Mythomania

Laurie Blauner

I Saw My Dead Cat Everywhere

I was chronicling perceived movements through sounds, a house creaking, something falling, and a rustling wind. All noises I credited to him. Cyrus was involuntarily lunar. After sixteen years I could predict his reactions. My own animal parts expanded through his anatomy, his fur, his grace, his delicate blue eyes trained on rapidly moving small objects. After he was euthanized, he was suddenly gone, out of reach, but still everywhere, a trick I played on myself. I could forget his absence. It was a new year, a wet Saturday, and I missed his sense of justice. I was in a perpetual state of diminishment, which reflected my own age, which was a certain kind of emergency.

That Meant Something

Always a new direction arrived. Everything lost weight with distance. I needed to understand living in context with ruined noises, the random, involuntary exchanges with others, cloud thieves. I longed mathematically for an earlier era, the one with inconveniences and causes that people died for. One where all our actions felt right but maybe weren’t.

This was what I missed: the noise a live thing makes in the center of a cracking egg. The thing becoming hungry for metaphorical air, light, food, and all those intentional needs. I needed to fold my unrepeatable living into that sound and begin again at what left me here, where nothing means much, a time when I wondered at the worth of writing. Because what had happened had already happened, and there was no going back or changing anything.

Anticipating Ghosts

Both my mother and father were experienced liars. They understood the elasticity of the truth. How it could cover a large expanse or a tiny space or reach someone in waves, the large, the small, all or nothing, including everything in between. They used all of truth’s various properties. They both had affairs during their almost twenty-year marriage, omitting information as they could. Then they could determine the fabricated details. One of them was more manipulative, and the other one simply seemed to enjoy lying about everything as if that act could make life better.

Even now, my mother will revise some family history that my sister and I will review with one another. One such myth was that she married all four of her husbands for her two daughters. I wondered if she was choosing a better self.

Some typical family lies involved when, where, with whom, age, religion, education, jobs, abuse, money, family origin, lies which, until computers became widespread, made it difficult to determine much about our background. Early on, in the carousel of lies and truth, my sister and I didn’t know what we didn’t know. We grew up in a compelling city, New York City, and we didn’t discover my mother’s correct age, since she perpetually made herself younger, until she was in her eighties.

Our apartment was filled with mirrors, but we couldn’t really see ourselves when we looked into them. We could start over again without acknowledging our past. Any of us could begin again, right here and now.

1) Three Versions of Animals

  1. Every day there were four patchy legs and riddles. The animal walked sideways, careful of tree roots, forgotten toys, to a calm, sunny space, lay down to sleep, waiting for what would come next.
  2. My body fragmented into its parts, fur-ridden, between breathing and jumping onto things, then dashing away. I was chasing light, leaving traces, smelling history.
  3. Nimble, coiled, dallying, snarling, hissing, patient, sleeping, pouncing, daubed with rain, insistent, rending, vanishing, resting, playing, appearing, gesturing, licking, ascending, descending, stalking, silent, leaving.

2) Three Versions of What Happened

  1. I was in the library reading a book. I heard a crash outside, on the street. I blinked, lost my place, and then found it again.
  2. My face was open to interpretation as I was writing in my notebook. Clouds stopped and peered into the library window. Suddenly something tore at another patron’s chest and he fell out of his chair, onto the floor.
  3. I didn’t know what to do with the morning. Last night I had refused to marry someone, then I had a dream that I had died quietly and alone in my sleep. Then I went to the library.

3) Little White Lies

“Lie, lie, lie,” my mother told me, to make myself younger, when I was already young. When I lived with her, she wanted to be more appealing to men. I never had children, but if I had, I doubt I would ask them to do this. I would hope I had better things to do.

There were political lies, no signs of global warming, weapons of mass destruction, candidates. An anti-abortion group whose members are facing felony charges for deceptively editing videos of Planned Parenthood representatives speaking about fetus parts. Peeking below the surface can result in justice.

Do we lie more about what we don’t understand? Or about what we do understand?

People Who Tell the Truth

“A part of me died in the war.”

“My stories want to escape.”

“I adore all my animals except for one.”

“Go find your arms and legs.”

“Even water wants to run away from you.”

“I’m hiding under my hat.”

“The world inside you is ugly.”

“Your husband is lucky he found another woman.”

“The edges are too sharp.”

“I like drawing conclusions about everything.”

A Certain Kind of Emergency

Once I was swearing on a Bible in a Seattle court of law about something I had done that affected someone else. It concerned a detail that involved my job as a social service program coordinator.

This is a year of political elections. Lying and accusations have become indispensable. I, too, often dream of winning, the appreciation of someone in an audience excitedly applauding me.

What Used to Be Mine

I was always trying to correct my mistakes:

too much cheese;

unintentional insults;

a salt-filled pie;

the wrong first husband;

a state too cold to live in;

not enough exercise;

re-gifting a cup with a ceramic cat inside that you could see once you drank all the liquid. I had tired of the cup, which had been given to me for leaving my legal-aid job. Often I tried to please people, but without mistakes I would never get anything right.

We don’t match our imagined selves (for better or worse).

Lies Are Small Pieces, Torn from Ourselves, Set Adrift

Having discovered a lie, I shrink away from the person who offered it. I question the reason they told it. I don’t know them. I wonder why they were compelled to tell me that lie.

When I lie to myself, I don’t recognize that tiny part of myself, compartmentalizing and tossing it far away from me, as if that truth had never been a part of me.

Lie Better

Do it well. Do it very well. Believe it yourself. When asked about a car accident that had happened right in front of me, I said I didn’t see anything, because I didn’t like the arrogant man who had been hit, but I liked the sweet, sad girl who had hit him.

My mother loved her wealthy husbands at the beginning of every marriage.

Repeatable Living

Each day I wake with my past, generally know who I am, and sometimes the days are entirely the same and sometimes they are different. I rarely eat red meat. My body remains similar but, over time, has grown incrementally wilder and misshapen. During the insistent Seattle rain, I dance several mornings, after glimpsing far mountains over water to determine the weather. My life is quieter, working less, with more reading and writing, art, movies, a cat, my husband named Dave. Colors forgive me, and I worry about the red leaves on the Japanese maple trees surrounding our house. Imagination develops. I become indulgent on a limited budget. Everything is peppered with permission and small gains. The life of the mind grows larger while my body shrinks. I’m alone often.

You’d think I would have no reason to lie.

Animal Myths

Native American

Bears were humans wearing the fur of a bear. Sometimes men married them.

Greece

Pegasus, a winged white stallion, was a friend to the Muses, especially poets.

America

Beauty and the Beast, a beautiful woman with a good-hearted but hideous man.

Africa

A dog brought fire to people.

Scotland

Silkies were sea creatures, like seals, that became human on land, married, and then returned to the sea.

Bible

A snake brought sin and knowledge to Adam and Eve.

Eskimo

A beautiful woman was actually a fox in disguise.

Egypt

Bastet was a cat-headed goddess of protection, love, family, and cats. Horus was a falcon-headed god of kingship and the sky.

China

The universe was created by a hen’s egg. The yolk became the sun and sky, and the white or albumen the earth and sea.

Orchestra

The chorus surrounding a lie embellishes it, introduces it to other views or details or angles, can dispute a fraction of it, making it even more plausible.

“Remember when Dad broke down the back door?” my mother asked.

“He brought a crowbar and hammered away at it,” I added. I thought I could hear the pounding. “He was so mad at you.”

I wasn’t even there.

“At least we had time to call the police,” my sister, who was there, explained.

“He was so crazy,” my disruptive mother stated. “I don’t know why he was so mad at me about divorcing him, when he was always screwing around.”

Was I already a fiction writer?

Question

Do liars’ children lie more easily?

Answer

(from The New Republic and Daily Mirror)

Yes, apparently lying to your children, even with good intentions, about myths, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, or to protect their feelings, makes them into liars. Eighty-eight percent of school-aged children fibbed after being told a falsehood in one experiment, compared to sixty-five percent who told the truth and hadn’t been lied to. Children’s cognitive abilities develop as they grow older and so does their capacity for mendacity, up to age fifteen, then it drops off as they go through various phases. The researchers found that lying was also linked to intelligence, as well as creativity, the skill of balancing two worlds, one fictional and one real, in their heads (and knowing the difference).

My Lies

I’m too complicated.

My wishes aren’t contaminated by your wishes.

I know what I’m doing.

I’m picking up the pieces.

I’m growing younger.

I’m comfortable doing that.

Do that again.

I can explain.

“A Lie Gets Halfway around the World before the Truth Has a Chance to Get Its Pants On.” Winston Churchill

Lying can be more fun, excluding unforeseen consequences. There’s often a seed of truth within the fabrication. Is a spider deceitful when it lures an insect onto its web to be eaten? Or a snake, dragged to my door by my cat, which slinks away later? Or is it simply a matter of survival?

Is a myth a deceit or a retelling of some similar event, expanded into a bigger, more important tale?

There are messages that bypass your skin, your body. You recognize some basic needs like light or warmth and attempt to make meaning from the occurrences.

Think of a way to make everything right.

Think of a brunette ascending a snowy mountain.

Think of a snarling husband who, after he experiences happiness, stops snarling.

Think of bones threading a body.

Think of something you know, but also don’t know, rising out of the lake of your gathering.

Pretend

I once hid in my mother’s New York City apartment closet to avoid a date that had arrived to pick me up. Another evening I replaced my high school, red-headed best friend for her blind date; he took me to an incredibly expensive restaurant, where, when he inquired about my brown hair, I told him that I had recently dyed it. I pretended that I didn’t speak English in New York City when I didn’t want to engage in conversation with someone on a bus, the subway, or the street.

Now I’m not so precise. Being older I can seem too tired, and soon enough I am.

Definition of a Lie

  1. A difficult road, where life collects.
  2. Someone lost in weather.
  3. Making too much of a secret.
  4. No, not today.

Pathological

When I was in high school I met a teenage pathological liar. I drove him around Long Island one summer because he said he didn’t have access to a car. He lied about everything, where he was going, where he had just come from, although I’d picked him up. His lying didn’t seem to serve any purpose, except frustration. I was fascinated by the manner in which he caused himself continuous harm or at least discomfort or displacement for no apparent reason.

Named pseudologia fantastica and mythomania (Wikipedia) this was a disorder originally discovered by Anton Delbrueck in 1891, where the person’s constant duplicity is chronic and an integral part of their personality. The cause of this compulsive behavior is currently unknown but could be environmental or genetic.

“There are no facts, only interpretations,” as Nietzsche once said.

Perplexities

Find the lie within the lie:

If I get a diagnosis, I must have symptoms.

If I ask a question, then I don’t know the answer.

If I read my sister’s book I comprehend what she’s thinking.

If I make room for someone, they will come.

If I retrace my steps, I will find the same thing.

Does repetition make what’s been said more or less false?

We can argue about it.

We’re communicating.

The truth is like polishing stones.

My cat isn’t dead yet.

If I tell a lie, I must have chosen it.

Representations

Fear and self-loathing. In an ad on a city bus, a beautiful woman is drenched in sunlight on a beach fringed with rocks. Disregarded, unattended children run the length of the bus. Outside, a bleak season paces itself and then gets tossed toward the sky. The attractive woman in the ad walks past perfect waves and a complacent blue sky. She is holding aloft a medication for menstrual cramps.

On television a man is gesturing, one of his feet goes forward and then another. He is talking about erectile dysfunction. His long gray hair lifts in a breeze, his tweed jacket flaps. Trees surrounding a street have husbanded around him. He is smiling, confiding in us all.

Passengers on a train are murmuring as soon as a man slumps in his seat. The train continues moving, passing a platform with a waiting area where a young woman steps forward as if to greet the train. It’s an ad for a particular heart drug. The woman on the platform says to ask your doctor for this drug so that what happened to the man won’t happen to you.

What Fell from the Sky

Cyrus, my internalized cat, leaps onto our bed where sunlight is broken into geometrical patterns on the gray blanket. He lies down, purrs. I pet nonexistent fur. I kiss the air where he used to be, which is tricking me like fog to mistake one thing for another. He has become my soft religion.

Question

Do animals lie?

Begin Slowly

Most animals aren’t consciously deceptive, but they do employ certain skills, including attracting prey and repelling predators. However, some primates will hide food or use strategies to find concealed food. Cats will puff themselves up into larger cats if nervous or a mother bird will pretend to have a fatal injury in order to encourage a snake away from her babies.

Koko, the gorilla in California who had a 1000-word signing vocabulary, loved cats and asked her keepers for a kitten. Soon after getting the kitten, Koko had a bad day and, when no one was looking, ripped a sink out from the walls of her quarters. When her humans asked her who destroyed the sink, Koko signed, “The cat did it.”

Narrative Landscape

My dead cat wanders among my good plants and bad plants, toenails clicking on our wooden floor. Soon his paws are crossed, his Siamese head resting on them. He’s sleeping in another room until a noise might disturb him. I want to kidnap this other world. I’m telling myself continuous stories, in which everything can be rearranged.

My mother has different ages on different documents, driver’s license, passport, clubs, and she’s forgotten who she told what. These things resurface, warm and clear and leaking like balloons, flying off into air, which might hit something.

Is Omission Lying?

Or if I lead you first in one direction by telling you there is a famous ruin over that hill over there. I point.

I expound on its beauty, on its place in history and the importance of viewing it at least once in your lifetime.

I have forgotten to explain that it’s impassable and you will never reach it since the earth is cracked deeply all around it.

You can’t even see it anymore, as it has mostly disintegrated back into stones.

Only through your imagination and research can you reassemble it.

I can’t help sending you off in that direction.

You will learn something, perhaps not to trust anyone.

Or you will come to see what I see, that you’ll learn from the journey.

Perhaps you had once been happy.

Where People Tell the Truth

“Of the things and people inside me, some will last.”

“Animals invent their own malingering conversations.”

“I am a puppet of grief.”

“I don’t understand what happened but I have been in this room a long time.”

“You are short and round and that will eat away at your future.”

“You can gather your morning into something larger.”

“We are all simply waiting.”

Who Hasn’t Told a Lie?

(from Wikipedia )

George Washington chopped down his father’s favorite English cherry tree. When asked who had done such a thing by his father the youthful George supposedly replied, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”

Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, also supposedly claimed, “I cannot tell a lie.” This quote was attributed to a financial interaction with someone in which Lincoln was overpaid and wanted to return the extra money.

These events were determined to be exaggerated dreams or myths, meant to create places for these men in history. Perhaps these men could walk away from themselves and still be remembered.

More Lies

You lounge around the house waiting to be used.

You sift a path through my teeth.

You make me more into a person of my choosing.

You open more apertures inside me until nothing is left.

You are a form of denial.

You exist within neither right nor wrong but within their intricate and encompassing shadows.

You help the dead temporarily live again.

You linger in tiny boxes of anxiety.

You dance with confused intention.

Who are you?

The Comedian of this Body

Telltale signs:

Perspiration, stuttering, strange breathing, rapid heartbeat, change in vocal tone or pitch, body or facial gestures, fidgeting, lack of eye contact, touching of conspicuous features, increased or decreased blinking, head scratching, and more head scratching.

Unidentified Writing: As if I Am Watching Myself

When I am done with personas I abandon them like my favorite clothes. They can articulate truth through falsehoods, employ imagination in order to explain. Embellishments are part of their personalities. They are a part of me, but I’m often alarmed by something they do or say. I’m simply a conduit. Yet when personas go out for a carton of milk, I’m right there with them.

Emergence

My longing needs facts, photographs, ashes, videos. Maybe not proof but a reenactment, as if there will be further experiences. It’s hard to confine the animal within that has already been let loose. It’s hard to drown again once you have been saved.

Grief walked on a leash, draped itself on my shoulders, rode across a room, had blue eyes, and expressive white paws that noisily pressed against piano keys. Grief has circled its bed, lay down upon it. Grief isn’t always considered worthy of grief.

Sequences of the Escaping Event

The media: An incendiary device exploded on a plane bound for New York for as yet unknown reasons.

Young male passenger: I was eating a peanut butter sandwich and, in my brief history, I was also waiting for my life to begin. Sky thickened and darkened outside my window. I thought perhaps I hadn’t left yet.

Older female passenger: I wondered about the sad man sitting in front of me, disguised as a victim, hunched over his small suitcase.

A child: A big black balloon rose and burst and released more air than we could possibly use.

A passenger, an actor: I’m going to play a detective on television who, while jogging down a park path, finds body parts.

Teenage passenger: I was watching a movie about aliens who melted in sunlight. It seemed so real.

A sick doctor on board: I don’t know how I can save anyone.

A couple on board: We’ve always liked traveling, but often we’ve liked the rumors about someplace better than the place we go to.

A brother in the waiting area: For many years my brother has made me unhappy. Now I’ll finally tell him.

Baggage handler: I can’t wait to see my friends, the poet and the gambler, tonight after work.

The pilot: From this distance all the far mountains look like they’re shouting. A tongue of smoke just wrapped itself around the plane.

Woman watching the news on television: There is a stage and an audience and actors. The stage is the world. There is real tragedy. I’m parting the curtains, but I don’t want to see.

Consequences

“Hey, are you my father?” I asked the only person, an older man, waiting outside the Cuban restaurant in Florida, where I was visiting. He was almost seventy years old, honey-colored hair, a prominent nose, bifocals, and, as usual, smoking a cigarette. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years.

Inside, we both sat at a round table with a white tablecloth, surrounded by humid air filled with the odor of spices, plantains, rice, and black beans. I asked him questions in a place I hoped he wouldn’t get angry. I was already angry, nervous, and uncomfortable.

“I hated it when you left New York with my sister waiting for you at your door, when you’d already gone and we didn’t know where.”

“I was really mad at you girls because I got you tickets for a concert and your mother had taken you out of the state and you didn’t come back.”

We were disputing our versions of the past and unexplained events. Leaving the state permanently, without telling anyone, even if they were divorced, seemed to trump one missed evening I didn’t even recall. My sister and I were children. He was an adult. It wouldn’t stay that way.

“What about that time you tried to break down the kitchen door of the apartment with a crowbar?”

“When?”

“When mom was divorcing you.”

“I don’t remember.”

“You were yelling that it was your apartment and we had no right to change the locks.”

“No, that never happened.”

Physics (Lying)

There is an empty chair you imagine filled, and a lost cat, crossing time and space. You are trying to create more stories.

More Consequences

You love me, love me not. You go outside. You are inside. I grow older and change.

One of us is a liar, and the other one is a different liar.

Possible Questions

Do you have an alibi?

Do you lie slowly or all at once?

Tell me everything you said today. Lie.

Tell me everything you said today. Don’t lie.

What is the best lie you have told yourself?

What is the worst lie you told me?

Did you think you were only listening?

Am I still here?

Am I you yet?


Laurie Blauner is the author of four novels and seven books of poetry. Her novel The Solace of Monsters won the 2015 Leapfrog Fiction Contest and was recently published. Her work has, or will, appear in The Nation, The New Republic, Caketrain, Mississippi Review, december magazine, PANK, The Collagist, The Best Small Fictions 2016, and many other magazines.