Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To create a heroine by Sara Ackerman

I have a tendency to over-share. And blurt things out when others are talking. Oh, oh, oh! And sometimes I say what everyone is thinking but no one has the guts to say. Then there’s that awkward silence where I’m the recipient of baleful glares of offended individuals who act like I’ve suggested we hunt baby rabbits for sport instead of providing an honest answer to a question no one but me had the courage to answer.

Yup. I’m that person. It’s a problem, one that ADD meds have gone a long way to fix. While I don’t know if I will ever be ‘cured,’ life with ADD has given me a unique perspective on this idea of compulsion and what it means to act without thinking.

After a particularly embarrassing incident where I recounted to a casual acquaintance what happened to me while on the dentist’s chair with a mouth full of goo, (BTW, I puked all over the dental technician and bawled like a baby), I wanted to know what compels me (aside from the misfiring synapses in my brain) to act as I do. As it often does when I think about my thinking, I dissected the conversation I had with all the skill of a sports commentator asking disgraced athletes how they feel after a major screw up.

Chet: (Don’t ask me why, but my snarky inner commentator is male and named Chet. I would have liked a Filipe with a sexy Spanish accent or maybe a Christophe who whispers French poetry to me when not making me analyze my actions, but I got Chet--a balding, middle-aged man with a nasal twang and a burgeoning potbelly. I’ve learned to live with the disappointment). So, you just alienated that acquaintance in an epic story fail. Tell me, Sara, how do you feel?
Me: Well, Chet. I’m feeling pretty awful about now. I can’t believe I told her I barfed all over the hygienist.
Chet: That was something to witness. If we look at your encounter on instant replay, you can see the exact moment when the expression on her face turns from polite interest to veiled horror. (Chet circles the woman's face in red marker a number of times).
Me: (I put my hands over face to block out image).
Chet: I think everyone is wondering the same thing right about now: Why did you tell her that story?
Me: (I remove hands from face and shrug). She asked how I was. I answered honestly.
Chet: Classic rookie mistake. Most people don’t want to know how you are. They ask the question to be polite. You should have said you were fine and kept your mouth shut. (Chet places a big red X over my mouth). Easy win right there.
Me: But I wasn’t fine. I felt awful. Besides, she asked.
Chet: Is she a close friend?
Me: No.
Chet: I think it’s safe to rule out the possibility of her asking you how you feel ever again. She might even move to the other side of the street if she sees you coming. (Chet circles woman and draws a big arrow pointing away from me).
Me: That’s not right. It should be acceptable for someone to answer with the truth.
Chet: You’re telling me you never lie. I find that hard to believe.
Me: No…not exactly. (I squirm because, hey, we've all told a Little White Lie before).
Chet: So you do lie. What makes a person do that?
Me: To avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to spare someone you love a truth too horrible to contemplate.
Chet: What if you could only tell the truth? What would happen then?
Me: I’d be alienated. People would avoid my company and the friends I do have would disappear.

And just like that an idea formed. What if someone was compelled to tell the truth? What would happen to that person over time? As I explored this concept, my heroine took shape, a lonely outcast shunned by a society that values deception over honesty. How had this woman survived given her strange compulsion?

This idea of never lying intrigued me and I explored the various emotional and societal ramifications of never telling a lie. Navigating social interactions would be difficult. My heroine would have to answer honestly and in doing so would find herself on the outside of what is 'socially acceptable.'

How had that shaped her? Because no matter the compulsion--telling the truth, lying, or over sharing--our compulsions do shape who we are. They shape our thoughts and color our experiences. The trick, as my heroine and I have learned for ourselves, is deciding how much space to give those compulsions and whether or not to let them become who we are.

Sara Ackerman

1 comment: said...

Hi Sara! My sister has a not-so-pleasant term for what you just described: diarrhea of the mouth. She gets it a tad more often than I do. haha, but I can relate to your pain.
So, you're saying your heroine can't lie, and your book is a historical romance? That is truly the most fascinating premise I've heard in a long time. You are going on my to-read list. :-)
Kimberly Keyes (a fellow rose)