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False Notes

Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Washington Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda.
Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Washington Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda. (Courtesy Author)
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By Caitlin Gibson
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Well, I've been caught.

It's not surprising. If you're going to be dishonest, you must at least be convincing; otherwise you're just pitiable.

But before I explain any further, it's important to know that I have a secret life as a concert musician. In the Metro. It happens every day during my commute: Liberated within my iPod bubble, I assume the imaginary career of a virtuoso pianist. If I'm feeling sophisticated, I perform Beethoven's Bagatelles, Op. 126; if I'm in the mood to be a rock star, Tori Amos is my gal. And when I get carried away in my mind, my hands often follow, fingers plunking down on invisible piano keys across the surface of my newspaper, a book, my leather bag. It's half involuntary, half because no one ever seems to notice or care -- and it's somewhat thrilling to mime a level of ability that my 12 years of study, well, didn't actually give me.

Then, one recent evening, a woman sitting next to me glanced over and saw my fingers moving from chord to chord. She hesitated a moment -- possibly debating whether she was witnessing a symptom of illness or insanity -- then asked, "What are you playing?"

Caught off guard, I removed an earbud. "Oh -- Tori Amos. 'Cornflake Girl.' "

The woman nodded with recognition. She knew the song. Uh-oh. "You can play that?" she demanded, her voice louder, skeptical. A few people nearby looked in our direction.

My immediate, startled thought was: Of course I can't, but . . . a wannabe air-pianist who can't actually play what she's playing? Is it possible to be more pathetic?

"Yes!" I chirped, answering both her question and mine.

Ah, the White Lie. We all tell them. This is a universally understood reality. It is not encouraged but not really frowned upon, either. Sometimes it's downright necessary. That probably applies more to sparing someone else's feelings than to painting a deceptive portrait of oneself as a profoundly gifted musician, but I had my pride to protect. And surely this woman would sense that and kindly play along.

Only she didn't. She eyed me suspiciously. She made a dismissive, somewhat porcine sound: half snort, half grunt. Then she turned her attention back to her book.

Okay, maybe she's just a jerk. Maybe she was in a bad mood and spent all afternoon plotting to take it out on the first vulnerable nerd she encountered during her evening commute. Or maybe she was making a point: that it's wrong to lie, to exaggerate, no matter how harmless the subject matter, and she wouldn't abide it. Could she be right? I felt awkward, sitting there, absorbing her post-snort silence; foolish, even. It seemed possible that I should reevaluate, confess all my sins, begin anew.

So, here's a start:


CONTINUED     1        >

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