I am a horrible liar. It’s not that I can’t tell a lie and be believed. It’s that I tend to blurt out the truth before it occurs to me it might not be the right thing to do. I’ve had this truth-blurting affliction my whole life. When I worked the buffet table at an Italian restaurant as a teen, I was asked if the chocolate pudding was homemade. I assured the woman it was not. “It tastes homemade,” she said. I said, “It isn’t. I opened the can myself.”
Having overheard this exchange, my boss took me aside and explained in rather heated words that if anyone asked if the pudding was homemade, I was to tell them it was. I was not to mention cans or can-openers or anything of the kind. The pudding was made on the spot. Period. I appreciated her stance on the subject, but I was uncomfortable lying about the food. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I wound up unemployed a shortly afterwards.
Recently, I was at a bead show in Tucson, helping my sister sell her handmade glass beads. Once again, I was dealing with the public and I had to fight my tendencies to tell the exact truth to our potential customers. Presenting a positive face to the public is crucial in face-to-face sales, and I was constantly having to bite my tongue when asked, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Lots of things went wrong right from the start. One of the challenges we faced was a late arrival due to flight delays. As a result, we had to get up at 5 am to set up before the show opened at 10. It was a race against the clock that left us both exhausted and wired, but the buyers didn’t need to know that.
When I walked around the show myself, I got a strong lesson in the importance of staying positive. Some of the sellers were not making much money. Like us, they were tired and stressed. Unlike us, they talked about it — a lot. As a potential customer, I found their negative comments unattractive. I might commiserate with their situation, but I didn’t want to stick around their booth once they’d finished their tale of woe. If they were hoping I’d buy something out of pity, it didn’t work. I wanted out of there, away from the clouds that hung over their heads.
My sister recently got a commission to make a possum bead. I was surprised anyone would want a bead of an animal most people equate with roadkill, so I looked up the symbolic meaning of the possum. According to Animal Speak by Ted Andrews, the possum is about how we appear to others. Known for playing dead to keep from being attacked, the possum lies to save itself. Sometimes, we need to “play dead” and present a false front in order to protect ourselves or others. Knowing this about the possum didn’t make it any more attractive to me, but I did realize that this was a skill I needed if I was going to help my sister with her sales.
Whenever I used deception at the show — saying we were great and that we were having a fantastic show no matter how I actually felt or how things were actually going — I reminded myself that I was in possum mode. I was not being deceptive to hurt anyone even though it felt like I was lying. I was trying to make things easier for all of us. The buyer didn’t want to hear my feet hurt or that I would kill for a nap, and focusing on the negative was just as bad for me. It kept me feeling rotten. So I smiled and said, “It’s going great.”
I never really got comfortable with possum mode, but there was one moment when I realized its true value. A woman came up to the table looking for a bird bead she’d admired earlier. “Sorry, it was sold,” I said. I nearly told her the rest of the story, that someone had bought it as a gift for a friend. My possum kicked in and I held my tongue. Only then did I realize that the woman who’d bought the bead was standing right behind the first woman. The disappointed woman was the one who would be getting the coveted bead as a gift later. Thanks to my possum I didn’t blurt out the truth, and the surprise stayed a surprise.
I was so proud of my inner possum that I gave the buyer a conspiratorial wink before she walked away.