If this is your first trip to The Half Truth, you’ll need to have read this post before continuing. Otherwise you won’t be able to achieve the appropriate level of moral outrage.
The other day I was listening to an audio book on my new speakers that the hubs bought me while playing dusting ninja on the shelves that I’m certain are responsible for my inability to breathe anywhere in my apartment. (That or Stuart, but the kid can fetch and play catch so getting rid of him is out of the question.) The book was David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is one of the finest pieces of literature–audio or otherwise– ever published. It’s a cruel joke that people often compare my style of writing to his because the truth is that he is such a rich and captivating story tellerm, able to do exactly what I cannot, keep people engaged for more than 1200 words. But I was reminded while listening to him tell stories of his family that I need to work harder at improving my writing style… and finding ways to talk about my family so that they laugh too. (Currently not the case.)
During the course of one the stories he tells, he talks about a conversation with his sister where she asks him to please not exploit her current strife in one of his stories. His response, and I am paraphrasing, is, “Why? You’re not going to do anything with it.” The narrative continues expounding upon the idea that as a writer, you watch the pain and humor of others march off into the abyss because no one captures it. To a writer it begs the question “why waste a perfectly good story of humiliation and personal tragedy?” Why not share it? Why be so wasteful? Of course to our friends and family it seems so clear, “because, you asshole, it makes me feel stupid and vulnerable.”
But there is more to it than that. Imagine if a painter was told not to paint certain things, a photographer not to photograph certain things. (Well, I guess then you’d just have American media. Pretty pictures of the things they want you to see, not the things that are actually happening.) I was always under the impression that to be written about was the highest human achievement. You enter the ranks of Oprah, Kennedy, Jesus. You are immortalized in ink. Despite your misgivings about the judgments of others, imagine for a moment a picture bigger than you. Someday all the people you know will be dead, but you’ll still have your name in a work of literature. You will, quite literally, have the last word. What’s better than that? Nothing I can think of.
The obstacle is being a good enough writer to write about people in a way that makes their grating personality attributes seem charming and enduring. Some of the great characters of our time were likely based on someone who was painful to be around for more than 15 minutes, but the way that they were crafted in prose made them seem lovable, even a little vulnerable. (For example, the great Elizabeth Bennett. As a woman it is my duty to claim her as my literary heroine, a woman of such great character and morality that I aspire, daily, to be a living homage to her. In truth, I wouldn’t invite the pious bitch out for a cocktail . Plus the fact that she likely doesn’t drink, which would only make her more socially awkward and harder to be around, and then you factor in her obscenely wealthy husband and there’s a girl I don’t want at my birthday party.)
The final layer is that of truth and transparency. The blog is such a tattletale. We live in a world where honesty is confined to passive aggressive non-verbal, non-confrontational electronic means. You don’t tell someone you don’t like them, you simply defriend them on Facebook and then wait to see how long it takes them to figure it out. Mad at a boyfriend or husband? Don’t tell them in the moment. Wait til they leave for work and then send a text. It stands to reason that the blog is going to tell a slightly more colorful story than the one that really happened. It pains me to not have written about Hawaii, but the truth is that I’m no Sedaris. My mother in law would be outraged, my grandmother in law would think I was an ungrateful bitch, and my sister in law would cut me out of family photos. It’s a lose, lose. The fans want funny, but no one wants to be the subject of funny.
Fortunately for all of us, there will always be my mother. A woman who values infamy almost as much as fame. To her, to be mentioned in any capacity contributes to her notoriety amongst a select group of blog enthusiasts. You have to be careful though, there are a few taboo subjects, things that therapy hasn’t sorted out and time hasn’t scarred. Those are the things I will write about when she is dead. (After I’ve given her 2-4 months to come back from the dead. I’m sure that if there is a way to get back from the otherside, she will figure it out. I’m also no fool. If she can’t do it in four months, it can’t be done. It’s not like she’s got a lot of body matter to lug around.)
Other than those things, though, it’s open season. Including continuing the tale of my mother, The Kitty Killer.
After posting about my mother’s inability to keep dogs, cats, gerbils, guinnea pigs, small birds, and squirrels alive, I did spend some time pondering whether or not the SPCA could have grounds for throwing her in prison. It’s not like they were all poisoned at her hand or drank funky Kool-Aid, but the mortality rate near my mother is alarming, not to mention suspicious. It’s almost like Munchhausen by Proxy with dead pets. Which is creepy. I realized, though, that if the SPCA decided to take interest in any part of my mother’s theater of animal cruelty, they would first have to wade through the six or seven thousand rednecks selling un-vaccinated hybrid puppies out of shoe boxes outside the Fiesta mart before they could worry about a little old lady whose pets “accidentally” die. By the time that investigation was over, my mother would have commissioned portraits and albums of each dead pet to showcase her love. She would flip through the albums with unsteady hands, pausing occasionally to sip from a chipped tea cup of hot water with lemon, and then look down and take a deep breath– the only way to fight back the inevitable tears. To endure such loss–and in such abundance–would break a lesser woman. Not my mother. She was of pioneer stock. To love is to lose. The happiness always comes with heartbreak.
I also decided to keep it from everyone that she procured another kitten just weeks after the death of number 11. I hung up on her when she called and later refused to participate in any conversation about the kitty. (For all I know the SPCA and the CIA are after my mother and her phones are tapped. This could go all Michael Vick on me and I am not going to be standing there with my proverbial pants down. Let me be clear: I DO NOT CONDONE THIS.) I didn’t hear much about the cat, but that she had eventually decided that it couldnt make a life for itself on her farm. She gave it to a neighbor, who promptly returned it on account of it being evil.
Later that same day (the day of the return, which happens to be today), I get a call from my mother.
Mother: “Well, I have to call the doctor to tell him I’m going to be late on account of my dead pussycat.”
Me: You’re a terrible person. I can’t even have this conversation.
Mother: I know. So tragic. So tiny and cute.
Me: How old?
Mother: Oh, you know, about ten weeks.
(I could tell from her tone that this one had died too soon. It still showed signs of needing her and it was for that loss that she was mourning.)
Me: How ?
Mother: I backed over it.