I was quite the liar as a child. The stuff I invented seems pretty stunning now, devastating or dazzling depending on my mood. I am still struggling to decipher whether these untruths were portents of the budding scribe or merely run-of-the-mill infantile whoppers.
There was the time in lower school when our principal gave a talk on the importance of charity. I responded to this call to philanthropy by raising my hand and letting her know that she had nothing to worry about on my front. I told her about the homeless man named Marv that (had never, by any stretch of the imagination) lived in our Manhattan apartment.
When my parents were called in to speak to said principal, this tidbit was among the string of strange fabrications with which they were confronted. When we got home, my mother asked me if I had really told my whole history class that I came from a land called Knish where they spoke — what else? — Knishy. I am still grateful to the benevolent teacher who took pity on me after a classroom mutiny, telling me that I could speak my native tongue to him. He was a good apple. And yes, I translated this for him in Knishy at the time.
Why did I tell my little friends that I was a mermaid whose tail was at the dry cleaner’s? Or that the reason it was storming was because the sky man left the toilet seat up, thereby angering the sky woman? Were these lies early attempts at invention, cries for attention, or both? I’m going to have to go with a little of both. One thing’s for sure, as I began to write more, I began to lie less, until eventually I was content to confine my fibs to fables.
When I look back, I can almost see the place of crossing over, where the blueprint of these childish distortions became the edifice of my life as a writer. Both stemmed from a desire to transform the “just how things are” of the life around me, to make another world with words.
The more I was told that a gaggle of chatty Horsehoe Crabs would never come flying through my window, the more I wrote about them doing just that; and the more I told people that they had. Perhaps it is only to retroactively restore some of my dignity that I say this; but I now interpret that sting of excitement that ran through me when I described something that didn’t exist as a sign of the budding verbal inventor, an early indicator of the writer-to-be.