Decades ago when I was a student in university and living on campus my roommate was an energetic lively young woman with such an indescribable passion for life and especially for food. She giggled when she talked and had an honest and open approach to everything around her. That’s what I thought anyway. One evening towards the end of the semester when I entered my room I found her sitting on her bed crying. Something I had never seen her do before. I threw my books onto my bed and hurried and sat beside her. She was sobbing so uncontrollably that I had to wait for her to calm down. After what seemed to be quite some time, she told me that her professor had instructed her to change her major since he believed she was not capable of pursuing that particular major. When I asked her what made him think that, she answered: “I have failed all my tests and he doesn’t think I have it in me, not even if I worked hard.”
I was shocked by her revelation. Because here was someone who would come to me boasting about how well she did after every test, and about the As and A pluses she got. Sitting there on the bed with my arms around her I felt confused and upset. All this time that we had been roommates, sharing sleepless nights studying, she had lied to me. I am not judgmental by nature and I believe that there is always a reason why people behave the way they do. What was it that she had tried to prove by pretending to be someone she wasn’t? Had she truly believed she excelled while in reality she was failing?
How could she have lied? The only person she harmed was herself. Is our society that superficial that too many of us are afraid of revealing- or even perhaps of knowing- the truth about ourselves? How often do we meet people who give the impression that they’re cleverer, richer, younger, kinder, more busy or successful than we, the rest of us, really are? This shallow exterior under which they try to conceal their genuine selves is a danger to their personal happiness. They live in a make believe world that they have created for themselves and that is what prevents them from having open, honest and happy relationships with others. How can they if they are not honest with themselves? Isn’t our life based on the kind of relationships we form with people?
And I think perhaps this is the norm for some people, perhaps this is acceptable in real life. Some people can get away with what they believe, or how they choose to live their life. But as a writer, a novelist, when we write about people, we must create real, vigorous, believable characters. And to be able to do so we must analyze our own motives, assess our own weaknesses, and strengths, uncover our secret fears and pains without shame. Be true to ourselves and honest in our relationships with others. We must get into peoples’ minds and understand why they do what they do. Because only then, and based on this truth, can we create dynamic characters full of life and place them in convincing situations. In the words of Katherine Mansfield:
“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”