You know what it is. You know you've experienced it. Maybe. For sure you know lots of other people who suffer from this particular malady. I'm talking about denial. That state of being that isn't just a river in Egypt. The worst thing about denial is that it is the one mental weakness or deficiency or defect, or whatever you want to call it, that works hard to convince us that it isn't real, or, at least, doesn't apply to us. Kind of like the fact that Americans hate Congress but like their own Congressman. It makes no sense, of course, for so many of us to feel that way. But we do. Cause we're all living in denial. Denial is all about the stories we tell ourselves until we believe our own bullshit. I was reminded about how powerful a force denial can be when I read the continuation of Jim and Dali's story in Night Shifts, one of the best anthologies I've read in a long time. Jim and Dali live in the world of Kate Daniels, who, in turn, is the creation of the very talented Ilona Andrews. In the story, Dali, a shapeshifter who transforms into a white tiger, is in love with Jim, the Alpha of the cat clan. Dali has convinced herself that Jim would never consider her a suitable mate because she is not a good fighter. She's convinced herself that it could never work because of her gentle nature and aversion to violence. She spends a large part of the story repeating this supposed truth from a number of different angles. She did a good job of convincing me.
But then we find out—spoiler alert—that her view of herself is colored so deeply by denial that her perspective is wholly alien to Jim's. He doesn't see her as a liability. He sees her strength and determination. He also sees a big-ass cat that can do more damage to an opponent just by sitting on him than a more aggressive, but smaller and weaker cat could ever hope to achieve. Moreover, where Dali sees her magic as useless, Jim believes it's a game changer. Again, Dali is so blinded by denial she can't see the forest for the ocean. Cause there is no ocean—it's a figment of her denial and the stories she's told herself for so long that they have become ground truth.
My favorite story about the stories we tell ourselves involves my mother (and I love this story so much that all my friends and family are thoroughly tired of hearing it!). For years and years my mother maintained that we had a Christmas tree for only one year during my growing up. She claimed that she tried it once and then she felt her Jewish mother rolling in her grave and never got another tree. This story was in direct conflict with my memories of many years of beautifully decorated trees. One of us was clearly lying to ourselves. My mother worked assiduously to convince me that I was crazy. She almost succeeded. I definitely doubted myself. I almost caved and began to believe her and not my own memories. Have you ever seen the movie "Gaslight"? Anyway, the glorious end to this story is that we discovered a huge trove of photos we didn't realize we had. Guess what the pictures showed—in denial-proof full-color prints? Years and years of my brother and I posing in front of our Christmas trees—with him and me getting older and taller every year. You can't imagine how validating that was for me. I wasn't the one telling myself crazy stories that had no bearing on reality, she was. Yippee!! On the other hand, I’m sure that I was busy telling myself other stories.
We've all been in denial to some degree or another at some point or points in our lives. It happens to some of us perhaps less than others, but absolutely no one is immune. Here's the thing about denial, though, that actually makes me quite nervous: how do we know we're in denial when we're in denial? This is something I think about a lot. Clearly, we don't know what we don't know. And we don't know that we're in denial about until we wipe the sand out of our eyes. So I worry that I may think I'm a queen bee, but really I'm a wannabe. I worry that I think this blog is good and worthwhile and it really will take off eventually, but maybe I'm just fooling myself. I worry that I believe I can write a book that someone will want to publish and that more than one someone wants to read, but maybe I'm living in Egypt after all.
How can we know whether the stories we tell ourselves are total crap or not? How do we know if we're full of shit? We get invested in a story and then we don't want to let it go, even if it's a bad story. We cherry pick and choose the facts that fit our fantasy lives. We tell ourselves the same things so often that we come to believe them. We ridicule others (in our heads) whose realities don't conform to ours. We accept the unacceptable by telling ourselves that we have no choice, which is just another story we tell ourselves. We rationalize and we justify. We create whole worlds in our heads that have absolutely no resemblance to reality.
Denial is an insidious problem. We need to be vigilant in guarding against it and rooting it out. If we’re lucky, someone will help us to see the error of our ways and we will come to accept reality. Then, we are able to see past our delusions and understand a more objective reality-- i.e. one that others can subscribe to as well. Like when Dali is finally able to see herself through Jim's eyes and realize that the stories she'd been telling herself about herself were completely inaccurate. As I often find, there is a lot of truth in fantasy, and there are some fascinating shapeshifters out there who are only too happy to teach us. So, let’s all try to take our heads out of the sand and stick them in a book instead.