I am a great liar. There is a similar skill set used for storytelling and for lying and I’d like to think my skills are in pretty good shape. I’ve been thinking about lying a lot recently after reading Sue Shellenbarger’s column in The Wall Street Journal on “How to Handle Little Liars.” I learned that lying is a “milestone of child development.” I had never thought of it that way and it turns out that fibbing can start as early as age two. Who knew?
I knew. I was a pretty active liar as a child, not in a creepy “my parents live in a castle” way (there was always some friendless kid who told ridiculous showoff-y stories that only confirmed her friendless status) but in a spare-myself-from-getting-in-trouble-way. Usually the lies involved things like saying I’d used soap in the bath (I can’t believe I ever lied about cleanliness, but I did) or that I hadn’t been watching TV when I was home sick all day or that had finished my homework when I hadn’t. But I couldn’t get away with anything. All it took was one question from my parents about the plot of my reading assignment, and my lack of familiarity with the material, and therefore my lie, would reveal itself. My TV lies were even more pathetic. One night, when I should have been asleep, my father, upon hearing the familiar buzz of the black and white TV when he walked by my room, opened the door to find me an inch away from the set watching The Julie Andrews Hour. I turned around and saw him, switched off the TV, ran across the room, jumped in my bed, and denied the entire thing. “Honey, I saw you. Just tell the truth.” I refused. I’m sure I got some kind of punishment, and I’m sure it involved the same TV, but I wouldn’t change my Not Guilty plea. I can’t imagine my parents saw my Pinocchio-esque tendency as a developmental milestone.
Ultimately, with the exception of pretending to be studying at a friend’s house rather than copping to watching General Hospital, I gave up using the protect-myself-from-punishment lie. My life was so dull there wasn’t anything to hide. That’s when I began honing my storytelling skills and learned to craft a different kind of protective lie, the how-to-say-no-without-saying-no lie. This one I still use.
Here’s what you say: Tell her that you can’t believe it, but you thought she meant dinner next week, not this week, and you’re so bummed because you have a meeting and the rest of the week is just nuts. And actually you were thinking of postponing the dinner you thought was next week anyway because of this new really annoying project you’re been assigned to. Then pepper in a little something about the person you’ll have to work with like, “you know that jerk I told you about? He’s my partner on this. Ugh, he really bugs me.” The key is to just keep talking and end with a “here comes my boss—I’ll call you next week can’t wait to find time to catch up!’” End Scene. Your friend will be so stunned by all the words thrown her way when all she’d asked was “Are we still on for tonight?” that she won’t know what hit her. And, most importantly, you just got your night back. You know how long it took me to come up with that scenario? Less than 30 seconds. And really, who am I hurting?
I think that question is the most important one to ask. Obviously if you lie about real stuff, like say, your identity or your marital status, you are a bad person. But a white lie? Come on, what’s the big deal? I also think that you can be a good liar and still be honest with yourself. People who lie to themselves are dangerous because they believe their lies, and I’ve known way too many people like this. I have one friend who’s been fired from every job he’s ever had, yet when he relays his verbal resume, he always says “When I left Acme Company…” as if it had been his choice to leave. I guess he needs to lie to himself just to get out of bed in the morning and not feel like a failure, but doesn’t that kind of thing always get you in the end? Your psyche usually finds a way to punch you in the nose and remind you that you are a fraud. I don’t think you ever regret taking responsibility for your life, and, as they say, the truth will set you free.
The WSJ article also said that the average adult lies once a day. That seems really low to me. How many times do you say, “Sorry” and not mean it? You let the door to Starbucks slip and didn’t hold it for the woman behind you. Do you really care? No. But you say “Sorry.” And it’s only 8:30AM. You have 14 more hours of your day left. Really? You won’t say another thing that isn’t true? I think not.
I can only be friends with people who share my feelings about lies, and the other night I had dinner with three of them. I am sure we have each lied to each other to get out of or reschedule plans in exactly the way I outlined above, and we don’t care or take it personally. We also used to work in a profession predicated on a little truth-twisting. When you’re in the entertainment business, a certain level of B.S. is necessary to get the job done. And this is where it gets sticky. In that world there are lies and there are Lies. Does it kill you to tell your actor client he did a great job in the play you just suffered through? No. Does it chip away at your integrity and sense of self to leverage one job offer for a client by claiming there is a (non-existent) competing one? Yup, and that’s why all three of us have changed careers.
When we did work together, I often shared the treats I baked with my colleagues and whenever we have dinner I try to bring them a little something from my red kitchen. This time it was these ultra-thin and crispy chocolate chunk cookies. They are wonderfully buttery, and if you flatten them enough, they bake up almost lacy. They’re not at all like a thick, chewy, soft-batch. The dark brown sugar caramelizes into a lovely deep toffee flavor. Just be sure to use good chocolate since the pieces really stand out against the thinness of the cookie. They were deemed “Delish” by one of my fellow fibbers, and, I promise, when it comes to sweets, I never tell a lie.
Liar Liar Super Thin Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies, Alice Medrich 2010
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1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup quick cook rolled oats (or old-fashioned oats buzzed briefly in the processor to break them up a bit)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 heaping cup good chocolate chips
Whisk the flour and baking soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, oats, granulated and dark brown sugars, corn syrup, milk, and salt.
Stir in flour mixture
If the batter is still warm from the butter, let it cool to room temperature before adding the chocolate. Stir in the chocolate chunks/chips.
Let the dough rest for at least several hours at room temperature or covered overnight in the fridge. (The resting time makes for an especially crisp and extra-flavorful cookie. If you refrigerate the dough, you may need to warm it to room temperature before you’re able to portion it into cookies.)
Place 3 large sheets of aluminum foil, cut to fit your baking sheets, on the counter. Divide the dough into 15 equal blobs of about 2 tablespoons each. Arrange 5 blobs of dough well apart on each sheet of foil, situating 4 in a square and 1 in the center. Flatten each piece of dough until it is about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Slide two of the sheets of foil onto two baking sheets.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cookies are thin and very brown, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.
If the finished cookies are too pale, they will not be crisp, although watch the cookies carefully as they turn brown quickly. Slide the cookies and foil onto wire racks to cool completely before removing the cookies from the foil. Repeat with the third batch—you can slide the last sheet of foil and cookie dough onto a hot baking sheet as long as you put the sheet in the oven immediately. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. The cookies can be kept in an airtight container for at least 3 days.