Good Judy and the Lie
Never back down from your story.
Alexa, play “Happy Days Are Here Again” by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, because the truth is subjective.
I love a lie. Even more, I love to believe in a lie because there are few things more important in this world than believing your own lie. It can take you to the G-D presidency. One of the biggest reasons I have my current job is because I lied. When an editor reached out to me (hi, Dalene, love you Dalene) and asked me if I watched Scorpion on CBS, I told her that I didn’t just watch it; it was my favorite show. I had never seen an episode, but the gig paid, and I wanted to be a full time writer. So here we are.
I’ve noticed that the most successful people in my life are liars: people I work with. People I look up to. People I secretly resent. And you might think that’s a bad thing, but what’s important to remember is that looking down on liars just reveals your own insecurity. We’re all lying, to varying degrees, every day. It’s less about the lie and more about whether you’re lying out of habit or lying with purpose. I think there’s room for both. Of course, that might be why I haven’t taken over the world—I should be lying more intentionally, I suppose. But what if the lie just results in a good story? What if it results in speaking to one of the greatest authorial personalities of our time?
My sophomore year of college, I took a Children’s Literature class because I thought it would be cute. It ended up being one of the most taxing classes I’ve ever taken in my life because, surprise, writing children’s literature is very complex. But part of the class is that we had occasional speakers come and talk to us about the art of writing for children. In the middle of the semester, Ms. Lynn Coning told our class of 18 or so that we would have a very special guest coming to speak the following week. I took it upon myself to tell everyone who the speaker was: Judy Blume.
Judy Blume, author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and the seminal classic Superfudge was not our guest speaker. I had absolutely no proof that she was even a contender to speak to our class. I also have no excuse as to why I thought this was a good lie to tell. I was 20 and closeted in East Tennessee and bored. Lying for sport felt fun. I told people that my mom cleaned houses (fact) and that she had stumbled upon a couple of wealthy clients (also, fact) and that one of them knew Judy Blume (big fucking lie). People were psyched. Judy Blume? At Maryville College? They could not believe it.
Our campus was made up of maybe 1,200 people on a good day, so word spread quickly. And by the next week, our class of 18 doubled. People were hype for Judy Blume. The actual speaker was this lovely woman named Brett who was a senior. She had written a children’s book for her senior project. But as the class grew, I took Ms. Coning aside and told her, “I need to tell you something.” Ms. Coning, like much of the English department, knew that I was often full of shit. As someone who appreciates the art of lying, I think that’s important to realize: you need to know who can spot a bullshitter. She asked, “What’s going on, Justin?” in the most petite and encouraging voice. I smiled and said, “I might have told people that Judy Blume was coming to speak to the class today.” In the same voice, she asked, “Why would you do that?” and I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” And all she said was, “OK.”
Ms. Coning told the class that unfortunately, Judy had to cancel, but fortunately Brett was available to come speak to us about her equally important project, and you know what? That’s correct. Anyone who writes a book should be congratulated, and I bet Brett’s book is great. I, feeling guilty because of my Christian conscience, decided after class to email Judy and explain what I had done. I could not live with the idea that I had sullied the name behind Freckle Juice. I wrote:
SUBJECT: Are You There Judy? It's Me, Justin
Hi Ms. Blume,
My name is Justin; I'm a sophomore at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. First off, let me say that I was a huge fan of Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, thus the title [of this email]. Later on I came to understand that the subject matter was a little less than pertinent in my life as a boy, but hey, that happens sometimes. To get to my point, I may have made a slight error in judgment. I'm an English Literature major and am currently enrolled in a Children's Literature class. This week, my professor announced that a special guest speaker would be coming to speak with us. Her statement intrigued us, and I may have taken it upon myself to say that I knew you and that you were coming to Maryville College.
Today, in class, my "less than truth" may have gotten around to more people than I planned, and well, I kind of looked stupid. Of course it is unreasonable to believe you would come to Maryville College, but I would be thrilled to receive an email in return, just so that I can let my class know that regardless of the fact that I do not know Judy Blume, that she still cares enough to help me correct the error of my ways. By the way, Superfudge: pretty much my favorite. I am a long time admirer, and I believe you have truly shaped what is children's literature. All my gratitude.
One day, seven hours, and twenty-four minutes went by. Bing. A response:
If only it were true! Sorry I'm not actually coming to Maryville in person. Last weekend the National Book Festival in DC nearly did me in. 130,000 people came out (in the rain) to celebrate books, reading, writers. No, I didn't have to sign for all of them—it just felt like I did. But still, is that a great thing for literacy or what?! Can't wait to hear who your suprise [sic] guest will be. Let me know, okay?
And thanks for remembering my books! Really glad you enjoyed them.
Hi to your classmates and your professor.
My main girl, Judy, an accomplice to my garbage fabrications, didn’t just come to my rescue. She, for all intents and purposes, bolstered the lie. And for the record, so did Ms. Coning, who I still believe to be one of the purest souls to ever walk this earth. I read the email to my class, and even Ms. Coning (spotter of the bullshit) seemed a bit impressed. And from that moment, I believed with my whole heart that so long as you can dig yourself out of a lie, you should tell it.
That’s something I’ve lost in the past couple years—that competitive spirit to lie, for sport or gain. I think a healthy life is full of lies, if for no other reason than to keep things unpredictable. It’s something that I think is deeply American. It’s beautiful. To lie, just for the sake of telling a good lie? That’s art. To lie with the assist of Judy Blume? Well, that’s divine.
It’s been a while since I sent a story out, so here are a few of the things I’m proudest of having worked on in the past month:
Reba McEntire and I talked about TikTok and 90s country, and she was a delight.
You should watch Language Lessons and then read this profile of Mark Duplass.
The song that haunts every Sunday football broadcast deserved some words, ok?
I love all of you for reading this. Stay holy, you lying sinners.