July 24th, 2013
Right now this world has 7 billion authors, each writing the story of his or her life as they think it happened. Few are so misguided as to think they remember things accurately. Most, in fact, will concede they’re fuzzy on a lot of facts. But which facts? The facts that support their Einsteinian intellect, or their Einsteinian unfaithfulness? Their sharp Dorothy Parker wit, or their Parkeresque benders? Their Michael Vicklike passing ability, or his cruelty to dogs? At the moment, I’m celebrating my own ability to use the -ian, -esque, and -like endings to illustrate similarity in a borderline obnoxious literary way. Is it Wickhamian or Wickhantidisestablishmentarian? No matter, the first paragraph of my autobiography is done.
I don’t know if there’s an actual measure of someone’s propensity to lie. Look at lie-detector test results and you’re investigating those most likely to have lied. Of course, you have three classes of bullshitters — storytellers, crooks, and cowards. One class entertains us, one class takes our possessions, and the last class shits in the pantry and points at the baker.
I don’t know how any of you are going to catch up to me. And I don’t know how I’m going to catch up with those of you ahead of me. You may think my age gives me an advantage, but it doesn’t. I’ve been writing my autobiography for years and I never get past one or two days’ work. Then I become afraid the only way I’m going to make my life stand up to my expectations is to misremember events just the teensiest bit. Then it hits me, if I continue I’m going to get caught. Just like James Frey did. In fact, I think everybody should read his “Million Little Pieces.” It’s an example of how he got rich. He sold his autobiography and it was outed as a million little piles of lies. Soon he was on the talk show circuit along with the guys who hit homers on steroids, wringing his hands and looking shamefully at the floor.
I’m now looking at the page on my dashboard that tells me how many words I’ve written — in this case, in the last hour. 358. (As I was typing this fact, I became worried that the number would be inaccurate, a lie, by the time I had finished typing it. Fortunately, that did not happen. 358 did not register as a word in my software). And, although I am not going to do the math, a great many more than 358 people came into the world in the last hour, composing their autobiographies as they wriggle and scream. In fact, the first words of an earlier autobiography of mine began, “In the beginning, it was 8:15 a.m., July 11, 1941. The doctor cut my cord and I urinated as he handed me to my mother. She lifted me off her torso and set me off to the side. Don’t ask me how I remember.”
Like most autobiographies this has been an exercise in comparing myself favorably with others. Just now, for instance, across the chasm that separates my flat from those just a bit higher up Russian Hill, I see a man stand up from his computer, stretch his hands highs, do a few stretches, finally turn his light off, walk into his living room and sit down by his wife. He has also been writing his autobiography, but he didn’t even work for an hour. I don’t know that for a fact, but statistically it’s probably true.