, observing, making clever remarks and generally commenting on the life around him, in fact he was simply lonely and isolated because he wasn’t participating and reaching down into the fabric of the world around him. I had told him on many occasions: you have to immerse yourself in order to understand what being wet means.
In a society fixated with nudges, and trying to channel people onto particular defaults, this observer had bobbed along on the stream, sometimes in the middle, sometimes near the shore, but always letting the current take him where it will. In the end, I had added, whom was he actually lying to? The people closest to him, or himself?