Thursday, March 5, 2015

Clancy Martin's "Love and Lies"

Clancy Martin is Professor of Philosophy in the University of Missouri-Kansas City's College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Business Ethics at the Bloch School of Management. His books include the Pushcart Prize winning novel How to Sell, and the newly released book of philosophy, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love.

Martin applied “Page 99 Test” to Love and Lies and reported the following:
On page 99:
One day, crossing the bridge, I saw Lisa on the other side. She was with her boyfriend, the handsome, longhaired Native Canadian who would four years later murder her with a baseball bat. I was overjoyed to see her. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. I disciplined myself not to run to her. There were other kids standing around, ninth-graders. I could see the way they feared and admired Lisa and her boyfriend. She was wearing his leather jacket, it was too big for her and had fringes on the arms. He was wearing a cowboy hat with a blue feather in the hatband.

She looked at me coldly. “You told mom I shouldn’t smoke pot,” she said. “I ought to beat you up.”

She had the story both right and wrong. She’d heard it from my other stepsister. We’d been sitting at the breakfast table—me, my little brother, and our stepsister—when my mom told us that Lisa smoked pot, and asked us if we thought that was a good idea. Of course we all immediately agreed that Lisa shouldn’t smoke pot. It was one of Rousseau’s lies, the lie an authority coerces you into telling.

I was too shocked by the fact that she’d threatened me to try to tell her the truth. Anyway, it was one of those things you couldn’t explain without sounding guilty.

“Hey, give the kid a break, Lisa,” her murderer said. “You’re scaring him. He’s shaking.”
It’s been a little while since I’ve looked at my new book—publishing is a slow business—and it startled me to turn to page 99 and read this very intimate anecdote and remember that day on the bridge. Lisa, who died when I was eighteen and she was twenty-five: I still miss her, almost thirty years later. I wonder how my life might have been different, if she’d never been murdered. I wonder who she might have become, and if we’d be friends now, or email occasionally, or look at each other's Facebook posts. When I was a kid, during those prepubescent and adolescent years, no one on the world mattered as much to me as my stepsister Lisa and my older brother Darren. they were both the same age. Today she’d be 54, like him, and he is, along with my wife, my very closest friend.

So much of the larger story I am trying to tell in LOVE AND LIES is captured here, in this little true story from my teenage years: how truth, love and lie work together; how difficult it can be to tell the truth; how subjective or perspectival the truth tends to be; how easily and naturally we lie to the ones we love, or fail to tell the truth; how lies are coerced from us; how our earliest loves—Lisa was one of my “first loves” (I argue in the book that most of us have more than one “first love”)—inform our later attempts at loving. This was the last time I saw my stepsister Lisa alive, and in fact the last time I spoke to her.

She had the story wrong, but I was too upset to tell her the truth. I was outraged by the fact that Lisa—Lisa, whom I loved so desperately!—could misunderstand me so profoundly. Didn’t she understand me better than that? Didn’t she know that I could never think anything negative about her?

“The deeper the love, the deeper the loneliness,” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes: love is so vulnerable, so prone to misunderstanding, so desperate for a kind of perfect understanding that can never be achieved. I’m a lot older now, and when my children or my wife misunderstand me, or accuse me of something falsely, I usually pause to try to think it through from their perspective: how did I contribute to or help to create the misunderstanding? What might I have done to communicate more effectively? Did I really say what I meant to say? Or did I actually mislead them without meaning to do so? I am trying to learn how to speak carefully and skillfully to the people I love, which above all means first learning to listen to them. It’s so rare that we really listen to what someone is saying—including what we ourselves are saying! I think so much unhappiness and confusion comes into our lives for that simple reason, that we don’t stop to listen.

Then there’s fear: the main reason most of us lie, when we do. It’s very hard to try to be brave. It’s a lifetime’s project for me, and probably for many of us. I am, we are, especially afraid of losing love. So we have to learn to be braver—even, as in this case with Lisa, to be brave enough to forgive a person who has truly hurt us. The reason I never spoke to Lisa after this event was that I refused to. I never forgave her for it, not until after she died. She called me and I refused to speak to her. I think I learned a lesson from that. Forgive the people you love now—you don’t know if you’ll get the chance to forgive them later.
Learn more about Love and Lies at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

The Page 69 Test: Clancy Martin's How to Sell.

Writers Read: Clancy Martin.

--Marshal Zeringue