“Sometimes we just want to lie. I meet a woman I’ll never see again at a swimming pool. ‘How many children do you have?’ she asks, never imaging the number zero. ‘Oh, four,’ I say. ‘Two still at home, one married, and one in his junior year at Northwestern.’ I smile with pleasure.” — Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away
We all lie, despite our best intentions to be (mostly) truthful. We’re often ashamed when it occurs–especially if we get caught–but we keep right on doing it. Big lies and small ones. Lies to soften a blow. Lies to save to our own asses. Lies to embellish, and lies to tear down. Lies to hide from ourselves, and lies we hope will become truth given enough time.
You name the situation, we’ve got a lie for it.
But not all lies are bad. My best–the one with which I had the most fun–was perpetrated at the 38th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as Noreascon II, held in Boston in 1980. It was my first-ever convention–talk about a trial by fire!–and I attended with my then-best friend, Eileen Accurso. We were 22 years old and our time together was coming to an end, much as we tried to deny it. She was inexorably closing in on marriage and motherhood, while I was headed to Southampton College to pursue a dream. With bold determination to ignore the approaching fork in our shared road, we were bent on celebrating life among others of our own kind.
Within moments of arrival–having secured floor space in a room with people Eileen had met at another con–we donned our costumes and hit the convention hard. Costumes? you ask. Oh, yes. But rather than co-opt another’s universe, we portrayed characters from our own shared world: Kyl (pronounced ‘kyle’), the mercurial and tempestuous captain of the Silver Panther (that was Eileen), and me as her second officer, the stalwart and steady Laryne. In black pants, boots, home-sewn silver tunics, and, yes, blasters at the ready, we joined in the fun and games, racing through the lobby, engaging in battles with other groups, and teaming up with a bunch of teenage boys whose names I desperately wish I could recall (Captain Steve?), who were some of the best role-players I ever met. Because, see, for the days of the con, no one retained their day-to-day identity. Eileen was Kyl. I became Laryne. Captain Steve wasn’t some high-school kid from Massachusetts battling acne and college-quality grades, he was sure-as-shit Captain of his ship and don’t you forget it! And his crew! Never out of character and, frankly, it’s difficult to resist a group of good-looking young men who come to attention and salute, fist-to-chest, whenever they see you.
I’ve attended many conventions since then, but none will ever surpass the joy (fear, frustration, anger, magic) of that first time. The land was full of heroes. Not only could I walk among them, I could meet them face-to-face, and engage in conversation. Alan Dean Foster. Barclay Shaw. Isaac Asimov. Harlan Ellison. Terry Pratchett. Spider Robinson. Damon Knight. Frederick Pohl. Lester del Rey. Robert Silverberg. The Wombat, Jan Howard Finder. Catherine and L. Sprague de Camp (who one day, at a much-later convention, would share a breakfast table with me and some friends from Buffalo).
Honestly? I miss those days.
Writers lie. We create and pretend. We change the rules of the universe. We play God, a little bit. That time at WorldCon/Noreascon gave me freedom beyond the page to be what/who I wanted to be. It allowed me a brief window into another world, one I’d yearned for without actually knowing it existed. One in which geeky, four-eyed, bookish little me was accepted just as she was.
And she was fine.