Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lying

Near ten last night, I pushed open the pocket door to my office to see what J was up to on the computer, hoping to urge him gently to bed. Usually when he’s on the computer, he listens to his music, making and remaking play lists, he reads drum websites, band websites (a risky venture), and chats with friends. D and I always float in and out of the office to monitor his activity as best we can without breathing down his neck. We can’t catch everything even with our filters in place. I’ve considered a snooping type program, but haven’t had any luck with the test downloads.

At the sound of the door sliding open, J immediately shut down the browser, setting off my internal alarms. I bristled and questioned him, moving him away from the computer, but he popped back into the seat, opened the browser again, and before I realized what he was doing, he deleted the history.

I breathed. Counted to ten.

We argued. He went to bed in a huff. Quickly I searched the drive for web pages and lo and behold, there it was, J had recreated an account on MySpace.com even though we specifically prohibited him from having one until he brought his grades up. Our plan had been that he’d have to attain “C’s” in order to continue getting free-reign access to his drum set rather than on a very restricted schedule, and “B’s” to get access to time-sucking MySpace.Com. I didn’t think it was that strict an approach to take. I thought it was simple, clean, uncomplicated. That was before the possibility of BP. We’d decided to stick with the plan because I was very afraid he’d take advantage of the “excuse” (he’s very shrewd in that way). More importantly, I didn’t want to rock the boat – I wanted him to know that life was the same, that this “diagnosis” didn’t change anything. No big deal. Just like any other medical condition. We’ll treat it, move forward.

Well, apparently, he believed the grade situation to be so hopeless that he decided to go ahead and get the MySpace.com account. It was easy to do…he’d do it quickly behind doors…he’d delete history…he’d deny he had an account…if he got caught looking at an HTML page at MySpace.com, he would use the excuse that he was helping a friend out with their account. No problem. No struggle. Total satisfaction.

So, we caught him red-handed. So, deleting the history didn’t work since I decided to test-drive a snooper program (still doesn’t record chats, though).

He lied.

Lied, lied, lied.

D and I remained calm in the face of the BIG LIE and grounded him. But…as much as I want to maintain consistency, we do have to deal with the problem of discouragement. Fact of the matter is that getting good grades at his particular school is a problem. Indeed it may seem to him an insurmountable problem. We might have to adjust our simple approach to something more complex – something layered that will still allow him to reach the longer-term goals of “B’s” and “C’s”.

Life cannot remain the same. I don’t want my beautiful child to give up, to learn that lying gets the same results as successfully meeting a challenge.

***

Which brings me to James Frey, a writer who took easy outs in order to sell a book rather than take on the challenge of selling his story as one of significance.

I read the book, A Million Little Pieces for myself, not wanting to depend on reviews. I found the book interestingly written – I’ve always enjoyed books that take literary leaps, stylistically speaking – the story was touching in places, horrifying in others. I had the advantage of knowing the controversy when I picked up the book so when I came to the part where James Frey pleads not to be sent to a maximum facility I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I kept imagining this conversation where he’s pleading not to get the electric chair (Please GOD not “Yellow Mama”!) while people around him are confused, assuring him he won’t get the chair for having an open bottle of beer in his badly-parked car.

But then…I think of my own memoir-type writings and that in order to create a story out of a snapshot memory, I had to alter some things. I mainly altered conversations because I can’t remember what was said. All I have is my impression of what happened, the essence of what happened. A few alterations therefore…might lead to a lot of them in order to fill in a lot of blanks. Not to mention the driving desire to sell books in an increasingly hard-boiled society.

I admit…I shrugged the lies off. I wasn’t reading an historical autobiography but something that was definitely literary in nature, an example of what is commonly known as “creative non-fiction.” The "true" story was presented in a decidedly, traditionally fictional manner. I was surprised by all the hoopla. I was surprised as hell that Frey took the brunt of criticism when in truth the publishers were ultimately responsible for marketing the book as “memoir/literature” without adding a disclaimer. I don’t believe for one instant that Frey, a debut writer, would have walked into the Doubleday offices with his well-worn manuscript and had the run of the house. I don’t believe for one instant the publishers were at the mercy of Frey.

The Los Angeles Times published an article addressing the question of “memoir” and truth-telling:

Such a question gets at a deep and dirty secret of the publishing industry: There is little vetting of the facts. "Publishers in general will check only for libel," says Wolfe. "For the rest they accept the author's version." Pulitzer Prize finalist Tim O'Brien, author of many books, including the 1973 memoir "If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" (one of the earliest books to be labeled "creative nonfiction") says that when his memoir was published, "I wondered if anybody would vet it, to see if I had been in the Army. But nobody ever did. I could've just made it up."

"Publishers," argues Michael Hoyt, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, "have abandoned their role as gatekeepers. A publisher who says it doesn't matter, well…." He trails off in disbelief.


I recall a much-mocked memoir written by a famous basketball player and one written in a similar vein by a well-known reporter, both writers detailing amazing sexual exploits, the number of partners rising exponentially as the books wore on. I “knew” such details couldn’t possibly be true and yet…I don’t recall any fuss made about the obvious exaggerations. And what of the other “tell-all” books that have become so popular, the other stories of suffering and criminal lifestyles? What, they’re all “true”?

How odd it really is that Frey’s book has garnered so much attention for its falsities considering the packs of lies that are published on a routine basis without so much as a peep. And they’re not even vaguely titled, “memoirs/literature.”

Oprah filleted Frey on her show this past week. I watched about twenty minutes and couldn’t take another second of Oprah’s self-righteousness, couldn’t take her very public flogging of this writer who sat through most it looking like a proverbial deer-in-the-headlights. I found the assault unnecessary and selfish. As a note, the book has not been removed from her “Book Club.” Meaning Oprah wasn’t that incensed. Meaning Oprah isn’t interested in “truth” as much as she is interested in additional publicity.

Frey may or may not survive the backlash – I hope he does. I hope he’ll embrace his fictional abilities full throttle. I hope from now on he won’t be at the mercy of anyone or anything.

I hope he won't...lie.

4 comments:

reader_iam said...

Your posts are always just amazing.

They always stick with me, the same way that snatches of poems read along ago do.

Thanks.

Carolyn said...

It sounds like you have a fairly common problem with your son. I know others who are going thru similar experiences. Good luck with it Adriana :)

About Frey: I think Oprah saw an opp for some TV sensationalism to boost her ratings. Frey took creative license maybe a bit too far, but nonetheless, our Capitol is no stranger to that behavior either. I believe the publisher is issuing a 2nd edition now w/disclaimers if I heard correctly ?? I want to read the first print though!

Brenda said...

I gave up eventually- my son, when he handed anything in, usually got between 85%-95%, and he dropped out of high school. He'd spend all day at Chapters reading, lying to me about going to school. I once cancelled cable for an entire year; it didn't help. I don't know what's going to happen to him, he's 18 now and living at his Dad's and working part-time. Sometimes the punishments can act to turn the child off from the desired grades, results, achievements. If I had to do it over again (and my son insists he's going to university, that he just "hated high school"), I'd probably focus only on rewarding good behaviour, really play that up, and not so much on the punishment/removal of priveleges/things they enjoy... But I don't get to try again, do I.

It's hard, for sure, and there are no easy answers.

{{hugs}}

Adriana Bliss said...

Thank you so much, reader-iam, Brenda, and Carolyn, for your thoughts - I'm just waiting these trying times out!