truth and consequences

Thursday night. My husband is screaming at the television screen: “Fuck you, Oprah. Fuck you!”

This is not good. This isn’t something I ever thought I’d have to handle. This goes against the core of me, and my instinct is to push him off the couch and make him stop bad-mouthing my Oprah. It’s like he looked at Dan and said, “I never liked your face.” It’s like he said Jollibee fucked my mom.

He’s upset. Lots of people are upset.

…About books. It’s fantastic.

In Hollywood, right now, people are talking about books. They’re talking about authors and stories, what is a memoir, what are we allowed to present as fact and how much creative license a storyteller earns when taking his or her story to paper, and if that’s different than presenting it in film.

This is spectacular. Around here, the word book usually sends people snoring.

So, back to stee screaming, “Fuck you, Oprah. Fuck you.”

You do not curse the Oprah. You respect The Oprah, in all of her moods, even when she is — and I say this as meekly as possible — wrong.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think she was wrong. stee does. Unapologetically.

But I don’t.

We’ll see what this does to my marriage.

Is Frey, as Oprah put it, a liar? Storytellers have a way of manipulating the truth, and a memoir is the story of part of your life, a recollection of a series of events and how that affected you. You imagine a certain level of creative license is allowed, otherwise it would be a pretty boring account.

Now. Three hours in jail versus three months in jail is quite a difference. He did two years of press where — as far as I know — he never said, “I kind of exaggerate in parts, you know, for effect.” He just kept on nodding, acting like it was all true. Three letters from angry Filipinos and I was like, “Dude, we were in a corner, barely making a sound! I promise! It’s just a joke.” [And hello to those of you who have found because you recently heard about the Jollibee story… on the radio.]

Is the truth allowed to be more malleable when you’re using it for comedic effect? Is the difference that Frey was talking about surviving addiction, making himself into more of a badass so that he sounded like someone worthy of a book deal and then a movie starring Edward Norton?

Adam says to me, “In your blog, sometimes you write about things, and they aren’t exactly as they happened. Like, you attribute a line to somebody else, or you fudge the time so that things happened faster than they happened.”

“Yes, but I didn’t say our conversation happened in Space. I didn’t make up Rebecca. That’s different.”

“I don’t know. Are you saying that your website isn’t a memoir? That it’s fiction?”

“No, but I don’t charge people to read this website, and I’m not calling myself an example. I’m not using my website to help people get through a crisis.”

If a memoir must be completely fact-checked, then what is Anne Heche’s Call Me Crazy? Speaking as someone who’s memorized almost half of the book, I can tell you right now that some of these events are going to be difficult to prove. Like when Anne got stigmata, or was visited by aliens who were sent to take their god Celestia back to the spaceship. So is her book fiction, even if she says this is her life, as she remembers it? Isn’t that what a memoir is? Because when I read Running With Scissors, I’m muttering, “Oh, bullshit.” But he’s trying to tell his story as he remembers it. As he likes to remember it. So is it fiction?

The JT Leroy fiasco is so much better. I don’t know why people aren’t making a much bigger deal out of it. Not only was he not a real person, but a woman had been playing him. Years ago I heard JT Leroy on NPR and I thought, “This girly-boy is so full of it.” I read Sarah and thought, “No way.” But a storyteller gets to embellish, doesn’t he (she)? I just wish all of the people who hung out with JT Leroy got to go on Oprah and talk about how they feel duped, because as upset as Oprah is about finding out Lily didn’t hang herself, I’d much rather hear Vincent Gallo choke back sobs when he learns he talked about raccoon penis bones with a girl.

As I said to Erin, when we giggled about how awesome the fake story is, for all of its poseur exposure, “It’s like finding out Harmony Korine… is me.”

The other day I was in a parking garage, trying to get my parking validated at a machine. I turned to the line of three women that had formed behind me and said, “It’s supposed to give me a white ticket, but this one is green.” The women gave me that, “Okay, stranger. Thanks for the little story,” look, and I headed to the elevator.

Then one of them said, “Pamie?”

I had just left a meeting where I had run into someone I knew, so I figured this was another case of running into an exec from a couple of years ago. “Yes?”

She stammered, looked down. “Oh,” she said. “I just… read you. That’s all.”

Her name was Shannon. We shook hands. And I thought about how Shannon reacted exactly how I would have reacted if I’d seen someone I knew from the online world only. It was like she had accidentally said my name out loud, like when I was in New York, leaving a message for stee, and I said into the phone, “And now I’m staring at Rob Corddry. Rob Corddry is staring at me. I just smiled at him. He smiled at me. Rob Corddry is funny. Shit, I think he heard me say that.”

So I try to make Shannon feel less like how I think she’s feeling, by saying, “This never happens to me.”

The silence that followed was proof that they all thought I was still talking about the white ticket/green ticket parking validation situation.

And then I immediately got my arm stuck in the elevator.

How cool am I?

Now I just told that story as I remember it happening, but I’m only guessing how Shannon felt about the situation. I can’t contact her and ask her, nor would I, as I’ve already made a tool out of myself in front of her once. Is this story less factual because I’ve made her somewhat into a character? She’s vital to the story, but I don’t have her permission to talk about her. So I didn’t really describe what she looked like or where we were. But does that make it less truthful, too? And in reality when I passed Rob Corddry on the street I had just hung up my phone so he couldn’t hear me talk about how awesome he is, even though I think he saw my mouth form the words “Rob Corddry just smiled at me” right before I walked toward him.

I understand why Oprah is hurt. She trusted someone. She asked him questions and for years Frey has been saying all of it happened, just like that. Maybe he can’t differentiate the truth anymore. Maybe now, for him, it is the truth. If you tell yourself something often enough, you can start to believe in it. You can forget that it was your idea to think that in the first place. You can forget it’s impossible. Ask Celestia.

The difference is Oprah gave her name for this book, allowing it to make mad cash, and in doing so she got reminded of the one thing that’s absolutely true about James Frey, and other people who are addicts: they lie. They lie, they lie, they lie. I’m speaking as someone who has addictions, who grew up with addictions and people who have addictions, who knows there’s rarely a simple answer to any question, even if that question is Are you lying?

The truth and our perception of the truth aren’t always the same thing. The truth and our manipulation of the truth is what can be deceitful (the heart is deceitful above all things). Addicts use the malleability of truth to rationalize behavior. To excuse behavior. To justify choices that might have hurt others. Addicts and writers often use the truth as a suggestion, as a base for what could happen, what might happen. Asking a writer to tell the absolute truth is like asking someone to recount a dream, minute by minute. The truth changes the second it turns to memory, because the writer, the storyteller, the comic, the actor, the artist, is already working with those moments, turning them into lessons and ideas and moments in time.

Oprah has her name to protect, her reputation. If Frey and Random House are getting sued, how much money do you think Oprah could stand to lose because she’s the reason they found that book in the first place? I understand why she’s so upset, and it’s her show. It’s all about her, and how she feels. Anybody who thinks Oprah’s show is about anything or anyone else has never really watched an episode.

So. This shouldn’t really be about Oprah. This is all much more interesting if it’s about books, about art, and the manipulation of reality.

Does the art change because of what you learn about the artist? Is there a difference between a memoir and an autobiography? For me, there is. And I’d much prefer reading a memoir. If all of this changes the way people are allowed to write about themselves, how long is it before bloggers are sued for time wasted? And man, some of you have wasted a long, long time over here. Please don’t sue. I promise I really live in Los Angeles. Rebecca really exists. It is possible, however, that I never met this guy, and fabricated his monologue.

But there’s no disclaimer on this blog that every word is true, so I’m in the clear, right? Good. Because now’s a good time to tell everyone: there is no stee.

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